A pregnant harbor seal was shot in the head and lost an eye. Now she’s going home.

The seal was shot through the head near the San Juan Islands during a fishing derby. She and her unborn seal pup are lucky to be alive.

A pregnant seal, now without its left eye after being shot with a pellet gun, is heading home to the San Juan Islands Sunday after successful surgery and nearly a month of recovery away from the sea.

A fisherman shot the seal through the head near the Sucia Islands late last month, and the creature only endured the initial trauma of the ordeal through luck and quick emergency care.

The feisty one-eyed seal, who goes by “19-0120” among staff caring for her at the PAWS Wildlife Center, is expected to survive her reintroduction to the wild.

Her plight highlights rising tensions between fishermen and federally protected pinnipeds — seals and sea lions — in the Pacific Northwest, as both compete for their catch of fish.

Suspect identified

The harbor seal was shot during a fishing derby, according to Jennifer Olson, the Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for San Juan County.

Deputies with the San Juan County Sheriff’s office, along with a border patrol agent, were the first to reach the seal the afternoon of the shooting on Jan. 26.

“We received a call that somebody was out shooting a seal with a pellet gun,” said Zac Reimer, the office’s undersheriff. “Another person, who was also fishing, observed this happening right in front of them and gave us a call right away.”

Reimer said the person who reported the shooting was close enough to capture video of the events.

When deputies arrived, the suspect’s boat was still there and the seal was “bobbing around, not acting like a healthy harbor seal,” Reimer said. “It just appeared stunned.”

The animal was so listless that deputies were able to get a rope around the creature and haul it onto their 26-foot patrol boat.

No one was arrested at the scene, but deputies were able to talk to witnesses, take photographs and collect evidence, Reimer said. A 40-year-old man is suspected in the shooting, he said. The man’s boat had remained there with several other people onboard.

“Since we were already on marine patrol, we were able to just go right up to the boats and talk to everybody,” Reimer said.

The evidence is in the hands of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law-enforcement branch, which is investigating and could pursue federal charges. Violations of the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act can result in fines of up to $28,520 along with up to one year of imprisonment.

A rare case of survival

Washington state once financed a bounty hunting program that encouraged people to kill harbor seals in an effort to bolster fishermen’s catch, according to the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife.

With the program’s end in 1960 and the passage of the federal protection act 12 years later, the population of harbor seals began to multiply many times over.

But the recovery of pinnipeds has also spurred an increase in salmon consumption by the creatures, according to a 2017 paper published in Scientific Reports. In 1975, harbor seals ate an estimated 3.5 million chinook salmon. In 2015, that figure rose to 27.4 million chinook, most of them juveniles.

Conflict with people fishing has increased, too.

“There’s certainly frustration out there, at the slow recovery of salmon, and these animals are using those resources that we also rely on,” said Michael Milstein, a NOAA spokesperson.

Researchers examined pinniped stranding data in the Pacific Northwest from 1991 to 2016 in a recent Aquatic Mammals Journal article.

Strandings — when a pinniped comes ashore dead or is alive and unable to return to the water without help — began to rise in the early 2000s, a trend driven, in part, by a rise in the animals being shot, according to the data.

In 25 years of study, 896 harbor seals were found to have been stranded after interacting with people. More than 21 percent of those seals were shot.

Meanwhile, dead sea lions, with bullet holes, have been washing up across Puget Sound shores.

The Whale Museum, where Olson works as a data specialist, tracks marine-mammal strandings in San Juan County.

Since 1980, the museum has counted 39 confirmed cases in which pinnipeds were shot. Most of the cases are identified in necropsies.

“To have a live seal survive the gunshot wound where there’s time to help them, that’s what makes this case rare,” Olson said.

‘Cross our fingers and hope’

Soon after the shooting, the deputies brought the struggling seal to Olson, who loaded the animal into a crate and drove her to the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on San Juan Island.

“She was moving. I could tell she was alive,” Olson said. But after “giving her a small tap on her back, there was absolutely no response.”

Olson could see entry and exit wounds. Blood and pus were leaking out of the creature’s head, she said. She worried the seal could have suffered brain damage.

Once the seal arrived at Wolf Hollow, Penny Harner, a staff rehabilitator began to treat the “lethargic” animal.

“Basically, all we could do the first night was get some fluids in her, get some medications on board and cross our fingers and hope for the night,” Harner said.

But the next morning, when she flipped the lights, the 128-pound creature stirred and began to look around with her good eye.

When Harner entered the room to treat the seal, “she did what a typical seal would, which was lunge.”

Wolf Hollow staff typically work with injured or orphaned seal pups, but not strong, muscular adults. During treatments, it took four staffers, clad in protective gear, to hold the animal down for medication.

“She gave me a ride around the room at times,” said Harner, who was in charge of using her knees to control the seal’s flippers.

When a veterinarian visited the rehabilitation center, it was clear that the pellet wound, just above the seal’s bugged-out and bloodshot left eye, would require surgery.

Nearly a week after she was shot, the seal was taken in an animal ambulance to the PAWS Wildlife Center in Lynnwood, which treats hundreds of species of injured wild animals.

As snow fell on Seattle on Feb. 4, veterinarians, surgeons and other helpers crowded into a small room that looks like a shabby doctor’s office for surgery. Earlier, an X-ray showed tiny metal fragments of the pellet lodged inside her head, and also a surprise — the seal was pregnant. The scan had revealed the curvature of a tiny spine, rib cage and skull growing inside.

While the seal remained under anesthetic, two surgeons began their work, as the others monitored the animal’s blood pressure, breathing and heartbeat.

The surgeons carved out the damaged tissue, severed the seal’s optic nerve and removed her eye. Then, they scored the seal’s eyelids and sutured them to one another so the skin would heal together.

“It’s a bloody surgery,” said wildlife veterinarian Nicki Rosenhagen, but the seal fared well.

PAWS staffers placed the seal’s eyeball, and some extra tissue, in a plastic gelato container. “We do a lot of educational talks,” Rosenhagen explained.

The pregnant seal has had a smooth recovery, Rosenhagen said. The seal arrived to PAWS plump, strong and healthy, aside from the gunshot wound. The surgical site has been healing well and there’s no evidence of infection. She’s been swimming. And her behavior has been “appropriately aggressive” — normal for a seal and a good indication that no brain damage occurred.

‘Super lucky’ and headed home

On Sunday morning, as long as a blood test comes back clean, PAWS naturalist Jeff Brown will help load the pregnant seal into a giant dog kennel, secure her in the bed of a pickup truck and haul her home.

He’s scouted two locations for a beach release, one in the Sucia Islands and another on San Juan Island with easier access, in case a storm stirs.

By the afternoon, a crew will unload the kennel and release the seal back to her home.

The veterinarians expect the seal to adapt to hunting with one eye and give her good prospects to survive. The baby should also be fine, Rosenhagen said. A radiologist who examined the X-ray said she saw no evidence of fetal death, despite the mother’s ordeal.

“She got super lucky,” Rosenhagen said, “if getting shot in the head is lucky.”

Why So Many People Hate Cormorants 

https://www.animalalliance.ca/news/

The late American poet-philosopher Maya Angelou said: “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”

I think it’s a safe bet that the quote, and Angelou, are both unknown to newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who once said: “If she walked by me, I wouldn’t have a clue who she is.” His ignorance in that case was in reference to possibly Canada’s most famous, easily recognized living writer (and a resident of the city whose mayor was Ford’s own brother and who Ford, as a councillor, was helping to govern), Margaret Atwood. She had corrected Ford’s absurd assertion that his ward contained more libraries than Tim Horton’s coffee shops.

That level of ignorance is no virtue. If I may quote Angelou once more: “ <https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1567235> The root cause of all the problems we have in the world today is ignorance of course. But most, polarization.”

To the “populist” politicians and their “base”, their core supporters, it is not what is factual, but what you feel, what your intuition, your “gut”, tells you, that counts.

And in answering the question posed at by the title of this blog, it is important to first understand that hate, ignorance and polarization are not only handmaidens (all puns intended) of each other but exactly what Ford’s plan to wipe out Double-crested Cormorants in Ontario, encompasses. He indeed polarizes.

The issue is that, as is the inclination of authoritarian political leaders, without consultation Ford has proposed a series of Draconian legislative steps that will greatly damage Ontario’s environment, and wildlife, in various ways.

This includes a plan to re-define the Double-crested Cormorant as a “game” bird, with an open season that lasts from March 15 to December 31, and no limit on “possession”.

For the first time in Canadian game management, hunted birds won’t have to be utilized as food. Any hunter with the correct small game hunting license could legally kill well over 13,000 birds per year. At that rate it would take only about 18 hunters to eliminate all the cormorants in the Great Lakes basin in a single year, and with a very few more able to eliminate the species from the entire province. No one hunter could kill that many, but then, while hunters’ numbers are in precipitous decline, there are still a many times more than enough to again eliminate the species in most of Ontario.

In an excellent commentary published by The Toronto Star on December 10, 2018 (see: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/12/10/why-are-cormorants-in-progressive-conservatives-crosshairs.html) political commentator par excellence, Thomas Walkom, asks a similar, related question, why are cormorants in the crosshairs of Doug Ford’s party, the provincial Progressive Conservatives?

Having a majority in provincial parliament, Ford and his party has free rein to enact regressive laws. The party is neither conservative nor progressive, but they can do what they want, so why do they want to kill cormorants and cause horrific suffering and deaths to their orphaned nestlings? What game species is deliberately and legally shot when it has dependent young? Why hate cormorants?

While the answer to the uninformed minds of Ford’s base would simply be “because cormorants eat all the fish”, meaning fish otherwise available to both sport and commercial anglers, as is well known by those who actually study cormorant diets, it is wrong. I think that inaccurate belief is only part of the answer.

But it is not quite what Walkom asked. We’ll get to that.

There is often excessive antipathy toward predators, seen by the environmentally illiterate as competitors for what we humans need or want. Among fish-eating species, seals, sealions, porpoises and other cetaceans, sharks and other mammals have been scapegoated – blamed for declines in commercially “harvested” fish stocks. Among native Ontario birds, Ospreys, pelicans, herons, Belted Kingfishers, loons, grebes, mergansers and other species have, at various times, been targeted for organized killing. They are all now protected, to varying degrees, in response to increasing understanding of basic ecological principles.

But none evoke as much sheer detestation as cormorants; they really are hated, to an irrational, visceral degree, by a significant minority of people. It is not all that unusual, especially for people who lived prior to about the mid-twentieth century, before there was much knowledge about wildlife population dynamics and predator-prey interrelationships and the importance of apex predators to biodiversity, to want to kill all predators. And a few species, like wolves, can still too often arouse such levels of irrational fear and hatred.

It has been suggested that some of the excoriation directed against cormorants reflects deep-seated bigotry of the worse kind. The theory points to the fact that cormorants were once called nigger goose in some quarters (you can imagine which) and to a situation in Australia, where there are two small cormorant species very similar in size, shape and diets, but one is black and white while the other is all black, the latter being far less tolerated than the former. Other black birds, such as crows, grackles and starlings, also seem to attract disproportionate dislike, where they dare to be common. “Black” is, as people in support of civil rights have been known to observe, seen as negative, the colour that depends on an absence of light, thus the antheses to what light represents, as symbolized in the word, “enlightenment”, or in religious texts associating light with grace, goodness and God. White pelicans, which eat more fish per bird than any cormorant (because they are bigger; they need more) are, like swans and egrets, more fondly considered.

Maybe, but that didn’t stop assailants from killing both cormorants and American White Pelicans at a mutual nesting colony Manitoba, stomping on eggs and babies, and has not prevented demonization of Mute Swans and Snow Geese, both white.

The “blackness” theory is all too speculative for me and I think the answer is simpler, although not entirely simplistic.

To help understand the hatred, we need a little history.

The species was twice reduced to virtually endangered status in Ontario. The first reduction happened, I theorize, hot on the heels of colonization by European “settlers”. They carried with them guns and a combination of fear and ignorance about the wilderness, which was to be tamed and conquered. Because of their devotion to their nesting duties cormorants are extremely vulnerable to persecution. It’s inconceivable that they would be found from Alaska to Florida and the West Indies, and from Newfoundland to California and Mexico, and yet be absent from the largest source of fresh water fish in the world, quite near the centre of that vast range. As mostly European “pioneers” filled the land, cormorants, and a vast number of other wildlife species, gave way. Cormorants were easily destroyed.

Following the end of the War of 1812, commercial fisheries began in the Great Lakes and no cormorant nest site would have been safe from persecution, happening before qualified naturalists arrived on the scene to record the presence of nesting birds. This led to the oddly absurd belief that cormorants therefore were never present!

But they were, and there are indications of them nesting in Sandusky Bay, Ohio, which is part of Lake Erie, late into the 19th Century. By the time qualified observations were being made, direct evidence of Great Lakes nesting was scarce to absent, east of Lake of the Woods, until some were found in Lake Superior in 1913, where locals said they had nested all along.

The “official” version is that from there they spread eastward, reaching Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River by 1945.

On its website Environment Canada says, “Historically, it is thought that the Double-crested Cormorant did not nest in the Great Lakes. Archaeological excavations in aboriginal settlements have not shown any evidence of the bird. Although cormorants have nested in Lake of the Woods (in northwestern Ontario) for hundreds of years, the first suspected nesting on the Great Lakes did not occur until 1913, at the far western end of Lake Superior. From there colonies spread eastward to Lake Nipigon in the 1920s, to Lake Huron and Georgian Bay in the early 1930s and finally to Lakes Ontario and Erie in the late 1930s (Figure 1: Cormorants first nested on Lake Superior in 1913, and spread eastward to Lake Ontario and the upper St. Lawrence River By 1945.”

Environment Canada’s website ignores any evidence contrary to what it says and misstates that there is no archeological evidence of the bird in the Great Lakes prior to then. That is simply not true (their bones have, in fact, been found in kitchen middens – remains of animals eaten by native peoples centuries ago, albeit not often; they are not good to eat) but it promotes the idea that the bird did not historically occur in the Great Lakes, and thus is an intruder, an “invader”, an immigrant, as it were.

Then Minister of what was at the time called the Ministry of Natural Resources, David Ramsay, said, in 2004, that the cormorants were not native, but an “invasive” species. Again, that is not remotely true. That ridiculous claim has since been dropped by the provincial government although it seems still to be believed by some who so thoughtlessly hate cormorants.

Following the end of WWII, DDT was introduced into the environment with disastrous results, as the pesticide bioaccumulated up the food chain, to render several fish-eating bird species unable to produce viable eggs. The same Environment Canada website is probably far more accurate in saying, “The cormorant disappeared as a nesting bird on Lakes Michigan and Superior and only about ten pairs remained on Lake Ontario.”

However, by 1973, recovery was well underway, again.

And there is what is a significant part of the real origin of fear and hatred directed against Double-crested Cormorants. The ecological niche that cormorants occupy was already there, and in fact had increased. Cormorants tend to eat coarse fish species that are abundant, and several such species had newly entered the ecosystem, including the herring-like Alewife, a truly invasive species.

I saw my first cormorants, as a kid, in 1957, and the beach I was standing near, at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Lake Ontario, was covered in rotting piles of dead Alewives. Alewives’ food consists of plankton and other tiny organisms at or near the base of food chains upon which larger fish depend, along with small fish and other organisms of various other species, including the young of species of interest to anglers.

Alewives spawn at the same time cormorants are feeding, and spawning Alewives are an ideal size for cormorants. As cormorant numbers went up, on average the number of dead and rotting Alewives on the beaches went down, and the kinds of fish that anglers pursue had more food, to their benefit. The return of the cormorants was good news indicating environmental healing.

No one now alive was around when cormorants were here prior to nearly vanishing at the end of the 19th century, and few if anyone alive would recall their growing numbers prior to World War II. Thus, the perception is that the “normal” number of cormorants is what is remembered from our youth, which in many lakes and rivers, would be none at all.

Thus the “norm” to such folks is not what a healthy ecosystem looks like, cormorants, fish and all, but what it looks like when a key species, the cormorant, is endangered or absent. Add to that, a lack of understanding that in naturally evolved predator-prey relationships, prey population size determines how many predators there are, not the other way around.

Currently most water that cormorants could occupy lacks them; most fish cormorants could eat don’t get eaten by them; most islands and headlands where cormorants might nest, they don’t.

However, when and where they do occur, they may do so in large numbers. They are a species that is very “social” and that tends to occur in large concentrations. Large numbers of wildlife is not a sight anyone alive today is used to seeing. We might read about the vast numbers of wildlife that greeted the first European settlers, but we have no memory of them. The vast seabird breeding colonies, the schools of cod so thick they impeded the progress of ships, the massive herds of bison whose sheer weight shook the earth, the unimaginably enormous numbers of Passenger Pigeons eclipsing the sun, the wide flocks of migrating Eskimo Curlews and other shorebirds, the expanses of caribou across the tundra, numbers of deer, bear, moose, waterfowl…and cormorants…gone now, many, including some that were once the most numerous, are extinct, extirpated or endangered.

But some do recover. When a species does occur, even locally, in large numbers, it tends to be perceived as an anomaly, an abomination, an affront to our own self-important domination of an environment we still want to control, to dominate. The number of people in the Greater Toronto Area is more than the number of Double-crested Cormorants continent-wide, and yet Premier Ford thinks there are “too many”.

There is also the “squeamish factor”. With our cellophane-wrapped meat and air-conditioned or gas-heated homes and the support of unprecedented technologies upon which we have rapidly become dependent, we are isolated from the true nature, the texture, the essence of life and life processes. The concentrations of excrement that are so normal and typical a part of any concentration of any species, our own included when modern plumbing is not to be had, offends us. The un-sanitized world is just too “dirty”, it can smell unpleasant; the reality of life and death is disagreeable and disturbing, dangers lurk…an unwelcome intrusion into our technologically barricaded womb of equanimity.

But while I think all of that goes into explaining hatred of cormorants, where it exists, it does not answer Thomas Walkom’s more probing question: why are cormorants in the crosshairs of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives?

The key to the answer is, I believe, embedded in the question. Crosshairs is a reference to shooters, and while we don’t have the “gun culture” to be found in the U.S., it is not entirely missing. Whereas our southern neighbours have the National Rifle Association, the NRA, a major political force down there, in Ontario we have the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, OFAH. Both organizations share a problem and do so with the respective governments of the jurisdictions in which they operate and with various business interests.

That problem is a precipitous decline in hunters. Hunters pay license fees that go into government coffers, and membership fees and donations that fund the NRA and OFAH and payments to outfitters, and equipment suppliers such as gun, ammo and hunting gear producers and retailers. It’s a symbiotic relationship of intertwined and interdependent interests.

I can’t think that the more knowledgeable of OFAH’s advisors really are as ignorant of ecology as their anti-cormorant indicates, but they know they depend on the hook and bullet fraternity for

The Unintended Consequences that Could Stem from Ford’s Ignorance of Cormorants

https://www.bornfreeusa.org/category/blog> , Canada
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/category/canada> on December 13, 2018

My last two blogs have been about the horrific plan by Ontario’s newly
elected Progressive Conservative government (although it is anything but
either progressive or conservative) to wipe out as much as possible, and
certainly most, of the province’s population of double-crested cormorants
(read these blogs here
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/2018/11/26/cormorant-hunt-is-the-single-worst-w
ild-game-management-decision-in-canadian-history/> and here
<https://www.bornfreeusa.org/2018/12/05/these-hunters-must-stop-pretending/>
) by allowing holders of small-game licenses to kill up to 50 of the birds
per day from March 15 to December 31. As a colonial nesting species, the
cormorant is extremely vulnerable to extirpation – it has happened before –
and the whole idea is predicated on concerns, which have been repudiated by
scientists many times over, that the birds are damaging to the environment.

The whole concept of this hunt is wrong on many different levels and for
many different reasons, including the hideous cruelty of leaving an
unpredictable number (certainly in the thousands) of orphaned baby birds to
die of dehydration and other forms of exposure. This is an exceptionally
ill-conceived notion by a premier, Doug Ford, with an authoritarian mindset,
who has been called “thuggish” and “bullying” by pundits, but like his
apparent role model, U.S. President Donald Trump, he does not seem to care.
Authoritarian mindsets tend to be blind to unintended consequences.

I get that the less informed among those who hunt and fish tend to see
predatory animals as their competitors who need to be killed. They neither
know or care about the importance of apex predators within healthily
functioning environments. And, I realize that cormorants, like wolves,
sharks, and other predators, can evoke irrational levels of fear, hatred,
and loathing. If such attitudes did not lead to cruelty and destruction, I’d
pity the people who have them, cut off, as they are, from the joy that comes
from knowledge of the intricate interactions of the web of life within the
ecological whole; a web that humans seem so eager to destroy.

As my friend, Buzz Boles, points out:

“In 1934, J. A. Dymond, Acting Director, Royal Ontario Museum of Zoology and
Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, University of Toronto,
reacting to loon hunting he observed on Ontario’s Rideau waterway pointed
out that Sir Arthur Thomson, an eminent British biologist of the day,
related the following story that is indicative of killing cormorants and
destabilizing a lake and river system.

“‘In Australia, on the Murray River swamps, several species of cormorant use
to swarm in the thousands, but ruthless massacres, based on the supposition
that the cormorants were spoiling the fishing, reduced them to hundreds.
But, the fishing did not improve; it got worse. It was then discovered that
the cormorants fed largely on crabs, eels, and some other creatures that
devour the spawn and fry of desirable fishes. Thus, the ignorant massacre of
the cormorants made for the impoverishment, not the improvement of the
fishing. The obvious moral is that man should get at the facts of the web of
life before, not after, he has recourse to drastic measures of
interference.'”

Sadly, we never seem to learn.

Massive boom will corral Pacific Ocean’s plastic trash

Massive boom will corral Pacific Ocean’s plastic trashPhoto: AP Photo.

https://www.whec.com/news/-massive-boom-will-corral-pacific-oceanrsquos-plastic-trash-/5063246/

September 08, 2018 03:03 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Engineers will deploy a trash collection device to corral plastic litter floating between California and Hawaii in an attempt to clean up the world’s largest garbage patch in the heart of the Pacific Ocean.

The 2,000-foot (600-meter) long floating boom will be towed Saturday from San Francisco to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — an island of trash twice the size of Texas.

The system was created by The Ocean Cleanup, an organization founded by Boyan Slat, a 24-year-old innovator from the Netherlands who first became passionate about cleaning the oceans when he went scuba diving at age 16 in the Mediterranean Sea and saw more plastic bags than fish.

“The plastic is really persistent and it doesn’t go away by itself and the time to act is now,” Slat said, adding that researchers with his organization found plastic going back to the 1960s and 1970s bobbing in the patch.

The buoyant, a U-shaped barrier made of plastic and with a tapered 10-foot (3-meter) deep screen, is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in that gyre but allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.

Fitted with solar power lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the cleanup system will communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land where it will be recycled, said Slat.

Shipping containers filled with the fishing nets, plastic bottles, laundry baskets and other plastic refuse scooped up by the system being deployed Saturday are expected to be back on land within a year, he said.

The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020.

“One of our goals is to remove 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years,” Slat said.

The free-floating barriers are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and constant wear and tear. They will stay in the water for two decades and in that time collect 90 percent of the trash in the patch, he added.

George Leonard, chief scientist of the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, said he’s skeptical Slat can achieve that goal because even if plastic trash can be taken out of the ocean, a lot more is pouring in each year.

“The plastic is really persistent and it doesn’t go away by itself and the time to act is now,” Slat said, adding that researchers with his organization found plastic going back to the 1960s and 1970s bobbing in the patch.

The buoyant, a U-shaped barrier made of plastic and with a tapered 10-foot (3-meter) deep screen, is intended to act like a coastline, trapping some of the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic that scientists estimate are swirling in that gyre but allowing marine life to safely swim beneath it.

Fitted with solar power lights, cameras, sensors and satellite antennas, the cleanup system will communicate its position at all times, allowing a support vessel to fish out the collected plastic every few months and transport it to dry land where it will be recycled, said Slat.

Shipping containers filled with the fishing nets, plastic bottles, laundry baskets and other plastic refuse scooped up by the system being deployed Saturday are expected to be back on land within a year, he said.

The Ocean Cleanup, which has raised $35 million in donations to fund the project, including from Salesforce.com chief executive Marc Benioff and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, will deploy 60 free-floating barriers in the Pacific Ocean by 2020.

“One of our goals is to remove 50 percent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in five years,” Slat said.

The free-floating barriers are made to withstand harsh weather conditions and constant wear and tear. They will stay in the water for two decades and in that time collect 90 percent of the trash in the patch, he added.

George Leonard, chief scientist of the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, said he’s skeptical Slat can achieve that goal because even if plastic trash can be taken out of the ocean, a lot more is pouring in each year.

Free-Diving Family Saves Whale Shark Stuck in a Fishing Net

While free-diving off of Hawaii, a family encounters a whale shark with a gigantic rope around its neck and decides to try to free it.

A family encountered an endangered whale shark in Hawaii with fishing rope around its neck—so the father dove to cut the rope with a knife.

While free-diving off the shore of Kaunolū on Hawaii’s island of Lanai, a Hawaiian family saw something they’d never seen before: A young whale shark.

Even for people who spend a lot of time in Hawaii’s crystalline waters, this endangered animal—the world’s largest fish—is a rare and joyous sight.

But the initial wonder faded as Kapua Kawelo and her husband Joby Rohrer, both of whom work on endangered species for the O‘ahu Army Natural Resources Program, noticed the creature had a thick, heavy rope wrapped around its neck.

“It looked really sore,” says Rohrer. “There were these three scars from where the rope rubbed into the ridges on her back. The rope had cut probably three inches into her pectoral fin.”

After filming the shark for a while, the family decided to try to cut the rope with a dive knife. Using only his experience as a free-diver and a small, serrated dive blade, Rohrer dove down again and again at depths of 50 to 60 feet for spans of up to two minutes at a time.

Finally, after about half an hour of careful work and a little bit of support from the couple’s son Kanehoalani and from Jon Sprague, a wildlife control manager for Pūlama Lānaʻi, the shark was free.

Then the family’s 15-year-old daughter, Ho’ohila, swam the 150-pounds worth of rope to shore.

“It’s a family story,” says Kapua.

Will It Survive?

Clearly, the whale shark is better off now that it’s without “an unbreakable rope lei,” as Kapua puts it. But will the whale shark be able to recover from the ordeal?

According to Brad Norman, a National Geographic Explorer and one of the world’s foremost experts on whale sharks, you can tell the rope had been strangling the animal for at least a few months because of all the barnacles that had colonized it. Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources had actually been alerted to the shark’s plight in mid-July by SCUBA divers and had since sent out a call for people to report any future sightings.

But Norman says that, all things considered, the shark appeared to be in pretty good condition. He also estimated that the animal was at least 20 years old, giving it excellent odds to survive.

“Although globally, all whale sharks are endangered and threatened with extinction,” says Norman. “If we don’t reverse the declining trend in their numbers, it’s dire for the species as a whole.”

What’s more, lost fishing gear doesn’t just harm whale sharks. According to a recent report by World Animal Protection, more than 700,000 tons of new gear enters earth’s oceans each year. (Read National Geographic’s special series “Planet or Plastic”)

Did The Whale Shark Come To Humans For Help?

Whale sharks typically swim away when they’re touched, says Norman, so the fact that the shark remained even after Rohrer began to saw at the rope is evidence that it was comfortable with the situation. Norman calls it “amazing to see.”

“The shark appears to allow the diver to assist,” says Norman, “seemingly knowing he’s helping.”

Kapua credits her husband’s zen-like demeanor and heroic free-diving ability for allowing him to be able to free the entangled shark.

“We all wanted to help but none of us could hold our breath that long,” she says.

But there was also something else about the experience, she says. In Hawaiian mythology, ancestors sometimes come back as guardian animals, called ʻaumakua. These guardians are thought to protect families, who also must help protect them.

“And we’ve never seen a whale shark before but, just like native peoples around the world, you feel like you have a special connection to the resources that surround you and your family,” says Kapua.

“I like to think that we were there for a reason and that the least we could do for having that amazing experience, seeing that beautiful creature, was to help it survive.”

Court grants ban of fish imports from Mexico caught with nets that hurt endangered porpoise

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/398995-court-grants-ban-of-fish
-imports-from-mexico-caught-with-nets-that

A trade court Thursday ordered the Trump administration to implement a ban
on seafood imports from Mexico caught with a method tied to harming an
endangered porpoise species.

The United States Court of International Trade ruled that the government
must ban Mexican imports of seafood caught using gillnets, a fishing
technique that has been found to injure and kill the critically endangered
vaquita porpoise.

Scientists believe there are only 15 vaquitas left in the wild, which could
leave the species extinct by 2021.

The court denied the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the case
writing, “Evidence shows that vaquita are killed by gillnet fishing and are
on the verge of extinction: because the statutory duty to ban fish imports
resulting in such excessive marine mammal bycatch is mandatory, the
Government must comply with it.”

Gillnets are a type of fishing net that is hung in the water to catch
passing-by seafood.

The case brought by three conservation groups, the Natural Resources Defense
Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare
Institute against the Department of Commerce argues that it is the U.S.
government’s duty to enact a ban on Mexico under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act for the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise.

The court agreed, determining that the “law commands” that “the Secretary of
the Treasury shall ban imports of fish and fish products from northern Gulf
fisheries that utilize gillnets and incidentally kill vaquita in excess of
United States standards.”

The vaquita is most often found in the upper Gulf of California. Seafood
products typically caught with gillnets include shrimp, corvina, Spanish
mackerel and bigeye croaker.

According to data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service under
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. imported more than
$55 million worth of seafood from Mexico in 2017.

More than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported.

Shark fisheries hunting dolphins, other marine mammals as bait: Study

Researchers work to free whale with jaw wrapped in fishing line for years

Researchers in Massachusetts are hopeful they’ll finally be able to free an endangered North Atlantic right whale who has had a fishing line wrapped around her jaw for several years.

The adult female named “Kleenex” was first spotted in the Cape Cod Bay in 1977, but has had a fishing lined wrapped around her jaw for at least three years, according to the Cape Cod Times.

Researchers and scientists attempted to remove some of the line on Thursday by using a method to weaken and deteriorate the rope, since there was no trailing line and the whale couldn’t be slowed to remove it.

Southern right whales, known in Spanish as ballena franca austral, swim in the waters of the Atlantic Sea, offshore Golfo Nuevo,  Argentina's Patagonian village of Puerto Piramides, September 19, 2014. The whales regularly come to breed and calve in this marine reserve from June to December.        REUTERS/Maxi Jonas (ARGENTINA  - Tags:  ANIMALS ENVIRONMENT) - GM1EA9K0GDZ01

Southern right whales, known in Spanish as ballena franca austral, swim in the waters of the Atlantic Sea, offshore Golfo Nuevo, Argentina’s Patagonian village of Puerto Piramides, September 19, 2014.  (REUTERS/Maxi Jonas)

“For more than a half century, Kleenex has defied the odds of survival and been a pillar of the right whale’s modest recovery,” New England Aquarium spokesman Tony LaCasse said in a statement. “Let’s hope that she sheds the entangling gear.”

‘BEGINNING OF THE END?’ NO NEW BABIES FOR ENDANGERED WHALES

The whale is a great-grandmother to six calves, which is 5 percent of the North Atlantic right whale population. Right whales recorded no new births in this year’s calving season, making preserving reproductive females extremely important to researchers.

As of now, the species has dwindled to no more than 450 animals, further strengthening conservation efforts. A total of 17 right whales washed up dead in the U.S. and Canada last year, far outpacing five births.

SPERM WHALE SWALLOWS 64 POUNDS OF TRASH, DIES OF ‘GASTRIC SHOCK’

With no rebound in births this past winter, the overall population could shrink further in 2018. One right whale was found dead off the coast of Virginia in January.

Kleenex hasn’t been seen since the disentanglement attempt, but that is typical of whale rescue efforts, Cathrine Macort, a spokeswoman for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, told the Associated Press. Macort said rescuers will keep looking for the whale so they can remove the gear.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sushi parasite that embeds in the stomach is on the rise, doctors warn

Eating raw fish can lead to anisakiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms.

Sushi has a healthy reputation – it can be low fat and high in protein – but a new report serves as a stark reminder that sushi made with raw fish can carry a dangerous parasite. Doctors warn that it’s becoming a greater problem in Western countries as more people eat sushi, and they documented one recent case that serves as a cautionary tale.

The case of a previously healthy 32-year-old man from Lisbon, Portugal, is featured in the medical journal BMJ Case Reports this week. The man was suffering from a bout of stomach pain for more than a week, and experienced vomiting and a fever.

When doctors questioned him about his symptoms and history, he revealed that he had recently eaten sushi.

Doctors performed an endoscopy – a scope test that uses a tiny camera on the end of a long, flexible tube to view the upper digestive system – and discovered he had parasite larvae attached to the lining of his stomach wall.

The culprit: Anisakiasis, a disease caused by parasitic worms.

“It is caused by the consumption of contaminated raw or undercooked fish or seafood,” the authors wrote in their case study.

Photos published with their account of the case show a worm “firmly attached” inside the man’s stomach.

Surgeons used a special device, called a Roth net, to remove the parasite, and the man’s symptoms resolved.

Most cases of the parasite have previously occurred in Japan, but the disease has been increasingly recognized as a problem in the West, the authors wrote.

Patients can have other symptoms too, including nausea, digestive bleeding, bowel obstruction, inflammation of the abdomen and allergic symptoms including itching and anaphalaxis, a severe and life-threatening reaction, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Daniel Eiras, assistant professor of infectious diseases at NYU Langone Medical Center, told CBS News that it’s pretty rare to see cases in the U.S. He’s only seen one case about two years ago, in a 45-year-old man.

“He was having reflux and severe abdominal pain. They thought he had a mass in his belly, cancer in his small intestine, so they took out the mass and looked at it under the microscope and it was one of these worms,” said Eiras.

Cases of anisakiasis are probably widely underreported, though, he said, because primary care doctors and pharmacists, the first health care professionals an infected person might consult with, typically aren’t aware of or looking for this type of parasite.

“We don’t do endoscopies on every person with stomach complaints, so we don’t know. Presumably there are many people who get anisakiasis and it gets sloughed out of their digestive system. It doesn’t lay eggs or continuously infect the intestine,” Eiras said.

So, only cases where the parasite actually embeds in the stomach or intestine wall may actually come to light, he explained.

The parasite can crop up in raw or undercooked seafood such as cod, fluke, haddock and monk fish.

Dr. Donald Hensrud, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program and specialist in nutrition and preventive medicine, told CBS News that pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients or individuals taking biologic drugs, should avoid raw or undercooked fish and seafood. They can carry a risk for other illnesses, too.

Two years ago, a salmonella outbreak was linked to raw tuna.,” said Hensrud, the author of the Mayo Clinic Diet book.

Don’t eat raw fish at sketchy restaurants, either, Eiras recommended.

“I would not go to a restaurant with a ‘C’ rating in New York largely for this reason. It’s a big red flag when a sushi restaurant can’t maintain an ‘A’ rating, because one of the main things they get rated on is refrigeration. They’re not cooking the fish so that is the only prevention method, keeping it cold,” he said.

The same goes for eating ceviche — a dish made from raw fish and cured in lemon or lime juice — and poke, a Hawaiian raw fish salad that’s increasingly popping up on menus.

When preparing fish at home, cook seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends. The FDA says freezing fish can kill parasites, too.

Moratorium on cownose ray fishing contests passed by Maryland General Assembly

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – (AP) – A moratorium on fishing for cownose rays has been passed by the Maryland General Assembly.

The legislature voted Wednesday to send the bill to Gov. Larry Hogan.

It creates a moratorium on contests that involve killing the rays until July 1, 2019. It also requires the Department of Natural Resources to prepare a fisheries management plan by Dec. 31, 2018.

The Humane Society of the United States has condemned the contests. The organization is calling the bill a major step in protecting Chesapeake Bay wildlife.

Legislation initially called for a ban. The moratorium was part of a compromise. Opponents of a permanent ban say the rays have been identified as damaging to bay oyster populations, but supporters say science has shown the rays are not responsible for oyster declines.