U.S. takes huge step to boost global marine mammal protection

Proposes fishery rule could prevent tens of thousands of unnecessary whale and dolphin deaths

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Porpoises and other marine mammals could benefit from a new rule that would require other countries to meet protective U.S. marine mammal standards. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to boost global efforts to protect marine mammals with a new set of proposed rules that would require commercial fishing operations in other countries to meet U.S. standards.

As proposed, seafood imports from other countries could be banned if they don’t meet those requirements. Scientists estimate that each year more than 650,000 whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear. These animals are unintentional “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown or are tossed overboard to die from their injuries. Continue reading

Study shows how ocean noise harms dolphins

Seismic airgun blasting, naval warfare training are key sources of harmful ocean noise pollution

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A dolphin the Gulf of Mexico. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With ever more offshore oil and gas exploration proposed, conservation advocates have been warning that the cumulative effects of those activities will take a huge toll on dolphins, whales and other marine life.

Of particular concern are plans to ramp up seismic underwater airgun blasting, used in the search for oil and gas deposits beneath the seafloor. Federal officials recently adopted a final proposal that would allow the use of this controversial technology in an area twice the size of California, stretching from Delaware to Florida.  Continue reading

Oceans: Proposed gillnet ban may be too little, too late for critically endangered Gulf of California vaquitas

Lack of enforcement seen as stumbling block to recovery

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A vaquita in the Gulf of California. Photo courtesy NOAA/Paula Olsen.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Mexico has launched a last-ditch effort to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise by banning the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf of California. Conservation advocates said the ban is a step in the right direction, but expressed concern that Mexico won’t follow through with enforcement.

Vaquitas, the smallest members of the porpoise family, live only in the northern Gulf of California, generally in the vicinity of the Colorado River delta. The species has been on the Endangered Species List since 1985. Scientists say less than 100 individuals remain. Vaquitas could be extinct by 2018 without drastic conservation and recovery actions.

According to conservation biologists, the biggest threat by far to vaquitas is drowning in fishing nets. Environmental pollution, habitat degradation and inbreeding are also factors in their decline. Continue reading

German travel company says no to dolphin shows

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An orca swims in the Antarctic Sound. bberwyn photo.

Decision based on animal welfare concerns

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Germany’s largest travel agency and tour operator has announced that it won’t be offering any more trips to destinations that keep whales and dolphins in captivity.

TUI Deutschland officials made the decision after aligning themselves with an advocacy group that has highlighted just a few of the problems faced by captive cetaceans, including tiny enclosures and disruption of social structures.

TUI also cited information from the CNN documentary Blackfish, which is set to air once again on Feb. 9. The company also said it won’t offer trips to destinations that advertise swimming with dolphins, according to the German publication Die Welt.

While facilities like SeaWorld and other marine parks see themselves as good stewards of marine mammals, public pressure is growing to end the practice of showing whales and dolphins for entertainment.

German wildlife advocates said recent worldwide attention on the gruesome dolphin slaughter in Taji also helped push the huge tour operator toward the decision.

Environment: Dolphins hit by Deepwater Horizon spill are suffering from lung disease and hormone deficiencies

‘”I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals …”

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Oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is making dolphins very ill.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Dolphins exposed to heavy doses of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are experiencing lung disease at five times the rate of dolphin populations in other areas, federal researchers reported in a new study published this week. The scientists also found that 25 percent of the Barataria Bay dolphins were significantly underweight and the population overall had very low levels of adrenal hormones, which are critical for responding to stress.

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals — and with unusual conditions such as the adrenal hormone abnormalities,” said lead author Dr. Lori Schacke, who announced similar findings in March 2012. Continue reading

Oceans: Study tests dolphins for mercury exposure

Dolphins off the coast of Florida have been exposed to more mercury than captive dolphins fed a controlled diet. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

Results suggest that Florida coastal waters have high levels of the toxic metal

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A new study by researchers from The Johns Hopkins University and The National Aquarium shows that wild dolphins have higher levels of mercury than their captive cousins, suggesting that mercury pollution in the oceans is a continuing problem.

The captive animals were fed a controlled diet, while the wild mammals dined on marine life that may carry more of the toxic metal.

The study found lower levels of mercury in the captive animals, particularly compared to wild dolphins tested off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of Florida, a state that is in the path of mercury-laden fumes from power plants. The aquarium dolphins are fed smaller fish from North Atlantic waters, where mercury pollution is less prevalent. Continue reading

Grim outlook for dolphins exposed to BP oil in Gulf

Critical hormones affected in almost half the marine mammals studied

A bottlenose dolphin in the Gulf of Mexico. PHOTO BY BOB BERWYN.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY —The scope of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was so unprecedented that biologists weren’t sure what they would find when they started investigating dolphin health in Barataria Bay, off the coast of Louisiana.

What they did find was disturbing. Many dolphins are underweight and anemic, have low blood sugar and suffers symptoms of liver and lung disease, NOAA researchers said last week. Nearly half of the 32 dolphins studied also have abnormally low levels of hormones that help with stress response, metabolism and immune function.

“This was truly an unprecedented event – there was little existing data that would indicate what effects might be seen specifically in dolphins (or other cetaceans) exposed to oil for a prolonged period of time,” Dr. Lori Schwacke said via email. “However, there have been experimental studies of health effects in another mammal (mink) exposed to oil over several months, and the health issues that we see in these dolphins are consistent with the adverse effects seen in the mink studies,” she said. Continue reading

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