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Old 07-29-2005, 02:36 PM   #1
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A Mixed Bag for Endangered Species

Two articles on two endangered species - one distressing, one a bit more hopeful.

But two articles that I hope you'll take the time to read.

Here's the first:


Alarm Raised over North Atlantic Whale Deaths
By Larry O'Hanlon, Discovery News

July 22, 2005 — The recent, unprecedented accidental deaths of eight North Atlantic right whales — at least six of which were female — have shaken the belief among experts that the endangered whales were almost on the road to recovery.

There are believed to be only about 350 North Atlantic right whales alive today, out of many thousands that once roamed the cooler northern waters from Florida to New England. The death of so many females of breeding age in one year is a terrible sign, said whale researchers in an article in the July 22 issue of the journal Science.

"We have only less than 100 reproducing females," said Scott Kraus, of the New England Aquarium in Boston, and lead author of the Science article. "So we're looking at a very rapid decline in reproducing individuals."

It's simply a matter of counting deaths versus births, he explains.

There had been optimism about the prospects of the North Atlantic right whales after last year's birth of 28 calves — up from 16 the year before, said Kraus. But when the number of deaths is factored in, plus the number of individually identified whales known from surveys that have just disappeared — never to be seen again — the death rate of the whales is more like 47 over the last 16 months, said Kraus.

"The fact of the matter is that we're still killing them off at a rate that is unsustainable," said Kraus.

That means the North Atlantic species of right whales will certainly go extinct without immediate and decisive action, said Kraus.

Because the North Atlantic right whales are protected from commercial whaling, the leading causes of death are collisions with boats and entanglements with fishing gear, Kraus says. Re-design of fishing equipment would help, but the same laws that are designed to protect the whales have proven dangerously sluggish in approving new, whale-friendly fishing technology, he said.

The fate of the North Atlantic right whales bodes unwell for other whales too, said whale researcher Todd O'Hara of the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

"The North Atlantic right whale is not unique," O'Hara said of the deaths from boat collisions and fishing gear entanglement. The same problems exist for the North Pacific right whale, as well as other Pacific whale species, he said.

"This is not just a regional management issue," said O'Hara. "We should be looking at (the North Atlantic right whales) closely because it could be a sign of what could happen elsewhere."

One of the frustrating contradictions in the battle to save whales today, says O'Hara, is that despite historic drops in commercial whaling, whales are still facing growing threats from fisheries and more traffic along shipping lanes.

But deaths from collisions and fishing gear entanglements don't seem to outrage the public the way whaling did, he said.

There is far more of a public outcry, for instance, when a few whales mysteriously strand themselves on beaches than when scores die from human activities at sea, said O'Hara.

"In this case we know what the causes of death are," said O'Hara, but the measures to prevent the deaths still aren't in place.


The next is a bit more hopeful:


Microchip Saves Rare Turtle from Soup Pot

July 21, 2005 — An endangered "royal" turtle, believed to be one of 10 left in Cambodia, has narrowly escaped a trip to a Chinese soup pot thanks to a tiny microchip implanted in its leg, officials said on Thursday.

Wildlife inspectors discovered the turtle, estimated to be 35 years old, on May 22 inside a crate of confiscated wildlife in Vietnam which smugglers were planning to send to China, Heng Souvannara of the Cambodian fishery department's endangered species office, told AFP.

“ It is very lucky that thanks to the microchip implanted in its right leg, the turtle has been saved. ”

The inspectors used a special reading device to detect the microchip during a raid on a smuggler's house, said Heng Souvannara, whose office is funded by the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society.

"This royal turtle is very lucky," he said. "It's a one-in-1,000 chance that this turtle could return to Cambodia.

"It is very lucky that thanks to the microchip implanted in its right leg, the turtle has been saved. If there was no microchip, the turtle would have been killed to be Chinese soup," he said.

The 15-kilogram (33-pound) male mangrove terrapin, which was released two years ago into Cambodia's southwestern Sre Ambel River, was handed over to Cambodia by Vietnamese authorities in a ceremony last week.

"This is a clear and very positive example of how authorities can cooperate across international borders to resolve specific trans-border trade cases," Doug Hendrie, the conservation society's Asian turtle coordinator, said in a statement.

"In this case, a very important turtle has returned home," he said.

In the past the turtle was considered the exclusive property of Cambodia's royal family.

"In the past, only the king's family could eat the turtle," Heng Souvannara said. "People considered such turtles belonged to the king so no one dared eat them."

The species is native to coastal river systems and mangrove forests from India through Bangladesh and Myanmar, south along both coasts of peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra in Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia.

Heng Souvannara said the turtle will be returned to the Sre Ambel River once conservationists are sure it is in good health.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered
Major Threat(s): Poaching
What Can I Do?: Visit the Asian Turtle Information Network for information on how you can help.


Thanks for reading and caring.


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Old 07-30-2005, 08:21 AM   #2
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Thank you for the info.

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Old 08-02-2005, 02:23 PM   #3
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Another disturbing article about the destruction of our natural environment:


Pacific Coast Life Concerns Scientists By TERENCE CHEA, Associated Press Writer
Mon Aug 1, 8:29 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO - Marine biologists are seeing mysterious and disturbing things along the Pacific Coast this year: higher water temperatures, plummeting catches of fish, lots of dead birds on the beaches, and perhaps most worrisome, very little plankton — the tiny organisms that are a vital link in the ocean food chain.

Is this just one freak year? Or is this global warming?

Few scientists are willing to blame global warming, the theory that carbon dioxide and other manmade emissions are trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere and causing a worldwide rise in temperatures. Yet few are willing to rule it out.

"There are strange things happening, but we don't really understand how all the pieces fit together," said Jane Lubchenco, a zoologist and climate change expert at Oregon State University. "It's hard to say whether any single event is just an anomaly or a real indication of something serious happening."

Scientists say things could very well swing back to normal next year. But if the phenomenon proves to be long-lasting, the consequences could be serious for birds, fish and other wildlife.

This much is known: From California to British Columbia, unusual weather patterns have disrupted the marine ecosystem.

Normally, in the spring and summer, winds blow south along the Pacific Coast and push warmer surface waters away from shore. That allows colder, nutrient-rich water to well up from the bottom of the sea and feed microscopic plants called phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are then eaten by zooplankton, tiny marine animals that include shrimp-like crustaceans called krill. Zooplankton, in turn, are eaten by seabirds and by fish and marine mammals ranging from sardines to whales.

But this year, the winds have been unusually weak, failing to generate much upwelling and reducing the amount of phytoplankton.

Off Oregon, for example, the waters near the shore are 5 to 7 degrees warmer than normal and have yielded about one-fourth the usual amount of phytoplankton, said Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Newport, Ore.

"The bottom has fallen out of the coastal food chain, and there's just not enough food out there," said Julia Parrish, a seabird ecologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Seabirds are clearly distressed. On the Farallon Islands west of San Francisco, researchers this spring noted a steep decrease in nesting cormorants and a 90 percent drop in Cassin's auklets — the worst in more than 35 years of monitoring.

On Washington state's Tatoosh Island, common murres — a species so sensitive to disruptions that scientists consider it a harbinger of ecological change — started breeding nearly a month late. It was the longest delay in 15 years of monitoring.

Researchers have also reported a sharp increase in dead birds washing up in California, Oregon and Washington.

Along Monterey Bay in Central California, there are four times the usual number of dead seabirds, said Hannah Nevins, a scientist at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

"Basically, they're not finding enough food, and they use up the energy that's stored in their muscles, liver and body fat," Nevins said.

Fish appear to be feeling the effects, too. NOAA found a 20 percent to 30 percent drop in juvenile salmon off the coasts of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia in June and July, compared with the average over the previous six years.

And researchers counted the lowest number of juvenile rockfish in more than 20 years of monitoring in Central and Northern California. Fewer than 100 were caught between San Luis Obispo and Fort Bragg this year, compared with several thousand last year.

Scientists have seen some of these strange happenings before during El Nino years, when higher water surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific alter weather patterns worldwide. But the West Coast has not had El Nino conditions this year.

As for the possibility that this is being caused by global warming, scientists are not so sure, since climate change is believed to be a gradual process, and what is happening this year is relatively sudden.

But "if we did see this next year, the notion that global warming plays a role in this carries more weight," said Nathan Mantua, a climate expert at the University of Washington in Seattle.


Associated Press Writer Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Ore., contributed to this report

Very sad, indeed.
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