Antarctic Ross Sea bird conservation


This video says about itself:

24 September 2015

Passengers aboard one of our Ross Sea Journeys will travel along the southern parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, Peter I Island, the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas into the Ross Sea. Visiting the Ross Ice-shelf, Dry Valleys, McMurdo Station, Campbell Island and the historic huts of discovery voyagers Scott and Shackleton.

From BirdLife:

World’s largest protected marine area to shelter penguins, petrels

By Alex Dale, 28 Oct 2016

As the only continent not permanently inhabited by humans, Antarctica is home to some of the most pristine ecosystems on the planet. Attracted by its fish-rich waters, some 46 species of birds, from skuas to storm petrels, have spread their wings to this largely barren, but far from lifeless, icy continent.

But even on this most inhospitable of lands, nature is not safe from human influence. Penguins, easily the most iconic of Antarctica’s species, are also one of the most threatened, as a result of outside factors such as climate change and overfishing.

This is why BirdLife welcomes the establishment of the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area, which will protect some 1.5 M square kilometres (600,000 square miles) of the Southern Ocean from commercial fishing over the next 35 years.

The Ross Sea extends off Cape Adare, Victoria Land to King Edward VII Peninsula, Marie Byrd Land, an area of Antarctica located south-east of New Zealand. This is an area already well known to BirdLife; we have already identified several IBAs (Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas) in the region.

In particular, the area holds great importance to penguins; it is estimated 155,000 Emperor Penguin Aptenodytes forsteri (assessed by BirdLife for the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened) and more than 2.5 million Adelie Penguin Pygoscelis adeliae (Near Threatened) use these waters. The area is also globally important for the long distance migrant South Polar Skua Catharacta maccormicki and Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides.

Many other seabird species can be seen foraging in these waters, such as the Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus, the Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata, the Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris, the Antarctic Petrel Thalassoica antarctica, the Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea and the Wilson’s Storm Petrel Oceanites oceanicus. In addition, the waters also play host to leopard seals, killer whales, nearly a hundred of species of fish and approximately 1,000 invertebrate species.

“The establishment of the Ross Sea protected area is a massive win for Antarctic marine life, including globally important populations of some seabirds, such as the Adelie Penguin”, says Pepe Clarke, Global Head of Policy, BirdLife International. “By reducing fishing pressure in the rich marine environment of the Ross Sea, this marine protected area will provide a safe haven for penguin and petrel populations threatened by overfishing”.

Seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds worldwide, and a top priority for BirdLife. Among these, Penguins are particularly at risk, with more than half of the species classified as Endangered or Vulnerable. To better inform international marine conservation priorities, we have mapped more than 3,000 internationally important areas for seabirds, including more than 200 sites in Antarctica, using cutting edge seabird tracking technology.

Our hope is that the next step the international community will take in order to preserve Antarctica’s vital ecosystems will be the establishment of an integrated network of marine protected areas in Antarctic waters, with a focus on those areas most important for marine mammals, fish and seabirds. BirdLife will continue to work for the formation of Marine Protected Areas in areas of water that we have expert knowledge of, and are not under the jurisdiction of any one country. Earlier this month, BirdLife International proposed that an area of the high seas of the Atlantic Ocean identified as vital for marine biodiversity should be given protected status.

There’s something cool about Arctic bird poop. Ammonia from guano contributes to climate-cooling cloud creation. By
Thomas Sumner, 12:11pm, November 15, 2016: here.

Antarctic Ross Sea becoming world’s largest marine sanctuary


This video says about itself:

Antarctica Ross Sea

3 April 2014

Being an arm’s length from the world’s largest penguin, the famous though elusive Emperor, is a life-changing experience! And being inside Scott’s and Shackleton‘s historical huts were sacred moments.

By Andrea Vance of TV New Zealand today:

Ross Sea sanctuary agreement sets ‘historic’ precedent

Antarctic advocates are celebrating a significant victory after the Ross Sea was declared the world’s newest – and largest – marine sanctuary.

Negotiations between 24 countries and the European Union have been ongoing for years, and China was the last to come on board with the agreement, making more than 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean a protected area from December next year for 35 years.

Antarctic Oceans Alliance Director Mike Walker says it’s a historic day that children will learn about in schools in the future.

“It’s historic because what we believe is it is the start of the protection of the high seas,” Mr Walker says.

The ocean is home to dolphins, whales and penguins, as well as Antarctic toothfish – a delicacy in many countries.

Foreign Affairs minister Murray McCully says it’s a miracle that all of the countries finally came to agreement.

“It’s a massive step foward a – a huge win,” Mr McCully said.

Next year, three more Antarctic sanctuaries will also be up for negotiation.

“I think that, having set a good precedent here, we will get some agreements in place quite quickly – but we shouldn’t expect all of this to be plain sailing.”

Blue whale with calf, video


Wildlife Extra writes about this video:

Drone footage captures rare sight of endangered blue whale mother and calf

Drone footage of a blue whale mother and calf in the Antarctic Ocean has been released by Sea Shepherd, whose ship the Steve Irwin encountered the pair in late January.

“Filming this endangered blue whale and her calf with a drone was unbelievable,” drone pilot Gavin Garrison said in a statement.

“Spotting a blue whale from the deck of the Steve Irwin is a thrill, but being able to film the biggest animals on the planet from the air is truly awe-inspiring.”

Blue whales occur worldwide including Arctic and Antarctic waters, and are famously the largest animals known to ever live, with a maximum length of 32 metres and a weight of up to 181,437 kilograms.

The calves are eight metres long and weigh four tonnes at birth, and wean off their mothers after seven to eight months once reaching 15 metres in length.

Sea Shepherd did not estimate the size of the pair encountered by the Steve Irwin.

The species has been classified as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species since 1986.

However, the IUCN recommends listing the Antarctic subspecies separately as critically endangered due to the size of population loss over the past century.

The last population census used by the IUCN lists the Antarctic population at about 1,700 in 1996 and growing at 7.3 per cent every year.

The IWC granted protection to blue whales by 1966 before the total whaling ban in 1986, and says that despite continued whaling by Iceland, Norway, Japan and the Russian Federation, no blue whales have been recorded deliberately caught since 1978.

The World Wide Fund for Nature estimates the total global population at between 10,000 and 25,000.

The Steve Irwin is in the Southern Ocean as part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish, targeting illegal fishing of the Antarctic toothfish.

Volcano erupts on sub-Antarctic Heard island


This video says about itself:

Rare video of Heard Island volcano Big Ben erupting

31 January 2016

Scientists on board the CSIRO research vessel Investigator have taken rare video footage of an eruption of the Big Ben volcano on remote sub-Antarctic Heard Island during an IMAS voyage to the Kerguelen Plateau.

Big Ben, which includes the 2,745 m tall Mawson Peak, the highest mountain on Australian territory north of Antarctica, is known to have erupted at least three other times since 2000.

But the remoteness of Heard Island and the neighbouring McDonald Islands, also an active volcano, means eruptions are rarely glimpsed by people and usually only recognised from sparse satellite images.

RV Investigator is circling the islands on the sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Plateau as part of an IMAS-led voyage to study the link between active volcanoes on the seafloor and the mobilisation of iron which enriches and supports life in the Southern Ocean.

Voyage Chief Scientist, IMAS’s Professor Mike Coffin, and PhD candidate Jodi Fox comment on the eruption.

Antarctic fur seal pups, new study


This video says about itself:

12 December 2009

The Antarctic island of South Georgia is home to an estimated 4 million Antarctic fur seals, approximately 95% of the world population. These eared seals usually hunt the rich waters for krill during the night, but they also eat fish, squid and sometimes penguins! The pups come together in large groups in shallow water – come and meet a gang of fast-moving pups as they play around me during a dive.

From Wildlife Extra:

A mother’s long distance call help their seal pups find them

Identifying their mother’s voice is crucial for helping Antarctic fur seal pups find their mothers in densely populated breeding colonies, when they return from foraging for food, new research has found.

Antarctic fur seals breed in dense colonies on shore, and during the 4-month lactation period, mothers alternate foraging trips at sea with suckling period ashore. Each time the mothers return to the colony, they and their pups initially use vocalizations to find each other among several hundred other seals, and then use their sense of smell to confirm.

The team from University of Paris-Sud carried out playback experiments on about 30 wild pups using synthetic signals and playbacks at different distances at the Kerguelen Archipelago in the southern Indian Ocean.

The authors found that the pups use both the sound’s amplitude and frequency modulations to identify their mother’s voice. Playbacks at different distances showed that frequency modulations propagated reliably up to 64 meters, whereas amplitude modulations were highly degraded for distances over 8 meters. The authors suggest these results indicate a two-step identification process: at long range, pups identified first the frequency modulation pattern of their mother’s calls, and then other components of the vocal signature were identified at closer range. The individual vocal recognition system developed by Antarctic fur seals is likely adapted to face the importance of finding kin in a crowd.

You can read the full study HERE.

Baleen whale evolution, new research in New Zealand


This video is called Humpback whales feeding on krill – Deep into the Wild – BBC. It says about itselF:

26 July 2010

Nick Baker crosses some of the world’s most treacherous seas as his mission to get close to some of the wildest animals on Earth takes him to Antarctica. Despite the cold, these oceans are rich with marine life as the mighty humpback whale demonstrates as it gorges itself on krill.

From the University of Otago in New Zealand:

Otago research details 40 million-year-old family tree

Wednesday, 15 April 2015, 3:11 pm

Otago research details 40 million-year-old family tree of baleen whales

New University of Otago research is providing the most comprehensive picture of the evolutionary history of baleen whales, which are not only the largest animals ever to live on earth, but also among the most unusual.

Most other mammals feed on plants or grab a single prey animal at a time, but baleen whales are famous for their gigantic mouths and their ability to gulp and filter an enormous volume of water and food.

In a paper appearing in the UK journal Royal Society Open Science, Otago Geology PhD graduate Dr Felix Marx and Professor Ewan Fordyce present a comprehensive family tree of living and extinct baleen whales stretching back nearly 40 million years.

The pair says that similar family trees have been constructed before, but theirs is by far the largest and, crucially, the first to be directly calibrated using many dated fossils.

The research shows which whales are related and exactly how long ago every branch of the tree—whether extinct or still alive—first arose.

This new family tree allows the researchers to estimate: (1) how many species of baleen whale have existed, (2) similarities and differences between different lineages in terms of overall body shape, and (3) how fast baleen whales evolved at any chosen time over the last 40 million years.

“We find that the earliest baleen whales underwent an adaptive radiation, or sudden ‘evolutionary burst’, similar to that of ‘Darwin’s finches’ on the Galapagos Islands,” says Professor Fordyce.

Dr Marx adds that this early phase of whale evolution coincided with a period of global cooling. At the same time, the Southern Ocean opened, and gave rise to a strong, circum-Antarctic current that today provides many of the nutrients sustaining the modern global ocean.

The researchers found that during their early history, whales branched out into many different lineages, each with a unique body shape and feeding strategy.

“Rather surprisingly, many of these early whales were quite unlike their modern descendants: Although some had baleen, others had well-developed teeth and actively hunted for much bigger prey than is taken by modern species,” says Professor Fordyce.

Yet, after a few million years of co-existence, the toothed ‘baleen’ whales disappeared, leaving behind only their filter-feeding cousins, he says.

That extinction occurred between 30 and 23 million years ago and was about the time that the circum-Antarctic current reached its full strength, providing more nutrients that made filter feeding a more viable option.

The researchers say that the toothed ‘baleen’ whales disappeared perhaps because of increasing competition from other newly evolved toothed marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals.

They found that filter-feeding whales remained successful and diverse until about 3 million years ago, when the number of lineages suddenly crashed.

“This decline was driven mainly by the disappearance of small species of baleen whale, which left behind only the giants—ranging from 6 to as much as 30 metres—that plough the ocean today,” says Dr Marx.

He says the disappearance of small whales likely resulted from the onset of the ice ages, which altered the distribution of available food, caused shallow water habitats to shift or sometimes disappear, and created a need for long-distance migration between polar feeding grounds and equatorial breeding grounds.

“This behaviour—long distance-migration—is still one of the hallmarks of all baleen whales alive today,” notes Professor Fordyce.

See also here. And here.

Penguins and taste, new research


Thuis video is called Funny and cute penguin videos compilation.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

Poor taste penguins lack umami gene

Rachel Sullivan

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Penguins can’t appreciate the delicate flavours of the seafood they catch thanks to a lack of taste.

New research published today in Current Biology reveals that penguins don’t have the genes that encode three of the five basic tastes – sweet, bitter, and umami (a savoury flavour), although they are genetically capable of detecting salty and sour tastes.

The study, led by Dr Huabin Zhao from Wuhan University, looked at the recently sequenced genomes of Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) and emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) and 14 other bird species.

They found that while many other birds, such as chickens, finches and Amazon parrots have also lost the ability to taste sweet flavours, unlike penguins they are still able to detect bitter and umami tastes.

“Our results strongly suggest that the umami and bitter tastes were lost in the common ancestor of all penguins, whereas the sweet taste was lost earlier,” explains study co-author Dr Jianzhi Zhang from the University of Michigan.

He says it’s a puzzling finding.

“Penguins eat fish, so you would guess that they need the umami receptor genes, but for some reason they don’t have them.”

Adding to the puzzle is that taste is a powerful indicator of whether a potential food item is good enough to eat.

“In general, a sour taste helps detect spoiled food and bitter taste helps detect toxic food,” Zhang says. “Presumably, penguins cannot use taste to detect toxins … but we don’t know if penguins have other means of detecting toxins.”

Temperature sensitivity

Zhang says that while the research team doesn’t yet have a definitive answer to why penguins are so lacking in taste, they do have some ideas.

Penguins evolved in the chilly Antarctic, and the taste receptors for sweet, umami and bitter tastes (but not salty or sour tastes) are inactive at lower temperatures. It is likely that since they wouldn’t have worked anyway their loss along the evolutionary pathway would have had minimal impact.

Many species of penguins have since spread out into warmer climates. However, Zhang says “if ancestral penguins had lost the receptor genes for the three tastes while in the Antarctic, the genes and tastes cannot be regained even when some migrated away.”

In addition, anatomical studies have shown that penguin tongues seem to lack taste receptors – even for salty and sour flavours. Instead they are covered in stiff, horny bristles designed to help catch and hold their slippery prey, which they then swallow whole, so they may not have much interest in how their food tastes anyway.

But Zhang says he is not sure that penguins completely lack taste buds pointing to the possibility that they yet might be found in the tissues of the pharanx or elsewhere in the palate.

Sweet exception

Interestingly, in nectar-loving hummingbirds that have also lost the genes encoding sweet receptors, the umami receptor has been repurposed to detect the sweet tastes of the food source they depend on.

Zhang says that a similar repurposing hasn’t happened in penguins.

“The sweet and umami receptors have a common ancestry and are similar in structure so it is possible for the hummingbird umami receptor to be repurposed to detect sweet,” he says.

“However, the sour and salty receptors are structurally completely different from sweet and umami receptors: There is no way that they can be repurposed to sense sweet or umami.”

Where to see penguins: around the world in 17 species. Mike Unwin reveals where to see penguins, from Australia to South Africa and Patagonia: here.

SCIENTISTS FIND SIXTH ‘TASTE’ Fat now joins the ranks of sour, sweet, salty, umami and bitter. [WaPo]