Russian gray whale Varvara, longest mammal migration


This video from the USa is called Gray Whale Migration.

From Treehugger.com:

Longest mammal migration ever recorded measures in at 14,000 miles

Melissa Breyer

April 16, 2015

And the remarkable journey is raising questions about the status of a critically endangered whale species.

In a study using satellite-monitored tags to track three western gray whales, a team of U.S. and Russian researchers recorded a stunning round-trip trek of 14,000 miles. The trio traveled from their primary feeding ground off of Sakhalin Island in Russia across the Pacific Ocean and down the west coast of California to Baja, Mexico and back home again.

One of the whales, dubbed Varvara by the scientists, visited the three major breeding areas for eastern gray whales, which are found off North America.

For a long time it was believed that western gray whales had gone extinct, but a small group was discovered in Russia off Sakhalin Island; they now number around 150 individuals and have been monitored by scientists from Russia and the U.S. since the 1990s. Meanwhile, populations of eastern gray whales were also in a tight spot, but conservation efforts have brought them back – today they are believed to have a population of some 18,000.

But here’s why Varvara’s visit to the eastern gray whales is interesting. Not all experts believe that the two species are in fact distinct, separate species. A number of scientists have proposed that western and eastern gray whale populations are not isolated and that the gray whales found in Russian waters are a part of an eastern population that is restoring its former range.

“The fact that endangered western gray whales have such a long range and interact with eastern gray whales was a surprise and leaves a lot of questions up in the air,” said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Past studies have indicated genetic differentiation between the species, but this suggests we may need to take a closer look.”

“The ability of the whales to navigate across open water over tremendously long distances is impressive and suggests that some western gray whales might actually be eastern grays,” Mate said. “But that doesn’t mean that there may not be some true western gray whales remaining.

He adds, “If so, then the number of true western gray whales is even smaller than we previously thought.”

Does this spell doom for the western whales? Protecting them has proven challenging. Five western grays have perished in Japanese fishing nets within the last 10 years and their feeding grounds off Japan and Russia include fishing areas, shipping corridors, and oil and gas production – as well as future sites oil sites. But with this new research, hopefully fresh data and visibility will inspire some momentum in conservation efforts. With so few of these wandering giants left, and maybe even fewer than we thought, the time is now.

Scottish common dolphin news


This video from the USA is called Short-Beaked Common-Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) off Southern California Coast.

From Wildlife Extra:

Double the sightings of common dolphins in the Hebrides

There has been a substantial increase in common dolphin numbers off western Scotland in recent years, and this is to be studied by Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust in a new season of marine research expeditions beginning in May.

The Trust’s encounter rate with common dolphins has more than doubled over the past 12 years. The causes – and broader effects on the marine environment and other species – are still unclear.

Common dolphins come to the Hebrides each spring to take advantage of seasonal food stocks. They are gregarious, often approaching boats to bow-ride and play in the wake, and are smaller than the region’s resident bottlenose dolphins.

The species also travels in large groups – sometimes forming super-pods of thousands of individuals.

The finding of increased numbers – recently presented to the European Cetacean Society – has emerged from the charity’s unique long-term monitoring of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Hebrides.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is now recruiting volunteers to work alongside marine scientists in its annual summer surveys, which it hopes will shed further light on the dramatic changes.

“An increase in common dolphins means that those wishing to encounter dolphins in the wild are in luck – but further research is needed to explain why this is happening, the extent to which this has been caused by human activity, and the implications for other cetacean species,” says Dr Conor Ryan, Sightings and Strandings Officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

Despite their name, common dolphins – known in Gaelic as leumadair or ‘jumper’ – were once only occasionally seen in the Hebrides, preferring more southern waters generally warmer than 10°C.

With climate change causing sea surface temperatures in the Hebrides to rise at a rate of 0.5°C per decade, it appears that such warmer water species are starting to colonise new areas in the north or closer to shore.

Yet even as this shift potentially creates new opportunities for common dolphins, it may be generating competition for food with other dolphin species or seabirds.

One predicted consequence of warming seas is colder-water species such as the white beaked dolphin being forced to retreat further north.

So far, the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust has found no evidence of displacement of the white beaked dolphin – but continued monitoring is needed to establish whether or not the influx of common dolphins is having a negative effect on such species.

“Dedicated volunteers onboard our specialised research yacht, Silurian, have enabled us to build up a unique and valuable database, enabling researchers to examine changes in cetacean populations – and providing vital data for protecting these species and their habitats, including in the recent designation of Scottish Marine Protected Areas,” says Kerry Froud, the Trust’s Biodiversity Officer.

“Our research expeditions depend on volunteers. In return, they offer the opportunity of a lifetime to contribute to a better understanding of cetaceans and basking sharks, whilst enjoying the beautiful scenery of Scotland’s west coast and experiencing exhilarating sailing.”

For more information, email volunteercoordinator@hwdt.org, call 01688 302620 or see www.hwdt.org.

‘Kill the gays bill’, after Uganda, the USA?


This video from the USA says about itself:

Jeff Sharlett, author of “The Family” and Rachel Maddow discuss the secretive Republican “C Street House” run by a bizarre conservative Christian group.

As an addition to the earlier post on this blog about United States Christian fundamentalists The Family, also known as The Fellowship; from Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad, 6 February 2010, paper edition, page 4, article “Het geheime netwerk van Christus” (Christ’s secret network):

Asked about the recent affair in Uganda, where Family activists have proposed the death penalty for homosexuals, Stephen Haines

son of Family leader Wallace E. Haines jr.

says: “My father probably would have supported that. He always felt very strongly that gays should be punished.”

From daily The Independent in Britain today:

To counter the ‘kill the gays‘ proposal, an activist in California has proposed an ‘Intolerant Jackass Act’

Posted 2 hours ago by Evan Bartlett

This week we reported on the unfathomable news that a Californian lawyer had proposed a bill that would legalise the murder of lesbian and gay people in the state by “bullets to the head”.

Somehow, the Sodomite Suppression Act will actually be put to a signature-gathering stage because under Californian law, anyone who pays a $200 (£134) fee can put forward legislation without it being blocked by the attorney general.

In the unlikely event that Matt McLaughlin’s proposal gathers 365,880 signatures, it will be put to a ballot in November.

However, in much cheerier news, utilising the same loophole, a former politician and community activist plans to propose the Intolerant Jackass Act which brilliantly skewers the original.

The bill proposes that anyone found guilty of suggesting an act to kill gay people “shall be required to attend sensitivity training for at least three (3) hours per month for twelve (12) consecutive months. In addition, the offender or ‘Intolerant Jackass’ must donate $5,000 (£3,367) to a pro-gay or pro-lesbian organization”.

Speaking to Slate, Charlotte Laws explained that although she doesn’t necessarily expect her counter-bill to be passed, she decided she had to “fight fire with fire”.

“The only way to counter [the Sodomite Suppression Act] is… to let people know that most people in California don’t agree with something as incendiary and hateful as what this one attorney proposed.

We have a very open-minded state and country. This is one guy, and there are millions of us who do not agree with this.”

Charlotte Laws, activist and former politician

Mountain chickadees’ intelligence research


This video is called Mountain chickadee, filmed at Lac Le Jeune in British Columbia, Canada.

From Wildlife Extra:

Mountain birds are better problem-solvers than lowlanders

The mountain chickadee is better at working out problems than its relatives that live at lower levels

Living high up on an inhospitable mountain can make you mentally sharper. That’s what Dovid Kozlovsky and his colleagues at the University of Nevada in the US learned with mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli), a North American bird from the tit family.

Those birds that live at higher altitudes are better problem solvers than the same species living in lower regions.

Previous research showed that mountain chickadees living at harsher high elevations have bigger hippocampi, the part of the brain which plays an important role in memory and spatial navigation.

These chickadees also have far superior spatial memory. This helps them to be better at remembering where they hid food away for a later occasion.

Animals living in challenging or unpredictable environments such as deserts or snowy mountain peaks are generally thought to have enhanced mental abilities.

These include being better able to solve problems and not shying away from inspecting new things.

To understand if this is also true for mountain chickadees, Kozlovsky and his colleagues caught 24 young birds in the Sagehen Experimental Forest in California that had not yet experienced a winter.

Their findings are published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.

Twelve birds were caught at a site around 1,800m above sea level, while another dozen were captured 600m higher.

Studies to test the birds’ problem-solving skills and their reaction to new objects were then conducted at the University of Nevada.

The researchers first watched what happened when members of the two groups were confronted with a clear test tube plugged with a wad of cotton and with a waxworm inside.

Members of the higher elevation group were able to work out how to remove the plug much more quickly than their counterparts from the lower region.

The researchers also tested if the birds would readily investigate and feed from a feeder that looked very different from the one that they were used to.

None of the birds in either altitude groups were inclined to do so. In fact, they all displayed similar degrees of neophobia, almost fearfully steering clear of the unknown object.

They did so even though the new feeder was baited with waxworms, one of their favourite meals.

According to Kozlovsky and his colleagues, this shows that problem solving and the ability to innovate and try new things do not necessarily go hand in hand in mountain chickadees.

“Enhanced problem-solving ability might be associated with living in harsher environments either via natural selection or by the animal’s adaptability to different environments,” Kozlovsky hypothesises.

“However, differences in problem-solving ability are not necessarily associated with differences in neophobia.”

Bird-friendly gardens not attracting more predators


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

18 February 2014

Redondo Beach resident Carl Leach talks about his bird friendly garden and reasons why you should build one.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Do Bird-Friendly Yards Attract More Predators?

As more bird enthusiasts replace their lawns with bird-friendly plantings like trees and shrubs, they might be concerned about attracting nest predators into the area. Though nest boxes can be equipped with predator guards, most open cup nests, like those of Northern Cardinals and American Robins, cannot be.

Researchers from The Ohio State University and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology investigated whether there was a link between woody vegetation (i.e., trees and shrubs) and predator activity by conducting a study in several Ohio neighborhoods. The researchers surveyed for common nest predators in backyards, and looked for a relationship to the amount of woody vegetation. Common nest predators at the studied sites in Ohio included Eastern gray squirrel, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, Blue Jay, and domestic cat (among others).

What they found was unexpected. Even though many nest predators use woody vegetation, bird-friendly landscaping did not attract predators. Yards and neighborhoods with more mature trees and shrubs were no more likely to have high predator activity than yards without. Their findings suggest that increasing the amount of shrubbery and trees in suburban yards does not encourage increased activity of nest predators. So with that in mind, feel free to check out our tips for landscaping for nesting birds.

Reference: Malpass, J.S., Rodewald, A.D., and Matthews, S.N. 2015. Woody cover does not promote activity of nest predators in residential yards. Landscape and Urban Planning 135: 32-39.

There are two species of hawks responsible for most of the predation on feeder birds: the Cooper’s hawk and the slightly smaller Sharp-shinned hawk: here.

Warblers are amazing spring birds, but they’re not always the easiest to see in your yard. If you meet their needs for the right food, water, shelter and nesting sites, however, you can be successful attracting warblers to the backyard.

Related articles

New grey whale migration research


This video from California in the USA says about itself:

Super Pod of Gray Whales

27 January 2015

We ran an ultimate 8 hour Whale Watching trip on 1-25-15 from Dana Point to Catalina; we are Dana Wharf Whale Watching. Here’s the final sightings report from that day. There were sightings of 45 + gray whales which included a superpod of 15+ and another of 12+ (interacting with Risso’s dolphins), 1 Fin whale, 200 Offshore bottlenose dolphin, 40 Risso’s dolphin, 35 Long beaked Common dolphin, 3 Harbor Seals, dozens of CA Sea Lions and a Bald Eagle on Catalina Island. Watch all the way to the end you will see a group of Risso dolphin harassing the Gray Whales, and how they react to them. Enjoy once again, we thank all our “Whale Geek” friends and a BIG THANKS to Captain Todd Mansur and Captain Frank Brennan for flying these amazing drones.

From Wildlife Extra:

New technology counts migrating whales by seeing the warmth of their breath

The Grey Whale migration down the west coast of America from the summer feeding grounds in the Arctic to the wintering grounds off Baja California, Mexico, is being charted in even greater detail thanks to new technology employed by scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just south of Monterey Bay.

Counts used to be done just by NOAA personnel using binoculars but now they are employing three thermal imaging cameras linked to a computer that is capable of analysing the images and distinguishing the whales from the heat put out by their blow as they surface to breathe.

“A whale is this great big motor that takes in a breath of air and holds it inside for a long time,” says Wayne Perryman, a NOAA Fisheries scientist who helped develop the new system. “When it exhales, the air is much warmer than the background, and we can detect that difference very easily, both day and night.”

Human observers can only work in daylight hours so in previous years the count could never be that accurate. Now the cameras work round the clock for the duration of the entire migration, so much more accurate figures can be recorded and compared year-on-year.

The thermal imaging cameras are much the same as those used by helicopter police to track criminals at night. What’s most innovative is the software that works with the cameras.

“The biggest challenge was getting the detector to be as accurate as possible without having it get fooled by false alarms,” said Dave Weller, the NOAA Fisheries scientist who leads the survey team.

The refined software the team developed can now distinguish between whales, flocks of birds and passing boats.

Not only that, but when the computer sees a blow, it can predict where and when the same whale will surface to blow again. That prediction algorithm, which is based on years of research into Gray Whale’s diving behaviour, means that the computer can track individual whales.

“If you don’t have a way of tracking who’s who, you can double-count some whales or miss them altogether,” Weller says.

“The biggest advantage of the new system is that it vastly increases our sample size. That means we can more accurately estimate the size of the population.”

Some of the thermal imaging footage can be seen here, with a passing whale being overtaken by a flock of birds and a pod of dolphins appearing in the foreground.