Arctic tern research in Svalbard, update


This video shows Dr Maarten Loonen, Arctic tern researcher at Groningen university in the Netherlands. In Svalbard, he holds Arctic tern Guusje, the first tern provided with a geolocator in Dr Loonen’s Arctic tern migration research on Spitsbergen island. If the glue of the ring around Guusje’s leg will be dry, then she will be released, to (probably) travel all the way to the Antarctic, and back to the Arctic.

The 39 terns provided with geolocators on Spitsbergen in 2013 have been named by 39 sponsors in a crowdfunding scheme. That scheme is now finished.

Of the 39 2013 geolocator Arctic terns, 13 individuals were caught again at the same nesting colony in Spitsbergen in 2014. The majority of the 2013 terns had not returned to the nesting site, as it suffered much from Arctic foxes stealing eggs.

The Arctic tern Beauty had already been ringed and provided with a geolocator in 2012; this bird was caught again in 2013, but not in 2014.

Names of the terns ringed in 2013 and recaptured in 2014: Anke, Benji, Henk de Groot, Inky, Jacobird, Jan Pier, Karmijn, Lubbe, Marjolein, Mystic, NoorDrenthe, Suzanne, Tom.

Names of the terns, ringed in 2013, and not caught again in 2014: Angelo, Annelies, Arctic Jewel, BenJeanette, Berna, Ellen, Flo, Frederico Segundo, Gerie, Gerrit de Veer, Guusje, Herman, Hidde, Imiqutailaq, Joanne, Jonathan, Krukel 1, Maamke, Maarten, Meliora, Riiser-Larsen, Ruth, SolarAccess, Stirns, Suzanne, Viti.

In 2014, also 18 Arctic terns nesting in Groningen province, in the Eemshaven harbour, in the Netherlands have been provided with geolocators.

This video by Maarten Loonen says about itself:

9 June 2013

I am joining Derick Hiemstra and Klaas van Dijk in the Eemshaven to observe and ring Arctic Terns. In this industrial area, activity is low and Arctic Terns have started breeding. On this location the world champions [in] migration distance were equipped with a geolocator two years ago and recaught one year ago. Today Derick and Klaas are doing their normal checks. They read colour rings but also metal rings from terns. Then we continue catching and ringing some breeding pairs. All this is part of my preparation for this summer field season on Spitsbergen.

20 Arctic terns nesting in the White Sea region in Russia got geolocators in 2014 as well.

Arctic marine mammals, new study


This video is called How marine mammals survive underwater life – BBC wildlife.

From Wildlife Extra:

First global review on the status, future of Arctic marine mammals published

For Arctic marine mammals, the future is especially uncertain. Loss of sea ice and warming temperatures are shifting already fragile Northern ecosystems.

The precarious state of those mammals is underscored in a multinational study led by a University of Washington scientist, published this week in Conservation Biology, assessing the status of all circumpolar species and subpopulations of Arctic marine mammals, including seals, whales and polar bears. The authors outline the current state of knowledge and their recommendations for the conservation of these animals over the 21st century.

“These species are not only icons of climate change, but they are indicators of ecosystem health, and key resources for humans,” said lead author Kristin Laidre, a polar scientist with the UW Applied Physics Laboratory.

The overall numbers and trends due to climate change are unknown for most of the 78 populations of marine mammals included in the report: beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales; ringed, bearded, spotted, ribbon, harp and hooded seals; walruses; and polar bears.

The paper reviews population sizes and trends over time, if known, for each group, ranging from millions of ringed seals to fewer than a hundred beluga whales in Northern Canada’s Ungava Bay.

“Accurate scientific data – currently lacking for many species – will be key to making informed and efficient decisions about the conservation challenges and tradeoffs in the 21st century,” Laidre said.

The publicly available report also divides the Arctic Ocean into 12 regions, and calculates the changes in the dates of spring sea ice retreat and fall freeze-up from NASA satellite images taken between 1979 and 2013.

Reductions in the sea ice cover, it finds, are “profound.” The summer ice period was longer in most regions by five to 10 weeks. The summer period increased by more than 20 weeks, or about five months, in the Barents Sea off Russia.

The species most at risk from the changes are polar bears and ice-associated seals.

“These animals require sea ice,” Laidre said. “They need ice to find food, find mates and reproduce, to rear their young. It’s their platform of life. It is very clear those species are going to feel the effects the hardest.”

Whales may actually benefit from less ice cover, at least initially, as the open water could expand their feeding habitats and increase food supplies.

Approximately 78 percent of the Arctic marine mammal populations included in the study are legally harvested for subsistence across the Arctic.

“There’s no other system in the world where top predators support human communities the ways these species do,” Laidre said.

The study recommends:

Maintaining and improving co-management with local and governmental entities for resources that are important to the culture and well-being of local and indigenous peoples.

Recognizing variable population responses to climate change and incorporating those into management. In the long term, loss of sea ice is expected to be harmful to many Arctic marine mammals, however many populations currently exhibit variable responses.

Improving long-term monitoring while recognizing monitoring for all species will be impossible. Alternatives include collecting valuable data from subsistence harvests, using remote methods to track changes in habitat, and selecting specific subpopulations as indicators.

Studying and mitigating the impacts of increasing human activities including shipping, seismic exploration, fisheries and other resource exploration in Arctic waters.

Recognizing the limits of protected species legislation. A balanced approach with regard to regulating secondary factors, such as subsistence harvest and industrial activity, will be needed, since protected species legislation cannot regulate the driver of habitat loss.

While the report aims to bring attention to the status and future of Arctic mammals, the authors hope to provoke a broader public response.

“We may introduce conservation measures or protected species legislation, but none of those things can really address the primary driver of Arctic climate change and habitat loss for these species,” Laidre said. “The only thing that can do that is the regulation of greenhouse gases.”

The report was funded by the Greenland Institute of Natural Resources and NASA. Co-authors are Harry Stern at the UW; Kit Kovacs, Christian Lydersen and Dag Vongraven at the Norwegian Polar Institute; Lloyd Lowry at the University of Alaska; Sue Moore at the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service; Eric Regehr at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage; Steven Ferguson at Fisheries and Oceans Canada; &Ostroke;ystein Wiig at the University of Oslo; Peter Boyeng and Robyn Angliss at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center; Erik Born and Fernando Ugarte at the Greenland Institute of National Resources; and Lori Quakenbush at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The study builds on a 2013 report by the Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna, a multinational group that advises the Arctic Council on biodiversity and conservation issues. Laidre was one of the lead authors for the chapter on marine mammals.

Unique bowhead whale swims near Cornwall


This video is called Bowhead Whale of the Arctic (Nature Documentary).

From ITV in Britain:

Bowhead whale spotted in Cornish waters

A whale never before seen in European waters has been sighted off the Cornish coast.

The Bowhead whale is usually found in the Arctic. The Sea Watch Foundation made this extraordinary discovery after mysterious pictures were sent in showing an animal whose head shape and jaw line didn’t match with descriptions of any of the expected whale species.

The pictures were sent in by Anna Cawthray, taken on a friend’s mobile phone. They showed the 25 ft long whale that she’d encountered off Par Beach on the island of St Martin’s.

Sea Watch’s Sightings Officer, Kathy James, sent the photos to other experts who confirmed the sighting as a bowhead whale. They say its “extraordinary” to see a bowhead in these waters.

Last updated Sat 28 Feb 2015

BBC – Earth – Do whales have graveyards where they prefer to die? Here.

Smith’s longspurs, Valentine’s Day birds


This video says about itself:

The Smith’s Longspur Project: 2013 Field Season

5 September 2013

© 2013 Jared Hughey
All Rights Reserved

The Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus), one of the least studied songbirds in North America, breeds on the arctic tundra and has become a species of conservation concern. I spent the summer working as a field technician for Heather Craig, a Master’s student at University of Alaska Fairbanks who is studying the breeding ecology of this polygynandrous species in the foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska.

From eNature Blog in the USA:

Record Setting Lovebird! The Smith’s Longspur May Be Nature’s Champion Lover

Posted on Monday, February 09, 2015 by eNature

Are you the type that has an insatiable appetite for lusty affairs?

Do you seek the same qualities in a partner?

Then you’ll probably enjoy the story of the Smith’s Longspur. This bird’s 70’s swinging style is enough to make even Hugh Hefner blush.

Arctic Summers, Midwest Winters

Small like a sparrow, the Smith’s Longspur spends its summers in Alaska and Canada and its winters in the Midwest and the South, often congregating in open fields.

In terms of range, then, it’s a lot like some other species. What sets the Smith’s Longspur apart is its astonishing libido.

An Insatiable Appetite For Love

At the peak of the spring mating season, the typical Smith’s Longspur copulates more than 350 times a week. The females solicit these encounters, and the males cooperate roughly half the time.

Otherwise the creatures are resting and refueling—for their fall migration or just to maintain their busy love lives!

You can always plan eNature’s Mating Game to find what creature you most resemble in love.

As hard as it may be to believe given the cold affecting much of the country, but spring is only a month or so away!

Have you seen any signs of the plants and animals in your neighborhood preparing for warmer times and the new life the spring season brings?

We always enjoy your stories.

John James Audubon named the Smith’s Longspur after his friend Gideon B. Smith.

More about the Smith’s Longspur is here.

Ice Age mollusks discovery in Alaska


This video, from the Harvard Museum of Natural History in the USA, says about itself:

14 October 2014

From tiny snails to the giant clam (Tridacna gigas), mollusks are the most diverse and widely distributed family of marine invertebrates. Professor Gonzalo Giribet, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at Harvard’s MCZ, discussed how scientists are decoding the Mollusca genetic family tree to learn how they’ve adapted, survived, and thrived since the pre-Cambrian era, and to explore the potential benefits of mollusks from medicine to human health, and other fields.

From Alaska Public Media:

Arctic Expedition Uncovers Previously Undiscovered, Ancient Mollusk Specimens

By Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage

December 11, 2014

During a 2010 expedition in the Beaufort Sea’s deep, Arctic waters off Alaska’s northern coast, scientists discovered what turned out to be a previously-unknown, ancient type of mollusk.

The newly-discovered bi-valve mollusk, called Wallerconcha sarae, dates back about 1.8 million years.

Paul Valentich-Scott, is the curator of malacology, which is the study of mollusks, at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History in California. He says the specimens are pretty small – only about an inch across and round-shaped.

“Think of a 1-inch ball bearing, but they’re all white,” Valentich-Scott said. “They do have an outer skin that’s really dark brown and kind of heavy, a little bit hairy-like, actually.”

“And inside, when you open them up, just think of opening up a clam shell that you might eat and they look very much like a clam that you might have for steamers or that kind of thing on the inside.”

This description fits a variety of mollusks, but Valentich-Scott says the specimen does have a few unique traits that warranted both a new species and genus.

“This one had some very unusual characters in the sort of top part of the shell that had not been seen before; so, it’s all shell-based,” Valentich-Scott said. “Since we don’t have an animal, we can’t do any DNA work and compare it that way, we can only compare shells of both fossil species and recent species to this new discovery.”

There are about 75 species of mollusks documented in the region, but Valentich-Scott says new discoveries are rare.

“A few of them have been new, like in the 20th century, but not many,” Valentich-Scott said. “So, in terms of what we know of this group of animals up in the Arctic, this is quite significant.”

Wallerconcha sarae was discovered by scientists on a joint U.S.-Canadian expedition off Alaska’s North Slope aboard the U.S. Coast Guard ice breaker Healy in 2010. Their primary mission was to map the sea floor and sediment below to gain a better understanding of the region’s geology.

Valentich-Scott says the discovery was made when scientists were investigating an interesting spot on the bottom of the Beaufort Sea.

“This is one of the unusual situations where we have essentially an extinct hydrothermal vent system,” Valentich-Scott said. “We’re pretty sure that this was an active vent system somewhere in the 1-2 million years ago.”

The first hydrothermal vents were discovered in the mid-1970s. And since the science is so young, relatively little is known about them. But, by studying this extinct vent system, the picture is gradually becoming a clearer.

Even though researchers only have what are essentially mollusk bones to study, Valentich-Scott says they can still make educated guesses into certain aspects of the animal’s existence based on knowledge of active hydrothermal vents and other comparable mollusk species.

“It probably used the bacteria in the environment of this hydrothermal vent to more or less feed,” Valentich-Scott said. “We know it was a filter-feeding organism and it might have been in fairly warm water, or it could have been a cold seep as well, we’re not quite sure.”

“But, in terms of other types of reproduction or what it did on a daily basis, we just don’t exactly know at this point.”

The shells were found buried as deep as 15 feet in the sea floor’s sediment, but Valentich-Scott says some were discovered much shallower, which opens up some interesting possibilities.

“We also found them within about 1 or 2 inches of the surface of the mud,” Valentich-Scott said. “So, it’s highly suggestive that they could, in the right circumstance, still be found alive.”

There are only about 15 specimens to work with so far, but as scientists delve further into Arctic research, Valentich-Scott believes more will likely be uncovered.

The scientific description of the new species is here.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: An encrusted scallop from the Pliocene of Cyprus: here.