Humans pushing North Atlantic right whale to extinction faster than believed

Humans pushing North Atlantic right whale to extinction faster than believed

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: October 30, 2020 SNIP: Humans are killing the endangered North Atlantic right whale far faster than previously thought, and experts say the window to act is quickly closing. According to new modelling from the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, only 356 of the whales remain in the world — a significant decline from the 409 logged last year. Of the remaining whales, only about 70 breeding females survive. Without decisive action, experts fear females could disappear in the next 10 to 20 years. “It’s not just numbers. These are individuals that we’ve seen grow up as calves,” said Philip Hamilton, a researcher at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life. “To see them turning up dead or even worse, entangled in ropes where it takes a year to slowly die, is just gut-wrenching.” While human-caused deaths remained low this year, researchers now realize the 17 fatalities recorded in 2017 vastly underestimated the scope of destruction. They now believe 42 whales died that year. There is still room for optimism, said Hamilton, who first started working with the whales in the mid-1980s, when the population was less than 350. “The numbers have been this low before,” he said. “But we have to stop killing them – we’re killing them at an alarming rate.” And to survive, the whales will have to adapt to a rapidly changing ocean ecosystem, where changes to their feeding locations present a “double whammy”, said Hamilton. “Managing environmental change, while also having their reproduction reduced, is just untenable,” he said. While many people will never glimpse the graceful mammals that can reach...
From Abundant to Critically Endangered: Shark Species Nearly Vanishes in Just 40 Years

From Abundant to Critically Endangered: Shark Species Nearly Vanishes in Just 40 Years

SOURCE: The Revelator DATE: October 14, 2020 SNIP: Oh what a difference a few decades make. Back in in the 1980s and 1990s, a species known as the smalltail shark (Carcharhinus porosus) was one of the most common fish caught off the coast of northern Brazil. That’s not the case anymore. A new paper by researchers from a trio of Brazilian science institutions calculates that smalltail shark populations in the country have declined by a shocking 90%. They say the species has now become critically endangered and is in need of “urgent conservation methods…to prevent its extinction in the near future.” The problem, as with so many other declining oceanic species, stems from rampant overfishing. In this case smalltail sharks face similar threats from two very different types of fisheries. Small-scale, artisanal fishers use gillnets to catch species like mackerel and weakfish, while industrial-fishing operations use trawl nets to catch shrimp and massive gillnets to scoop up catfish and other bottom-dwelling species. These industrial gillnets regularly reach up to 5.5 miles in length. Each of these methods indiscriminately catches a wide range of species, including smalltail sharks, which swim in muddy coastal waters and estuaries. The sharks only reach 3-4 feet in length, so they’re easily swept up by these fishing operations. Amplifying the fishing threat, the paper reports, a majority of smalltail sharks caught by the fisheries have always been juveniles. In the 1980s sharks younger than six years accounted for 90.6% of catches. The elimination of so many immature sharks from the population removed any chance they’d get to breeding age and perpetuate the...
The first human settlers on islands caused extinctions

The first human settlers on islands caused extinctions

SOURCE: Phys.org DATE: October 6, 2020 SNIP: Though some believe prehistoric humans lived in harmony with nature, a new analysis of fossils shows human arrival in the Bahamas caused some birds to be lost from the islands and other species to be completely wiped out. The researchers examined more than 7,600 fossils over a decade and concluded that human arrival in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago was the main factor in the birds’ extinction and displacement in recent millennia, although habitat fluctuations caused by increased storm severity and sea level rise could have played a role. Many spectacular species, such as a colorful parrot, a striking scavenger called a caracara, and a number of hawks, doves, owls, and songbirds, were still found as recently as 900 years ago, and may have overlapped with people by a century before disappearing or retreating to only one or two islands in The Bahamas. “No other environmental change could explain their loss,” said study co-lead Janet Franklin, a distinguished professor of botany and plant sciences at UC Riverside. Full results of Franklin’s study were published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. For example, the Abaco parrot is now only found on two islands in the Bahamas. There are many islands in between the two where the parrots now live that have the same habitat. “We wondered why those parrots aren’t found in the middle islands,” Franklin said. “It turns out, they were, not that long ago.” Franklin and her collaborator, ornithologist David Steadman of University of Florida, found Abaco parrot fossils were on all the islands until...
Jasper National Park says one caribou herd gone, two others on the brink of local extinction

Jasper National Park says one caribou herd gone, two others on the brink of local extinction

SOURCE: CBC DATE: September 16 SNIP: Caribou populations in Jasper National Park are in deep trouble. Of three southern mountain woodland caribou herds managed by Parks Canada, one — the Maligne herd — is now considered extirpated, or locally extinct, while the other two are dangerously small, according to the Jasper National Park’s Species at Risk report. Worse, neither of those herds has enough breeding females to be able to grow the herds, a situation that has an Alberta wilderness society calling for swift action. “The Tonquin is estimated to have about 45 caribou left only, the Brazeau less than 15. And a key thing for caribou is the number of breeding females,” said Carolyn Campbell, a conservation specialist for the Calgary-based Alberta Wilderness Association. “In each case, unfortunately, these two populations have 10 or less breeding females. That means they cannot grow any bigger and they’re very vulnerable to sudden disasters or setbacks.” Caribou have one calf per season. Three aerial surveys of the Maligne Valley conducted in 2018 and 2019 failed to locate caribou tracks or animals, the annual report stated. It says the Tonquin and Brazeau herds are “too small to recover on their...
Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

Wildlife in ‘catastrophic decline’ due to human destruction, scientists warn

SOURCE: BBC and The Guardian DATE: September 10, 2020 SNIP: Wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds in less than 50 years, according to a major report by the conservation group WWF. The report says this “catastrophic decline” shows no sign of slowing. And it warns that nature is being destroyed by humans at a rate never seen before. Wildlife is “in freefall” as we burn forests, over-fish our seas and destroy wild areas, says Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. “We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth. Now nature is sending us a desperate SOS and time is running out.” The report looked at thousands of different wildlife species monitored by conservation scientists in habitats across the world. They recorded an average 68% fall in more than 20,000 populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish since 1970. The decline was clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world, said Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which provides the data. “If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we depend,” he added. Taken together, they provide evidence that biodiversity is being destroyed at a rate unprecedented in human history. This particular report uses an index of whether populations of wildlife are going up or down. It does not tell us the number of species lost, or extinctions. The largest declines are in tropical areas. The drop...