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Beach Cleaning in Indian Rocks Beach, FL


I hate when beach goers dump their garbage around the beach because then animals will mistaken it for either food or a toy and it could kill them. Yet, every time I walk on the beach and find garbage, I pick it up and throw it in the nearest garbage bin I can find around there. I actually filmed this myself picking up all the marine debris in all hopes it would bring awareness to the effects that marine pollution can have on animals like death by ingestion or entanglement and if you think that I’m just exaggerating, then you may want to check out the statistics.

The Statistics speak for itself.

However, it is never too late to save marine life from the hazards entanglement brings to  them. Here are a few things you can do to prevent marine pollution.

1. Never leave trash behind at the beach.

2. If you spot some trash on the beach, be sure you pick it up and trow it away in a nearby garbage can. In addition, you can always use an unused plastic bag in your possession to do some additional cleaning.

3. Take part in annual beach clean ups.

4. Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

5. If you see a sick or injured animal, please call wildlife authorities right away.

This trash can is where garbage belongs. You can find these garbage cans at your local beach so it can be easier for you to reduce littering that normally occurs there.

Amazing Marine Mammals: Narwhal


The narwhal has longed been linked with the mythical unicorn for centuries due to it’s long spiral tusks. (Photo is public domain).

The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is regarded as one of most complelling animals of arctic because of the remoteness and harshness of their frozen envrionment as well as their unsual apperance. For centuries, they have long been linked with mythical unicorns because of the fact that adult males have long spiral tusks that were unlike any other animal in nature that have ever existed. In fact, during the Middle Ages, traders and chemists alike have long been said to have conspired to cover up the existence of the arctic whale in order to sell the tusks off as “unicorn horns” for profit. Today, this marine mammal is no longer linked to mythical horned horse and has no become the subject of many field studies that aim at understanding the lives of narwhals year round.

Narwhals have short rounded heads with no beaks while their melons being bluff, protuding foward of the small upturned mouth. (Artwork by Science Photo Library).

Being one of two members of the Monodontidae family which the beluga whale is also part of, narwhals looks a little bit like belugas except, they are a little bit different from them. For example, adult narwhals have strongly conevexed flukes that are similar to that of butterfly wings while their small flippers short and broad. However, what makes narawhals very unique as a species of whale is the fact that they are the only cetacean species on Earth to lack functional teeth inside their jaws. In addition, starting at three years of age, male narwhals begin to develop their tusks which can grow up to 9 feet long and weight up to 22 pounds. Females on the other hand, remain tuskless for life. Unlike beluga whales which are completely white at adulthood, adult animals are always spotted with a black and white dorsal coloration although calves are born completely grey. Anyway, males can grow up to 15 feet long and weight in at 3.500 pounds while females weight in at around 14 feet long and weight in at 2,200 pounds. The ancesctors of modern day mondotiades, which includes both the narwhal and beluga first appeared in the fossil record around 3-5 million years ago though little is known about the evolution of this species of whale.

Narwhals are only found exclusively in the Arctic.

Narwhals have a dicontinuous distribution within the high Arctic region. However, they are commonly found in deep waters that branch northward from the North Atlantic basin which includes northwestern Hudson Bay, the Hudson Strait, Foxe Basin, Davis Strait, Baffin Bay, and Lancaster Sound. However, they often found in the Greenland Sea in which a population in that area has been known to mirgrate to the northern Barents Sea. Yet, their migrations are turned to the formation and movement of sea ice because as the ice breaks apart in the spring, hundreds of narwhals follow receding edges of pack ice and use the small cracks and melt holes to penetrate deep sounds and fjords right away. There, they will reside there throughout the summer and early fall while heading to offshore areas during the winter months.

Narwhals are the only know cetacean species to have no functional teeth in the jaw area. (Photo is public domain).

Narwhals are deep divers. They feed in in entire water columns, taking pelagic fish, squid, shrimp, and bottom-dwelling fish. On average, dives can last up to 20 minutes and they have been known to reach depth of more than 3,300 feet below the surface of the ocean. Researchers believe that narwhales suck their prey into their mouths and swallow it whole. They do not use their tusk as a spear weapon.

While narwhals live close-knit groups of up to 20 animals, they are seem to be more scattered and solitary. (Photo by National Geographic).

During the summer months, narwhals form large aggregations that consist of hundreds of animals although they may consist of much smaller close-knit groups of a few animals that number around no more than twenty individuals. These pods are usually homogeneous and consit of either animals of the same gender (like pods that are made of females with calves or breeding males), or of a single age class. In the winter however, these pods get scattered and result in solitary animals, perhaps it could be because of owing to the patchiness of cracks and holes in the ice. Adult males are known to fight one another due to the strong evidence of scars and wounds in the head region. Such fighting among the males could play a role in establishing dominance and breeding opportunities. Despite the fact that narwhals have been known to cross tusks above the surface, there’s no evidence to prove that that they fence with them.

At birth, narwhal calves are grey, just like beluga whales. (Photo by superstock.com)

Narwhals sexually mature at around four to seven years of age while they mate during the winter and early spring months when they become inaccessible for observation by researchers. With a gestation period of about fifteen months, the grey calves are born being around 5.3 feet long and weighting in are no more than 176 pounds. Births occur during  the summer months and will be weaned off at around a year old. Calves will normally still with their mothers for about three years and if they survive into adulthood, they may around 25-50 years.

For centuries, the Inuits of the Canadian Arctic have been known to have hunted the narwhal for food, oil and ivory. (Photo is public domain).

Although narwhals are not endangered, they have been threatned by centuries of commercial whaling which was for their meat, oil, and tusks, all of which have been subjected to forgein trade even though hunting them was only on a casual basis. When laws were established to have such trades banned, it also stated that only the Inuit tribes can sustainably hunt them for traditonal pruposes while only using arrows instead of commerical weapons. Surveys done on narwhals estimate that there are about 50,000 animals roaming the Arctic Ocean although some populations are being threatned by climate change and interbreeding with beluga whales.

Feeding Wild Dolphins=Illegal


Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, it’s illegal to feed wild dolphins in US waters (photo is a screen from a youtube video of a tourist feeding a wild dolphin in Georgia)

With summer being around the horizon, I know that a lot of people will likely be visiting coastal areas for their vacation which also means for boat-goers it means that it’s a time to take that boat out to water to enjoy the beauty of nature. Some of these boat-goers will likely be wanting to see some marine life in their natural habitat and from my experience of seeing marine life out in the wild, it’s truly magical to see humpbacks breaching, or manatees coming right up to boat out of curiosity, or the sight of a pod of wild dolphins swimming passed your boat. However, some people love wildlife so much that they often go a little too far, and that does include feeding wild dolphins sadly. In the United States alone, it’s illegal to feed wild dolphins in US waters under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that bans any disturbance of any wild marine mammal in American territorial waters. It also defines harassment as any act of unlawful pursuit, torment, or annoyance that may cause potential harm marine mammals in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns such as feeding, migration, breeding, nursing, breathing, and sheltering.

Feeding wild dolphins can be very harmful to them on every level because their behavior will change from being hunters to becoming beggars once humans start feeding them. Studies that have been done on beggar dolphins for decades have shown that wild dolphin pods that receive handouts from humans were more likely to be unwilling to hunt for their own food because they have been used to receiving handouts. To make matters worse, it has also been known to cause a huge high in juvenile mortality rates for the young animals were never properly taught by their mothers how to hunt, which has made them at risk of predation by sharks and killer whales. In addition, reports from NOAA have shown that beggar dolphins have been known to become very aggressive towards people who had no handouts left for them while there’s evidence of them trying to steal fish off of fishing lines after they have learned to receive food from people.

Remember, feeding wild dolphins is such a huge offense that it’s a $20,000 fine or a year in jail and if you see someone trying to feed a wild dolphin, please report it to NOAA officals right away at 1-800-853-1964.

Sea Turtle Nesting Season Is In the Air


Every year from April through October, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles nest on beaches across the southeastern United States from South Carolina to Texas. (Photo by the Fish and Wildlife Service).

The summer season can mean a lot to many people. For school children of all ages, it means summer vacation and a week or two at camp while for some college students, it means either having a summer job or hacing an internship, and for the adults, summer means backyard cleaning and back-to-school shopping for the kids. For sea turtles, however, the summer season means that it’s nesting season because from April through October, thousands of female sea turtles will come to shore on the beaches of the Southeastern United States to lay their eggs with the peak season being in late June and early July for loggerheads. During the night, females will leave the water and crawl up the beach where they will start digging an egg chamber cavity for their eggs before the egg-laying process begins. On average, female sea turtles will lay up to 100 golfball-sized eggs . Once the ggs are laid, the females will then gentely cover the nest with sand before returning to ocean since they do not raise their hatchlings. The hatchlings will develop in the eggs for the next 44-55 days while the sand temperature will determine their gender. If the sand temperature is too warm, then, the hatchlings will be all females while the cooler sand temperature will make all the hatchlings males.  Once the eggs are fully incubated, they will hatch and the hatchlings will emerge from the nest in mass numbers as they make their way into the ocean. However, only 1 in 4,000 sea turtle hatchlings will survive into adulthood and if they do, female hatchlings will return to the same beach where they were born 12-20 years later while their brothers will remain at sea for the reat of their lives.

While watching a sea turtle lay her eggs on a beach is an amazing site to see, it’s very important that such observation has to be done in a very responsible manner. This is because many times when beach goers try to observe a nesting sea turtle, it often results in the female making a false crawl, due to the use of lights that the beach goers use to help them find their way around at night, and you should never ever have a light on you when observing nesting females on a beach. Still, here are some ways you can observe nesting sea turtles without disturbing them.

  • Turn off the lights because both adults and hatchlings rely on the light and reflections of the moon to find their way to the beach and back out to sea. Artifical lights can put sea turtles in dangerous sitiuations, many of which can lead to death.
  • Limit noise by using only soft voices so it would not be disturbing for the nesting turtles.
  • Be sure you give sea turtles the proper amount of space before and after they lay their eggs. When a turtle does begin the egg-laying process, she may be apporached or viewed more easily.
  • Do not take flash photographs, only take flash-free photos from behind the turtle as she lays her eggs.
  • Please do not litter on the beaches because both adults and hatchlings can get either trapped or entangled in the rubbish.

I hope these turtle viewing tips will help observe sea turtles during the nesting season and I hope you get the chance to see a nesting turtle.

Have a great evening everyone,

~Jenna~

A Letter to Congress Concerning the Exclusion of the the John H. Prescott Grant Program


Boomerang, a young California sea lion who resides at Mystic Aquarium, was rescued by the California-based non-profit, the Marine Mammal Center. Both Mystic and Marine Mammal Center operate Prescott grant-funded rescue and rehabilitation programs.

The following post is a letter I just wrote to my congressman Charlie Bass (R-NH) about my concern over the exclusion of the John H. Prescott Grant Program from next year’s federal budget. This grant was established by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service 12 years ago to provide government funding to marine mammal rehabilitation facilities, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium, Marine Mammal Center, SeaWorld, National Aquarium in Baltimore, and Monteray Bay Aquarium in order to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate, and release marine mammals in trouble.  

To Congressman Bass,

I am writing on behalf of marine mammal rehabilitation facilities nationwide that could suffer from budget cuts if the John H. Prescott Grant Program continues to be excluded from the 2013 federal budget. Last summer, I did an internship at the Clearwater, FL-based Clearwater Marine Aquarium and I saw the work they have put in rescuing and rehabilitating troubled dolphins, otters, and sea turtles in all hopes that they could go back into the wild someday.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium, like all other marine life facilities that specialize in marine mammal strandings and rehabilitation, coordinate with NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and respond to over 5,000 animals each year. In response to the public demand for funding, NOAA established the John H. Prescott Grant Program in 2000 to fund the works of all these organizations which has financially sustained them for the last 12 years. Sadly, however, the Prescott funding has not been included in the 2013 funding.

Marine mammals, such as orcas, dolphins, and seals play a huge role in the marine eco system and often serve as sentential of ocean health and are often early indicators of unhealthy ocean conditions, such as the effects of oil spills, pollution, habitat loss, and the ever growing concern of climate change which has been recognized with bottlenose dolphin populations in the Gulf Coast that have been effected by the most recent oil spill.

Organizations, such as Clearwater Marine Aquarium, and the California-based Marine Mammal Center, are all funded by the Prescott Grant and serve as America’s first responders in these cases and provide the only chance biologists will get to study and understand the how and why marine mammals strand in the first place and provide surveillance for possibly dangerous risks. Without this grant, these organization will have a hard time funding future rescues, rehabilitation and conservation efforts, and just to make matters worse, they may not be able to fund their own future projects in regards to facility upgrades nor operation costs. Because these facilities rehabilitate marine mammals, they meet certain standards of care for their patients which has been established by the US National Marine Fisheries Services and if the Prescott grant continues to remain excluded from next year’s funding, the animals that are being rehabilitated by these facilities will suffer too.

Many zoo and aquarium professionals, patrons, and marine biologists are all calling for this life-saving grant to be included in the 2013 federal budget. This is because it allows organizations to continue their work to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals in trouble as well as study the unhealthy effects on the marine ecosystem and what could be done to protect marine mammals and their habitats. I myself am also calling for Congress to restore the Prescott funding because it allows these organizations to keep going on preserving and keep a pulse on marine life and the health of all marine ecosystems.

Thank you for taking the time for understanding the importance of the  John H. Prescott Grant Program and how it’s used to keep marine mammal rescues going.

Sincerely,
Jenna Costa Deedy
Student at Nashua Community College                                                                                                                                                                                               Writer for the aquarium internship blog, the Winter Dolphin Chronicles
Nashua, NH.

You too can write to your representative and tell them that we can’t afford to cut the Prescott grant program because without it, marine mammal rescue organizations will have a difficult time funding rescue and conservation efforts just go to https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml and start writing.

Have a good evening everyone,

~Jenna~

Dolphins in Danger: Vaquita


The vaquita, or the Gulf of California porpoise is the most endagnered species of porpoise in the world. (Photo by Thomas A. Jefferson).

The vanquita (Phocoena sinus) is the smallest species of porpoise in the entire world. Although the vaquita resembles the common harbor porpoise, they have longer pectoral fins, a tall, triangular, dolphin-like dorsal fin, little or no beak, and are evenly grey on the back and lighter on the sides with no sharp demarcation between the colors.  Males may grow around 4.9 feet long with females being larger at around 4.11 feet long while animals of both genders may weight around 120 pounds.  Fossil records tell us that this endagnered porpoise evolved from an ancestral population of harbor porpoises that moved northward into the Gulf of California region during the beginning of the last Ice Age around 1 million years ago.

 

The vaquita can only be found in the Gulf of California. (photo is public domain).

As the only species of porpoise to be found in warm waters of the eastern Pacific, the vaquita in found only exclusively in the northwestern corner of the Gulf of California. From confrimed observations, they have been known to only swim in water that is less than 130 feet deep within 25 miles offshore. Although they are found at open sea, they are generally found in shallow areas that are less than 6 feet deep at low tide, including straits and sea bays. Fossil records tell us that this endagnered porpoise evolved from an ancestral population of South American Burmeister’s porpoises that moved northward into the Gulf of California region  during the beginning of the last Ice Age around 1 million years ago.

The vaquita is usually sighted either alone or in small pods that are up to seven animals.

Vaquitas are normally solitary animals that can sometimes be seen in pods of up to 2-7 animals although reports of them living in pods of 10 have been reported. However, unlike most other cetacean species, they do not apporach vesasels and are generally undemonstrative at the surface, only emerging briefly. Yet because of this behavior, vaquitas can be effectively surveyed only when conditions are ideal of calm winds and good lighting. Because theyare so elusive by nature, the vaquita is very diffcult to observe.

Although little is known about the life cycle of the vaquita, their gestation period is around 11 months.

Little is known about the breeding cycle of the vaquita but researchers tell us that it’s similar to that of the harbor porpoise in most respects. If so, then their gestation period is likely around 11 months and they may sexually mature at around three to six years of age. From what researchers know, most calves are born in late winter and early apring (February-April), with a peak in late March and early April. During her 22-year lifespan, a female vaquita may have one calf every two years.

The vaquita is endangered due to fishery conflicts and accidental byctach.

While there are no records of the vaquita ever  being subjected to whaling, they have victimized bu commercial fisheries since the 1920’s. The large-mesh gillnets that are used to catch large fish such as tuna and totoabas have proven to be fatal to the vanquitas as it has to other cetacean species. As a result, the entire population has rapidly declined by around 8% each year as these nets continue to kill more porpoises than are born. In the 1970’s, the Mexican government banned commercial totobas fisheries , but illegal fishing still continues along with gillnetting for sharks and rays. It’s estimated that around 245 vaquitas are left in the entire world. If prompt progress is not made by the Mexican government to better protect them, researchers believe that the vaquita may become the second cetacean species to become extinct during a human lifetime in the next few years.

What can be done to save the vaquita?

1. Tell your friends, family, and social networking followers about the plight of the vaquita.

2. Don’t buy seafood products that came from fisheries that use gillnets.

3. Support tourism in Mexico

4. Write a letter to Congress or even the Mexican Embassy and ask them to support Mexican action to protect the vaquita.

5. Support wildlife conservation.

 

 

 

How Pollution affects Orcas


Without further regulations that would either ban or place restrictions on the entry of pollutants in the oceans, wild orcas like Samish (J-14) would likely endure a bleak future. (Photo of Samish is by the Whale Museum's Killer Whale Adoption Program)

Around the world, killer whale populations are falling victim the effects of pollution mainly caused by man-made toxins. These toxins, which are usually made of various chemicals, are used on land often end up entering waterways through runoffs and eventually end up as pollution in the ocean. Various chemicals, such as flame retardants, industrial pollutants, oils, and pesticides have all been known to enter the oceans through waterways and they are all having a major impact on marine wildlife, including killer whales.

Because killer whales are known as the top predator of the ocean, it's very easy for pollutants to become concentrated and reach dangerous levels their bodies since these pollutants make their way through the marine food chain.

While wildlife experts agree on the fact that pollutants make their way through the marine food chain, some of them often get sorted into the body tissues of animals after they are ingested. For example, In the Pacific Northwest, the marine food chain is consisted of  zoo plankton feeding on phytoplankton, krill feeding on zoo plankton, salmon feeding on krill, and orcas (killer whales) feeding on the  salmon, which has become endangered because of pollution, over-fishing, and habitat loss. In the case of transient orcas,  dolphins, seals and sea lions feed on the salmon, while the mammal-eating transients feed on the very same marine mammals that feed on the salmon. This means that prey animals that contain toxins in their bodies pass them on to animals that are higher on the food chain and because of this, killer whales have been shown to have high and dangerous levels of concentrated pollutants in their bodies.

In the Pacific Northwest, resident killer whale populations in Washington and in British Columbia are among the most intoxicated marine mammals in that region due to not only being urban animals, but also, the salmon they depend on is also contaminated with pollutants. Research has also shown that resident orcas have 200 times more pollutants in their system in most humans do. (Photo of resident orca is public domain).

In Norway, studies on Norwegian herring-feeding killer whales have found that this population of killer whale has very high levels of PCBs. PCBs are type of industrial chemical that is used in transformers, oils, and insouciance. As a result, this makes Norwegian killer whales have the highest level of containments in high Arctic. (photo of Norwegian orca was taken by Jonathan Ball).

Studies done on the contamination levels of Pacific offshore killer whales have discovered to be very high because they are known to feed on large fish such as great white sharks, and tuna which can bio-accumulate containments over a period of a lifetime. (Photo of offshore orca is public domain).

Transient orcas, which specialize in feeding marine mammals, are more contaminated than resident orcas due to dietary differences. Their bodies are so full on toxins that when they are found dead on beaches, their remains are often treated as toxic hazardous waste when necropsies are performed on them. (Photo is public domain).

New Zealand is home to a small population of ray-feeding killer whales that have also been known to feed on certain species of sharks. In 2010, a study done by Dr.Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust of New Zealand have shown that this population of about fewer than 200 animals are the most containment animals in the Southern Hemisphere. This could also be due to the fact that the mammals are mainly seen in harbors where such containments can mainly be found. (Photo of wild orca pod off the coast of New Zealand was taken by Dr. Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust).

In the 1970’s, various pollutants were banned world wide because of the negative effects they posed both to humans and wildlife. Yet, many of these pollutants can still be seen in the form of containments and in various forms and it’s still to this day having a huge impact on marine wildlife, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). PCBs are a type of organic compound that has a 1 to 10 chlorine atom attached to biphenyl, which is molecule composed of two benzene rings. When PCBs are ingested, they aren’t neither metabolized nor eliminated for these fat-soluble molecules go on to accumulate in fats, such as blubber. Just to make matters worse for the killer whales, the PCBs are affecting their reproductive health too and this is because they are known to be estrogen imitators and cause low sperm count in both humans and animals alike, including killer whales. Also, out in the wild, when a killer whale calf is born, chances are, it was born with toxins that have been passed on to them by the mother through the placenta  and goes on to receive these same toxins it developed before birth by nursing on the mother’s fat-rich milk. In some cases, the calf (mainly the first-born) dies likely due to heavy exposure to toxins. However, calves the mother goes on to have after that have been known to fare better because of the mother’s toxin levels decrease over time. PCBs have also been known to cause other problems too such as cause disease and developmental problems.

What can you do to reduce pollution…..

  • Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
  • Clean garbage off a beach
  • buy organically grown food to reduce the use of pesticides
  • Use biodegradable cleaning products that are plant-based.
  • Dispose paint, thinners and motor oil to prevent them from going down the drains

If you have any questions, or comments about killer whales, please email me at Animaltrainer104@aol.com and I hope you to do your part in caring for killer whales and the oceans by reducing pollution.

~Jenna~