Environment: Scientists investigate unusual spate of endangered fin whale deaths in coastal Alaskan waters

9 whales died about the same time around Kodiak Island

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The first of several dead fin whales, later named FW01, floats outside Marmot Bay on May 23. Credit courtesy of MV Kennicott crew and NOAA.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Why did a large number of endangered fin whales die in the waters around Kodiak Island? Map courtesy Wikipedia.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marine researchers in Alaska are investigating the death of at least nine endangered fin whales in the ocean between  Kodiak to Unimak Pass since late May.

“It is an unusual and mysterious event that appears to have happened around Memorial Day weekend,” said Kate Wynne, an Alaska Sea Grant marine mammal specialist and University of Alaska Fairbanks professor. “We rarely see more than one fin whale carcass every couple of years.”

Fin whales, an endangered species, grow to 70 feet long. They use baleen in their mouths to strain copepods, krill and small fish from seawater. The whales feed in tight formations, so Wynne thinks the dead whales could have consumed something toxic around the week of May 20. Continue reading

Oceans: Scientists track spread of toxic algae along West Coast

Is the outbreak linked to global warming?

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Ocean temperatures along the west coast of North America have been well above average for many months, possibly contributing to a widespread outbreak of toxin-producing algae.

A nice haul of blue crabs.

Crab fishing and other seafood harvesting has been shut down along the West Coast because of an algae outbreak.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Top federal scientists suspect that a widespread bloom of toxin-producing algae along the West Coast is linked to months of well above-average ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific, but say it’s too early to tell for sure.

The researchers may know more in a few months, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle is mobilizing extra scientists to track the widespread algal bloom along much of the West Coast. The epidemic has triggered numerous closures of important shellfish fisheries in Washington, Oregon and California. Continue reading

Environment: GOP takes aim at ocean protections

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Commercial shrimp boats at anchor in Appalichicola, Florida. @bberwyn photo.

Proposed House measure would threaten decades of progress on restoring fisheries

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — After years of attacking public land protections with little to show for their efforts, anti-environmental Republicans in Congress are now taking aim at the oceans.

House Resolution 1335, cooked up in the witch’s kitchen of the House Natural Resources Committee, would slash rules that, for decades, have helped rebuild fisheries and protected ocean species from extinction. Continue reading

Gulf of Mexico dolphin die-off linked with exposure to oil from 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster

‘Dolphins are particularly susceptible to inhalation effects due to their large lungs, deep breaths and extended breath hold times’

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A bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico led directly to the worst dolphin  die-off on record in the northern Gulf of Mexico, scientists reported last week.

The new study published in the online journal PLOS ONE, linked the dolphin deaths with exposure to oil from BP’s failed Macondo Well. The scientists found that dead bottlenose dolphins stranded in the northern Gulf of Mexico since the start of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have lung and adrenal lesions consistent with petroleum product exposure. Continue reading

Are hungry seals hampering Scottish cod recovery?

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Atlantic cod.

‘We may have to live with smaller cod stocks if we want to protect our seals’

Staff Report

FRISCO — Efforts to rebuild commercially important cod stocks off the west coast of Scotland have been hampered by hungry seals, scientists said. The research by marine biologists at the  University of Strathclyde suggests that, as fishermen have cut back on their catches by half, predation by seals has rapidly increased.

The seals may be consuming more than 40 percent of the total stock of cod, up to  7,000 tons per year off the west of Scotland, where landed catches now amount to only a few hundred tons. The research paper has been published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Continue reading

Still more questions than answers about the ecological effects of oil dispersants used in Gulf of Mexico

Scientists say more study needed before the next big spill

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches the Alabama coastline. Courtesy U.S. Navy.

Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster approaches the Alabama coastline. Courtesy U.S. Navy.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Fallout from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is still rippling through the Gulf of Mexico — and through the scientific community studying the effects of the largest oil spill on record.

Along with 210 million gallons of crude oil that leaked from BP’s failed deep-sea well, cleanup workers applied 1.84 million gallons of chemical dispersant intended to break down the oil and prevent it from reaching the shoreline in massive quantities. Continue reading

Are jellyfish taking over Puget Sound?

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A NASA Earth Observatory satellite image shows Puget Sound.

Study shows dramatic shift in marine species

Staff Report

FRISCO — Biologists looking at 40 years of fisheries data from Puget Sound have documented a dramatic shift in marine species. Key fish in the food chain, like herring and smelt, have declined, while the number of jellyfish has increased exponentially, to the detriment of the marine ecosystem.

“On land people see the changes that come with human population increases, but underwater the changes are much harder to discern,” said Correigh Greene, with NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “What this tells us is that when you look over time, you can see that the underwater landscape of Puget Sound is changing too,” said Greene, lead author of the new study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series. Continue reading

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