Florida researchers use satellites to find out more about the elusive Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark

Hammerhead shark by Suneko

Using satellite tag technology, research assistant professor Neil Hammerschlag and his colleagues have tracked a hammerhead shark during 62 days, as it journeyed from the southern coast of Florida to the middle of the Atlantic off the coast of New Jersey.

The straight line point-to-point distance turned out to be 1 200 kilometers (745 miles).

“This animal made an extraordinary large movement in a short amount of time,” says Hammerschlag, director of the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science. “This single observation is a starting point, it shows we need to expand our efforts to learn more about them.”

The hammerhead is believed to have been following prey fish off the continental slope, and it was probably prey that caused it to enter the Gulf Stream current and open-ocean waters of the northwestern Atlantic.
The study headed by Hammerschlag is a part of a larger effort to satellite track tropical sharks to find out if any areas are especially important for their hunting, mating and rearing of young. Hammerschlag also wish to document their migration routes.

“This study provides evidence that great hammerheads can migrate into international waters, where these sharks are vulnerable to illegal fishing,” says Hammerschlag. “By knowing the areas where they are vulnerable to exploitation we can help generate information useful for conservation and management of this species.”

More information can be found in the paper “Range extension of the Endangered great hammerhead shark Sphyrna mokarran in the Northwest Atlantic: preliminary data and significance for conservation“, published in the current issue of Endangered Species Research. The paper’s co-authors include Hammerschlag, Austin J. Gallagher and Dominique M. Lazarre of the University of Miami and Curt Slonim of Curt-A-Sea Fishing Charters.

Fish third most popular pet in Australia

Dogs are the most popular pets

A recent online survey in which over a thousand Australians participated show that dogs are the most popular pet, followed by cats and fish. The survey, commissioned by Coles Supermarkets and conducted by Evolve Research, also showed that two in five buy their pets from shops that offer pets for sale, and that only 10 percent of Australia’s pets have been adopted from shelters.

After dogs, cats and fish, the most popular pets among the survey takers were birds, rabbits and guinea pigs. More than 50% allowed their pets to sleep on the bed (I assume there are few fish owners in this group) and roughly 30% sing to their pet. The survey takers spent an average of $58 a month on pet food, and purchased pet health products, pet medical care and pet accessories for $550 last year. Nearly one in five admitted to watching a TV show they believe their pets like, and 17% carry a picture of their pet in their wallet. One in five has taken a sick day to care for a pet.

A lot of this probably boils down to the fact that 83% of survey takers feel that their pet makes them happy when they feel down, and nearly 70% believe that their pet can sense their mood.

A large chunk of the survey takers turned out to be fond of giving their pets gifts and other special treats. Nearly 25% cooked special meals for their animal companions, 46% bought Christmas gifts for them and 40% purchased spontaneous presents. A minority even bought Valetine’s gifts for their pets.

On a related note, the Australian Companion Animal Council has called for pets to be included as a normal part of evacuation procedures in the wake of the recent Queensland flooding.

“We understand that in some situations there has been very little time to prepare for the disasters that have affected communities and priority has to be given to ensuring people are safe,” says Council President Dr Kersti Seksel. “But, ironically, in not allowing pets into evacuation centres, people’s lives are being put at risk.”

Rather than heading for an evacuation center that won’t accept animals, many Australian pet owners choose to stay at home since they do not want to leave their pets to fend for themselves during a flood or cyclone.

“We simply have to include pets in evacuation procedures,” Seksel explains. “At a time of great stress, people are being asked to make the impossible choice of leaving family pets behind and they are just not prepared to do it.”

Lifeline* spokesperson Chris Wagner says that maintaining contact with pets during a natural disaster can provide vital support and companionship.

“This is especially true for children who can be significantly impacted by crisis and can benefit from a ‘friend’ they can connect with,” says Wagner.

In the United States, the House of Representatives passed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The law requires states wanting federal emergency assistance to include pets and service animals in their evacuation plans.

* Lifeline is an organization that provides crisis support, suicide prevention and mental health support services. As a part of their crisis support, they help communities recover after large traumatic events, such as cyclones, flooding and earthquakes.

International consortium formed to study fertilizing oceans with iron

An international consortium has been formed to study the potential effects of adding iron to the ocean to promote the growth of phytoplankton. Phytoplankton use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and ocean fertilization might therefore be a way of mitigating the effects of global warming. When phytoplankton die, organic carbon sinks to the seafloor where it may remain for decades, centuries or even longer – we still do not now much about the time-line.

Iron fertilization of the ocean is far from uncontroversial, since it is very difficult to foresee the long term effects of such a project. The international consortium, which has been named In-Situ Iron Studies (ISIS) consortium , will carry out iron fertilization experiments in the open ocean in an effort in to answer some of the questions regarding how iron affects the ocean’s capacity for dragging carbon dioxide from the air and into the water. All experiments will adhere to the London Convention/London Protocol regarding ocean iron fertilization research.

“A great deal remains to be learned about ocean iron fertilization and how effective it could be in storing carbon dioxide in the oceans, and the formation of this consortium is an important first step,” says Lewis Rothstein, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island. “This is not a call for climate engineering; on the contrary this is a research consortium. It is premature to advocate for large-scale ocean iron fertilization, but it is time to conduct a focused research experiment that will examine the concept as comprehensively as we can. We want to make sure that it doesn’t generate harmful side effects that might negatively affect the marine ecosystem.”

The twelve ISIS-members are the following:
University of Rhode Island, USA
University of Hawaii, USA
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
University of Maine, USA
University of Massachusetts Boston, USA
University of Plymouth, UK
Xiamen University, Fujian, China
The Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, Australia
Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, The Netherlands
The National Oceanography Centre, UK
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, California, USA
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Massachusetts, USA

18 baby dolphins found dead in the Gulf of Mexico

Dolphins. Picture from aquariumposter.com

On February 21, three baby dolphins were found dead on the shores of Horn Island, and on February 22 the finding of a fourth carcass was confirmed by The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS). This brings the amount of dead infant dolphins reported since January up to 18. Since the beginning of the year, 10 adult dolphins have also been found dead.

Located roughly 12 miles (20 km) south of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, Horn Island is one of several islands that make up the Gulf Islands National Seashore Park. National Resource Advisory employees are currently working with BP cleanup crews on the island.

Blair Mase, marine mammal stranding coordinator at The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is concerned about the high number of wash up dead dolphins.

“We’re definitely keeping a close eye on this situation,” says Mase. “We’re comparing this to previous years, trying to find out what’s going on here.”

We are now early in the birthing season for dolphins in the area, and so far, 18 bodies of baby dolphins have been found where the baby was either stillborn or died shortly after birth.

“We’re trying to determine if we do in fact have still births,” says Mase. “There are more in Mississippi than in Alabama and Louisiana. With the oil spill, it is difficult. We’re trying to determine what’s causing this. It could be infectious related. Or it could be non-infection. We run the gamut of causes.”

The necropsy of the dead dolphins will hopefully help shed some light on the situation.

Another case of animal cruelty against goldfish at a Chinese Gala

Watch it here

Yet another Chinese event is by many considered to be tainted with animal cruelty, and just as with the olympics, the unlucky animals are goldfish. at the opening gala of China’s lunar new year festival earlier this month they shower goldfish swimming in perfect military formations. The show put on by magician Fu Yandong was well received by the audience but have sparked outcry in animal activist circles as the only explanation to the trick according to them is magnets in the stomachs of the goldfish. The goldfish in in another word not so much swimming as being dragged. There are many factors supporting this hypothesis including the very shallow water the goldfish is swimming in. The shallow water would allow magnets to work which wouldn´t be possible in deeper water. Experts in the field agrees and think the fish might have been fed food with metal shavings on it.

Fu has denied the accusation of animal cruelty, telling one news programme: “If I used magnets, the fish would stick together.”  This is not necessarily true and a magician never reveal his trick even if discovered right?

Another theory that has been put forward is that it is fake fish but experts reject this idea in unison as the replicas would not meet the scrutiny of 100s of million of viewers.

A coalition of 53 groups sent a letter to Chinese broadcaster CCTV asking them to prevent magician Fu Yandong performing it again at the closing ceremony.

African Wolf – New wolf Species discovered

African Wolf

African Wolf aka Egyptian Jackal

This is not really fish related but cool enough to warrant a post here anyway. Scientists have discovered a new species of Wolf in Egypt. A team a researchers from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), the University of Oslo, and Addis Ababa University, with funding from the University of Oslo, shows that Gray wolves reached Africa around 3 million years ago before spreading throughout the northern hemisphere. The new wolf is a relative of the Holarctic grey wolf, the Indian wolf and the Himalayan wolf.

The Egyptian jackal (Canis aureus lupaster) is an importan part of the Egyptian mythology and has until now been considered a subspecies of the Golden jackal (Canis aureus) but this new research show that the egyptian jackal is infact a species of wolf. This new species is not closely related to the rare Ethiopian wolves. Ethiopian wolves are a relatively recent of spring from the gray wolf complex while this new species, ”African wolf” (suggested name by Professor Sillero), likely arrived in Africa much earlier.

Professor David Macdonald says: “A wolf in Africa is not only important conservation news, but raises fascinating biological questions about how the new African wolf evolved and lived alongside not only the real golden jackals but also the vanishingly rare Ethiopian wolf, which is a very different species with which the new discovery should not be confused.”

Egyptian Jackal

The jackal is important in Egyptian Mythology

The team also found genetically very similar specimens to this new wolf in the highlands of Ethiopia, 2,500 km from Egypt, suggesting that the new species might have a large distrobution and that it is not just found in Egypt.

The conservational status of this new species is not known.

Professor Sillero says: “It seems as if the Egyptian jackal is urgently set for a name-change, and its unique status as the only member of the grey wolf complex in Africa suggests that it should be re-named ‘the African wolf’.”

WildCRU is part of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology.

If you want to read the entire paper (direct link) you can do so at PlosOne:

Scientists find huge smelly blob in Florida waters

Scientists researching the Gulf of Mexico have found an underwater mass of dead biological material that appears to be growing as microscopic algae and bacteria get trapped and die. The blob is at least three feet (90 cm) thick and spans two-thirds of a mile (1 mile = 1 609 meters) parallel to the coast just off the Florida Panhandle, within the site of Perdido Key. The blob smells like rotten eggs and feels similar to jelly.

The researchers have been unable to determine how the blob was formed, where it comes from or where it will go. Tests show that the material is nearly 100% biological and less than a year old. It is also clear that tiny organisms have gotten stuck in the sticky blob and died. Tests carried out by the researchers also showed that the blob has no connection to land.

It seems to be a combination of algae and bacteria,” says David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer with the University of South Florida. According to Hollander, the substance is toxic and “extraordinarily sticky”.

Scientists are not ruling out a connection to last years’ Deepwater Horizon disaster, but so far none of the tests have shown any sign of oil.

Researchers encountered the blob for the first time in December as they were searching for oily sediments on the sea floor. They did find such sediments, but they also got a tip about something weird floating around roughly half a mile from Perdido Pass and this caused them to change their plans and head over to the area to investigate.

The environment where the blob can be found is a relatively pristine sloping shelf. Normally, wave action will sweep away any sediments here.

Hollander and his team are planning to return to the blob within a few weeks to gather more samples, since they were unable to get any material from the bottom of the blob during their last visit. They will also try to map out the entire blob to be able to see exactly how big it is.



Scientists use sedation to free young entangled Right Whale

Right Whales

Right Whales

Scientists from NOAA and its state and nonprofit partners have applied at-sea chemical sedation to successfully free a young North Atlantic Right Whale off the coast of Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA.

This is only the second time a free-swimming whale has been successfully sedated to enable disentanglement. The first case also concerned a whale spotted off the coast of Florida and occurred in March 2009.

In the most recent case, a female Right Whale born during the 2008-2009 calving season had roughly 200 feet (60 meters) of rope wrapped through her mouth and around the flippers when an aerial survey team spotted her on December 25. Five days later a disentanglement team from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was able to remove about 150 feet (45 meters) of rope from her. Unfortunately, they couldn’t safely get the rest of the rope off her and this is why NOAA decided to sedate her, after having tracked her via satellite tag for half a month to see if the remaining rope would come off on its own.

“Our recent progress with chemical sedation is important because it’s less stressful for the animal, and minimizes the amount of time spent working on these animals while maximizing the effectiveness of disentanglement operations,” says Jamison Smith, Atlantic Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service. “This disentanglement was especially complex, but proved successful due to the detailed planning and collective expertise of the many response partners involved.”

On January 15, researchers deemed that the Right Whale wouldn’t be able to free herself from the remaining 50 feet (15 meters) of rope without assistance. The weather was favorable for a rescue mission and a disentanglement team comprised of scientists from NOAA, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Florida, EcoHealth Alliance , and Coastwise Consulting (was dispatched into the Atlantic. Back on shore, the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and the New England Aquarium got ready to provide off-site assistance.

The entangled Right Whale was fitted with a temporary satellite tag that would record her behavior before, during and after sedation. She was then sedated and had ropes as well as mesh material removed from her. The mesh resembled mesh used to catch fish, crabs and lobsters along the Atlantic coast and NOAA’s Fisheries Service is currently examining it in an effort to determine its geographic origin.

Once the whale had been freed from the garbage, the researchers administered a drug that reversed the sedation. The whale also received some antibiotics to threat the wounds caused by the debris. She will now be tracked for up to 30-days through the temporary satellite tag.

If you see an entangled or otherwise injured whale you are encouraged to report it to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (1-888-404-FWCC or 1-888-404-3922) or the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (1-800-2-SAVE-ME or 1-800-272-8366).

Fish taxidermy & Catch and Release

sailfish

sailfish - popular game fish

When the practice of catch and release was introduced, a lot of anglers were upset. How can you preserve your memorable trophy catches if you aren’t allowed to bring it home? Today, the trend has shifted – a lot of sport fishers love catch and release since it has boosted fish populations and allowed more anglers to catch larger specimens. Also, the conundrum about how to mount a released fish has been solved, thanks to modern fish taxidermy.

Today, there is no need to bring your fish to the taxidermist to have it mounted. Instead, you contact one of the many fish taxidermists that specializes in fish replicas and provide them with as much details as possible about your catch, e.g. species, sex, length and weight. If you have a photograph of the fish, this will also be helpful.

The fish taxidermist will take that information and use it to create a lifelike fish replica, typically from fiber glass. The replica will then be painstakingly painted to look as much as your catch as possible. If you hire a highly skilled fish taxidermist, a replica like this can actually be even more lifelike than the stuffed skin of a dead fish can ever hope to achieve.

To get a fish preserved has always been expensive. With the advent of modern fish replicas, a new option has become available for anglers on a budget. Instead of having a replica crafted and painted to look exactly like your catch, you can send in details about size and species and get a high-quality ready-made fish replica as a tribute to your trophy catch. This is much less expensive, and if you order from a top-notch producer you will get a replica that really looks like a living specimen of that particular species.

Fish taxidermy has also become greener during recent years when it comes to the actual preservation process. The greenest alternative is of course to go for a fish replica since that requires not preservation at all, but if you really want to have an actual fish stuffed and mounted it is today possible to find fish taxidermists that will carry out the process using a minimum of toxins. Earlier, being a taxidermist was quite a dangerous occupation since a lot of toxic compounds were used to ward off decay, such as the infamous arsenic soap. Arsenic is highly toxic and can be fatal, even in small amounts. Doses too small to cause acute symptoms can still lead to long-term problems such as cancer. The tannins used to preserve the color of the skins were also frequently dangerous, for the tanner as well as for the environment. Even though the taxidermy field has a long way to go yet, significant improvements have been achieved during the last few decades, especially in countries were more stringent occupational and environmental laws have been enacted.

Fake seagrass help us learn how to save dwindling fish populations

Red snapper

Red snapper

A large amount of New Zealand’s seagrass have been killed by sediments released from land development. The seagrass bed at Whangarei Harbour has for instance been reduced from 14 sq km in the 1960s to virtually non-existant today. And sedimentation this is not a new problem – between 1959 and 1966 Tauranga Harbour lost 90 per cent of its seagrass.

Researchers at New Zealands’s National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research are now fitting the floor of the Whangapoua Estuary with plastic seagrass in an attempt to show how New Zealand’s fish stocks could be boosted by restoring the seagrass habitats. The “seagrass” consists of plastic fronds attached to wire frames, and the length of the fronds varies from 5 cm to 30 cm.

“We made them with tantalising long blades of artificial grass, the things fish really go for,” says NIWA fisheries ecologist Dr Mark Morrison. “What we found, initially, is that fish are really looking for shelter and seagrasses provide good protection to fish.”

The largest density of fish could be found where the density of seagrass was also at its largest.

Fish is now being tagged to make it possible for the researchers to track both growth rate and survival rate.