Monday, January 31, 2011

Whales return to New York City: Massive mammals appearing again in seas near city; draws sightseers

New York Daily News: Whales return to New York City: Massive mammals appearing again in seas near city; draws sightseers

Whales, dolphins and seals have made a triumphant return to the waters just outside New York Harbor - and the comeback has even sparked whale and seal-watching tours.

Tom Paladino, captain of two ferry boats from the Rockaways, says pods of aquatic mammals off the city's coast have "increased tenfold."

"We used to see 10 whales a year - now we see 100," he said. "We saw dolphins almost on a daily basis between June and September."

There are so many more seals in New York Harbor that earlier this month he started weekend tours on his ferry, American Princess.

On one trip last weekend, he counted 14 lolling on a small island off Staten Island.

Cornell University Prof. Chris Clark estimates that as many as 30 to 50 fin whales now live full-time in the waters just past the Verrazano Bridge.

Acoustical monitors installed by Cornell in and near the harbor discovered six species of whales touring the New York-New Jersey bite - "a real menagerie of giants," he said.

Experts say anti-hunting laws and cleaner waters may have brought back whales and their cousins after being largely absent for a century.

The numbers are "far, far more than expected, even for me," Clark said. "I've been surprised elsewhere in the world, but off New York - yikes!"

Much of the data was collected by a federally funded study by Cornell and the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

When acoustical traps were laid in New York waters in 2008, researchers were surprised to hear not only the 20-minute serenades of humpbacks, but a cacophony of other fish making a racket, Clark said.

"Black drum fish lit up the night with their choruses. Males were out there singing their hearts out: 'Hey Baby! Hey Baby! Hey Baby!' There's a cornucopia of life 10 miles off the Verrazano Bridge. It's mind-boggling!" he said.

Officials said the study was supposed to last three years but was abandoned when a DEC official overseeing the project quit to get her doctorate. Budget cuts made it impossible to hire a replacement.

Clark said the whale study needs to be revived because no one knows the extent of whale activity around New York Harbor - or how best to protect them.

Environmentalists are especially worried about endangered species like the Right Whale, spotted locally along with Humpback, Fin, Sei, Minke and Blue whales.

The Right Whale is the slowest-moving local species, traveling at no more than 10 knots, and is the most prone to being killed by ships.

Clark is hoping to raise $1 million to revive the whale study and install a sophisticated monitoring system like one in Boston that notified boats to slow down.

"We don't know what's off our coastline," said Maureen Murphy of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "I know more from 19th century books than I do from anything printed in the last century."

The cultural life of whales The Observer:
The cultural life of whales

Whales are not only the largest animals that have ever lived – they are also among the most intelligent, and yet we still know very little about them. New research, however, suggests that sperm whales at least use sophisticated communication techniques to develop distinct and separate cultures. Here to discuss the latest in cetacean research to mark next month's Peninsula Arts Whale Festival, are Philip Hoare, a self-confessed "whalehead" and author of Leviathan or, The Whale, winner of the 2009 BBC Samuel Johnson Prize, and Dr Hal Whitehead from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, a world expert on sperm whales.

Philip Hoare We're talking about our two disciplines, which meet on a very specific subject, the whale. There are those who work with this animal from a scientific point of view and those work with them from an artistic or literary point of view. What fascinates me is that whatever we do, the whale always remains elusive.

For us as writers and artists, it is elusive because it is beyond description. I quickly ran out of superlatives talking about whales when I was writing Leviathan or, The Whale. But for you as a scientist it is elusive in that it is very difficult to study in the environment in which it lives. What first drew you to the sperm whale?

Hal Whitehead It's much more exciting to go for something that we really don't know. I think that of all animals, the sperm whale is the one with the greatest mystery, and that I find very attractive. And I am assuming this is what attracts writers and artists to the same animal.

PH That's precisely right. For me there is a degree of romance about the subject. Writing about whales has brought me into close contact with scientists and given me a new understanding about the animal. Your book Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean talks about sperm whale culture, but what do you mean by "culture" when you apply it to this animal?

HW When a biologist like myself starts talking about culture eyebrows are raised in other disciplines among scholars who see themselves as the "knowers" of culture. But, for a biologist, culture is primarily a flow of information – both ideas and behaviours – between the members of a population, which happens because they learn from each other.

The flow of information is what biology is about. Without information getting from one animal or plant to another, there would be no life. We as biologists have concentrated on genes as the way information gets around, but there are other ways in which this can happen, and culture is one of them.

Culture leads to a whole new range of processes, which don't happen in most animals or plants. The possibility that there are other groups of animals that have these flows of information, running through their population and interacting in extraordinary ways, is most intriguing. In the case of the sperm whale, we have a creature of great mystery and potential. We tried to explain what we found using the principles of genetic evolution but we found things we couldn't explain, so we had to think about other processes. The process that made sense was culture.

For example, I was studying a group of whales off the Galápagos Islands, looking at their social systems, and found two kinds of sperm whale who were behaving really quite differently. They had different ways of communicating with each other, different ways of using the resources around the island, etc. The initial explanation was that we had two sub-species but there was virtually no difference genetically. So something else was causing these sperm whales to form radically different societies, with radically different ways of behaving. It became obvious that the only explanation was that these whales had different cultures. They were living in a multicultural society.

PH Sperm whales communicate pre-eminently via the click system – series of low sounds that they create within their heads, their individual sonar devices. How far is this communication an expression of their culture?

HW There are markers in each sperm whale's vocal message which signify their cultural grouping. It has been suggested by anthropologists that symbolic ethnic markers are features of human culture. We don't know for sure, but we have indications that sperm whales use these sound patterns as symbols of their clans.

PH Recently, there was a report on intelligence in other species, which placed dolphins above primates and behind humans. I wonder, given that the sperm whale has such a big brain and such a highly developed neocortex, do you think we are talking about animals that are quite close to humans in their social organisations? How can we find out how whales use their brains?

HW It is incredibly difficult to get a handle on. There have been a number of studies on various cognitive tasks using dolphins but all these tests have been designed by humans, based on how we see our world, how we interact with it. Dolphins and sperm whales live in a world structured very differently to ours, where different features are important.

Whales, largely, sense and communicate acoustically, whereas we do most of our sensing visually. They live in a three-dimensional world; we live in a two-dimensional world. We are trying to relate them to what we are in metrics that correspond to how we see the world. This is likely severely to underestimate their capabilities.

But the other side of this is that the potential mysteries are even greater. I think it very likely that whales are doing things that, at the moment, we can't even conceive – we are not operating in that world. So a real challenge for scientists is to study things when you don't know what you are looking for.

I want to move into this area, and this is where people like you come in – because artists and writers aren't constrained by the scientific processes. You can speculate, imagine yourself in the world of the whale. And then open-minded scientists, by looking at what artists produce, may make hypotheses that will lead us onto paths that will begin to crack these great mysteries.

Another idea, which came from a discussion with science writer Jeff Warren, is to use a virtual world as close as we can get to the real one of the whale to explore what it might mean to be a whale. People go into this virtual world and live in it, and through their changing experiences we might get some idea of what it is to be a whale.

PH There are things we need to do with our brain – pay the mortgage, drive a car, write a book etc – that a whale obviously doesn't have to do and, as you say, the whale lives in an element in which we cannot live. Unlike us, the whale lives in a three-dimensional environment that covers 70% of the world's surface. How far do you think the whale is using its brain as a reflection of the vastness of its environment? Would it need a big brain to compute that environment?

HW Because whales live in this very large three-dimensional habitat and they don't have a physical structure that is home for them, they are always on the move. The most important part of the environment for a whale is probably other whales. Social life is vital. As they move around, everything is changing except their social lives. To me, it seems very likely that for these animals social life is even more important than it is for terrestrial animals, including humans. Relatively it has a much bigger role in their world. Therefore their social lives are absolutely vital – they need social intelligence.

Whales are cultural species. It is not only important to maintain and nourish the social relationships which they depend on, but also to make really good use of the information which is flowing among these social partners. My guess is that those social and cultural needs have been the drivers of the big and complex brain rather more than the direct need to keep track of a large and complicated environment.

PH That raises the notion that, for a whale, culture is more important than it might be for a human, also that this is an invisible process. Could you describe the technical way the sperm whale communicates? I read that when sperm whales gather, they bring their heads together and there might be some way in which this intensifies the communication process. Is this true?

HW Whales probably communicate in a lot of ways. The ones we know about are the ones that are most obvious to us, but this doesn't mean that they are necessarily the most important to sperm whaless; they are just the ones which we have a means of getting our heads around. At short range, whales are very tactile animals. They spend a lot of time in contact with each other and communicate through touch and this is, presumably, really important.

Unlike us, whales don't have obvious ways to change their bodies as a method of communication, such as our facial expressions, so vision for whales probably isn't so important. However, I suspect whales have a very detailed view of the outline of each other's bodies and this almost certainly conveys information between whales, perhaps involuntarily.

The sounds they make also appear to be communicative. Sperm whales do this in a strange way – about a quarter of their body is this huge sonar system which makes very loud clicks and which allows them to find food deep under the ocean. But they use the same system to communicate. The whales modify these clicks and put them into patterns. I, and others, have tried to figure out what these patterns mean – one thing is clear, they appear to be used as a means of reinforcing social bonds.

PH What fascinates me is the notion that these animals, like us, might start to rationalise their place in the world – what they mean, what their existence means. This is something you have hypothesised upon. I am not asking you to tell me what a whale might be thinking about, but do you think it is possible that a whale can have an existential sense of itself?

HW It is conceivable and it is one of the mysteries that attracts me to this area. Living in a situation where social relationships and culture is very important, things like the theory of mind – having a concept of what others know and therefore a concept of self – become more likely. In turn, this would lead to one to contemplating the self in the environment and how they fit together. As whales are a cultural species, ideas might be being passed between individuals and down through generations which relate to the whale's place in the world. I am not sure how we get to prove this but the possibility is certainly out there!

PH When I read about your hypothesis that whales have developed their own religion and that they have a sense of morality because of the way they interact with each other, I couldn't believe it. I think I am right in saying that their sonar, with which they communicate, is also used to hunt – I saw it myself in New Zealand when I watched a sperm whale use its sonar to stun kingfish at the surface to eat. But your notion is that these animals have the power to cause damage to one another, which is where they might develop a sense of morality as a social complex. Is that right?

HW Sperm whales have the most powerful sonar in the natural world. It is very directional and extremely powerful. To use the sonar effectively, you not only need to make a click, you need to hear it. Any ear damage would be very dangerous; as some people have said, a deaf whale is a dead whale. Whales have got to look after their ears. So it seems highly likely that if a sperm whale's sonar system were directed at another whale's ears, it would be very dangerous for the receiver.

Imagine a group of 20-30 sperm whales feeding at depth, each making these dangerous clicks once a second. They are all in the same area so they need to be really careful. To me it is like having a bunch of hunters with machine guns out in the forest, they are firing away pretty continuously and they have got to have clear rules if they are all going to come out of the forest alive. So I think there must be some conventions they abide by about how you use these sonar systems. This, by some definitions at least, is morality.

PH At the University of Plymouth, we are staging a symposium and exhibition about the whale, trying to bring together those who think about whales from the point of view of art or literature and those who work hands on. You said earlier that you thought it quite helpful for scientists to look at whales from an artist's perspective. For me as a writer, the big problem is anthropomorphism – to write about animals from a human perspective it is difficult to not be anthropomorphic as it is, really, the only way we humans can describe them. The whale, and especially the sperm whale, invites that because we know so little and because the science around these animals is so recent, only about three decades old.

Could you project, perhaps to 100 years, where we might reach with whale science? How would you want science to move forward and what tools do you need?

HW Whale science has been very tool-dominated – unlike the study of apes, but then they are much closer to humans both in terms of evolution and habitat. We have been able to find out things we couldn't have without these nice devices, but it also means that we sometimes get sidetracked thinking about the technicalities, rather than the animals.

An important recent development is that sophisticated tags can be put on whales for short periods, and these can give a detailed perspective on the behaviour of the animals. Ten years ago we had almost no idea how a sperm whale feeds at depth but because of these tags, and other technical advances, we are getting a good idea. It will be very interesting when the power of these techniques is brought to bear on the social end of things – the role of culture, the role of the brain in whales; this is where the puzzle is biggest and hardest.

We can see how heart rates change as different things happen to the animals socially – when they meet a friend, hear an unfamiliar pattern of clicks. We can look at how they interact with each other physically – how does the hearing of the clicks change their movements in subtle ways? Then this information can hopefully be related to individuals. As we build up knowledge on histories of the individuals we can see how they vary and how these differences affect society – personalities and so on. I see this as the way forward.

But I am likely to be wrong, and there could be an idea developed, perhaps by an artist, which allows us to figure out a way to show some new dimensions of the whale. The culture and brain of the whale is a vast mystery and something really hard to get at scientifically.

PH We are talking about human culture meeting whale culture. That's what I try to do when I write about whales, but it is what you physically do by being in the field with them. And there is the aspect of the way in which our culture affects whales – historically through hunting and now through the way we are changing the planet. (For instance, when I was in Maine recently, I learned from Dr John Wise there that sperm whales, because they inhale so deeply, may be breathing in heavy metals in the air.)

The dilemma is, are we changing whales by observing them? Whale-watching raises the animal's profile but are we influencing its behaviour? In the future, will that meeting of cultures be reciprocal? Can we reach a point where we understand the whales and they can communicate to us?

HW That's a tough one! Some of the more profound and interesting things we know about whales have come from animals in captivity. This, of course, is getting more and more problematic as captivity is a very unreal environment for the whale or dolphin.

But how do we go on if we don't want to keep whales in captivity yet all our methods for learning about their cognition and communication are developed for captive animals? Lori Marino and Toni Frohoff [two biologists] have proposed that we try to take these techniques into the wild using animals that seek out humans. This is controversial and very challenging. But if it can be shown to work we can study cognitive processes in whales and dolphins in their natural environment, in situations where we have enough control over what is happening to get a feel of what they are thinking, how they are making decisions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Warming North Atlantic Water Tied To Heating Arctic

Underwater Times: Study: Warming North Atlantic Water Tied To Heating Arctic; 'Well Outside The Natural Bounds'
BOULDER, Colorado -- The temperatures of North Atlantic Ocean water flowing north into the Arctic Ocean adjacent to Greenland -- the warmest water in at least 2,000 years -- are likely related to the amplification of global warming in the Arctic, says a new international study involving the University of Colorado Boulder.

Led by Robert Spielhagen of the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany, the study showed that water from the Fram Strait that runs between Greenland and Svalbard -- an archipelago constituting the northernmost part of Norway -- has warmed roughly 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. The Fram Strait water temperatures today are about 2.5 degrees F warmer than during the Medieval Warm Period, which heated the North Atlantic from roughly 900 to 1300 and affected the climate in Northern Europe and northern North America.

The team believes that the rapid warming of the Arctic and recent decrease in Arctic sea ice extent are tied to the enhanced heat transfer from the North Atlantic Ocean, said Spielhagen. According to CU-Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center, the total loss of Arctic sea ice extent from 1979 to 2009 was an area larger than the state of Alaska, and some scientists there believe the Arctic will become ice-free during the summers within the next several decades.

"Such a warming of the Atlantic water in the Fram Strait is significantly different from all climate variations in the last 2,000 years," said Spielhagen, also of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Keil, Germany.

According to study co-author Thomas Marchitto, a fellow at CU-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, the new observations are crucial for putting the current warming trend of the North Atlantic in the proper context.

"We know that the Arctic is the most sensitive region on the Earth when it comes to warming, but there has been some question about how unusual the current Arctic warming is compared to the natural variability of the last thousand years," said Marchitto, also an associate professor in CU-Boulder's geological sciences department. "We found that modern Fram Strait water temperatures are well outside the natural bounds."

A paper on the study will be published in the Jan. 28 issue of Science. The study was supported by the German Research Foundation; the Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature in Mainz, Germany; and the Norwegian Research Council.

Other study co-authors included Kirstin Werner and Evguenia Kandiano of the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, Steffen Sorensen, Katarzyna Zamelczyk, Katrine Husum and Morten Hald from the University of Tromso in Norway and Gereon Budeus of the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany.

Since continuous meteorological and oceanographic data for the Fram Strait reach back only 150 years, the team drilled ocean sediment cores dating back 2,000 years to determine past water temperatures. The researchers used microscopic, shelled protozoan organisms called foraminifera -- which prefer specific water temperatures at depths of roughly 150 to 650 feet -- as tiny thermometers.

In addition, the team used a second, independent method that involved analyzing the chemical composition of the foraminifera shells to reconstruct past water temperatures in the Fram Strait, said Marchitto.

The Fram Strait branch of the North Atlantic Current is the major carrier of oceanic heat to the Arctic Ocean. In the eastern part of the strait, relatively warm and salty water enters the Arctic. Fed by the Gulf Stream Current, the North Atlantic Current provides ice-free conditions adjacent to Svalbard even in winter, said Marchitto.

"Cold seawater is critical for the formation of sea ice, which helps to cool the planet by reflecting sunlight back to space," said Marchitto. "Sea ice also allows Arctic air temperatures to be very cold by forming an insulating blanket over the ocean. Warmer waters could lead to major sea ice loss and drastic changes for the Arctic."

The rate of Arctic sea ice decline appears to be accelerating due to positive feedbacks between the ice, the Arctic Ocean and the atmosphere, Marchitto said. As Arctic temperatures rise, summer ice cover declines, more solar heat is absorbed by the ocean and additional ice melts. Warmer water may delay freezing in the fall, leading to thinner ice cover in winter and spring, making the sea ice more vulnerable to melting during the next summer.

Air temperatures in Greenland have risen roughly 7 degrees F in the past several decades, thought to be due primarily to an increase in Earth's greenhouse gases, according to CU-Boulder scientists.

"We must assume that the accelerated decrease of the Arctic sea ice cover and the warming of the ocean and atmosphere of the Arctic measured in recent decades are in part related to an increased heat transfer from the Atlantic," said Spielhagen.

Australia floods: Great Barrier Reef damage could last

Channel 4 News (Australia) Australia floods: Great Barrier Reef damage could last
The flooding of major Queensland rivers is a major concern for the marine environment.

The flood waters bring immense amounts of freshwater into the coastal marine environment, which can kill marine life such as corals and seagrasses.

Other materials contained in the floodwaters such as silt, nutrient and pollutants, such as pesticides (mostly from eroded soils), can have negative effects on the marine environment, which are likely to last for months to years and can impede the recovery of organisms.

In some areas, especially in Moreton Bay adjacent to Brisbane, there will be also an issue with pollution from oil, sewage and debris.

For the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) we are, at this stage, mostly concerned about the inshore coral reefs (20-30 km from the coast), and mainly the reefs in Keppel Bay, close to the city of Rockhampton which have experienced major flooding from the Fitzroy River, which drains into Keppel Bay.

The weather, especially the wind direction and strength, over the next days and weeks will determine whether the flood water "plume", which is currently constrained to Keppel Bay and is travelling along the coast in a northward direction, will reach the reefs further offshore. This is what happened during the 1991 flood of the Fitzroy River.

Currently the offshore reefs - most of the Great Barrier reefs - are at this stage unaffected.

Because the freshwater floats on top of the seawater, we are mainly concerned about the corals and other organisms in shallow water close to the coast. The combination of low salinity and high turbidity (which shades out the light for the marine life) will most likely be a lethal combination for the reefs and seagrass meadows inundated by the plume.

Corals respond to freshwater influence with coral bleaching (a loss of the symbiotic algae, similar to what has been observed in extremely hot summers in the past); they may die or recover depending on how badly affected they were.

I have had a number of reports of bleached corals from inshore reefs in the last few days, from Keppel Bay but also further north in the inshore GBR.

This shows that while the most extreme flood is in the southern GBR, the floodwaters of this major and several other minor floods have already widely dispersed along the coast . Current hot weather is exacerbating the situation.

Depending on the scale of damage we expect the recovery of the reefs to take several years.
Depending on the scale of damage we expect the recovery of the reefs to take several years.

A concerted effort of several science agencies and state departments is underway to measure the water quality in the affected coastal and offshore areas and, as soon as possible, also to assess the damage to the marine environment, once the situation has improved and divers can be sent into the water.

The recovery of reefs and seagrass meadows will be followed up by existing long-term monitoring programmes.

The wet season is just starting in North Queensland and this summer is predicted to be a wet one due to the La Nina climate pattern. There are likely to be more heavy rainfall and more flooding along the GBR coast, potentially further affecting the GBR lagoon and the reef over the next two months

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Research: Fluorescent Color Of Coral Larvae Predicts Whether They'll Settle Or Swim

Underwater Times: Research: Fluorescent Color Of Coral Larvae Predicts Whether They'll Settle Or Swim
AUSTIN, Texas -- Young staghorn coral that fluoresce redder are less likely to settle and develop into coral polyps than their greener peers, University of Texas at Austin biologists have discovered.

The finding may help scientists monitor how corals adapt to global warming because the less likely coral larvae are to settle, the more likely they will disperse from their reef of origin.

"By simply looking at the color of a larval population, we may soon be able to say which larvae are going to be long-range dispersers and which will be short-range dispersers," says Mikhail "Misha" Matz, assistant professor of biology. "Under global warming, we expect a lot of evolution of this particular life history trait."

Matz says researchers expect to see long-range dispersers starting to win, because the corals need to shift to cooler latitudes.

The research was published this week in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

For the study, Matz and his colleagues crossed different color morphs of the small staghorn coral, Acropora millepora, and exposed the offspring larvae to a settlement cue –- ground-up calcareous red algae. The scientists observed that larvae inheriting redder fluorescent color from their parents were less likely to settle and metamorphose into reef-building polyps than greener larvae.

Coral response to the settlement cue is under strong genetic control, but it's not clear yet how that is linked with fluorescence.

Matz says the correlation between settlement and fluorescence could be completely random, that the genes that determine color and the genes that determine settlement are only next to each other in the chromosome and have no functional connection. In that case, they would simply be inherited together.

Alternatively, fluorescence could somehow be related genetically to the capacity of larvae to sense the proximity of a coral reef, and thus have a more direct correlation.

Matz and his colleagues will be investigating these two possibilities in further research. But in either case, Matz says the color of coral larvae fluorescence could serve as a viable marker as to whether they are settlers or swimmers.

The big question still remains as to why corals fluoresce in such spectacular colors.

"Bright, multicolored fluorescence of reef-building corals is one of the most spectacular and least understood visual phenomena in the ocean," says Matz, "and we still have no idea what purpose it serves. But our discovery is a really good lead towards determining the function of fluorescence."

First Study Of Dispersants In Gulf Spill Suggests A Prolonged Deepwater Fate; 'Resisted Rapid Biodegradation'

Underwater Times: First Study Of Dispersants In Gulf Spill Suggests A Prolonged Deepwater Fate; 'Resisted Rapid Biodegradation'
WOODS HOLE, Massachusetts -- To combat last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, nearly 800,000 gallons of chemical dispersant were injected directly into the oil and gas flow coming out of the wellhead nearly one mile deep in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, as scientists begin to assess how well the strategy worked at breaking up oil droplets, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) chemist Elizabeth B. Kujawinski and her colleagues report that a major component of the dispersant itself was contained within an oil-gas-laden plume in the deep ocean and had still not degraded some three months after it was applied.

While the results suggest the dispersant did mingle with the oil and gas flowing from the mile-deep wellhead, they also raise questions about what impact the deep-water residue of oil and dispersant—which some say has its own toxic effects—might have had on environment and marine life in the Gulf.

"This study gives our colleagues the first environmental data on the fate of dispersants in the spill," said Kujawinski, who led a team that also included scientists from UC Santa Barbara. "These data will form the basis of toxicity studies and modeling studies that can assess the efficacy and impact of the dispersants.

"We don't know if the dispersant broke up the oil," she added. "We found that it didn't go away, and that was somewhat surprising."

The study, which appears online Jan. 26 in the American Chemical Society (ACS) journal Environmental Science &Technology, is the first peer-reviewed research to be published on the dispersant applied to the Gulf spill and the first data in general on deep application of a dispersant, according to ACS and Kujawinski. Some previous studies had indicated that dispersants applied to surface oil spills can help prevent surface slicks from endangering marshes and coastlines.

Kujawinski and her colleagues found one of the dispersant's key components, called DOSS (dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate), was present in May and June—in parts-per-million concentrations--in the plume from the spill more than 3,000 feet deep. The plume carried its mixture of oil, natural gas and dispersant in a southwest direction, and DOSS was detected there at lower (parts-per-billion) concentrations in September.

Using a new, highly sensitive chromatographic technique that she and WHOI colleague Melissa C. Kido Soule developed, Kujawinski reports those concentrations of DOSS indicate that little or no biodegradation of the dispersant substance had occurred. The deep-water levels suggested any decrease in the compound could be attributed to normal, predictable dilution. They found further evidence that the substance did not mix with the 1.4 million gallons of dispersant applied at the ocean surface and appeared to have become trapped in deepwater plumes of oil and natural gas reported previously by other WHOI scientists and members of this research team. The team also found a striking relationship between DOSS levels and levels of methane, which further supports their assertion that DOSS became trapped in the subsurface.

Though the study was not aimed at assessing the possible toxicity of the lingering mixture—Kujawinski said she would "be hard pressed to say it was toxic"—it nevertheless warrants toxicity studies into possible effects on corals and deep-water fish such as tuna, she said. The EPA and others have already begun or are planning such research, she added.

David Valentine of UC Santa Barbara and a co-investigator in the study, said, "This work provides a first glimpse at the fate and reactivity of chemical dispersants applied in the deep ocean. By knowing how the dispersant was distributed in the deep ocean, we can begin to assess the subsurface biological exposure, and ultimately what effects the dispersant might have had."

"The results indicate that an important component of the chemical dispersant injected into the oil in the deep ocean remained there, and resisted rapid biodegradation," said Valentine, whose team collected the samples for Kujawinski's laboratory analysis. "This knowledge will ultimately help us to understand the efficacy of the dispersant application, as well as the biological effects."

Kujawinski and Valentine were joined in the study by Soule and Krista Longnecker of WHOI, Angela K. Boysen a summer student at WHOI, and Molly C. Redmond of UC Santa Barbara. The work was funded by WHOI and the National Science Foundation. The instrumentation was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

In Kujawinski's technique, the target molecule was extracted from Gulf water samples with a cartridge that isolates the DOSS molecule. She and her colleagues then observed the molecule through a mass spectrometer, ultimately calculating its concentration levels in the oil and gas plume. This method is 1,000 times more sensitive than that used by the EPA and could be used to monitor this molecule for longer time periods over longer distances from the wellhead, she said.

"With this method, we were able to tell how much [dispersant] was there and where it went," Kujawinski said. She and her colleagues detected DOSS up to around 200 miles from the wellhead two to three months after the deep-water injection took place, indicating the mixture was not biodegrading rapidly.

"Over 290,000 kg, or 640,000 pounds, of DOSS was injected into the deep ocean from April to July," she said. "That's a staggering amount, especially when you consider that this compound comprises only 10% of the total dispersant that was added."

Kujawinski cautioned that "we can't be alarmist" about the possible implications of the lingering dispersant. Concentrations considered "toxic" are at least 1,000 times greater than those observed by Kujawinski and her colleagues, she said. But because relatively little is known about the potential effects of this type of dispersant/hydrocarbon combination in the deep ocean, she added, "We need toxicity studies."

"The decision to use chemical dispersants at the sea floor was a classic choice between bad and worse," Valentine said. "And while we have provided needed insight into the fate and transport of the dispersant we still don't know just how serious the threat is; the deep ocean is a sensitive ecosystem unaccustomed to chemical irruptions like this, and there is a lot we don't understand about this cold, dark world."

"The good news is that the dispersant stayed in the deep ocean after it was first applied," Kujawinski says. "The bad news is that it stayed in the deep ocean and did not degrade."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Croc census reveals only three gharials

Times of India: Croc census reveals only three gharials

KENDRAPADA: The number of gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) in Orissa is on the wane at an alarming speed. Forest officials counted only three Gharials during a recent census in Satakosia Gorge within Tikarpada under Mahanadi river system, said Dr Sudhakar Kar, a senior research officer and herpetologist of forest and wildlife department of the state on Monday.

"The forest department had released 700 baby gharials in the Mahanadi river three decades back. In spite of the opening of a Gharial breeding center in Tikarapada in 1976, their number is decreasing at a shocking rate. The possible reasons for this could be changes in environment and water pollution affecting their breeding. It also could be due to human interference, disturbance in the river system and natural calamities", Kar said.

Gharials take 12 years to attend sexual maturity and feed on fish only. Gharials caught accidentally in fishing nets are either hacked to death or have their snout chopped off by fishermen to save the net.

"Integrated efforts that include captive breeding, research and monitoring, and especially safeguarding gharial habitat are urgently needed to save the species in the state. The forest department has recently decided to release Gharials from the Nandankann zoo into the rivers on a regular basis," Kar added.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Dubai's world has a sinking feeling

The Age: Dubai's world has a sinking feeling
THEY were intended as the ultimate luxury possession. But ''The World'', the man-made islands off the coast of Dubai shaped like the countries of the globe, are sinking, a property tribunal has heard.

Developed with hotels and villas, the islands are accessible by boat, but the sands are eroding and navigational channels between them are silting up, the British lawyer for a company bringing a case against state-run developer, Nakheel, told judges. ''The islands are gradually falling back into the sea,'' said Richard Wilmot-Smith QC, for Penguin Marine.

According to Nakheel, 70 per cent of The World's 300 islands have been sold, but most of the development plans have been brought to a crashing halt by the financial crisis. Only one of the islands - Greenland - is inhabited, and that is a showpiece owned by the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

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An artist's impression of "The World" issued by developer Nakheel. Photo: AP

The company was part of Dubai World, the state-owned conglomerate that had to be bailed out of debts put at $A25 billion at the end of 2009.

Nakheel is also behind Dubai's palm-shaped offshore developments. Villas in the only one near completion, Palm Jumeirah, were given to or bought by footballers, including former England stars David Beckham and Michael Owen.

Investors who bought islands proved unwilling or unable to finance further work when Dubai's property prices halved.

John O'Dolan, owner of the company that bought Ireland for $A38.5 million, killed himself, while Safi Qurashi, who bought Britain for $A69 million, is in jail in Dubai after being accused of bouncing cheques.

Penguin Marine, which bought the rights to provide boat travel to the islands, is trying to get out of a contract that involves paying an annual fee of about $A1.6 million to Nakheel.

Graham Lovett, for Nakheel, said the project was not dead but admitted it was ''in a coma''.

The tribunal found for Nakheel yesterday, saying it would give full reasoning later.

A Nakheel spokesman insisted the islands were not sinking. ''Our periodical survey over the past three years didn't observe any substantial erosion that required sand nourishment,'' he said

Porpoises in bay waters off Marin for first time in 60 years Porpoises in bay waters off Marin for first time in 60 years
After an absence of more than 60 years, harbor porpoises are returning to the bay waters off Marin in what could be a sign of a healthier ecosystem.

A pair of local researchers -- William Keener of Corte Madera and Jonathan Stern of San Rafael -- have been studying the return of the marine mammals for more than a year.

Historically porpoises were seen off Tiburon and Belvedere; American Indians who lived on the bay would use them as a food source.

But in the 1940s the local porpoises began to disappear. The most common theory is that as World War II raged, there was a hub of activity near the Golden Gate Bridge: There was a net underneath the span to keep enemy submarines out, military ships came and went and the outer Golden Gate was speckled with 600 floating mines.

"You can imagine the porpoises had to maneuver around all this to get into the bay, and they couldn't," said Stern, a member of Golden Gate Cetacean Research, a private research group studying the species. "A bulk of their prey was excluded from the bay as well. Eventually they were squeezed out."

Populations were further hurt by gillnetting in the decades after the war, but as that practice stopped in the 1980s the population grew stronger came back.

Now they have started to reappear in the bay.

"They may be looking for more places to feed now," Keener said. "At the same time the bay seems to be in a period of productivity. There is a lot of crab in the bay right now and a lot of fish, and the porpoises are after food and following fish into the bay."

Porpoises are not rare in Northern California, but their reappearance in the bay has been a surprise.

"Their range is along the coast, so it's not as though they have moved 10,000 miles, but they have moved that important mile and it brings them into a different system," Stern said. "They are following prey, but once they are in the bay they can find other things to feed on."

The porpoises like to eat sardines, anchovies and any type of small schooling fish. More than 125 porpoises are believed to be in the bay; there are an estimated 9,000 along the coast from San Francisco to the Russian River.

The dark gray, 6-foot-long porpoise is hard to see in the wild, but land masses and bridges in the Bay Area give a unique chance to view the species, which travels in small groups of two and three, but sometimes mass to feed. Yellow Bluff near Horseshoe Cove at Fort Baker has been a hot spot for porpoises, but it is treacherous as a viewing area. The best spot to see porpoises is from Cavallo Point near Fort Baker in Southern Marin.

"If you stand right at the end of the point and are there at the beginning of ebb tides you can see them go by," Keener said.

The porpoise behavior in the bay is with purpose, the researchers said.

"They always seem to have some appointment to go to, they are always on the move," Stern said. "They are really squirrely."

But the bay has proved to be a good spot to study the animals. The seas are relatively flat and the bay has defined parameters, limiting where they can go.

"But we are not chasing them," said Stern, noting researchers have a federal permit for their work. "But they seem not to be bothered by vessel traffic, so our little research boat does not bother them."

The researchers want to track the porpoises -- which can live up to 12 years -- over a decade to determine calving rates. Monitoring their behavior and populations could render valuable data.

The federal Gulf of the Farallones Marine Sanctuary, a partner in the project, is interested in the research. In particular it is curious whether porpoises from waters outside the Golden Gate are expanding their range voluntarily, if they are increasing in numbers or being pressured into finding alternate feeding grounds.

"They could be very good environmental indicators of the ongoing health of the bay," said Mary Jane Schramm, sanctuary spokeswoman. "If they suddenly disappear that will tell us something about the bay and the Gulf of the Farallones as well."

The return of the porpoises is a bit of good news in these days of threats of eco-calamities.

"It's something the environmental movement really needs," Stern said. "Everything is so depressing, so it's nice to know everything is not bad. This is like, 'All right, go porpoises!'"

Killer whales return to cache of food days after kill

CTV News: Killer whales return to cache of food days after kill

VANCOUVER — Who knew squirrels and killers whales had so much in common?

New research by a team of experts reveals that orcas in Alaskan waters leave a cache of their kill and return later to feed, like the furry forest dwellers.

The team also found that transient killer whales congregate for the annual northern migration of grey whales and cull up to one-third, or about 300, of the calves born annually to the Eastern Pacific grey whales.

The four-year research project has also established the role the orca plays in controlling the grey population, and the support their kills give to scavenging Pacific sleeper sharks and brown bears.

"This is the first time that any whales have been documented to cache prey, to store it up for the future," Barrett-Lennard said in a telephone interview Friday from Perth, Australia.

Barrett-Lennard, an adjunct professor in zoology at the University of B.C., said he was especially pleased with the findings because he earlier wrote a paper noting killer whales have a problem with larger kills in the ocean because the carcasses sinks and they aren't deep swimmers, leaving much of the kill to go to waste.

The study, by Lance Barrett-Lennard and a team of researchers, was published this week in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

In it, researchers detail the behaviour of a newly-discovered transient population of killer whales on the edges of the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea. Normally transient killer whales are loners or travel a few to a pod, so finding 150 transients together off Alaska's coast was "mind-boggling" for Barrett-Lennard and his fellow researchers.

The whales gathered in a cove off Unimak Island, Alaska, which is the largest and most eastern of the Aleutian Islands.

They are there for the return of thousands of grey whales heading to their Bering Sea feeding grounds from the winter breeding grounds around Baja, Mexico.

Transient killer whales are one of three different populations of orcas, the others being resident and offshore populations. Most studies have been done on the resident killer whales in the waters off British Columbia and the states of Washington, Oregon and Alaska.

While resident whales eat mainly fish, transients dine exclusively on marine mammals.

Barrett-Lennard said Unimak Island seemed to be a perfection location for the killers to prey on the greys and the ocean isn't deep there, so they gorge on their catch over several days.

"For a month or more, the killer whales hunt and feed exclusively on grey whale calves and yearlings," the report said.

The grey whale's only defence is to move to very shallow water, where the killers are reluctant to press the attack.

The orcas also seem to give up if mothers aggressively defend their calves.

Researchers watched as the orcas hunted the grey whales, using stealth and specialized techniques with highly developed group co-ordination. But it's what the whales did with their kill afterwards that was especially interesting to them.

"After an initial feeding period, killer whales leave the site for 24 hours or more before returning to feed again -- the first time such food storing behaviour has been reported in whales," said the report summary.

A fully grown grey whale can be up to 15 metres long and weight 33,000 kilograms, while a baby is an average of 4.5 metres long and weights from 500 to 680 kilograms.

The stored carcasses leave a distinctive oil sheen on the water above and what's left of the carcass is often scavenged by sleeper sharks in the water and then Alaskan Brown bears when the remains wash ashore.

While researchers have only known about these hunting grounds for a few years, Barrett-Lennard said it's clear this has been going on for a long time.

The island is covered with a healthy population of brown bears, he said, and every time the killer whales near the shore the bears run down as if they're being called for dinner.

"It's perfect timing for the brown bears, they're just out of their dens, the hibernation is over, they're famished," he said. "We've seen up to 19 brown bears on a single (grey whale) carcass."

Barrett-Lennard has been working since 2002 with Alaskan biologist Craig Matkin on the killer whale research project along the Alaskan Peninsula.

Friday, January 21, 2011

First deep-sea mining licence granted First deep-sea mining licence granted
Papua New Guinea's government has granted the world's first deep-sea mining licence to a Canadian company named Nautilus Minerals, who want to operate in the Bismarck Sea.

The company's Solwara 1 project sits at 1.6km below the surface of the sea, 50km north of the nearest port, the volcano-threatened Rabaul. Early surveys have found high-grade copper and gold deposits close to the sea floor, which Nautilus reckons will be lucrative enough to exploit on a commercial scale.

The technology behind the process is complex. It takes aspects from undersea oil and gas exploration, combines dredging processes and adds a smattering of the kind of principles that govern open pit mining.

A preparatory machine called an "auxiliary cutter" (AC) flattens out the sea floor to create a surface that a "bulk cutter" (BC) can operate on, ripping the ore apart. That ore is then left on the sea floor and collected by a "collecting machine" (CM), which sucks it up into a tube and pushes it through a pipe to the "riser-and-lifting system" (RALS), which sends it to a boat at the surface. On the deck of the boat, the slurry coming up from the sea bed is filtered, with the water then being sent back down the pipe to the seabed, where it's released. A transportation barge then hauls it to a stockpile in the port of Rabaul.

As it's a relatively new process, the environmental impacts of a full-scale deep sea mining operation aren't yet known. There's concern that sediment plumes and increased toxicity of the water column could result, as well as significant and permanent damage to ecosystems in the Benthic zone, and the deep-sea organisms that inhabit it. We know very little about such organisms, as almost all observation must be done by remote-controlled submarine. There's also concern about leakage, spills and corrosion from the equipment used to conduct the mining.

The lease has been granted for an initial term of 20 years, which Nautilus hopes will be sufficient time to get out enough of the 2.2 million tonnes of mineralised material thought to be in the area. It'll take a while to get up to speed, though -- about two and a half years for the project to become commercially viable. If it proves successful, Nautilus also has its eye on the territorial waters of Fiji, Tonga, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand, which may also harbour commercially exploitable minerals.

21 Jan, 2011, Fri: Mystery of rare grey whale's 2,200-km journey

Vancouver Sun: Mystery of rare grey whale's 2,200-km journey
Maybe it's food, the prospect of sex or some deeply-rooted memory, but, whatever the motivation, an endangered whale is astounding researchers with a marathon swim which, so far, has taken him from Russia's Sakhalin Island to the waters off Alaska.

Flex, a 13-year-old western Pacific grey, is a member of the second most endangered species of large whales in the world. Only between 113 and 130 animals remain.

Flex left Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula Jan. 3 and sped across the Bering Sea, covering about 2,200 kilometres in just over a week and swimming at about eight kilometres an hour.

"He was moving very fast. That's day and night and day and night, so it was a pretty significant effort," said Bruce Mate, director of Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute, who tagged the whale last fall.

Now, the biggest question is whether Flex will continue south, past the Aleutian Islands and onto the migration route for about 18,000 eastern Pacific grey whales, which swim each year between Alaska, past Vancouver Island to Mexico. That would be an "a-ha moment," said Mate, adding that Flex has already provided a "gee-whiz factor."

"If he gets into the eastern migratory corridor that would be exciting," he said.

"If it comes into that realm, some people will wonder, especially with his direct route across the Bering Sea, whether he learned that from his mom and if there might be more relation than thought between the eastern and western stocks."

The two populations are genetically distinct and whales usually inherit knowledge of the best feeding grounds from their mothers.

If Flex joins his eastern cousins with the aim of mating he would not necessarily have to travel all the way south, Mate said.

"We see mating during the northbound migration during March and April, so he could do that without going to Mexico," he said.

It is unlikely that the females would be concerned about a stranger in their midst as their relationships are promiscuous, Mate said.

Also, the two populations look similar, so an eastern whale could join the western migration without being noticed by researchers.

Western Pacific grey whales, which were previously thought to be extinct, spend their summers at the south end of the Sea of Okhotsk, where there is concern about oil and gas development. An oil company is planning a third drilling platform, which environmental groups fear will wipe out the whale population.

But nothing is known about their winter habits, so, last fall, Oregon researchers teamed up with their Russian counterparts to tag some of the animals.

Discovering more about their range is urgent for conservation as five females were killed in the past four years in shore-based nets off Japan, Mate said.

Tagging proved difficult because of typhoons and gales, and only Flex was successfully tagged, so it is possible he might not be alone, Mate said.

Previous guesses about winter breeding and calving grounds have centred around the South China Sea

"But this is the first information that has ever been gleaned about this population at this time of year," Mate said.

On Monday, Flex was about 100 km north of the Pribilof Islands, but bad weather is hampering location checks.

During tests, the average tag lasted 118 days and that limit has now been reached. However, the longest a tag has lasted is 385 days.

Mate hopes the tag will continue to transmit long enough to unlock Flex's winter secrets.

For the latest on Flex's journey, go to Oregon State's website, which is updated every Monday, at

21 Jan 2011, Fri: Manatees crowd refuge at Three Sisters Springs

ABC Action News: Manatees crowd refuge at Three Sisters Springs
CRYSTAL RIVER, Fla. - Seasonal visitors have arrived at one of their favorite watering holes in Citrus County. But it's because they need this particular hole in order to survive.

A federal biologist recently counted more than 450 manatees in the Kings Bay area of the county, including a record 212 manatee inside Three Sisters Springs.

Saturday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will host an open house where visitors can see the manatees in their warmer habitat, free from human intervention.

When the temperature drops, manatees find shelter in warmer water as they are susceptible to illness caused by cold air. They tend to congregate where the air is warm. Three Sisters remains at a constant temperature, offering an ideal setting for a manatee get together.

Those who do not venture out in snorkel gear can get an up close look at the sea cows Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Since improvements to the road and parking are not complete, free shuttles will be provided from the southeast corner of the Kings Bay Shopping Plaza off of US Highway 19 in Crystal River.

Informational booths will be set up along the way. Distance from the shuttle drop off to the springs is a short 40 yards but the terrain is rough.

There are accommodations for mobility impaired people to drive to the site. No fishing or swimming is allowed at the springs at this time. Swimmers are restricted to the area outside of the spring's head which is clearly marked.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

20 Jan 2010, Thu, France plans underwater nuclear reactor France plans underwater nuclear reactor
PARIS, Jan. 20 (UPI) -- Plans to build underwater civilian nuclear reactors are in the works in France, with a prototype expected to be rolled out in 2016, officials said.

DCNS, the French state-controlled naval company, said it will work in partnership with French companies Areva, EDF, and the French Atomic Energy Commission to build small- and medium-sized underwater reactors to provide electricity to consumers on land, Radio France Internationale reported Wednesday.

The company said its Flexblue project, expected to enter the building phase in 2013, is in response to global energy challenges and renewed interest in nuclear power.

Flexblue "reduces greenhouse gas emissions while conserving fossil fuels," the company said in a statement.

Engineers have been working on plans to create a capsule-shaped reactor that would be moored on the sea floor several miles off the coast, the company said.

DCNS Chief Executive Officer Patrick Boissier told the French publication Usine Nouvelle underwater reactors are safer, and less vulnerable to terrorist attack and natural disasters than those on land.

"The reactor would produce safe, competitive energy, that does not emit any carbon," Boissier said.

Much of France's electricity is from nuclear power.

20 Jan 2010, Video shows the ugliness below the beauty of Puget Sound Video shows the ugliness below the beauty of Puget Sound
Comments (42)SEATTLE -- It's been a wet January in Seattle, with close to 4 inches of rain so far. After such heavy rain, there's a river that rages under Puget Sound, but it's not all water.

Local scuba diver Laura James took her camera down off Harbor Avenue SW to document the stunning stream of storm sediment now rushing into the Sound.

It looks like a thick black plume of muck.

"People don't even think about it," James said.

James says she takes the underwater video to make people aware of the ugliness below the beauty of Puget Sound. She finds cigarette butts, candy wrappers, chewing gum -- the garbage that people toss.

"It goes somewhere. And I like to show people where it goes," she said. "Right out here in Puget Sound."

And there is the toll from our daily lives: detergents, fertilizers, oil, brake dust -- even the rubber that wears off of our tires as we drive.

"Tire rubber? I mean where does that go?" she wondered. "We have to get our tires replaced pretty regularly; I mean where does that rubber go?"

When it rains, the water runs into storm drains and eventually flows out into our local waterways. As the water runs, it picks up all kinds of things in its path.

The city maintains storm water catch basins, designed to collect larger pollutants. But stuff still makes it into Puget Sound and area lakes.

James says she sees it all as she watches the flow and examines the debris field that settles onto the ocean floor.

Seattle Public Utilities Professional Engineer Andrew Lee says storm water pollution is a significant source of pollution for our waters.

He cites a 2009 report by the Department of Ecology showed storm water is the most significant pollutant of Puget Sound. And he says our recent snow storms made things worse.

"Obviously the Seattle Department of Transportation, putting salt, as well as sand on the roads to make sure that people could still drive on them -- some of that salt and sand material might have mixed with oils that are coming off of people's cars and then in the next rain event, that stuff flushes into the separated storm water system and when it comes out it looks like that black soot type of material," he said.

But more often, Lee says it's the things we do daily, from fertilizing our lawns and gardens to tossing trash, that leave the biggest mark on Puget Sound pollution.

And he says people are not supposed to wash their cars at home. You should use a self-service car wash instead, because they collect all of the detergent-filled water, so it does not go into storm drains.

"Every decision we make even if they're tiny decisions can affect what goes out there," Lee said.

And it all effects what's living and should be thriving in Puget Sound.

20 Jan, 2011: Octopus remains washed ashore

The Freeport News (Grand Bahamas): Octopus remains washed ashore

The remains of an estimated 20 foot octopus was found yesterday morning in the Williams Town Beach area behind the Island Seas Resort.

Fisherman, Dudley Bethel made the gruesome discovery and alerted hotel officials of his find. When The Freeport News arrived, a small crowd had gathered on the shoreline curious as to how an octopus of that size ended up there.

Some were brave enough to touch the remains to get a better look at the sea creature.

Bethel reported that he saw the remains at about 8:00 a.m and knew exactly what it was.

"I saw that the octopus was washed up on the shore, it was pretty big and I was a bit concerned. I knew what is was because as a fisherman we see a lot of them out there in the water, but they are not as big as this."

Bethel said he believed that the octopus might have been attacked by a shark due to the visible bite marks on the remains.

Clement Campbell, assistant fisheries superintendent of the Department of Marine Res-ources, was also on-hand to conduct an investigation into the matter.

He told reporters that this was the second octopus discovered within the last six months.

"Based on what the predators left behind it is believed that it could have been between 20-30 feet long.

The only thing that was left was the mouth and a portion of the head. All of the tentacles were gone," he said.

"The octopus might have been there because of age, normally in this part of the world they do not get that big, they would be that size in the Pacific Ocean so it is rare for them to be in this area."

When asked if this could be a matter of concern, Campbell said that at this stage, it is too early to tell.

"We don't know which way to point to or the cause of it. If it happens again we may have to conduct some tests. We are unable to test on these remains because all of the intestines were gone."

He added that the remains would be turned over to the Department of Environmental health to be disposed of.

Back in July 2010 while on a fishing trip, residents discovered a large octopus floating in waters off the Bell Channel. The octopus weighed in at 135-pounds and measured 12 feet.

China seal deal 'huge' for Canada: minister

CBCNews: China seal deal 'huge' for Canada: minister
Federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said Wednesday that a new deal to export seal meat and other products to China will transform Canada's sagging seal fishery.

"As early as this spring, Canadian processors could begin shipping seal meat and oils into the world's biggest market for fish and seafood products," Shea said Wednesday in St. John's, where she was attending a meeting of a sealing industry advisory committee.

"This is a huge breakthrough for our sealing industry."

Canada announced an export deal on seal meat last week during a trade mission to China. The development brings new hope to the seal industry, which has been weathering a ban on seal products in the European Union as well as a slump globally in fur products.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not put a value on the potential of the Chinese market for meat products, and Shea told reporters that sealers should not expect to see a sudden windfall.

"I think this industry … will grow slowly. I don't expect it's going to be a huge, huge impact right away," Shea said. "But it's still very exciting."

Sealers, however, are focused on a more pressing issue. A lack of ice has been reported in key areas in eastern Canada, raising questions about whether sealers will be able to catch this year's quota of animals.

"Last year the ice was limited. So far this year, no ice as well," Shea said. "This is something that the industry will have to discuss."

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Florida couple plan for life under the sea

10 News WTSP: Florida couple plan for life under the sea
Cocoa, Florida (Florida Today) -- Today, the Chamberlands live under the sunny, blue skies of west Cocoa. Soon, they hope to gaze up through aqua-gray tints of Atlantica, the world's first permanent undersea colony.

They're determined to do so by 2015, somewhere off East Central Florida, maybe even Brevard County. They've signed up 13 others to live with them in cylindrical steel modules, 200 feet down and tapping into the Gulf Stream for energy, oxygen and scientific discovery.

The Chamberlands envision quarters safe enough for children. Even their cat, Snickers, will go with them, transported in a submarine-like cylinder with a glass bubble port.

"Now we seem to be focused and preoccupied on space, but the ocean cultures are coming and they're coming fast," said Dennis Chamberland, a contract manager for NASA who's designed prototypes of advanced life support systems for the moon and Mars. "It's inevitable."

The 59-year-old is quick to point out that NASA isn't involved in his project, dubbed the Atlantica Expeditions. But for Chamberland, pioneering the first undersea colony would fulfill a lifelong crusade -- what he describes as the inborn "splinter" in his mind.

"I just never turned loose of it," he said of his childhood dream.

But the notion is far from child's play or fantasy. The Chamberlands say they're less than two years from a record-setting dry run of long-term undersea living.

Along with a fellow aquanaut, and their pet, they hope to submerge for 90 days in an undersea habitat called Leviathan on July 4, 2012. The stay would break the world record of 69 days, set in 1991 in the Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo.

The Chamberlands already hold the record for the most accumulated days working as a married undersea aquanaut team, 31 days combined from eight missions.

While Snickers is a relative newcomer to the underwater world, Dennis and Claudia have been diving partners for two decades. Dennis Chamberland never goes in the water without her.

She is the CEO of their nonprofit, League of the New Worlds, founded 20 years ago to promote colonization of the ocean and space.

Far from water

A main image on "The Atlantic Expeditions" website is of a young boy gazing out over the aqua glow of a futuristic undersea city.

The seeds of Dennis Chamberland's boyhood obsession -- his "splinter" -- germinated about as far as away from the ocean as American child can grow up, on the great plains of Haskell, Okla., a town of 1,800 just south of Tulsa. The local library provided the only outlet for his yearning for ocean adventure.

He'd spend countless hours in his tree house, watching morning rays pierce the leaves, relishing the sanctuary and separation from the ground.

Chamberland said his can-do attitude came from his father, an aerospace engineering technician who built their home and had a sign on his desk that read: "If you can dream it, I can build it."

At age 12, Dennis would rush home to watch his hero, Mike Nelson, played by Lloyd Bridges, on "Sea Hunt." But at 14, he failed a swimming class at the YMCA.

Years later, as a student at Oklahoma State University, he taught himself to swim and eventually became a certified diver.

Early 'Survivor'

Chamberland also kept exploring the idea of undersea living and created the Omega Project while at college, including a weeklong mission in a mock sea lab.

"It was a really early version of 'Survivor,' " said Chamberland, who finished a dual major in physical sciences and psychology, then served as a U.S. Navy officer in the Pacific.

Six years after graduating, he returned to Oklahoma State to earn a master's in bioenvironmental engineering. That led to a job with the Navy as a civilian nuclear engineer and then for NASA in the mid-1980s.

Chamberland became a NASA aquanaut in 1994, directing several missions, including the first planting and harvesting of an agricultural crop on the ocean floor at MarineLab in Key Largo.

He also designed and built NASA's Scott Carpenter Space Analog Station, a 101/2-ton submersible lab in Key Largo named after the astronaut and aquanaut.

Launched in 1997 and 1998, about 20 aquanauts visited the station, including Hollywood director James Cameron, of "Titanic" and "Avatar" fame. Cameron is listed on Chamberland's website among 65 crew members signed up to visit during the so-called Atlantica Expeditions.

Dangers at sea

National Geographic Channel recently featured Chamberland's and other modern efforts to live undersea on its "Naked Science" series. But extended underwater stays date back more than a half century.

Robert Stenuit embarked on the world's first aquanaut mission in 1962 in the French Riviera. He lowered 200 feet in a three-foot-diameter, 11-foot-long aluminum cylinder. The planned two-day dive aborted after the first day because of technical problems.

The Navy's SEALAB project in the 1960s sunk experimental habitats off Bermuda and California, but canceled the program after a fatal accident in 1969.

The dangers and expense foiled other attempts. Jacques Cousteau's experiments in the 1960s with undersea living and research stations led him years later to repudiate ocean colonization as "unrealistic."

But Chamberland says previous efforts were doomed because they tried to adapt humans to living under high pressures, which can cause health problems.

In Chamberland's Atlantica, just like the International Space Station or a submarine, the habitat's atmosphere would be close to the same as on land.

Isolated life

Chris Combs, an adjunct oceanography professor at Florida Tech, lived three days in 1972 on one of the early versions of an undersea habitat, Hydrolab.

"It was one of the most interesting psychological experiments of my life," Combs said. "I wasn't ready to go up."

Built in 1966, the cylindrical Hydrolab could fit four people, for experiments conducted through the mid-1980s in the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Now it sits in the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum.

But Combs' biggest question is one the Chamberlands hear often.

"I can't imagine why anyone would want to be that isolated from the rest of the world," he said "The word 'permanent' is the most challenging word for me in the whole concept."

For Dennis Chamberland, the primary appeal is the scientific discovery.

He and the others want to settle as "intelligent stewards," allowing visiting scientists to study the Gulf Stream and marine life.

Oceans encompass the largest biological realm on Earth, 321 million cubic miles, compared with 59 million square miles of land.

"We know more as a species about what's going on the surface of Mars," Dennis Chamberland said. "We are literally poisoning the lifeblood of our planet, and we have no clue what we're doing out there."

Diving history

But his yearning to live undersea also hearkens back to that boyhood tree house in Oklahoma. In his book, Chamberland describes a similar tranquility of watching daybreak from Carpenter Station. He would peer out through schooling fish and rising bubbles, with the same wonder he once had looking through the leaves.

The Chamberlands plan to keep their vacation home in Tennessee, but eventually sell their house in West Cocoa.

Claudia Chamberland was an avid dive partner of her father, a retired NASA engineer who invented an underwater breathing apparatus in the 1930s. Together, they would explore the Bahamas and caves in springs throughout Florida.

Dennis and Claudia Chamberland met in 1990 and have passed on their passion for ocean adventure to their children, five sons and a daughter.

Their 2012 mission is "substantially funded," Dennis Chamberland said, but the permanent colony poses a greater challenge. It will cost tens of millions to build what they envision -- not just an outpost or lab, they stress, but a community.

Chamberland sees undersea living as a natural evolution.

"Humans just expand, and this is just one of those migrations -- of humans into the sea," he said.

Climate secrets of Marianas Trench probed

BBC: News, CLimate and Environment: Climate secrets of Marianas Trench probed
The climate secrets of the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, have been probed by scientists.

The international team used a submersible, designed to withstand immense pressures, to study the bottom of the 10.9km-deep underwater canyon.

Their early results reveal that ocean trenches are acting as carbon sinks.

This suggests that they play a larger role in regulating the Earth's chemistry and climate than was thought.

Although two explorers, Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh, reached the deepest part of the Marianas Trench - a point called the Challenger Deep - in 1960, no humans have been back since.

And the handful of scientific missions, including this recent visit to this deepest spot, have been carried out using unmanned underwater vehicles.

Lead researcher Professor Ronnie Glud, from the University of Southern Denmark and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams), said that working at more than 1,000 atmospheres of pressure was challenging, but advances in technology had made it possible.

He told BBC News: "This is the first time we have been able to set down sophisticated instruments at these depths to measure how much carbon is buried there."

Under pressure
Professor Glud, working with scientists from the Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology (Jamstec) and from the UK and Germany, used a lander equipped with special sensors packed in a titanium cylinder that was able to resist the remarkable pressures.

The lander was launched from a ship and took three hours to free-fall to the sea bottom, where it carried out pre-programmed experiments before releasing its ballast and returning to the surface.

The tests helped the scientists to assess the abundance of carbon at those murky depths.

Professor Glud said: "Basically, we are interested in understanding how much organic material - that is all the material produced by algae or fish in the water above - settles at the sea bed, and is either eaten by bacteria and degraded or is buried.

"The ratio that is either degraded or buried is the ultimate process determining what are the oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations of the oceans and the atmosphere, and this gives us an overall picture of how efficiently the sea can capture and sequester carbon in the global carbon cycle."

While this has been studied in other parts of the ocean, such as the abyssal plain - the large flat area of the ocean that lies between 4.6km and 5.5km of depth - the role deep sea trenches play in the carbon cycle has until now remained largely unknown.

Professor Glud said: "Although these trenches cover just 2% of the ocean, we thought they might be disproportionately important, because it was likely that they would accumulate much more carbon because they would act as a trap, with more organic matter drifting to the bottom of them than in other parts of the ocean."

He explained that preliminary data from his experiments suggested that this was the case.

He said: "Our results very strongly suggest that the trenches do act as sediment traps. And they also had high activity, meaning that more carbon is turned over by bacteria in the trenches than is turned over at 6,000m of depth in the abyssal plain.

"What it means is that we have carbon storage going on in these trenches that is higher than we thought before, and this really means that we have a carbon dioxide sink in the deep ocean that wasn't recognised before."

The next stage for the team is to quantify their results and work out exactly how much more carbon is stored in deep sea trenches compared with other parts of the sea, and how much carbon turnover by bacteria is being carried out.

This, the researchers said, should help them to better establish the role of the ocean trenches in regulating climate.

Surprising finds
This is not the first time deep sea trenches have surprised scientists.

Recent studies by University of Aberdeen's Oceanlab team have revealed that marine life is much more abundant in this hostile habitat than was previously thought.

In 2008, they filmed the deepest living fish ever to be caught on camera - a 17-strong shoal found at depths of 7.7km in the Japan Trench, and the revealed other animals such as amphipods were present in large numbers even deeper.

Beyond the abyss
Dr Alan Jamieson, from Oceanlab, said the new study was helping researchers to build up a better idea of what happens in the deepest of the deep.

He said: "The trenches continue to amaze us.

"And to see an experiment such as this carried out at these extreme depths is a great leap forward in deep-sea science.

"These studies will greatly enhance our understanding of how the deep trenches contribute to carbon cycling in the world's oceans."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Fish discard issue 'over-simplified'

BBC News: Fish discard issue 'over-simplified'
Scottish fishing industry leaders have warned that recent media coverage highlighting the problem of fish discards could over-simplify the issue.

Trawlermen have to discard fish if they have already met their EU quota.

Recent publicity, including Channel 4's Fish Fight featuring chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has brought the issue to the fore.

However, the Scottish Fishermen's Federation warned proposed solutions were "defective or overly simple".

Chief executive Bertie Armstrong said as a result of TV coverage there "could not be a single person in the UK who did not now know that the rules governing fisheries were the cause of discarding".

He added: "You would, however, be harder pushed to find anyone with practical proposals that will actually work."

Following the recent publicity, Scottish Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead called for the discards issue to be an agenda item at the January EU Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.

He said Scotland had been leading the way on campaigning for change and on developing innovative measures to reduce discards, by moving towards a "land-all-you-catch" system.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote
We are listening with great frustration to the discard problem being described in ever more strident terms, followed only by a single proposal for a defective and overly simple fix”
End Quote
Bertie Armstrong

Scottish Fishermen's Federation
But Mr Lochhead said the government's hands were tied by an "ineffective and broken CFP" (Common Fisheries Policy) which "failed to recognise the realities of mixed fisheries".

Mixed fisheries

However, Mr Armstrong said the Scottish government's solution did not address the whole issue.

"At the moment all the Scottish government eggs are in the one basket - the use of CCTV to limit fishing," he said.

"This may indeed be part of a future solution, but as many problems are initially created as are solved.

"We are listening with great frustration to the discard problem being described in ever more strident terms, followed only by a single proposal for a defective and overly simple fix.

"The underlying problem is how can the system be changed to manage the complexities of mixed fisheries, so that when the quota for one species is taken up, fishermen can still catch the other species that swims with it so as to enable fishing to continue throughout the year."

'Take note'

The government is pressing the EU to move towards a "catch quota" system and is currently carrying out trials using CCTV to monitor the catch.

The aim is to enforce a quota based on the number of fish caught rather than a "landing quota" (based on the number of fish brought back into harbour) so that the fishermen have no incentive to throw smaller, less valuable fish back in to the sea.

In addition, the Scottish Conservation Credits scheme uses more selective fishing gear to avoid catching undersized and unwanted fish in the first place.

Fishermen taking part are rewarded by being able to spend more days fishing at sea for other species.

However, Mr Armstrong warned there was "no magic wand solution to this complex and many-faceted problem".

He said the federation would produce a fishing manifesto ahead of the Scottish election, and he urged politicians hoping for fisheries votes to "take note".

Surf's up: Thrill-seekers ride waves for FIVE MILES as tidal bore creates huge wall of water

Daily Mail Online: Surf's up: Thrill-seekers ride waves for FIVE MILES as tidal bore creates huge wall of water
The Arctic Circle is not typically noted as a surfing paradise but enthusiasts might be trading their favourite golden beaches for the chillier waters of Alaska if these pictures are anything to go by.

A video shot above the Cook Inlet on Alaska's south coast shows surfers riding waves for an incredible five miles.

While most surfers might be happy to stay upright for 20 seconds these thrill seekers have exploited the famous Turnagain tidal bore for an experience unlike any other.

Tidal bores occur at only a few places on the planet, including the River Mersey, River Ribble and the River Severn in the UK. The phenomenon take place when a high tide is forced into a narrow stretch of water.

But the size of of the Turnagain Arm, a 43 mile long and 1000 feet deep channel of water, gives surfers a unique opportunity to ride the roaring waves for up to half-an-hour.

The bore happens every day but it varies in size from just six inches to six feet high so surfers have to predict when they think the biggest waves will arrive.
As well as its length, the Turnagain bore is renowed for its display of natural beauty. The wall of water has been seen to jump with salmon and other fish, while birds-of-prey often haunt the sky looking for a catch.

'Bore fever' is gripping the area with adrenaline junkies using larger 'stand-up boards' and using paddles for extra propulsion as the phenomenon achieves greater prominence in the surfing community.

The Turnagain experience, he told the website, was unique: 'The one where you could catch the wave right after breakfast and ride it till lunch.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sylvia Earle Saturday: Marine Sciences Vocabulary Builder

Sylvia Earle: (born August 30, 1935 in Gibbstown, New Jersey) is an American oceanographer. She was chief scientist for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1990-1992. She is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, sometimes called "Her Deepness" or "The Sturgeon General."

Abyss - pronounced uh-biss - is "the very deepest part of the ocean."
Other words that use Abyss are:
Abyssal plain, a flat area on the ocean floor
Abyssal zone, a deep extent of the sea

Word origin - how did the term develop?
late 14c., earlier abime (c.1300), from L.L. abyssus "bottomless pit," from Gk. abyssos (limne) "bottomless (pool).

Thursday, January 13, 2011

NOAA To Work With Six Nations To Address Illegal, Unreported, And Unregulated Fishing

Underwater Times: NOAA To Work With Six Nations To Address Illegal, Unreported, And Unregulated Fishing
SILVER SPRING, Maryland -- NOAA today submitted a report to Congress identifying six nations – Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal, and Venezuela – whose fishing vessels engaged in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2009 and/or 2010.

This opens the way for continued consultations between the U.S. government and each of the nations to encourage them to take action to stop IUU fishing by their vessels.

In this report, NOAA also announces that the six previously identified nations (China, France, Italy, Libya, Panama, and Tunisia) have addressed the instances of illegal fishing described by the United States in the 2009 report to Congress. These nations applied penalties to the vessels in question or adopted laws to strengthen control of their fishing fleets or both. Each has received a positive certification as a result of their actions.

The nations identified in today's report had fishing vessels that did not comply with measures agreed to under various international fishery management organizations, such as closed fishing seasons, vessel registry lists, and a ban on the use of driftnets. Other violations included illegal gear modifications, fishing without authorization, and possession of undersized bluefin tuna.

While Italy and Panama took corrective actions for illegal fishing identified in the 2009 report, other vessels from these countries still engaged in IUU fishing, which included illegal use of driftnets and fishing in an area when it was closed to purse seine nets.

If a nation fails to take appropriate action to address the instances of illegal fishing described in the report, that nation's vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports and the President may prohibit imports of certain fish products from that nation or take other measures.

"We are encouraged that the nations identified in 2009 have taken significant actions to address illegal fishing by their vessels, and we are now reaching out to the six countries identified in today's report," said Russell Smith, NOAA deputy assistant secretary for international fisheries. "Illegal fishing must be stopped as it subjects our fishermen to unfair competition and undermines efforts to sustainably manage the valuable fish stocks around the world that so many communities depend on for food and jobs."

Annual global economic losses due to IUU fishing are estimated to be as high as $23 billion.

Today's decisions follow two years in which NOAA's Fisheries Service, working with the U.S. Department of State, conducted extensive outreach at bilateral and multilateral meetings to inform fishing nations of potential U.S. actions to combat IUU fishing. NOAA is addressing the problem of IUU fishing through the international provisions of the U.S. Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act.

The act amends the High Seas Driftnet Moratorium Protection Act, which requires the United States to strengthen international fishery management organizations and address IUU fishing activities and the unintended catch, or bycatch, of protected living marine resources. Specifically, the Moratorium Protection Act requires the Secretary of Commerce to identify those foreign nations whose fishing vessels are engaged in IUU fishing, and what actions those nations have taken to end the practice.

Today's identifications of countries will be followed by consultations to urge these nations to adopt effective measures to combat IUU fishing. Following consultations, NOAA will formally certify whether each of the six nations have addressed the IUU fishing activities of their vessels.

The latest report to Congress also includes information on multilateral efforts to improve stewardship of international marine resources. To read the report, go to

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Most ocean species still unknown after census

Seen here, a new copepod, Ceratonotus steiningeri, that was first discovered 5,400 meters deep in the Angola Basin in 2006. Within a year it was also collected in the southeastern Atlantic, as well as as in the central Pacific Ocean. Scientists are puzzled about how this tiny animal achieved such widespread distribution as they are about how it avoided detection for so long. (Jan Michels/Census of Marine Life/Associated Press)

CBC News: Most ocean species still unknown after census
At least three-quarters of the world's ocean species remain unknown following a 10-year census of marine life, Canadian researchers say.

"We've estimated that for every species we know about, there's probably another three or four that we don't know, that have never been sampled by science," said Paul Snelgrove, a professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland's Ocean Science Centre who led the group that compiled the results of the international Census of Marine Life.

Larger species tend to be better known, and when it comes to small invertebrates and microbes, "our level of knowledge is zero in many parts of the ocean," said Snelgrove Tuesday.

He was speaking during a break in a two-day meeting in Ottawa of Canadian marine biologists and representatives of ocean-focused federal agencies and departments such as Fisheries and Oceans.

Even in well-known areas of Canada's coast new species have been pulled up as recently as this past summer, including this possibly new species of sponge found near Nova Scotia in July. (Bedford Institute of Oceanography/Canadian Press)
The meeting is a Canadian follow-up to the census completed in 2010. Its goal is to figure out how to harness Canadian marine biodiversity expertise and apply it to make sustainable use of fish and other ocean resources.

Snelgrove said universities have a lot of the infrastructure and resources needed to keep tabs on the oceans and make informed decisions.

"So, partnerships between universities and federal agencies and between agencies, I think, are the only way that we can continue to do a better on job on sustainable oceans," Snelgrove said.

At the meeting, much of the focus was on how to decide the boundaries of protected marine areas.

"If we're going to give up those areas for activities like fishing … then we want to put them in areas where they're going to be most effective," Snelgrove said.

In the case of spawning cod, for example, the protected areas should be ones where the eggs and young are likely to survive, he said, and not places like the edge of a continental shelf where many eggs would get swept out to sea.

Meanwhile, there has been increasing recognition that even small, inedible species play an important role in the oceans by contributing to the balance of resources like nutrients, oxygen and a good base for the food chain, Snelgrove said.

"Species that we may not think are important to us, in fact, are because of other relationships to the environment … and also to the species that we do harvest," Snelgrove said. "If we're losing some of them, as we know we are, are we losing aspects of ocean health with them?"

Arctic, deep ocean largely unexplored
Knowledge about marine species in two areas of Canadian waters in particular is limited, Snelgrove said:

The Arctic, because of the ice that covers much of it.
The deeper areas of the ocean, because exploring them is expensive.
Even off Nova Scotia and Canada's Pacific coast, new species have been pulled up as recently as this past summer, said Verena Tunnicliffe, director of the VENUS, a group of underwater observatories near Vancouver and Victoria. She also holds a Canada Research Chair in deep oceans research at the University of Victoria.

Tunnicliffe addressed the conference Monday night with a talk called "Exploring the ocean frontiers — We have more to learn."

Even in locations where most species are known, a lot of research continues to slowly unravel how environmental factors interact with marine life. One example of this is the shipping lane of Vancouver harbour, where researchers are exploring how such factors as oxygen, temperature, carbon or even noise affect plankton blooms and zooplankton.

"Theres's tonnes left to discover," she said. "This really is a major frontier."