Tag Archives: dolphins

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand on animal exploitation

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand against animal exploitation by no longer selling bookings to attractions where travelers can make physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.

The policy, six months in the making, was formed with input from tourism, animal welfare and conservation groups including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but many of the millions of travelers who post reviews to the company’s website have been concerned about animal welfare for years, company spokesman Brian Hoyt said.

The company, based in Needham, Massachusetts, also will start providing links on its site to take users to educational research on animal welfare and conservation.

“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president.

But the president of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said she was “disappointed” TripAdvisor never consulted her Virginia-based organization, whose members include branches of the SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks and dozens of other marine life parks, aquariums and zoos internationally.

“It’s an unjust demonization of the interactive programs that are at the heart of modern zoo and aquarium programs,” president Kathleen Dezio said. “They give guests the magic, memorable experiences that make them want to care about these animals and protect them in the wild.”

The TripAdvisor policy, announced Tuesday, is in line with increasing public sentiment against the exploitation of wild animals to entertain people. SeaWorld this year announced it would stop using killer whales for theatrical performances, while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year stopped using elephants.

TripAdvisor will cease booking some attractions immediately, but the policy, which may affect hundreds of businesses, takes full effect early next year.

In announcing the policy, which also applies to the affiliated Viator booking website, TripAdvisor specifically mentioned elephant rides, swim-with-the-dolphins programs and tiger petting.

Several U.S. businesses that offer such attractions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The policy does not apply to horseback rides and children’s petting areas with domesticated animals. It also exempts attractions such as aquarium touch pools where there are educational benefits and visitors are professionally supervised.

TripAdvisor won’t bar user reviews of tourist attractions, even those it stops booking. The company has long banned reviews of businesses that use animals for blood sport, including bullfights.

A San Francisco-based travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt, said because TripAdvisor is so widely used the wildlife attractions could see a noticeable hit to their business.

However, if TripAdvisor merely stops selling the tickets but continues listing the attractions, he said, the effect won’t be long-lasting. He said those attractions may just go through other booking websites to sell tickets.

TripAdvisor said if a wildlife attraction changes its business model it would consider selling tickets again.

 

Perinatal dolphin deaths likely result of oil exposure

The increased number of stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the Gulf of Mexico from 2010 to 2013 were likely caused by chronic illnesses in mothers who were exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

A new paper, published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, is part of an effort to explain the unusual mortality event in the Gulf of Mexico involving bottlenose dolphins between early 2010 and continuing into 2014.

The investigations into both the fetal dolphin and the overall the effects of the Deepwater oil spill are continuing. The long-term effects of the spill on dolphin reproduction are still unknown.

The study found a higher rate of illness in dead fetuses and newborns after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr.Teri Rowles, veterinarian, co-author on the study, and head of NOAA’s Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, which is charged with determining the causes of these events.

“In contrast to control populations, we found that Gulf of Mexico bottlenose dolphins were particularly susceptible to late-term pregnancy failures, signs of fetal distress and development of in utero infections including brucellosis,” said Dr. Kathleen Colegrove,  the study’s lead author and veterinary pathology professor at the University of Illinois Chicago-based Zoological Pathology Program.

Scientists saw higher numbers of stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins in the spill zone in 2011 than in other years, particularly in Mississippi and Alabama.

“The young dolphins, which died in the womb or shortly after birth, were significantly smaller than those that stranded during previous years and in other geographic locations,” said Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson, study co-author and veterinary epidemiologist from the National Marine Mammal Foundation.

Bottlenose dolphins are pregnant for about 380 days, so stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the early months of 2011 could have been exposed in the womb to petroleum products released the previous year.

“Pregnant dolphins losing fetuses in 2011 would have been in the earlier stages of pregnancy in 2010 during the oil spill,” said Colegrove.

The researchers report that 88 percent of the stillborn and juvenile dolphins found in the spill zone had abnormal lung, including partially or completely collapsed lungs. That and their small size suggest that they died in the womb or very soon after birth – before their lungs had a chance to fully inflate. Only 15 percent of stillborn and juvenile dolphins  found in areas unaffected by the spill had this lung abnormality, the researchers said.

A previous study revealed that non-perinatal bottlenose dolphins that stranded in the spill zone after the spill were much more likely than other stranded dolphins to have severe lung and adrenal gland damage “consistent with petroleum product exposure.”

The study team included researchers from the University of Illinois; National Marine Mammal Foundation; NOAA; the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South Alabama; the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi; the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries; Animal Health Center in British Columbia; the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida; the University of Georgia; and the University of North Carolina.

This study was conducted in conjunction with the Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as the investigation into the northern Gulf of Mexico unusual mortality event.

Bottlenose dolphins have been dying in record numbers in their mothers' womb or shortly after birth in areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. — PHOTO: NOAA
Bottlenose dolphins have been dying in record numbers in their mothers’ womb or shortly after birth in areas affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. — PHOTO: NOAA

Navy agrees to limit underwater assaults on whales, dolphins

A federal court this week entered an order settling two cases challenging the U.S. Navy’s training and testing activities off the coasts of Southern California and Hawaii, securing long-sought protections for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals by limiting Navy activities in vital habitat.

The settlement stems from the court’s earlier finding that the Navy’s activities illegally harm more than 60 separate populations of whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions.

For the first time, the Navy has agreed to put habitat for numerous populations off-limits to dangerous mid-frequency sonar training and testing and the use of powerful explosives.

The settlement aims to manage the siting and timing of Navy activities, taking into account areas of vital importance to marine mammals, such as reproductive areas, feeding areas, migratory corridors and areas in which small, resident populations are concentrated.

Many of the conservation organizations tht brought the lawsuits have been sparring legally with the Navy and the National Marine Fisheries Service — the agency charged with protecting marine mammals — for more than a decade, demanding that the Navy and Fisheries Service comply with key environmental laws by acknowledging that the Navy’s activities seriously harm marine mammals and taking affirmative steps to lessen that harm.

“We can protect our fleet and safeguard our whales,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose lawyers challenged the Navy’s activities in Southern California and Hawaii on behalf of NRDC, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center and Michael Stocker. “This settlement shows the way to do both, ensuring the security of U.S. Navy operations while reducing the mortal hazard to some of the most majestic creatures on Earth. Our Navy will be the better for this, and so will the oceans our sailors defend.”

“If a whale or dolphin can’t hear, it can’t survive,” said David Henkin, an attorney for the national legal organization Earthjustice, who brought the initial challenge to the Navy’s latest round of training and testing on behalf of Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Ocean Mammal Institute.

He continued, “We challenged the Navy’s plan because it would have unnecessarily harmed whales, dolphins, and endangered marine mammals, with the Navy itself estimating that more than 2,000 animals would be killed or permanently injured. By agreeing to this settlement, the Navy acknowledges that it doesn’t need to train in every square inch of the ocean and that it can take reasonable steps to reduce the deadly toll of its activities.”

Scientific studies have documented the connection between high-intensity mid-frequency sounds, including Navy sonar, and serious impacts to marine mammals ranging from strandings and deaths to cessation of feeding and habitat avoidance and abandonment. Nonetheless, until now the Navy has refused to set aside biologically important areas to minimize such harm to vulnerable marine mammal populations.

Until it expires in late 2018, the agreement will protect habitat for the most vulnerable marine mammal populations, including endangered blue whales for which waters off Southern California are a globally important feeding area; and numerous small, resident whale and dolphin populations off Hawaii, for which the islands are literally an oasis, their only home.

The Gulf of Mexico: Resilient but scarred 5 years after Deepwater Horizon spill

Five years after the BP well explosion, there is no single, conclusive answer to how the Gulf of Mexico is doing, but there are many questions. Here are some of them:

WHAT DO SCIENTISTS SAY?

To assess the health of the Gulf of Mexico, The Associated Press surveyed 26 marine scientists about two dozen aspects of the fragile ecosystem to see how this vital waterway has changed since before the April 2010 spill. On average, the researchers graded an 11 percent drop in the overall health of the Gulf.

The surveyed scientists on average said that before the spill, the Gulf was a 73 on a 0 to 100 scale. Now it’s a 65. In the survey, scientists report the biggest drops in rating the current health of oysters, dolphins, sea turtles, marshes, and the seafloor.

WHAT HAPPENED TO DOLPHINS?

Common bottlenose dolphins have been dying at a record rate in northern parts of the Gulf of Mexico since the BP spill, according to NOAA and other scientists who have published studies on the figures. From 2002 to 2009, the Gulf averaged 63 dolphin deaths a year. That rose to 125 in the seven months after the spill in 2010 and 335 in all of 2011, averaging more than 200 a year since April 2010.

That’s the longest and largest dolphin die-off ever recorded in the Gulf. But the number of deaths has started to decline, said Stephanie Venn-Watson, a veterinary epidemiologist at the Marine Mammal Foundation and a lead author of studies on the dolphin mortality.

In its report on the Gulf five years after the spill, BP said necropsies of dolphins and “other information reveal there is no evidence to conclude that the Deepwater Horizon accident had an adverse impact on bottlenose dolphin populations.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO TURTLES?

The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle used to look like a success story for biologists. It was in deep trouble and on the endangered list, but a series of actions, such as the use of turtle excluder devices, had the population soaring and it was looking like the species soon would be upgraded to merely threatened, said Selina Saville Heppell, a professor at Oregon State University.

Then, after the spill, the number of nests dropped 40 percent in one year in 2010. “We had never seen a drop that dramatic in one year before,” Heppell said. The population climbed in 2011 and 2012 but then fell again in 2013 and 2014, down to levels that haven’t been that low in nearly a decade, she said.

There is not enough data or research to blame the oil spill with scientific rigor, “but it’s a remarkable coincidence, isn’t it?” Heppell said. BP in its report said: “The changing nesting trends could be due to many factors including natural variability and record cold temperatures.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO FISH?

University of South Florida marine scientist Steve Murawski sees problems — tumors, lesions and oil traces in internal organs —in key fish such as red snapper, kingsnake eels and especially tilefish. Carcinogenic chemicals associated with oil appear to have gotten through the skin of these bottom-dwelling fish, he said.

“Their livers have fresh Macondo oil in them,” said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia.

BP’s report said commercial catches for finfish “continue to exceed immediate pre-spill levels.”

WHAT HAPPENED TO BIRDS?

There have been at least two surveys of bird populations in Barataria Bay, the scene of the heaviest oiling and an important stopping place for numerous migratory bird species. Those surveys of shore birds and migratory birds found no obvious problems. But a recent study of native seaside sparrows in Barataria has found bird counts down.

BP said “analysis and field observations conducted to date indicate any impacts on bird populations and nesting were limited and were followed by a strong recovery.”

HOW ARE THE MARSHES?

Oil hit about 620 miles of Louisiana’s marshland. A lot of science has gone into studying the spill’s effects on the marsh, in particular in the Barataria Bay area. And Barataria is not a pretty picture. Tar balls and mats are routinely found here. Fishing remains closed in parts of the bay.

An entire mangrove island, an important bird colony, has nearly disappeared under the water. Satellite imagery shows that about a foot of marsh has been eaten away along many shorelines here. In the plants and animals scientists have identified oil contamination and they are tracking its progression in fish, birds, mice, dolphins and insects. 

BP said by 2014, “only 0.7 miles remained heavily oiled.”

HOW ARE THE BEACHES?

After an intense focus on cleaning up the Gulf’s beaches, traces of the spill are hard to find along the sugar white sands of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. But there are places, in particular at the extremities of south Louisiana, where large oil mats are resting, getting churned up by waves and engrained with sand deposits and the fragile delta ecosystem already stressed by sea level rise, hurricanes and a host of other man-made harms.

WHERE DID THE OIL GO?

“It’s not all gone,” said former U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt. Her team calculated that most of the oil evaporated, dissolved or dispersed. Two peer-reviewed studies by separate respected teams in 2014 and 2015 found that up to 10 million gallons of oil is left on the seafloor; one of them compared it to a bathtub ring. BP disputed those figures.

WHAT DON’T WE KNOW?

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief scientist Richard Spinrad said the government hopes to finish its five-year assessment on the health of the Gulf by the end of the year, so it is too early to make any real conclusions. Some problems may show up later. It was not until 10 years after 1989’s Exxon Valdez spill that scientists noticed a dramatic crash in the vital herring population.

Court: Navy war games harm whales, dolphins

A federal court this week said the U.S. Navy’s training and testing activities off the coast of Southern California and Hawaii illegally harm more than 60 whale, dolphin, seal and sea lion populations.

The U.S. District Court of Hawaii ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated multiple requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act by allowing the Navy’s plan.

“Searching the administrative record’s reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy’s activities were authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service, this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, ‘Water, water every where, Nor any drop to drink.’” the court wrote in a 66-page opinion.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Cetacean Society International, Animal Legal Defense Fund, Pacific Environment and Resources Center and Michael Stocker brought the case to the court.

Last year, the case was consolidated  with another action — Conservation Council for Hawaii v. National Marine Fisheries Service — challenging the government’s authorizations of Navy activities in Hawaii and Southern California.

The court also ruled against the government in that action.

Under its five-year plan for training and testing, the Navy is permitted to harm whales, dolphins and other marine mammals nearly 9.6 million times while conducting high-intensity sonar exercises and underwater detonations, according to a statement from the NRDC. The impacts include millions of instances of temporary hearing loss and significant disruptions in vital behaviors, such as habitat abandonment, as well as permanent hearing loss, permanent injury and more than 150 deaths.

Ocean noise is one of the biggest threats worldwide to the health and well-being of marine mammals, which rely on sound to “see” their world.

Navy sonar activities, shipping noise and seismic exploration by oil and gas companies have made our oceans noisier in recent decades, resulting in widespread disruption to feeding, communication and mating.

Zak Smith, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s marine mammal protection project, said, “Defenseless marine mammals are going deaf and hungry and may die at the hands of our Navy. And the laws we have that are meant to limit such harms have been misused by the government.

“Instead of downplaying the impacts on marine mammals — including endangered blue, fin and humpback whales — the government should be doing more to protect them from these harmful activities.”

Feds agree to seafood import rules aimed at protecting whales, dolphins

The U.S. government, in a recent settlement, agreed to adopt rules ensuring seafood imported into the country meets high standards for protecting whales and dolphins

The regulations will require foreign fisheries to meet the same marine mammal protection standards required of U.S. fishers or be denied import privileges — implementing a 40-year-old provision of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

“The new regulations will force other countries to step up and meet U.S. conservation standards — saving hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins from dying on hooks and in fishing nets around the world,” said Sarah Uhlemann, senior attorney and international program director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. government has finally recognized that all seafood consumed in the United States must be ‘dolphin-safe.’ ”

More than 650,000 whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are caught and killed in fishing gear each year, according to the CBD. The animals are “bycatch” of commercial fisheries and either drown outright or are tossed overboard to die.

Despite U.S. efforts to protect marine mammals in its own waters, fishing gear continues to pose the most significant threat to whale and dolphin conservation worldwide.

For example, the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, is being driven to extinction by shrimp gillnets in Mexico’s Gulf of California. Fewer than 100 vaquita remain.

Under U.S. law and the planned new regulations, shrimp from this region would be barred from entering the United States because it does not meet the more protective U.S. marine mammal protection standards. These standards may include modifying fishing gear and closing fishing in some areas to limit the risk of entanglement.

“It’s time to do what it takes to save thousands of whales and dolphins around the world and hold our fish imports to the same standards that we require of our U.S. fishermen,” said Zak Smith of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This law will help do that. It provides real, enforceable protections for marine mammals and sets up an even playing field that allows our fishermen to be competitive in the U.S. market. If we’d had these standards 40 years ago, we wouldn’t be scrambling today to save the imperiled vaquita. Thankfully, if this law is implemented, other species won’t share their fate.”

Since 1972, the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act has prohibited the United States from allowing seafood to enter the country unless it meets U.S. whale and dolphin standards. Under today’s settlement, the federal government must make a final decision by August 2016 about how to implement this requirement and end unlawful imports. The rules will protect marine mammals and level the playing field for U.S. fishers.

“The public demands and the U.S. can — and by law, must — wield its tremendous purchasing power to save dolphins and whales from foreign fishing nets,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We have the right to ensure that the seafood sold in the U.S. is caught in ways that minimize the death and injury of marine mammals.”

Americans consume some 5 billion pounds of seafood per year, including tuna, swordfish, shrimp and cod. About 90 percent of that seafood is imported and about half is wild-caught.

The settlement was in the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York on behalf of plaintiffs Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

UPDATE: Diana Nyad ends swim from Cuba to Florida

UPDATE: Another storm slowed Diana Nyad early Tuesday as she entered the fourth – and last – day of her attempt to swim across the Straits of Florida.

According to Nyad’s blog, the openly lesbian, long-distance swimmer and her team found themselves in the midst of the storm around 1:45 a.m. Tuesday. The blog post says everyone is safe, but after she left the water Nyad ended the swim.

Nyad had been expected to arrive somewhere in the Florida Keys early Tuesday, but her team said she “lost six hours progress” in overnight storms Aug. 19.

Nyad was about 55 miles off the coast of Key West early Tuesday, when the journey ended.

Nyad, who turns 63 on Wednesday, was making her third attempt since last summer to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. She also made a failed try with a cage in 1978.

After Sunday night’s storm, Monday offered far more ideal conditions, with blue skies and level seas and the Gulf Stream offering beneficial currents.

Nyad’s team said the swimmer’s spirits were lifted Monday afternoon by a surprise visit from a boatload of friends and family. And Monday evening, she found herself swimming among dolphins, a far happier scenario than the sharks that were feared.

“The skies are clear, the sun high in the sky,” crew member Brandon Beach wrote on Nyad’s blog, calling it “a pretty gorgeous day out here in the middle of the ocean.”

Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Straits in 1997, but she used a cage. In June, another Australian, Penny Palfrey, made it 79 miles (127 kilometers) toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt.

Nyad had already endured jellyfish stings on the attempt. Stings forced her to cut short her second of two attempts last year as toxins built up in her system.

She has been training for three years for the feat. She was accompanied by a support team in boats, and a kayak-borne apparatus shadowing Nyad helped keep sharks at bay by generating a faint electric field that is not noticeable to humans. A team of handlers was always on alert to dive in and distract any sharks that made it through.

She took periodic short breaks to rest, hydrate and ate high-energy foods such as peanut butter.

On the Web: http://www.diananyad.com/diana

 

diananyad_blog

Romp in the bay

AP recently introduced readers worldwide to Nicklo and BlacktipDoubledip, the two oldest known dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Fla. AP also recently introduced readers worldwide to a not widely known fact: a majority of male dolphins travel in same-gender pairs, though their relationships are not exclusively male. “You see homosexual activity, heterosexual activity, sexual relations between relatives, everything,” says Mote Marine Laboratory scientist Randy Wells.