Tag Archives: california

What Was Behind the Mysterious Whale Deaths on the Pacific Coast in 2015?

Since May, more than 30 whales have been found dead on the pacific coast without explanation.

11 fin whales, 14 humpbacks, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans were found dead in the western gulf of Alaska. Six more whales were found dead off the coast of British Columbia including four humpbacks, one sperm and one fin whale.

The unknown cause behind the deaths prompted the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to declare it an “Unusual Mortality Event” last month. But after investigation, scientists think a widespread algae bloom located off the coast could be suspect in the deaths. NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told the Guardian:

“Our leading theory at this point is that the harmful algal bloom has contributed to the deaths. But we have no conclusive evidence. The bottom line is we don’t know what’s causing these deaths.”

Scientists have already been monitoring a large stretch of warm water that started out off the coast of Alaska two years ago and has grown to almost 500 miles across. “The Blob,” as it has been named, is several degrees warmer than the surrounding ocean and has caused a record algae bloom spanning the West Coast from Alaska to California.

Photo by NOAA
Photo by NOAA

However, the fast rate of decomposition makes it nearly impossible to sample the dead whales, meaning there may never be a definitive conclusion. Scientists do know of one species of phytoplankton that produces a neurotoxin, which enters the food chain in smaller fish and birds, can cause disorientation and fatal seizures in severe cases.

Although the death count is almost three times the historic average annual mortality rate, whale populations are not overly affected. Marine mammal specialist with the Alaska Sea Grant marine advisory program and on-site coordinator of the UME investigation Bree Witteveen tells Yahoo Canada News:

“From a population perspective, the level of deaths that we’ve seen are not likely to have much of an impact. It’s more of a warning sign.”

Featured image by Sarah Nichols / CC BY-SA 2.0

Brown Sea Nettle

Photo by NOAA’s National Ocean Service / CC BY 2.0

Photo from Monterey Harbor

There’s No More Bobcat Trapping in California

Good news for bobcats in California – the trapping and killing of these iconic wild cats has officially been banned.

The California Fish & Game Commission voted to extend protections for bobcats, originally found in the Assembly Bill 1213, which was passed into California legislature in 2013. Despite the bill prohibiting trapping and killing of bobcats throughout the state, the ban was not fully implemented.

But in August, the five members of the Commission voted to implement a full ban on bobcat trapping. A big push came from a Care2 petition demanding full enforcement of Bobcat Protection Act, which received more than 77,000 signatures.

The Humane Society issued a press release after the vote:

“The Humane Society of the United States applauds the California Fish and Game Commission to extend further protections for iconic bobcats. Shy and elusive creatures, bobcats are solely killed for their fur, which is sold to overseas markets in Russia and China. In the wake of the tragic death of Cecil the lion, the public has never been more aware that killing an animal for its pelt is no worse than for a head and hide to decorate a trophy room. This decision is a much-needed step in the right direction, and we thank Assemblymember Bloom for his ongoing leadership to protect California’s bobcats from this cruel and unnecessary practice.”

The Commission had to decide between a statewide ban on bobcat trapping or a zone-based approach that would have prohibited it in certain regions only. But the members voted for the former, proving to be one giant step for these beautiful felines.

Featured image by Linda Tanner / CC BY 2.0

The First Wild Gray Wolf Pack Was Spotted in California After Almost 100 Years

There hasn’t been a wild gray wolf sighting in California since 1924. Until this year.

The wolves were spotted in August in the woods in the northern part of the state, near Mount Shasta, and consisted of two adults and five pups – believed to be only a few months old.

Officials learned of the pack, called the Shasta Pack, from cameras posted around the area after speculation of its existence. In May, nearby cameras captured images of a large, dark-colored animal that experts thought could be a wolf. And then in June, researchers studying a deer saw tracks from either a wolf or a dog.

Director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Charlton H. Bonham said in a statement:

“This news is exciting for California. We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”

Gray wolves were hunted to near extinction in western U.S. They are now protected in California under the Endangered Species Act, which is contributing to the wolf’s slow rise in numbers. The presence of this Shasta Pack may indicate a comeback for gray wolves in California.

Images of the Shasta Pack from California Department of Fish & Wildlife:

wolf-pups-jpg

wolf-1

wolf-2

Featured image by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters / CC BY 2.0

Whales and Dolphins Win Fight Against U.S. Navy Over Use of Underwater Explosives

In the battle between the U.S. Navy and marine mammals, the marine mammals won.

In September, a federal judge approved a legal settlement between environmental groups and the Navy that limits the use of sonar and other underwater explosives because they are inadvertently harmful to marine mammals. The blasts and high-pitched noises can deafen or even kill marine mammals, in particular whales and dolphins.

The settlement ends the use of sonar in the feeding grounds for whales off the coast of Southern California near Santa Catalina, San Clemente, and San Nicolas islands, in addition to those in Hawaiian waters, including around Maui, Molokai, and the Big Island.

Oceans director for one of the groups involved in the settlement, the Center for Biological Diversity, Miyoko Sakashita says:

“The settlement protects some of the most important areas for marine mammals that are sensitive to sonar. It’s a great benefit to the whales and lets the Navy fulfill its training needs.”

Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0
Photo by NOAA Photo Library / CC BY 2.0

A report in 2013 by the Navy estimated that from 2014-2019, sonar testing, underwater explosives, missile launches, anti-submarine warfare and ship strikes could kill up to 155 whales, dolphins, seals, and sea lions and permanently injure over 2,000 animals.

But this is the first time that the Navy has recognized that it is possible to protect marine animal habitats without impeding upon or interfering with its training regimen. It sets a precedent for the future where Navy activities can occur as long as care and consideration is given to marine animals.

 
 
Featured image by Official U.S. Navy Page / CC BY 2.0