Tag Archive | conservation

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.

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~

Making More than Just a Memory: An Article by the AMMPA (Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums)


Each year, millions of children, such as Katrina Simpkins of Indiana, patronize zoos and aquariums like Clearwater Marine Aquarium. (Photo by Katrina Simpkins).

National Poll Finds Accredited Marine Parks, Aquariums and Zoos Best Places for Children to Learn About, Connect with Marine Mammals. Children have a natural curiosity about dolphins, whales and other marine mammals. The best way for parents to encourage this interest – and to inspire a lifelong passion for wildlife conservation – is to log kids off the computer and visit an accredited marine park, aquarium or zoo, where learning best happens. That’s according to a new national public opinion poll that says the public strongly believes seeing and experiencing live animals is the best way for children to learn about marine mammals. Released today by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, the survey of more than 1,000 adults found that97 percent of people agree that marine life parks, aquariums and zoos are important because they educate children about marine mammals–animals that children might not have the opportunity to see in the wild.

Ninety-four percent of those polled agree that children are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at marine life parks, aquariums and zoos, and that visiting these facilities can inspire conservation action that can help marine mammals and their ocean environments. The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive®, also found that 94 percent of people agree that zoological parks and aquariums offer valuable information about the importance of oceans, bodies of water and the animals that live there. Parks provide important interactions that are a critical first step in promoting kids to take action to help animals and their habitats,”said Marilee Menard, executive director of the Alliance.

Additionally, the poll found that 89 percent agree that children learn more about marine mammals at an aquarium or zoo than in a school classroom, and 88 percent agree that you can learn about animals at marine parks in a way that can’t be replicated by watching film or TV programs. Some 91 percent agree that seeing a marine mammal at these facilities fosters a connection to the animal. When children – and adults – see and experience the excitement of being close to marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, and sea lions, it resonates in ways that even the most vividly illustrated book or video cannot. It is an emotionally enriching experience that fosters a sense of caring for these animals and their ocean environments,” said Menard, whose Alliance membership represents 48 accredited facilities that account for the greatest body of experience and knowledge about marine mammal care and husbandry in the world.
Other findings from the new public attitude survey include:

• 40 percent of Americans (about 125 million people) have visited a marine park, aquarium or zoo in the last 12 months, including 56 percent of households with children (about 20 million households).

• 94 percent believe the people who care for the animals at marine life parks,aquariums and zoos are committed to the welfare of the animals.

• 7 percent (ages 18-24) would be interested in swimming with dolphins.

• 93 percent believe that many of the successes to save endangered or declining species are at least in part a result of work done in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.
90 percent agree that species in the wild benefit when their biology and physiology is studied in marine life parks, aquariums and zoos.

•90 percent believe that interacting with dolphins in a marine life park, aquarium or zoo offers people a deeper understanding and appreciation of this mammal.

We pride ourselves on providing an educational and enjoyable experience for families,” Menard said. “Professionals at Alliance member institutions work every day to inspire guests of all ages to share their commitment to marine mammals, the need to protect them in the wild and to conserve ocean habitats.”

Methodology: 

Harris Interactive® conducted the study online on behalf of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums between Aug. 29 and Sept. 6, 2011 among a nationally representative quantitative survey of 1,011 U.S. adults ages 18 and over. The data were weighted where necessary to be representative of the total U.S. adult population on the basis of age, sex, race/ethnicity, education,region and household income. The propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums is an international association of marine life parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional organizations dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals and to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific study, and wildlife presentations.

A very special thanks to Lindsey Lucenta for providing this article which was written by the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Thanks again Lindsey.

~Jenna~

Oil in The Water: A Report on How the Gulf Oil Spill Is Affecting Cetaceans, Sea Turtles, and Birds


It could be years before anyone knows the full impact of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill

On April 20th, 2010, The Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It killed about 11 oil workers and caused the entire rig to sink into the Gulf about two days later. As a result, more than 206 million gallons of oil spilled into the gulf waters which would go on to affect more than 9,436 marine animals (NOAA, 2011). The animal victims were birds, cetaceans, and sea turtles and many of these animals are either endangered, or threatened. However, while most of the animals that were recovered from the oil spill were rescued and rehabilitated, others sadly, were not so lucky. In fact, the large majority of these oil spill victims have either died or have never been found. While studies are currently being done by wildlife officials to learn about the effects the Gulf oil spill is having on wildlife, it may be more than 20 years before we would learn about the full effects on wild marine animals and their habitats. This recent oil spill in the gulf coast has been taking it’s toll on wildlife, including dolphins, turtles, and birds, on a long-term scale.

Of the nine dolphin rescues that have taken placed during the oil spill, only one dolphin, a juvenile male dolphin named Louie was successfully rehabilitated. (Photo by Zimbo.com)

During the oil spill, which lasted for six months, about 100 cetaceans were collected from oil spill inflicted areas (NWF, 2011). Cetaceans like bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, have no fur which can be oiled and since they have blubber to help them prevent internal heat loss, they do no need fur for that purpose (NOAA, 2010); this means that cetaceans can not develop hypothermia like seals and sea otters can when in contact with oil. Still, oil could harm then in many ways. For example, when dolphins surfaced to take a breath of air, the oily waters can get into their blowholes before entering their lungs which can then, make breathing very difficult for them (New England Aquarium, 2010). To make matters worse, oil has been known to cause vision damage, since the oil can get into eyes of cetaceans. Oil can make it harder for whales and dolphins to catch and digest their food. For the large baleen whales, like the Bryde’s whale, oil can harm the baleen they depend on for filter feeding, thereby, deceasing their ability to feed, which could then, lead to starvation (NOAA, 2010). Overall, oil has been known to cause intestinal damage to cetaceans and even effect whale and dolphin health on a long term scale. As of January 2011, It has now been reported that bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico may now be experiencing reproduction failure as a result of this spill. This is because researchers had been discovering the bodies of dead dolphin calves, many of which were stillborn, premature, or have died shortly after birth (National Geographic, 2011). The spill has seen at least nine live dolphin rescues that have occurred throughout the Gulf region (NOAA, 2011). However, of those rescues, only one dolphin, a juvenile male bottlenose dolphin named Louie, was successfully rehabilitated and was later transferred to the Dolphin Research Center in Grassy Key, FL in February 2011 (Segal, 2011). However, while the oil spill did have a lot of impact on most dolphin habitats throughout the Gulf Coast, one population of bottlenose dolphins in Orange Beach, Alabama was determined to have been not affect by the Gulf oil spill (NOAA, 2010). Currently, research is being done by NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) to determine the oil spill’s effect on a population of endangered sperm whales in the Gulf Coast for, many cetacean experts had pointed out in the past that the deaths of three whales would push this particular population into extinction, just like the effects of Alaska’s Exxon Valdez oil spill did with a resident killer whale population in the 1990’s and 2000’s (Than, 2010).

After being rescued, oil-covered sea turtles were bathed using dish water soap to remove the oil off their skin (photo by NEAQ).

Sea turtles have inhabited the Gulf of Mexico for more about 100 million years. Five species of sea turtle, the green, Kemp’s Ridley, loggerhead, hawks-bill and leatherback sea turtles can all be found in Gulf coast waters and they were all put at a great risk by the BP oil spill (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Many sea turtles nest on Gulf Coast beaches that range from Mexico, to Florida. Because oil can damage turtle nests, wildlife volunteers in Alabama developed new ways to monitor turtle nests in beaches where the oil did not hit. The new methods included cleaning up any oil tar that may have washed up these beaches while conducting nighttime surveys along side clean-up crews; this criteria would start at nighttime, for, this was the time between April and October when female sea turtles came to these Alabama beaches to lay their eggs (Alabama Sea Turtles.com). However, the hatching season began to approach, there was a lot of public concern about newly hatched turtles entering the oil covered waters of the Gulf. If the hatch lings were to emerge on oiled-covered beaches, they can suffer from surface exposure, due to short-term exposure to oil tar that would cover the beaches where they hatched as they make it to the water (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). Just to make matters worse, when these turtle hatchlings do make it into water, it would be no safe haven either. Out in the ocean, young turtles rely on seaweed to serve as a shelter that both protect them from predators, and simply, to rest. However, when the seaweed that the young animals rely on as a main habitat got covered in oil, the hatchlings were to doomed to their deaths, because once seaweed is covered in oil, it suffocates and becomes deprived of sunlight. Therefore, the hatchlings, had no protection what so ever. So, in response to public concern about the oil affecting turtle hatchlings and nests, biologists throughout the country began to relocate more than 275 sea turtles nests from the Gulf coast to beaches near the Kennedy Space Center in hopes to prevent a high hatchling mortality rate (Lelis, 2010). By the end of the 2010 summer season, sea turtle biologists estimated about over 15,000 sea turtle hatchlings made it to safe waters of Florida’s Atlantic coast (National Geographic, 2011). Meanwhile, oil can also cause turtles to become both sick and injured. For example, turtles can develop fatal respiratory problems, like pneumonia and cause breathing difficulties when the animals breathe the deadly vapors (New England Aquarium, 2011). When the turtles were first rescued, they were mainly covered in oil, which can also, cause their skin to come off as a result of burning. So, to de-oil the animals, rescuers used dish washing soap to clean the oil off the animal and the process lasted for up to hour. In fact, NOAA statistics show us that about 575 sea turtles were rescued and rehabilitated by biologists and zoo professionals throughout the Gulf coast while 397 of these animals were released by into the wild (NOAA, 2011).

Not only did birds become sick and injured from being covered in oil, their habitats were affected by this disaster as well.

Of all the animals that have been victimized by the 2010 Gulf coast oil spill, birds were the most common victims of this environmental disaster. About 8,183 of the animal victims of the Gulf oil spill were aquatic birds that rely on marshlands and beaches as critical nesting and feeding grounds (NOAA, 2011). The oil causes their feathers to both, mat and separate in which, it could cause them to lose both, buoyancy and the ability to regulate their body temperature. The birds need to keep their feathers peen, then, they would be able to keep themselves warm, keep parasites off their feathers, stay dry, and ensure that the feathers remain in good shape (National Wildlife Federation, 2011). As a result the oil-covered survivors are captured and taken into wildlife rehabilitation facilities where they would be rehabilitated. The rescue efforts were very successful that, In total, about 1,246 sea birds were successfully released back into the wild throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle (International Bird Rescue). Yet, despite the successful rescue efforts, the oil spill did a large amount of damage to hundreds of seabird nesting grounds throughout the Louisiana coastline. Once the oil hit those nesting grounds, not only were the nests now contaminated with oil, the eggs got covered in the oil as well. This meant that when the birds were trying to escape the incoming oil, they were also deserting their nests and leave their now too soft, and too thin eggs behind (New England Aquarium, 2010). Experts who have studied bird colonies in Raccoon Island, Louisiana had admitted to not planning to rescue the nesting birds because they feared that they could have disrupted entire colonies like causing adults to kill their chicks and abandoning their nests (Brown, 2010). In the spring of 2011, bird experts from the National Audubon Society reported that some nesting colonies of endangered brown pelicans returned to their oil-inflicted nests; yet, they have insisted that it could be many years before the extend damage of their food supply is known (National Geographic, 2011). The most tragic sight that beach goers have been seeing lately is the sight of small shorebirds that are now feeding on oil tar along with their prey while at the same time, get their tiny feet and feathers covered with oil and bringing the tar back to their at-risk nests.

Unless efforts are made to stop offshore drilling in the Gulf Coast, The Future of the Gulf of Mexico's marine ecosystem remains uncertain. (photo by National Geographic)

While the total impact of the Gulf oil spill may not be known for many years, the effect that it had on wildlife in the past year is shocking. In the past year since the oil spill first happened, dolphins faced a huge unusual mortality rate, sea turtle eggs put at risk of never hatching because of the oil covered the nests while researchers worked to relocate the surviving nests to the Atlantic coast, and birds, victims of being oil-covered now have to live with nesting in contaminated nesting grounds and suffer a high chick mortality rate. It’s safe to conclude that the oil spill is right now having and having a lot of negative effects on animals native the Gulf coast. For example, most species of dolphins are not endangered, but counting all the dolphin deaths that have occurred since the oil spill is troubling because once a dolphin dies, it’s body sinks to the bottom of the sea; so, it’s hard to get a full count of how many more dolphins died than what the NOAA statistics report (Animal Planet, 2011). So while full surveys on post-oil spill animal moralities will take twenty years or so to complete, it’s safe to say that oil spills can be prevented. First, It has been recommended that oil engineers should always check for any leaks that might be suspicious while being cautious at the same time when both fueling and de-fueling because oil spills often happen because of employee carelessness (ask.com, 2010). As for if a person comes across a stranded animal, alive or dead, NOAA recommends for everyone to call their stranding hotline to report a sick, distressed, orphaned, dead, or injured animal. That way, the networks can respond to this stranding quickly and determine how and why the animals strand. That way, everyone would be doing their part in preventing oil spills and keeping the oceans oil free. Overall, the number one thing to do to ensure that no oil spill would ever happen is educating the public. Through education weather if it’s at a marine life facility, or on a eco-tour boat, educating the public about the effects that oil spills can have on animals is on thing that would ensure both a change in attitude towards wildlife and develop a new awareness about how oil spills can affect wildlife and the habitats they depend on.

Only education and a change in attitude towards the Gulf Coast along with long term research will eventually preserve the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico.

Why is the Florida Manatee Endangered?


the Florida manatee, which is the closest relative to the elephant, first appeared in the fossil record around 50 million years ago. (photo by yours truly Jenna)

 

The Florida manatee is considered to be one of Florida’s most symbolic marine mammals in the state of Florida. As the sub-species of the West Indian Manatee, this species can be found in both saltwater and freshwater habitats throughout Florida and other coastal regions of the Gulf of Mexico (Reeves). First appearing in the fossil record about 50 million years ago, manatees first appeared in the shallow bays and rivers of Florida around 15 million years ago (FWCC). They are also an instead favorite of scuba divers and kayakers who enjoy touring Florida’s wildlife parks for, they have been known to be very curious about the approaching people. Despite their popularity, manatees are one of the most endangered marine mammals in North America due to fishery conflict (better known as fishing entanglement), habitat loss and boat collisions. Of all These three causes, habitat loss in coastal areas has done a huge impact on manatees, because it has done a lot of damage to the the marine vegetation, and sea grass beds that they depend on. As a tragic result, chemical pollution that is produced from these newly developed coastal areas that travel into manatee habitats has now impaired their immune system; thus, putting them at risk for life threating infections (Bagheera). In fact, there are believe to be no more than 3,000
manatees remaining in US water. As a marine mammal species, they are legally protected by US national law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which prohibits any killing, capture, or inhumane harassment of these gentle giants for any purpose (SeaWorld).

Many manatees often fall victim to boat collisions.The first situation behind why manatees are endangered is due to boat collisions.

In 2010, a total of 83 manatees were killed by boat collisions throughout the state of Florida (FFWCC). This is because manatees have to go up to the surface in order to breathe air once every 10-15 minutes or else, they may drown. Another reason why boat collisions kill manatees is because they are slow moving animals. When a boat approaches, a manatee may have very little, or no time to escape the passing watercraft; thus, making it very vulnerable to the boat’s hull or propeller as it moves through shallow water (Rao, and Kimerly). In many cases, most manatees die from their injuries associated with these brutal collisions. For the very few animals who do survive these incidents, the scar patterns end up becoming the main method off identifying individual manatees when conducting a survey on them. In a 12-year-old study, researchers concluded that manatees continued to travel to the same feeding or breeding areas regardless, of the number of boats that were present in these areas. However, the use of sanctuaries by the animals did increase for, these areas provide a safe haven for them when it comes to feeding and reproduction purposes (Rao, and Kimerly).

Entanglement can cause permanent injury to manatees and other wildlife.

The second situation behind the endangerment of the Florida manatee is entanglement in fishing gear. Just like dolphins and sea turtles, manatees can easily get themselves entangled in fishing line while feeding. This is because manatees feed by grasping their upper lips and flippers on to aquatic vegetation. There hooks and fishing line get discarded after getting entangled in aquatic plants that the manatees feed on. As a result, the manatees, consequently, either swallow or get themselves entangled in fishing gear around the flippers or tail (Save the Manatee Club). Sometimes, the hooks can end up in the lips, mouth and internal organs of the animals too. Entanglement can lead to infections, long-term injuries, and even death. Manatees can also get themselves entangled by crab traps, thus, causing a huge problem for the marine mammals. The manatees find themselves entangled in ropes that connect traps to small buoys at the surface. Despite their small size, these traps contain heavier weight than hooks and fishing line, that, they can cause more server injuries. In many cases, the manatees end up drowning in the process. But for those who do survive, they have been sighted dragging the heavy dragging these traps for several miles before dying from an injury-induces infection.

During the Winter months, manatees are often seen residing near power plants and springs.

Finally, the reason why Florida manatees are considered to be endangered is because of habitat loss. As a tropical sea animal, manatees spend their entire lives in warm water that is no colder than 65 degrees (Fox). While they may spend most of their time around Florida waters, some manatees may migrate to waters off the coasts of Virginia and the Carolinas. However, development
along coastal regions of the Southeastern United States has resulted in loss of habitat area for the manatees (Fox). In one year alone, the population of coastal side towns in Florida and other Southeastern states grew to more than 1,000 people per day. To make matters worst, surveys done on manatee have shown a twenty-year increase in manatees migrating to artificial water refuges in the
winter time since there are a very few natural refuges that still exist within the state of Florida. These artificial refuges, which are located near seaside power plants, are small in comparison to natural refuges (DRC). As a result, manatee colonies overcrowd these tiny refuges that, it has been known to increase the spread of disease among the animals, and effect red tide locations. Because artificial refuges are run by power plants, these businesses are at risk of shutting down permanently. If these power plants were to shut down, then, the refuges they run would be to cold for the manatees to stay during the winter months, because power plants keep them warm throughout the winter months. This can result in a phenomenon called “cold-stunning”, which is a form a hypothermic reaction when manatees are exposed to cold water temperatures for a long period of time.

Zoological facilities like SeaWorld and the Lowry Park Zoo continue to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned, and injured manatees in trouble each year.

  Despite the threats that have caused Florida manatees to remain on the endangered species list, there has been a number of efforts to protect manatees and their habitats. In the case of the boat collision issue, the establishment of manatee sanctuaries has made it possible to reduce boat activity on manatee populations by allowing a small number of boats and tourists in critical manatee habitats, especially during holiday weekends and vacationing seasons (Rao, and Kimerly) . At the same time, observation by biologists has increased to monitor all manatee/boat interactions in hopes to prevent future collisions. To prevent entanglement in manatees, fishermen should avoid fishing in areas were manatees and other marine mammals are known to feed, breed, and raise their young. They should also not dispose any fishing gear in the water, because then, manatees, and other marine animals can easily get entangled in them (NOAA). Even a small amount of gear can lead to injury or death in a manatee. Finally, in the case of habitat destruction, there has been some effort to establish manatees sanctuaries and prevent further development in newly declared wild places. This does include some coastal areas that are declared as a sanctuary (Save the Manatee Club). In response to the high mortality rate in manatees, zoological parks in Florida that are authorized by the US Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue troubled wildlife have put in a series of efforts to rescue and rehabilitate sick, orphaned,and injured manatees. In one year alone, one marine life facility rescued a total of 13 manatees, while six were released back into the wild (SeaWorld). With conservation efforts continuing, there is hope that the Florida manatee will be saved from extinction.