Help Save Aquatic Animals
Over 70 percent of the surface of our world is covered by oceans. Oceans play a critical role in sustaining biodiversity and regulating climate and weather.
Because of destructive human activity, the health of our oceans and the animals that inhabit them is in serious jeopardy. Fish quantities are plummeting in almost every ocean worldwide. Seabirds, turtles and marine mammals suffer terrible deaths by irresponsible fishing practices every day. Commercial whaling has severely depleted whale populations, driving some species to the brink of extinction.
Coral reefs have existed on our planet for over 50 million years, but recently we have lost over 20% of the world's reefs in just the last 20 years. Up to 70% of the reefs may be destroyed by humans in the next few decades if we don't take immediate action.
Many animals are being affected by declining fish populations. Overfishing and destructive fishing techniques are killing entire ocean ecosystems. Hundreds of tons of unwanted fish and other marine animals are wasted yearly. Factory trawlers, gigantic ships with on-board fish processing factories, trap as many as 400 tons of fish in one sweep and haul in huge amounts of unwanted sea life. They then abandon depleted areas for fertile fishing waters elsewhere, leaving behind a ravaged ecosystem.
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. The seals suffer painful and lingering deaths. The weapon used is a club, the brutal hakapik. Sometimes the seals are skinned alive. Sealers often use sharpened steel hooks to drag the creatures on board their vessels. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.
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Coral reefs, rainforest of the sea, are one of nature's most remarkable creations - teaming with thousands of unique and valuable plants and animals. More than one-quarter of all marine species depend on coral reefs for their survival. Humans depend on the survival of coral reefs too. Coral reefs provide a natural wave barrier which protects beaches and coastlines from storms and floods.
Coral reefs have existed on our planet for over 50 million years, but recently we have lost over 20% of the world's reefs in just the last 20 years. Up to 70% of the reefs may be destroyed by humans in the next few decades if we don't take immediate action.
The biologists have seen the future, and their message could not be clearer: Living coral reefs are the foundation of marine life, yet all over the world they are dead or dying because people are destroying them, killing them at a catastrophic rate. Already 10 percent are lost, and scientists say 70 percent of all corals on the planet will be destroyed in 20 to 40 years unless people stop doing what they're doing: pollution, sewage, erosion, cyanide fishing, clumsy tourism, and get serious about saving the coral reefs now. There's hope yet: Reefs are resilient and they bounce back quickly when protected.
Protection is the real solution and it's ordinary people who are making it happen. Government efforts in much of the world have been frankly pathetic: late, weak, underfunded, unenforced. Persian Gulf oil states pass useless pollution laws then ignore them. Indian Ocean poachers outwit and outnumber British Royal Navy patrols. Ecuador stalls for decades while tourism explodes in the delicate Galapagos, only to enact a plan that makes it worse. The status quo scarcely wavers: relentless destruction of coral reefs. In those bright spots where people are changing the way they treat the reefs, you'll find students, divers, biologists, concerned citizens of all stripes transformed into activists and volunteers, taking matters into their own hands to protect the coral reefs that are dear to them and vital to us all.
Wetland conservation is aimed at protecting and preserving areas where water exists at or near the Earth's surface, such as swamps, marshes and bogs. Wetlands cover at least six per cent of the Earth and have become a focal issue for conservation due to the 'ecosystem services' they provide. More than three billion people, around half the world’s population, obtain their basic water needs from inland freshwater wetlands. The same number of people rely on rice as their staple food, a crop grown largely in natural and artificial wetlands. In some parts of the world, such as the Kilombero wetland in Tanzania, almost the entire local population relies on wetland cultivation for their livelihoods.
In addition to food, wetlands supply fiber, fuel and medicinal plants. They also provide valuable ecosystems for birds and other aquatic creatures, help reduce the damaging impact of floods, control pollution and regulate the climate. From economic importance, to esthetics, the reasons for conserving wetlands have become numerous over the past few decades.
The main functions performed by wetlands are water filtration, water storage, biological productivity, and habitat for wildlife.
Wetlands aid in water filtration by removing excess nutrients, slowing the water allowing particulates to settle out of the water which can then be absorbed into plant roots. Studies have shown that up to 92% of phosphorus and 95% of nitrogen can be removed from passing water through a wetland. Wetlands also let pollutants settle and stick to soil particles, up to 70% of sediments in runoff. Some wetland plants have even been found with accumulations of heavy metals more than 100,000 times that of the surrounding waters' concentration. Without these functions, the waterways would continually increase their nutrient and pollutant load, leading to an isolated deposit of high concentrations further down the line. An example of such a situation is the Mississippi River’s dead zone, an area where nutrient excess has led to large amounts of surface algae, which use up the oxygen and create hypoxic conditions (very low levels of oxygen).
Wetlands can even filter out and absorb harmful bacteria from the water. Their complex food chain hosts various microbes and bacteria, which invertebrates feed on. These invertebrates can filter up to 90% of bacteria out of the water this way.
Wetlands can store approximately 1-1.5 million gallons of floodwater per acre. When you combine that with the approximate total acres of wetlands in the United States (107.7 million acres), you get an approximate total of 107.7 - 161.6 million million gallons of floodwater US wetlands can store. By storing and slowing water, wetlands allow groundwater to be recharged. And combining the ability of wetlands to store and slow down water with their ability to filter out sediments, wetlands serve as strong erosion buffers.
Through wetlands ability to absorb nutrients, they are able to be highly biologically productive (able to produce biomass quickly). Freshwater wetlands are even comparable to tropical rainforests in plant productivity. Their ability to efficiently create biomass may become important to the development of alternative energy sources.
While wetlands only cover around 5% of the Conterminous United States’s land surface, they support 31% of the plant species. They also support, through feeding and nesting, up to ½ of the native North American bird species.
Nearly all wetland conservation work is done through one of 4 channels. They consist of easements, land purchase, revolving land, and monetary funding. In locations where wildlife habitat has been degraded and the land is for sale, wetland conservation organizations will seek to acquire it. Once purchased, the habitat will be restored and easements will be placed on land to perpetually protect resource values.
Marine conservation, also known as marine resources conservation, is the protection and preservation of ecosystems in oceans and seas. Marine conservation focuses on limiting human-caused damage to marine ecosystems, and on restoring damaged marine ecosystems. Marine conservation also focuses on preserving vulnerable marine species.
Marine conservation is the study of conserving physical and biological marine resources and ecosystem functions. This is a relatively new discipline. Marine conservationists rely on a combination of scientific principles derived from marine biology, oceanography, and fisheries science, as well as on human factors such as demand for marine resources and marine law, economics and policy in order to determine how to best protect and conserve marine species and ecosystems.
Coral reefs are the epicenter for immense amounts of biodiversity, and are a key player in the survival of an entire ecosystem. They provide various marine animals with food, protection, and shelter which keep generations of species alive.
Unfortunately, because of human impact of coral reefs, these ecosystems are becoming increasingly degraded and in need of conservation. The biggest threats include overfishing, destructive fishing practices, and sedimentation and pollution from land-based sources. This in conjunction with increased carbon in oceans, coral bleaching, and diseases, there are no pristine reefs left anywhere in the world. In fact, up to 88% of coral reefs in Southeast Asia are now threatened, with 50% of those reefs at either "high" or "very high" risk of disappearing which directly effects biodiversity and survival of species dependent on coral.
In island nations such as Samoa, Indonesia, and the Philippines, many fisherman are unable to catch as many fish as they used to, so they are increasingly using cyanide and dynamite in fishing, which further degrades the coral reef ecosystem. This perpetuation of bad habits simply leads to the further decline of coral reefs and therefore perpetuating the problem. One solution to stopping this cycle is to educate the local community about why conservation of marine spaces that include coral reefs is important. Once the local communities understand the personal stakes at risk then they will actually fight to preserve the reefs. Conserving coral reefs has many economic, social, and ecological benefits, not only for the people who live on these islands, but for people throughout the world as well.
Although humans cause the greatest threat to our marine environment, humans also have the ability to create effective management plans that will be the key to successful marine conservation. One of the best marine conservation tools simply stems from smarter individualist choices we make.
Strategies and techniques for marine conservation tend to combine theoretical disciplines, such as population biology, with practical conservation strategies, such as setting up protected areas, as with marine protected areas (MPAs) or Voluntary Marine Conservation Areas. Other techniques include restoring the populations of endangered species through artificial means.
International laws and treaties related to marine conservation include the 1966 Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas. United States laws related to marine conservation include the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act which established the National Marine Sanctuaries program.
In 2010, the Scottish Parliament enacted new legislation for the protection of marine life with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The provisions in the Act include: Marine planning, Marine licensing, marine conservation, seal conservation, and enforcement.
Marine Mammal Parks
Each year, orcas leap through the air for a handful of fish, and dolphins are ridden by human performers as if they were water skis. Employees at marine parks like to tell audiences that the animals wouldn't perform if
they weren't happy. You can even see how content the dolphins are--just look at the permanent smiles on their faces, right? But what most visitors to marine parks don't realize is that hidden behind the dolphin's "smile" is an industry built on suffering.
Families Torn Apart
Killer whales, or orcas, are members of the dolphin family. They are also the largest animals held in captivity. In the wild, orcas stay with their mothers for life. Family groups, or "pods," consist of a mother, her adult sons and daughters, and the offspring of her daughters. Each member of the pod communicates in a "dialect" specific to that pod. Dolphins swim together in family pods of three to 10 individuals or tribes of hundreds. Imagine, then, the trauma inflicted on these social animals when they are ripped from their families and put in the strange, artificial world of a marine park.
Capturing even one wild orca or dolphin disrupts the entire pod. To obtain a female dolphin of breeding age, for example, boats are used to chase the pod to shallow waters. The dolphins are surrounded with nets that are gradually closed and lifted into the boats. Unwanted dolphins are thrown back. Some die from the shock of their experience. Others slowly succumb to pneumonia caused by water entering their lungs through their blowholes. Pregnant females may spontaneously abort babies.
Orcas and dolphins who survive this ordeal become frantic upon seeing their captured companions and may even try to save them. When Namu, a wild orca captured off the coast of Canada, was towed to the Seattle Public Aquarium in a steel cage, a group of wild orcas followed for miles.
Adapting to an Alien World
In the wild, orcas and dolphins may swim up to 100 miles a day. But captured dolphins are confined to tanks as small as 24 feet by 24 feet wide and 6 feet deep. Wild orcas and dolphins can stay underwater for up to 30 minutes at a time, and they typically spend only 10 to 20 percent of their time at the water's surface. But because the tanks in marine parks are so shallow, captive orcas and dolphins spend more than half of their time at the surface. Experts believe this may account for the collapsed dorsal fins seen on the majority of captive orcas.
Dolphins navigate by echolocation. They bounce sonar waves off other objects to determine shape, density, distance, and location. In tanks, the reverberations from their own sonar bouncing off walls drives some dolphins insane. Jean-Michel Cousteau believes that for captive dolphins, "their world becomes a maze of meaningless reverberations."
Tanks are kept clean with chlorine, copper sulfate, and other harsh chemicals that irritate dolphins' eyes, causing many to swim with their eyes closed. Former dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry, who trained dolphins for the television show "Flipper," believes excessive chlorine has caused some dolphins to go blind. The United States Department of Agriculture closed Florida's Ocean World after determining that over-chlorinated water was causing dolphins' skin to peel off.
Newly captured dolphins and orcas are also forced to learn tricks. Former trainers say that withholding food and isolating animals who refuse to perform are two common training methods. According to Ric O'Barry, "positive reward" training is a euphemism for food deprivation. Marine parks may withhold up to 60 percent of food before shows so that the animals will be "sharp" for performances. Former dolphin trainer Doug Cartlidge maintains that highly social dolphins are punished by being isolated from other animals: "You put them in a pen and ignore them. It's like psychological torture." It's little wonder, then, that captive orcas and dolphins are, as O'Barry says, "so stressed-out you wouldn't believe it." The stress is so great that some commit suicide. Jacques Cousteau and his son, Jean-Michel, vowed never to capture marine mammals again after witnessing one captured dolphin kill himself by deliberately crashing into the side of his tank again and again.
Captivity's Tragic Consequences
If life for captive orcas and dolphins is as tranquil as marine parks would have us believe, the animals should live longer than their wild counterparts. After all, captive marine mammals are not subject to predators and ocean pollution. But captivity is a death sentence for orcas and dolphins.
In the wild, dolphins can live to be 25 to 50 years old. Male orcas live between 50 and 60 years, females between 80 and 90 years. But orcas at Sea World and other marine parks rarely survive more than 10 years in captivity. More than half of all dolphins die within the first two years of captivity; the remaining dolphins live an average of only six years. One Canadian research team found that captivity shortens an orca's life by as much as 43 years, and a dolphin's life by up to 15 years.
Sea World, which owns most of the captive orcas and dolphins in the United States, has one of the worst histories of caring for its animals. After Sea World purchased and closed Marineland, a Southern California competitor, it shipped the Marineland animals to various Sea World facilities. Within a year, 12 of them--5 dolphins, 5 sea lions, and 2 seals--were dead. The following year, Orky, a Marineland orca said to be the "world's most famous killer whale," also died. Because of such high mortality rates and because captive breeding programs have been highly unsuccessful, marine parks continue to capture orcas and dolphins from the wild.
Captive animals are not the only victims of these "circuses of the sea." Sea World patrons were stunned when two orcas repeatedly dragged trainer Jonathan Smith to the bottom of their tank, in an apparent attempt to drown him. Trainer Keltie Lee Byrne was killed by three Sea Land orcas after she fell into the water with them.
Marine parks have shown no more interest in conserving marine mammals' natural habitats than they have in educating audiences. In fact, the industry has actively lobbied to keep small cetaceans, such as orcas and dolphins, outside the jurisdiction of the International Whaling Commission (even though this would help protect these animals in the wild) because they don't want to risk not being able to capture additional animals in the future.
Turning the Tide
Increasingly, people around the world are recognizing that dolphins, orcas, and other cetaceans do not belong in captivity. Canada no longer allows beluga whales to be captured and exported. In Brazil, it is illegal to use marine mammals for entertainment. In England, consumer boycotts have forced all the marine parks to close. Israel has prohibited the importation of dolphins for use in marine parks, South Carolina has banned all exhibits of whales and dolphins, and other states are currently working on legislation to prohibit the capture or restrict the display of marine mammals.
Richard Donner, coproducer of the film "Free Willy," has joined a growing number of people in calling for an end to the marine mammal trade. Says Donner, "Removal of these majestic mammals from the wild for commercial purposes is obscene....These horrendous captures absolutely must become a thing of the past."
Public Interaction with Marine Mammals in the Wild
Viewing and interacting with marine mammals in the wild attracts sufficient numbers of people that a small industry has grown from it. Well intentioned or not, this industry and the public it serves frequently do not take into account the well-being of the animals they view. Marine mammal specialists and advocates have sufficient cause to be concerned.
Types of Interaction
Marine mammals in their natural habitat attract many tourists. Anyone who approaches a wild animal to touch, feed, or pose for photographs with it may be guilty of unintentional harassment. Sometimes the harassment is a matter of indifference, such as the many people on some parts of the west coast who frequently disregard posted signs and walk among elephant seals "hauled out" (who have hauled themselves out) on beaches.
Jet-skiing, kayaking, boating, and similar aquatic recreational activities may harass marine mammals in the wild by pursuing, annoying, or tormenting them. Scuba or snorkel divers may find it "fun" to harass manatees by swimming around them or touching them, an example of intentional wildlife abuse by humans.
Many commercial tour operations regularly feed the wild animals to encourage them to approach their vessels, then offer tourists an opportunity to photograph, feed, pet, or swim with marine mammals. Bottlenose dolphins in the southeast are the most affected animals in such activities.
Risk to Animals and Humans
These human interactions threaten the health and well-being of marine mammals. Possible consequences are driving them from their preferred habitat; disrupting their social groups; poisoning them with inappropriate food; and exposing them to fish hooks and boat propellers.
Wildlife fed by humans often become habituated to the free handout and, unwilling or unable to forage for food, develop the unnatural behavior of begging. This is crucial when young animals need to learn foraging skills.
Many people have been seriously injured when marine mammals who have become conditioned to being fed by humans have behaved aggressively toward them. Medical attention is usually required, and sometimes even hospitalization. Animals who behave aggressively in these situations are usually perceived as "nuisance animals," thus opening the door to animal "control" that may mean death to the animals.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) clearly sets forth the law in interactions with wild marine mammals. Interactions such as those mentioned above may constitute harassment and carry civil and criminal penalties, including fines as high as $20,000 and up to a year in jail. The MMPA defines harassment as "any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, sheltering."
Many marine mammals are endangered or threatened. Human interaction may therefore also be a violation of the Endangered Species Act.
What You Can Do:
For the animals' sake, and for your safety, please don't feed, swim with, or harm marine mammals.
- Share your knowledge with others. Encourage friends and family not to patronize boat operators and resorts that promote marine mammal encounter programs.
- Ask the National Marine Fisheries Service to provide increased manpower and money to enforce the federal regulations prohibiting feeding and harassment of marine mammals. Write to: National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources; 1315 East-West Highway, 13th Floor; Silver Spring, MD, 20910.
- To report a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, call: NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hot Line: 1-800-853-1964.
Responsible Marine Mammal Viewing
The significant growth in whale-watching and other marine-mammal viewing increases the likelihood of a threat to the animals. The National Marine Fisheries Service has therefore set forth guidelines for land- or water-based viewing. If you choose recreational activities in the marine environment, please keep this "Code of Conduct" in mind:
- Remain at least 100 yards from marine mammals. Binoculars will ensure that you view at a safe distance. If a whale approaches within 100 yards of your vessel, put your engine in neutral and allow the whale to pass.
- Because many watchers on many vessels have a cumulative effect, limit your observing time to one hour. Avoid approaching the animals when another vessel is near.
- Whales should not be encircled or trapped between boats, or boat and shore.
- Offering food, discarded fish, or fish waste is prohibited.
- Do not touch or swim with marine mammals. Never attempt to herd, chase, or separate groups of marine mammals or females from their young.
- If your engine is not running, whales may not recognize your location. To avoid collisions, make noise, such as tapping the side of the boat.
- Do not handle pups. "Hauled out" seal or sea lion pups may appear abandoned when the mother is feeding. Leave them alone.
- When viewing hauled out seals or sea lions, try not to let them see, smell, or hear you.
Orcas and Dolphins in Captivity
Both orcas (commonly known as killer whales) and dolphins are members of the dolphin family Delphinidae -- orcas are the largest members. More than 500 orcas, dolphins, and other members of the dolphin family are held in captivity in the United States. Before the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) was passed in 1972, some 1,133 dolphins were captured in U.S. waters. Since 1961, 134 orcas have been captured worldwide for aquariums; of those only 28 are still alive, when a normal lifespan in the wild is 50 years. While the MMPA made it more difficult to capture marine mammals from the wild, aquariums can still apply for permits or import animals caught in other countries. Whether wild caught or captive born, orcas and dolphins in captivity are sentenced to a life of confinement deprived of normal social and environmental interaction. The following are some of the myths surrounding captive marine mammals.
MYTH: The needs of orcas and dolphins are met in captivity.
Orcas and dolphins are extremely social, intelligent, and active animals. In the wild they are perpetually mentally and physically challenged by their life in the ocean and are almost always on the move. Orcas and dolphins in aquariums do not have a constantly changing aquatic environment to challenge them and their small tanks are comparable in size to human prison cells.
In the wild, dolphin populations are comprised of females and calves. Adult and sub-adult male dolphins form separate groups and form strong bonds in pairs or trios lasting up to ten years. Orcas live in maternal groups or pods consisting of family members including related adult males. No orca has yet been seen to transfer permanently from one pod to another. Studies of acoustical recordings show that each pod retains a unique dialect of vocalizations used in communication. Even after decades in captivity, orcas continue to produce the sounds of their natal pod.
In captivity these social organizations are restricted or nonexistent, as family members are traded and sold to other aquariums. In some cases calves have been removed from their mothers when they were only 6 months of age. When calves are separated from their mothers, it ensures that the normal social structure will never be developed.
MYTH: Marine mammals live longer in captivity than in the wild.
Current research shows that there is no significant difference between the longevity of captive orcas and dolphins and wild orcas and dolphins. Despite the controlled environment, routine veterinary care and medications including anti-depressants, captive dolphins and orcas do not outlive their wild counterparts.
Looking at the bigger picture, the insistence on relying on mortality as a barometer of health of species is a distraction, taking attention away from the real issue of quality of life for the unfortunate animals who are forced to live in small barren enclosures for their entire lives.
MYTH: Marine parks help to conserve orcas and dolphins through breeding programs.
The marine mammals most commonly bred in captivity are not threatened or endangered species, so continued breeding in captivity exists to produce the next generation of park entertainers and to ensure continued profits. Aquariums have no intention of returning captive-bred animals to the wild. In fact they claim that the success of such an endeavor would be unlikely and vehemently oppose release efforts.
Real conservation efforts focus on protecting habitat and the animals' place in that habitat.
MYTH: Aquarium research helps us understand and protect wild whales and dolphins.
Much of the research done at marine parks focuses around reproduction and maintaining the health of captive animals to ensure the perpetuation of profits for the industry. Results of studies conducted in captivity may not be adequately extrapolated to wild animals for several reasons:
Captive marine mammals live in small, sterile enclosures and are deprived of their natural activity level, social groups, and interactions with their natural environment.
Many captive marine mammals develop stereotypic behavior and/or aggression not known to occur in the wild.
What we have learned from captive research is that orcas and dolphins are more intelligent than previously imagined, providing more evidence that a life in captivity is inhumane.
MYTH: Marine parks provide valuable education and teach people respect for nature.
The principal education component at these parks comes from the "shows" where the animals perform tricks and stunts much like circus clowns. The education offered is often inaccurate, incomplete, and misleading. Marine mammals cannot behave normally in a situation that deprives them of their natural habitat and social structure. Patrons witness and learn about abnormal animal behavior. The real message conveyed is not one of respect but rather that it's all right to abuse nature.
MYTH: Most people feel that marine parks are doing the right thing.
In a current national survey, almost all respondents indicated captive marine mammals should be kept under the most natural conditions possible, even if it meant the animals were more difficult to observe. Three-quarters of the American public further expressed a preference for marine mammals displaying natural behaviors rather than perform "tricks and stunts." Four-fifths of the national sample believed zoos and aquariums should not be permitted to display marine mammals unless major educational and/or scientific benefits resulted. Three-fifths objected to capturing wild dolphins and whales for display in zoos and aquariums. Three-quarters disapproved of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity if it resulted in significantly shortened lifespans.
A tremendous amount of money and public support was raised around the efforts to rehabilitate and release Keiko, the star of the movie Free Willy. This would not have been possible if people believed that aquariums were the right place for orcas.
What You Can Do:
- Do not patronize any form of entertainment that uses animals. Tell your friends and family to boycott all aquariums that hold captive marine mammals for entertainment. Support only those aquariums involved solely in the rehabilitation and release of marine mammals, or the care of animals that cannot be released.
- Support legislation to protect captive and wild marine mammals. If you witness a wild marine mammal being harassed or poached, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The national toll-free phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
- If you witness a captive marine mammal being neglected or mistreated at a marine park, contact the national headquarters of the U.S. Department of Agriculture:
USDA Animal Care
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
The majority of the world's fisheries are in a state of collapse. Too many boats are chasing too few fish. Many of the fish species currently in decline serve as important food sources for sea animals who, unlike humans, have no other food choices. In the Bering Sea, the effects of overfishing on marine animals are obvious. Fur-seal populations have not increased despite a long-standing ban on commercial hunting. The number of Steller's sea lions, which feed mostly on pollack (the number one ingredient in frozen fish sticks and served by fast food chains), has plunged 80% since the 1970s, and seabirds such as the red-legged kittiwake are also in trouble.
Modern fishing techniques have enabled humans to catch more fish than ever before, and the once seemingly abundant ocean is now being stripped of life.
In addition to the vast numbers of target fish being caught by today's fishermen, there are also non-target casualties. "Bycatch" is the name that fisheries have given to sea life that is caught, yet not wanted at the time. Bycatch may include dolphins, sea turtles, sea birds, starfish, or even commercially valuable fish not sought by a particular vessel.
Damaging Fishing Techniques and Their Subsequent Effects
These are industrial fishing vessels with large-mouthed nets wide enough to encompass three Statues of Liberty lined up end to end. Upon being cast into the ocean, these nets catch just about everything they touch. "Trawling" and "trolling" are sometimes confused, but trolling refers to a vessel towing bait near the surface of the water. With trawling, for every pound of commercial catch, 10 to 20 pounds of bycatch is caught and discarded as waste. As the huge nets drag across the sea floor, they not only capture sea creatures, they literally clear-cut the ocean floor, grinding up coral reefs and other habitats. By removing the organisms that provide shelter for little fish, trawling is not only breaking the food chain, but may also be the underlying cause of the recent collapse of many commercial groundfish stocks, which include cod, haddock, pollock and flounder.
These are fishing lines up to 80 miles long, which carry several thousand baited hooks at a time. These may catch swordfish, sablefish, and sometimes tuna. Frequently, longlines catch other sea animals including sharks and sea birds. Worldwide, an estimated 180,000 birds die on longline hooks each year. Scientists agree that longline fishing severely impacts at least 13 seabird species, 3 of which are globally threatened with extinction. About 10% of the world's wandering albatross population is killed each year by longlines.
Sharks have also been severely impacted by longline fishing. In 1998, 60,857 sharks were killed in Hawaiian longline fisheries, of which 98% were killed just for their fins, which are used in soup. Sharks have slow growth and reproductive rates, which makes them particularly vulnerable to overfishing.
These vessels will surround a school of fish with a large net, which is closed off at the bottom with a cable. This technique can trap an entire school of tuna as well as other fish. In the Eastern Pacific, yellow fin tuna often travel with dolphins (for reasons yet unknown), who are vulnerable to entanglement in purse seines if herded and encircled by the net.
Commercial Fishing and Marine Mammal Conflicts
Many marine mammals eat the same fish that humans do. In the past, subsistence cultures that fished only to meet the needs of their villages had few conflicts with marine mammals. Today, commercial fisheries strive to profit by catching as many fish as possible, while marine mammals are perceived as competition. The fish that these marine mammals eat to survive is considered lost industry profit. Too often, many marine mammals become scapegoats for declining fish stocks and are harassed or killed. Other times, certain types of fishing gear inadvertently harms non-target marine mammals.
Seals and Fishery Conflicts
Fishermen claim that seals are a costly menace, because they damage nets and eat or wound fish that "belong" to the fishermen. Despite the fact that most of the world's fisheries are in trouble due to overfishing, fisheries mismanagement, and pollution, fishermen routinely blame seals for reduced catches. Complaints by fishermen often lead to seal slaughters or "culls," which are crude and cruel attempts to boost fishery yields. However, there is little scientific evidence that seal slaughters help replenish fish stocks. In fact, removing large numbers of seals may actually hurt fish stocks, as other animals usually eaten by seals also eat commercial fish or compete with them for the same food. Additionally, fish eaten by seals account for only a small proportion of the fish that are removed from the marine environment. In some cases, fishermen remove 25 times more than seals, while other fish may eat 30 times more.
Otters and Shellfish
To stay warm in the North Pacific's cool waters, a 50-pound adult otter will consume a quarter of its body weight each day, which equates to roughly 16 pounds of crab, lobster, urchins, oysters, and clams. The shellfish industry of Southern California owes its success to the near eradication of the sea otter by fur traders almost 100 years ago. As the sea otter population is slowly recovering and has begun to reclaim its native range, the shellfish industry has pushed for the enforcement of "otter-free zones." These zones are created when otters are removed from their rightful place in the ecosystem, and relocated to less productive areas where fishermen, and subsequently otters, have little interest. Sea otter relocation efforts are doomed to fail, as otters cannot recognize the invisible line that surrounds an "otter-free zone." Once relocated, otters fail to thrive. Relocation not only disrupts the sea otter social structure, but it increases food competition and causes territorial disputes, which ultimately results in more otter deaths.
Dolphins and Tuna
As stated earlier, there are some species of tuna that swim with dolphins. This special relationship has led to the depletion of both species, as fishermen locate tuna by looking for leaping dolphins. Scientists have confirmed that chasing and netting dolphins causes harm to their populations and suppresses their recovery. In 1986, before the original "dolphin safe" law went into effect, 133,000 dolphins were reported killed because of tuna fishing. In 1988, thanks to strict guidelines that prohibited the netting of dolphins, deaths were reported at less than 2,000. But in 1999, dolphin protection took a huge step backward. New guidelines have rendered the label meaningless, as tuna companies that encircle dolphins with huge nets are now allowed to label their tuna as "dolphin safe." Tuna are also in trouble from commercial fishing. Within the next few decades, blue fin tuna are expected to reduce to 10% of their historic range. Most blue fin on the market today are juveniles, as nearly all of the adults have been caught. Bigeye, yellowfin and albacore tuna populations are also declining.
Sea Turtles and Shrimp
All but one of the eight species of sea turtles are listed on the U.S. Endangered Species List, and all are protected under Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite this protection, it is estimated that worldwide, 155,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year -- many in U.S. waters. "Turtle-Safe" shrimp is caught with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which attach to shrimp nets and allow turtles to escape. While sea turtle drownings are almost entirely eliminated by the use of TEDs and are required in U.S. waters, some fishermen disable them because they mistakenly believe that TEDs reduce shrimp catches. Shrimp that is imported to the U.S. is also supposed to be caught with TEDs, however, regulation and compliance of foreign vessels is very questionable.
And unfortunately, while TEDs may help protect sea turtles, they are unable to remedy the devastating damage that shrimp nets cause as they drag across the sea floor, destroying critical habitat and food sources for sea turtles and other sea life.
What You Can Do:
- Eliminate or decrease fish from your diet.
- Support legislation that sets strict standards for commercial fishing.
- Urge National Parks, National Marine Sanctuaries and National Wildlife Refuges to prohibit commercial and recreational fishing within their boundaries.
- If you witness a marine mammal being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, contact the National Marine Fisheries Service. The toll-free, national phone number for the enforcement division is 1-800-853-1964.
- If you witness any other wild animals (ducks, geese, raccoons, etc.) being harassed by fishermen or injured by fishing gear, call your state Fish and Wildlife or Fish and "Game" department listed in the Government section of your local phone book.
- When visiting a beach, lake or river, pick up any discarded fishing gear that you see and dispose of it properly.
Save the Seals
Each year thousands of seals are killed in Canada. The seals suffer painful and lingering deaths. The weapon used is a club, the brutal hakapik. Sometimes the seals are skinned alive. Sealers often use sharpened steel hooks to drag the creatures on board their vessels. Seal-clubbing is justified by the Canadian government because its victims are adversely affecting the profits of the Newfoundland fishing industry.
A harp seal can be legally killed as soon as it has begun to moult its white hair, around 2 weeks after birth. Adult seals are also killed. The seal hunt is one of the very few hunts that occurs in the spring when young are being born. As a result, roughly 80% of the seals killed in the commercial hunt are 'young of the year' - between approximately 12 days and 1 year old.
Younger seals (ragged jackets and beaters) are usually killed on the ice with clubs or hakapiks (a device resembling a heavy ice-pick). Later in the season, beaters and older seals are usually shot with a rifle, both on the ice and in the water. It is also legal to use a shotgun firing slugs. It is illegal to deliberately capture seals using nets, although seals are often caught incidentally in nets set for other fisheries.
Six species of seals, including the harp, hooded, grey, ringed, bearded and harbour - are found off the Atlantic coast of Canada. Harp and hooded seals are the two most common species hunted commercially.
Although harp seals make up 95% of the commercial hunt, they are not the only seals hunted in Atlantic Canada: there is also a quota for 10,000 hooded seals, and in recent years small numbers of grey seals have been hunted for commercial use. In addition to the commercial hunts, seals of all species are taken for subsistence purposes in Labrador and the Canadian Arctic, and harp and hooded seals may be killed for personal use by residents of sealing regions. The seal hunt quota was introduced in 1971.
The majority of seal pelts are still exported to Norway for processing. The seal pelts are either used for furs or leather. A small amount of seal meat, particularly the flippers, is consumed locally by Newfoundlanders, and some claim it to have an aphrodisiac effect. Seal penises are shipped to Asian markets and can sell for upwards of $500 US each. Penises are often dried and consumed in capsule form or in a tonic.
Seal hunting is inhumane. Groups have campaigned on the issue for years and their evidence shows all the horror of the hunt - dragging conscious seal pups across the ice with sharpened boat hooks, stockpiling of dead and dying animals, beating and stomping seals, and skinning seals alive. In 2002, an international team of veterinary experts attended the hunt. They observed sealers at work from the air and from the ground, and performed post-mortems on 73 seal carcasses.
Their study concluded that:
- 79% of the sealers did not check to see if an animal was dead before skinning it.
- In 40% of the kills, a sealer had to strike the seal a second time, presumably because it was still conscious after the first blow or shot.
- Up to 42% of the seals they examined were likely skinned alive.
Many people remember the worldwide protest that arose in the 1970s over Canada’s killing of whitecoat seal pups (under two weeks old). The massive protest, with international campaigning against the Canadian seal hunt during the 70s & 80s led to the European Union ban on the importation of whitecoat pelts in 1983, and eventually to the Canadian government banning large-vessel commercial whitecoat hunting in 1987.
Canada's cod fishery collapsed in the early 90s, and some in Canada blamed the seals, despite the fact that the greatest cause was clearly decades of over-fishing by humans. The collapse of fisheries around Newfoundland, due to mismanagement, is a major driver in the expansion of the seal hunt.
Although the Canadian seal hunt is the largest in the world and has the highest profile internationally, sealing is also carried out in a number of other countries across the world including Greenland, Namibia, Russia, Norway, and Sweden.
While some claim the manatee is ugly, with ‘a face only a mother could love,’ most people seem drawn to this marine creature, describing it as homely and having the appeal of a plump grandmother with flippers like oven mitts, outstretched as if inviting a hug.
Manatees may not win the gold in a beauty contest, but they definitely take the prize for popularity. A trendy target of the tourism industry, manatees put up with an annual intrusion of humans who leap into their winter freshwater havens to commune with the placid sea cows. Whether it’s their sad, puppy-like demeanor or their sluggish, gentle manner, something about manatees is awfully endearing.
Primarily herbivorous, manatees spend up to eight hours each day quietly grazing on seagrasses and other aquatic plants, though they will occasionally feed on fish. Manatees surface for air about once every five minutes, but can remain submerged for up to twenty minutes when they are resting. Their lungs are positioned along the backbone, which helps with buoyancy control. They swim by waving their wide paddle tails up and down, and because they do not possess the neck vertebra that most other mammals have, they must turn their entire bodies to look around.
Manatees can hear quite well, at least at high frequencies. This is likely an adaptation to shallow water living, where low frequency sounds aren’t transmitted well because of physical barriers. Their inability to hear the low frequency churning of an approaching boat might explain why manatees are susceptible to injury by boat propellers, a top reason for the decline in their populations.
Manatees were listed as endangered in 1967 concurrent with the creation of the Endangered Species Conservation Act, an act that pre-dated the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973. In addition to Florida, they occur in Georgia, Texas, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. Accidental collisions with boats are the primary cause of death for these shallow water-inhabiting animals, followed by low reproductive rates and a decline in suitable habitat.
Another important threat is loss of reliable warm water habitats that allow manatees to survive the cold in winter. Natural springs are threatened by increased demands for water supply and aging power plants may need to be replaced. Deregulation of the power industry may also result in less reliable man-made sources of warm water.
Seagrass and other aquatic foods that manatees depend on are affected by water pollution and sometimes direct destruction.
Manatee conservation and recovery involves many partners from government and industry, as well as many citizens. Numerous manatee speed zones have been established. Many sick and injured manatees are rescued every year. These animals are often rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Recommendations and actions to prevent manatee deaths related to water-control structures and navigation locks have included modification of gate openings and installation of pressure sensitive and acoustic devices on some of the most deadly locks. All efforts to reduce water pollution help to maintain and restore aquatic vegetation. Extensive manatee conservation education work has been conducted by Federal, State, and private entities.
Some areas where watercraft-related injury and mortality continue to occur have almost no protective measures for manatees. Warm water wintering sites need to be secured. Important spring flows must be maintained. We must ensure that seagrass and other aquatic vegetation are adequate to support a recovered population.
Great strides have been made in the protection and recovery of the manatee. However, there is much left to be done to secure its future. This will require the cooperation and support of everyone: government, the private sector, and boaters.
Save the Whales
Whales are hunted for their meat and other body parts. The oil from their bodies has been used to make lipstick, shoe polish and margarine. The practice of hunting whales began in the 9th century when Spain undertook the first organized hunt. By the 20th century, the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain, France, Germany, Norway, Japan and the United States had begun to kill large numbers of whales.
Certain species of whales were hunted so much that their numbers began to decline. There were fewer whales than there had been before. In 1946 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was formed to address the issues of whaling and this growing threat to whales. The IWC created three categories of whaling: Commercial, Scientific, and Aboriginal Subsistence.
In commercial whaling, whales are killed for their meat and their parts. In scientific whaling, whales are killed so that their bodies can be studied and cataloged. Aboriginal subsistence is the whaling carried out by native cultures, such as the Native Americans in the United States. These groups of people are given certain rights to hunt whales based upon their cultural history and dependence upon whale meat.
Due to the danger of extinction facing many whale species, the IWC voted to suspend all commercial whale hunting beginning in 1986. Despite this international agreement to stop killing whales for their parts, several countries continue to kill whales and sell their meat and parts, including Norway, Iceland, and Japan.
Whales are most often killed using a primitive weapon called a harpoon. The harpoon has a grenade attached that explodes when the harpoon enters the body of the whale. It can take a very long time for some whales to die which causes additional suffering and fear in these gentle animals. There is no humane way to kill a whale.
Despite international pressure, the best efforts of the IWC and grassroots movements to ‘save the whales’ around the world, whaling continues to be a danger facing whales and their future here on earth.
Dolphins are often regarded as one of Earth's most intelligent animals. They are social, living in pods of up to a dozen individuals. In places with a high abundance of food, pods can merge temporarily, forming a superpod; such groupings may exceed 1,000 dolphins. Individuals communicate using a variety of clicks, whistles and other vocalizations. They make ultrasonic sounds for echolocation. Membership in pods is not rigid; interchange is common. However, dolphins can establish strong social bonds; they will stay with injured or ill individuals, even helping them to breathe by bringing them to the surface if needed.
Dolphins also display culture, something long believed to be unique to humans. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are known to teach their young to use tools. They cover their snouts with sponges to protect them while foraging. This knowledge is mostly transferred by mothers to daughters. Using sponges as mouth protection is a learned behavior. Another learned behavior was discovered among river dolphins in Brazil, where some male dolphins use weeds and sticks as part of a sexual display.
Play is an important part of dolphin culture. Dolphins play with seaweed and play-fight with other dolphins. At times they harass other local creatures, like seabirds and turtles. Dolphins enjoy riding waves and frequently surf coastal swells and the bow waves of boats, at times “leaping” between the dual bow waves of a moving catamaran. Occasionally, they playfully interact with swimmers.
Dolphins at Risk
Some dolphin species face an uncertain future, especially some river dolphin species such as the Amazon river dolphin, and the Ganges and Yangtze river dolphin, which are critically or seriously endangered. A 2006 survey found no individuals of the Yangtze river dolphin, which now appears to be functionally extinct.
Pesticides, heavy metals, plastics, and other industrial and agricultural pollutants that do not disintegrate rapidly in the environment concentrate in predators such as dolphins. Injuries or deaths due to collisions with boats, especially their propellers, are also common.
Various fishing methods, most notably purse seine fishing for tuna and the use of drift and gill nets, kill many dolphins. By-catch in gill nets and incidental captures in antipredator nets that protect marine fish farms are common and pose a risk for mainly local dolphin populations. In some parts of the world, such as Taiji in Japan and the Faroe Islands, dolphins are killed in harpoon or drive hunts. Dolphin meat is high in mercury, and may thus pose a health danger to humans when consumed.
Dolphin safe labels attempt to reassure consumers fish and other marine products have been caught in a dolphin-friendly way. The original deal with "Dolphin safe" labels was brokered in the 1980s between marine activists and the major tuna companies, and involved decreasing incidental dolphin kills by up to 50% by changing the type of nets being used to catch the tuna. Dolphins continue to be netted while fishermen are in pursuit of smaller tuna. Albacore are not netted this way, which makes albacore the only truly dolphin-safe tuna.
Loud underwater noises, such as those resulting from naval sonar use, live firing exercises, or certain offshore construction projects, such as wind farms, may be harmful to dolphins, increasing stress, damaging hearing, and causing decompression sickness by forcing them to surface too quickly to escape the noise.
A number of militaries have employed dolphins for various purposes from finding mines to rescuing lost or trapped humans. The military use of dolphins drew scrutiny during the Vietnam War when rumors circulated that the United States Navy was training dolphins to kill Vietnamese divers. Dolphins are still being trained by the United States Navy on other tasks as part of the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program. The Russian military is believed to have closed its marine mammal program in the early 1990s. In 2000 the press reported that dolphins trained to kill by the Soviet Navy had been sold to Iran.
Dolphin Drive Hunting
Dolphin drive hunting, also called dolphin drive fishing, is a method of hunting dolphins and occasionally other small cetaceans by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. Their escape is prevented by closing off the route to the open sea or ocean with boats and nets. Dolphins are hunted this way in several places around the world, including the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, Peru, and Japan, the most well-known practitioner of this method. Dolphins are mostly hunted for their meat; some are captured and end up in dolphinariums.
Despite the highly controversial nature of the hunt resulting in international criticism, and the possible health risk that the often polluted meat causes, many thousands of dolphins are caught in drive hunts each year.
In Japan, Striped, Spotted, Risso's, and Bottlenose dolphins are most commonly hunted, but several other species such as the False Killer Whale are also occasionally caught. A small number of Orcas have been caught in the past. Relatively few Striped Dolphins are found in the coastal waters, probably due to hunting.
The Japanese town of Taiji on the Kii peninsula is as of now the only town in Japan where drive hunting still takes place on a large scale. In the town of Futo the last known hunt took place in 2004. In 2007 Taiji wanted to step up its dolphin hunting programs, approving an estimated ¥330 million for the construction of a massive cetacean slaughterhouse in an effort to popularize the consumption of dolphins in the country.
Dolphin welfare advocacy groups such as Earth Island Institute, Surfers for Cetaceans and Dolphin Project Inc., assert that the number of dolphins and porpoises killed is estimated at 25,000 per year.
In Japan, the hunting is done by a select group of fishermen. When a pod of dolphins has been spotted, they're driven into a bay by the fishermen while banging on metal rods in the water to scare and confuse the dolphins. When the dolphins are in the bay, it is quickly closed off with nets so the dolphins cannot escape. The dolphins are usually not caught and killed immediately, but instead left to calm down over night. The following day, the dolphins are caught one by one and killed. The killing of the animals used to be done by slitting their throats, but the Japanese government banned this method and now dolphins may officially only be killed by driving a metal pin into the neck of the dolphin. It is not clear if this ban is strictly enforced however.
Some of the captured dolphins are left alive and taken to dolphinariums. Dolphins have also been exported to the United States for several parks including the well known SeaWorld parks. The US National Marine Fisheries Service has refused a permit for Marine World Africa USA on one occasion to import four False Killer Whales caught in a Japanese drive hunt. In recent years, dolphins from the Japanese drive hunts have been exported to China, Taiwan and to Egypt. On multiple occasions, members of the International Marine Animal Trainers Association (IMATA) have also been observed at the drive hunts in Japan.
Protest and campaigns are now common in Taiji. Some of the animal welfare organizations campaigning against the drive hunts are Sea Shepherd, One Voice, Blue Voice, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. Since much of the criticism is the result of photos and videos taken during the hunt and slaughter, it is now common for the final capture and slaughter to take place on site inside a tent or under a plastic cover, out of sight from the public.
On a smaller scale, drive hunting for dolphins also takes place on the Solomon Islands, more specifically on the island of Malaita. Dolphin's teeth are also used in jewelry and as currency on the island. The dolphins are hunted in a similar fashion as in Japan, using stones instead of metal rods to produce sounds to scare and confuse the dolphins. Various species are hunted, such as Spotted and Spinner dolphins. The amount of dolphins killed each year is not known, but anecdotal information suggests between 600 and 1500 dolphins per hunting season. The hunting season lasts roughly from December to April, when the dolphins are closest to shore. As in Japan, some dolphins (exclusively Bottlenoses) from the Solomon Islands have also been sold to the entertainment industry. There was much controversy in July 2003, when 28 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops trancatus aduncus) were exported to Parque Nizuc, a water park in Cancun. A large portion of the animals were later transported to Cozumel, to do interaction programs. Though the export of dolphins had been banned in 2005, the export of dolphins was resumed in October 2007 when the ban was lifted following a court decision, allowing for 28 dolphins to be sent to a dolphinarium in Dubai. A further three dolphins were found dead near the holding pens. The dealer that exported these dolphins has stated that they intend to release their 17 remaining dolphins back into the wild in the future.
On the Faroe Islands mainly Pilot Whales are killed by drive hunts for their meat. Other species are also killed on rare occasion such as the Northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic White-sided Dolphin. The hunt is known by the locals as the Grindadráp. There are no fixed hunting seasons, as soon as a pod close enough to land is spotted fishermen set out to begin the hunt. The animals are driven onto the beach with boats, blocking off the way to the ocean. When on the beach, most of them get stuck. Those that have remained too far in the water are dragged onto the beach by putting a hook in their blowhole. When on land, they are killed by cutting down to the major arteries and spinal cord at the neck. The time it takes for a dolphin to die varies from a few seconds to a few minutes, depending on the cut. When the fishermen fail to beach the animals all together, they are let free again. About a thousand pilot whales are killed this way each year on the Faroe Islands together with usually a few dozen up to a few hundred animals belonging to other small cetaceans species, but numbers vary greatly per year. The brutal appearance of the hunt has resulted in international criticism especially from animal welfare organizations. As in Japan, the meat is contaminated with mercury and cadmium, causing a health risk for those frequently eating it.
Though it is forbidden under Peruvian law to hunt dolphins or eat their meat, a large number of dolphins are still killed illegally by fishermen each year. Although exact numbers are not known, the Peruvian organization Mundo Azul (Blue World) estimates that at least a thousand are killed annually. To catch the dolphins, they are driven together with boats and encircled with nets, then harpooned, dragged on to the boat, and clubbed to death if still alive. Various species are hunted, such as the Bottlenose and Dusky Dolphin.
On the Penghu Islands in Taiwan, drive fishing of Bottlenose Dolphins was practiced until 1990, when the practice was outlawed by the government. Mainly Indian Ocean Bottlenose Dolphins but also common Bottlenose Dolphins were captured in these hunts.
Don't be afraid OF sharks; be afraid FOR them. There are more misunderstandings and untruths about sharks than almost any other group of animals on the planet. While many people fear sharks, it is the sharks who should be fearing us.
According to the shark attack file, maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History, on average 5 people die worldwide from shark attacks. Research published in 2006 found that up to 70 million sharks are killed by humans each year, mostly for their fins. This is a devastating death toll for a long-living species that is as slow to reproduce as sharks.
Sharks have roamed the oceans far longer than most land animals have been here. They were here before many of the dinosaurs and have outlasted them. But an international assessment of sharks undertaken by the World Conservation Union reveals that their future is in doubt.
Of 546 shark species assessed, 111 species were at significant risk of global extinction. Twenty species are listed as critically endangered and 25 as endangered. A 2003 study published in the journal Science concluded that some shark species have lost 80% of their populations just in the past 40 years including hammerhead sharks, thresher sharks, and porbeagle sharks. While hammerhead shark is a name familiar to most, most people have never heard of porbeagle sharks, some of the lesser known sharks are in even greater danger.
Sharks can range from being just inches in length (like the tiny cookie cutter shark) to being larger than a school bus (like the giant plankton-eating whale shark). Though sharks perform the same role in the ocean ecosystem that is performed by well-known predators such as lions, tigers, and cheetahs on land, the fact that they live in such an alien world makes it hard for us to know about their lives. What we do know is pretty fascinating.
Sharks shed their teeth. A single shark may lose thousands of teeth over its life and this accounts for the many shark teeth found by beach combers throughout the world. Their teeth are connected to a membrane in their mouth that is constantly being pushed forward as new teeth form. New teeth are generally slightly larger than the ones before. This allows the size of the shark's teeth to keep pace with the growth of the rest of the body.
Sharks are picky eaters. Some sharks eat only plankton, others eat small fish or squid, and still others eat large fish and marine mammals. The type of teeth a shark has will show you what it eats. Great white sharks have teeth with serrated edges for slicing off pieces from larger prey, the teeth of mako sharks are thin and pointed for grabbing onto slippery fish. Nurse sharks and other bottom dwellers tend to have thicker teeth for crushing shellfish. No matter the tooth shape, sharks never chew their food.
You're more likely to die as a result of being electrocuted by holiday lighting than being attacked by a shark. More deadly than shark attacks each year are crocodile attacks, hippo attacks, and even attacks by pigs.
Many sharks are warm blooded. Unlike the rest of the fishy world, many large sharks can maintain their body temperature higher than the ocean temperature around them.
Some sharks lay eggs, but others give birth to live young and may not be sexually mature until they are over the age of 10.
We don't know whether sharks sleep. Sometimes they seem to rest, but their eyes don't close and if they sleep, they certainly don't sleep the way that mammals can.
There is a lot we don't know about sharks, but we DO know that if we don't act soon to stop overfishing, some of the most ancient and magnificent animals on the planet may soon disappear.
Our oceans, seas, rivers and lakes are home to a large percentage of the animal species of Earth. Many mammals have adapted to life in the water. Even those that never leave it still have lungs to breath oxygen and give birth to live young. Most of us know that whales and dolphins are aquatic mammals, living exclusively in the ocean, but there are semi-aquatic mammals, like seals, sealions, manatee and walrus, that live both in the sea and on the land. Among them, with a classification of its own, is one of Earth’s largest carnivores: the polar bear.
The scientific name for the polar bear is ursus maritimus, or marine bear. Polar bears are uniquely adapted for life in the sea. Their front feet are large, flat and oar-like and they have long necks and narrow skulls that give them a streamlined shape. With these advantages, the polar bear is a powerful endurance swimmer. Individuals have been seen in open Arctic waters as far as 200 miles from any land.
Only the Kodiak bears of Southern Alaska can rival the Polar bear for size. Polar bear males weigh 550-1700 lbs (250-771 kg) and females 200-700 lbs (91-318 kg). The polar bear will gain a height of 8 to 10 feet (2.4 - 3m). To support their enormous size, such large animals must constantly hunt. They will travel great distances in search of prey, feeding largely on ringed seals and, to a lesser extent, on bearded seals. Under some conditions, they have been known to eat walrus, birds, vegetation, kelp, and even the carcasses of beluga and bowhead whales.
Polar bears don't need to drink water. Their prey provides them with all the liquid they need. Polar bear cubs are 12 to 14 inches long at birth and weigh around one pound. They will nurse until they are about 20-30 pounds before emerging from the den with their mother in March or April.
Polar bear populations are distributed in Artic regions throughout Alaska, Canada, Russia, Greenland and Norway. They must have pack ice to survive and can travel thousands of miles over the course of a year, following the advance and retreat of sea ice. Seal populations are abundant on pack ice, where currents and wind interact with the ice, continually melting and refreezing the edges, making it accessible to both predator and prey.
Older, stable pack ice is essential to the polar bear’s continued existence. It is where polar bears hunt, mate and den. Pregnant females make dens in the soft deep snows of the ice. They will give birth in these dens and the snow will insulate both mother and cubs over the harsh Arctic winter. Without a stable ice pack to accumulate sufficient snow, there can be no dens. The ice is also the seal’s habitat. Polar bears are strong swimmers, but they are not adept at catching seals in open water. The ice is necessary for successful hunts, where the bears stalk the seals using their breathing holes. Changes in the conditions of the ice have forced seals to move and give birth in different areas, making it more difficult for the polar bears to find and feed on them. Without ready and plentiful food, pregnant female polar bears cannot build the fat reserves they need to survive a denning period.
With shrinking ice and inaccessibility to prey, polar bears could be extinct by 2050. Their habitat is melting away. When animals lose their natural habitat they will seek other means to secure food. Just as black bears will come into towns and communities in search of food, polar bears, attracted by garbage or animal carcasses, will enter areas of human population. When they do so, they can be killed. Although it is illegal to kill a polar bear, human caused mortality still remains a factor in the decline of this endangered animal.
To help save the polar bear, we must support strengthening of the Endangered Species Act and include the polar bears’ prey base, suspend new Arctic gas and oil development until the bear population and their sea-ice habitat are fully protected and eliminate all trophy hunting throughout the Artic. Laws against poaching must be strictly enforced and programs implemented that offer rewards for information leading to their conviction.
The hippopotamus outweighs all the many fresh water semi-aquatic mammals that inhabit our rivers, lakes and streams. After elephants and the white rhinoceros, the hippopotamus is the third largest land mammal on Earth. Its hide alone can weigh half a ton.
The ancient Egyptians both feared and revered the hippopotamus. The word hippopotamus comes from the Greek for "river horse" and the hippo, once indigenous to Egypt, flourished there, grazing along the fertile banks of the Nile River and swimming in its muddy waters. Hippos may seem slow and lumbering, but they can be ferocious, deadly killers. These prolific animals multiplied until the river was thick with them. They destroyed crops, up ended fishing boats and killed the men as they fell into the river. The ancient kings found sport in great hippopotamus hunts that would thin out the herds. Hunts became bloody battles between man and beast. The hippo is no longer found in Egypt. They were wiped out of that country in modern times because of the crop damage they caused, but the hippo still thrives in other parts of Africa.
Hippopotamus are of the Order Artiodactyla: Even-toed ungulates. On land, the enormous weight of a hippo is distributed evenly and is adequately supported by the four webbed toes on each of its feet. These animals are grayish in color with thick skin that is virtually hairless. The hippo has no sweat or sebaceous glands and must rely on the water to keep cool. A hippo’s hide has the unusual property of secreting a viscous red fluid that protects it from the sun. This specialized excretion may also be a healing agent.
Female hippopotamus bear a single young and will give birth either on land or in shallow water. The mother helps the newborn to the surface of the water. In time, she will teach her baby to swim. Newborns can be seen in the river, resting on their mothers' backs. At birth, a baby hippo will weigh from 55 to 120 pounds. The mother must protect it from crocodiles in the water and lions on land. She must also ward off male hippos. Males do not bother baby hippos when on land, but they will attack them in the water.
Adult hippos can stay under water for up to six minutes. A young hippo can only stay submerged for about half a minute. In order to suckle under water, the baby must take a deep breath, close its nostrils and ears and then wrap its tongue tightly around the teat to suck. This instinctive behavior is the same when the baby suckles on land. Baby hippos start to eat grass at 3 weeks, but will continue to nurse until they are about one year old.
Hippos are usually found in groups of just over a dozen, presided over by a territorial bull. They have flexible social systems defined by food and water conditions and hierarchy. Periods of drought will force them to congregate in large numbers around a limited water supply. This overcrowding disrupts the system and under these conditions, there will be higher levels of aggression. Fights for dominance will be brutal with loud and frequent vocalization. Hippos can bear the scars of old, deep wounds sustained in such battles. A hippo establishes status and marks territory by spreading its excrement with its flat, paddle-like tail.
Hippos move surprisingly well, climbing adeptly up steep riverbanks to grazing areas. They spend the heat of the day in the water, leaving it to graze at night. Apparently creatures of habit, they enter and exit the water at the same spot. They will graze four to five hours, usually covering one or two miles. The amount of grass consumed is relatively modest for animals their size. A hippo’s appetite is in proportion to its sedentary life.
Despite the fact that ditches and low fences can easily deter them from encroaching on cultivated areas, hippopotamus are slaughtered by the hundreds each year. These "controlled management" schemes are put forth less for crop protection than for the meat they yield. The fat and ivory tusks of the hippo are also of value to humans, as is the hippo’s grazing land. The hippos’ range was once from the Nile delta to the Cape, but the mighty river horse is now mostly confined to protected areas.
Most of us will never see a hippopotamus. But as we know more about them, we may learn to value them and their place in the larger ecosystem we all share.
Each year, people are amazed to see ducks and ducklings in the most unlikely places, such as walking single-file through city streets or nesting under bank teller windows! Luc
kily, ducklings are precocious and mature quickly. Here are some common sense solutions to typical problems encountered in suburban and urban settings.
Q: There's a duck nesting in the worst place! What should I do?
A: Ducks commonly nest in poor spots, such as under bank-teller windows or the middle of busy ball fields. These nests may fall prey to cats, dogs, or human malice. However, moving the eggs and nest is not only illegal according to federal law, but also the parents usually won't follow it. We suggest putting up educational signs and perhaps trying to fence off the nest temporarily. There isn't much else you can do. Some people have tried moving the nest, a few feet at a time, into a better area. This may work if the relocation site is nearby and you move the nest a bit by bit. However, the mother may stay on the nest making relocation impossible. It's usually best to leave the nest alone and hope for the best.
Q: Ducklings were separated from their mother. Is there a way to reunite them?
A: If the mother was seen recently, wait it out for an hour and see if she comes back. If the ducklings are beginning to scatter, or you're not sure how long they've been alone, put a plastic laundry basket over them, upside down, to contain them while waiting for the mother to return. She will see them through the lattice sides of the basket and make contact. If she returns, slowly approach and overturn the basket so she can collect her young.
Q: A duck family has taken over my pool! How do I get them to leave?
A: The best solution is to leave them alone, as long as the ducklings are able to get out of the pool. The mother will move her young when they are older and less vulnerable. If you must evict them, go to your local party store and buy silver mylar balloons with heavy weights on the bottom. Put the balloons around the perimeter of the entire pool, about every 20 feet. The balloons will bob in the breeze and make the ducks nervous. To enhance the harassment effect, you can also float a beach ball in the pool or use an electric boat. There's a product called a "Scare- Eye" balloon which has giant reflective eyes (for an enhanced scare effect) and is available at most hardware or garden stores or through mail-order via Bird Barrier, Inc. (1-800-503-5444 or www.birdbarrier.com).
Q: There's a duckling stuck in my pool! How do I get him out?
A: Most ducklings get stuck in pools because the water level is too low. The solution is to either raise the water level (simplest approach), fish them out with a net, or create a ramp angled <45 degrees, with a wet towel attached to it for traction.
Q: I'm afraid the duckling I see is orphaned.
A: If you know where the duckling came from, then it's best to take the duckling to that pond for release. The duckling will soon rejoin his family. Sometimes other ducks will even foster-parent the young duckling. If the duckling was left behind for a while and his origin is unknown i.e. fished out of storm drain or spillway, you can contain the duckling with an upside-down laundry basket (as described above) and monitor to see if the mother returns. If she doesn't come back after 4-8 hours, call your local fish and game agency to locate a wildlife rehabilitator. These are tough judgment calls. If you need to hold the duckling(s) in captivity for a few hours, DO NOT give them water to swim in because ducklings are not waterproof until they're older. They may become chilled and die. Just give them a shallow pan of water (to drink) and some crushed, non-sugary cereal like Cheerios.
Q: How do I move a duck family out of a contained courtyard?
A: You can shepherd them out by creating a "moving wall," i.e. have people hold sheets between them and move behind the ducks, forcing them to walk in the desired direction. However, consider waiting to move them out because the young may be vulnerable. Sometimes we encourage the temporary feeding of greens like kale, spinach, and also poultry starter food, (available from an animal feed store) and setting up a shallow kiddy pool with ramps, until the ducklings can fly. We encourage provisioning particularly in cities, where early eviction can mean certain death.
Q: How do I catch and move a duck family if absolutely necessary for their safety?
A: The only way to catch adult ducks is to do so at night (they don't see well in darkness), by creeping up on them while they sleep, then gently cover them with a lightweight blanket or towel, and scoop them into a carrier. Catch the ducklings next with a net or sheet, but try to minimize stress as they will be scared and may scatter. Be sure the net doesn't have large holes in which they may escape or become entangled. Consult your state fish and game agency prior to any intervention for any special authorization you might need.
Q: Ducklings fell through a sewer grate! How do I get them out?
A: These are tricky situations. Often you'll have to contact your town's Public Works Department for assistance with removing the grate. The police can be a valuable resource in terms of helping you contact the correct town employee. You'll need a fishing net or a fabric "hammock" stretched between two golf clubs to catch the ducklings below the grate. You may have to be creative in terms of capture strategies, depending on the logistics of where they're stuck. Once you catch them, make sure they are dry (or use a hair dryer) before setting them back outside for the mother to retrieve. Put an upside-down laundry basket over them until the mother comes (so they don't scatter), and then slowly lift it when she reappears. If she doesn't come back by nightfall, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator.
Sea turtles, air-breathing reptiles with streamlined bodies and large flippers, are well adapted to life in the marine environment. They inhabit tropical and subtropical ocean waters throughout the world.
Of the 7 species of sea turtles, 6 are found in U.S. waters: green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The 7th species, the flatback sea turtle, is found only in Australia.
Although sea turtles live most of their lives in the ocean, adult females must return to beaches on land to lay their eggs. They often migrate long distances between foraging grounds and nesting beaches.
All marine turtles occurring in U.S. waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and are under the joint jurisdiction of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Green turtles and olive ridley turtles have breeding populations that were listed separately under the ESA, and therefore, have more than one ESA status.
In 1977, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to jointly administer the Endangered Species Act with respect to marine turtles. NOAA Fisheries has the lead responsibility for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles in the marine environment and USFWS has the lead for the conservation and recovery of sea turtles on nesting beaches.
Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: destruction and alteration of nesting and foraging habitats; incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries; entanglement in marine debris; and vessel strikes. To reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA Fisheries has enacted regulations to restrict certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that have known, significant bycatch of sea turtles. To effectively address all threats to marine turtles, NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed recovery plans to direct research and management efforts for each sea turtle species.
The tourist trade is the main reason why turtle numbers are in decline. Tourism poses the greatest threat to turtles for a number of reasons. Turtles migrate huge distances but during certain times of the year they congregate in shallow waters to breed. Females go ashore to lay clutches of up to 150 eggs. Two months later, tiny hatchlings emerge from the sand and make their way to the sea. But many of the tropical and sub-tropical beaches that turtles have used for millions of years are now inhabited by tourists.
Many females will not lay their eggs if there is too much noise or lighting from local resorts. Also, nests can be damaged by sunbathers and newly hatched turtles can become disoriented by beachfront developments and may never reach the sea.
In the Mediterranean, the nesting period of the loggerhead and green turtle coincide almost exactly with the peak tourist season (May to August).
Speedboats can be deadly, especially during the mating season when turtles spend long periods of time close to the surface.
Turtles are still killed for their shells, which are made into souvenirs such as combs and ashtrays.
The conservation and recovery of sea turtles requires multi-lateral cooperation and agreements to ensure the survival of these highly migratory animals. NOAA Fisheries has a broad national and international program for the conservation and recovery of marine turtles. The Office of Protected Resources works closely with 2 international environmental agreements that deal exclusively with sea turtle conservation.