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Lauriano G.,European Commission - Joint Research Center Ispra | Pierantonio N.,Tethys Research Institute | Donovan G.,The International Whaling Commission | Panigada S.,European Commission - Joint Research Center Ispra | Panigada S.,Tethys Research Institute
Marine Environmental Research | Year: 2014

The Mediterranean Sea common bottlenose dolphin population has been assessed as Vulnerable according to the IUCN Red List Criteria. The species is also included in several International Agreements, European Union Regulations and Directives. Amongst them, a strict protection and identification of special conservation areas are requested by the EU Habitats Directive. Despite direct takes, by-catch, chemical and acoustic pollution, and prey depletion, general habitat degradation and fragmentation have been indicated as detrimental for the species, the degree to which these threats pose population risk is still largely unknown. At present it is thus not possible to depict the actual status of the population and to assess prospective trends. To address this gap in the current knowledge, line transect distance sampling aerial surveys were conducted in a wide portion of the Western Mediterranean Sea between the summer of 2010 and winter 2011. A total of 165 parallel transects equally spaced at 15km were designed providing homogeneous coverage probability. Overall, 21,090km were flown on effort and 16 bottlenose dolphin sightings were recorded and used for the analysis. The surface abundance and density estimates resulted in 1676 animals (CV=38.25; 95% CI=804-3492) with a density of 0.005 (CV=38.25%). These results represent the first ever estimates for the common bottlenose dolphin over a wide portion of the Western Mediterranean Sea Subregion, with the potential to be useful baseline data to inform conservation. Specifically, they could be used as indicators under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive requirements, in conjunction with other study methods. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.


PubMed | Tethys Research Institute, Instituto Superiore per la Protezione e la Ricerca Ambientale, ALNILAM Research and Conservation Ltd and The International Whaling Commission
Type: Journal Article | Journal: PloS one | Year: 2015

The giant devil ray Mobula mobular, the only Mediterranean mobulid, is subject to mortality caused by directed and accidental captures in fisheries throughout the region. Whilst the combination of human impacts, limited range and a low reproductive potential is not inconsistent with its endangered listing, there are insufficient data to enable a quantitative assessment of trends. Without this, it is difficult to assess and prioritise threats and develop effective conservation actions. Using results from aerial surveys conducted between 2009 and 2014 over the Ligurian, Corsican, Sardinian, northern and central Tyrrhenian seas (626,228 km2), this study provides the first quantitative information on giant devil ray abundance and habitat choice in the western Mediterranean. Devil rays were observed in all seasons except winter, with their estimated abundance in the study area peaking in summer. The overall uncorrected mean density in the study area during summer was estimated at 0.0257 individuals km-2 (range: 0.017-0.044), resulting in a total abundance estimate of 6,092 (12.7%CV) individuals at the surface; once corrected for availability bias, this estimate indicates a summer presence of >12,700 devil rays in the study area. Rays were mostly observed alone even if occasionally, larger aggregations up to a maximum of 18 individuals were observed. Although observed throughout the study area, spatial modelling identified their preferred habitat to be over a broad strip connecting the Tuscan Archipelago to Eastern Sardinia, over a wide range of water depths ranging from 10 to 2000m. The observed seasonal changes in giant devil ray distribution in this study, combined with similar evidence from other areas in the Mediterranean, support the hypothesis that the species undertakes latitudinal migrations across the region, taking advantage of highly productive waters in the north during summer, and warmer southern waters during winter.


News Article | October 28, 2016
Site: www.newscientist.com

The vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise, may be saved from extinction thanks to measures agreed yesterday at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission. Unique to the Gulf of California, this iconic animal has seen its numbers collapse from 567 individuals in 1997 to just 59 in 2015. The main reason is that they get accidentally caught and drowned in gill nets spread out to illegally catch totoaba fish, whose swim bladders are prized in Chinese medicine. Now, new measures will oblige the Mexican government to enforce gill-net bans throughout the range of the vaquita, also known as the “panda of the sea”. Likewise, efforts will be strengthened to eliminate the illegal trade in swim bladders from totoaba, and increase funding for vaquita monitoring programmes. “It’s not too late for the vaquita, but it’s going to be close, with only an estimated 59 animals left,” says Matt Collis, the team leader at the meeting for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “What’s truly tragic is that this could have been entirely preventable, because we’ve long known where vaquitas live and what we need to do to protect them.” “Now, it’s mostly a case of enforcement, by the Mexican government to eliminate gill nets, and enforcement of bans on traditional totoaba products,” he says. “We’ve seen this dramatic escalation in trade that’s reduced vaquita numbers by 90 per cent in just 20 years, so it’s critical that a body like the IWC speaks out and acts.” The International Whaling Commission (IWC) summit in Portoroz, Slovenia, brought together 64 member countries to discuss the future of whales and whaling. Hopes for a new whale sanctuary in the south Atlantic were dashed when the vote on its creation failed to get the required three-quarters majority. Commercial hunting would have been banned within its waters. Despite disappointment that the proposed sanctuary was rejected, environmentalists finished the meeting on a high after several pro-conservation measures were passed. These included subjecting Japan’s controversial “scientific whaling” programme to unprecedented independent oversight and a resolution recognising that rather than depleting fisheries, whales boost them by the mass recycling of nutrients in their dung. “Passing the resolution is an important marker for the IWC because it’s acknowledging that we need to protect whales for reasons other than the welfare of the whales themselves,” says Collis. “It’s an important counterpoint to what we’ve heard from whaling countries: that whales are in competition with fisheries. Instead, we’re finding out that whales help to maintain fisheries.” “We should not be having conversations about managing whale stocks,” adds Astrid Fuchs from Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “We should only be talking about how we can promote and enable their recovery, as our survival may well depend on theirs.” “After centuries of commercial whaling, it’s only now that we’re coming to understand the remarkable roles they play in helping to maintain and nurture marine ecosystems,” says Mark Simmonds, senior marine scientist at Humane Society International. “Protecting these majestic creatures isn’t just the right thing to do ethically, but could also be the wise thing to do ecologically.” The agreement to subject all Japan’s future proposals for “scientific whaling” to independent scrutiny delighted conservationists. Although the IWC agreed a moratorium on commercial whaling 30 years ago, Japan has killed an estimated 15,000 whales since 1987 under the pretext of scientific whaling. To do this, Japan essentially reviews and grants itself a special permit each year that allows it to catch whales for scientific purposes. From now on, applications for permits will be vetted by other member countries, who will be able to inspect and veto any proposals judged scientifically unjustifiable. “Till now, Japan has decided for itself, almost like marking their own homework,” says Collis. “It’s incremental but important progress that the IWC is becoming more involved, making the permit process more transparent.” This year, Japan has killed hundreds of whales in Antarctic waters despite the UN’s International Court of Justice ruling in 2014 that the nation’s whaling activities there are not for the purposes of scientific research. Between the close of the meeting today and the next gathering in two years, Collis hopes Japan will halt its whaling activities. “That’s the simplest thing: for Japan to just stop,” he says. His other hope is that backers of the south Atlantic whale sanctuary will gather evidence to counter any objections next time, so that it eventually becomes a reality.


News Article | August 25, 2016
Site: www.rdmag.com

The founder of a radical conservation group made famous by the television show "Whale Wars" says a settlement over anti-whaling activities only prevents the group's U.S. organization from interfering with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. This week, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research and a whale ship operator announced they'd reached an agreement with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and its founder Paul Watson. "What it means is Sea Shepherd USA cannot contribute money toward the Southern Ocean campaign, cannot be involved in the Southern Ocean campaign, and that's fine. We've got plenty of other campaigns to do," said Watson, who recently returned to the U.S. and is living in Vermont. But he said the settlement doesn't affect the group's other entities. "Whether Sea Shepherd Australia or Sea Shepherd Global ... if they intend to return to the Southern Ocean that's their business, it's not ours and I can't control them," he said of the settlement filed on Tuesday. The Institute of Cetacean Research, which studies whales, also is paying an undisclosed amount to the anti-whaling group on the condition the money will not be transferred to its affiliates elsewhere, including in Australia, one of the most active in attacking Japanese whalers during their hunts in the Antarctic. Officials in Japan are hoping the funding restriction will somehow limit the extent of Sea Shepherd's activities in Australia. Agriculture Minister Yuji Yamamoto on Thursday welcomed the agreement, saying, "I take it as a positive development that would contribute to the safety of the research whaling fleet." Yamamoto, however, said that Japanese whalers should continue to use caution and be aware that there are staunch opponents of whaling. Sea Shepherd Global media director Heather Stimmler said all of its entities around the world — except those in the United States — will continue to oppose what it believes is illegal Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. The International Whaling Commission imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales under an exemption for what the country says is research. Interpol lists Watson as being wanted in Japan on charges of conspiracy to trespass on a whaling ship and interference with business, and in Costa Rica on a charge of interfering with a shark finning operation. Watson was arrested in Germany but then fled to France when he heard that he would be extradited to Japan. In his home office in landlocked Vermont, surrounded by artifacts from his journeys, the 65-year-old Watson said he will continue to coordinate with other Sea Shepherd entities. He's also writing several books and is involved in future television programs. Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report. Content Item Type: NewsSummary: The founder of a radical conservation group made famous by a television show says a settlement over anti-whaling activities only prevents the group's U.S. organization from interfering with Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean. Featured Image: Contributed Author: By Lisa Rathke, Associated PressMeta Keywords: Sea Shepherd, Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd Global, Japanese whalers, Southern Ocean campaign, Sea Shepherd Conservation, Sea Shepherd USA, International Whaling Commission, Sea Shepherd Australia, founder Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd entities, Cetacean Research, Shepherd Global media, radical conservation group, whale ship operator, Minister Yuji Yamamoto, Japanese whaling, writer Mari Yamaguchi, shark finning operation, director Heather Stimmler, future television programs, 65-year-old Watson, Whale Wars, U.S. organization, anti-whaling activities, staunch opponents, anti-whaling group, funding restriction, positive development, United States, commercial ban, home office, Costa Rica, settlement, Antarctic, agreement, whales, money, business, Vermont, exemption, caution, Interpol, Society, extent, interference, condition, hunts, plenty, AgricultureExclusive: 


News Article | October 27, 2016
Site: www.reuters.com

PORTOROZ, Slovenia (Reuters) - The International Whaling Commission (IWC) declared on Thursday that countries would in future need its approval to hunt whales for scientific research, but critics said the move would have little practical effect.


News Article | December 2, 2015
Site: phys.org

But global warming is killing off their food and changing their age-old migratory routes. To the tourists watching a humpback whale frolic with her newborn calf in the tropical waters off Ecuador's coast near Puerto Lopez, the sight of enormous fins surfacing, tails flipping and blowholes spouting is breathtaking. The same scenes can be found up and down the South American coast, from Puerto Piramides in Argentina to Cabo Blanco in Peru and Bahia Malaga in Colombia. But to marine biologists, these huge mammals are not as carefree and healthy as they appear. They are skinny, covered in parasites and exhausted from the increasingly long journeys they are making to reproduce. "You can see their bones. They're sick. They have parasites. We never used to see that," said Ecuadorian marine biologist Cristina Castro as she scanned the horizon for more humpback whales, the species she has studied for the past 18 years. These whales swim thousands of kilometers (miles) each year from Antarctica to the waters around the equator to have their young, which measure three to 4.5 meters (10 to 15 feet) at birth and can weigh up to one tonne. But as ocean temperatures rise, whales are migrating earlier and traveling farther. Warmer waters are killing off the supply of krill, the small crustaceans that are whales' main food source in their Arctic feeding grounds. The whales eat several tonnes a day to fatten up for their journeys. Rising temperatures also trick the whales' biological clocks into thinking it is time to migrate. "They are changing their migration cycles. They used to arrive here in July. Now we see them in May," said Castro. Whales are also continuing north beyond the equator, as far as Costa Rica—a behavior never seen before, she told AFP. The International Whaling Commission estimates there were 8,000 to 10,000 humpback whales this year in the Pacific breeding grounds, which stretch from Peru to Costa Rica. Roger Payne, the American scientist who brought humpback whales' songs to world attention in the 1970s, said whales are also threatened by the acidification of the oceans caused by rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the water. Forty-five years of research off Argentina have shown that this and other effects of climate change are killing off whales' food, he said. "The females will give birth only when the conditions to feed their young are favorable," Payne told AFP. "Nothing is nearly as important as the threat that we get from that effect." When there are less krill in Antarctica, birth rates drop at the equator, and calves tend to have a worse survival rate. "Everything is linked," said Payne's Argentine colleague Mariano Sironi, a specialist in southern right whales. In the latest alarming news, researchers said Tuesday at least 337 dead whales have been found washed up in a remote inlet in Patagonia in southern Chile—one of the largest die-offs on record. "It was an apocalyptic sight," said Vreni Haussermann, one of the scientists who made the discovery on a flyover in June. It is not known what killed the whales, or if the event was linked to climate change. The cyclical warming of the central Pacific—the El Nino phenomenon—is making matters worse and is a harbinger of the dangers to come, researchers said. El Nino has already caused havoc in the Galapagos Islands off Ecuador, a biodiverse paradise where the weather pattern is blamed for the disappearance of 90 percent of marine iguanas, 50 percent of southern sea lions, 75 percent of penguins and nearly all Galapagos fur seals under three years old. "Unfortunately we expect the effects of global climate change to largely reflect those of El Nino," the Galapagos National Park warned recently. The park has a massive marine reserve that draws humpback whales, orca, pilot whales, Bryde's whales and blue whales. Researchers are particularly concerned about blue whales, the world's largest animals, which "show no signs of population increase," said Barbara Galletti, head of the Whale Conservation Center in Chile. Whales of all species are also under threat from other human activity, such as collisions with ships and disorientation caused by noise at sea that interferes with their communications. However, an international moratorium has protected them from hunting since 1986. They have meanwhile become major tourist attractions in many countries along their route. Their survival is fundamental for the health of the world's oceans. Whale feces contain large amounts of iron that feed the growth of microscopic algae that are essential to the marine food chain. "That is the feature which keeps the rest of the ocean alive," said Payne.


News Article | February 10, 2017
Site: www.techtimes.com

New Zealand is accustomed to mass strandings on its shores, but today finds one of the worst to ever happen. More than 400 pilot whales washed up on a  narrow stretch of land, with at least 250 of them already dead. The whales beached Friday, Feb. 10 on Farewell Spit in Golden Bay, located on the tip of the South Island, according to a statement by the Department of Conservation. By mid-morning, rescuers have started refloating nearly 100 whales, of which around 50 returned to sea. Daren Grover, general manager of Project Jonah, said many of the 50 refloated whales were reluctant to head back into the water and continued to mill around the low tide portion, likely because of the hesitation to leave their social group. In a 1NEWS report, Grover raised concerns that they could re-strand themselves overnight. As of 3:40 pm in the country, around 276 whales had already perished. There has also been footage of whales making distress signals, with volunteers trying to keep them wet and comfortable. The mass stranding is deemed the third largest in New Zealand since records dating from the late 1800s. More than 500 volunteers flocked to the scene to assist in rescue operations. "This is quite emotional - it's encouraging to see the number of people who have come out to help ... We're going to give these whales the best chance we can,” said Louisa Hawkes of Project Jonah, also expressing thanks to residents and medics who arrived at the site to help. The work will continue overnight, with a focus on volunteers’ safety given their proximity to large, stressed creatures. Late Thursday night, the whales were already spotted by a department staffer. Previous strandings made up of mostly single or pairs of whales pale in comparison to the current situation, shared the staffer in a CNN report. Experts from Massey University are performing necropsies on some of the dead pilot whales to find out what was behind the stranding, including factors like disease or trauma. Since the animals are insulated with plenty of blubber, they will rapidly decompose, making it critical to perform tests right away. Community ranger Kath Inwood said it is rather rare for that many whales to travel at once. “[W]e have 180 once before but I think a lot of [answers as to why] are unknown really,” Inwood told CNN. The International Whaling Commission noted that animals can swim to death on shore, or perhaps die at sea and later wash up on the beach. Strandings can happen because of disease, aging, man-made or environmental disruption, or even collision with ships. In December 2015, more than 300 whales were found on a remote area in southern Chile, with a red tide, a surge in algae content in the water, believed to be the reason. The algal bloom raged across the ocean around the country in early 2016, killing about 40,000 tons of salmon in Los Lagos. In 2008, some 100 whales swam onto Madagascar beaches, three-fourths of them dying. It was the first known mass bleaching linked to high-frequency sonar mapping systems implemented for an oil expedition. In 2002, anti-submarine sonars were also suspected as the cause of another mass whale beaching, where some 15 beaked whales died in the Canaries following a NATO exercise. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.


News Article | September 6, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

Today just four whale groups remain on the endangered list, and one is now listed as threatened (AFP Photo/Miguel Medina) Washington (AFP) - Most populations of humpback whales are no longer on the United States endangered species list thanks to international conservation efforts, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday. Four decades of national and international initiatives to protect and conserve the marine mammals have helped nine of 14 humpback population segments rebound from historically low levels. "Today's news is a true ecological success story," said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. "Whales, including the humpback, serve an important role in our marine environment. Separately managing humpback whale populations that are largely independent of each other allows us to tailor conservation approaches for each population." After commercial whaling severely reduced populations, the US listed all humpback whales as endangered in 1970. Today, just four whale groups remain on that list, and one is now listed as threatened. The International Whaling Commission's whaling moratorium imposed in 1982 -- which remains in effect -- played a crucial part in the comeback, NOAA said. The US Marine Mammal Protection Act that protects marine mammals within US waters still applies to all humpback whales, regardless of endangered status. The MMPA prohibits the killing of certain marine mammals in US waters and by US citizens on the high seas, and bans their importation into the United States. Two separate regulatory decisions filed Tuesday maintain protection for whales living off Hawaii and Alaska by "specifying distance limits for approaching vessels." Two of the four humpback groups still considered endangered can be found in US waters at some times of the year. The Central American population looks for food in the Pacific Ocean off the US West Coast, while the group in the Pacific Northwest spends time in the Bering Sea and near the Aleutian Islands. The humpback group from Mexico now listed as threatened regularly goes to the West Coast of the continental United States and Alaska. In 2010, NOAA launched an extensive review of the status of humpback whales that resulted in the reclassification of the species into 14 distinct populations. NOAA proposed last year to remove 10 of those 14 groups off the endangered list and gave the public 90 days to comment on the proposed change before finalizing its decision. Humpback whales can grow to 60 feet (18 meters) and live 50 years. They weigh up to 40 tons and eat tiny crustaceans called krill, often as much as 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) per day. The NOAA announcement follows US President Barack Obama's establishment of the world's largest marine reserve, home to thousands of rare sea creatures in the northwestern Hawaiian islands.


A Japanese crew left for the Antarctic's Southern Ocean Tuesday, Dec. 1, to embark on a "research whaling" mission expected to last until March 2016. The announcement was made despite global opposition to whale hunts over the years. The International Whaling Commission mandated a ban on commercial whale hunting back in 1986, but Japan persisted in hunting and killing different whale species, saying it was operating under a research exemption. On March 31, 2014, the International Court of Justice confirmed that the whaling program being employed by Japan is considered commercial and is, ultimately, illegal. The ICJ, which is the UN judicial branch, then ordered the country's endeavors to immediately stop. At first, Japan agreed and said that it will follow the set rules, but months after the agreement, Japan presented its new whaling program, called NEWREP-A. The government submitted its final plan to the International Whaling Commission, which also deemed the whale killings unnecessary for research on whale stock supervision and conservation. Days after the submission of the NEWREP-A final plan, Japan announced its impending mission to the Antarctic. NEWREP-A entails killing of about 333 protected minke whales annually for the next 12 years, which is approximately 4,000 minke whales. The Fisheries Agency and the Foreign Ministry said these numbers are one-third of the total number that Japan used to slaughter. The plan will undergo evaluation for a period of six months. Sea Shepherd, a registered marine conservation group, expressed its disappointment with Japan's announcement. The organization works to stop the destruction of species and habitats around the U.K. coastline and in all of the world's oceans. Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia managing director, said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should guarantee that when he visits Japan in December, the issue of illegal whale poaching will be at the top of his agenda. "It must be made clear to Japan that whaling in the Australian Whale Sanctuary is a criminal act and that Australia has the international responsibility to intervene and arrest criminals operating in our waters," Hansen said. George Brandis, the attorney general of Australia, said diplomacy will be employed to stop Japan, but if it fails, the government may look into sending a Customs and Border Protection Service patrol boat, most likely to monitor the waters and obtain evidence of illegal actions.


News Article | December 7, 2015
Site: phys.org

Australia's foreign and environmental ministers said in a statement that the country had joined 32 others to oppose the Japanese expedition that left last Tuesday to catch up to 333 minke whales in the Antarctic. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued killing whales under an exemption for research. "There is no scientific basis to include lethal methods in Japan's whaling program," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Environment Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement issued in Canberra, Australia's capital. They said information needed for the management and conservation of whales should not involve lethal methods. "We are also exploring options for further legal action," the statement said. Australia filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice in 2010 over Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. The ICJ responded to the lawsuit, which New Zealand later joined, by ruling last year that the hunts were not scientific, forcing Tokyo to revise its Antarctic whaling program. Australia also said last week that it might send a boat to shadow the current Japanese fleet. Joji Morishita, Japan's commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, told reporters in Tokyo on Monday that Japan had met the ICJ's new requirements. He said that Japan only wants to make whaling sustainable and promote healthy whale populations. Japan's whale catch has fallen in recent years in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat. Protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have also contributed to the decline. Japan's government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain the whaling operations. Explore further: Japan aims to resume Antarctic whaling later this year

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