Marine mammals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1996:

Nets and dolphins

SPCA and World Wide Fund for Nature
head a nine-group coalition protesting a proposal
by Scots Office Minister Raymond
Robertson to make Scots fishers more competitive
by lifting a ban on the use of
monofilament gil nets which might drown
harbor porpoises. Such nets are used in the
waters of other European nations.
Eleven dolphins apparently
drowned in fishing nets washed up in
Cornwall between January 4 and January 11,
prompting Cornwall Wildlife Trust chair
Nick Tregenza to apply to the European
Commission for funds with which to develop
an alarm to warn dolphins away from
nets. The EC is already funding a similar
project called CETASEL, formed under the
1994 Agreement on the Conservation of
Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North
Seas, a.k.a. ASCOBANS. “The project
started in the beginning of 1995, and the
first sea trials were carried out in March
1995,” said CETASEL coordinator Dick de
Haan. “The first enclosure trial, on a
stranded harbor porpoise, showed the animals’
sensitivity to ‘chirp and sweep’
sounds. In 1996 two sea trials are planned
off the southwestern coast of Ireland.”

The problem, also central to the
“dolphin-safe” tuna controversy in the U.S. ,
is worldwide. (See “Dolphin-safe tuna law
erased by treaty,” November 1995.) In
another recent headline case, seining
drowned 130 dophins who washed up on the
shores of Banc d’Arguin National Park in
Mauritania during December. The United
Nations has designated the 1.2-million-acre
park a World Heritage site. The fishers
were apparently trying to collect the eggs of
yellow mullet, a delicacy in Italy and Israel.
Not to be overlooked is deliberate
dolphin-killing. Taiwan police found the
remains of 54 dolphins on January 12 at a
freezer plant in the city of Yunlin. Plant
operator Wu Wan-chiao reportedly led
investigators to another dealer who was
found in possession of the remains of at
least six dolphins. Organized crime is
reportedly involved in the case.

The February edition of Alaska
magazine and tentatively the March edition
of National Geographic are to report
on the discovery of three stone point harpoon
heads in the flesh of two bowhead
whales recently killed under a subsistence
quota near Wainright and Barrow, Alaska.
One point was set into a deteriorating
whalebone harpoon head, the condition of
which suggested it had been in the whale’s
body for an extremely long time. The stone
point discoveries follow the 1993 find of an
ivory harpoon head with a metal cutting
edge in another bowhead killed near
Wainright. Such weapons are not known to
have been used after 1885––and have not
been found in dead whales in about 70
years. The import of the discoveries is that
bowheads may live far longer than the 60-80
years previously thought to be their maximum
lifespan. An ongoing study by archaeologist
Allen McCartney of bowhead bones
found on digs reportedly indicates that subsistence
hunters historically killed juveniles,
almost exclusively; those who escaped may
have remained wary of humans thereafter.
A newly completed study of
gray whale migration along the California
coast has discovered that many gray whale
mothers give birth en route south, not just
in the Gulf of California lagoons that were
thought to be their only birthing area.
Marine mammologist Craig
Matkin on January 18 testified to the
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council,
the federal/state panel administering funds
paid by Exxon in settlement of lawsuits
resulting from the 1989 oil spill, that
whales and seals are still suffering on Prince
William Sound as result of the disaster. The
harbor seal population, in decline even
before the spill, is now dropping at about
6% per year. Two orca pods who use the
sound are also in decline, perhaps in part
because harbor seals are among their prey.
The A-B pod, the largest, has fallen from
36 members to just 22 since 1989, and the
death of many females and juveniles,
believes Matkin, has perhaps permanently
impaired the pod structure, as many members
now swim alone and therefore aren’t
available to assist one another in hunting or
care of young.
A team of marine biologists
headed by Daniel Costas of the University
of California at Santa Cruz on January 17
reported no evident harm to wildlife from
several weeks of testing the underwater
broadcasting equipment to be used by the
long delayed ATOC experiment in timing
sound waves to detect changes in the temperature
of the oceans. Costas’ team monitored
elephant seals tagged with tiny radio
transmitters, and followed the movements
of whales, otters, sea lions, harbor porpoises,
and fur seals primarily from small
craft and/or the air.

Despite the near-record death
count of 201 Florida manatees in 1995
and the additional deaths of 47 manatees
due to a January cold snap, an early
February count showed 2,274 manatees
alive and well, the most ever spotted.
Manatee biologist Kipp Frohlich said,
“The number seems to be growing gradually––and
we were very fortunate to have
ideal conditions for the aerial count.”
A manatee found dead on
February 1 in Lake Pontchartrain, near
New Orleans, apparently died from cold.
She may have been the manatee who eluded
capture attempts by the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service in November and
December––only the third manatee seen in
the area in a decade.

Rescue, retirement
After handling 115 sea otters
in distress since opening in 1984, t h e
Monterey Bay Aquarium has turned sea
otter rescue and rehabilitation duties over
to the Marine Mammal Center, of
Sausalito, under the aegis of the newly
formed California Sea Otter Alliance. The
Monterey Bay Aquarium sea otter program,
which had cost $500,000 a year,
will now focus on research, with a staff
of four, down from eight. The change
came less than a month before the scheduled
March 2 opening of Outer Bay, a
$57 million new wing.
Marine mammal rehabilitator
Dan Pearson, a former staffer at the
Naval Undersea Center on the grounds of
the closed Point Mugu Naval Air
Weapons Station in Californa, has
returned to the site to coordinate about
200 Seabee and civilian volunteers in
turning it into a marine mammal stranding
center. Unused in 25 years, the Undersea
Center at peak had four dolphin tanks,
four tanks for seals and sea lions, and an
orca tank.
Eight dolphins who were taken
from Florida to the St. Anthony’s Key
dolphin swim resort in Honduras in
September 1993, after Ocean World
closed, escaped from their sea pen during
a January 9 storm, and vanished without a
trace. Six of the eight, born in captivity,
had no experience with either feeding
themselves or avoiding predators.
The Sugarloaf Dolphin
Sanctuary board of directors on January
31 resolved to apply for a National Marine
Fisheries service permit to release the
three former Navy dolphins Buck, Jake,
and Luther in Mississippi Sound.
Sandy, a one-year-old
orphaned dolphin found with his dying
mother off Connecticut last summer, died
January 10, three days after a cold snap
shocked his system and one day after the
Okeanos Ocean Research Foundation flew
him from their rescue center at Riverhead,
Long Island, to warmer quarters at
Marineland, near St. Augustine, Florida.
Four seven-foot-long melonheaded
whales were saved, among six
who were repeatedly beached January 10
by rough weather near Crescent Head,
Australia, when National Parks and
Wildlife officials hastily moved them to
the saltwater swimming pool of the nearby
Mediterranean Motel to wait out the
storm––which became an impromptu
swim-with-dolphins attraction, as guests
dived in with them.

Fish & other marine life
Scientists from New Zealand’s
National Institute of Water and
Atmospheric Research, trolling at a depth
of 1,400 feet, on January 31 caught a 26-
foot-long female squid, weighing almost a
ton––just the 20th giant squid caught anywhere
in the world in the past 10 years.
Genetic modification experiments
at Memorial University i n
Newfoundland and by Otter Ferry Salmon
on Loch Frye, Scotland, have reportedly
produced modified samon that grow at 10
times the normal rate. Malcolm Windsor of
the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation
organization is concerned that the modified
fish will escape from sea pens and “introduce
diseases and parasites. It’s playing
with fire to release transgenetic farmed
fish,” Windsor said. “It will have
unforseen results, and by the time we find
out, it will be too late.”
Finn researchers are reportedly
trying to use gene splicing to create a vegetarian
trout, who would be cheaper to feed
on fish farms and likely to excrete fewer
toxic pollutants.
The Michigan Department of
H e a l t h on February 1 advised that all
salmon caught in Michigan’s Great Lakes
waters are safe to eat––for the first time
since 1970, when it began monitoring fish
absorption of toxins.

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