Feds to expand critical habitat for rare Atlantic whales

Proposal comes in response to legal pressure from activists

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North Atlantic right whales, courtesy Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Staff Report

FRISCO — One of the world’s most endangered marine mammals will get a little more room to roam, as the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed an expansion of critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales.

The expansion covers areas in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean that support calving and nursing. The habitat rule comes in response to continued pressure from conservation advocates pushing for adequate protection for a species that numbers only about 450 individuals. Continue reading

Sonar study finds blue whale ‘hotspots’ in Southern Ocean

Whale populations around Antarctica still rebounding from industrial whaling era

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New sonar techniques could help pinpoint blue whale numbers in the Southern Ocean and identify important habitat. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Staff Report

FRISCO — After a century of relentless industrial whaling, blue whales were nearly extirpated from the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, The giant marine mammal is now making a comeback, and resurgent whale numbers could affect other parts of the ecosystem.

Other recent research has shown blue whale numbers rebounding off the coast of California, and biologists with the British Antarctic Survey recently reported that satellite technology could also help count whales.

But for the Southern Ocean, scientists don’t have a good grasp of population numbers. Between 1978 and 2010 blue whale surveys recorded only 216 visual encounters, so new research by Australian scientists may help identify important habitat areas and pinpoint numbers, which helps inform conservation strategies, with several large marine protected areas in the works for Antarctica. Continue reading

Feds include captive orca under endangered species listing

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Public comments on listing decision reflect changes in public attitudes on captive animals. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Activists push to free Lolita, a killer whale that has been at the Miami Seaquarium since the 1970s

Staff Report

FRISCO — A grassroots push to return a captured killer whale from the Miami Seaquarium to its home in the Pacific Ocean got a boost from federal biologists and attorneys this week, who decided to include Lolita in the endangered species listing for Southern Resident Killer Whales that spend much of the year in the inland waters of Washington and British Columbia.

In a Feb. 4 announcement, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that, while Lolita will now share the endangered listing status of the population she came from, the decision does not impact her residence at the Miami Seaquarium, which doesn’t currently have plans to return the marine mammal to the ocean. Continue reading

Trade court deal to help marine mammals worldwide

I've always thought of dolphins as being all curves.

A court-ordered settlement will protect marine mammals.

Seafood imports to U.S. must meet high marine mammal protection standards

Staff Report

FRISCO — In what conservation advocates are calling a landmark settlement, the U.S. government this week agreed to implement a long-ignored provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that will require foreign fisheries to meet the same standards required of U.S. fishermen or be denied import privileges. Continue reading

Study: Federal regulations alone won’t help Hawaii spinner dolphins

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Spinner dolphin. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Duke University researchers say community based conservation measures also needed

Staff Report

FRISCO —Hawaii’s spinner dolphins need federal regulations limiting human access to resting areas, but that alone won’t be enough to help them survive in the long run. Along with any new federal rules, resource managers will also have to work to develop local community-based conservation measures, which can be tailored to how individual bays are used, according to new research by Duke University.

Federal biologists estimate there are about 3,000 spinner dolphins around Hawaii, where hundreds of thousands of tourists pay for up-close encounters with the animals, swimming with them in shallow bays the dolphins use as safe havens for daytime rest. But as the number of tours increases, so do the pressures they place on the resting dolphins. Continue reading

Feds taking input on new Florida manatee plan

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Manatees at Crystal Springs, Florida. bberwyn photo.

Refuge managers seek to balance protection of marine mammals with demand for public access at Three Sisters Springs

Staff Report

FRISCO — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says a careful management plan at a freshwater spring in Florida can help protect manatees and ensure public access to the popular Three Sisters Springs recreation area.

The agency this week started taking input on a draft environmental assessment for management actions to protect manatees and still allow public access at Three Sisters Springs during the winter season. Continue reading

Study pinpoints threats to Mediterranean dolphins

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Can Mediterranean dolphins survive the rising tide of tourism? bberwyn photo.

Pollution, boat strikes contribute to decline of Balearic population

Staff Report

FRISCO — Growing tourism, fishing, pollution and general marine traffic is threatening a small population of bottlenose dolphins living in coastal waters off the Pityusic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea, according to a study led by University of Barcelona researchers.

The biologists said they were able for the first time to get an accurate population count of the dolphins during spring and summer, crucial seasons for the marine mammals. Continue reading

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