The Beacon

Blog Tags: Dolphins

Deep-sea Coral Sickness Linked to Gulf Oil Spill

Deep-sea corals. © NOAA

Even more sad news from the Gulf of Mexico, but this time it runs a mile deep. A new study confirms that the oil that likely caused deepwater coral sickness indeed came from the largest accidental oil spill in history, the Deepwater Horizon.

Back in June 2010, deep-sea coral communities showed signs of severe stress and tissue damage after being covered with heavy mucous and brown flocculent material which was believed to be caused by the spill. This type of ill-health in deep sea corals had never before been documented during deep sea research.

The lead author, Helen White from Haverford College, stated, “We would not expect deep-water corals to be impacted from a typical oil spill, but the sheer magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and its release at depth makes it very different than a tanker running aground and spilling its contents.” 

Deepwater corals can live hundreds of years, and they serve as hot beds for marine biodiversity. The deepwater coral communities are habitat for crabs, shrimp, brittlestars and commercially important fish species like red snapper and grouper. These corals can take a long time to recover from damage and in comparison this would be similar to clear cutting patches of ancient redwood forests in California. 

These results are startling in that they show for the first time how harmful deepwater oil drilling is to distant ecosystems even though they are separated from humans by more than 4,000 feet of water. These ancient deepwater corals were likely  already living long before the first oil rigs entered the Gulf of Mexico. If we protect them from more drilling and more spilling they could thrive in a world that moves away from oil to smarter and safer sources of energy, like offshore wind.

Oceana is doing its part by filing a legal challenge against new lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not believe that the government has adequately studied the potential impacts of new drilling or the true extent of the biological impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These include the deepwater corals and so many other species that live in the Gulf.

It is also clear that safety measures have not improved to an adequate level. We need your support to continue our efforts to stop offshore drilling and protect important deep sea habitats, dolphins and the thousands of species that are still struggling from oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico. Go to stopthedrill.org to get involved.


Continue reading...

More than 100 Dolphins Beached in Cape Cod

common dolphin

© Oceana/Jesus Renedo

More than 100 dolphins have beached themselves in Cape Cod, Massachusetts this winter, and no one knows why.

In the northeastern United States, it’s normal for about 230 animals to beach themselves over the course of a year. But this year, 129 common dolphins have been found on Cape Cod beaches in the past month.

Examinations of the dolphins haven’t found any sign of illness or injury, adding to the mystery. Beaching or “stranding” happens when an animal gets trapped in shallow water and can’t swim back out to the ocean. This can be caused by disorientation from an unfamiliar landscape, loud noises, illness, or more. Because dolphins form strong bonds, they may follow each other and become stranded in groups.

One factor in Cape Cod might be an unseasonably warm winter, which kept the harbor free from ice and open to wandering dolphins. Combined with the geography of the Cape Cod harbor area—much shallower and confined than the open ocean—and dolphins’ habits of sticking close to their family members, these dolphins could easily find themselves in trouble.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working to save the stranded dolphins and discover the cause of the mass stranding. To date they have been able to release 37 of the stranded dolphins back into the water.

Mass strandings are mysterious events. We may never know the cause, but we hope it comes to an end soon.


Continue reading...

New Report: Small Fish in Big Trouble

bryde's whale.

A bryde's whale enjoys a meal. © Randy Morse  www.GoldenStateImages.com

Did you know that the brown pelican relies on northern anchovy for food? Or that the endangered blue whale feeds exclusively on tiny krill at rates of up to 4,000 pounds per day? Or that a record number of young sea lions were stranded on California beaches last year because they didn’t have enough small fish to eat?

Individually they don’t look like much, but small fish and invertebrates called “forage species” school up to form massive underwater bait balls.

These forage fish are the foundation of the marine food web and provide food for nearly everything else higher up the food ladder. Forage species, such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, anchovy, smelts, squid and krill are the critical prey for whales, dolphins, sea lions, many types of fish, and millions of seabirds.

Our new report, “Forage Fish: Feeding the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem,” shows the value of forage fish for fisheries and wildlife – and demonstrates that it’s high time that our fisheries managers recognize their big impact in the ocean.

How many forage fish are needed to feed our ocean’s wildlife and preserve the benefits forage species provide us? That is the question we are asking managers to answer and take into account when setting catch quotas. 

As consumers we enjoy forage fish without even realizing it. Activities, such as whale watching, enjoying fresh wild salmon for dinner, and going sport fishing, are all possible because those top predators survive on forage fish. And they are important for the economy, too -- tourism, recreation activities, and fishing brought in over $23 billion in GDP to California, Oregon, and Washington combined in 2004 alone.

Oceana is the first conservation group to assess the current status of Pacific forage fish. Our new report details the role of forage species in the California Current marine ecosystem, the threats to forage species populations, and the flawed management structures currently in place. The report documents the large gaps in stock information and show the fisheries mismanagement taking place at multiple levels of state, federal and international government.

Providing and maintaining a healthy, sustainable ocean ecosystem does not mean shutting down existing fisheries—but it does call for change. The challenge is to extend the principles in our new report to create a new way of managing our resources that goes beyond single-species management, and considers the role of forage species within the ecosystem as a whole.

By highlighting the colossal importance of these tiny forage species, Oceana aims to ensure a healthy, diverse, productive, and resilient California Current marine ecosystem. Be sure to check out the full report and let us know what you think!


Continue reading...

More Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf

Dolphins leaping in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana. You can follow him on Twitter @Oceana_Andy.

Nearly a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and began a three-month-long oil spill. In the later months of last year, after the gushing oil well had finally been capped, some people – politicians and TV talking heads, really – tried to convince Americans that the Gulf had recovered.

It’s true that we still don’t know the extent of the damage wrought by last summer’s oil disaster. The subsurface gusher created a whole new scientific challenge when it came to understanding exactly what was going on. And we’ve said that it would be years before we understand the true cost of the disaster.

Just recently we got a sign that not is all well in the Gulf. Since January, more than 80 bottlenose dolphins have turned up dead – and half of those are newborn or stillborn calves. The government is calling it “an unusual mortality event.”


Continue reading...

Fact of the Day: Long-Snouted Spinner Dolphin

Did you know there are about 40 species of dolphin? When you think of dolphins, you might just be picturing the bottlenose dolphin or the common dolphin, but what about the long-snouted spinner dolphin?  (And did you know that the killer whale is actually a kind of dolphin too?)

Long-snouted spinner dolphins are relatively small for oceanic dolphins, growing only about 7 feet long (the bottlenose dolphin is about 10 feet long). Spinner dolphins are highly social and are often seen in pods of hundreds of dolphins. Like all dolphins, spinners communicate by echolocation, which is an elaborate series of clicks and whistles. Spinner dolphins also slap the surface of the water with their fins to communicate.


Continue reading...

Day 1: Playful Dolphins and Baby Fish

Here’s your expedition update for today, from senior campaigns communications manager, Dustin Cranor:

The Oceana Latitude is now anchored off the coast of Key West for the first leg of its two-month expedition.

On our long voyage from Fort Lauderdale, we spotted a lot of sargassum floating on the surface of the water. It’s sad to imagine that this floating seaweed is at risk in the Gulf of Mexico because it provides essential habitat for marine animals in the open ocean.

We also had our first interaction with something other than flying fish. As we made our way into shallow waters, dolphins begin surrounding the bow of the ship. They continued entertaining the crew by swimming and eating small fish around the boat for hours.

Oceana also took part in the first activity of the expedition, catching and examining small fish. After allowing the fish traps to soak in the water, Oceana marine scientist Margot Stiles quickly identified several small critters, including baby lobsters, shrimp, crabs and squid.

Here’s Margot:

Margot Stiles Describes Oceana's First Activity on Gulf Expedition, Examining Baby Fish off Key West August 12, 2010 from Oceana on Vimeo.


Continue reading...

Oil Spill Quote of the Day

Today’s Oil Spill Quote of the Day features Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, one of our very own scientists:

 From yesterday’s Guardian:

Some 1,020 sea turtles were caught up in the spill, according to figures (pdf) today – an ominous number for an endangered species. Wildlife officials collected 177 sea turtles last week – more than in the first two months of the spill and a sizeable share of the 1,020 captured since the spill began more than three months ago. Some 517 of that total number were dead and 440 were covered in oil, according to figures maintained the Deepwater Horizon response team.


Continue reading...

10 Ways the Oil Spill Could Affect Marine Life

oiled bird

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

While oil-covered birds have become an emblematic image of catastrophic oil spills, sea birds aren’t the only ones affected. Oil is extremely toxic to all wildlife, and the toxic effects on marine life begins as soon as the oil hits the water.

 


Here are 10 examples of how marine life may be affected by the Gulf spill in the coming days, weeks and years


Continue reading...

The Scanner

Happy February Friday!

Things will be quiet around here next week as we head to Pennsylvania for Oceana's annual international all-staff meeting. Hopefully these links will tide you over until then:

This week in ocean news,

...Slow and steady wins the carbon footprint race. Danish shipping giant Maersk cut its cruising speed in half the last two years, which cut greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption as much as 30 percent. If global shipping were a country, it would be the sixth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

...After being removed from the endangered list in November, the brown pelican’s recovery has hit a speed bump. Hundreds of pelicans have been found dead from a mysterious ailment that could be caused by ocean pollution or runoff.

...Miriam presented this month’s Carnival of the Blue in singable couplets. 'Nuff said.

...In case you didn’t know, the Mariana Trench is really, really, really deep. And humans, by extension, are really small. Have a look at this scale illustration.

...New research shows that heat-resistant algae may buy some time for coral reefs threatened by climate change.

...New research on diseases found in dolphins could have implications for research on human diseases, including diabetes, epilepsy and certain viruses.


Continue reading...

Whale Wednesday: Going Batty Edition

Bats and toothed whales share the ability to squeak and click their way to prey. And now two new studies in this week’s journal Current Biology reveal that their echolocation, which evolved independently in the two groups, has a similar underlying molecular mechanism.

There are plenty of examples of evolutionary convergence, such as the tusks of elephants and walruses, or the bioluminescence of fireflies and jellyfish.

But it’s highly unusual for convergence to occur at the molecular level. Turns out the inner ear hair cells of both the bottlenose dolphin (a toothed whale) and 10 species of bats contain a protein called prestin, which plays an important role in echolocation.

But not all echolocaters are created equal. Because the speed of sound in water is five times that in air, dolphins can use echolocation for more than 100 meters. Bats can only do so for a few meters. 

(Hat tip to Monterey Bay’s Sea Notes blog for this story.)


Continue reading...

Browse by Date