viernes, 13 de julio de 2012

Marine mammal specialists from across the country have descended on an Alaska aquarium

Seward, AK — Marine mammal specialists from across the country have descended on an Alaska aquarium to help care for a baby beluga whale that became separated from its mother shortly after its birth.

The male calf is under 24-hour care at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, being fed by a stomach tube while learning how to suckle from a bottle.

"He's currently doing very well, swimming on his own and he has been from the first time he got here, learning to take food from a bottle, which has been challenging," said Tara Riemer Jones, the center's president and CEO.

It's believed to be the first baby beluga rescue in the United States, at least since federal record keeping began in 1972, she said. Other attempts at rescue resulted in calf deaths or in one case, the calf being returned to its pod.

It's such a rare event that specialists have been helping with the animal's care, including staff members from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and SeaWorld in San Diego.

"It's actually a pretty unprecedented event in certain ways," said Dennis Christen, the Georgia Aquarium's director of animal training who was in place 29 hours after the calf arrived in Seward.

The whale was estimated to be 2 days old when it was found near South Naknek, in Alaska's Bristol Bay, on June 18. Officials believe a storm likely separated the calf from its mother.

Tim Lebling, the Alaska SeaLife Center's stranding coordinator, flew to South Naknek that afternoon to retrieve the calf.

It was flown 90 minutes back to Seward in dry transport. Lebling said the calf was placed on an air mattress in the plane, placed so its weight wouldn't put pressure on vital organs and then constantly covered with wet towels.

Lebling said it was touch-and-go for the first part of the flight, probably because of stress.

"We thought he took his last breath at one point," Lebling said, but then he breathed again.

Even though the beluga is still in critical care, caregivers are guardedly optimistic about his rehabilitation.

Survival odds for an animal this age coming into a stranding program are low, said Brett Long, the husbandry director at the center.

"We take it a day at a time," he said. "We're very happy to see that we appear to be meeting its nutritional goals and that it's maintaining its weight, and we're seeing slow, incremental weight gain."

The calf is now about 5 feet long and weighs 115 pounds, up 5 pounds since his arrival.

The biggest worry now is the calf's immune system, which is insufficiently developed because it did not receive any of its mother's milk.

"We are working with other aquariums to provide supplements that will help aid the development of that immune system, but it's a waiting game," Long said.

Jones said there is nothing specifically wrong with the calf medically "other than he's young and at high-risk."

"We're not going to say it hasn't been without some bumps in the road," Christen said. "We're very confident we're on the right path here, but it's still an animal that's in critical care, and we have to be guarded in our optimism, and we're just hopeful we're on the right path."

At the center, the calf has its own pool with toys and constant human companionship. At least three caregivers are with him 24-hours a day, two of them in wet suits and in the pool.

He often will rub up against his human handlers, who also help him learn new swimming patterns and play with him.

He's being kept out of the public's view for now in a pool being fed warmer water and in a sanitary environment. The hope is to move him soon to a larger pool, which can be seen from behind glass inside the Alaska SeaLife Center.

It's running about $2,000 a day to care for the calf, and that's not including the cost of the visiting marine mammal specialists.

Jones said the cost will strain the private, nonprofit research center's stranding program budget for the year, and officials are talking to potential donors and possibly setting up a donation matching program for individuals. They're also planning a 5K Wildlife Rescue Run on Aug. 4, encouraging virtual runners to sign up online to raise funds.

If the calf survives, he'll never see the open ocean again since there is no way now for humans to teach him survival skills.

The National Marine Fisheries Service will eventually decide where he will be placed.

"There are a number of facilities that would make a great home for this young whale, with companion animals that would likely accept him into their kind of family unit," Christen said.

Since facilities that take in animals like to be part of the naming process, the Alaska SeaLife Center hasn't given the calf a name yet.

But that hasn't stopped most everyone caring for him from calling him "Naknek."

martes, 10 de julio de 2012

Finding scallops is like an Easter egg hunt

STEINHATCHEE - Finding scallops is like an Easter egg hunt, something that adults and children alike can do in the typically crystal-clear water of the Gulf of Mexico.

This year, Tropical Storm Debby dumped record rainfall on North Florida right before the July 1 start of the scallop season. As a result, the tannin-stained water of the region's rivers and creeks has been pushed far into the Gulf and has reduced visibility for the time being.

"You've just got to work a little harder for the Easter egg hunt this year," Charlie Norwood, owner of Sea Hag Marina, said this week.

Scallops were found in lower numbers than last year near Steinhatchee and other locations surveyed last month by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. Boaters at Sea Hag Marina reported this week that scallops were abundant, but seeing them through the murky water was a challenge.

"It's tea-colored out there," said Greg Moody of Adel, Ga. Visibility, some scallopers said, improved at low tide.

The influx of fresh water also reduces salinity, which can stress and potentially kill scallops and other saltwater species. Tests done Tuesday by Norwood and Fred Vose, Florida Sea Grant marine agent for Taylor County, found that salinity was low near the mouths of waterways draining into the Gulf but at levels healthy for scallops at other locations.

The dark water is "more of a problem for divers than the scallops," Vose said.

For Norwood and other Steinhatchee business owners, scallop season is one of the most economically important times of the year for the tourism it draws.

State officials opened the season early for the past two years to ease the economic hardship caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. This year, the wildlife commission instead permanently extended the end of the season to Sept. 25 from Sept. 11.

Norwood said he sees the most business from families with children out of school at the start of the season, so the additional two weeks are little help to him.

"The only ones going at the end of the season are the die-hards," he said. "Economically, I don't think it does anything."

From a biological standpoint, Vose said it's better to add time at the end of the season than the beginning. Scallop limits are determined by volume, so getting smaller scallops early in the season means a greater number are taken. The daily limit is two gallons of scallops in the shell per person or 10 gallons per boat.

The numbers in the wildlife commission's survey suggest that the extended harvests of the past two years have had an impact, Vose said. Four of the five locations surveyed saw lower numbers than last year, with Steinhatchee dropping to an average of 28.2 from 136.1 scallops observed per 600 square meters.

"Increasing harvest is something that's done with caution usually, and that's not the case this time in my opinion," Vose said.

In addition to extending the season, wildlife commissioners also directed staff to look into the possibility of a commercial harvest of scallops. Florida closed the commercial harvest in 1994.

An average of 25 or more scallops per 600 square meters is seen as large enough to sustain a healthy population, said Sarah Stephenson, an assistant research scientist who manages the scallop survey for the commission's research institute. Four of the five survey locations, with the exception of St. Joseph Bay, had figures greater than 25.

The number of scallops in Steinhatchee usually remains high from year to year because the water flow of the Big Bend tends to keep them in that area, Stephenson said.

domingo, 8 de julio de 2012

A bid to take whale conservation to the UN General Assembly failed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC)

Panama City, PANAMA - A bid to take whale conservation to the UN General Assembly failed at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after criticism from hunting nations.

The motion said many species are not covered by IWC rules, and criticised Japan's scientific whaling programmes.

The delegates' final act was to decide to hold meetings every two years.

Meanwhile, the Danish and Greenland governments will "reflect" on whaling options for Greenland's Inuit after the IWC denied a bid to raise quotas.

The options include setting quotas unilaterally without the IWC's explicit approval, or even withdrawing from the body. Either would be intensely controversial.

Nothing caused more controversy here, though, than South Korea's announcement that it was preparing to allow some of its fishermen to hunt whales under regulations permitting a catch for scientific research.

Japan has had such programmes in place since 1986, including an annual hunt in the Southern Ocean, which has been declared a whale sanctuary.

That was one focus of the resolution, tabled by Monaco, that called on the UN General Assembly to debate whale conversation.

Another was that whaling nations want the IWC's remit restricted to species that have been hunted, while others want it to work for the conservation of all cetaceans.

The resolution invited governments to "consider these issues in collaboration with the UN General Assembly, with a view to contributing to the conservation efforts of the IWC".

South Korean proposals for scientific whaling provoked protests by environmentalists There was general acceptance that such a resolution should only go forward by consensus, and it was soon clear that consensus was absent.

Norway's Einar Tallaksen said issues regarding cetaceans "are not a matter for the UN General Assembly, but for the competent fisheries organisations, including the IWC".

As far as this meeting is concerned, the proposal is abandoned, though Monaco will work for it within the UN and is launching a "task force" of supportive nations.

"Clearly the whaling countries want to contain any discussion of their whaling inside the IWC," commented Patrick Ramage, director of the global whale programme with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"They don't want their diplomats at the United Nations to have to defend the indefensible."

On the final day of the IWC's annual meeting, held this time in Panama City, delegations were also mulling the implications of Denmark's decision to leave without a whale-hunting quota for the Greenland Inuit.

They came to Panama asking for increased quotas for humpback and fin whales, in addition to maintaining existing levels for minkes and bowheads.

The bid became more controversial after environment groups reported finding whalemeat on sale in many supermarkets and restaurants, and, with the EU against the expansion, the bid failed.

"We are going to go home and reflect, because this is a situation that needs to be handled with care," said Danish delegation head Ole Samsing.

Experienced observers noted that in previous years, Denmark has been willing to compromise its requests in order to get something agreed.

The EU would have supported a continuation of the existing quotas, but the Danes opted instead to leave with nothing.

"There can be no doubt that Denmark knew when it put the proposal to a vote that it would fail," said Sue Fisher, on behalf of the Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute.

Continue reading the main story Guide to the great whales
BlueBowheadFinBryde'sRightHumpbackSeiGraySpermMinke"It could have walked out of here days ago with a perfectly adequate quota to meet the subsistence needs of indigenous communities in Greenland for the next six years, but it was prepared to lose everything for a handful of extra whales that, our recent surveys show, could well end up on the menu in tourist restaurants".

Japan's deputy commissioner, Akima Umezawa, said the vote against Greenland had been the most disappointing aspect of a discouraging meeting.

"Many pointed out the commercialism and the increased quota," he said.

"But commercialism is accepted by the definition of [aboriginal] subsistence whaling, and the increased quota was accepted and endorsed by the IWC scientific committee."

The issue is made more complex by the evolving relationship between Greenland, a hunting-based society of just over 50,000 people, and its former colonial ruler.

Several years ago, Greenland formally asked the Danish government to put its whaling outside the IWC's aegis, but it is understood that it would now prefer to remain within the organisation.

It is inconceivable that hunting will stop, so the question is how Greenland intends to go forward.

Its own interpretation of rules on aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) is that countries are entitled to set their own quotas, provided they are consistent with IWC scientific advice. Other countries disagree.

The US is also opening the door to unilateral action, with draft legislation introduced into Congress that would allow the government to set quotas if the IWC denied them.

Overall, many observers said this had been the most functional IWC meeting for years, with votes taken in an orderly fashion and a relative absence of grandstanding.

Six years ago, the pro- and anti-whaling camps were roughly equal in number.

Now, the anti-whalers clearly have the upper hand, and it was noticeable that many of the Caribbean delegations were down to a single person.

The decision to hold meetings every two years from now on is part of an ongoing process - largely driven by the UK and Australia - aimed at making the commission more functional and efficient.

Delegates concluded by selecting their first ever female chair, St Lucia's Jeannine Compton-Antoine