Gull, turtle, seal conservation works


This video from Spain shows Audouin’s gulls, with chicks.

From BirdLife:

Gulls, turtles and seals, three marine triumphs

By Bruna Campos, Mon, 06/07/2015 – 14:30

Marine wildlife in Europe has long been suffering because of human activities. Although we have a lot of work to do still, here are three marine stories that show the Nature Directives work when they are put to good use.

1) A special gull – and you thought they were all the same!

We all remember the gulls in ‘Finding Nemo’, portrayed as lazy, dumb, and incapable of saying anything besides one word: ‘mine’. Gulls are a group of seabirds that have a pretty bad reputation (a.k.a. ‘the flying rats’). Like rats, gulls are often perceived as dirty and diseased scavengers of food. They stir negative emotions like gangs of thieves would – stealing your sandwiches before you’ve even had a chance to take a bite!

As a side note, a gull’s klepto-parasitism isn’t just against humans, although we tend to think very highly of our species, we find a gull’s behaviour very offensive – that they would dare steal or eat our food without permission. However, I would like to introduce you to another side of the gull. Watch one long enough and you’ll notice an incredible display of acrobatics, patience, and simply straight out cheekiness (in a cute way). Like most other parents, gulls are protective and very aggressive against anything approaching their nest – hence the famous sky dive attacks you may have already experienced. Like many seabirds, they mate for life – although divorces do happen with some social problems for a couple of years.

There are 20 species of gull in Europe, and although they share a similar build, they are all quite different, some having more pronounced looks than others. One in particular, Audouin’s Gull, which can only be found in the Mediterranean, is unlike many of its cousins because it rarely scavenges. Rather, it’s a specialist coastal and pelagic fish eater (not to say that they wouldn’t pass off diving for an easy fish that has been thrown away by a fisher at sea). It was one of the world’s rarest gulls in 1975, with only 1,000 pairs. Protection under the Birds Directive led to the creation and implementation of a European action plan which has helped secure its survival, especially in Spain.

Several projects were implemented that contributed to successful re-colonisation of breeding islands and the control of invasive black rats which were predating colonies. Today, with the most recent assessment of the European birds (the European Red List of Birds), we can say that the Audouin’s Gull has the lowest level of extinction risk with around 21,000 pairs. But we must be cautious. Although there has been improvement, particularly in Spain, much more still needs to be done across the Mediterranean to ensure that this gull continues to survive, such as implementing safe fishing gears to stop fishers from accidentally catching gulls in their fishing lines and nets.

2) Sea turtle’s little helpers are saving the day

Sea turtle volunteers run the beaches of Zakynthos in Greece (for Brits, the island is also called ‘Zante’). Before tourists can sprawl all over the sand, sea turtle ‘human little helpers’ make sure they know exactly what is going on with the turtles. How are they doing this, you might wonder? Well, they get up very early and work all morning before daybreak to find out the number of nests laid and their location. They also spend countless nights tagging as many turtles as they can that stride up on the beach to nest. They then run around the beaches alerting tourists about these wonderful creatures, and to not sit in places on the beach where they might break some eggs.

How is all of this relevant to the ‘Nature Directives’? Well,  Loggerhead Sea Turtle, the creature these little helpers are working hard for, are protected by the Habitats Directive. These turtles are widespread and highly migratory, and are endangered globally. So it is only with strict nature legislation and management plans that we can stop their decline. Little helpers please continue doing what you are doing now – you’re making a difference, and we hope in the future to see loggerhead numbers increase.

3) The seal that tried to be common

Take a boat trip along the Frisian coast: can you spot that seal? Probably yes! Lucky you, because if it wasn’t for the Habitats Directive, that seal could be long gone by now. Despite being called ‘Common Seal’, during the last 100 years intense hunting and disease caused its decline in Europe. To help them recover, shooting was banned. However, seals were then hit hard in the 1980s by a disease called phocine distemper, which causes uncontrollable periodic population crashes. Although disease and pollution still threaten the species, hunting restrictions, habitat protection and improved management, especially working with fishers, have helped increase numbers to now over 81,000 in Europe. Thanks again for helping Nature Directives.

These marine comebacks remind us that it is in our power to prevent the loss of a species forever. Nevertheless, we are very far from ensuring the safety of our seabirds and other marine creatures and we must do more. The Birds and Habitats Directives are here to help us with this, but their implementation is fundamental to secure the continued survival of all our marine animals.

Australian fur seals, new research


This video is called The Life of Australian Fur Seals, Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, Montague Island, 2011.

From Deakin University in Australia:

July 2, 2015

Humans once hunted them, but may now hold key to fur seal survival

Oil rigs and artificial reefs are often given a bad rap for their environmental impact but they may be playing a vital role in feeding one of Australia’s largest sea creatures, still recovering from centuries of hunting by humans, new research led by Deakin scientists has found.

Researchers from Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology within the School of Life and Environmental Sciences teamed up with National Geographic, the University of Tasmania and University of California Santa Cruz to investigate the feeding behaviour of the Australian fur seals in Bass Strait.

Associate Professor John Arnould said some seals carrying the National Geographic “crittercams” revealed they and other individuals congregated around human-made structures which act as artificial reefs attracting fish.

“These findings mean that man-made structures such as pipelines, cable routes, wells and shipwrecks could play a vital role in helping to improve the recovery rates of our fur seals,” he said.

“The Australian fur seal population is increasing at just two per cent a year and still sit at population levels below 60 per cent of what it was before the commercial sealing era in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

The researchers tracked the foraging patterns of 36 Australian fur seals from Kanowna Island in Bass Strait, using GPS loggers and dive recorders.

The research is published today in the latest edition of science journal PLOS One.

“While we know fish congregate around these structures, scientists don’t know a lot about their use by marine mammals and we were surprised at first to find the Australian fur seals were going to these area[s],” Associate Professor Arnould said.

“We found that 72% of the 36 seals we tracked spent time around the man-made structures, with pipelines and cable routes being the most frequented. More than a third of animals foraged near more than one type of structure.”

Associate Professor Arnould said man-made changes to natural habitats could often have negative effects on animals which lived in the regions surrounding them, including a reduction in foraging habitat, breeding sites and refuge from predators.

“Some species, however, can adapt to, and even benefit from, changes to their habitats,” he said.

“Indeed, man-made structures can provide a range of benefits for some species, from predator avoidance, thermoregulation, and breeding sites, to acting as important foraging areas.”

Associate Professor Arnould said seals and sea lions around the world had experienced variable rates of population recovery since the end of the sealing era.

“We have seen species that feed close to the surface have experienced rapid growth in numbers, populations of species that feed on the ocean floor, such as the Australian fur seal, have increased very slowly, are stable or in decline,” he said.

“It has been suggested that the low population recovery rates of these species could be due to them hunting in environments which for decades have been the focus of commercial fisheries using bottom trawlers that disrupt the habitat and remove the larger size-classes of species that the seals depend on for food.

“The Australian fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus) feeds exclusively on the sea floor of the continental shelf on a wide variety of fish, octopus and squid species.”

Associate Professor Arnould said all but one of the Australian fur seal’s breeding colonies occurred on islands within Bass Strait, between the Australian mainland and Tasmania, which has an average depth of 60 metres and is considered to be a region of low food availability for marine predators.

“Therefore, structures like oil and gas rigs and pipelines that occur on the relatively featureless sea floor could provide a valuable prey habitat and promote foraging success for the species,” he said.

Explore further: Fur seal population bounces back while sea lions struggle

Seal pups live on webcam


This video from the USA says about itself:

A harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) mother giving birth to a pup and their first swim. Footage was taken at a harbor seal rookery in southern Puget Sound, Washington during observations in 2004 under NMFS MMPA research permit # 782-1702. Video by Dyanna Lambourn, edited by Caitlin McIntyre, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Dutch conservation organisation Het Groninger Landschap reports today about harbour seals living in the Dollard estuary.

At the moment, there are about fifty seal mothers with pups there. You can see them full screen on a webcam, here.

Seal swims from Dutch Texel to Cornwall


This video says about itself:

22 January 2015

Stranded Seal Pups are released into the wild in Cornwall.

The National Seal Sanctuary at Gweek has let six of the creatures go this morning.

They include Superman, Wonderwoman and Bruce Wayne.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Victor seen in Cornwall – 06-02-15

Not only gray seals are travelers, harbour seals also explore the North Sea. This has been proven by harbor seal Victor. He surprised staff at Ecomare by making the crossing to England. Victor arrived last year on July 11 at Ecomare as an orphan in the shelter and was equipped with a chip and a flipper marker. On November 7 he was released in the Wadden Sea. For three weeks he has by now resided along the Cornish coast at Par Beach, and he has become a local celebrity.

Traveler

Possibly Victor has explored much more than just the beach of Cornwall. In the River Fowey in Cornwall, a bit further, spotted a harbour seal was spotted as well. Presumably this was Victor as well. So, a real traveler! Unfortunately Victor on Par Beach could not rest completely undisturbedly. Hikers with dogs sometimes came too close to the young seal, thereby disturbing him. Subsequently, members of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue caught Victor on 2 February.

Released while healthy

With only a small wound on the flipper, presumably caused by a dog bite, Victor appeared otherwise healthy and he was released the same day. This time a bit further away, so hopefully he’ll find a little more peace. On this site there are not only 10 gray seals, but also an adult harbour seal.

Adelie penguins on webcam this week


This video says about itself:

Adelie Penguins of Paulet Island, Antarctica

30 dec. 2011

Paulet Island, located near the Antarctic Peninsula in the northwest Weddell Sea, is home to more than 100,000 breeding pairs of Adelie penguins. The island is a small circular volcanic cone, about one mile in diameter with rocky slopes rising more than 1,100 feet above the shoreline.

Cobble beaches are favorite napping locations for Weddell seals, which you’ll see in this video.

Adelie penguins pop in and out of the surf as they return to shore throughout the day. They spend some time drying off and preening on the upper beaches before making their way to the nesting locations. In some cases, this is a rather difficult journey over loose scree slopes to the uppermost ledges of the volcanic cone.

Snow fields are used by the penguins to travel back and forth from a freshwater lake at the center of the island. This lake was once used by members of Dr. Otto Nordenskjold‘s 1901-1904 Swedish Antarctic Expedition to survive being stranded on the island. A stone hut and burial marker remain today, but the hut is now prime roosting territory for Adelie penguins.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA today:

This Week Only: Watch Penguins Live in Antarctica

Don’t miss this live visit to an Adelie Penguin colony in Antarctica! We’ll be hosting a Q&A with an oceanographer and a penguin scientist at Palmer Station, Antarctica. They’ll take you on a virtual tour of a nearby penguin island, and you’ll be able to ask questions via live chat for the scientists to answer.

We’re hosting two 1-hour live sessions: the first is on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. The second is on Saturday, Jan. 31, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time. To watch, just bookmark this link and join us live for one or both sessions!

Rare black seal pup in rehabilitation


This 2008 Dutch video is about a black harbour seal pup in the seal sanctuary in Pieterburen then.

Translated from RTV Noord in the Netherlands:

Friday, January 23, 2015

The seal sanctuary in Pieterburen on Friday admitted a very special seal pup.

The seal has melanism, which means that it has a completely black fur. The animal was rescued by fishermen.

Rare

It is very rare that a seal has melanism. Since the rehabilitation center in Pieterburen started only eight animals with melanism were brought in.

British seals and whales news


This video from England says about itself:

28 January 2013

Record numbers of grey seal pups have been born on Blakeney Point Nature Reserve in Norfolk, taking the size of the colony to possibly more than 1,000 pups for the first time.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

More seals to see by the seaside

Friday 23rd January 2015

Thought our flippered friends were vanishing from the east coast? Don’t be so sealy, cautions Peter Frost

Mother nature certainly hasn’t lost her talent both for fighting back and surprising those who study and marvel at her mysterious ways.

In December 2013 I reported in these very pages that the storms and tidal surges on the east coast had devastated the seal colonies that come to pup and breed over the winter months.

It seemed clear that numbers would be down and I, alongside experts, predicted that it would take years for the numbers to grow again to sustainable numbers.

How wrong we all were! This winter the seal colony at Blakeney Point on the north Norfolk coast has seen record numbers of both visiting adult seals and pups born on the beaches and dunes.

National Trust wardens have counted a record 2,426 pups born at Blakeney this year. Including the adults, this has bought the total Blakeney grey seal population to something approaching 5,000.

This means that in just 14 years the grey seal population has increased a hundred fold.

Twenty years ago here you might have found a handful of common seals and hardly any grey seals at all. Now it has become the biggest breeding site for the animals in England.

To prevent walkers disturbing the seals, National Trust rangers and volunteers have fenced off part of the beach and dunes and introduced viewing areas. Still, the best way to see the seals is by tourist boat from nearby Blakeney or Morston harbours.

If you come across a seal pup on a beach walk please do not to try to pick it up or get too close. Although they may look like they have been abandoned, the mum is almost always nearby. It can be very dangerous to get between a mother seal and her pup.

This year the seals will be even easier to watch and study as they are starring in the BBC’s Winterwatch programme. The programme will include unique footage shot at night using thermal imaging techniques. This will show the seal pups actually being born, which normally happen in the hours of darkness.

The programme will also show remarkable footage as the huge alpha male bulls battle on the sands for the right to pass on their genes and mate with the females — who come into heat just a day or two after giving birth to last season’s pup.

Bulls typically measure nearly 7ft (2.1m) long and weigh up to a quarter of a ton (250kg), but may be even bigger.

Cows are always much smaller, usually 5-6ft (1.6-2m) long and perhaps only half the weight of a big bull. Grey seals come in many colours from grey to reddish brown.

The cuddly and almost unbelievable cute pups however are almost all snowy white. They suckle the rich fatty milk from their mothers. Forget your semi-skimmed, seal milk is 50 per cent fat. The pups suckle for just three weeks and then they head out to sea to fend for themselves.

The bulls fight and also try to frighten other bulls by slapping their huge stomachs on the sands. The noise and shock waves are certainly impressive.

Other seal beaches on England’s east coast have seen record pupping too. In the Farne Islands off the Northumberland coast, 1,651 pups were born this year — the highest total since 1971.

A marine mammal even bigger than the giant bull grey seals was washed up on a Cornish beach earlier this month. Indeed this huge beast made the seals look positively tiny.

The corpse of huge fin whale was discovered on Wanson Beach near Bude early in January. Marine biologists established that the mammal measured over 65ft (20m) and the lower jaw bone alone was over 16ft (5m) long.

Fin whales are the second largest whale species after the blue whale, and can grow to up to 90ft (30m) in length and weigh between 40 and 80 tons.

As solitary mammals, fin whales travel the world’s oceans and are still hunted for their meat by Iceland, Greenland and Japan.

Baleen Whales Hear Through Their Bones – Understanding how baleen whales hear has posed a great mystery to marine biologists: here.