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Study: plastic pollution pervasive globally

The five major ocean gyres.

The five major ocean gyres.

‘But probably, most of the impacts taking place due to plastic pollution in the oceans are not yet known’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Humankind’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude about garbage is slowly but surely turning the world’s oceans into a soup full of microscopic plastic particles that are probably passing into the marine food chain, Spanish scientists said this week, describing their findings from a nine-month research cruise around the world.

“Ocean currents carry plastic objects which split into smaller and smaller fragments due to solar radiation,” said Andrés Cózar, aresearcher with the University of Cadiz. “Those little pieces of plastic, known as microplastics, can last hundreds of years and were detected in 88 percent of the ocean surface sampled during the 2010 Malaspina Expedition,” Cózar said. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: Pacific great white sharks may be more abundant than previously believed

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Are Pacific Ocean great white sharks endangered?

New study suggests there’s no need for endangered species listing

Staff Report

FRISCO — While California is considering endangered species status for great white sharks, some recent research suggests the apex ocean predators are doing just fine, and that populations appear to be growing.

George Burgess, director of the Florida Program for Shark Research, said the wide-ranging study is good news for shark conservation. The study, to be published June 16 in the journal PLOS ONE, shows that conservation measures are working.

Scientists reanalyzed 3-year-old research that indicated white shark numbers in the Eastern North Pacific were alarmingly low, with only 219 counted at two sites. That study triggered petitions to list white sharks as endangered.

“White sharks are the largest and most charismatic of the predator sharks, and the poster child for sharks and the oceans in general,” said Burgess, whose research program is based at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “If something is wrong with the largest, most powerful group in the sea, then something is wrong with the sea, so it’s a relief to find they’re in good shape.” Continue reading

Deadly starfish disease explodes on Oregon coast

Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS

Northern rainbow star afflicted with sea star wasting disease. This species had virtually disappeared from central California kelp forests as of February 2014. Photo: Steve Lonhart / NOAA MBNMS.

Biologists fully expecting local extinctions

Staff Report

FRISCO — As scientists continue to puzzle over the cause of a devastating starfish disease, the outbreak this month spread rapidly north along the coast of Oregon, where ocean experts are now expecting a widespread die-off with some local extinctions of starfish possible.

Sea star wasting syndrome is a traumatic process in which, over the course of a week or less, the sea stars begin to lose legs, disintegrate, ultimately die and rot. They sometimes physically tear their bodies apart. Various epidemics of the syndrome have been observed in the past, but none of this extent or severity, according to information released by Oregon State University. Continue reading

Oceans: Study finds that regional humpback whale populations should be classified as distinct subspecies

Northern and southern humpbacks rarely mingle

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale near Hawaii. Photo courtesy NOAA.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Humpback whales in the North Pacific, the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean are much more genetically distinct than previously thought, and should be recognized as separate subspecies, according to biologists who carefully analyzed DNA from hundreds of whales around the world.

The findings could bolster conservation strategies for the whales, which were nearly hunted to extinction during the 20th century. While some humpback whale populations have made a strong recovery since the end of the whaling era, other isolated populations may need additional help to recover.

The findings could help federal biologists in the U.S. as they consider a proposal to designate North Pacific humpbacks as a single “distinct population segment” under the Endangered Species Act and illustrate the complexity studying and managing marine mammals on a global scale.

The bottom line, according to the paper published last week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B last week,  is that humpback whales of the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere are on independent evolutionary trajectories. Continue reading

Environment: European deep sea survey shows extent of marine litter problem

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This shows litter items on the seafloor of European waters. Clockwise from top left i) Plastic bag recorded by an OFOS at the HAUSGARTEN observatory (Arctic) at 2500 m; ii = Litter recovered within the net of a trawl in Blanes open slope at 1500 m during the PROMETO 5 cruise on board the R/V “García del Cid”; iii) Cargo net entangled in a cold-water coral colony at 950 m in Darwin Mound with the ROV “Lynx” (National Oceanography Centre, UK). iv) “Heineken” beer can in the upper Whittard canyon at 950 m water depth with the ROV Genesis. Image credit: Pham CK et al. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095839

Researchers find human garbage from the Arctic to the Azores

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCOFor all our efforts to contain civilization’s refuse, a lot of it is still ending up in the world’s oceans. The giant swirling garbage patches of the surface have been well documented and a new study shows that you can also find bottles, plastic bags, fishing nets and other types of human litter in deep sea trenches and even along the remote mid-Atlantic Ridge.

In some areas, generally within 100 miles of shore, the scientists found litter at the rate of about 20 pieces per hectare (about 2.5 acres) and even at the lowest density sites in more remote areas, the survey found about two pieces of garbage per hectare, said Kerry Howell, associate professor at Plymouth University’s Marine Institute.

“This survey has shown that human litter is present in all marine habitats, from beaches to the most remote and deepest parts of the oceans,” Howell said. “Most of the deep sea remains unexplored by humans and these are our first visits to many of these sites, but we were shocked to find that our rubbish has got there before us.” Continue reading

Oceans: More love for West Coast orcas?

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Orcas along the coast of the Pacific Northwest may get more protected habitat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Feds to consider expanded habitat protections for endangered resident population of killer whales

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists will take another look at an endangered population of killer whales off the West Coast to determine whether they need more critical habitat.

The southern resident population of the marine mammals, based in Puget Sound, range along the Pacific Coast. A critical habitat expansion would protect winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, which spurred the review with a formal petition.

“Despite nearly a decade of federal protection, the Puget Sound’s orca population remains perilously small, hovering around only 80 animals,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This proposal is an important step toward recovery and will help the whales stave off extinction.” Continue reading

Scientist find source of mysterious Southern Ocean sound

New data could help minke whale conservation efforts

A group of Antarctic minke whales. Photo courtesy Ari S. Friedlaender, Oregon State University

A group of Antarctic minke whales, which have been identified as the source of a mysterious sound in the Southern Ocean. Photo courtesy Ari S. Friedlaender, Oregon State University.

Staff Report

FRISCO — If you’ve ever heard mysterious sounds that you can’t identify, you’re not alone. For decades, researchers have tried to trace the source of a unique rhythmic sound in the remote Southern Ocean that’s often been recorded, but never definitively pinpointed — until now.

This week, scientists with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center said the sound is generated by the Antarctic Minke whale, the smallest of the “great whales” or rorquals, a group that includes the blue whale, Bryde’s whale, and humpback, fin, and sei whales. Rorqual whales are relatively streamlined in appearance, have pointed heads and, with the exception of humpback whales, small pointed fins. Continue reading

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