Killer Whales Are Expanding into the Arctic, Then Dying as the Ice Sets In

Killer Whales Are Expanding into the Arctic, Then Dying as the Ice Sets In

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: February 14, 2019 SNIP: In February 2016, hunters from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut spotted two killer whales prowling around a group of beluga whales in southeast Hudson Bay. It was an unusual sight for the time of year—killer whales don’t usually show up there until the summer, and are rare even then. In June, residents of the Inuit community spotted two other killer whales. By July, all four killer whales were dead. Trapped in the bay by thick sea ice, they starved to death. Hudson Bay is a geographically complex inland sea with just two entrances—or exits—both at the north. Most years, the bay freezes over completely from mid-November until mid-July. Killer whales are typically found in the open ocean, but in recent years they have been venturing into the bay during the ice-free summer in search of prey such as belugas or narwhals. As the ice forms across the bay’s entrances in the fall, the only escape for the whales is to swim north. But this goes against their normal instincts, says Steve Ferguson, an evolutionary ecologist from the University of Manitoba. In the open ocean, killer whales would head south, where there is typically less ice. The result is that the killer whales find themselves trapped long into the winter, and, soon after, begin to starve. These killer whales may have been locals from the northeastern Canadian Arctic that were exploring Hudson Bay for the first time, or newcomers that moved into the region from afar—scientists aren’t sure. Either way, the lack of sea ice in the bay—which is setting in later, and over a...
Are We Watching the End of the Monarch Butterfly?

Are We Watching the End of the Monarch Butterfly?

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: January 25, 2019 SNIP: Over the period of a year, monarchs produce four to five generations. The last and longest-lasting of them is born between August and October. Unlike their predecessors, which live as butterflies for a mere two to four weeks, these monarchs survive for six to eight months. After staying put over the winter in Mexico or California, they disperse in March or April, spreading far and wide in search of milkweed upon which to lay their eggs, which will morph into caterpillars that become the next generation of butterflies. The final generation in this yearlong cycle will return to the same California coast as their ancestors did. How these butterflies find their place of origin remains a mystery. The total number of West Coast monarchs was estimated at approximately 4.5 million in the 1980s. In the latest count, that number fell to 28,429, dipping below the number scientists estimate is needed to keep the population going. This drastic decline indicates the migration is collapsing. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is expected to announce in June whether its scientists think the monarch qualifies for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Fewer butterflies means fewer birds, and we need birds, in part, to help control other insects, like mosquitoes, that carry dangerous diseases. We acknowledge that the biotic world only works by way of the networks that connect each species in a web of life. We must take account of our role in the demise of this species, a consequence of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides and herbicides, if only...
Bye bye blackbird?: RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch marks 40 years

Bye bye blackbird?: RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch marks 40 years

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: January 25, 2019 SNIP: The garden of 1979 was filled with glossy gangs of starlings, the atonal chirp of sparrows and the tap-tap of song thrushes breaking open snail shells. In 2019, you’re more likely to hear the screech of a ring-necked parakeet, the “coo” of a collared dove or the “woo” of a woodpigeon. The Big Garden Birdwatch is marking its 40th year this weekend, with half a million people expected to spend an hour counting the birds in their garden or local green space in what is the world’s biggest wildlife citizen science project. The RSPB survey reveals sharp vicissitudes of fortune for our garden visitors over the years. Starlings have fallen by 80%, song thrushes by 75% and house sparrows by 57%. Even ubiquitous garden heroes the robin (-31%) and blackbird (-41%) have become more scarce. But gardens have filled with different sights and songs, with woodpigeons bustling in to view, rising by 950%. Collared doves are up 307% and magpies – viewed with suspicion by many small-bird lovers – have risen by...
Antarctic krill: Key food source moves south

Antarctic krill: Key food source moves south

SOURCE: BBC DATE: January 21, 2019 SNIP: A keystone prey species in the Southern Ocean is retreating towards the Antarctic because of climate change. Krill are small, shrimp-like creatures that swarm in vast numbers and form a major part of the diets of whales, penguins, seabirds, seals and fish. Scientists say warming conditions in recent decades have led to the krill contracting poleward. If the shift is maintained, it will have negative ecosystem impacts, they warn. Already there is some evidence that macaroni penguins and fur seals may be finding it harder to get enough of the krill to support their...
UN Warns of Rising Levels of Toxic Brine as Desalination Plants Meet Growing Water Needs

UN Warns of Rising Levels of Toxic Brine as Desalination Plants Meet Growing Water Needs

SOURCE: United Nations University DATE: January 14, 2019 SNIP: The fast-rising number of desalination plants worldwide — now almost 16,000, with capacity concentrated in the Middle East and North Africa — quench a growing thirst for freshwater but create a salty dilemma as well: how to deal with all the chemical-laden leftover brine. In a UN-backed paper (“The state of desalination and brine production: A global outlook“), experts estimate the freshwater output capacity of desalination plants at 95 million cubic meters per day — equal to almost half the average flow over Niagara Falls. For every litre of freshwater output, however, desalination plants produce on average 1.5 litres of brine (though values vary dramatically, depending on the feedwater salinity and desalination technology used, and local conditions). Globally, plants now discharge 142 million cubic meters of hypersaline brine every day (a 50% increase on previous assessments). Desalination plants near the ocean (almost 80% of brine is produced within 10km of a coastline) most often discharge untreated waste brine directly back into the marine environment. The authors cite major risks to ocean life and marine ecosystems posed by brine greatly raising the salinity of the receiving seawater, and by polluting the oceans with toxic chemicals used as anti-scalants and anti-foulants in the desalination process (copper and chlorine are of major...