Mysterious Antarctic sound turns out to be whales


This video is called Close Encounter with Minke Whale in Antarctica.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Scientists solve mystery of Southern Ocean ‘quacking’ sound

Noise heard in the Southern Ocean has been attributed to the underwater chatter of the Antarctic minke whale

Taku Dzimwasha

Wednesday 23 April 2014 15.05 BST

The mystery source of a strange quacking sound coming from the ocean has been discovered.

The so-called “bio-duck” noise, which occurs in the winter and spring in the Southern Ocean, had confused researchers for over 50 years.

Scientists have now attributed the sound to underwater chatter of the Antarctic minke whale.

Submarine crews first heard the quacking sound – a series of repetitive, low-pitched pulsing sounds – in the 1960s.

Lead researcher Denise Risch, from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration north-east fisheries science centre in Massachusetts, told the BBC: “Over the years there have been several suggestions, but no one was able to really show this species was producing the sound until now.”

The research team attached suction-cup sensor tags equipped with underwater microphones to a pair of minke whales off the western Antarctic peninsula in February last year, with the aim of monitoring their feeding behaviour and movements.

These were the first acoustic tags deployed on Antarctic minke whales, and the team compared their recordings with years worth of collected audio recordings to match the sounds. Researchers were able to identify the quacking noise, as well as downward-sweeping sounds previously linked to minke whales.

The sounds “can now be attributed unequivocally to the Antarctic minke whale,” Risch and her team wrote in a study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Researchers are hoping to retrospectively analyse previous recordings to investigate “seasonal occurrence and migration patterns” of the whales.

Scientists remain puzzled as to why the whales produce the sound, but it is thought that the animals make the noise close to the surface before they make a deep dives to feed.

Risch added: “Identifying their sounds will allow us to use passive acoustic monitoring to study this species. That can give us the timing of their migration – the exact timing of when the animals appear in Antarctic waters and when they leave again – so we can learn about migratory patterns, about their relative abundance in different areas and their movement patterns between the areas.”

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Ancient underwater forest discovery in Gulf of Mexico


This video from the USA is called Alabama‘s Underwater Forest.

From the Houston Chronicle in the USA:

Divers collecting funds to film ancient, hidden forest discovered in Gulf

By Carol Christian

April 17, 2014 | Updated: April 18, 2014 1:12am

A team of scuba divers is trying to raise $15,000 to make a documentary about a hidden, ancient underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico.

To enlist the public’s help, they turned to Kickstarter.com, a popular platform for crowd-source fundraising.

By early Thursday afternoon, just one week into the campaign, they had raised more than $10,000. Under Kickstarter rules, they must meet their goal by their own deadline — in this case May 1 — or they get nothing.

The forest is a half-mile-square area of 50,000-year-old cypress stumps perfectly preserved under the ocean floor off the coast of Alabama. When the wood is cut, it has a “cypressy” smell, and sap oozes out of it, Raines said.

“That’s 50,000-year-old sap coming out of these trees,” said team member Ben Raines, a former reporter for the Mobile Press Reporter who is now executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation in Fairhope, Ala.

Rewards offered by the team to Kickstarter donors range from access to high resolution photos, for a $10 contribution, to a chance to dive at the site, for a $2,000 pledge.

“We got our first taker today,” Raines said Thursday of the $2,000 donation.

Money raised beyond the goal will allow the team to do more filming and prepare special graphics, Raines said.

Others behind the documentary proposal are Chas Broughton, owner of Underwater Works in Fairhope, Ala., and Eric Lowe, the photographer for above-water shots. Raines is the underwater photographer.

The forest’s existence has generated intense interest around the world since its discovery was announced a couple years ago, Raines said.

Its exact location, about 15 miles off the coast, has been kept secret to prevent harmful disruption to the site, including commercial salvaging of the stumps, he said.

The Weeks Bay Foundation is working on a federal designation as a marine sanctuary for the ancient forest that divers have described as a “magical fairy land,” Raines said.

Those who have seen it now believe the forest was uncovered in September 2004, when Hurricane Ivan hit Alabama after pounding the Caribbean, Raines said.

“Ivan had 90-foot waves associated with it, the largest waves ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “We think they scoured the bottom. Waves have as much power underwater as above the water.”

Now that the cypress stumps have been exposed to oxygen, they are starting to decay but fortunately, Raines said, cypress wood decays slowly.

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New fungi discoveries in the Netherlands


This video says about itself:

A short description of Gyromitra esculenta, another false morel. This mushroom is still being eaten by some people who think it’s safe. It’s not!

The Dutch Mycological Society reports about research in the Horsterwold nature reserve in Flevoland province this spring.

Then, they found the rare mushroom species Gyromitra esculenta. It was the first time ever for Flevoland.

They also found Caloscypha fulgens; a fungus species, which, before this, had been known only from three spots in the Netherlands. Also a first for the province.

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Save British botanical gardens scientific work


This video is about Kew Gardens in London, England.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Campaign and petitions launched to save botanical garden jobs

Saturday 19th April 2014

London’s Kew and Wakehurst Place in Sussex are threatened by government cuts

A national campaign has been launched to save vital conservation and scientific work at two botanical gardens where 120 jobs are under threat.

General union GMB said on Thursday that jobs are under threat at Kew in London and Wakehurst Place in Sussex due to government cuts.

Kew Gardens is a world leader in its field with over 250 years experience, but has announced a £5 million deficit.

The campaign includes a petition and early day motion in Parliament.

Naturalist Sir David Attenborough is backing the campaign.

GMB regional officer Paul Grafton said “The aim is to save globally important conservation and science under threat.

“Never before has Kew faced such a significant threat to its future. It now needs public support to ensure its globally-important plant and fungal collections can continue to be used to support plant and fungal science and conservation around the world.”

The petition can be found here.

This video is called WAKEHURST PLACE, MANSION & GARDENS, WEST SUSSEX, UK.

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Curaçao sea turtle conservation


This video is about a sea turtle swimming near Curaçao.

From the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA):

Six species of sea turtles are found in the waters surrounding the Dutch Caribbean islands with regular nesting activity occurring annually on the sandy beaches of Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten. Because sea turtles undertake remarkably long transboundary migrations and because they are slow to reach sexual maturity (20 – 30 years), they require significant international cooperation and long-term monitoring in order to best understand their population trends.

Once amazingly abundant, Caribbean sea turtles have seen a rapid decline since the time of European expansion in the Americas. Scientists estimate that in the 1600s, over 90 million Green Turtles were present the Caribbean seas. Today the number is estimated at a mere 300,000. Hawksbills have plunged 99.7% from 11 million to 30,000. Fishing gear entanglement, illegal harvesting, coastal development, marine pollution and climate change still remain serious threats to the recovery of global sea turtle populations.

Having been involved with sea turtle conservation for more than two decades, Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire (STCB) has gained important knowledge and understanding not only of sea turtles ecology and biology, but also of best practices for conducting scientific research. STCB staff and volunteers are well-experienced in catching, measuring and weighing the animals while causing the least amount of stress, they know when and where to do beach patrols and they know how best to protect sea turtle nests.

After becoming an established organisation on Bonaire and widely respected within the regional sea turtle conservation community, STCB is actively sharing its knowledge in an attempt to strengthen and support sea turtle monitoring and conservation efforts on the other Dutch Caribbean islands. In addition to leading workshops on Bonaire with several visiting island conservation organisations, STCB recently visited St. Maarten to conduct an assessment of potential sea turtle feeding areas, providing important information to support the St. Maarten Nature Foundation in implementing appropriate and effective in-water monitoring efforts.

On Curaçao, 2013 brought increased sea turtle conservation and protection on the island with the establishment of four new Ramsar sites and the legal ban on destructive gillnet practices, which will come into effect in May 2014. Additionally, a dialogue between STCB and CARMABI began with the idea of developing and implementing a sea turtle nest monitoring programme on Curaçao using Bonaire as a model. In February 2014, Curaçao has officially taken the next step in the protection of the island’s charismatic and threatened sea turtles. Recent discussions between the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, STCB, the Curaçaoan Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as CARMABI and Uniek Curaçao have led to a collaborative agreement to develop a monitoring programme to asses the health and status of Curaçao’s sea turtle populations. The aim is to initiate a beach patrol programme to monitor nesting activity of sea turtles on the Shete Boka beaches throughout the nesting season (May – December) and perform head count surveys of feeding sea turtles in one of the key feeding areas on Curaçao – Boka Ascension. The data collected will not only be used to determine the presence and species composition of sea turtles in Curaçao and identify trends over time, but will also contribute to a regional dataset that monitors Caribbean-wide sea turtle population trends and will allow Curaçao to properly manage this precious endangered species.

To learn more about or get involved with sea turtle conservation on Curaçao, contact the Ministry of Health, Environment and Nature, CARMABI or Uniek Curaçao.

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British butterflies early this spring


This video from Britain is called Wildlife in our garden.

From Wildlife Extra:

Butterflies have had an early spring into action

Small tortoiseshells not only came out of hibernation a couple of weeks early, they were also seen in incredible numbers compared to previous years

April 2014: UK garden wildlife has sprung into action early this year according to the latest figures from the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) garden birdwatch scheme. This scheme monitors the changing fortunes of birds and other garden wildlife through its network of ‘citizen scientists’. Observations collected by BTO Garden BirdWatchers are analysed by BTO researchers and published in leading journals.

Butterflies demonstrated the most dramatic patterns of emergence. Small tortoiseshells not only came out of hibernation a couple of weeks early, they were also seen in incredible numbers compared to previous years, with 23 percent of Garden BirdWatch gardens reporting them. In comparison, their previous highest emergence peak was 12 percent in 2012.

Brimstone butterflies also had a very good start to the year. The first few individuals were not seen much earlier this year than in previous years but the peak emergence in 2013 was just four percent compared to 21 percent of gardens reporting them in March this year.

Hedgehogs were also seen far earlier in the year than is usual, with the first individuals … being reported during late February, almost a month earlier than was the case in 2013, and up to two weeks earlier than in any of the last five years.

In contrast, amphibians, such as common frog and smooth newt, were not seen earlier than usual, but there appeared to be something of a mass emergence, with a surge in reports from participants’ gardens. From early March, both species were seen in more Garden BirdWatch gardens than they have been for the last five years.

Clare Simm, from tBTO’s Garden BirdWatch team, commented: “As you can see, Garden BirdWatch is not just about birds. Our volunteers provide us with vital information on other taxa too, helping us to understand how important gardens are as a habitat for all wildlife. It’s too early to tell how the early emergence of these species will affect them, but it is an exciting contrast to the patterns of emergence that we saw last year.”

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New sponge species discovery in the Pacific


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Four new species of carnivorous sponges: Adapting to life in the deep sea

14 April 2014

This video describes four new species of carnivorous sponges from the Northeast Pacific Ocean that were discovered by MBARI scientists. Carnivorous feeding in sponges is an adaption to the food poor deep-sea environment, where filter feeding — the typical way sponges feed — is energetically expensive. Instead, these sponges trap small crustaceans with microscopic hooks. Once trapped, sponge cells mobilize, engulf the prey, and rapidly digest it. In addition to consuming small crustacean prey, one of these species appears to be consuming methane-oxidizing chemosynthetic bacteria.

For more information visit here.

From Wildlife Extra:

Four new species of killer sponges discovered

April 2014: Four new species of carnivorous (killer) sponges living on the deep seafloor, from the Pacific Northwest to Baja California have been discovered by scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

It was only discovered that some sponges are carnivorous about 20 years ago. Unlike other sponges most carnivorous sponges do not have specialised cells called choancytes, whose whip-like tails move continuously to create a flow of water which brings food to the sponge. Therefore these sponges, explains lead marine biologist Lonny Lundsten “trap larger, more nutrient-dense organisms, like crustaceans, using beautiful and intricate microscopic hook.”

These animals look more like bare twigs or small shrubs covered with tiny hairs. But the hairs consist of tightly packed bundles of microscopic hooks that trap small animals such as shrimp-like amphipods. Once an animal becomes trapped, it takes only a few hours for sponge cells to begin engulfing and digesting it. After several days, all that is left is an empty shell.

The four new sponges are named as Asbestopluma monticola, (which was collected from the top of the extinct underwater volcano Davidson Seamount off the coast of central California), Asbestopluma rickets (named after the marine biologist Ed Ricketts), Cladorhiza caillieti, (found on recent lava flows along the Juan de Fuca Ridge, a volcanic ridge offshore of Vancouver Island), and Cladorhiza evae, which was found far to the south, in a newly discovered hydrothermal vent field along the Alarcon Rise, off the tip of Baja California.

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Saving Galapagos giant tortoises


This video is called Giant Galapagos Tortoise (extreme closeup!)

From Wired:

Inside the Galapagos Islands’ Giant Tortoise Rehab Effort

By Jeffrey Marlow

04.16.14

10:24 am

You’re sailing from the Spice Islands across the open ocean to the South American port of Guayaquil, your financial motives rooted somewhere along a broad spectrum of morality and lawfulness. Several months have passed, and food stores and morale are low. Fortunately, you know a spot that will save the day, a cluster of rocky islands jutting out of the east Pacific near the equator.

For centuries, the Galapagos Islands have been a convenience store for ocean-going journeys, the resident Giant Tortoises serving as the perfect solution to the constant challenge of acquiring fresh meat at sea. These enormous beasts could handle the rigors of shipboard life and could be harvested at any time. Ships throughout the 18th-20th centuries would stop at the Galapagos, herd dozens of tortoises onto the decks, and sail off, assured of a reliable protein source for the remainder of their journey. At one point, an American whaling vessel lost track of a captive tortoise, which ambled out of the hold two and a half years later in Nantucket. Befuddled onlookers promptly killed it and made a stew.

And so, slowly but surely, the Giant Tortoise population was decimated. By the mid-1900s, conservationists began to recognize the problem, just as the increasing rate of international tourism and commerce was introducing another mortal threat to the species.

This one came in the form of fire ants, a voracious invasive species with a taste for baby tortoise. “Within 20 minutes of hatching,” says naturalist Ernesto Vaca, “they swarm and make the baby tortoise disappear.” Other human-transported pests, like rats, dogs, and cats, have developed similar dietary proclivities. With the species now facing a genuine threat to its survival, the Centro de Crianza was founded on Isabela Island, and conservationists went into crisis mode, airlifting tortoises with helicopters and initiating a breeding program.

It took a while to develop effective breeding techniques, but today, the Centro boasts a near-perfect success rate from egg to teenage tortoise. The rescue program continues in full force, as the habitat surrounding Isabela Island’s many dome-shaped volcanoes have been deemed unsafe for tortoises because of the fire ant threat. Employees and volunteers venture into the dense forest to retrieve tortoise eggs, which are then placed into computer-controlled incubators back at the Centro. The sex of the fledglings is determined by egg incubation temperature – above 37.5 °C leads to females, below produces males – allowing the Centro to generate its ideal ratio of 60% females and 40% males. Just before hatching, the eggs are buried in sand to simulate natural conditions and ensure that baby tortoises can dig upward and outward, a capability that bodes well for future robustness. Until the young tortoises are two years old, they’re placed in cages to offer protection against rats. By five, they’re in open-air enclosures, having received microchips that will track their movements once released into the wild.

And that, after all, is the ultimate goal, to repopulate the Galapagos with one of its most iconic species. Already, several hundred adults have been reintroduced to Espanola, an island particularly hard-hit by wave of threats over the decades. But the long-term prognosis is murky, especially as the invasive species that predate upon tortoises continue to grow in numbers. One option is to bolster the invasive species eradication efforts; another is that the animals will merely live the first few years of their lives in controlled conditions. But for now, the stabilization of the Giant Tortoise population is a victory in itself, a promising example of how conservation efforts can bring an organism back from the brink. As human impact on the unique Galapagos ecosystems increases, the model of tortoise rehab may prove useful in protecting other species from extinction, allowing the islands to maintain their unique treasure trove of biodiversity.

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Endangered North American butterfly fights back against climate change


This video is called The Endangered Quino Checkerspot Butterfly.

From Wildlife Extra:

Endangered butterfly fights back against climate change

April 2014: The endangered Quino Checkerspot butterfly, found in Mexico and California, is defying climate change by adapting both its habitat and diet, a study has revealed.

The butterfly suffered dramatic population collapses during the last century along the southern edge of its range in Baja California as a result of climate change and agricultural and urban development.

But rather than heading toward extinction the butterfly has adapted to the changing climate by shifting to a higher altitude and changing its host plant to a completely new species.

Other species have been seen changing either habitat or diet to cope with a changing climate but the Quino Checkerspot may be amongst the first butterfly species to change both.

Professor Camille Parmesan from Plymouth University, explained:

“Quino today is one of the happy ‘surprises’, having managed to adapt to climate change by shifting its centre of abundance to higher elevation and onto a plant species that was not previously known to be a host.”

See also here. And here. And here.

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