Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Dolphin deaths blamed on population boom

Conservationists say the death of three dolphins in Queensland's Moreton Bay last week should not be blamed on a fertiliser and oil spill in March.

The Pacific Adventurer lost 31 containers of fertiliser in rough seas off Cape Moreton, damaging the ship which leaked thousands of litres of oil.

But Simon Baltais from the Wildlife Preservation Society says the dolphins' deaths are more likely to have been caused by south-east Queensland's booming population.

"Dispersion of that fertiliser would have been fairly quick and I think you'll find most scientists would agree with that," he said.

"I think what we're seeing is a symptom of a bigger problem and that's the health of Moreton Bay going backwards - we're seeing increased loads of nutrients entering the bay through stormwater pollution and that could be one of the major drivers."


Brookfield Zoo dolphin lawsuit: Woman sues over fall she blames on wet floor

Wet floors are slippery. Dolphins love to splash. So the folks who run the Brookfield Zoo should have known accidents were bound to happen, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.

Allecyn Edwards sued the Chicago Zoological Society and the zoo because she claims they "recklessly and willfully trained and encouraged the dolphins to throw water at the spectators in the stands making the floor wet and slippery," "failed to provide warnings of the slippery floor" and "failed to provide mats ... when the staff knew the floor would get wet and slippery," among other negligent acts, according to the complaint.

On Aug. 20, 2008, Edwards was walking along the floor near bleachers at the dolphin exhibit and fell, the suit says. The injuries from the fall caused her to lose wages, incur medical expenses and experience physical and mental suffering, the suit says.

Edwards' attorney did not return calls for comment, and a spokeswoman for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, declined to comment.

And how much is a fall around dolphins at play worth? In excess of $50,000, according to the lawsuit.


Albino whale spotted with possible tumor

After last being sighted in 2007, the infamous solid white albino whale known as Migaloo has been spotted again traveling south east off of Queensland coast heading towards the area of the Great Barrier Reef. The male humpback was spotted traveling alone with a lump found to be located on the side of his head that some fear could be a possible tumor.

Greg Kaufman, who first photographed Migaloo during the initial sighting of the rare albino humpback whale in 1991, noted that he appeared to be fairing well and showed no obvious signs of illness although they fear that the lump may actually be a tumor; an occurrence that is common in species that exhibit albinism- a lack of coloring or pigmentation caused to a lack of melanin.

Observers will continue to watch his condition carefully, feeling that there is no need for concern at this time.

The footage below was taken during a 2007 sighting of Migaloo


More dolphins may head overseas

IN the face of international condemnation and scientific advice, the government of the Solomon Islands is poised to allow another export of wild-caught dolphins.

Earth Island Institute claims that up to 18 Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins of 30 being held in pens on Gavutu are destined to be shipped to Panama in the Caribbean in the near future.

Christopher Porter, Robert Satu and Francis Chow. Wildlife International Network is reportedly the buyer/broker in the deal.

In April of this year, a working group of CITES, the body that regulates the international trade in endangered species instigated an in-depth review of trade in Solomon Islands dolphins because of its concerns about the status of dolphin populations in Solomon Island waters.

This review is still underway. In making the decision the group, acknowledging the lack of data on dolphin numbers, recommended that the maximum number that may be able to sustain being taken from Solomon Island waters in any one year is only ten animals.

“By allowing three times that number to be held in the Gavutu pens and 18 to be exported, the government is ignoring international law and is acting contrary to its own statements and advice,” said Susan Millward, Executive Director at the Washington DC-based Animal Welfare Institute.

In April 2008 at a CITES meeting, Dr. Baddley Anita, representing the government of Solomon Islands stated that “the Solomon Islands would stop exports if new scientific data showed them to be unsustainable.”

No reliable population studies of Solomon Islands dolphins have been undertaken and such studies will take several years to complete.

The Cetacean Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, comprising some of the world’s leading dolphin experts, stated in a 2008 report co-authored by representatives of the Solomon Islands government, which are Joe Horokou and John Leqata that “the local population would have to consist of at least 5,000 dolphins to sustain removals of 100 dolphins per year for export.”

In the same report they determined that dolphin “abundance in the area of recent live-captures may be well below 5,000.”

Mark Berman, Associate Director of Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project stated that “By allowing the continued capture and export of dolphins the Solomon Islands government is hurting the country’s economy and reputation as potential investors and tourists shy away.”

The last export of Solomon Islands dolphins to the Philippines was deemed illegal by the Philippine Scientific Authority and a ban on future imports of Solomon Islands dolphins was advised.

The multi-million dollar tuna business is another industry to suffer.

Minister of Fisheries Nollen Leni has been trying to marketing himself to Earth Island Institute approved dolphin-safe tuna companies overseas but will be met with stiff opposition because of the dolphin trade situation, Earth Island said yesterday.

“The Solomon Islands government must stop pandering to the few individuals who are getting rich from the dolphin exports and respect international law.”


Friday, 14 August 2009

Toby Has A New Home!

August 08 - Dear Toby Supporters,
I know we've all been very anxious over the last few weeks to find out where Toby's new home will be and we finally received the news!

Toby will be moving to Theater of the Sea Marine Mammal Park, which is located in Islamorada, Florida Keys. You can read more about Toby's new home by clicking the link as shown below. I know we will all be relieved and excited to see Toby interact with other dolphins once again and TMMSN can't thank you enough for your help in getting Toby to this point. We will be working with the facility to make plans and any further details regarding the transfer process will follow as soon as they become available.

Link for Theater of the Sea:

Source: http://www.tmmsn.org/"

The Port River's much-loved dolphin Billie has died in Adelaide. Australia

"Veterinary staff had done testing which confirmed she was suffering from terminal kidney problems.

An autopsy will be done in an effort to find what led to Billie's renal failure.

Aaron Machado, from Project Dolphin Safe, says no-one wanted to see Billie dying in pain.

"Her kidneys had stopped functioning and that's going to be a very painful way to die so the decision was made under humanitarian grounds to put her out of that," he said.

"We'll wait for the toxicology reports to come back once those tissue samples are taken and then that will give us a better understanding as to what was going on internally.

"And being renal failure there's an underlying issue there and we have to find out what that is, what's caused that."

Since the source article shows Billie's name as 'Billy', I made corrections here (by changing from 'Billy' to 'Billie') so as to avoid confusion on the readers' part.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/"

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Feds permit MGM Mirage to import 2 dolphins. NV, USA

Animal rights groups had filed a complaint during public comment.

A federal agency has granted MGM Mirage a permit to import two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins for public display in Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden on the Las Vegas Strip.

The Mirage filed an application April 15 with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service to import two captive Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, a male and a female, from Bermuda for breeding.

The permit was granted on Aug. 4 and was published in the Federal Register on Monday, said Jennifer Skidmore, spokeswoman for the service.

After the deaths of two dolphins, Sgt. Pepper in early June and Sage last year, animal rights organizations Born Free USA and The World Society for the Protection of Animals filed a complaint against the Mirage's petition to import during a 30-day public comment period.

MGM Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said the permit for the two dolphins is just the first step in a process to bring new mammals to the resort. "We have not announced anything," Absher said.

By breeding dolphins at the habitat, the Mirage could increase its dolphin population and continue ongoing research, Absher said.

The Siegfried and Roy Secret Garden Web site describes the dolphin habitat as 2.5 million gallons in four connected pools. An artificial coral reef and sandy bottom try to replicate the dolphins' natural habitat.

The Mirage's dolphin display is open to school students and research is an integral part of the display, according to MGM Mirage. Guests may become "dolphin trainer for a day," for example.

But animal rights activists said the Mirage's quest for new dolphins is motivated by profit, noting the dolphin display is open to paying visitors, for parties and for private dolphin encounters.

The Born Free and WSPA letter cited stress that 10- or 11-year-old dolphins undergo when being transported from the tropical climes of Bermuda to Southern Nevada's desert, causing acute stress.

Sgt. Pepper was the 14th dolphin to die at the Mirage habitat since it opened in 1990. Five of the 14 dolphins were stillborn or died shortly after birth; others died from respiratory infections such as pneumonia, pulmonary abscesses and stomach tears.

In the case of Sage, an investigation found "inconclusive" causes.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture initiated an investigation in Sgt. Pepper's death, but results are not yet available.

The Mirage permit was issued under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. The Mirage last imported a dolphin, Lightning, Sgt. Pepper's father, from a captive facility in Florida more than three years ago.

Source: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/

Killer Whales Gather To Socialize, Create Bonds.

New research from scientists in Russia shows that even killer whales like to socialize, creating and visiting social clubs just like humans do.

Until now, scientists never knew why up to 100 killer whales would meet in the Avacha Gulf off the coast of Russia, forming huge superpods despite the fact they typically live in smaller groups. But after studying the whales, the researchers discovered that these groups act as clubs in which the fish-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca) form and maintain social bonds.

Killer whales in the Avacha Gulf live in stable groups known pods, which contain an average of ten whales with up to 20 in the largest pods. However, researchers have seen up to eight of these pods joining together to form even larger aggregations of up to 100 whales.

These large gatherings of pods are seen in numerous places around the world, such as British Columbia, Alaska, Iceland and Antarctica, where large numbers of killer whales live.

Since killer whales have no natural predators, it is not likely the pods are joining together for protection.

Although scientists had speculated that the whales meet to boost their foraging success or to breed, the true underlying reasons for the behavior had not been identified.

To investigate the phenomenon, Olga Filatova of the Moscow State University and colleagues from the Far East Russia Orca Project studied and photographed whales in the Avacha Gulf.

"At first we might see just a few spouts on the horizon. Then quickly we move among them, keeping a distance of a hundred meters so as not to bother them," project co-director Erich Hoyt of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), which provided the majority of funding for the project, told BBC News.

"As far as the eye can see, in every direction you see groupings of two to six killer whales surfacing, spouting then dipping below the surface,” he said.

"Each grouping has a focal mother figure surrounded by her offspring, some of whom may be full grown males with up to 2m dorsal fins that tower over the females.”

The researchers also used a hydrophone, a special underwater directional microphone, to record the sound of the whale vocalizations. Each pod of fish-eating killer whales in the Avacha Gulf has a specific vocal dialect that could be identified by the hydrophone, while the shape of a whale’s dorsal fins and markings were used to distinguish individual whales to analyze their behavior.

The whales rarely forage and feed when they gather into their superpods, the scientists found, suggesting this is not the reason behind their aggregation. In fact, depending on the type of prey, forming a superpod might even lessen the feeding success of each whale, the scientists said.

What the researchers did find is that the whales interacted much more during these large gatherings, which lasted anywhere from a few hours to almost half a day.

When meeting whales from other family pods, they made contact with each other, swam in synchrony and rubbed flippers more frequently, the scientists said. Additionally, sexual activity increased, something that might suggest these large aggregations offer a chance to assess potential breeding partners.

But these behaviors likely have a greater purpose beyond reproduction, the scientists said, by enabling whales to establish and maintain social bonds. For that reason, the whales gather in core meeting areas and form large aggregations.

"The superpods are like big social clubs," says Hoyt. "These clubs could help them stay acquainted, could be part of the courting process but could have other functions that we need to learn about,” the researchers said.

Preserving social bonds is vital for many social mammals that live and hunt together, particularly critical for killer whales, which tend to live long lives in small communities with low birth rates. Killer whales also struggle with high calf mortality rates that can reach 50% in the first six months.

"Understanding more about their social lives, including their reproduction, will be crucial to our future understanding of them and our ability to keep their population healthy," Hoyt told BBC News.

The researchers have recently expanded their research outside of the Avacha Gulf, and are studying other killer whale groups further north and south along the Kamchatka coast and to the offshore Commander Islands.

The research is published in the Journal of Ethology.

On the Net:
* Journal of Ethology
* Moscow State University
* Far East Russia Orca Project

Source: http://www.redorbit.com/news/

Call to free Cliffy the wild dolphin. Australia

A WAR of words has erupted over the capture of Moreton Bay’s Cliffy, the lone dolphin which has won the hearts of baysiders.

Whale conservation group Sea Shepherd has joined forces with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in condemning Cliffy’s confinement at Sea World on the Gold Coast.

The State Government requested that Sea World capture the dolphin late last month when it was deemed he was at risk of being injured or killed.

Cliffy had become a regular visitor to the Water Police base at Lytton.

However, Sea Shepherd co-ordinator Michael Dalton, pictured, has condemned the actions, saying Cliffy should never have been removed.

``It’s just not right. We want to help him,’’ Mr Dalton said.

``No dolphin should be kept in captivity for human entertainment.’’

Mr Dalton and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society director Dr Mike Bossley said there were documented cases of lone dolphins living world-wide with no justified reasons for their removal.

``While it is true that many solitaries have suffered an untimely end, it is also true that if their situation is properly managed they can live indefinitely in the wild,’’ Dr Bossley said.

Sea World’s director of marine sciences, Trevor Long, said releasing Cliffy into the wild would be irresponsible.

He said there had been previous attempts to return him to the ocean, but he always returned to human activity in port.

``Cliffy has bitten children, has had hooks in his body and lines around him and is missing three inches from his tail,’’ Mr Long said.

``If we let him go now it will only be a matter of time until he eats a bad fish and dies, someone hurts him, he gets caught in more fishing lines, he gets hit by a boat or attacked by a bull-shark due to his weak situation.’’

Mr Dalton rejected the claims, saying any animal in Moreton Bay could be hurt by fishing lines, boats and interaction with humans.

It was a long bow to draw that Cliffy’s situation was different, he said.

``If he’s released into the wild, the best thing would be to educate locals not to feed him and other marine animals, rather than use that as justification to keep him in captivity,’’ Mr Dalton said.

Department of Environment and Resource Management director Terry Harper said it was preferable for wild animals to always remain in the wild, but in individual cases such as this it might be appropriate that it remained in captivity. ``The animal had become habituated to human interaction which put it at risk,’’ he said.

Conservation groups will hold a 6.30pm screening of dolphin protection documentary The Cove at Portside Dendy tonight to raise awareness of Cliffy’s captivity.

The documentary looks at the plight of dolphins slaughtered in Japan.

Source: http://wynnum-herald.whereilive.com.au/news/story/

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Fishermen attack Amazon dolphins.

"Freshwater dolphins living in the Amazon river basin are being attacked and killed by local fishermen.

Conservationists have found a number of boto and tucuxi dolphins that have been struck with machetes and harpoons and left to die.

The fishermen attack the dolphins fearing they are stealing their fish and ruining their fishing gear.

Some of the killings may also be driven by strong cultural taboos that suggest the animals bring bad luck.

The discovery of the dolphins came during a survey designed to monitor the mortality rate of both Amazonian dolphins and manatees conducted by researchers at the Mamirau√° Institute for Sustainable Development in Tefe, Brazil.

During the survey, the research team led by Miriam Marmontel and Carolina Loch recovered 18 dead dolphins, six of which were botos (Inia geoffrensis), also known as the Amazon river dolphin or pink river dolphin, and 12 were tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis), another species that lives in the Amazon basin that is more closely related to oceanic dolphins.

Three of the dolphins had unusual injuries.

"These lesions were recognisable as marks made by stabbing with machetes and harpoon wounds," says Loch.

The dolphins were found in two adjacent areas.

Both tucuxi carcasses were found floating in Amana Lake within the Amana Sustainable Development Reserve, a protected area, while the dead boto was found floating in the unprotected Tefe Lake.

Both locations are in the northwestern Brazilian state of Amazonas.

Crucially, no parts of the dolphins' bodies had been harvested, the researchers report in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation.

In some areas in the Amazonian basin, particularly in Colombia and Brazil, dolphins are killed for their body parts which are sold.

"The genital organs and eyes of tucuxis and botos are sometimes sold as amulets in popular markets of some Amazonian cities," says Loch.

She also explains that there is a growing trend toward using boto meat and blubber as bait to catch a scavenging catfish called the 'piracatinga' or Calophysus macropterus.

"This practice is possibly widespread in the Brazilian Amazon and may severely threaten [the boto's] conservation," Loch says.

But the three carcasses were unmolested apart from the initial fatal wounds.

That means that fishermen are killing the dolphins simply to eliminate rather than exploit them.

"Aquatic mammals such as whales, dolphins and sea lions are frequently seen as unwanted competitors for fisheries resources," says Loch. "This sense is also widespread in the Amazonian region, especially among fishermen."

Loch's team think the fishermen suspect the dolphins of taking too many fish, both from the river and from their nets, and damaging their fishing gear in the process.

Cultural beliefs, myths and superstitions may also be driving some of the killings.

For example, in some parts of the Amazonian, the boto is traditionally viewed as a mischievous and tempestuous being, both feared and respected.

In extreme cases, it is thought the dolphins transform themselves into handsome men who come ashore and seduce young women, which explains why their reproductive organs are sold as charms.

But while such beliefs sometimes protect the boto and other dolphins from harm, they can also lead people to kill them out of fear or to prevent unexpected teenage pregnancies.

The researchers say the three carcasses suggest that many more Amazonian dolphins are being intentionally killed, and the practice may pose a significant threat to their conservation.

An extensive education program must be started to mitigate the problem, Loch says.

"Environmental education activities with school children are fundamental to avoid these conflicts in the future," she says.

"Amazonian dolphins play an important role in the local culture of Amazonian region, and positive aspects of this influence should be reinforced and encouraged."

"Negative myths and legends linked to undesired pregnancy of women and enchantment of people should be respected as part of their culture, but should be clarified and negative attitudes towards animals should be discouraged."

Please click the following link to see photos of the beloved dolphins.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/"

Dolphin loved for inability to jump dies at aquarium

A dolphin at an aquarium in Tokyo's Minato Ward who was popular for his inability to jump has died from a stomach disease, officials said.
According to the Epson Shinagawa Aqua Stadium, which is located in the Shinagawa Prince Hotel in Minato Ward, the male Pacific white-sided dolphin -- dubbed "Lucky" -- lived for around 17 years. In 1999, Lucky got caught in a fishing net with four other dolphins in the Sea off Japan, and was initially taken to an aquarium in Yokohama.

He was later sent to the Shinagawa aquarium where he became popular for his inability to jump.

SOURCE: http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/news/20090805p2a00m0na012000c.html

Friday, 7 August 2009

Dolphin jumps into Marco woman's boat. Napels

Talk about your fish tales — and this one’s even true.

A bottlenose dolphin leapt into a Marco Island woman’s deck boat Tuesday afternoon, triggering one of the strangest marine mammal rescues in recent memory at the Collier Boulevard boat ramp.

Dee Boge, 66, was returning from lunch on Goodland with five friends when the dolphin leapt into her 22-foot Hurricane deck boat south of the Judge S.S. Jolley Bridge.

Boge’s friends, Marge and John Superits, their son Mark, and their two teen-aged grandchildren from Illinois, Nicole and J.T., were in the boat when she noticed a pod of dolphins nearby and piloted the boat for a closer look.

As they enjoyed the show, one of the dolphins jumped out of the water, swirled around in front of the boat and came down on the boat’s front deck, right in the aisle, she said.

“It was unbelievable,” Boge said, still breathless hours after the close encounter. “We were like ‘Oh my god, oh my god, how are we going to get this dolphin off my boat.”’

Boge called SeaTow, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called her back with advice to keep the dolphin wet and to roll it onto its stomach instead of on its side.

The dolphin was thrashing around at first, but later calmed down, Boge said. It appeared not to have been injured except for a cut above its eye. No one on board was hurt, she said.

Boge went to the Collier Boulevard boat ramp, where officers from Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Conservation Commission, Collier County Animal Control and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office met her about 2:45 p.m.

Rookery Bay staff took measurements of the dolphin, checked it for injuries, checked and timed its breathing and marked its dorsal fin with a water-resistant grease marker for future identification, Rookery Bay resources stewardship coordinator Jeff Carter said.

Everything checked out OK, and workers used a stretcher to put the dolphin back in the water. Carter estimated the dolphin weighed about 120 pounds.

The dolphin swam away, leaving Boge with a story of a lifetime.

“I still can’t get over the shock of it,” she said, back at home around 5 p.m. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. I hope it never happens again.”

Chances are it won’t.

More than 20 years in the marine patrol business, and he’s never seen anything like it, Conservation Commission Capt. Jayson Horadam said.

“Fish, yeah. Tarpon, yeah. Barracuda, yeah, but never a very intelligent dolphin,” he said.

Still, officials urge boaters to stay a safe distance from dolphins when they are feeding.

The federal Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits harassing or harming dolphins, but Tuesday’s incident didn’t rise to the level of a violation, Horadam said.

“This was just a bad luck day for the dolphin,” he said.

Source: http://www.marconews.com/news/

Trapped Porpoise Dies In Rescue Attempt. CA, USA

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Marine rescue workers carefully lifted a trapped male porpoise out of a small Santa Clara creek Thursday, but lost the race against time while en route to a Sausalito recovery facility, authorities said.

The porpoise – nicknamed Bucky by firefighters -- was first spotted in San Tomas Aquino Creek near the Great America Theme Park in Santa Clara early Thursday morning. A rescue crew from the Marin Marine Mammal Center did not arrive on the scene for hours and by that time the mammal was in severe distress.

Marine Mammal Center spokesman Jim Oswald said the center received a call around 10:30 a.m. about a porpoise or dolphin that had found its way into the creek located 3-5 miles from the San Francisco Bay.

A crowd quickly gathered on a foot bridge spanning the waterway as the porpoise swam nervously back and forth.

Oswald said the rescue team which arrived in the early afternoon hours consisted of two volunteers and a veterinarian, who assessed the animal's medical condition. However, it was feared the attempt came too late.

The porpoise was placed in a van, wrapped in wet blankets and buckets of water were taken aboard to keep it wet.

Source: http://www.foxreno.com/news/

A 'Blue Horizon' in view for SeaWorld San Diego. CA, USA

It's coming soon to SeaWorld (not soon enough if you're heading there this summer, but . . . soon).

"Blue Horizons” is billed as a theatrical spectacle uniting sea and sky in a Broadway-style, whale of a show.

Make that dolphin of a show, as it says here that the bottlenose variety teams up with exotic birds and acrobatic humans in the new show.

“Blue Horizons” stars a young character named Marina, a girl whose imagination launches the array of dolphins, pilot whales and a exotic birds into an entertaining spectacle.

Stanley Meyer is the set designer and show consultant, best known for his work on the Broadway musical ”Beauty and the Beast.”

Hopefully they've worked out any kinks in the act, as the same really big “Blue Horizons” show has been hitting the bricks at SeaWorld Orlando since 2005.

That means this season is your final chance to catch "Dolphin Discovery.” The current show in what is now known as Dolphin Stadium made its debut in 1996. Park officials say it's time to draw the curtains on one of the longest running shows in the park’s 45-year history.

Dolphin Stadium will give way to a new look for the “Blue Horizons,” show, including a new set, new gear for the aerialists and divers, a new sound system and of course, more seating for an additional 700 guests.

Source: http://www.examiner.com/

Dolphin deaths high as mystery toxin kills dogs. New Zealand

A marine ecologist is investigating whether there is a link between a high number of dolphin deaths in the Hauraki Gulf and the deaths of other sea life and dogs around Auckland.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service is warning the public, particularly children, to stay off the eastern beaches while authorities find the cause of the problem.

At least two dogs have died and several others have become ill.

Massey University Marine Ecologist Karen Stockin says seven dolphins have died in a three-week period, an unprecedented number for this time of year.

She is examining the dolphins' bodies to find the cause of their deaths, but says it is too early to confirm whether they died from the same thing that is killing other sea life and dogs.

Biosecurity officials say the mystery toxin does not appear to pose a significant biosecurity risk.

MAF Biosecurity senior animals response advisor Naya Brangenberg says the dogs' symptoms suggest they came into contact with toxic algae.

She says officials may never find what is causing the deaths because there are so many possibilities. More tests are expected next week.

Source: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/stories/

Two beluga whales pregnant at Shedd. IL, USA

Something’s in the water at the Shedd Aquarium.

Puiji and Naya, two of the aquarium’s beluga whales, are pregnant after enjoying some big love with male beluga Naluark, aquarium officials announced Tuesday.

What can the belugas expect while expecting?

Frequent ultrasounds masquerading as massages, 300 pound weight gain and a water birth which includes the delivery of not only a five-foot-long beluga calf but a 50-pound placenta, said Ken Ramirez, Shedd’s senior vice president of animal collections and training.

“It’s a very exciting time but also a very nervous time,” Ramirez said.

And the nerves, remarkably, come from aquarium staff, not the whales, whose 14 to 16 month gestation and lonely labor results in the birth of an average 125 pound calf.

In beluga habitats, love ‘em and leave ‘em is the status quo.

“In the wild males spend most of their time with other males,” Ramirez said. “They move in to breed with as many females as they can during breeding season. Then they never see the mother or calf again.”

If these two calves survive, they will join four others born at the Shedd Aquarium, part of a successful 12-year-old beluga breeding partnership which includes 35 whales in eight different North American locations.

“We’re very careful about making sure we preserve genetic diversity — who is related to whom,” Ramirez said. “With eight different organizations working together we can treat the entire population as one.”

Puiji, Naya and Naluark mated in Chicago, before the whales were moved to Mystic, Conn. during the Shedd’s recent renovation.

This isn’t the first pregnancy for either whale, or the first time two whales have been pregnant together at the Shedd.

Naya’s first calf was stillborn, and Puiji’s first calf died shortly after childbirth.

Her second calf, Bella, is a 3-year-old living at Shedd.

Naluark is the father of Bella as well as Miki, who turns 2 years old Aug. 17.

Puiji’s baby could be born as early as this month and as late as October. Naya is due September through November.

The pregnant whales currently remain on display at the Shedd.

Source: http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/

King salmon vanishing in Alaska, smokehouses empty

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Yukon River smokehouses should be filled this summer with oil-rich strips of king salmon — long used by Alaska Natives as a high-energy food to get through the long Alaska winters. But they're mostly empty.

The kings failed to show up, and not just in the Yukon.

One Alaska river after another has been closed to king fishing this summer because significant numbers of fish failed to return to spawn. The dismally weak return follows weak runs last summer and poor runs in 2007, which also resulted in emergency fishing closures.

"It is going to be a tough winter, no two ways about it," said Leslie Hunter, a 67-year-old store owner and commercial fisherman from the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Marshall in western Alaska.

Federal and state fisheries biologists are looking into the mystery.

King salmon spend years in the Bering Sea before returning as adults to rivers where they were born to spawn and die. Biologists speculate that the mostly likely cause was a shift in Pacific Ocean currents, but food availability, changing river conditions and predator-prey relationships could be affecting the fish.

People living along the Yukon River think they know what is to blame — pollock fishery. The fishery — the nation's largest — removes about 1 million metric tons of pollock each year from the eastern Bering Sea. Its wholesale value is nearly $1 billion.

King salmon get caught in the huge pollock trawl nets, and the dead kings are counted and most are thrown back into the ocean. Some are donated to the needy.

"We do know for a fact that the pollock fishery is slaughtering wholesale and wiping out the king salmon stocks out there that are coming into all the major tributaries," said Nick Andrew Jr., executive director of the Ohagamuit Traditional Council. "The pollock fishery is taking away our way of living."

Since 2000, the incidental number of king salmon caught has skyrocketed, reaching over 120,000 kings in 2007. A substantial portion of those fish were bound for western Alaska rivers. If those fish had lived, an estimated 78,000 adult fish would have returned to rivers from the Pacific Northwest to Western Alaska.

Efforts to reduce bycatch are not new. In 2006, bycatch rules were adopted allowing the pollock fleet to move from areas where lots of kings were being inadvertently caught, thereby avoiding large-scale fishing closures. Then, 2007 happaned, and it was back to the drawing board.

Last April, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the organization that manages ocean fish, passed a hard cap on the pollock fishery. Beginning in 2011, the portion of the fleet that participates in the program is allowed 60,000 kings a year. If the cap is reached, the fishery shuts down. Those who don't participate have a lower cap — 47,591 fish.

The loss of the kings is devastating village economies. These are the same Yukon River villages where spring floods swept away homes, as well as boats, nets and smokehouses. There's no money to buy anything, Andrew said.

"It is crippling the economy in all of the rivers where we depend on commercial fishing for income," he said.

Bycatch plays a role but is not the only reason for the vanishing kings, said Diana Stram, a fishery management plan coordinator at the council.

Herman Savikko, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist, agreed. He pointed to changing ocean currents, plankton blooms and even the carnivorous nature of salmon. River conditions could be changing, too, he said.

A lot isn't known about what happens to king salmon in the ocean, Savikko said. "Once the fish enter the marine environment it just is a big black box," he said.

In a good year, Kwik'pak Fisheries L.L.C. in Emmonak on the lower Yukon employs between 200 and 300 people. This summer, only about 30 people have been hired. Kwik'pak is the largest employer in the region.

General manager Jack Schultheis said when the king fishery was shut down, the summer chum salmon run was curtailed as well, even though a good number of chums were returning to the river.

The lower Yukon villages are economically devastated, he said.

Fishermen used to get between $5 million and $10 million from the fishery. Last year, it was $1.1 million.

That means instead of making between $20,000 and $30,000 in the 1970s, fishermen are making just a few thousand dollars now, and that in villages where fuel costs $8 a gallon, milk is $15 a gallon and a T-bone steak costs $25, he said.

It's hard to see the villages in such economic hardship but the Yukon should be managed conservatively until the problem of the disappearing kings is better understood, Schultheis said.

"For 50 years, it was an extremely stable fishery," he said.