Study documents high rate of reproductive failure in dolphins hit by Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Impacts of oil pollution expected to affect Barataria Bay populations for a long time

Dolphin Y01 pushes a dead calf in March, 2013. This behavior is sometimes observed in female dolphins when their newborn calf does not survive. Credit Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

A dolphin pushes a dead calf in March, 2013. This behavior is sometimes observed in female dolphins when their newborn calf does not survive. Photo courtesy Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Staff Report

There’s already a wealth of research showing that the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was very bad for coastal dolphins. One study, for example, showed dolphins in Barataria Bay exposed to BP’s oil suffered lung disease and hormone deficiencies.

In a report released this week, a team of researchers led by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration scientists is reporting a high rate of reproductive failure in dolphins exposed to the 2010 spill. The biologists monitored bottlenose dolphins in heavily-oiled Barataria Bay for five years following the spill. Continue reading

Environment: Are toxic algae blooms killing whales?

This is a right whale calf washed up at Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. New research indicates a likely connection between the deaths of hundreds such calves starting in the mid-2000s and blooms of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia. Andrea Chirife, Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program

This is a right whale calf washed up at Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. New research indicates a likely connection between the deaths of hundreds such calves starting in the mid-2000s and blooms of the toxic algae Pseudo-nitzschia. Photo courtesy Andrea Chirife, Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program.

Study examines juvenile right whale deaths off coast of Argentina

Staff Report

Biologists suspect that blooms of toxic algae may have been responsible for a sudden surge in mortality among young right whales off the coast of Argentina during the past decade.

The baby whales started dying in increasing numbers in 2005, with the average number of deaths per year at Peninsula Valdes jumping more than 10-fold — from fewer than six per year before 2005 to 65 per year from 2005 to 2014.

The area is an important calving ground for southern right whales, and researchers had never seen such a dramatic spike in deaths. Even more striking, 90 percent of the deaths from 2005 to 2014 were very young calves fewer than three months old. The mystery killer appeared to be targeting the nearly newborn, sometimes more than 100 calves of the endangered species each year. Continue reading

Mexico to step up vaquita conservation efforts

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Mexican agencies say they will try to cut illegal fishing and work more closely with conservation groups to prevent the vaquita from going extinct. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Focusing on illegal trade could help protect world’s most endangered marine mammal

By Bob Berwyn

In a hopeful sign for the critically endangered vaquita, Mexican environmental and law enforcement officials have indicated they’ll work more closely with conservation groups to track illegal fishing in the upper Gulf of California, and try to stop the trade of illegal fish in the region.

The vaquita is the world’s most endangered marine mammal. The small dolphins live only in a few thousand square miles of ocean in the northern Gulf of California. Biologists estimate the total population at fewer than 100 individuals. Continue reading

Scientists search for ‘acoustic wilderness’ in the oceans

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A supply ship lumbers through the biodiverse waters of the Antarctic Sound. @bberwyn photo.

Staff Report

Ocean scientists are advocating for the designation of quiet zones to help gain a better understanding of how noise pollution affects marine life.

Creating areas where ship traffic is limited would help researchers find the best way to protect marine life from harmful noise, according to a new study published in the journal  Marine Pollution Bulletin. By assigning zones through which ships cannot travel, researchers can help find the best way to protect marine life from harmful noise.

Almost all marine organisms, including mammals like whales and dolphins, fish and even invertebrates, use sound to find food, avoid predators, choose mates and navigate. Chronic noise from human activities such as shipping can have a big impact on these animals, since it interferes with their acoustic signaling. Increased background noise can mean animals are unable to hear important signals, and they tend to swim away from sources of noise, disrupting their normal behavior. Continue reading

Court ruling may help California sea otter recovery

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Southern California sea otters get some love from a federal court. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Federal judge backs USFWS decision to end a ‘no otter’ zone in Southern California

Staff Report

California sea otters may have a better chance of expanding south along the coast after a federal judge last week backed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision to end a program that removed otters from areas south of Point Conception.

The “no-otter zone” was established by Congress in 1986 during the early days of political meddling with the Endangered Species Act, in response to complaints from fishermen that moving otters to a new location could interfere with their fishing activities. Continue reading

Court orders U.S. Navy to cut sonar testing, explosives use in key marine mammal areas

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Marine mammals around California and Hawaii will get some relief from U.S. Navy training exercises. @bberwyn photo.

‘If a whale or dolphin can’t hear, it can’t survive …’

Staff Report

Whale and dolphins off the coast of California and Hawaii will get temporary protection from naval warfare training activities under a federal court settlement that restricts sonar training and the use of powerful explosives in some areas.

The settlement is in response to a lawsuit from a coalition of activist groups that has been sparring with the U.S. Navy over the issue for about 10 years. The court previously found that the Navy’s activities illegally harm more than 60 separate populations of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions.

Continue reading

Environment: Scientists say global standards for ocean noise pollution are needed to protect marine life

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

Ocean noise pollution hinders communication among whales, and likely impairs their ability to navigate and feed.

Increase in seismic blasting raises concerns

Staff Report

FRISCO — Scientists say new global regulations on ocean noise pollution are needed to protect marine life.

Governments and industries around the world are expanding the use of high-decibel seismic surveys to explore the ocean bottom for resources, potentially putting whales and other animals at risk.

To reduce the risks, the experts recommended that ocean noise be recognized globally as a pollutant — something the European Union has already done — and managed through a revision to the existing International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from Ships. Continue reading

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