Marine mammals are some of the most beloved animals in our ocean. Whether you have a soft spot for majestic whales, playful seals or adorable sea otters, you have reason to celebrate. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an important piece of legislation that protects all marine mammal species found in U.S. waters.
When I think of the great filter-feeding whales, I don’t tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico. However, I was recently reminded that the Gulf is home to some of these amazing whales. They are called Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, and they are found around the world, but only 33 of them live in the northern Gulf. A recent genetic study by NOAA biologists reveals that this small group of whales may be a completely unique subspecies!
Scarier than any movie shark that can smell a drop of blood miles away (they can’t, by the way) is this week’s news about sharks’ sense of smell. A team of Australian and American scientists has just shown that smooth dogfishes (also called dusky smooth-hound sharks) can’t smell food as well after living in ocean acidification conditions expected for the year 2100. These “future” sharks could correctly track food smells only 15% of the time, compared to a 60% accuracy rate for unexposed sharks. In fact, the acidification-exposed sharks even avoided food smells!
In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, everyone’s talking about how we restore the Gulf Coast. But the Gulf of Mexico is more than what we can see from the shoreline. If we restore the coast without restoring the deep waters, we’re only addressing half the problem.
That’s why Ocean Conservancy has created Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore. It’s a short guide to the wildlife that lives in the Gulf’s waters and it explains why it is so important that we ensure the health and safety of our fish, dolphins, seabirds, and whales (yes, whales in the Gulf!).
Ocean acidification is invisible to the naked eye. It’s not something we can smell, not something we can feel with our fingers. But in many parts of the world, that’s just how fishermen and shellfish farmers assess the water they work in.
Right now, the methods we have to understand and respond to ocean acidification are expensive, requiring a lot of equipment. For example, oyster farmers in the Pacific Northwest rely on ocean monitoring systems that tell them the condition of the water, high-tech hatcheries that give them a controlled environment in which to rear their oysters, and buffering systems that allow them to neutralize the water coming in and make it suitable for oyster growth.
University of South Florida Professor Steven Murawski began studying diseases in fin fishes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill when Gulf of Mexico fishermen began reporting a surge in fish with visible lesions. Credit: C-Image. Caption from phys.org
Fishermen are on the water every day, which means they are often the first to notice when something changes. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we heard reports from fishermen that they were catching more fish with lesions than they had ever seen before. Immediately after hearing these reports, Dr. Jim Cowan at LSU began investigating the frequency, location and cause of the reported lesions. Many other scientists have collected data on this same issue, and last week a group from the University of South Florida published the first round of results in a scientific journal.
What if the ground beneath your feet, the very foundation of your life and livelihood, was at risk of eroding away? What if the very thing from which you and your community draw 95% of your wealth was at risk of disappearing?
This is the reality that Aitutaki, a small island in the Cook Islands, and many other small islands around the world, are facing. Aitutaki, and its stunning lagoon, is protected by a coral reef. Powerful ocean waves crash on the edges of the reef, but because coral reduces wave strength by 97%, the lagoon and the coral sand beaches remain still and calm. The value of this protection, and the environment it creates, cannot be overstated.