Acoustic survey tracks whale population trends along the coast of Southern California

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Naval training exercises off the coast of California could pose a threat to endangered marine mammals.

Blue whale numbers holding steady; fin whales increasing

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new acoustic survey in Southern California coastal waters is helping researchers track whale populations.

The data analyzed by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego suggests that blue whale numbers are holding steady, while the number of fin whales is increasing.

Both species are often seen in the Southern California Bight, the curved region of California coastline with offshore waters extending from San Diego to Point Conception (near Santa Barbara, Calif.), but little is known about their use of the area, where ever-increasing ship traffic has raised concerns about collisions between whales and boats. Continue reading

Vaquita population may be down to 50

Illegal fishing drives species toward extinction

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

vaquita habitat map

Vaquitas live only in the northern end of the Gulf of California, where they are threatened by illegal fishing.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Illegal gillnet fishing in the northern Gulf of California continued to take a toll on endangered vaquita porpoises the past few years, according to a new report suggesting that as few as of 50 vaquitas remain.

The report, from the Committee for the Recovery of the Vaquita (CIRVA), is based on acoustic detection surveys, which is the best way to count the small porpoises. Based on the most recent survey, the scientists concluded an apparent 42 percent drop in the vaquita population from 2013 to 2014, when scientists estimated the population at less than 100. Continue reading

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

Biodiversity: Mixed messages on manatee threats

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Manatees gather at a warm-water spring in western Florida. @bberwyn photo.

Loss of seagrass habitat, red tide events still seen as key threats

Staff Report

FRISCO — A new report on threats to manatees is full of mixed signals, on the one hand downgrading the extinction threat, but on the other, warning that loss of habitat and cold-water mortality events are still huge threats.

The study, led by the  U.S. Geological Survey, is part of a five-year status review for the endangered marine mammal.  The scientists concluded that  the long-term probability of the species surviving has increased compared to a 2007 analysis, mainly because of higher aerial survey estimates of population size, improved methods of tracking survival rates, and better estimates of the availability of warm-water refuges. Continue reading

Conservation groups seek international help to save the Gulf of California’s vaquita

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Less than 100 vaquitas remain in the northern Gulf of California.

Petition requests ‘in danger’ status for Baja World Heritage area

Staff Report

U.S. conservation groups working to save the world’s most endangered dolphin from going extinct are hoping to get some help from the rest of the world.

At issue is the vaquita dolphin, which lives only at the northern end of the Gulf of California, an area designated as a World Heritage site in 2005. Less than 100 of the marine mammals remain, and conservation advocates fear that they’ll soon be wiped out.

This week, several groups petitioned the World Heritage Committee to declare the World Heritage area as being “in danger,” a status that recognizes threats to the values that earned the designation in the first place. The World Heritage Committee may consider the petition at its annual meeting in Bonn, Germany, this June. 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

Feds propose taking some humpback whale populations off the endangered species list

Conservation efforts seen as successful

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Some humpback whale populations are no longer endangered. Map courtesy NOAA.

A humpback whale in the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A humpback whale in the Stellwagen National Marine Sanctuary. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With humpback whales rebounding after 40 years of conservation efforts, federal biologists this week said they want to revise the marine mammals’ endangered species status, taking some of the geographically separate populations off the endangered species list.

Reclassifying humpbacks into 14 distinct population segments would enable tailored conservation approach for U.S. fisheries managers. Currently, humpback whales are listed as endangered throughout their range, but 10 of the 14 populations don’t need the highest level of protection anymore, according to NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Continue reading

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