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

German tour operators halt cruises to Faroe Islands in response to continued whale slaughter

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Bloody whale killing on the beaches of the Faroe Islands, Photo via Sea Shepherd.

Activists say unnecessary whale killing must stop

Staff Report

FRISCO — Two big German tour operators have announced that they are cancelling cruise ship visits to the Faroe Islands in reaction to the country’s annual slaughter of hapless whales.

Wildlife advocacy groups have been stepping up the pressure on the Faroe Islands to try and stop the annual event, called the  grindadráp. Islanders defend the practice as an important cultural tradition, but activists say the killing must stop. This year, more than 250 pilot whales where killed late July in a bloodbath on beaches near  Bøur and Tórshavn. 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

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

Oceans: Study shows whales are ecosystem engineers

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

A North Atlantic right whale and calf. PHOTO COURTESY NOAA.

Healthy whale populations could buffer oceans from some global warming impacts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Whales may play a much bigger role in ocean ecosystems than previously thought, according to a University of Vermont researcher who studied how the great cetaceans recycle and move nutrients from one region to another.

“For a long time, whales have been considered too rare to make much of a difference in the oceans,” notes University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman.

That was a mistake, he said, explaining how his research shows that whales  have a powerful and positive influence on the function of oceans, global carbon storage, and the health of commercial fisheries. Continue reading

More whales moving north through Bering Strait

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Scientists see changes in the way marine mammals use the Bering Strait. Photo courtesy NASA.

Scientists say mitigation needed to protect marine life in the region

Staff Report

FRISCO — American and Russian scientists studying the Bering Strait say that global warming is changing the way marine mammals use the area. Species at home farther south are using the narrow passage to the Arctic Ocean much more often, the researchers said after monitoring the area for three years with underwater microphones.

The recordings show Arctic beluga and bowhead whales migrating seasonally through the region from the Arctic south to spend winter in the Bering Sea. They also detect large numbers of sub-Arctic humpback, fin and killer whales traveling north through the Bering Strait to feed in the biologically rich Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Counting whales — from space

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New satellite technology could help biologists getter more accurate estimates of whale populations  NOAA photo.

New method could help with marine mammal conservation planning

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — After using satellite images to discover new emperor penguin colonies in Antarctica, scientists with the British Antarctic Survey said they’ve also been able to use similar technology to count whales.

Marine mammals are extremely difficult to count on a large scale and traditional methods, such as counting from platforms or land, can be costly and inefficient, so the new method could lead to breakthroughs in estimating populations of whales and other marine mammals. Continue reading

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