Marine life

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1995:

Sea turtles
The Senate Appropriations
C o m m i t t e e, at urging of Senator J. Bennett
Johnson (D-La.) on September 14 approved
$500,000 to monitor changes in the sea turtle
population––and $750,000 to research ways to
protect sea turtles without forcing shrimpers to
use turtle exclusion devices (TEDS), which
they blame for declining catches. Thus pressured,
NMFS announced September 18 that it
would consider a shrimp industry proposal to
set aside sea turtle management areas in the
Gulf of Mexico, where turtles would be protected,
in exchange for elimination of the TED
requirement. Catching flak from both directions,
NMFS also faces a lawsuit over alleged
failure to enforce TED use, filed July 8 by
Earth Island Institute, Help Endangered
Animals––Ridley Turtles, and HSUS.

Heading home, an 11-foot, 1,200-
pound male manatee believed to be 30 to 50
years old returned briefly to Chesapeake Bay,
Maryland, on September 20, where he creat
ed a stir last year, before swimming on south.
Once native, manatees were hunted out of
Chesapeake Bay more than 200 years ago.
This year, the same manatee swam to Judith
Point, Rhode Island, thrilling tourists en route
at Ocean City, Maryland; Atlantic City,
New Jersey; and the Statue of Liberty, Ellis
Island, and Coney Island near New York City.
The manatee has twice been fitted with radio
transmitters, but has shaken them off. Even
this may not have been his longest trip.
According to Steven Leatherwood of the
Ocean Park Conservation Foundation in Hong
Kong, Icelandic media in 1987 carried
accounts of a manatee seen at Westman Island,
off Greenland. “There are many accounts
from fishermen and explorers before 1800 of a
Sirenian species inhabiting the waters off
Maine and Nova Scotia,” commented marine
mammal communication researcher Jim
Nollman. “Farley Mowat documents an
account of a skull found in these waters,
thought to be from a manatee. This animal is,
of course, as extinct as the Steller sea cow,”
native to Alaska but hunted out during the
same era. However, if the northern population
were southern migrants, the animal may not
actually be extinct, and could in theory reoccupy
the range. The catch is that the southern
manatee population is itself perilously close to
extinction, with under 2,000 left in Florida.
Commercial gill-netters are pushing
dugongs toward extinction along the
northern Australian coast, charge the
Australian Marine Conservation Society, the
Northern Territory Environment Center, and
Greenpeace. The largest group of dugongs left
in the world, in Shoalwater Bay on the central
Queensland coast, numbered circa 750 in
1987, but is now down to 400. According to a
joint statement from the groups, “Dugongs
have recently been found tied to mangrove
trees or with their bellies slit open to release
the buoyant guts: obvious efforts by fishers to
conceal the carcasses.” Confirming that “several”
dugongs were recently “victims of certain
types of commercial netting,” the Queensland
Department of Environment and Heritage and
the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
joined with the Queensland Commercial
Fishermen’s Organization in expressing “serious
concern,” and said the agencies had
“stepped up surveillance in the area.”

The International Coalition of
Fisheries Associations, claiming to represent
fishers whose catch represents 40% of the
world total, on September 22 endorsed a
Japanese proposal to reopen commercial
minke whale hunting next spring. Japan officially
halted commercial whaling in 1988, but
has continued to kill about 300 minke whales a
year for “scientific” use––selling the meat.
The Hawaii County Council o n
October 4 asked that the Hawaiian Islands
Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary
not be expanded to include the waters off Big
Island, now heavily used by recreational
boaters whose activities would be restricted.
The minority South Australian
Labor Party on September 23 pledged to
introduce a bill to create a 552-square-kilometer
whale sanctuary as part of the Great
Australian Bight Marine Park. The plan was
originally offered by the South Australian
Research and Development Institute, a government
body, but was rejected by Premier
Dean Brown in favor of a temporary 175-
square-kilometer sanctuary, the status of
which will expire at the end of this year.
The world’s most northerly pod of
bottlenosed dolphins, living in Moray Firth,
Scotland, are afflicted with an unknown skin
disease, Dr. Ben Wilson of Aberdeen
University reported September 25. Symptoms
afflicting the 130 dolphins include black spots,
white rings, swelling, unusual humps, and
deformed fins. “They are swimming in a
cocktail of chemicals of human origin.”
Wilson said. “Any one could be the cause.”
The Legal Daily, of Beijing,
China, said on October 10 that the Yangtze
River whitefin dolphin population has fallen
to 130, from 187 in 1986, and may be extinct
within 25 years. The dolphins are threatened
by both pollution and poaching. The Yangtse
receives 37% of Chinese wastewater: 12.8 billion
tonnes per year––and due to lack of public
cooperation, authorities are apparently still
unable to find an unidentified poacher who
killed a whitefin dolphin and sold her meat on
July 18 at the public market in Wenchang
county, Hainan province. Reportedly, no one
at the scene tried to stop the killing.
The former Soviet Navy marine
mammal training base at Sevastopol on the
Crimean Sea has opened a dolphin therapy
program for emotionally disturbed children,
and is attempting to develop other civilian
uses for the animals still in custody: reportedly,
one trained female dolphin, five
trained male dolphins, three sea lions, and
15 dolphins who were recently captured even
though a baby dolphin born at the facility last
year starved to death because funds to feed
the dolphins already on hand ran out. The
base once had 70 dolphins, many of whom
have been sold abroad. Others are believed to
have been released to fend for themselves.
Fossils believed to have come from
extinct species of bottlenose dolphin and sea
l i o n , excavated south of Los Angeles two
years ago by the Mesa Consolidated Water
District, were irretrievably lost in midSeptember
when a school cleanup crew trashed
the boxes they were kept in. The loss wasn’t
discovered for a month. By then whatever
remained of the trash-compacted fossils lay
under 20 to 25 feet of refuse at a landfill.

Togiak hunters set out October 1
to kill 10 bull walruses on Round Island,
within the Walrus Islands State Game
Sanctuary off the coast of Alaska. The last
protected walrus haulout, closed to hunting
since 1960, Round Island was opened to
Togiak “subsistence” hunters––using rifles
and speedboats, with an eye toward Asian
ivory and aphrodisiac markets––through verdicts
of the Alaska Board of Game and the
Alaska Appeals Court last spring.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
recovery plan team for Stellar sea lions recommended
in late September that the western
Alaskan subpopulation should be listed as
endangered, due to low pup survival.
Malnourished due to overfishing in much of
their range, Stellar sea lions are now listed as
A year-long, $40,000 criminal
probe of the deaths of 30 to 40 female
California sea lions at Castle Rock, near San
Miguel Island, California, has identified the
culprit––a hybrid Stellar/California sea lion
bull who crushes the females in attempted copulation.
Bull Stellar sea lions weigh up to
2,000 pounds, more than twice the weight of
bull California sea lions and 10 times the average
weight of a female California sea lion.
NMFS will probably shoot the hybrid bull.
A federal sea lion advisory task
f o r c e on September 8 recommended that the
NMFS should allow the State of Washington
to kill California sea lions at Ballard Locks, to
protect endangered steelhead runs. Wardens
were authorized to kill sea lions at the locks
last year, but did not, although several were
held captive under tentative death sentences
throughout the spawning season.
Genetic analysis by Bill Amos of
the University of Cambridge, England,
plus field study of 85 male gray seals and 88
females on North Rona island, Scotland, has
found that contrary to long-held belief, most
female seals are essentially monogamous. The
oft-noted competitions among males appear to
be for first mating opportunities. After that,
says Amos, the females tend to “mate preferentially
with previous partners,” whether or
not their mates remain dominant in the colony.

“Of the nearly 300 species of
freshwater mussel native to the U.S.,” about
a third of the mussel species in the world,
“half are in serious trouble,” New York Times
science writer John Cushman Jr. warned on
October 3. “About 20 are considered extinct,
about 60 are listed as threatened or endangered,
and about 70 have been proposed for
listing.” F i s h e r i e s, the journal of the
American Fisheries Society, in 1993 listed
only about 70 U.S. mussel species as stable.
Zebra mussels, accidentally imported from
Europe, are outcompeting native stocks in
much of the best remaining habitat. Mussels
gained a public profile in July when, seeking
to protect mussel beds along the Big
Sunflower River in Mississipi, the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service tried to halt an Army
Corps of Engineers dredging project meant to
help farmers. The Big Sunflower mussel beds
have been protected since 1972. USFWS
thwarted a Mississippi Department of Wildlife
and Fisheries attempt to reopen commercial
musseling on the Big Sunflower in 1994.
The last three known white
a b a l o n e––all males––reside at Proteus Sea
Farms in Oxnard, California, awaiting an
experiment in captive breeding that can only
proceed when and if someone finds a female.
One of the abalone was captured in 1992, the
rest earlier this year as result of an intensive
search by volunteer divers.
Having excavated surf clams to
near extinction on Long Island Sound by
1991, commercial clammers are now doing
likewise along the island’s Atlantic shore,
where the clam population fell from circa 8.9
million in 1993 to just 5.1 million in 1994. A
proposed management plan for the clam beds
is two months overdue.
Oysters, known to carry potentially
deadly bacteria that only cooking kills,
also may carry viruses that cause stomach flu,
say researchers Kathy Kirkland of Duke
University and Sharon McDonnell of the
Centers for Disease Control. Cooking at normal
heat doesn’t kill the viruses. McDonnell
found 140 cases of stomach flu among guests
who ate oysters at 38 parties held on New
Year’s Day 1995 in Georgia and Florida.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.