While lax catch limits for federally-managed west coast forage fish like sardines continue to be a source of major concern, the state of California announced today that, at least for state-regulated forage fisheries like squid and herring, it would embrace a new ecosystem-based management system, with an eye towards sustainability.
Forage fish may not be as charismatic as sharks or as majestic as blue whales, but, these small, nutrient rich species -- like squid and herring-- have finally received their long-awaited turn in the spotlight.
Forage fish pack a punch of nutrients to whales, dolphins, sea birds, and recreationally and commercially important fish. They are critical to the survival of our magnificent blue whales as well as the recovery of depleted Chinook salmon. However, until now, these little fish have not been managed in a way that accounts for the vital role they play in ocean health and ocean economics. This will change as the California Fish and Game Commission will now make their decisions on how to manage all the stateâ€™s forage species based on a set of principles that were fleshed out with input from conservation and fishing entities.
In this gorgeous new Oceana video Alexandra Cousteau delves into Monterey Bay to illuminate the diversity of life at the bottom of the ocean, a crucial habitat that is under the constant threat of obliteration from bottom trawling. Using an ROV the camera captures an otherworldly scene, as scallops flutter by and curlicued basket stars unfurl. Armies of shrimp and brittle stars scamper by, fed by the organic matter from above that drifts down the water column like snowfall, sustaining a remarkably rich community. In shallower waters, coral gardens that take hundreds of years to blossom shelter rockfish and ingeniously disguised crabs, and serve as a nursery for dozens of species of fish. Here octopuses go camouflage against the rocky shale, out of sight of the hungry sperm whales and sea lions from above. Anemone-covered spires upwell nutrient rich waters that feed shoals of krill, which in turn feed blue whales. It is an intricately connected ecosystem and it can be destroyed in an instant by bottom trawling. Thatâ€™s why Oceana has pushed for an end to bottom trawling in ecologically sensitive areas. And that work has paid off in concrete victories: in 2006 NOAA protected 140,000 square miles of Pacific seafloor from the destructive practice, but more needs to be done. For the most part this world goes unseen by human eyes and itâ€™s why Oceana is working laboriously to document these precious areas before they disappear.
What do blue whales, penguins and salmon have in common?
They all have the same diet. Much of the ocean is fed by a two-inch crustacean: krill. Antarctic krill congregate in huge masses in the Southern Ocean, dense enough to fill the belly of a blue whale, the worldâ€™s largest animal.
Penguins will march hundreds of miles to feast on krill, building up blubber that will help them survive their cold months on land. Even flying seabirds will dive in and partake of the abundance.
Without this tiny creature, the ocean would starve. But like so much else in the ocean, krillâ€™s future is in danger. It is also a popular food for salmon, giving the fishâ€™s meat that distinctive pink color. When humans build fish farms for predatory fish like salmon, we need to feed them. And that means that humans are now fishing krill to feed our farms, taking away potential meals from whales, penguins, and other wild creatures.
Oceana is working to prevent the overfishing of krill and the other small creatures that keep the oceansâ€™ food chain going. To learn more about marine animals like Antarctic krill, visit our marine wildlife encyclopedia.
As we told you last Friday, the ecologically rich region of Punta de Choros, Chile, was recently spared from the construction of a coal-fired power plant in a dramatic decision by President Sebastian PiĂ±era.
The announcement was the culmination of hard work by our colleagues in Chile alongside local organizations, and immense grassroots pressure from Chileans.
So what, exactly, was at stake? Humboldt penguins, sea lions and blue whales, to name a few of the creatures that call the area home. But judging from your comments on last weekâ€™s post, many of you already know how incredible this place is.
Here is further photographic evidence, enjoy:
Happy Friday, everyone! Hopefully by now you've had a chance to fully digest your Thanksgiving leftovers, because I've got some ocean goodies for you to devour:
This week in ocean news,
...Wired Science pondered why blue whales' voices are growing deeper and deeper. Hypotheses revolve around increased noise pollution and the physics of sounds in increasingly warmer waters. Barry White Whale, anyone?
...For the first time, scientists were able to use DNA tools to trace the geographic origin of scalloped hammerhead shark fins in a Hong Kong fish market to their original location thousands of miles away. NPR ran a story about the DNA tool's potential to monitor endangered species trafficking several months ago.
...The Washington Post reported on the international efforts required to stop the overfishing of important marine species such as bluefin tuna and sharks. The article quotes Oceana's Courtney Sakai: "Shark fins are today's ivory tusks," Sakai said. "Like elephants, the world is realizing that sharks are more valuable alive than dead."
...Yesterday, after years of work by Oceana, federal regulations protecting 200,000 square miles of U.S. Arctic waters from industrial fishing went into effect.
...Conservation groups pled with the Obama Administration to protect the Okinawa dugong and other endangered wildlife -- including three species of sea turtle -- by cancelling plans to expand a U.S. military base near Henoko in Okinawa, Japan. There are only around 50 Okinawa dugong remaining in the world.
...Deep Sea News conducted an interesting thought experiment on why the largest animals in the sea, whales, aren't even larger.
Adding to the clatter about ocean noise comes the first study indicating that whales increase their calls in response to underwater noise. Scientists studying blue whales off the eastern Canadian coast found that the giants changed their calls in response to an underwater seismic survey. On days with seismic surveys, the whales made two-and-half-times more calls than on days without, probably because they have to "repeat information", as some of the communication is lost or degraded by the seismic activity. Sounds a lot like trying to have a conversation on your cell phone while riding the DC Metro. So what do the increased calls mean for the cetaceans? As one of the researchers said, "Our research doesn't say anything about whether this increase in call rate is negative for the animals, but of course it's not positive and it may be stressful."
Ever wonder how you measure up (literally) compared to a blue whale? It is easy to throw around things like â€ślargest mammalâ€ť and â€śgentle giant of the deepâ€ť but it can be hard to imagine just how large these animals are. Visit the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society website for a chance to see just how mammoth these creatures are. A life size image of a blue whale scrolls across your screen. The first image that loads is of an eye the size of your palm. I kid you not -- I gasped out loud. Encountering animals in their natural habitats is far more awe-inspiring than flash versions on my computer screen, but Iâ€™ll take the virtual version for now.
Welcome to Whale Wednesday, the first ever hump(back) day feature devoted to cetaceans. I'm taking a cue from Oceans4Ever, the masters of alliterative weekly features, like Make a Difference Monday and Freaky Fish Friday. Hopefully this will become a semi-regular feature -- what's not to love about whales, after all? Today, three scintillating stories about cetaceans: 1. The Seattle Times reports on the first scientific review of the effort to reintegrate Keiko, the "Free Willy" orca, into the wild. The paper, which appears in the journal Marine Mammal Science, shows that while Keiko wasn't accepted by other orcas and had to be fed frozen fish until he died in 2003, he lived a longer life span than any other captive male orca. Turns out Willy's freedom was only possible on screen -- having been captured at the age of 2, he had been held in captivity too long to make it on his own.
I've been infatuated with blue whales since I was a child (who isn't?), so I was thrilled to watch Flip Nicklin, one of the preeminent whale photographers in the world, speak last night at National Geographic. The 61-year-old Nicklin was introduced to whales as a kid. He began by telling how his father, also a diver and underwater photographer, once rode a blue whale that was caught in a gill net (he later set it free, don't worry.) Since, then he's been traveling around the world, from Patagonia to Sri Lanka, in search of the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth. And sometimes they're not very easy to find. "I'm fairly deaf," Nicklin said, "so I'm glad the whales are big." Big is an understatement -- the modern-day dinosaurs can be up to 100 feet long and weigh 200 tons, and their hearts can weigh as much as an SUV. They eat krill almost exclusively, and sometimes up to four tons a day. On a recent expedition, he spent more than three weeks at sea, and saw only one blue whale for a total of about 15 minutes. He got five usable photographs, all taken during the same minute. "They're good at playing hide-and-seek," he joked. But sometimes they are quite literally under his nose. In one video he showed, a blue whale eyed him curiously -- from less than five feet away. And most recently, he traveled to Baja, where he saw more than 20 blue whales.
A new report looks at the effects of increased ocean acidity on how sound travels in seawater, which scientists have long suspected to be influenced by pH. The report found that drops in pH affect the ocean's chemical balance and consequently lower its sound absorption, especially to frequencies below 10 kilohertz (kHz). The researchers say that by the 1990s, the oceans absorbed 15% less sound than during the previous century, which will likely affect the communications of ocean wildlife as well as military operations, by making sound travel farther and increasing the ocean's ambient noise level. Already, scientists have discovered that blue whales, which normally communicate below1 kHz, have started calling at lower frequencies.