Monday, April 30, 2012
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
SEATTLE — The scientists followed the killer whales by boat, trying to catch the precise moment the animals broke the surface.
Then, using a 25-foot pole strung with petri dishes, researchers leaned out and gathered samples of the moist exhaled air that shot like a geyser from each whale’s blowhole.
For four years a team of researchers gathered these orca breath samples from the waters of Washington and British Columbia. And by comparing them to surface waters and orca death records, the scientists stumbled upon a trend, The Seattle Times reported in Friday’s newspaper.
Killer whales – from Puget Sound’s endangered southern residents to the transient whales living hundreds of miles offshore – are inhaling bacteria, fungi and viruses once believed to be found only on land. Some of the pathogens are highly virulent. And some are even antibiotic-resistant.
The discovery comes as researchers also learn that respiratory ailments may be a leading cause of orca deaths, and that leads biologists to a new question:
Given that Puget Sound’s orcas are stressed and potentially more susceptible to illness, how much risk could exposure to new sources of infection pose?
“It’s pretty disturbing and opens a whole new can of worms,” said marine-mammal veterinarian Pete Schroeder. “We have an iconic species of animal that is in danger and whose ability to withstand a severe infection is in question. Now we know they can inhale antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and it can live in their upper respiratory tract.”
The research is so new, it’s hard to draw firm conclusions.
“Just because you detect a particular pathogen, does that mean it will cause a problem? It may or may not,” said Brad Hanson, a marine-mammal biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “Are we detecting them because we’ve never looked before? We don’t know.”
But while none of the orcas sampled were sick, researchers said their findings suggest that contagions may be of greater concern for orcas than previously thought.
“It means we need to worry about disease outbreaks as a threat to the very survival of the population,” said David Bain, an orca expert and affiliate professor at the University of Washington. “We need to improve the barrier between our lives on land and whales’ lives at sea.”
It’s no secret that a stew of microbes from land regularly invades Puget Sound. Bacteria and nutrients from humans and animals have for decades been funneled into estuaries and bays, causing oxygen problems in Hood Canal and resulting in shellfish-bed closures.
Chicken and cow waste has flowed from farms into rivers. Other nutrients from humans spread through leaky septic tanks or poor sewage treatment or from dumping by pleasure boats or cruise ships. Stormwater runoff over roads and parking lots washes in animal waste with other dangerous chemicals that rise through the food web and settle in the flesh and fat of marine mammals, including orcas.
But in the last decade a largely unheralded potential pollution source has started garnering new attention — the super-thin film that floats atop marine waters, called the sea-surface microlayer. This millimeter-thick sheen on the surface has long been known to carry fungi and bacteria, and those pathogens can easily become airborne.
So in the mid-2000s, after Puget Sound’s orcas were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, Schroeder and a group of whale scientists began wondering if the marine mammals could inhale contaminants when they break the surface.
It seemed like an important question. Whale respiration is particularly sensitive. With each breath, humans exchange up to 20 percent of the air in their lungs. Killer whales may exchange 70 percent at once. And whales don’t have a sinus network to extract harmful particles before they settle in the lungs.
Plus, marine biologists suspect Puget Sound’s southern residents already have weakened immune systems. Because they are at the top of the food chain, they’re loaded up with such toxic chemicals as DDT, and the long-lived banned solvent polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) found in fish. And the decline of Puget Sound chinook, their preferred food, means they have to work harder for each meal.
While that could make them more vulnerable to disease, scientists rarely know what kills a Puget Sound orca. Only two in the last 10 years have washed up dead in the U.S.
“When southern residents die, most of the time, they just disappear,” Hanson said. “We don’t have a good idea what happens to them.”
So Schroeder and several colleagues got access to a boat. They attached petri dishes to a shaft and followed whales as they traveled in pods. They gathered 23 breath samples from 14 whales, from Puget Sound to Vancouver Island. They also sampled the sea-surface microlayer.
Both the whale breath and the sea-surface samples contained bacteria that didn’t appear to belong there. Some bacteria did belong, but was antibiotic-resistant. There were strains of Salmonella and a rare bacteria known to cause pneumonia in humans. There was a pathogen responsible for gastroenteritis and gangrene, and a form of Staphylococcus resistant to penicillin. One pathogen normally found in marine waters was, surprisingly, resistant to six different antibiotics.
“In some of the bacteria we found some isolates were almost identical to what we recover in dairy cattle,” said Stephen Raverty, a veterinarian pathologist with B.C.’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Many of the bacteria were nonpathogenic, but a few appeared potentially dangerous.
“It’s not like there was a soup of terribly virulent bacteria out there. But there was enough to be concerned,” Schroeder said.
As researchers tried to understand their findings, Raverty and others took on a new challenge — tracking why killer whales die. Of the 222 documented killer-whale strandings in the northeastern Pacific between 1944 and 2003, a thorough analysis had been done on 46 animals. Half of those died while sick with pneumonia.
GLOUCESTER, Mass. — Standing on the deck of his rusted steel trawler, Naz Sanfilippo fumed about the latest bad news for New England fishermen: a decision by Whole Foods to stop selling any seafood it does not consider sustainable.
Starting Sunday, gray sole and skate, common catches in the region, will no longer appear in the grocery chain’s artfully arranged fish cases. Atlantic cod, a New England staple, will be sold only if it is not caught by trawlers, which drag nets across the ocean floor, a much-used method here.
“It’s totally maddening,” Mr. Sanfilippo said. “They’re just doing it to make all the green people happy.”
Whole Foods says that, in fact, it is doing its part to address the very real problem of overfishing and help badly depleted fish stocks recover. It is using ratings set by the Blue Ocean Institute, a conservation group, and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. They are based on factors including how abundant a species is, how quickly it reproduces and whether the catch method damages its habitat.
“Stewardship of the ocean is so important to our customers and to us,” said David Pilat, the global seafood buyer for Whole Foods. “We’re not necessarily here to tell fishermen how to fish, but on a species like Atlantic cod, we are out there actively saying, ‘For Whole Foods Market to buy your cod, the rating has to be favorable.’ ”
The company had originally planned to stop selling “red-rated” fish next year but moved up its deadline. The other fish it will no longer carry are Atlantic halibut, octopus, sturgeon, tautog, turbot, imported wild shrimp, some species of rockfish, and tuna and swordfish caught in certain areas or by certain methods. (Whole Foods has already stopped selling orange roughy, shark, bluefin tuna and most marlin.)
Although the new policy will affect fishermen nationwide, the reaction from Gloucester and other New England ports may be the unhappiest. New England has more overfished stocks than any other region, according to federal monitors, and its fishing industry has bridled — and struggled to survive — under strict regulations.
“We’ve been murdered,” said Russell Sherman, who sold his entire catch to Whole Foods for the last six years and is seeking new buyers. “It’s not fair at all.”
Jim Ford, who said he sold 700,000 pounds of fish to Whole Foods over the past year, declared, “It’s a marketing ploy, that’s all.” Mr. Ford said he would now sell to the Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain instead.
Whole Foods has had a fish processing plant here since 1996, the oldest of four around the country, and has processed about 10,000 pounds of fish a day here in recent years. A number of local boats have worked with Whole Foods, including a handful that sold exclusively to the company.
Still, Whole Foods is only one buyer, and there will be “plenty of other market demand,” said Vito Giacalone, policy director for the Northeast Seafood Coalition, a trade group here.
“It’s the precedent and the message it sends out that’s really unfortunate,” said Mr. Giacalone, whose family runs a fish auction that sells to Whole Foods. “Whole Foods is a reputable, credible food source for a big community of people, and so when their headquarters makes this kind of statement, it’s not good for the industry.”
Some question the need for grocery stores to reject certain American-caught fish when the government has already imposed its own conservation measures. Many of the nation’s fishermen now operate under federally created systems that allocate a yearly quota of fish.
And for some stocks, the quotas are being reduced; fishermen are facing a 22 percent cut in the amount of Gulf of Maine cod they can catch. In New England, some areas are closed to fishing for part or all of the year; in others, only certain kinds of gear can be used.
“We have the strictest management regime in the world,” said David Goethel, a fisherman from Hampton, N.H. and a member of the New England Fishery Management Council. “So using the word ‘sustainable,’ maybe it looks good in your advertising. But, without being too harsh, it means absolutely nothing.”
But Ellen Pikitch, director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, said Whole Foods was doing the right thing.
“Whole Foods is setting a good example by offering fish from relatively well-managed fisheries,” she said. “It’s too bad that more New England fish don’t qualify, but over time, such market forces should help bring these fish back — both in the ocean and to the Whole Foods seafood counter.”
Whole Foods is not the first supermarket chain to limit the kind of seafood it sells in the name of sustainability. Last month, BJ’s Wholesale Club announced a plan to sell seafood only from suppliers “identified as sustainable or on track to meet sustainability standards by 2014.” Other chains are making similar moves.
But in Gloucester, anyway, some fishermen are taking the Whole Foods decision more personally.
Whole Foods will continue to sell New England catches like haddock, pollock, scallops and hake. And it will still sell Atlantic cod that is caught by gillnets or, preferably, hook and line, Mr. Pilat said. While Whole Foods will still sell Pacific cod, he said, it will not appear much in the company’s New England stores for cultural reasons.
“The number of local fish that we will have to discontinue is minimal,” he said, “and we will be replacing those species with other very similar species, such as buying more flounder instead of the gray sole.”
The company is developing relationships with more hook boats, he said. But there are few such boats in the cod fishery, according to the fishery council.
Some fishermen questioned why Whole Foods would approve net-caught fish, as marine mammals are known to get entangled in gillnets, and hook-caught fish, as hooks often end up catching undersize fish. Last week, federal regulators announced that they would ban gillnet fishing for part of the fall in coastal waters from Maine to Cape Ann, Mass., because too many porpoises had been dying in the nets.
“There’s no immaculate fishing gear,” said Mr. Goethel, the fishery council member.
Mr. Sherman said that Whole Foods told him it would still buy pollock and hake from him, but that he could not even offload cod and gray sole at its docks unless it was quickly removed. “They’re talking about my fish like it’s atomic,” he said. “Believe me, they are a great outfit to work for, but they are corporate, and this is a corporate move.”
Mr. Giacalone, while disappointed, did not waste an opportunity to talk about some of the New England-caught fish that will still be available at Whole Foods, starting with pollock. “It’s a great eating fish,” he said. “Almost like the dark meat on a turkey.”
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
The threat of killer whales could be why societies of sperm whales in the Atlantic and Pacific differ so much, researchers say.
The sperm whale, the largest toothed whale, possesses the largest brain of any organism on Earth. These leviathans mostly live on giant squid and other creatures of the deep, pursuing them with the most powerful natural sonar known.
The sexes lead very different lives in sperm whales. Males leave their mothers to form ephemeral bachelor groups or to live alone, while females can develop complex societies with multiple levels of organization. At the most basic level of these societies are nearly permanent units of about 10 females that care for and suckle each other's progeny and defend their companions from attack.
Mysteriously, although the female sperm whale societies of the north Atlantic and the east Pacific are genetically similar, their social structures are substantially different. In the Pacific, units of females often temporarily gather with other units of the same clan — groups composed of thousands of females that share distinct patterns of vocal clicks known as codas.
On the other hand, in the Atlantic, there is no evidence of clans, with units of females rarely grouping with others. Also, unit members in the Atlantic are more likely to be related on their mother's side than ones in the Pacific.
Now, researchers suggest these differences could be due to threats from killer whales, also called orcas.
Of the 10 known attacks on sperm whales by killer whales, none took place in the north Atlantic, while six took place in the east Pacific. (The others occurred in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.) This is despite the fact that researchers have spent more time watching living sperm whales in the Atlantic than in the Pacific.
In the Atlantic, killer whales oddly seem to ignore sperm whales. The researchers suggest this is because killer whales are very much creatures of habit, with clear preferences for specific prey even when other potential targets are available.
" 'Resident' killer whales off the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada disdain the 'wrong' kind of salmon, focusing on chinook rather than pink or other kinds," researcher Hal Whitehead, a marine biologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, told LiveScience. "'Pack-ice' killer whales in the Antarctic disdain the 'wrong' kind of seal, focusing on the Weddell seal rather than crabeater seals. These are picky eaters, and their pickiness is almost arbitrary. It seems highly plausible that some of them eat sperm whales; others exclude sperms."
(Killer whales are often grouped by their distribution and eating habits, with resident killer whales foraging on certain foods in the North Pacific.)
The preferences that killer whales have for sperm whales in the Pacific might have led female sperm whale units to group together for safety. This might have eventually led them to form giant clans.
Whaling also may have played a role in these divergences, scientists noted. Female sperm whales living in the Atlantic sites researchers analyzed were virtually untouched by recent mechanized whaling involving harpoon guns; but such mechanized devastation was especially intense in the east Pacific. The destruction of social units in the Pacific may have made them less familial in nature, with survivors (regardless of kinship) banding together.
These social differences might be rooted in part in other factors, researchers noted. For instance, cultural variations that have nothing to do with environment might play a role, but are difficult to pin down definitively. In addition, Atlantic sperm whale sites are generally warmer and less rich in food than Pacific ones — as such, sperm whale grouping might be linked with prey differences, although the dearth of knowledge regarding the deep-sea squid that sperm whales prey on makes it difficult to know for sure.
Future research can focus on distinctions between sperm whales' social behavior in different locations within each ocean, Whitehead said.
The scientists detailed their findings online March 30 in the International Journal of Primatology.
Monday, April 16, 2012
From Express.co.uk: DID SONAR KILL 3,000 DOLPHINS?
EXPERTS believe the deaths of nearly 3,000 dolphins washed up on beaches in Peru could have been caused by sonar blasts used by firms to find oil under the sea.
The biggest of a number of beachings involved 1,500 of the mammals. They were found by staff from a marine coastal reserve in Piura. Just two weeks later later 615 dolphins washed up dead on beaches in the city of Lambayeque last month.
Peruvian scientists are investigating acoustic surveying carried out by companies looking for oil. The sonar blasts can damage the dolphins’ ears, causing intense pain and difficulty breathing.
Dr Carlos Yaipen-Llanos, who is carrying out tests on the species, said: “Evidence points to acoustic impact but we are also looking to see if any diseases added to this unusual mortality event.” British environmentalist Mark Simmonds, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, believes fishing nets may also be to blame. He said similar incidents happened in Europe 30 years ago when dolphins suffocated after being caught in nets.
About 90 per cent of the dead creatures are long-beaked common dolphins. The rest are Burmiester’s porpoises that come inshore to calve.
Friday, April 13, 2012
Researchers: Jellyfish Linked To Large-scale Ocean Mixing; 'Like A Human Swimming Through Honey'
Researchers: Thin tough skin, slow-growing gills protect larval Antarctic fish
U.S. Scientist Helps Lead International Study Of Ocean Value; Oceans 'Victim Of A Massive Market Failure'
Researchers: Ocean Acidification Linked To Larval Oyster Failure; Hatcheries 'Non-Economically Viable'
It's In The Algae: Study Shows Adaptive Capacity Of Reef Corals To 'Climate Change' May Be Widespread
Oceanographer Leading Effort To Enlist Commercial Ships To Collect Ocean Data
New iPad, iPhone App Helps Mariners Avoid Endangered Right Whales
Research: Baltic Gray Seals Consume As Much Fish As The Fishing Industry Catches; 'Competition'
Shark Attack Leaves Florida Student Scarred, Wounded; 'There Was Blood'
Bahamas Police: Photos Of Man's Remains Eaten By Shark Offer Few Clues; Warning: Extremely Graphic Pictures
Strange Creature Found On Russian Coastline Baffles Locals
Guinness: India Park Home to World's Largest Crocodile; 23 Feet
Freak! Malaysian Fisherman Reels in Shark with 'Webbed Feet'
Strange Creature Found On Russian Coastline Baffles Locals - 412 comments
Freak! Malaysian Fisherman Reels in Shark with 'Webbed Feet' - 374 comments
Shark Attack Leaves Florida Student Scarred, Wounded; 'There Was Blood' - 285 comments
1063-pound, 12-foot 6-inch Mako Shark Hooked off Florida Coast May Be World Record - 262 comments
Guinness: India Park Home to World's Largest Crocodile; 23 Feet - 250 comments
CORVALLIS, Oregon -- Researchers at Oregon State University have definitively linked an increase in ocean acidification to the collapse of oyster seed production at a commercial oyster hatchery in Oregon, where larval growth had declined to a level considered by the owners to be "non-economically viable."
A study by the researchers found that elevated seawater carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, resulting in more corrosive ocean water, inhibited the larval oysters from developing their shells and growing at a pace that would make commercial production cost-effective. As atmospheric CO2 levels continue to rise, this may serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine for other ocean acidification impacts on shellfish, the scientists say.
Results of the research have just been published in the journal, Limnology and Oceanography.
"This is one of the first times that we have been able to show how ocean acidification affects oyster larval development at a critical life stage," said Burke Hales, an OSU chemical oceanographer and co-author on the study. "The predicted rise of atmospheric CO2 in the next two to three decades may push oyster larval growth past the break-even point in terms of production."
The owners of Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery at Oregon's Netarts Bay began experiencing a decline in oyster seed production several years ago, and looked at potential causes including low oxygen and pathogenic bacteria. Alan Barton, who works at the hatchery and is an author on the journal article, was able to eliminate those potential causes and shifted his focus to acidification.
Barton sent samples to OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory for analysis. Their ensuing study clearly linked the production failures to the CO2 levels in the water in which the larval oysters are spawned and spend the first 24 hours of their lives, the critical time when they develop from fertilized eggs to swimming larvae, and build their initial shells.
"The early growth stage for oysters is particularly sensitive to the carbonate chemistry of the water," said George Waldbusser, a benthic ecologist in OSU's College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. "As the water becomes more acidified, it affects the formation of calcium carbonate, the mineral of which the shell material consists. As the CO2 goes up, the mineral stability goes down, ultimately leading to reduced growth or mortality."
Commercial oyster production on the West Coast of North America generates more than $100 million in gross sales annually, generating economic activity of some $273 million. The industry has depended since the 1970s on oyster hatcheries for a steady supply of the seed used by growers. From 2007 to 2010, major hatcheries supplying the seed for West Coast oyster growers suffered persistent production failures.
The wild stocks of non-hatchery oysters simultaneously showed low recruitment, putting additional strain on limited seed supply.
Hales said Netarts Bay, where the Whiskey Creek hatchery is located, experiences a wide range of chemistry fluctuations. The OSU researchers say hatchery operators may be able to adapt their operations to take advantage of periods when water quality is at its highest.
"In addition to the impact of seasonal upwelling, the water chemistry changes with the tidal cycle, and with the time of day," Hales said. "Afternoon sunlight, for example, promotes photosynthesis in the bay and that production can absorb some of the carbon dioxide and lower the corrosiveness of the water."
A previous study co-authored by Hales found the water that is being upwelled in the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon coast has been kept at depth away from the surface for about 50 years – meaning it was last exposed to the atmosphere a half-century ago, when carbon dioxide levels were much lower. "Since atmospheric CO2 levels have risen significantly in the past half-century, it means that the water that will be upwelled in the future will become increasingly be more corrosive," Hales said.
The OSU researchers also found that larval oysters showed delayed response to the water chemistry, which may cast new light on other experiments looking at the impacts of acidification on shellfish. In their study, they found that larval oysters raised in water that was acidic, but non-lethal, had significantly less growth in later stages of their life.
"The takeaway message here is that the response to poor water quality isn't always immediate," said Waldbusser. "In some cases, it took until three weeks after fertilization for the impact from the acidic water to become apparent. Short-term experiments of just a few days may not detect the damage."
KUMAMOTO--Makers of small boats are rushing to replace the approximately 29,000 fishing boats swept away or damaged beyond repair in last year's tsunami.
Yamaha Motor Co.'s local subsidiary near here is one of the domestic boatbuilders working all out to restore the fishing industry in regions severely hit in the Great East Japan Earthquake last year.
Most of the boats that were lost in the March 11 tsunami were small boats six to nine meters long.
On a recent day at Yamaha Amakusa Manufacturing Co. in Kami-Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, newly manufactured small fishing boats made of fiber-reinforced plastic were removed from molds and lifted by a crane one after another. The finished boats were stacked in frames to await shipment.
Workers distinguish boats to be transported to the disaster-hit regions by painting their decks yellow-green. Yamaha Amakusa employees call them "fukko wasen," which literally means restored Japanese-style boats.
Company President Mitsuharu Tazura, 58, said, "Since July last year, we've been producing 100 fishing boats a month, more than 10 times our usual output."
To cope with the shortage of fishing boats, the Fisheries Agency last summer asked boat manufacturers nationwide to increase production.
Yamaha Motor Co. enjoys an 80 percent share of the domestic market for small fishing boats. It increased its workforce at the Kami-Amakusa subsidiary, its main production base, from 81 to 125 and began seven-day-a-week production. It is operating at almost full capacity, Tazura said.
Yanmar Co., a major boatbuilder based in Osaka, has also increased its production to about 10 times that of usual years, according to a Yanmar spokesperson.
Unlike cars and home electric appliances, fishing boats are manufactured mostly by hand. Only skillful shipwrights are allowed to spray plastic on the boats, which require precise layers 0.1 millimeter thick.
At the Kami-Amakusa factory, former factory chief Ryuzo Kawamoto, 60, visited about 40 retired shipwrights who used to work for the company to ask for their help.
Most of the veteran shipwrights remember when the region was hit by torrential rains that killed more than 100 people in 1972. They therefore willingly agreed to Kawamoto's request to help the disaster-hit region's restoration efforts.
The expanded workforce also includes people who experienced last year's disaster.
One of them is Masayuki Chiba, 48, from Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, who works on the company's painting line.
He had worked at the Ofunato factory of a Yamaha Motor Co. subsidiary until it closed in 2001. After that, he took up other work.
Because one of his relatives lost his fishing boat in the tsunami, Chiba joined the workforce immediately after being offered a job by Yamaha Amakusa Manufacturing.
"I know there are many fishermen who can't catch fish because they don't have boats, although they want to keep fishing. I want to help them," Chiba said.
Kazuo Niinuma, 57, is also a veteran shipwright who worked for 24 years at the Ofunato factory.
After his home in Ofunato was swept away in the tsunami, he was evacuated to public housing provided by the city free of charge to disaster victims.
Although he was away from boatbuilding for 10 years, he said he quickly adapted when he returned to the work. "My body remembered how to do my job," he said.
Niinuma said he was looking forward to seeing the sea near his hometown filled with fishing boats again.
The agency estimates 12,000 small fishing boats will have been manufactured nationwide by the end of March 2014 at the current production rate, which is 10 times normal output.
Hideki Miura, director of the policy planning department of Japan Fisheries Cooperatives, said: "Restoration of fishing boats, along with recovering seafood processing facilities and market functions, is indispensable to revive the fishing industry. The increase in fishing boat production is a great help."
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Two divers working on the Rena salvage operation have been fired after allegedly stealing bottles of wine off the vessel.
The pair - who are reportedly Dutch - took a small number of bottles from one of the containers on board the wrecked ship which is stuck on Astrolabe reef off Tauranga.
Svitzer Salvage spokesman Matthew Watson told NZ Newswire they were immediately dismissed following an investigation by the company.
"It seems they've decided to help themselves to some wine," he said.
"Everything on the Rena belongs to someone, it is private property and the notion or the idea that the contractor can help themselves to it is not on."
He says the wine will either be replaced or returned to its owner.
Mr Watson did not know whether the wine belonged to New Zealand winemakers Astrolabe which had 4000 cases of wine on the Rena.
It will be a big loss for the divers who earn up to $2300 a day, according to the New Zealand Herald.
Mr Watson says the police have not been contacted and charges are unlikely.
Rena ran aground on the Astrolabe reef on October 5, spilling hundreds of tonnes of oil, containers and other debris into the sea and causing pollution on nearby beaches.
Last week the stern section of the ship, which is broken in two, sank beneath the waves in heavy seas causing debris to wash up on beaches along the Coromandel coast.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Plans to protect marine wildlife from decline could result in tough new restrictions on Westcountry sailors, fishermen and scuba divers.
Locations in the region feature heavily among the list of proposed marine conservation zones, designed to safeguard the country's most cherished coastal environments, affording them the same sort of protection as Britain's nature reserves in a quest to prevent them from being eroded.
But water users' groups say the plans – due to land on ministers' desks soon – would have severe knock-on effects on those who rely on the South West's coastline for employment and leisure.
"A lot of the small inshore areas proposed as conservation zones coincide with estuaries and bays that are used by sailors for mooring, or for laying buoys for racing," said Alana Murphy, planning and environmental officer at the Royal Yachting Association. "We are concerned we could lose important sailing areas."
Ministers are already nervous about the response to the plans.
Richard Benyon, the minister for the natural environment and fisheries, who will announce a public consultation later this year, said: "Looking after wildlife and habitats in our seas is just as important as looking after those on land.
"That is why I want to see the introduction of marine conservation zones, but I am keen that they are created on sound scientific evidence."
The restrictions in each zone will vary according to local needs and conditions.
A number of areas across the South West have already been identified, including Mount's Bay, Newquay, Chesil Beach and Lundy Island.
The proposal has emerged amid growing concern about the effect of humanity on the marine environment. Plummeting fish and shellfish catches have provided indirect evidence of how the sea is being stripped of life.
In Britain's own territorial waters, populations of species such as cod and haddock are less than one-twentieth of their estimated natural level. These observations are backed by direct evidence such as videos attached to fishing gear that show how techniques such as dredging can sterilise the seabed.
"Marine conservation zones are a divisive issue, and sailors should voice their opinion," said Kieran Flatt, editor of Yachting Monthly, whose edition next month will focus on their possible impact.
In the short-term, fishermen may suffer the most dramatic effect if the proposals are adopted. The failures of the European Union's common fisheries policy have already seen Britain's fish stocks plummet, so reducing fishing pressure would have to be a key factor if conservation zones were to prove effective.
The industry employs about 13,000 full-time UK fishermen operating 6,500 vessels and landing 606,000 tons of fish and shellfish worth £719 million each year. One hope is that the zones would become fish sanctuaries, replenishing populations around them.
But Dale Rodmell, assistant chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, said the scale of the proposed new reserves was too great.
"The risk is that they will be of little value to conservation. They will push fishing to other areas which will then get overfished," he said.
Energy companies, particularly those investing in offshore wind farms, have also expressed concern. The Government is preparing the next round of licences for wind farm development, which will see vast new tracts of seabed made available to developers from 2015. Energy secretary Ed Davey wants between 6,000 and 8,000 new offshore turbines installed by 2030.
David Krohn, wave and tidal development manager at RenewableUK, which represents the wind industry, said: "We accept there are impacts. The biggest comes from installing the turbines... The same applies to the laying of cables back to land. However, once they are built, wind farms can act as sanctuaries for fish, as fishing boats cannot fish there. So they may be good for conservation."
Two scientists who found radiation in sea kelp along the Southern California coast after Japan’s 2011 tsunami-induced nuclear disaster now hope to study whether contamination may be present in fish such as opaleye and other ocean creatures, including lobster and sea urchin.
The two researchers – from California State University, Long Beach – are hoping to expand on their recently published study showing that giant kelp contained up to 250 times the normal levels of a radioisotope of iodine in the weeks after last year's earthquake and resulting tsunami severely damaged Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Kelp is the tall, wavy, brown algae that provides near-shore habitat for many marine species, some of which eat the plant.
Tests showed that contamination in the kelp was gone within a month, and there’s no risk to humans from the Iodine-131 radiation. Still, the research indicates that radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear facility reached California.
“Of course it’s cause for concern – because you don’t find this naturally in kelp or fish. It can’t be a positive thing. It also tells you that what happens half a world away can be detected,” said Cal State biology professor Steven Manley, a co-author of the study.
Manley and his co-author, marine biology professor Chris Lowe, hope next to find out whether other kinds of nuclear contamination – two radioisotopes of cesium that break down much more slowly than the Iodine-131 – are found in California marine life, including kelp and fish.
Those two cesium radioisotopes were found to contaminate waters around Japan, according to preliminary results of a study published this week by an international team of scientists.
“Our coastal environment is pretty complex. We get a lot of our food out there,” Manley said. “We should be monitoring it for these radioisotopes.”
Lowe wants to trace the concentration of radioactive cesium up the food chain in Southern California.
“Our question is: How much gets into the ocean? Kelp is really kind of the basis for the food web and is important habitat for many of our coastal marine animals,” Lowe said. “The next step is to look at organisms that eat kelp. “
Kelp is consumed by sea urchin and some fish, including opaleye, halfmoon and senorita, according to the study. Urchin are in turn eaten by lobster and some large fish species that could be consumed by humans.
Getting funding for the future research shouldn’t be a problem, given the attention that Lowe and Manley have gotten for their recent study, which was published last month in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The study was first reported by nonprofit Environmental Health News and on Scientific American’s website.
A month after the earthquake after Japan, the Long Beach pair obtained kelp samples from seven sites along the coast: the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County; Crystal Cove, Laguna Beach and Corona del Mar in Orange County; and farther north in Santa Barbara, Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz.
Kelp from Corona del Mar had the highest concentration of radioactive iodine, up to 250 times the amount found in kelp before the Japanese nuclear reactor spewed radiation in the atmosphere.
Lowe said they believe the Corona del Mar site was more contaminated because a lot of urban runoff goes through the area – meaning radiation-contaminated rain would have accumulated there.
The scientists chose to study kelp – which grows from the ocean floor up to the surface, where it floats – because it is especially good at absorbing iodine from both the water and the atmosphere.
Lowe compared kelp to the badge that X-ray technicians where to show how much radiation they’ve been exposed to.
Monday, April 9, 2012
PORTLAND, Ore. — A Washington state wildlife spokesman says two salmon-eating California sea lions have been captured this week at Bonneville Dam and killed by lethal injection.
The Oregonian reports the deaths are the first this year after a federal judge ruled last month the program could proceed.
Washington Fish and Wildlife spokesman Craig Bartlett says the sea lions were captured Tuesday.
The killings are limited to California sea lions documented as targeting spring chinook or steelhead near Bonneville, the first dam the returning fish encounter on their run up the Columbia River.
The sea lions also must return to the dam despite nonlethal hazing and be spotted nearby for at least five days, though the days can accumulate over several years.
The Humane Society of the United States has filed suit in an effort to permanently end the sea lion killings.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Thursday, April 5, 2012
From Jakarta Globe: Marine Biologist is a Giant in World of Shrimp Medicine
After Aceh was devastated by the 2004 tsunami, its economy had to be rebuilt to meet the demand for food and to provide jobs. Marine biologist Sidrotun Naim, 32, the “shrimp doctor” to her Acehnese colleagues, is playing a pivotal role in this rebuilding, and in the future health of Indonesian shrimp farms.
Sidrotun arrived in Aceh’s Pidie district in 2006, after she graduated in marine biology from the University of Queensland in Australia. Working as part of a tsunami rehabilitation program through the World Wildlife Fund, Sidrotun was asked to consult on a shrimp breeding project.
“They said, ‘You’re clever and still young, you must study the shrimp and help us,’ ” Sidrotun said. And so she dedicated herself to shrimp, and helping the people of Pidie and Aceh get back on their feet.
Sidrotun is from a large Javanese family and excelled at school, picking up a number of prestigious scholarships as she furthered her studies. She is thought to be one of the first crustacean pathologists in a country that is one of the biggest shrimp producers in the world.
Shrimp farming is a high-risk business, with shrimp being highly prone to a handful of illnesses, the most dangerous of which is white spot syndrome, a viral infection that can wipe out an entire broodstock (a term in aquaculture that refers to a group of mature individuals used for breeding purposes) in three days.
Although Indonesia is among the biggest shrimp exporters in the world, along with China, Thailand and Vietnam, the country still does very little scientific research to support local shrimp farmers. Plenty of studies have been carried out on fish and crabs, Sidrotun said, but not shrimp.
“The shrimp industry began in the ’80s when people stopped catching shrimp and began breeding them,” she said. “But shrimp are prone to illness because of the density of the broodstock.”
In 2009, Sidrotun won a Fulbright scholarship to the University of Arizona in Tucson, a reference laboratory for studying illnesses in shrimp, where she is now completing her master’s thesis on the effects of adding tilapia (a type of fish) to shrimp broodstock.
After 16 weeks of research in Arizona, Sidrotun found that tilapia can help the health of the stock. In a regular broodstock, shrimp typically live at the bottom of the pond.
Sidrotun’s experiment involved breeding tilapia above the broodstock by putting them in a large fish net. This improved the quality of the water, as the fish seemed to consume the bacteria before it could filter down to the bottom of the pond and attack the shrimp.
“[Adding tilapia] also adds economic value for our farmers, because they can breed fish, algae and shrimp all in one broodstock,” Sidrotun said.
But the exact reasons behind the results are inconclusive, and she hopes to investigate the results further.
Last week, Sidrotun won a fellowship worth $40,000 from For Women in Science, a collaboration between Unesco and the L’Oreal Foundation in Paris. Sidrotun said she planned to use the fellowship, which was awarded by a jury led by Nobel winners, to fund her postdoctoral studies at Harvard’s medical school, where she is a visiting scholar.
The seventh of 11 children, Sidrotun said her family usually ate rice and tempeh when she was growing up, and rarely indulged in seafood. Her father, Abidullah, was a high school teacher, and is now retired with his wife, Siti Muslichah.
Despite a humble upbringing, half of Sidrotun’s siblings went to school overseas through scholarships, including her third brother, who is now pursuing his studies in management at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.
Sidrotun has a 6-year-old son, and is married to Dedi Priadi, who studies psychology at the University of Arizona.
Upon completion of her dissertation and graduation, Sidrotun intends to study IMNV, one of the most threatening shrimp viruses found in Brazil and Indonesia. The virus first appeared in Indonesia in 2006, and has since caused harvest failures costing millions of dollars, she said.
“Last year, our farmers suffered a loss of $150 million to $200 million because of this virus,” she said.
Upon graduating from the University of Arizona, Sidrotun intends to study how IMNV and shrimp interact. A large number of shrimp survive the virus, and she hopes to discover what allows some shrimp to survive while others die. It is a scientific long-shot, but every major breakthrough begins with a single step.
“To be able to design a system to minimize the risk, we have to understand the virus first,” she said. “I hope in 5 to 10 years, our native shrimp can be more stable, so that traditional farmers can have a more solid bargaining position.”
The fishing industry has not been kind to shrimp farmers, Sidrotun said. The industry will often help farmers start their stocks, she said, but then make them shoulder all the costs for failed harvests.
“It should be the part of the company’s risk and not just farmers, because some crucial things, like disease, are out of their control,” she said.
It might seem like a scientist dedicated to producing healthy shrimp stock would harbor a certain disdain for disease, but Sidrotun speaks about viruses with respect.
“Viruses have been on earth much longer than bacteria and humans have, so we have to understand them,” she said. “Through evolution, humans have become smaller and smaller, but what we don’t know is if viruses have become stronger.”
What we do know, she said, is that unlike plants and animals, which are all built on unchanging DNA, viruses can mutate and adapt very quickly, which is why they are so difficult to study.
The cure for HIV, for example, continues to elude scientists despite years of research and billions of dollars in funding. But IMNV is more complicated because it is a double-strand, where HIV is a single-strand.
Sidrotun is passionate about improving the understanding of — and someday finding a cure for — IMNV. She is currently working with Max Nibert at Harvard, who discovered the 3D structure of the virus.
Sidrotun also hopes her research will be useful for scientists invested in study of the rotavirus, which kills about 500,000 children every year worldwide.
She said, “A virus may seem like a minor thing because to us it’s invisible, but it can destroy months of efforts by our local farmers in days, so yes, it’s important.”
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
SeattlePI: Dolphins Dying by the Thousands in Peru – Seismic Surveys by Oil Companies and Pollution Suspected
Filmmaker and author Hardy Jones and his crew had to stop counting the dead dolphins that were scattered along the Peruvian beach when the number reached 615. The incoming tide made it impossible to continue a task that must have been heartbreaking and exhausting – yet nothing short of a relentless tide or total darkness would have gotten in the way of this man. In a career that has stretched over 30 years, Jones has been a voice for dolphins worldwide, and has taken his message to the world through his films and book. He battles a form of cancer that would render most of us content to spend our days puttering in our gardens. He has faced the brutal dolphin hunters in Taiji, and filmed the slaughter of the animals he loves.
So when he was informed of the mass dolphin deaths he did not hesitate to travel from his home in Florida to the remote shores of Peru, and soon found himself counting the endless procession of dolphin carcasses, photographing and filming the scene while scientists took samples and tried to establish the cause.
The first message he was able to send and post on the Blue Voice website read:
HORRIFIC DOLPHIN MORTALITY NORTH COAST OF PERU.
I arrived here yesterday, Tuesday 3/28. In that one day we found 615 dead dolphins on 135 kilometers of beach north of San Jose, Peru. This tragedy is unspeakable. BlueVoice is working with Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA Peru. Tissue samples have been obtained and will be analyzed. Never heard of this level of UME [Unusual Mortality Event].
Dolphins worldwide are struggling with the consequences of pollution, and Jones, working with Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of the Peruvian-based marine mammal rescue organization ORCA has discovered a link between the consumption of the dolphins’ meat with the presence of diabetes in humans, an appalling demonstration of the level of toxicity in dolphins. If people continue to eat the flesh from marine mammals they may also be increasing their own chances of an early death, and world health organizations need to step in to protect the unwitting victims of this practice.
From Eating Dolphin Meat Linked to Diabetes Epidemic in Peru:
It has long been known that Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are estrogen-imitators and endocrine disruptors. More recently it has been shown that in humans a high body burden of these chemicals causes insulin resistance and can lead to diabetes and obesity.
Dr. Yaipen Llanos has found that diabetes appears especially prevalent among those who eat the meat of dolphins. It is illegal to hunt dolphins in Peru but it is done with impunity and the practice appears to be growing.
The recent uptick in dolphin deaths is also correlated with oil exploration off Peru’s coasts, a serious double whammy for cetacean populations.
The human need and greed for oil has again started a rush to tap Peru’s sources of fossil fuels, and the techniques to locate oil fields under the oceans can be damaging or lethal to ocean life. Included in these techniques are seismic surveys which destroy the hearing and navigation abilities of cetaceans.
(Courtesy of Cloudera)
Airgun. The marine airgun is the most widely used energy source for offshore seismic exploration. Airguns produce high levels of predominantly low frequency sound by releasing controlled volumes of high pressure air into the water creating an oscillating bubble which produces 90 per cent of its energy in the band 70 to 140 Hz
To increase the power and focus the low frequencies downward, individual airguns are deployed as an array that is towed behind a vessel.
The energy propagates in three dimensions as a series of lobes defined by the array geometry, tow depth, and interaction of each array element. The seismic source utilizes the air-water interface to reflect the wave-front downwards thus improving the overall efficiency.
The dead dolphins that were found in this general area.The area around Block Z34 (above, right) and to the south is where hundreds to thousands of dead dolphins have been found, and is an area of active oil exploration.
Areas in Peru where oil and gas explorations are permitted.
This story is vital on many levels – the tragic loss of so many dolphins and porpoises, the planned plunder of much of Peru’s land and coasts, and the coming impact to an ancient culture are all at odds with powerful corporate strategies.
A second hydrocarbon boom threatens the Peruvian Amazon: trends, projections, and policy implications
We show that an unprecedented 48.6% of the Peruvian Amazon has been recently covered by oil and gas concessions, up from just 7.1% in 2003. These oil and gas concessions overlap 17.1% of the Peruvian Amazon protected area system and over half of all titled indigenous lands. Moreover, we found that up to 72% of the Peruvian Amazon has been zoned for hydrocarbon activities (concessions plus technical evaluation agreements and proposed concessions) in the past two years, and over 84% at some point during the past 40 years. We project that the recent rapid proliferation of hydrocarbon zones will lead to a second exploration boom, characterized by over 20 000 km of new seismic testing and construction of over 180 new exploratory wells in remote, intact, and sensitive forest areas.
Courtesy Amazon Watch
The indigenous people of Peru are locked in a struggle to protect their way of life from planned dams, mines, pipelines, and oil fields. The conservation organization, Amazon Watch reports:
Meanwhile, as the debate over consultation rages on, the Asháninka and Awajún face the prospect of at least 20 dams planned for the Marañon River alone, making the hotly debated particulars of the law a matter of life and death. Likewise, in the Andean north, the massive $4 billion Conga mine project remains at a standstill over similar concerns. The U.S. company Newmont Mining’s gold and copper mine near Cajamarca would destroy alpine lakes and wetlands above several watersheds that eventually drain to the Amazon River. Residents say they were not properly consulted – they did not have enough time or technical expertise to analyze the project or fully participate in the process that led to the project’s approval by the Peruvian government of former President Alan Garcia in 2010.
Echoing AIDESEP, Peru’s Defensoria del Pueblo has also asked the PCM for more time for the parties to decide. Last month the agency reported that of some 228 social conflicts in Peru, more than half involved natural resources.
As it is, says Amazon expert Rumrill, the consultation law “contains elements introduced in the companies’ interests at the expense of the indigenous peoples.”
Offshore magazine recently carried this article:
March 2012 HOUSTON – Oil production from BPZ Energy’s Corvina and Albacora fields offshore Peru has been averaging around 3,920 b/d.
A new 3D seismic survey has been under way for a month on offshore block Z-1, and should be completed during 2Q 2012, followed by a period of processing and interpretation. The aim is to improve understanding of the geology of both fields, and to better define other prospects on the block for future exploration.
Work continues on the new CX-15 platform, with installation on Corvina scheduled for 3Q 2012. The CX-15 drilling program will target development of 23 MMbbl of reserves.
Also at Corvina, an expanded workover program to implement a gas cap reinjection program has brought positive results – the aim was to counter steep production declines.
In January, production was restored from the Albacora A-14XD well. The Albacora platform now has all necessary equipment installed for reinjection of gas and water. Tie-ins have been completed, the equipment has been tested, and BPZ is working to obtain the environmental permit to commission the equipment.
In the meantime, the company has secured an extension of flaring permits from the Peruvian Ministry of Energy and Mines to continue well production at Albacora.
And this one is from Oil Voice, last July:
On 4th July, 2011 Gold Oil signed a definitive agreement with BGP Geoexplorer PTE Ltd for the acquisition of a marine 3D seismic survey over Block Z34 offshore Peru. The survey has been extended and is now planned to be in excess of 800 sq km over both the southern and northern part of the licence area. This survey comprises the first phase of 3D seismic over the licence. Depending on the results of the seismic interpretation further seismic may be required, particularly in the northern area, to evaluate completely this large and highly prospective block.
The vessel, the “BGP Pioneer”, departed the port of Paita, north west Peru on 6th July having met all customs clearances and commenced operations on 9th July 2011. Given the expanded scope of the survey, data acquisition is now expected to take approximately 50 days. Following the acquisition of the survey, processing and initial interpretation is expected to take a further four months. Preliminary results and the marketing of the asset to potential farm in candidates is likely, therefore, to commence towards the end of the year.
Read more: http://www.oilvoice.com/n/Gold_Oil_Secures_Marine_3D_Seismic_Survey_With_BGP_Geoexplorer/e5ef98207.aspx#ixzz1qQzz9QAP
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Save our fisherman! Britain is surrounded by fish yet we eat salmon from America and prawns from Denmark
Cadgwith is one of the last true fishing villages in Britain. The eight Cornish fishing boats on the beach represent another way of life. The men who skipper and crew them are the latest in a line of fishermen stretching back 1,000 years.
They are a proud tribe that still fish in a sustainable, uniquely co-operative manner. Over the course of a year, I became one of them, trying to make the unlikely transformation from soft-palmed ex-public school boy into Cornish fisherman working the Atlantic off the tip of a mighty headland.
My guide and mentor was Nigel Legge, 61, who has been fishing all his life and who could trace his ancestry back to the very origins of Cadgwith. He had agreed to take me on as his apprentice. His boat, Razorbill, was a robust 18-footer painted a fetching white and light blue, a russet-coloured sail wrapped around its small mizzen mast.
‘Right, Mont,’ said Nigel, with Razorbill moving sharply ahead of a bustling wake, ‘I can’t help noticing you’re wearing lots of green. Bad luck at sea that is.’
‘But Nige,’ I pointed out hesitantly, ‘you’re wearing green wellies.’ ‘They’re not green,’ he said firmly. ‘They’re olive.’
After working the pots, we would return with tubs of crab crammed on deck, clicking and crawling over one another. Another tub would be set aside for lobster, the prime catch of any trip. Just outside our home cove we would lift a much larger pot marked by a brightly coloured buoy. This was the store pot where the crabs or lobsters would be kept until Nige’s order book filled and they could be sold on.
Fish that masquerades as ‘fresh’ in a UK supermarket is frequently anything but. Most of it goes through four stages. In the first it is caught. In the second it undergoes primary processing, which mainly involves being gutted. This takes place either at sea in large processing vessels, or in shore-based facilities in places such as Eastern Europe or the Far East, due to the cheap labour. The third stage is when the fish is deboned, breaded, cooked and packaged. The final stage is export to a grateful consumer, who may well live very close to where the fish was originally caught, but it will have more air miles than Alan Whicker.
Between stages three and four the fish is stored. International trading in fish takes place in units called ‘blocks’ – a neat term for a 16lb lump of ‘ready meal’ frozen fish, which may consist of fillets, flesh or indeed entire fish. A block may have a succession of owners during the course of trading, and can be stored for anything from three to five months. In a notorious case, food officials found a warehouse in Lincolnshire with blocks that were five years old.
Inevitably, with a supply chain that snakes around the world, the original source of the fish we eat becomes somewhat lost. How about some lovely Pacific cod, anyone? They’re more sustainable than their heavily fished Atlantic counterparts, as labelled on a fish counter in one of the major British supermarkets. The snag is that 20 per cent of them are actually Atlantic cod. Scampi? Always a winner, but not when you learn that it contains only 18 per cent scampi, the rest made up of Heaven only knows what.
Good old fish and chips? You can’t go wrong with that, surely? Well, only if when you’re ordering you say, ‘I’d like some battered pangasius please’ – or Vietnamese river cobbler, as you might call it. Once the demand for fish is deemed sufficient, the blocks in the holding facilities are released and turned into what we ultimately buy: a fillet that may be several months old, frequently sourced from overseas, processed overseas and then sold in a packet with a picture of a brightly painted fishing boat on it.
In 2007, the UK imported 672,000 tons of fish, worth £1.76 billion. In the same period our fleet caught 366,000 tons of fish, worth £368 million. Almost two-thirds of what we eat is not caught by our fishermen.
We live on an island in the cold, rich waters of the North Atlantic, with one of the longest traditions of fishing of any nation on Earth. And yet as we sit down to dinner we eat cod and haddock from Iceland and we tuck into salmon from Norway and America. We make salads out of cold-water prawns from Denmark, as well as tuna from Mauritius and the Seychelles. For a little treat we have warm-water prawns from Thailand, India and Bangladesh. And as we do so, our own small-boat fishermen are dumping overboard 40 to 50 per cent of the fish they catch due to quota restrictions, and are quietly going out of business.
I went out with Danny Phillips on Scorpio, a sky-blue boat that even to my untrained eye gave the impression of order and compact efficiency. But halfway through untangling an immense crab from the net, I felt the blood draining from my face and a wave of nausea rising from my stomach. I dropped the crab and discharged breakfast into the sea a few feet below.
Danny glanced up in surprise. ‘You all right there, Mont?’ he asked.
I nodded dumbly and wobbled off to slump against the rear bulkhead. As I lay there, I saw giant monkfish, speckled rays, cod, crabs and lobster frisbee past my feet to the holding boxes at the stern. I passed out and awoke to find I was rolling in the freezing waters of the scuppers. Attached to my hand was a large monkfish, worrying my fingers like a demented terrier. In one of the wilder pitches of the boat, my flaccid form had washed up against a box containing several very annoyed fish.
Newlyn is one of the final bastions of large-scale fishing in England, with more registered vessels than any other port in the country: 619 in 2010, of which 75 are at least ten metres long. One of these was called Billy Rowney and her skipper took me on board for a week.
We would be fishing 60 miles to the southwest of Newlyn, charging into the swells that churned the ocean into grey mountains and valleys. My bunk was like a wardrobe lying on one side, with a ragged curtain to provide a semblance of privacy. I had taken seasickness tablets of hallucinogenic strength and had some of the most kaleidoscopic dreams I have ever experienced. At last, though, after eight hours of fitful sleep, the roar of the engines dropped to a rumble. We had arrived. I climbed into my boots, oilskins and life jacket before pulling on thick gloves for the work ahead. Imagine three large men trying to get dressed in a cupboard being pushed from side to side by an escaped lunatic.
I stumbled out into a dark Atlantic night and weaved my way to the covered forward section of the boat, known as the whaleback. Here, I watched the crew swing into action. Beam trawling is just what it sounds like: two massive metal beams are pulled along the seabed trailing a network of chains. The great weight of the beam – six tons each side – keeps it close to the seabed, while the chains force any creatures living there to flee upwards into the open mouth of the netting pulled behind.
Deploying the gear was extremely dangerous. Working on a canted floor, as a jet-black ocean hissed and snarled only yards away, they carefully guided six tons of clanking, swaying metal over each side. For the next week we would work unrelentingly through the night. Our entire world was represented by the pool of light cast by powerful lamps while the constant bass backing-track of the engines was offset by the high whine of the net winches. I felt intensely vulnerable, far from home in the dead of night, in a great ocean, entirely out of my depth.
Abruptly the winches changed their tone as the nets were lifted out of the sea to hover over the deck, heavy with the catch, water pouring from the mesh to sluice into the scuppers. The crew moved quickly, and as the net sprang open an avalanche of marine life skittered and sprawled across the planks. This was one haul, there would be at least 50 more over the course of this week.
The deck heaved with the gigantic grey forms of highly prized monkfish, while slithering among them were two or three large conger eels. Haddock thrashed in their death throes, with scores of megrim sole flipping and twitching. Two large cod gasped, their lives pointlessly lost in the face of complex quota legislation. I saw a crewman lift one over the side, shaking his head in disgust.
There are stories that this generation of fishermen may be our last. With the average wage in Cornwall about £21,000 and the average age of a UK fisherman being 49, there is little enthusiasm from the next generation. Most fishermen want to hand on their boats to their sons, so they are keen to keep Britain’s fishing grounds healthy. But we are looking at the demise of the fishing industry as we know it. At the heart of it is an impossible matrix of contradictory data from scientific bodies, the fishermen themselves and various legislative groups.
In the deluge of rules and regulations to control the activities of larger vessels, small boats such as Razorbill, which make up nearly 80 per cent of our fishing fleet, have been ignored. Here are vessels with limited range that support local communities and work traditional fishing grounds. Their unique qualities – the freshness, sustainability and seasonality of their catch – epitomise everything we desire from our seafood.
And yet as the links between the people of Britain and the sea that surrounds them grow ever more tenuous, we could lose these boats. How do we save these men and this ancient fleet, the last hunter- gatherers on our island?
Two things are acknowledged by the scientists, the Government and the fishermen themselves. The first is that present legislation is ineffective. The second is that fish stocks need protecting. For me it seems logical that we introduce areas – marine conservation zones – where fishing activity should be limited or indeed stopped altogether until stocks recover. Of course, compensation will be necessary for the time needed for the zones to take effect.
This may take many years, but we might extend the life of the fleet to the next generation and beyond, a priceless gift to our proud seafaring traditions.
We must also rediscover our connection with our fishing fleet. It is nonsensical for British families to eat so much fish from overseas. There is a vast array of flavours and textures in the seas around our island, yet we throw so much of it away. I yearn for the day when we eat seasonal fish caught close to shore by sustainable means. We would ease the pressure on a few desperately over exploited species, reduce waste, and perhaps save a way of life that does so much to define us.
The Fisherman’s Apprentice With Monty Halls is on BBC2 at 7pm on Wednesday. The book of the same name is available at £20 from AA Publishing. To order your copy for £16.99 inc p&p, call the Review Bookstore on 0843 382 1111 or visit MailShop.co.uk/books.
Monday, April 2, 2012
As if one pickled shark was not enough, now there are two,
The preserved sharks are to go on show in rival exhibitions in London next week – and although one is the well-known work of Damien Hirst, it is likely to be the work of German anatomist Gunther von Hagens which proves even more fascinating.
Stripped of its rough skin, muscle and cartilage, the intricate network of blood vessels that help to make the blue shark one of the most efficient killers in the ocean have been revealed in a sight seen only by a handful of anatomists.
Now preserved using a revolutionary technique developed by Dr von Hagens, the one metre long blue shark, caught off the coast of Australia, is to go on display as part of a new exhibition that will allow visitors to get beneath the skin of more than 80 animals.
By carefully replacing soft tissue with plastic and silicon in a process known as plastination, Dr von Hagens and his team have been able to preserve the internal organs, muscles, and vascular systems of animals including snails, rabbits, ostriches, giraffes, sharks and even an elephant.
They are now to go on display in the UK for the first time at the Natural History Museum in London on April 6, where the blood vessel cast of the blue shark is expected to be a highlight.
The exhibition will open as another shark – Damien Hirst's infamous tiger shark, which is preserved in a more traditional way using formaldehyde solution – goes on display at the Tate Modern as part of a retrospective of the artist's career.
Dr Angelina Whalley, Dr von Hagen's wife and director of the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg where the work was carried out, said scientists had to develop new techniques to inject red polymers into the fine network of blood vessels of a shark for the first time.
She said: "The shark is one of my favourites as it looks so striking. It is very special as the arteries in fish are so thin it is difficult to apply this technology, so this is the first time the preservation of blood vessels have been done in a fish like this.
"Most people have a picture of a shark as a dangerous beast, but when you look at this specimen you see it has a heart and blood vessels just like me.
"It is fascinating how people change their view of the animals when they look at the specimens we have prepared."
The blue shark took nearly four months to complete as Dr von Hagens' and his team adapted the process he used to preserve human carcases for his controversial Body World exhibits.
They injected several litres of red polymer into the arteries until it filled the fine network of blood vessels that criss-cross the shark's body, before the other tissue is removed using enzymes and acids.
It reveals the mass of tiny capillaries that carry blood close to the skin allow the blue shark to absorb as much heat as possible from the surrounding water, allowing the animal to warm up its muscles enough to hunt.
Hirst's shark, titled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, was first shown in 1992 after Charles Saatchi commissioned the piece for £50,000.
Weighing more than 22 tonnes, it has taken six technicians seven full days to install for the retrospective exhibition, which will feature many of the artist's other famous pieces including A Thousand Years, in which flies and maggots feed on a cow's rotting head.
There are far more animals on show at the Natural History Museum however.
The exhibition, Animals Inside Out, also features a four ton elephant named Samba, which was donated to Dr von Hagens' team after she died at the age of 41 in Neukirchen Zoo.
It took a team of 30 people over three years to preserve the 13ft tall Asian elephant and special flooring had to be put into the museum to support it.
Other animals to feature will include an ostrich with the muscles of its powerful legs and neck exposed, a feeding giraffe, a charging bull, a galloping reindeer and a rabbit that has also had its entire body stripped away to reveal its heart and blood vessels.
The exhibition also includes wafer thin cross-section slices of a crocodile and an elephant’s leg.
Plastination involves replacing all of the water in a body by placing the animal carcass in a bath of solvent before being immersed in a liquid polymer. This is then placed into a vacuum which sucks the acetone out of the tissue and the polymer replaces it.
The scientists can then position the animal while the plastic is still malleable before it is cured using light or heat to harden the plastic.
Richard Sabin, collections manager in the zoology department at the Natural History Museum, said: "What is incredible about this technique is that it allows to you see really very large animals preserved in a way they never have been before.
"Traditionally specimens are stored in vats of alcohol so for a large animal like an elephant, it would need a very large and extremely heavy vat.
"These specimens allow us to see something that only a very select group of people like veterinary surgeons and anatomical scientists have seen in the past – the soft tissues and organs of animals as they would be inside a living animal."
SAN DIEGO, California -- A new study contrasting ocean temperature readings of the 1870s with temperatures of the modern seas reveals an upward trend of global ocean warming spanning at least 100 years.
The research led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego physical oceanographer Dean Roemmich shows a .33-degree Celsius (.59-degree Fahrenheit) average increase in the upper portions of the ocean to 700 meters (2,300 feet) depth. The increase was largest at the ocean surface, .59-degree Celsius (1.1-degree Fahrenheit), decreasing to .12-degree Celsius (.22-degree Fahrenheit) at 900 meters (2,950 feet) depth.
The report is the first global comparison of temperature between the historic voyage of HMS Challenger (1872-1876) and modern data obtained by ocean-probing robots now continuously reporting temperatures via the global Argo program. Scientists have previously determined that nearly 90 percent of the excess heat added to Earth's climate system since the 1960s has been stored in the oceans. The new study, published in the April 1 advance online edition of Nature Climate Change and coauthored by John Gould of the United Kingdom-based National Oceanography Centre and John Gilson of Scripps Oceanography, pushes the ocean warming trend back much earlier.
"The significance of the study is not only that we see a temperature difference that indicates warming on a global scale, but that the magnitude of the temperature change since the 1870s is twice that observed over the past 50 years," said Roemmich, co-chairman of the International Argo Steering Team. "This implies that the time scale for the warming of the ocean is not just the last 50 years but at least the last 100 years."
Although the Challenger data set covers only some 300 temperature soundings (measurements from the sea surface down to the deep ocean) around the world, the information sets a baseline for temperature change in the world's oceans, which are now sampled continuously through Argo's unprecedented global coverage. Nearly 3,500 free-drifting profiling Argo floats each collect a temperature profile every 10 days.
Roemmich believes the new findings, a piece of a larger puzzle of understanding the earth's climate, help scientists to understand the longer record of sea-level rise, because the expansion of seawater due to warming is a significant contributor to rising sea level. Moreover, the 100-year timescale of ocean warming implies that the Earth's climate system as a whole has been gaining heat for at least that long.