Beginning in January 2013, unusually high numbers of stranded California sea lion pups have been observed on the Southern California coast. Marine mammals naturally come ashore along our beaches if they are sick, wounded, or injured. This year, pups have been washing up with obvious signs of emaciation, dehydration, and low body weight for their age class, and no one knows why.
These elevated stranding numbers have led NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event (UME) under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which means that the California sea lion strandings meet one of the seven criteria outlined by NOAA to be considered â€śunusual.â€ť The current UME is restricted to the young of year age class, pups born in the summer of 2012. Below is a graph created by NOAA to compare current stranding rates to historical stranding rates in several California counties, which clearly illustrates the marked increase in stranding rates in 2013 (the purple bars).
To follow protocol for an Unusual Mortality Event, an investigation team of independent scientists will be assembled to review data from the event and determine the next steps. In addition to extra support from the scientists and NOAA, if a stranding event is declared a UME, additional funding from the National Contingency Fund is sent to aid the investigation. There are currently no unusual stranding patterns reported in other marine mammal species that inhabit the same area. The long term analysis of the data may continue for months or even years after the UME to determine the cause and effects of these unusual strandings.
Always remember, if you see a stranded animal on the beach, do not approach it. Instead, notify lifeguards, the stranding network, or local authorities that are all trained to handle injured and sick wildlife without causing further harm.
An article in today's New York Times science section details an effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to map the effects of human-generated noise in the ocean. Whether it's the drone of commercial shipping or the deafening blasts of seismic air guns, sounds that can travel for hundreds of miles, this noise has been on the rise for decades. For animals that depend on sound as their primary means for communicating or finding prey, this increasingly cacaphonous environment can have devastating consequences
The article articulates well the dangers posed to the ocean's inhabitants by an increasingly noisy ocean:
Sea mammals evolved sharp hearing to take advantage of soundâ€™s reach and to compensate for poor visibility. The heads of whales and dolphins are mazes of resonant chambers and acoustic lenses that give the animals not only extraordinary hearing but complex voices they use to communicate.
In recent decades, humans have added raucous clatter to the primal chorus. Mr. Bahtiarian noted that the noise of a typical cargo vessel could rival that of a jet. Even louder, he added, are air guns fired near the surface from ships used in oil and gas exploration. Their waves radiate downward and penetrate deep into the seabed, helping oil companies locate hidden pockets of hydrocarbons.
Marine biologists have linked the human noises to reductions in mammalian vocalization, which suggests declines in foraging and breeding.
The sorts of air gun tests described above are currently being proposed for waters spanning from Delaware to Florida to search for oil and gas deposits. The Department of the Interior which is reviewing the proposal and will issue its decision sometime next year, estimates that those tests would injure 138,500 whales and dolphins.
In this case â€śinjuringâ€ť often means literally deafening the animals. For whales and dolphins that use sound as the primary means to find mates, find food, and communicate, such as the North Atlantic right whale (of which there are an estimated 361 left on the planet) going deaf is equivalent to a death sentence.
The tests could also wreak havoc on the area's $12 billion fishing industry. Similar tests elsewhere have resulted in drops in catches of cod and haddock from 40 to 80 percent after the use of just a single airgun array.
Corry Westbrook is Oceana's federal policy director
On January 2, 2013, our country will be poised to go over the fiscal cliff if leaders in Washington, D.C. are unable to agree on ways to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion. Why is this relevant to ocean conservation?
Our 95,000 miles of coastline, bordered by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and the Gulf of Mexico, sustain 1.8 million marine tourism jobs and contribute $120 billion annually to the nationâ€™s GDP. If the budget sequester, or â€śfiscal cliff,â€ť occurs, that revenue will be severely jeopardized.
If Congress is unable to agree on a solution, the sequesterâ€™s 8.2% across-the-board cuts will hit federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of Interior (DOI), and will have disastrous effects on the governmentâ€™s ability to restore our fisheries, protect marine wildlife and address environmental emergencies. After already enduring years of funding cuts, the sequester could be devastating to our oceans and the communities they support.
Some of the key programs that will be impacted include NOAAâ€™s response to environmental emergencies like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. During the Deepwater oil spill, the agency mobilized 7 ships for data collection, flew 773 flight hours collecting air samples and conducting surveys, and surveyed 4,229 miles of shoreline. NOAA, as one of the first responders to the crisis, delivered daily assessments that enabled policy-makers to react. Without adequate funds for NOAA to monitor these incidents, the consequences of another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon blowout could be irreparable.
Well these records seem to be falling by the wayside quickly. Last month we learned that arctic summer sea ice had shrunk to its smallest extent ever. By a lot. Today we learn that this past September tied September of 2005 for the hottest on record.
One stat released by NOAA and quoted in the Reuters story, though, truly boggles the mind:
"In addition to being hottest since 1880, the month was the 36th consecutive September and 331st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
The last time September temperatures were below that average was 1976, and the last time any month was below that average was February 1985."
In other words, not since Marty McFly saved Hill Valley with his Delorean time machine has planet Earth experienced a month below the 20th century temperature average.
Learn more about climate change and what you can do to help.
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 â€“ a petition 44,000 of you backed â€“ 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 â€“ 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 canâ€™t let them disappear.
We will keep you posted as the story unfolds!
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.
Oceanography legend Jacques Cousteau once said â€śThe Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.â€ť This spellbound wonder is certainly true for our fascination with the 7 species of sea turtles that have inhabited the worldâ€™s oceans for four million years and, sadly, which are all now threatened or endangered with extinction. These awe-inspiring ocean reptiles were the focus of the 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology & Conservation in San Diego.
Actress and sea turtle advocate Rachael Harris (â€śThe Hangoverâ€ť) presented at our Friday reception. She shared a special connection she made with a green sea turtle named Esmeralda while touring a sea turtle rehabilitation center in Mexico with Oceana last year.
Harris was captivated by how expressive Esmeralda was despite her flippers being mutilated after becoming entangled in fishing line and being attacked by a dog while on a beach to nest. Harrisâ€™ enthusiastic support for sea turtle protections is shared by fellow sea turtle advocate Angela Kinsey (â€śThe Officeâ€ť). The two will storm the nationâ€™s capitol in early May to educate Congress about why we need to get turtles off the hook and the need for more sea turtle protections throughout our nationâ€™s waters.
All six species of sea turtles in U.S. waters are threatened with extinction -- and we want to know why more isnâ€™t being done to protect them. The U.S. government wants to charge us an arm and a leg for more information about it. So we filed a lawsuit.
Last March, Oceana submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) asking for records relating to trawl gear modifications intended to prevent sea turtle bycatch in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. (The government has still not acted to modify trawl gear to protect sea turtles on much of the East Coast.) In response, NOAA asked Oceana to pay more than $16,000 for the documents.
From CNN today:
"It's obvious what's going on at the surface. The big issue is what's trapped in the marsh," [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrationâ€™s chief fisheries scientist Steve] Murawski said.
NOAA restoration officer Sean Meehan deploys pompoms attached to a chain in Barataria Bay last week. He'll return in 24 hours to see if the pompoms have picked up any oil. I took this video while taking photographs at the same time, so be glad I have it pointed in mostly the right direction.