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

Watchdog group says manatee harassment ‘out of control’

Agency efforts to educate visitors sometimes met with verbal abuse, according to federal biologists

Manatees gather at King Spring, along Florida's Crystal River, which serves as a warm-water refuge on a 30-degree January day. PHOTO BY JOYCE KLEEN/USFWS.

Manatees gather at King Spring, along Florida’s Crystal River, which serves as a warm-water refuge on a 30-degree January day. PHOTO BY JOYCE KLEEN/USFWS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — Observations by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists may bolster a watchdog group’s arguments that well-intentioned swim-with-manatee programs are actually pushing the endangered marine mammals closer to the brink of extinction.

In some Florida locations, harassment of manatees by visitors may be out of control, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which last month said it will go to court to try and end the programs.

An email written last year by outgoing Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge/ Kings Bay Manatee Refuge manager Michael Lusk may be a “smoking gun” that shows exactly how visitors are disturbing the animals. Without adequate resources to manage the swim-with-manatees programs, the activities are likely to contribute to the decline of the species. Continue reading

Study: Polar bears can’t survive on berries and bird eggs

Do polar bears hibernate? Read the latest edition of our bear blog to find out.

Can polar bears survive the Arctic meltdown? Photo courtesy USGS.

Arctic sea ice decline is bad news for apex predators

Staff Report

*Click here for more Summit Voice stories on polar bears and climate change

FRISCO — The idea that polar bears may somehow adapt to the rapid loss of Arctic sea ice by switching to land-based food sources isn’t supported by science, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Some polar bears are eating berries, birds and eggs as they’re forced ashore by the retreating sea ice. But the behavior isn’t widespread and probably can’t make up for the loss of the bears’ primary prey — fatty, protein-rich ice seals, according to new research led by U.S. Geological Survey scientists. Continue reading

Court finds fatal flaws in U.S. Navy training plan

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A federal court ruling may help protect marine mammals from harmful military activities in the Pacific Ocean. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Environmental study for Pacific Ocean military exercises violates several federal laws

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A federal court this week rejected a U.S. Navy plan for training activities off the coast of California and around the Hawaiian Islands after finding that the naval exercises would harm multiple species of marine mammals — in violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The plan, sanctioned by the National Marine Fisheries Service, fails to meet basic requirements of federal environmental laws, said  Judge Susan Oki Mollway, of the U.S. District Court for Hawaii, calling the government’s documents so fundamentally flawed that they need to be totally rewritten. Continue reading

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