Pesticides kill manatees, whales


This June 2018 video says about itself:

Indian State Banned Pesticides; Tourism And Wildlife Flourished

By 2016, 190,000 acres of cultivable land had been certified organic in Sikkim, and with title of 100% organic state, it got many other benefits.

From the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences in the USA:

Marine mammals lack functional gene to defend against popular pesticide

August 9, 2018

As marine mammals evolved to make water their primary habitat, they lost the ability to make a protein that defends humans and other land-dwelling mammals from the neurotoxic effects of a popular human-made pesticide, according to new research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The implications of this discovery, announced today in Science, led researchers to call for monitoring our waterways to learn more about the impact of pesticides and agricultural run-off on marine mammals, such as dolphins, manatees, seals and whales. The research also may shed further light on the function of the gene encoding this protein in humans.

“We need to determine if marine mammals are, indeed, at an elevated risk of serious neurological damage from these pesticides because they biologically lack the ability to break them down, or if they’ve somehow adapted to avoid such damage in an as-yet undiscovered way”, said senior author Nathan L. Clark, Ph.D., associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Computational and Systems Biology, and the Pittsburgh Center for Evolutionary Biology and Medicine. “Either way, this is the kind of serendipitous finding that results from curiosity-driven scientific research. It is helping us to understand what our genes are doing and the impact the environment can have on them.”

Clark and lead author Wynn K. Meyer, Ph.D., a postdoctoral associate in his laboratory, knew from previous research by other scientists that some genes behind smelling and tasting lost their function during the evolution of marine mammals. They set out to see what other genes conserved in land-dwelling mammals had lost function in marine mammals.

By analyzing DNA sequences from five species of marine mammals and 53 species of terrestrial mammals, the team found that Paraoxonase 1 (PON1), was the gene that best matched the pattern of losing function in marine mammals while retaining function in all terrestrial mammals. PON1 even beat out several genes responsible for smell and taste, senses that marine mammals don’t rely on much.

In humans and other terrestrial mammals, PON1 reduces cellular damage caused by unstable oxygen atoms. It also protects us from organophosphates, some of which are pesticides that kill insects — which lack PON1 — by disrupting their neurological systems.

Clark and Meyer worked with Joseph Gaspard, Ph.D., director of science and conservation at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, and Robert K. Bonde, Ph.D., now a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, to obtain marine mammal blood samples from U.S. and international scientists and conservation biologists. Collaborators at the University of Washington reacted blood samples from several marine mammals with an organophosphate byproduct and observed what happened. The blood did not break down the organophosphate byproduct the way it does in land mammals, indicating that, unless a different biological mechanism is protecting the marine mammals, they would be susceptible to “organophosphate poisoning”, a form of poisoning that results from the buildup of chemical signals in the body, especially the brain.

In an attempt to learn why marine mammals lost PON1 function, the researchers traced back when the function was lost in three different groups of marine mammals. Whales and dolphins lost it soon after they split from their common ancestor with hippopotamuses 53 million years ago; manatees lost it after their split from their common ancestor with elephants 64 million years ago. But some seals likely lost PON1 function more recently, at most 21 million years ago and possibly in very recent times.

“The big question is, why did they lose function at PON1 in the first place?” said Meyer. “It’s hard to tell whether it was no longer necessary or whether it was preventing them from adapting to a marine environment. We know that ancient marine environments didn’t have organophosphate pesticides, so we think the loss might instead be related to PON1’s role in responding to the extreme oxidative stress generated by long periods of diving and rapid resurfacing. If we can figure out why these species don’t have functional PON1, we might learn more about the function of PON1 in human health, while also uncovering potential clues to help protect marine mammals most at risk.”

As an example of the potential real-world consequences of losing function at PON1, the researchers explain in their scientific manuscript that in Florida, “agricultural use of organophosphate pesticides is common and runoff can drain into manatee habitats. In Brevard County, where 70 percent of Atlantic Coast manatees are estimated to migrate or seasonally reside, agricultural lands frequently abut manatee protection zones and waterways.”

The scientists believe the next step is to launch a study that directly observes marine mammals during and shortly after periods of excess agricultural organophosphate run-off. Such a project would require increased monitoring of marine mammal habitats, as well as testing of tissues from deceased marine mammals for evidence of organophosphate exposure. The most recent estimate the research team could find of organophosphate levels in manatee habitats in Florida is a decade old, Clark said.

“Marine mammals, such as manatees or bottlenose dolphins, are sentinel species — the canary in the coal mine,” said Clark. “If you follow their health, it will tell you a lot about potential environmental issues that could eventually affect humans.”

Additional authors on this research include Jerrica Jamison, Raghavendran Partha, M.Tech., Amanda Kowalczyk, B.S., Charles Kronk, B.S., and Maria Chikina, Ph.D., all of Pitt; Rebecca Richter, B.S., Judit Marsillach, Ph.D., and Clement E. Furlong, Ph.D., all of the University of Washington; Stacy E. Woods, Ph.D., M.P.H., of Johns Hopkins University; Daniel E. Crocker, Ph.D., of Sonoma State University; and Janet M. Lanyon, Ph.D., of the University of Queensland.

This study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants R01HG009299, U54 HG008540 and T32 EB009403. Collaborators were supported by funds from the Biotechnology Research Gift Fund, University of Washington, Division of Medical Genetics, and by grant 16SDG30300009 from the American Heart Association. Marine mammal samples were collected with funds from the Winifred Violet Scott Charitable Trust, the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, and the U.S. Geological Survey.

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Humpback whales’ songs, new theory


This 2016 video says about itself:

Amazing footage has emerged that captured the sound of a humpback whale and her newborn calf. Humpback whales are known to create complex sounds. It is known as whale song.

From the University at Buffalo in the USA:

Whales use song as sonar, psychologist proposes

Singing whales use echolocation for reproductive purposes

July 30, 2018

Summary: A psychologist has proposed that humpback whales may use song for long-range sonar. It’s the singing whale, not the listening whale who is doing most of the analysis. If correct, the model should change the direction of how we study whales

Any quick internet search for recordings of humpback whale song returns audio compilations that can receive tens of thousands, if not millions, of visits.

With such quantifiable popularity, you might ask, “Who doesn’t love listening to whale song?” One surprising answer might be, “whales”, according to an intriguing model developed by a University at Buffalo researcher.

It’s not that listening whales ignore the singers of their species. The question for Eduardo Mercado III, a professor in UB’s Department of Psychology, is how humpback whales perceive the song, which is among the most sophisticated acoustic performances in the animal kingdom.

Mercado has published a paper in the journal Frontiers in Psychology that hypothesizes whale song helps singers perform a type of auditory scene analysis.

He’s not the first researcher to suggest the idea of humpbacks using sonar, but he’s probably the first to analyze the possibility that songs might be used for sonar.

Mercado’s model proposes that the sender is also the receiver. He says whale song provides useful information to the singing whale, not just listening whales.

“Nearly every biologist is going to say this is nonsense, but I still maintain the direction of the current scientific consensus is wrong”, says Mercado. “Assuming whales hear the songs as beautiful displays like a human might is imposing our perception on theirs.

“What are the whales perceiving?” he asks. “Scientifically, we have to consider that.”

The current assumption has remained for decades that whales sing predominantly for reproductive purposes, using their song as sexual signals that provide a way for females to find high-quality males; for males to attract females; or for males to compete with other males.

That’s the scene for the biologist. In each case, the listening whale would be doing most of the song analysis.

But Mercado says the evidence collected so far provides little support for the sexual advertisement hypothesis.

In his view, the data points more toward it being the singer, not the listener, who is doing most of the analysis through echolocation.

Mercado says humpbacks sing as a way to explore their world.

The goal is still predominantly reproductive, but the song in this case is a like a searchlight that informs singers about the presence of other whales, the direction those whales might be heading and whether or not the singer might be able to catch up to them.

“That’s why they’re singing,” he says. “They’re trying to create a scene that would not be there otherwise. When they create these echoes it’s like shining a searchlight in the dark.”

Mercado began to develop his model by examining the physics of the problem.

To create a simplified version of what would need to happen for echolocation to work he started asking questions: How could this work? What echoes might come back to singers? How strong would they be? Could they be resolved from other sounds? And what information could they provide?

“The model suggests that singers could easily obtain information about the location of other whales”, he says.

That’s just how a physicist responded when Mercado first starting thinking about this problem.

As a graduate student, Mercado accepted a job analyzing whale song. But much of what he heard didn’t make sense. For instance, the library of sound used by whales was changing in different years, demanding whales process new songs every year.

“That’s more difficult than humans trying to annually learn a new language”, says Mercado. “For whales, it isn’t just language, but a whole new range of sounds and new patterns of sounds.”

“For us, it would be like trying to communicate with a new species of humans with different vocal chords that produce a radically different language.”

This apparent learning ability is what interested Mercado, an expert on the effects of learning on brain function, in humpback whale song.

“If my hypothesis is valid it means that whales are doing something much more complicated than what humans can even begin to approach”, he says. “If we understood how whales accomplish this, it could help us understand better how brains work in general.”

Mercado understands why researchers would be skeptical about his model, but he says it’s a testable hypothesis.

“Prove me wrong”, he says. “I don’t have the resources, but there are labs that do.”

If he’s right, Mercado says it should change the direction of how we study whales.

“It’s easy to get locked into believing something that seems obvious. But looks, or in this case, sounds, can be deceiving”, he says. “Right now, whale song is being analyzed in a way that might not be accurate.”

Unexpected humpback whale jumping, video


This 19 July 2018 video says about itself:

Whale jumps out of nowhere during sight-seeing tour

During a sight-seeing tour a boat was soaked in water by a humpback whale that was putting on a show and it later swarmed off with its siblings.

Keep watching till the end of the video.

Whales in Roman empire days


This 2017 video is called Gray Whale swimming through kelp forest – Recored from a drone in 4k.

From the University of York in England:

Ancient bones reveal 2 whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea

Ancient bones from Roman archaeological sites reveal 2 whale species lost from the Mediterranean Sea

July 11, 2018

Two thousand years ago the Mediterranean Sea was a haven for two species of whale which have since virtually disappeared from the North Atlantic, a new study analysing ancient bones suggests.

The discovery of the whale bones in the ruins of a Roman fish processing factory located at the strait of Gibraltar also hints at the possibility that the Romans may have hunted the whales.

Prior to the study, by an international team of ecologists, archaeologists and geneticists, it was assumed that the Mediterranean Sea was outside of the historical range of the right and gray whale.

Academics from the Archaeology Department at the University of York used ancient DNA analysis and collagen fingerprinting to identify the bones as belonging to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and the Atlantic gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus).

After centuries of whaling, the right whale currently occurs as a very threatened population off eastern North America and the gray whale has completely disappeared from the North Atlantic and is now restricted to the North Pacific.

Co-author of the study Dr Camilla Speller, from the University of York, said: “These new molecular methods are opening whole new windows into past ecosystems. Whales are often neglected in archaeological studies, because their bones are frequently too fragmented to be identifiable by their shape.

“Our study shows that these two species were once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem and probably used the sheltered basin as a calving ground.

“The findings contribute to the debate on whether, alongside catching large fish such as tuna, the Romans had a form of whaling industry or if perhaps the bones are evidence of opportunistic scavenging from beached whales along the coast line.”

Both species of whale are migratory, and their presence east of Gibraltar is a strong indication that they previously entered the Mediterranean Sea to give birth.

The Gibraltar region was at the centre of a massive fish-processing industry during Roman times, with products exported across the entire Roman Empire. The ruins of hundreds of factories with large salting tanks can still be seen today in the region.

Lead author of the study Dr Ana Rodrigues, from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, said: “Romans did not have the necessary technology to capture the types of large whales currently found in the Mediterranean, which are high-seas species. But right and gray whales and their calves would have come very close to shore, making them tempting targets for local fishermen.”

It is possible that both species could have been captured using small rowing boats and hand harpoons, methods used by medieval Basque whalers centuries later.

The knowledge that coastal whales were once present in the Mediterranean also sheds new light on ancient historical sources.

Anne Charpentier, lecturer at the University of Montpellier and co-author in the study, said: “We can finally understand a 1st-Century description by the famous Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, of killer whales attacking whales and their new-born calves in the Cadiz bay.

“It doesn’t match anything that can be seen there today, but it fits perfectly with the ecology if right and gray whales used to be present.”

The study authors are now calling for historians and archaeologists to re-examine their material in the light of the knowledge that coastal whales where once part of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem.

Dr Rodriguez added: “It seems incredible that we could have lost and then forgotten two large whale species in a region as well-studied as the Mediterranean. It makes you wonder what else we have forgotten.”

Forgotten Mediterranean calving grounds of gray and North Atlantic right whales: evidence from Roman archaeological records is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B.

The study was an international collaboration between scientists at the universities of York, Montpellier (France), Cadiz (Spain), Oviedo (Spain) and the Centre for Fishery Studies in Asturias, Spain.