Friday, 12 August 2011

Cape Cod Bay holds Hidden Risk for Dining North Atlantic Right Whales - Science Daily

photo credit C. Hotchkin

As I've mentioned before, North Atlantic right whales are one of the most endangered species in the world - marine or otherwise. Only about 450 individuals are left. Needless to say, conservation efforts are trying to move forward quickly with research helping us to better understand how to protect them. The number one threat to North Atlantic right whales is ship strikes. While feeding on tiny crustaceans called copepods (think Plankton from SpongeBob), these whales cruise along just below the surface where they are difficult to see but still in danger of being hit by boat propellers. What's more is they're pretty much silent feeders.

"Auto-detection buoys are making a remarkable attempt at recording the whale sounds to show when whales are in the area," said Susan Parks, assistant professor of acoustics and ecology and senior research associate, Penn State Applied Research Laboratory. "But North Atlantic right whales don't make call sounds when they are eating, so they don't show the whales when they are feeding."

Researchers are attaching suction cups with acoustic recording tags to the whales (pictured above) to track their movements in an effort to learn where they go to feed and what areas to focus on protecting.

Full article here (Science Daily)

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The 'Steve' is Free!

photo credit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

Great news from Lerwick - the Sea Shepherd's flagship vessel, Steve Irwin, has been freed! Thanks to all of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's supporters, they were able to raise more than $735,000 in under two weeks to post a bond to the British courts, freeing the ship from detainment...with one minute to spare! A court date has not yet been decided for the civil case brought by Fish & Fish Limited for the freeing of illegally caught tuna in Libya.

A message posted on the Sea Shepherd's website:

"We sincerely thank everyone that donated to help Save Our Ship. Your help enabled us to ‘Free the Steve’ and it will soon be on its way to the Faeroes. However, despite everyone’s best efforts, we had to cut into our already scarce budget to meet the bond amount and ‘Free the Steve.’ We face the ongoing costs of Operation Ferocious Isles, the transit of our vessels from the northern hemisphere to the southern for Operation Divine Wind, and finally, the cost of that Antarctic campaign as well. We are all on the same crew, despite our different roles and varying locations. We all feel that inner drive to protect innocent lives and ecosystems, and I know many of you have given what you can— but please keep your donations coming in. Without your help, we cannot continue this important work."

Full article here (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society)

Monday, 1 August 2011

'Shark Week' Returns to Discovery...But what Message is it Sending?

photo credit Discovery

Guys, it's back. It's Shark Week.

As a friend of mine put it quite nicely on Tumblr: "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

For a week every summer, sharks take center stage and thousands of crazed fans sit in front of their TVs and computers, eyes glued to the screens, waiting for the next clip of an airborne great white chomping the hell out of a seal, or for little nuggets of trivia for quiz nights at the pubs. Shark Week has exploded in popularity, and it's really impossible to not be aware of it's approach weeks before it's actually here. Even for losers like me without a TV. For a breif history on Shark Week, see last year's post here.

So - if we can be serious here for a minute - I took a look at this year's schedule and was instantly disappointed. There's still a HUGE focus on shark attacks and it still casts sharks in a pretty bad light. I'd like to take this moment to remind everyone that approximately 5 people are killed each year by sharks, while 100 million sharks are killed each year by people. They are not the deadly killers - we are. So it's really not fair to have all the focus on how they're the big murderers of the sea. It's misleading to the general public who might only know about sharks what Shark Week tells them.

image credit unknown; clickthrough for larger
(please alert me if you know!)

The headlining shows have titles like "Great White Invasion" and "Killer Sharks" (shown with a photo of a child in bloody water... mean, seriously.) Have a look at some of these descriptions and see for yourself:

December 1957: the height of tourist season in South Africa. Merry vacationers from around the globe descend on an idyllic resort town along the sunny coast to enjoy the summer. It's not long until the white sands are clogged with dead bodies and the sapphire waters are red with blood. The culprit? The authorities suspected a single, massive rogue shark with a taste for human flesh."

"The white sands are CLOGGED with dead bodies and the sapphire waters are red with blood"? Really?

A diver is caught in the mouth of a great white, and survives. A woman is caught in a tug-of-war between a shark and her rescue crew. Scientists are surrounded by sharks and one has his leg bitten off, but lives to defend the shark. These and more are the world's five most amazing shark attack survivor stories."

Then they have another called "Rouge Sharks" that pretty much turns "Jaws" into a documentary. Thanks guys.

I scroll down to the comments and I feel a bit better. Most of what I see is criticism for the hyped-up bloodthirsty portrayal of sharks when actually they're extremely sensitive and important players in balanced marine ecosystems. If you click back to last year's post, you'll see that Discovery was initially promoted as an educational network. The Shark Week line-up this year seems far from it - and at a time when shark numbers are plummeting due to the shark fin trade. Shame on Discovery for turning a blind eye to a species they're quite aware they can actually help and focusing still on the money-making stories of deadly encounters and vicious killers.

I do like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, though, and assume that intentions are good and the raised awareness will help. I hope it does. But when people do things like the link I'm about to post, it banishes all doubt from my mind. Ignorance is bliss and sometimes people just suck.

Why would you post recipes for an endangered species during a week initially meant to raise awareness and educate people, Esquire?

I hate to be a party-pooper, but Shark Week has become a joke. you can't broadcast death and chaos for 55 minutes, and throw in a conservation message at the end while the credits have already begun to roll. It just doesn't work.

Now that you're all thoroughly bummed out by my stark realism...go play some shark games.

I turned myself into a shark: