ROCKPORT, Maine (AP) — The expanding market for lobsters in China is continuing to grow, with the country setting a new record for the value of its imports of the crustaceans from the United States.
It may sound complicated, but really, it’s simple—if you add carbon emissions to seawater, the ocean turns more acidic. Ocean acidification is happening. We can’t sit back and watch politics harm our coastal communities.
Recently, Scott Pruitt—the nominee for the head of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) was asked directly by Senators about ocean acidification, he wasn’t even willing to admit that ocean acidification is happening.
OCEAN ACIDIFICATION IS HAPPENING.
We gave Scott Pruitt a chance, we listened to what he had to say at his confirmation hearings and his answers on ocean acidification are a total deal-breaker. Ocean acidification is happening. Shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly went bankrupt as a result. Lobstermen in Maine are concerned enough about acidification that they have traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge Congress to support important research that will tell them how lobster might be impacted.
AMERICA’S CLEAN WATER AND AIR THAT SUSTAIN US CREATE A SHINING EXAMPLE FOR MUCH OF THE WORLD, AND THE EPA IS THEIR DEFENDER.
Pruitt demonstrates no understanding of the present reality of ocean acidification and the urgent risk it poses to American marine life, fishermen and the communities that depend on them. Americans must protect our water and air from further pollution while we work collaboratively towards win-win solutions to challenges like ocean acidification. Because Pruitt ignores the established science about our ocean, he is the wrong choice to lead the EPA.
As longtime readers of this blog may remember, I’ve quoted from Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin’s 1996 book, The Sixth Extinction; Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind. Now there’s another book titled The Sixth Extinction (subtitled An Unnatural Order) by Elizabeth Kolbert (sorry, no relation to Steven Colbert…).
Are humans the reason that this wonderful Earth and her inhabitants are all here? Are Homo sapiens the pinnacle of evolution? That and other questions of our evolution are discussed in the chapter “Human Impacts of the Past” in Leakey’s book. Here is a series of excerpts from that original book:
…“For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-inventor of the theory of natural selection, believed that evolution had been working ‘for untold millions of years…slowly developing forms of life and beauty to culminate in man.’
“Until about a decade ago, most biologists did not feel uncomfortable with speaking of an increase in complexity as an outcome of evolution and using the term progress interchangeably with complexity. Recently, however, a certain nervousness has crept in, so it is now acceptable to talk about complexity, but not about progress. Progress, is it’s argued, implies some kind of mysterious innate tendency for improvement, and that is considered too mystical. …
“Gould was one of the most outspoken in denying progress, asserting that it is ‘a noxious, culturally imbedded, untestable, nonoperational idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history.’
“The ability of the human species to inflict devastation on the natural world at the level of significant extinctions was for a long time thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. In Wallace’s time, biologists recognized that the swaths of European colonizations of the globe from the seventeenth century onward had left a trail of havoc in nature’s perceived harmony. Many held earlier colonizers, such as the Polynesians throughout the Pacific, to be blameless in this respect, and to have been part of that harmony. (Western sentiments toward technologically primitive societies had in fact swung dramatically, from their being crude and barbaric beasts to being Rousseauean noble savages.) But as Jared Diamond, a biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, had pointed out, many pre-European societies felt the same about their own forbearers.
“Homo sapiens has become the most dominant species on Earth. Unfortunately, our impact is devastating, and if we continue to destroy the environment as we do today, half the world’s species will become extinct early in the next century.
[Again, this was written at the end of the twentieth century.]
“Even though Homo sapiens is destined for extinction, just like other species in history, we have an ethical imperative to protect nature’s diversity, not destroy it.
“Many people find it impossible to contemplate a time when Home sapiens would no longer exist, so they like to assume that we will break the biological rule and continue forever, or at least until our planet ceases to exist, billions of years from now, when its atmosphere is burned off by an expanding sun.
“The sixth extinction is similar to previous biological catastrophes in many ways. For instance, the most vulnerable species are those whose geographical distribution is limited, those in and near the tropics, and those with large body size. It is unusual in several ways, too, most particularly in that large numbers of plant species are being wiped out, which is unprecedented compared with past crises. But in the end, with passage of five, ten, or twenty million years, despite this and other distortions of the biota that will remain, rebound will occur. ‘On geologic scales, our planet will take care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance,’ as Gould has put it. Why, then, if it matters not at all in the long run what we do while we are here, should we concern ourselves with the survival of species that, like us, will eventually be no more?
“We should be concerned because, special though we are in many ways, we are merely an accident of history. We did not arrive on Earth as if from outer space, set down amid a wondrous diversity of life, blessed with a right to do with it what we please. We, like every species with which we share the world, are products of many chance events, leading back to that amazing explosion of life forms half a billion years ago, and beyond that to the origin of life itself. When we understand this intimate connection with the rest of nature in terms of our origins, an ethical imperative follows: it is our duty to protect, not harm them. It is our duty, not because we are the one sentient creature on Earth, which bestows some kind of benevolent superiority on us, but because in a fundamental sense Homo sapiens is on an equal footing with each and every other species here on Earth. And when we understand the Earth’s biota in holistic terms—that is, operating in an interactive whole that produces a healthy and stable living world—we come to see ourselves as part of that whole, not as a privileged species that can exploit with impunity. The recognition that we are rooted in life itself and its well-being demands that we respect other species, not trample them in a blind pursuit of our own ends. And, by the same ethical principle, the fact that one day Homo sapiens will have disappeared from the face of the Earth does not give us license to do whatever we choose while we are here.”
And in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, from the prologue:
[Human expansion] “…continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.
“Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is underway. Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This in turn, alters the climate and chemistry of the oceans… Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many—at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions—find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.
“No creature has ever altered the life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one…”
And speaking of oceans, an article in today’s Washington Post, “What the ‘sixth extinction’ will look like in the oceans: The largest species die off first,” cites a new study of the current mass extinction event and how it is currently affecting marine life.
— from the blog of Guy McPherson, Nature Bats Last
…22. Drought-induced mortality of trees contributes to increased decomposition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and decreased sequestration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Such mortality has been documented throughout the world since at least November 2000 in Nature, with recent summaries in the February 2013 issue of Nature for the tropics, the August 2013 issue of Frontiers in Plant Science for temperate North America, and the 21 August 2015 issue of Science for boreal forests. The situation is exacerbated by pests and disease, as trees stressed by altered environmental conditions become increasingly susceptible to agents such as bark beetles andmistletoe (additional examples abound).
One extremely important example of this phenomenon is occurring in the Amazon, where drought in 2010 led to the release of more carbon than the United States that year (Science, February 2011). The calculation badly underestimates the carbon release. In addition, ongoing deforestation in the region is driving declines in precipitation at a rate much faster than long thought, as reported in the 19 July 2013 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. An overview of the phenomenon, focused on the Amazon, was provided by Climate News Network on 5 March 2014. “The observed decline of the Amazon sink diverges markedly from the recent increase in terrestrial carbon uptake at the global scale, and is contrary to expectations based on models,” according to a paper in the 19 March 2015 issue of Nature. ** Finally, according to a paper in the 1 July 2016 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles, the 2010 drought completely shut down the Amazon Basin’s carbon sink, by killing trees and slowing their growth. **
Tropical rain forests, long believed to represent the primary driver of atmospheric carbon dioxide, are on the verge of giving up that role. According to a 21 May 2014 paper published in Nature, “the higher turnover rates of carbon pools in semi-arid biomes are an increasingly important driver of global carbon cycle inter-annual variability,” indicating the emerging role of drylands in controlling environmental conditions. “Because of the deforestation of tropical rainforests in Brazil, significantly more carbon has been lost than was previously assumed.” In fact, “forest fragmentation results in up to a fifth more carbon dioxide being emitted by the vegetation.” These results come from the 7 October 2014 issue of Nature Communications. A paper in the 28 December 2015 online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicates Amazon forest could transition to savanna-like states in response to climate change. Savannas are simply described as grasslands with scattered trees or shrubs. The abstract of the paper suggests that, “in contrast to existing predictions of either stability or catastrophic biomass loss, the Amazon forest’s response to a drying regional climate is likely to be an immediate, graded, heterogeneous transition from high-biomass moist forests to transitional dry forests and woody savannah-like states.”
The boreal forest wraps around the globe at the top of the Northern Hemisphere. It is the planet’s single largest biome and makes up 30 percent of the globe’s forest cover. Moose are the largest ungulate in the boreal forest and their numbers have plummeted. The reason is unknown.
Dennis Murray, a professor of ecology at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, thinks the dying moose of Minnesota and New Hampshire and elsewhere are one symptom of something far bigger – a giant forest ecosystem that is rapidly shrinking, dying, and otherwise changing. “The boreal forest is breaking apart,” he says. “The question is what will replace it?”
Increasing drought threatens almost all forests in the United States, according to a paper in the 21 February 2016 online issue of Global Change Biology. According to the paper’s abstract, “diebacks, changes in composition and structure, and shifting range limits are widely observed.”
For the first time scientists have investigated the net balance of the three major greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide — for every region of Earth’s land masses. The results were published in the 10 March 2016 issue of Nature. The surprising result: Human-induced emissions of methane and nitrous oxide from ecosystems overwhelmingly surpass the ability of the land to soak up carbon dioxide emissions, which makes the terrestrial biosphere a contributor to climate change.
An abstract of a paper to be published in the April 2016 issue of Biogeochemistry includes these sentences: “Rising temperatures and nitrogen (N) deposition, both aspects of global environmental change, are proposed to alter soil organic matter (SOM) biogeochemistry. … Overall, this study shows that the decomposition and accumulation of molecularly distinct SOM components occurs with soil warming and N amendment and may subsequently alter soil biogeochemical cycling.” In other words, as global temperatures rise, the organic matter in forests appears to break down more quickly, thereby accelerating the release of carbon into the atmosphere.
23. Ocean acidification leads to release of less dimethyl sulphide (DMS) by plankton. DMS shields Earth from radiation. (Nature Climate Change, online 25 August 2013). Plankton form the base of the marine food web, some populations have declined 40% since 1950 (e.g., article in the 29 July 2010 issue of Nature), and they are on the verge of disappearing completely, according to a paperin the 18 October 2013 issue of Global Change Biology. As with carbon dioxide, ocean acidification is occurring rapidly, according to a paper in the 26 March 2014 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Acidification is proceeding at a pace unparalleled during the last 300 million years, according to research published in the 2 March 2012 issue of Science. Over the past 10 years, the Atlantic Ocean has soaked up 50 percent more carbon dioxide than it did the decade before, measurably speeding up the acidification of the ocean, according to a paper published in the 30 January 2016 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles. Not surprisingly, the degradation of the base of the marine food web is reducing the ability of fish populations to reproduce and replenish themselves across the globe, as reported in the 14 December 2015 online edition of theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Diatoms, one of the major groups of plankton, is declining globally at the rate of about one percent per year, according to a paper in the 23 September 2015 issue of Global Biogeochemical Cycles.
The Southern Ocean is acidifying at such a rate because of rising carbon dioxide emissions that large regions may be inhospitable for key organisms in the food chain to survive as soon as 2030,according to a paper in the 2 November 2015 online issue of Nature Climate Change.
A paper in the 26 November 2015 issue of Science Express indicates millennial-scale shifts in plankton in the subtropical North Pacific Ocean that are “unprecedented in the last millennium.” The ongoing shift “began in the industrial era and is supported by increasing N2-fixing cyanobacterial production. This picoplankton community shift may provide a negative feedback to rising atmospheric CO2.” One of the authors of the papers is quoted during an interview: “This picoplankton community shift may have provided a negative feedback to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide, during the last 100 years. However, we cannot expect this to be the case in the future.”
Further research on primary productivity in the ocean was published in paper in the 19 January 2016 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. Referring to the Indian Ocean, the abstract concludes, “future climate projections suggest that the Indian Ocean will continue to warm, driving this productive region into an ecological desert.”
For the first time, researchers have documented algae-related toxins in Arctic sea mammals. Specifically, toxins produced by harmful algal blooms are showing up in Alaska marine mammals as far north as the Arctic Ocean — much farther north than ever reported previously, according to apaper in the 11 February 2016 issue of Harmful Algae. The abstract indicates, “In this study, 905 marine mammals from 13 species were sampled including; humpback whales, bowhead whales, beluga whales, harbor porpoises, northern fur seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, ringed seals, bearded seals, spotted seals, ribbon seals, Pacific walruses, and northern sea otters. Domoic acid was detected in all 13 species examined and had the greatest prevalence in bowhead whales (68%) and harbor seals (67%). Saxitoxin was detected in 10 of the 13 species … These results provide evidence that … toxins are present throughout Alaska waters at levels high enough to be detected in marine mammals and have the potential to impact marine mammal health in the Arctic marine environment.”
24. Jellyfish have assumed a primary role in the oceans of the world (26 September 2013 issue of the New York Times Review of Books, in a review of Lisa-ann Gershwin’s book, Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean): “We are creating a world more like the late Precambrian than the late 1800s — a world where jellyfish ruled the seas and organisms with shells didn’t exist. We are creating a world where we humans may soon be unable to survive, or want to.” Jellyfish contribute to climate change via (1) release of carbon-rich feces and mucus used by bacteria for respiration, thereby converting bacteria into carbon dioxide factories and (2) consumption of vast numbers of copepods and other plankton.
25. Sea-level rise causes slope collapse, tsunamis, and release of methane, as reported in the September 2013 issue of Geology. In eastern Siberia, the speed of coastal erosion has nearly doubled during the last four decades as the permafrost melts. And it appears sea-level rise has gone exponential, judging from Scribbler’s 4 May 2015 analysis. Considering only data through 2005, according to a paper published 28 September 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the 500-year return time of floods in New York City has been reduced to 24.4 years.
26. Rising ocean temperatures will upset natural cycles of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus, hence reducing plankton (Nature Climate Change, September 2013). Ocean warming has been profoundly underestimated since the 1970s according to a paper published in the online version ofNature Climate Change on 5 October 2014. Specifically, the upper 2,300 feet of the Southern Hemisphere’s oceans may have warmed twice as quickly after 1970 than had previously been thought. According to a 22 January 2015 article in The Guardian, “the oceans are warming so fast, they keep breaking scientists’ charts.”
Another indication of a warming ocean is coral bleaching. The third global coral bleaching event since 1998, and also the third in evidence, ever, is underway on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. According to Australia National News on 28 March 2016, a survey of the Great Barrier Reef reports 95% of the northern reefs were rated as severely bleached, and only 4 of 520 reefs surveyed were found to be unaffected by bleaching.
27. Earthquakes trigger methane release, and consequent warming of the planet triggers earthquakes, as reported by Sam Carana at the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (October 2013)…
Dan Joling / Associated Press
Lake Iliamna in Southwest Alaska is North America’s eighth-largest lake, but nobody would mistake it for the Pacific Ocean. Not even a seabird.
So when thousands of common murres were found dead at the lake — part of a massive die-off of a species whose preferred winter habitat is at sea — seabird experts were puzzled.
“We’ve talked about unprecedented things about this die off. That’s another one,” said John Piatt, research wildlife biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey.
Murres occasionally land in fresh water, Piatt said.
“You figure it’s a misguided individual. To have 6,000, 8,000 birds in the lake is pretty mind-blowing, really,” he said. “I’ve never heard of any such a thing anywhere in the world.”
Abnormal numbers of dead common murres, all apparently starved, began washing ashore on Alaska beaches in March 2015. After late-December storms, 8,000 were found at the Prince William Sound community of Whittier. The confirmed carcass count is now up to 36,000, but most don’t wash ashore. Also, Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the United States put together and relatively few beaches have been surveyed.
Common murres catch finger-length fish to feed their young in summer and can forage on krill. Less is known about what they eat in winter. Because of a high metabolism rate, they can use up fat reserves and drop to a critical threshold for starvation in three days of not eating.
Researchers trying to find out the cause of the deaths would not have thought to look on a freshwater lake but were alerted to the Iliamna carcasses by Randy Alvarez, a member of the Lake and Peninsula Borough Assembly.
A commercial fisherman, Alvarez has lived in Igiugig on the west end of 77-mile long Lake Iliamna since 1983.
He had seen a few dead murres on the beach, but on a mid-February flight with the borough mayor and manager, they saw thousands.
“We came up with a guess of 6,000 to 8000 birds in about 12 miles,” Alvarez said.
Nobody he knows remembers common murres at the lake. Alvarez speculates the birds could not find food in the Pacific and flew to the lake to eat salmon smolt. Lake Iliamna has not frozen the last two winters, which itself is strange.
His friends and relatives in Naknek, a Bristol Bay port, in normal winters catch smelt, another small, silvery fish.
“This was the worst anybody had ever seen it for smelt,” he said, and he wonders if it’s connected to the North Pacific’s third-straight year of above-normal temperatures. If seabirds can’t find enough to eat, he worries that salmon won’t either.
“I think something is not right,” he said.
Scientists in multiple federal agencies are trying to determine if the murre deaths are connected to lack of food, parasites, disease, weather or something else, but they keep being pitched curves, like birds showing up in surprising places.
“This is the thing about this die-off,” Piatt said. “We don’t even know what we don’t know.”
Updated 8:08 pm, Wednesday, February 18, 2015
Unusually warm ocean water along the West Coast is to blame for the mass starvation, sickness and deaths of hundreds of sea lion pups in California this winter, scientists said Wednesday.
About 940 sick and starving young sea lions have washed up on California beaches so far this year and were taken into the eight rehabilitation centers between San Diego and San Francisco. That’s four times the number of strandings that occur on average in the first four months of a normal year, marine biologists said.
The number of pinnipeds being treated exceeds the number of rescues during the same period in 2013, a year in which so many sea lions washed ashore that the National Marine Fisheries Service declared a rare “unusual mortality event.”
“We are way above average,” said Justin Viezbicke, the stranding network coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in California, adding that 550 of the rescued pups were still being treated. “Right now most of our facilities, if they are not at capacity, are close to it. … The reality is that we can’t get to all of these animals. Our capacity to handle all of these animals coming to shore just isn’t there.”
The problem is that the ocean is 2 to 5 degrees warmer than the average for this time of year, a trend that has persisted throughout much of 2014, according to Nate Mantua, a NOAA climatologist.
He said the warming trend has been moving northward and now covers virtually all of the coastal waters of Northern California. He said it is being caused by the same high-pressure system that is causing the drought, but in this case it’s the lack of wind from the north and the lack of deep ocean upwelling those winds churn up that have caused the ocean to warm.
“It is reminiscent of the kind of warming we’ve seen during extreme El Niño events,” Mantua said. “The warming is about as strong as anything that’s in the historical record for the northeast Pacific and the West Coast.”
The odd thing, he said, is that the warming is occurring even though the warming weather pattern known as El Niño is not in effect. And, he said, it’s not just on the surface. The warm ocean temperatures go down about 100 meters, enough to force the fish that sea lions feed on to migrate north, making it harder for the pinniped mothers to find food for their pups.
Dozens of subtropical fish, including yellowfin tuna, pelagic red crabs and green sea turtles, have been found in Central California waters, far north of where they normally go.
Mantua said ocean warming has been observed in the past, but rarely do these conditions last as long as this trend.
Meanwhile fishermen are shooting sea lions on the Oregon coast!
10,000 baby sea lions have washed up dead on a California island, with experts calling the unexplained deaths a “crisis” and “[Pups] are washing ashore at a rate so alarming, rescuers said Thursday, this year is the worst yet”. Enenews.com reports
Michele Hunter, the center’s director of animal care, said, “It’s very difficult to see so much death.” Sacramento Bee, Mar 7, 2015: Tens of thousands of pups birthed last summer are believed to be dying on the islands… some [are] desperately trying to climb onto small boats or kayaks… Scientists noted a worrisome anomaly in 2013, when 1,171 famished pups were stranded…
Marine Mammal Center, Mar 5, 2015: It’s clear these sea lions are trying to tell us something. Their very presence here in such great numbers at this time of year is sounding an alarm up and down the coast… it signals something complex happening in our ocean… sea lions are very sensitive to their environment… alerting us to major changes in the ocean… The scene on the Channel Islands this year is grave, worse even than what researchers saw in 2012, before the Unusual Mortality Event in 2013… “What’s scary is that we don’t know when this will end,” says Dr. Shawn Johnson, Director of Veterinary Science at The Marine Mammal Center.
“This could be the new normal—a changed environment that we’re dealing with now.” LA Daily News, Mar 13, 2015: “By the end of January, we had as many as we did in (all of) 2013,” [Marine Mammal Care Center’s David Bard] said… “We’ve never seen anything like this with back-to-back events that are affecting the same part of the population,” Melin said. Dr. Melin: “Based on what we are seeing… we should be bracing for a lot more animals” CBS Los Angeles, Mar 9, 2015: [California Wildlife Center’s Jeff Hall] says the event has escalated into a crisis. “I would personally consider this a crisis,” Hall said… The epidemic has prompted a number of volunteers to step forward, including… television personality Kat Von D [who said] “I think there’s a lack of awareness of what’s going on in the environment.”
Jul 31, 2014 http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/26168287/fisherman-charged-for-underwater-assault-on-scuba-diver
KONA, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) –
Hawaii County Prosecutors have charged fisherman Jay Lovell with terroristic threatening in the second degree. He is accused of ripping the regulator out of Rene Umberger’s mouth eliminating her ability to breathe.
Lovell was collecting reef fish last May for the aquarium trade. Umberger is an environmentalist against the practice and says the incident isn’t stopping her from documenting aquarium fishermen.
“Violence is never appropriate but also people who are out there trying to expose and document the destructive practices on the reefs aren’t going to be intimidated by this kind of activity. Stooping to violence only hurts the cause it doesn’t help their cause,” said Rene Umberger, Reef Consultant and Diver.
The incident stirred debate around the country. Umberger says it helped people learn that aquarium fish do not always come from farms and has bolstered support against the trade.
Meanwhile Jay Lovell’s brother says he will fight the charges.
“Jay is actually looking forward to the court so all the facts of the case can actually come out. The fact that these people are targeting the industry, they’ve been threatening for over a year,” said Jim Lovell, Jay’s brother, who is also a reef fisherman. “They provoked us, they caused it, it’s on their table. It’s on their agenda and this is what they want to do.”
Jay Lovell’s court date on the misdemeanor charge is September 2nd.
Tuesday 8 July 2014
The first success of the environmental movements of the 1960s was to save the whale. Now, with deep irony, whales may be about to save us with their poo. A new scientific report from the University of Vermont, which gathers together several decades of research, shows that the great whales which nearly became extinct in the 20th century – and are now recovering in number due to the 1983 ban on whaling – may be the enablers of massive carbon sinks via their prodigious production of faeces.
Not only do the nutrients in whale poo feed other organisms, from phytoplankton upwards – and thereby absorb the carbon we humans are pumping into the atmosphere – even in death the sinking bodies of these massive animals create new resources on the sea bed, where entire species exist solely to graze on rotting whale. There’s an additional and direct benefit for humans, too. Contrary to the suspicions of fishermen that whales take their catch, cetacean recovery could “lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth”. Their fertilizing faeces here, too, would encourage phytoplankton which in turn would encourage healthier fisheries.
Such propositions speak to our own species’ arrogance. As demonstrated in the fantastical geoengineering projects dreamed up to address climate change, the human race’s belief that the world revolves around it knows no bounds. What if whales were nature’s ultimate geoengineers? The new report only underlines what has been suspected for some time: that cetaceans, both living and dead, are ecosystems in their own right. But it also raises a hitherto unexplored prospect, that climate change may have been accelerated by the terrible whale culls of the 20th century, which removed hundreds of thousands of these ultimate facilitators of CO2 absorption. As Greg Gatenby, the acclaimed Canadian writer on whales told me in response to the Vermont report, “about 300,000 blue whales were taken in the 20th century. If you average each whale at 100 tons, that makes for the removal from the ocean of approximately 30m tons of biomass. And that’s just for one species”.
There’s another irony here, too. American whaling, as celebrated in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), declined in part because of the discovery of mineral oil wells in the second half of the 19th century. One unsustainable resource – the whale oil which lit and lubricated the industrial revolution – was replaced by another. By killing so many whales, then turning to carbon-emitting mineral oil, humans created a double-whammy for climate change. (Conversely, and perhaps perversely, some US commentators have claimed that capitalism saved the whales rather than environmentalists. They contend that our use of mineral oil actually alleviated the pressure on whale populations – proof, they say, that human ingenuity has the ultimate power to solve the planet’s problems).
The 10 scientists who jointly contributed to the new paper note the benefits of “an ocean repopulated by the great whales”. Working on a whalewatching boat off Cape Cod last month, I witnessed astonishing numbers of fin whales, humpbacks and minkes feeding on vast schools of sand eels. I watched dozens of whales at a time, co-operatively hoovering up the bait – and producing plentiful clouds of poo in the process. (Having been at the receiving end of a defecating sperm whale, I can testify to its richly odiferous qualities.)
Observers in the Azores have reported similarly remarkable concentrations of cetaceans this summer. And with a 10% increase in humpback calves returning to Australian waters each year, and blue whales being seen in the Irish Sea, a burgeoning global population of cetaceans might not just be good for the whalewatching industry, they may play a significant role in the planet’s rearguard action against climate change.
It would certainly be a generous return on their part, given what we’ve inflicted on them. Indeed, as Melville imagined in his prophetic chapter in Moby-Dick, Does the Whale’s Magnitude Diminish?, the whale might yet have the last laugh, regaining its reign in a flooded world of the future to “spout his frothed defiance to the skies”.
By Tim Sakahara
An assault is caught on camera 50 feet underwater. The video shows one
diver ripping off the air supply of another diver. Now authorities are
Environmentalists and reef fish collectors have had disputes in the past,
but this one may have crossed over into criminal action with one party
calling for serious charges to be filed.
The video was taken off the Kona Coast last Thursday. The dive turned ugly
when one diver darts over and rips off Rene Umberger’s breathing supply 50
feet underwater. The scene was captured on two cameras.
“This man needs to be arrested. I think this man needs to be arrested
immediately for attempted murder,” said Rene Umberger, coral reef
consultant and scuba diver.
Umberger, 53, was eventually able to get her regulator back in and breathe
again. That’s when she captured the suspect make another threatening
gesture with his arms toward her.
“I honestly thought he was coming back for a second attack,” said Umberger.
“I got up on the boat and I said oh my God, someone just tried to kill me
Umberger and the others were documenting damage to coral reefs when they
came across the pair of divers who clearly didn’t want their picture taken.
She credits her experience and more than 10,000 dives with saving her life.
“An inexperienced diver would likely panic. Either panic from the stress of
the situation and shoot for the surface. They may panic because their air
source is missing and they can’t find it. Any of those things causes a
diver to shoot for the surface and those incidents often lead to death,”
said Umberger. “Never in a million years. Never in a million years did I
think that someone would attack like that, especially from such a distance.
It’s not like we were close up or in their face.”
She believes she knows who the suspect is and wants to press charges.
The State Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement says it is
investigating and will turn its information over to the County Prosecutors
“The greater issue is that Hawaii’s reefs are being emptied by these
commercial operations,” said Umberger. “Hawaii’s reefs are suffering
incredibly from this unlimited collection.”
The video shows how aggressive people can be.
Collecting reef fish is legal if you have a permit and are in a designated
area and meeting fish size, season and quantity rules. There’s no word from
the State if the suspect was diving legally.