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Posts Tagged ‘Blue Whales’

HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

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Fire Earth, December 28, 2009

Photo by Sally & Doug Morrison

Image by Sally & Doug Morrison

About 30 pilot whales died after they became stranded on Coromandel peninsula yesterday and will be buried by the local Maori.

Meanwhile, up to 120 long-finned pilot whales, both calves and adults, were found dead  at the Farewell Spit on Boxing Day.

“More offshore wells have been drilled in the last two years than the rest of the decade combined: 35 on and offshore wells were drilled between January 2008 and July 2009 alone,” said a report.

Each year about 2.5 million tourists visit New Zealand, straining its fragile ecosystems to the breaking point, creating a massive litany of different types of pollution, including noise.

Mendo Coast Current wrote: “Studies show that these cetaceans, which once communicated over thousands of miles to forage and mate, are losing touch with each other, the experts said at a U.N. wildlife conference in Rome.”

“The sound of a seismic test, used to locate hydrocarbons beneath the seabed, can spread 1,800 miles under water, said Veronica Frank, an official with the International Fund for Animal Welfare. A study by her group found that the blue whale, which used to communicate across entire oceans, has lost 90% of its range over the past 40 years.”

Environmental experts are studying numerous cases of beached whales and dolphins that are believed to have been caused by sound pollution, according to Simmonds.

Just two weeks ago at least five whales died after nine were beached in Mediterranean off the southern coast off Italy, an unusual place for whales to beach themselves.

‘A massive beaching is extremely rare in the Mediterranean,’ biologist Maurizio Wurtz at the University of Genoa said.

Noise pollution from seismic surveys for oil and gas as well as naval activities are believed to have confused whales by interfering  with their communication, thus leaving them stranded and ultimately dead,  many  Conservationists and biologists say.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) says man-made ocean noise inhibits cetaceans’ communication and disrupts their feeding.

The level of ocean noise in some regions is doubling each decade, according to IFAW.  “Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals.”

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FRANK HARTZELL, Mendocino Beacon, December 17, 2009

The Obama administration has launched a new “zoning” approach that puts all ocean activities under the umbrella of nine regional planning bodies.

Public comments are being accepted through Friday, Feb. 12.

The approach is more local and integrated than the current strategy, which puts separate functions under different federal agencies. But it remains to be seen how such a plan can satisfy a plethora of federal laws that now protect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

The issue of whales killed by ships (like the blue whale kill in October off Fort Bragg) is cited in the new report as an example of how the regional planning approach could solve problems that single agencies cannot.

In the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Boston, the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and several other government agencies and stakeholders reconfigured the Boston Traffic Separation Scheme, after numerous fatal collisions between marine mammals and ships.

This kind of joint action is what the new Obama approach anticipates using nationwide.

The reconfigured shipping lanes reduced risk of collision by an estimated 81% for all baleen whales and 58% for endangered right whales, studies show.

NOAA is the lone federal agency dealing with the whale kill issue locally, working with two state agencies, which have regulations that are inconsistent. With the Fort Bragg incident highlighting weaknesses in the regulatory process, a regional board could propose solutions.

In another example of oversight conflict, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) planned and launched a policy for wave energy leasing completely without local governments’ knowledge. Other federal agencies also bombarded FERC with criticism and problems their federal fellow had failed to anticipate when FERC’s program came to light.

The Obama administration’s idea is to bring all the federal and local agencies to the table at the planning stage, not the reactive stage.

“The uses of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes have expanded exponentially over time,” said Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, who also heads the Ocean Policy Task Force. “At the same time they are facing environmental challenges, including pollution and habitat destruction, that make them increasingly vulnerable.

“Without an improved, more thoughtful approach, we risk an increase in user conflicts and the potential loss of critical economic, ecosystem, social, and cultural benefits for present and future generations,” said Sutley, in a press release.

Many scientific studies have called for ocean zoning, but this is the first effort to make the idea work.

California, Oregon and Washington would be included in a single planning area The participants in the planning process, such as Indian tribes, federal agencies, states and local entities, would be asked to sign a contract modeled on development agreements.

Development agreements are widely used by housing developers to bring all county and state permitting agencies to the table so they can get loans and prepare to launch a project.

Sutley said the administration will reconvene the National Ocean Council to work with the regional planning bodies.

While the new approach promises more locally responsive planning, the job of the National Ocean Council will be to ensure that planning is consistent from region to region. That is likely to create some conflicts with monied interests representing some uses, such as oil drilling, and leave other uses with less ability to advocate at the table.

The proposal comes from the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, established by President Obama on June 12. It is led by Sutley and consists of 24 senior-level officials from administration agencies, departments and offices.

The task force’s interim framework is available for a 60-day public review and comment period. After the close of the comment period, the task force will finalize its recommendations in both this report and the Sept. 10 interim report and provide a final report to the President in early 2010.

For more details on the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, including the interim framework, and to submit comments, visit www.whitehouse.gov/oceans.

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Marine Science Today, November 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

The National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency charged with the stewardship of the U.S.’s living marine resources, may be sued for failure to implement the 1998 Blue whale Recovery Plan. Friends of the Earth, Pacific Environment and the Center of Biological Diversity have joined the notice of intent to sue submitted by the Environmental Defense Center last week.

Among other actions, the recovery plan mandates that the Fisheries Service identify and implement methods to eliminate or reduce blue whale mortalities from ship strikes. According to the groups, the agency has failed to carry out key provisions of the plan intended to both minimize and eliminate threats caused by ship strikes, pollution, and other harmful activities, as well as to improve the agency’s limited knowledge concerning blue whale populations and habitat needs.

Brian Segee, staff attorney with the Environmental Defense Center said:

“Recovery plans serve as the primary ‘road map’ of actions necessary to both protect and recover our nation’s most imperiled wildlife species .  The blue whale deaths in October again demonstrate that it is long past time for the Fisheries Service to carry out the Blue Whale Recovery Plan’s mandate to implement measures that will eliminate or minimize ship strikes.”

Driven to the brink of extinction by whaling in the mid-20th century, blue whale populations have begun to slowly increase in many areas, and the species is now sighted during the summer along many areas of the California coast.  While these increased sightings are cause for optimism, blue whale population numbers remain at a small fraction of their historic levels — today’s global population is estimated to be 10,000 animals, compared to a population of at least 350,000 before whaling.  In addition, the species is now confronted with a host of new and emerging threats, including not only ship strikes but climate change, ocean acidification, and noise pollution.

Blue whales are the largest animal to have ever lived on Earth.  The average adult blue whale is almost as long as a Boeing 737.  They live more than 50 years for certain and could live as long as 90-100 years.  They live in all oceans and migrate, travelling thousands of miles each year.  It is known that the Santa Barbara Channel hosts the largest seasonal population of blue whales.

The Potential Biological Removal (PBR) level for blue whales under the MMPA is 1.4.  The PBR is a number referring to the maximum number of animals, not including natural mortalities, that may be removed from a population annually while still allowing that population to reach or maintain its optimum sustainable size.  The deaths of at least five blue whales from ship strikes in Southern California in 2007, as well as two additional ship strike mortalities along the California coast in October 2009 appear to indicate that actions need to be taken.  Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity said:

“Abundant blooms of krill have brought blue whales to our coast, which has given many people a wonderful opportunity to see this rare, mammoth creature.  Unfortunately, as more whales have gathered off busy ports, more have been hit and killed by ships.  The Fisheries Service’s refusal to address threats like ship strikes threatens to erase all the hard-won progress this species has made so far.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, potential litigants must file a 60-day notice of intent to sue before lawsuits can be filed alleging that the government has failed to carry out its nondiscretionary duties under the Act.  While the conservation organizations are committed to pursuing legal remedies if necessary, it is their hope that submission of the notice will prompt the Fisheries Service to begin implementing the Blue Whale Recovery Plan without court intervention.

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Dan Bacher, October 23, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Image by Larry R. Wagner

Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

In order to stop the killing of any more whales, locals are also asking for an immediate suspension of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process that the boat was collecting habitat data for.

The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor

Jim Milbury, spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-sonar beam surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.

“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”

Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall. On October 9, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.

The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.

“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to an article at National Geographic.

However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.

Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.

Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale “Jane” after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale’s death.

“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”

The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of the MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.

“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine ‘protection’?”

Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”

Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”

Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of “Jane ” the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.

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