Great Whales Still Face Grave Threats

by Gershon Cohen, Ph.D.  — Co-Director, Great Whale Conservancy

A magnificent Blue Whale fluke (Image courtesy of Michael Fishbach, Great Whale Conservancy)

A magnificent Blue Whale fluke (Image courtesy of Michael Fishbach, Great Whale Conservancy)

The Great Whales need our help.  They face multiple threats today in many parts of the world: “scientific whaling,” ship strikes, habitat encroachment, decreasing food supplies, ocean acidification, etc.; it is up to us to take on these threats and do what we can to protect these magnificent, sentient beings.

The Great Whale Conservancy was created in 2010 to answer this call, and the first problem we are focusing on is the ship strike issue that plagues whales in oceans around the planet –where great whales and cargo ships, oil tankers, and cruise ships try to occupy the same place at the same time.  The whales have no choice: they need to follow their food and consumes tons of protein every day to survive.  The ships have a choice: they can adjust their transits to minimize the time they spend in Great Whale habitat. Read more

Lessons of BP Deepwater Horizon: Unlearned and Now Unleashed in Alaska

Shell's Kulluk platform aground at Stikalidak Island, Alaska

Shell’s Kulluk platform aground at Sitkalidak Island, Alaska (USCG Photo)

Just a short time ago the world was mesmerized by a mile-deep live feed of an unstoppable tempest of brown crude and an unprecedented frenzy of human activity undertaking desperate, inadequate attempts to halt the flow and skim, burn, disperse, and boom the rest. In the countless hearings by Congress and the National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that would follow, talk of a cold, distant frontier was unavoidable:  The chilling thought of such a disaster occurring in the Arctic, where remoteness, vastness, heavy weather and unforgiving seas combine to make even simple tasks at sea profoundly more difficult. In the face of the largest oil spill in history, many of us found consolation in that we were finally paying attention to the perils of offshore drilling and these lessons would finally be learned.

What BP Deepwater Horizon illustrated vividly was that civilization’s striking advances in deepwater drilling have far outpaced its ability to clean up should a disaster occur. Perhaps the most chilling of all the Congressional testimony was the revelation by oil company CEOs that the essence of their plan for dealing with a catastrophic oil spill was to not have a catastrophic oil spill. A great idea on paper, but in the real world, an arrogant denial of the limits of technology, human error, and Mother Nature’s merciless power. Read more

Too Much Love for the Fish Everyone Hates

Spiny Dogfish (Squalus acanthus)

The much-maligned, misunderstood and now treasured “trash fish,” the spiny dogfish (Squalus acanthius). Photo: © Boris Pamikov

It was a sadly typical meeting of the Board of Collier County (Florida) Commissioners in the late nineties. As the meeting droned on, I tuned it out and fell into deep concentration, obsessively rewriting now long-forgotten remarks I would deliver to the Commission about conservation in Southwest Florida on behalf of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I was president and CEO. Our environmental policy director, Michael Simonik, suddenly elbowed me, “Can you believe this?” he gasped. As I looked up, Commissioner Barbara Berry was on her soapbox delivering a monologue, and like Michael, I was stunned to hear what she was saying. She soared into hyperbole to sing the praises of the land developers, declaring Southwest Florida far better than when she arrived, and with a look of disgust tinged with horror, told us how awful it was before the developers came, with all of these unsightly “tangles” of trees and messy vegetation. Nature run amok. Thank god the developers came along and made Southwest Florida a better place, with the neatly manicured lawns of its gated communities (not to mention highest number of golf courses per capita in the world). But as I gazed around the room, there were heads nodding. And I learned something. Read more

What Every Good “Shark Week” Fan Should Read While They Watch

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

Bluntnose Sixgill Shark Hexanchus griseus ? R. Dean Grubbs

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA. August 13, 2012 – At the close of the annual meeting of leading American shark and ray scientists, the IUCN Shark Specialist Group (SSG) is releasing the first compilation of conservation status assessments for nearly 300 sharks, rays, and chimaeras (collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes) found in North American, Central American, and Caribbean waters conducted using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species criteria. The report and supplementary materials can be downloaded from the IUCN website.

The report documents that 13.5% of the region’s shark, skate, and chimaera species qualify for one of the three “threatened” categories — Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable — associated with an elevated risk of extinction. Nine rays and 20 sharks qualify as Vulnerable. Sixteen percent of species are classified as Near Threatened, 27% as Least Concern, and 43.4% as Data Deficient. Read more

RETURN to the Arctic Depths – An Ocean Doctor Special Presentation

In 2007, Greenpeace launched a groundbreaking expedition to explore the two largest underwater canyons in the world, in the heart of the Bering Sea. It was the first time manned submersibles ever entered these canyons and human eyes gazed directly upon their treasures. The expedition revealed an extraordinary tapestry of life thousands of feet below […]

60 MINUTES “The Gardens of the Queen” Named Finalist at BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES' "Gardens of the Queen" Named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012

60 MINUTES’ “Gardens of the Queen,” with Anderson Cooper named as Finalist in BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012 (Image: CBS)

The 60 MINUTES presentation of “The Gardens of the Queen” with Anderson Cooper featuring Cuba’s Jardines de la Reina has been named a finalist in the BLUE Ocean Film Festival 2012, to be held September 24-30, 2012 in Monterey, California. Cooper and the 60 MINUTES team joined Dr. David E. Guggenheim, Senior Fellow and Director of the Cuba Marine Research and Conservation Program at The Ocean Foundation and?Fabi?n Pina Amarg’s of the Cuban Center for Coastal Ecosystem Research, to explore this striking underwater ecosystem. Earlier this year, the 60 MINUTES segment, which originally aired in December 2011, won the 2012 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in journalism.

“The Gardens of the Queen” will be screened at BLUE, with an introduction and discussion by Dr. Guggenheim, now in his 12th year working in Cuba, along with the 60 MINUTES producers (invited) and panel of experts focused on the significance of the piece as well as the important roles that marine protected areas play in protecting the world’s ocean ecosystems. Read more

Aquarius — World’s Last Undersea Lab — Loses Funding, Faces Decommisioning

Aquarius Reef Base

Aquarius Reef Base (Photo: NOAA)

For 25 years, the Aquarius Reef Base, an undersea laboratory that sleeps six?off of Key Largo, has served as host to numerous marine biologists and NASA astronauts. Even the Ocean Doctor has paid a visit to Aquarius. But after years of declining budgets, the Obama administration has eliminated the base’s funding, and the world’s last remaining undersea lab is faced with decommissioning — or finding its own funding. NPR reports that Dr. Sylvia Earle and other researchers are now conducting a mission of outreach and education in Aquarius to help save it.

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Sea Level Rise Now Believed Impossible to Prevent

Caloosahatchee River at Gulf of Mexico, Southwest Florida (Photo by Whitney Gray, Florida Sea Grant)

Caloosahatchee River at Gulf of Mexico, Southwest Florida (Photo by Whitney Gray, Florida Sea Grant)

The Journal Nature reports that, despite our best efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions, sea level rise associated with climate change is unstoppable, even under the most aggressive actions on greenhouse gas mitigation. According to the study, the question now is not if sea level rise will continue but to what degree. And that’s the good news. Without concerted mitigation strategies, scientists predict that future sea level rise would be substantial and continue to rise for centuries to come.

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