Why Do Marine Animals Eat So Much Plastic?

It doesn’t just look like food. It smells like it too. Via NatGeo:

Algae are consumed by krill, a small crustacean that is the primary food source for many sea birds. As algae breaks down naturally in the ocean, they emit a stinky sulfur odor known as dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Sea birds in the hunt for krill have learned that the sulfur odor will lead them to their feeding grounds.

It turns out that floating plastic debris provides the perfect platform on which algae thrives. As the algae breaks down, emitting the DMS odor, sea birds, following their noses in search of krill, are led into an “olfactory trap,” according to a new study published November 9 in Science Advances. Instead of feeding on krill, they feed on plastic.

So humanity’s plastic debris is the perfect poison once it is in the ocean. Recycle, recycle, recycle. or don’t buy it in the first place (the ideal solution but I have tried avoiding plastic and it is NOT easy).

This is from Chris Jordan’s powerful campaign (which also produced the picture above) to help protect albatrosses from plastic debris:

Welcome To The (SeaWorld) Machine

Absolutely brilliant use of music and film to convey one visitor’s understanding of SeaWorld:

Fellow Prisoners: A day at Sea World from Justin Hofman on Vimeo.

Filmmaker’s explanation:

I never set out to make this short film. I hadn’t been to Sea World in probably 20 years but decided to give it a shot and take my niece. I tried to see the place through the eyes of young child but logic and my love for wildlife took over. I’ve spent most of my life committed to exploring wild places and observing wild animals. I understand why these places exist but also feel that it’s time we stepped back and reassessed our need to collect and to display conscious, intelligent animals.

Yes, let’s re-assess.

Marineland? Keep Moving, Nothing To See Here

No, that’s not my opinion. That’s what the Canadian Association Of  Zoos And Aquariums concluded after inspecting Marineland following revelations from former trainers about poor water quality, suffering animals, and a bleeding killer whale:

A national agency that oversees the care of animals in captivity says Marineland’s lone killer whale is in good health.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) conducted an unannounced inspection at the Niagara Falls theme park on Nov. 27 to assess several areas in the park, including the health of Kiska.

The female killer whale has been alone in a tank since November 2011 after Marineland was forced to return its male orca Ikaika to SeaWorld.

Former Marineland trainer Christine Santos told Toronto media in October that Kiska was bleeding sporadically from her tail and had been for some time.

In a CAZA accreditation report completed on Nov. 29 and obtained by The Review, the agency’s business manager Greg Tarry said he reviewed copies of Kiska’s medical records for November and was also given copies of the daily observation sheets completed by staff.

“This animal appears to be in good health and is eating a full ration,” Tarry wrote, adding he did not see any signs of bleeding or injury. “It is my opinion that there is no cause for concern on the part of the (CAZA) commission regarding the health of the animal at this time.”

According to the report, Marineland staff and management were “open and candid in their comments and provided any and all information and assistance requested” during the inspection.

“There were no concerns identified during the inspection that the commission need react to at this time,” Tarry wrote.

The inspection also included an assessment of the water quality.

“All of the water was clear and clean, there were no problems with color or odour of the water in any of the areas,” the report states.

“In addition, none of the animals in the water appeared to be experiencing any discomfort as a result of being in the pools. “

Hmm. That’s a pretty different story than that told by former trainers.  But who are you going to believe: the people who devoted their lives to caring for the animals or the industry group dedicated to promoting business and profits?

File it under another totally predictable outcome. I guess we’ll have to wait and see whether Ontario’s government decides to take any action, or not. You now what my prediction would be. Hope I’m wrong..

Devil Of A Dilemma: Nuclear Safety vs. Marine Mammal Safety

Sometimes decisions made years ago end up leading us into blind alleys that have no safe or easy way out. A perfect example is California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant (whose idea was it to build a nuclear reactor in a place called Diablo Canyon?).

The nuclear power plant opened in 1985, and generates electricity for more than 2 million homes. Here’s the thing, though: it turns out that Diablo Canyon was built on not just one geological fault, but two (the second discovered in 2008). The risk of building a nuclear power plant anywhere in earthquake country has always been controversial, but in the wake of the Fukushima Disaster, fears about what might happen at Diablo Canyon are suddenly very acute. That has prompted licensing authorities to want to know a lot more about the earthquake risks attached to Diablo Canyon. Which in turn has led California’s PG&E utility, which owns and operates the plant to propose an intensive program of seismic airgun testing right off the coast of Diablo Canyon. And that, in turn, could be a disaster for the marine mammals who thrive in those waters.

Here’s what the testing could mean for marine mammal life, according to an editorial in the Los Angeles Times:

But what if the research itself causes terrible environmental harm? That’s what the staff of the California Coastal Commission says would happen if plant owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is allowed to proceed with its proposal to blast underwater air cannons every 15 seconds in Morro Bay, for about 12 days a year over four years, to produce three-dimensional images of geologic faults. PG&E needs the commission’s permission to carry out the sonic imaging, but the staff is recommending against it.

Thousands of marine mammals, with their sensitivity to underwater sounds, would be affected in unknown ways by the disturbance, a staff report says. Of special concern are Morro Bay’s 2,000 harbor porpoises, a distinct population that remains in that area and doesn’t interbreed with other harbor porpoises. If they were driven from the bay by the cannons, their ability to survive would be uncertain. In addition, the blasts would kill millions of fish and other forms of sea life.

The editorial hopes that PG&E will be able to do other testing and surveys that will minimize the need for seismic airgun work, but in the end argues that the risk of a nuclear disaster is so terrible that some seismic testing may have to go forward. Somehow, the question of shutting down a nuclear power plant that almost certainly should never have been built, doesn’t seem to come up. Which is odd, because the very fact that there is a felt need to survey two geological faults suggests that there is a non-trivial earthquake risk. So it is hard to imagine how anyone could ever feel reassured about the risks the plant poses, no matter what the testing shows.

Point Buchon State Marine Reserve and Marine Conservation Area

Sea Shepherd has mobilized against the testing, and has a much more dire view of what it would mean:

According to a PG&E representative at an informational meeting, “the proposal calls for a 240-foot ship to tow a quarter-mile wide array of twenty 250 decibel “air cannons,” along a 90-mile stretch of California’s Central Coast. The cannons will shoot deafening underwater explosions once every twenty seconds, day and night, for 42 days and nights.  The region where this devastating assault on wildlife is expected to take place includes the “protected” Point Buchon State Marine Reserve.

The decision occurs at a time when humpback and blue whales have appeared in shockingly large numbers off the California coast to feed on krill. The seismic testing will kill great blue whales, gray whales and others, dolphins, porpoises, seals, sea lions, otters, and fishes. PG&E has offered to buy-off commercial fishermen in the area to compensate for anticipated losses if the plan is allowed to go forth.

PG&E plans to produce a 3-D map of the shoreline fault’s deeper regions. Hydrophones in the water and geophones on the seafloor would collect data on the sound as it resonates through sea and earth, and the resulting data is expected to help geologists map the fault. Nothing of this scope and power has ever been done in California waters before and according to the Environmental Impact Report, the toll on marine life from this kind of testing is staggering. In regions where this sort of testing has been done, countless dead marine animals wash ashore for weeks during and after testing, blood dripping from areas such as their eyes, nose, ears or mouth — a sign they have suffered catastrophic internal hemorrhaging.

This seismic testing is expected to yield only moderate mapping results and, according to Fish and Game Commissioner Richard Rogers, would “cleanse the Point Buchon State Marine Reserve of all living marine organisms” including Sperm, Pygmy Sperm, Humpback, California Gray and Great Blue Whales, and many other species of fish and marine mammals, right down to the plankton.

For anyone who lives near California’s Central Coast, there will be a public hearing tonight to discuss the dilemmas over Diablo Canyon.

Here’s what I would say, if I were there:

1)  Testing will, without question, harm or kill thousands of marine mammals. The only question is how many, and how many will die or be permanently disabled.

2) In the best case scenario, the testing might reveal a reduced risk of earthquake danger. But Diablo Canyon will still be located in a zone that carries earthquake risk.

3) In the worst case, testing might reveal a serious danger from earthquake.

4) Either way, decommissioning is really the only way to eliminate the risk of a serious nuclear tragedy.

5) Seismic testing won’t really change, or shouldn’t really change, the fact that decommissioning is the only way to make Diablo Canyon safe (and in fact it might simply emphasize that point if the testing reveals serious earthquake risk), so why kill and injure thousands of marine mammals when we already know this is the reality?

6) A Meta-Point: the decision to build Diablo Canyon despite the earthquake risk was a human decision. The electricity Diablo Canyon produces is consumed by humans. Why should marine mammals pay the price of human folly and consumption? (I know, that is a question that could be applied globally to almost any number of issues, but that only makes it THE critical question). In the end, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is entirely a human construct. Whatever costs are attached to dealing with the risks and dangers it poses should be borne not by marine mammals that had nothing to do with it, but by humans. It’s called taking responsibility.

Picture via Lady Blue Productions

Orca Morgan: Ingrid Visser’s Presentation To The Dutch Court

Credit: Ingrid Visser

On Nov. 1, there was a hearing in the Netherlands to review the legal process by which Morgan was sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. Dr. Ingrid Visser, on behalf of the Free Morgan Foundation testified on behalf of Morgan, arguing that Morgan’s life at Loro Parque violates the terms under which she was transferred, and that for Morgan’s well-being the decision to send Morgan to Loro Parque should be reversed.

You can read an account of the hearing (PDF) by the Free Morgan Foundation here.

You can read Visser’s full report on Morgan’s physical status at Loro Parque, submitted in advance of the hearing, here.

Here’s the statement that the Free Morgan Foundation and Visser are releasing along with her slide presentation to the Dutch hearing:


Dr Ingrid Visser presented startling new findings from her October visit to Loro Parque.  Following on the heels of the data and images submitted to the Amsterdam Court, from her June visit, Dr Visser returned to check on Morgan’s welfare.  Unfortunately, Visser has found that the intervening 19 weeks have showed not only an escalation in aggression from the other orca, but Morgan has begun to exhibit a stereotypical behaviour which has not been documented before.  In this case, Morgan repeatedly bashes her head against the side of a gate closing mechanism.  Additionally, Morgan’s boredom and stress have manifested themselves in an acceleration of tooth wear, with a third of some teeth now permanently damaged and the tops worn off.  Blue paint on the teeth clearly shows that Morgan is biting concrete below the water surface.  Trainers have been photographed ignoring Morgan whilst she vies for their attention.

And here is the presentation itself:

How Much Naval Power Do We Really Need?

I guess it’s infographic day down here in the bunker.

This one gets at the question raised by the U.S. Navy’s proposal to “take” 33 million marine mammals over the next five years. And if that’s the savage price the Navy thinks the world’s oceans should pay in exchange for sonar and weapons training, it’s worth looking at what sort of military competition our Navy is facing. Must be fierce.

Oh, wait (click image for full size).

Sorta feels like we are in pretty good shape, and that doing a lot less live sonar and weapons training, or doing it ALL in simulators, would not really jeopardize US naval power.


U.S. Navy Proposes “Taking” 33 Million Marine Mammals

This is stunning, and a perfect example of how the inertia of stale priorities–especially Cold War-era national security priorities–can take us down some disastrous roads.

From a New York Times editorial:

Between 2014 and 2019, the United States Navy hopes to conduct testing and training exercises in the Atlantic and the Pacific that will involve sonars and explosives of many different kinds.

Over the years, the Navy has been forced to acknowledge what science has clearly demonstrated: noise generated by sonar and underwater detonations can kill marine mammals, like whales and porpoises, and disturb their normal feeding, breeding and migration. In preparing for its upcoming exercises, the Navy has asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for approval to “take” a number of marine mammals — “take” being the broad term for everything from killing these creatures to disturbing their habits.

This all sounds as it should be, with the Navy requesting permission from the agency, as required by various laws protecting marine mammals and endangered species. But the numbers say something else. In its testing areas in the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific, the Navy estimates that between 2014 and 2019 it will “take” nearly 33 million marine mammals — everything from blue whales to elephant seals.

Most of these creatures will be disturbed in some way but not injured or killed. But the damage could still be considerable. Sound travels much faster through water than it does through air, magnifying its impact, and many of the sounds the Navy plans to generate fall in the frequencies most damaging to marine mammals. More than five million of them may suffer ruptured eardrums and temporary hearing loss, in turn disrupting normal behavioral patterns. As many as 1,800 may be killed outright, either by testing or by ship strikes.

So we’ve got whales versus sonar and naval training. That’s a trade-off that needs a much closer look, as the New York Times urges.

Seeing Is Important

No matter what your views on marine parks, it is important that you know as much about the lives of the animals there as possible. Otherwise, you can’t really hold whatever views you have honestly. A few days ago, a picture came across my desk, and Elizabeth Batt has written up the backstory over at Digital Journal.

I hesitated to publish the picture because it is dramatic and open to mis-interpretation. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt that not publishing it also is a dis-service, and also dishonest. And that you can never know or understand more by NOT seeing something.

So below is the picture that got Elizabeth going on her article. It shows a team at an Asian marine park trying to save a dolphin’s life by amputating an infected dorsal. One one level it is hard to object to what they are doing, as brutal as the procedure might be for an animal that can’t handle general anesthetic. But the picture also shows the sort of lives and experience marine mammals at marine parks live, in contrast to the lives they live in their natural environment.

If this dolphin came from the Taiji drives, as seems likely from Elizabeth’s reporting, you can say that it is “lucky” to be alive, and you would be right in the sense that getting sold to a marine park is possibly better than being slaughtered in a cove (though who really knows which of those two fates a dolphin would choose it if could choose between those two fates). But that doesn’t take away from the truth of what the picture shows about the alien (to a marine mammal) world of marine mammal captivity (plus, it is the sale of dolphins to marine parks that underlies much of the economic incentive for the Taiji drives, so there is a bigger picture).

Finally, yes, the ocean can be a tough place, and dolphins no doubt get injured and die at sea. But this situation is a result of human choices and human culture. So I am publishing the picture so it can be seen by human eyes.

The Terrestrial World Is Giving The Ocean World Flu

Parasites and pathogens that infect humans, pets and farm animals are increasingly showing up in marine mammals.

This isn’t really surprising, but it’s just one more reminder that EVERYTHING humans do matters to the system as a whole.

Here’s the gist (full story here):

Between 1998 and 2010, nearly 5,000 marine mammal carcasses were recovered and necropsied along the British Columbia and Pacific Northwest region of the U.S., including whales, dolphins and porpoises, sea lions and otters.

“Infectious diseases accounted for up to 40 per cent of mortalities of these marine animals,” says Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the Animal Health Centre in the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, and an adjunct professor in UBC’s Marine Mammal Research Unit.

“In many cases, the diseases found in these marine mammals have similar or genetically identical agents as those infecting pets and livestock. We don’t yet know how these diseases are affecting the health of marine mammals” says Raverty.

There are no obvious policy responses, except to say that it is increasingly important that the earth be viewed as a single, integrated, system with no barriers.

GMA Looks At The Death Of Kalina

Vodpod videos no longer available.


There’s a lot more about Kalina, her life, and her death, here. She was the first orca born in captivity. Here’s a video of her birth, at SeaWorld Orlando.

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