The Beacon

Blog Tags: Endangered Species

Setback for Shark Conservation: Hammerhead Sharks Denied Protection under Endangered Species Act

A great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran)

A great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran). (Photo: Wendell Reed / Flickr Creative Commons)

Last month, scientists, conservationists, and the ecotourism industry alike were all disappointed when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) determined that the great hammerhead shark will not be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NMFS also decided against listing scalloped hammerhead sharks in the U.S. last year, a motion that was finalized this month.


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Ocean News: Manatees Could Lose Endangered Status, Ocean Acidification Causing Fish to Lose Their Friends, and More

Manatee.

(Photo: Oceana)

- Earlier this week, U.S. Coast Guard officials found 65 dead sharks in an illegal drift net 20 miles off South Padre Island, Texas. An airplane spotted the mile-long net and decomposing sharks, and immediately deployed a patrol boat. Houston Chronicle


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CEO Note: California Fails to List Imperiled White Sharks

Great White Shark (carcharodon carcharias)

Great White Shark (carcharodon carcharias). (Photo: Flickr Creative Commons / Scubaben)

White sharks off the coast of California are in danger. This population of white sharks, occurring off California and Mexico, is genetically unique and isolated from other groups of white sharks across the world’s oceans.


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Sawfish Designated as Endangered Species

The unique and magnificent sawfish gained new protections this week. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sawfish have a reason to breathe a little easier today: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has completed comprehensive status reviews under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and has determined that five foreign species of sawfish meet the definition of “endangered” under the Act. Of course, this “victory” is bittersweet: no one is celebrating the fact that sawfish species are endangered, but rather that they now will finally receive the protections they so desperately need to recover their numbers.


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High-Tech Robot Seeks Out Right Whales

Chief scientist Mark Baumgartner secures glider (with its wings removed) after it was recovered Dec. 4 from its three-week mission. Photo by Nadine Lysiak, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) took place over the weekend, but one new high-tech babysitter was not featured in Las Vegas.  The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute has developed underwater robots to find, track, and protect baleen whales in the Gulf of Maine, particularly the highly endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

Between mid-November and early-December, the torpedo-shaped gliders located nine right whales, empowering regulators to institute a voluntary speed restriction in the area to decrease the threat of boat strikes.  This represents the first time an autonomous vehicle has successfully detected and reported the location of baleen whales.

Right whales were one of the first species to be dramatically affected by commercial whaling, and remain one of the most critically endangered species of whales, with less than 400 individuals in the North Atlantic population.  While whales can get caught as bycatch in commercial fisheries, run-ins with ships account for one third of all right whale deaths, so the ability to warn boats of their proximity is an important component of their continued protection.


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Threatened Corals Inch Closer to Protection

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll. Photo courtesy Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

No, it’s not the annual full moon spawning event, but corals in the Pacific and Caribbean have something just as exciting to wave their tentacles at: possible protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

After many years facing changing ocean temperatures, acidification, and increased disease, corals have significantly declined in overall health and abundance. Scientists and conservationists have long studied and understood the plight of corals, but recently their efforts have prompted renewed action.

Three years after scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration received petitions from the Center for Biological Diversity to list 83 species of coral under the protection of the ESA, NOAA has responded with a proposal to protect 66 coral species through the ESA.

Protecting coral reefs which provide homes to countless colorful reef fish, ambling sea turtles, sharks, and an endless host of other vital marine creatures, is paramount to our own enjoyment and success as fellow inhabitants of this finite blue planet. Corals are estimated to provide the U.S. economy with an annual net benefit of over one billion dollars from tourism, recreation, and commercial and recreational fisheries. They provide shore breaks from storms, new pharmaceuticals to treat diseases, and act as biological reserves due to the unparalleled level of genetic diversity contained within the ecosystems they support.


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Endangered Sea Turtles Face Increased Threats

Endangered loggerheads will be subject to 100% higher catch ©Oceana

After a victory for Pacific sea turtles last week, here’s some not so good news. 

Two endangered species of sea turtle are facing an increased threat after the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved a plan allowing a Hawaii-based shallow-set longline swordfish fishery to catch more endangered sea turtles while hunting for swordfish in the North Pacific Ocean.

Currently, regulations allow a capture, or “take,” of 16 endangered leatherback sea turtles and 17 endangered loggerhead sea turtles per fishery per year. If and when turtle catch limits are reached, the fishery must close for the year. However, the new rule, set to take effect November 5, will allow a 62 percent increase in allowable takes of leatherbacks for a total of 26 per year, and a 100 percent increase in the catch of loggerheads for a total of 34 per year. 

The timing for this approval is particularly paradoxical, as NMFS upgraded the status of the Pacific loggerhead sea turtle from “threatened” to “endangered” little more than a year ago, and designated almost 42,000 square miles of ocean waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington as critical habitat for leatherback sea turtles earlier this year. The leatherback sea turtle was also recently designated as the official state marine reptile of California.

Ben Enticknap, Pacific Project Manager for Oceana, said:

This decision is outrageous. On the one hand the federal government acknowledges Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles are endangered and that more needs to be done to protect them. At the same time they say it is okay for U.S. fishermen to kill more of them.”

We agree, it’s outrageous – and our campaigners are examining the available options in a plan to stop these measures before they take effect on November 5. We’ll keep you posted!


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Great White Shark Petition Moves Forward

Facing extinction ©Wikimedia Commons

We have good news to share: the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has looked at our petition to have West Coast great white sharks listed as an endangered species – a petition 44,000 of you backed – and has agreed to take it to the next level!

Having agreed that these sharks may qualify for endangered status, NMFS will now spend the next nine months researching the sharks and will announce their final decision in June 2013.

This is an important milestone, and we want to thank you for helping make it happen. Those 44,000 signatures showed that great whites have supporters across the country and that people are paying attention to what happens off our shores. We're so grateful for your help  – and the sharks are too.

Recent scientific studies show that great white sharks off the coast of California and Baja California, Mexico are genetically distinct and isolated from all other great white shark populations and that there are only a few hundred adult sharks remaining in this population.

The biggest threat to great white sharks on the West Coast right now are the gillnets that are trapping their young. We're hoping that this effort will lead to more research, increased observer coverage and management of the fisheries that are harming them, and more awareness of the importance and vulnerability of these magnificent creatures. Great white sharks are a vital part of the ocean food web, and we can’t let them disappear.

We will keep you posted as the story unfolds!


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Senate Moves Bill to End Pirate Fishing

fishingboats

Pirate fishing threatens the ocean and those who rely on it ©Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen

The Senate took an important step forward last month in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as pirate fishing, by passing the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act (S. 1980) through the Commerce Committee. 

The bill implements the Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (Agreement), which the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) adopted in November 2009 and, if ratified, would be the first binding international agreement to specifically combat illegal fishing.  The bipartisan bill easily passed the committee and now moves to the Senate floor for consideration.

Pirate fishing is a serious problem that threatens the oceans, honest fishermen and seafood consumers alike. Pirate fishers skirt the law by using illegal gear, fishing in closed areas or during prohibited times, and catching threatened or endangered species. Because this fishing goes unregulated and unreported, it is difficult to assess its true impact on our oceans.  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that pirate fishing leads to global economic losses between $10-23 billion each year and accounts for up to 40 percent of the catch in certain fisheries. One of the easiest ways to address this problem is to close our ports to illegal fishing vessels and help ensure that illegal fish are kept out of our markets.

The bill would accomplish these goals by establishing specific requirements for port entry. In particular, it specifies minimum standards for dockside inspections, requires that nations designate specific ports to which foreign vessels may seek entry and requires that nations share information about violators. If any vessel is known to have or is suspected of pirate fishing, a nation must deny that vessel port entry. The bill also expressly makes the mislabeling and misidentification of fish or fish products illegal.

S. 1980 is a good first step toward addressing illegal fishing, and Oceana commends the Senate Commerce Committee for moving it forward. While Congress is now in recess until September, we hope that both the House and Senate will use the short legislative session in the fall to move this important bill to finally give the U.S. the tools it needs to fight pirate fishing and ensure that illegally-caught fish do not enter our market.


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Top 5 Myths About Sharks

Basking sharks are gentle giants, nothing to fear here (unless you're plankton). ©NOAA

Happy Shark Week!

Sharks are the center of a lot of stories and urban legends, but you might be surprised by the truth behind some of the most common myths about sharks. In honor of Shark Week, we’re going to dispel some of the major myths surrounding sharks and shark behavior.

MYTH #1: All sharks are voracious predators, looking to attack anything in sight, including humans.
FACT:
While some shark species do have aggressive tendencies, most hunt only to find food (and humans aren’t on the menu). Just like other top predators, sharks make a meal out of animals lower in the food web, keeping the ocean habitat in balance. Only a few species have been known to attack humans unprovoked, and that’s often because of poor visibility or inquisitive bites. There are even species, like the whale shark and the basking shark, that are filter feeders that eat fish eggs, krill, and other microorganisms in the water.

MYTH #2: Sharks do not attack at midday.
FACT:
It’s true that there are fewer attacks in the middle of the day, but that’s not because sharks aren’t active then—it’s because everybody’s out of the water eating lunch. Sharks are most active at dawn and dusk, but it’s possible to encounter at shark at nearly any time of day.

MYTH #3: Sharks have walnut-sized brains.
FACT:
Sharks are actually pretty smart! They have some of the largest brains in the fish world (along with their close relatives, rays), and their brain-to-body size ratios are similar to birds and mammals. Sharks have been known to exhibit complex social behavior, curiosity, and play in the wild. Many species live in groups and hunt in packs.

MYTH #4: In order to stay alive, a shark must constantly be moving.
FACT:
The movement of swimming allows water to pass over a shark’s gills so that they can breathe, but some species have adaptations that allow them to stay still and breathe at the same time. When resting, some sharks can lie on the sea floor and actively pump water over their gills.

MYTH #5: Sharks have no predators.
FACT:
Yes it’s true that sharks are at the top of the food chain, but they have a very powerful predator: humans. Each year, tens of millions of sharks are killed for their fins, sport, or caught and killed as bycatch. By removing so many of these important predators without allowing them time to restore their populations, we’re disrupting the balance of the marine food web.

The great white shark, the most iconic shark in the ocean, faces serious threats off the West coast of the United States. Only a few hundred are left, and their populations aren’t recovering quickly — unless we do something. Sign today to help improve protections for great white sharks in the Pacific.


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