At Blue Ocean we thought we should do a wrap-up to 2017 by posting what we considered were the year’s, ten most important issues effecting the ocean. It turns out that is not so easily done, the issues are complex and multiple. So, we decided to do seven articles, each one on a group of related ocean issues. Today’s post Endangered Species, Good and Bad News is both an update and a review of the stories that we have been following through 2017 and to let you know how these species are faring at year’s end.
1, The Vaquita:
The world’s smallest porpoise and most endangered marine mammal now numbers less than fifteen despite the valiant efforts of an international team trying to save them.
In October we reported on the teams’ attempts in the northern, Sea of Cortez to locate, capture and transfer vaquitas into an open water pen where they could be protected and eventually after restoring their numbers be returned to the wild.
It is now reported that this last-ditch rescue effort has been called off after two vaquitas were captured, one was released because of stress, while the other died in captivity.
“There’s nothing worse than having an animal die in your hands,” says Frances Gulland, the lead VaquitaCPR veterinarian and a scientist at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.
This heartbreaking turn of events persuaded conservationists to turn their attention to ramping up enforcement against poachers using gil nets.
2, North Atlantic right whales
are now considered in critical danger of extinction. 17 right whales were found dead in waters off New England and Eastern Canada, making 2017 an ominous year for a species with a worldwide population of only 450. This high mortality rate was compounded by a year of low reproduction. It is estimated that there are only about 100 breeding females and their numbers have been in decline since 2010.
“You do have to use the extinction word, because that’s where the trend lines say they are” said John Bullard of NOAA. See the details in our post: 2017: A Bad Year for Whales.
Our article chronicles the worldwide decline in whale populations from humpbacks in Atlantic waters; to Pilot whales stranded on New Zealand beaches and slaughtered in the Faroe Islands; to the continued hunting of minke and sei whales by Japanese whalers for “scientific” purposes.
It was also a bad year for those attempting to save whales, see our post on Joe Howlett, a lobster fisherman turned whale rescuer out of Campobello Island: Whale Rescuer Killed After Saving Whale.
3, Penquins In Peril!
In November we reported: Population Plummets for World’s Most Endangered Penquin and described the plight of New Zealand’s Yellow-Eyed Penquin whose population numbers have declined from 7,000 in 2000 to less than 1800 today. The diminished numbers are a result of commercial fishing in the waters surrounding the penquin’s marine reserve. Depicted on the country’s $5 note the penquin is a beloved New Zealand icon but that alone, is not enough to ensure their survival
We also reported the heartbreaking news of a massive die-off of Adele penquin chicks in Terre Adelie, Antarctica. Normally there are as many as 18,000 breeding pairs in the colony, but in 2017 only 2 penquin chicks survived starvation. The catastrophic event has been linked to unusually extensive, late-summer, sea ice that required adult penguins to travel further for food for their chicks.
4, The Endangered, Endangered Species Act
One of the most disheartening items we reported, was that the Endangered Species Act that was passed by Richard Nixon in 1973 and has been respected by every president since, is now itself endangered.
Even though the act has been responsible for bringing numerous threatened species back from the brink, most notably the Bald Eagle, it frequently was targeted by commercial and industrial interests. Now a Republican Congress seems determined to undermine the 43 year-old law and weaken its enforcement capability. “I would be happy to invalidate the endangered species act” declared Rob Bishop, Republican from Utah.
5. Illegal Trafficking of Wildlife: What: You Need to Know!
In this early 2017 article we reported on the many endangered species threatened by the black-market trade in illegal animal products. Ranging from elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger parts; shark fins, manta ray gills and totoaba bladders; to the slaughter of sea horses and cute pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal.
The pangolin, a shy, nocturnal, anteater with a body covered in over lapping scales, has been likened to an artichoke with legs. Wiped out in China and endangered in most parts of Asia it is estimated that more than one million pangolins were poached in the last decade. (photo – Jefri Tarigan-AP)
What do these species have in common you ask? They are all highly prized by the insatiable appetites of the newly affluent of China and Vietnam and their “traditional medicine markets.” Even when there is nothing traditional about these products, creative black-market entrepreneurs can invent new “traditional” remedies for a myriad of ailments from impotency to broken bones. When the supply of shark fins runs low due to constant over-fishing, let’s turn to manta ray gills, close enough.
For more read EcoWatch’s report on the Wins and Losses in the battle to protect the endangered.
6. Will there be Mass Marine Extinctions in the Coming Decades?
There are many reasons why species disappear, certainly human greed and corruption play a huge part in the demise of many marine species. The changing climate causes the rise of sea levels, ocean temperatures and acidification. Unusual coral bleaching events are now happening every year. Coastal development destroys mangrove forests, a necessary habitat for fish and marine mammals.
The research of a scientist at MIT links past mass-extinctions of marine life to an accumulation of carbon in the sea. Although the last mass marine extinction occurred over 252 million years ago, Daniel Rothman, professor of geophysics, warns that the next extinction could be just decades away.
“Once a threshold is breached, the carbon cycle, and the Earth system more generally, are at risk of becoming unstable,” said Rothman, “Looking at past data, crossing the threshold is associated with mass extinction.”
The study published in Science Advances, reveals startling comparisons between past events and today’s rapid accumulation of carbon in the ocean.
COP12: Their Future is Our Future – Sustainable Development for Wildlife & People
We will finish this article with some good news. The recent COP12 – Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, (they love long names) was held in October in Manila and made headway on many issues effecting threatened species.
Of particular import was the extension of protections for six shark species including whale sharks and promised action on the threats of marine by-catch, ship strikes, marine noise and ocean debris including plastic pollution.
We also reported on the COP23 Sustainable Innovation Forum just held in Bonn, Germany, during which the health of the oceans was finally on the agenda.
Look for more in the series: Big Stories of 2017 where we will discuss important ocean issues like: over-fishing and slavery on the high seas; the progress made with Marine Protected Areas; Ocean Plastic Pollution; Sustainable Seafood; Coral Reefs and Coral Nurseries; Climate Change and Renewable Energy.
By Robert Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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