The Beacon

Blog Tags: Noaa

Reducing Bycatch Casualties, One Whale at a Time

(Photo: Howard Ignatius)

As mentioned in our recently released Wasted Catch report, whales, dolphins, porpoises and other marine life are victims of bycatch, which is the catch of non-target fish and marine animals. Whales can become entangled in nets or trail fishing lines and gear that wraps around their fins, causing injuries and distress as the animals struggle to swim and reach the surface for air.

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CEO Note: State Shark Fin Bans Protected

(Photo: Oceana / Carlos Suarez)

Late last year, I wrote to you about how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took actions that placed state shark fin bans in jeopardy. These bans, which close down the market for imported shark fins, are incredibly important to halting the finning and capture of tens of millions of sharks each year.

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Oceana Victory—NOAA Backs Down from Undermining State Fin Bans!

Oceana ran a series of Metro ads urging NOAA to side with sharks, not shark finners. (Photo: Oceana / Jenn Hueting)

After months of public campaigning and pressure by Oceana and other conservation groups, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has officially backed down from a proposal that would undermine bans on the sale of shark fins in Washington, Maryland and California. NOAA has not yet ruled on other states, or clarified whether it will drop disturbing language in a new shark fishing rule.

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Net Loss - Keeping Sperm Whales Out of Drift Gillnets

(Photo: Gabriel Barathieu)

In 2010, as many as sixteen sperm whales drowned in drift gillnets intended for swordfish off the coast of California. In the recent issue of Oceana magazine, we cover Oceana’s efforts to protect Pacific sperm whales from this fate. Read an excerpt below, or visit the full article here.

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Fins Are Finished

(Photo: Choo Yut Shing)

Each year, millions of sharks are slaughtered for their fins to meet the demand for shark fin soup. Over the past few years, several U.S. states passed laws against the trade in shark fins to help shut down the market. In the recent issue of Oceana magazine, we reveal how a government agency is taking steps to undermine these bans.

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CEO Note: NOAA Could Undermine State Shark Fin Bans

(Photo: USFWS Headquarters)

You might not have heard, but sharks are in trouble from an unlikely source—our own federal government. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government agency tasked with managing our nation’s fisheries, is taking steps to undermine state laws that protect sharks.

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Measles-Like Virus Likely Responsible for Atlantic Dolphin Strandings

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are suffering from a viral epidemic. (Photo: Oceana)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that a measles-like virus is responsible for hundreds of bottlenose dolphin strandings along the mid-Atlantic coast this summer.

Since early July, unusually high numbers of dead or dying bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore from New York to North Carolina. About 155 dolphins strand in the mid-Atlantic from January to late August during a normal year, but this year almost 500 dolphins washed ashore in the same time period. The sudden increase prompted NOAA to declare an Unusual Mortality Event for bottlenose dolphins.

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NOAA declares “Unusual Mortality Event” for California Sea Lions

Sea Lions in rehab. Photo: Pacific Marine Mammal Center

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 “unusual.” 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.

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New York Times Warns of Noisy Oceans

Blue whale off Dana Point, California. ©Valarie Van Cleave

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 sound’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 “injuring” 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.

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Budget Sequester Will Punish Oceans

©Wikimedia Commons

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 nation’s GDP. If the budget sequester, or “fiscal cliff,” occurs, that revenue will be severely jeopardized.

If Congress is unable to agree on a solution, the sequester’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 government’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 NOAA’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.

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