New marine worm species discovery in Antarctica


Parougia diapason. Photo: Sergi Taboada, UB-IRBio

From the University of Barcelona in Spain:

New species of marine worm discovered on Antarctica‘s Deception Island

May 08, 2015

Parougia diapason is the name of a new marine invertebrate species discovered on Deception Island (South Shetland Islands), in the Southern Ocean. An article published in the journal Polar Biology describes the finding.

The is part of a group of (polychaetous annelids) that commonly occur in marine seabeds rich in from both natural and anthropogenic origin at different latitudes. To be precise, P. diapason is the second species of the genus Parougia discovered in the Southern Ocean (P. furcata was described in 1953 by O. Hartman).

A new species on the seabed of Deception Island

Experts identified this small marine worm in bones of a common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in Port Foster shallow waters, on Deception Island, close to the Gabriel de Castilla Spanish Antarctic base, but also in association with organically enriched sediments nearby. “The Antarctic Peninsula and South Shetland Islands are a widely studied area. However, few species have been described so far on Deception Island,” says Professor Conxita Àvila, head of the multidisciplinary project DISTANTCOM, which studies chemical ecology, phylogenetics, phylogeography and trophic ecology in the Antarctic continent.

Marine worms that feed on whale bones: live after death

According to researcher Sergi Taboada, first author of the article, “Tthere are few scientific studies centred on marine invertebrate communities associated with whale bones in the Antarctic. Our group is pioneering these types of studies, which are also being developed in other Earth regions.”

Experts have carried out morphological and phylogenetic analyses (with nuclear and mitochondrial genetic markers) to determine the new species. Evidence suggests that it is the most ancient species of the genus Parougia. The species presents some morphological traits, including lack of a dorsal cirrus and some unique morphological characteristics related to the jaw apparatus, that distinguish it from the rest of the congeneric species described so far.

“The study provides comprehensive information about the new species, not only from a morphological and ecological point of view, but also places the species in its phylogenetic context,” says Taboada. “In the past, this type of information was not available, but lately, it is more and more common to find species descriptions that include a phylogenetic tree. Moreover, this kind of information is collected on public databases that every interested researcher can consult.”

Parougia diapason, an opportunistic species

One of the most interesting scientific aspects is the ecology of the species discovered in the Antarctica. These organisms populate areas rich in organic matter, both from natural and anthropogenic origins.

“It seems that P. diapason is an organism that signals any kind of environment alteration, like a significant increase of organic matter,” says Taboada. “The species is a clear example of an opportunistic species, in other words—an organism that profits from an excess of organic matter, which favours its proliferation and population density.” Knowledge of these ecological characteristics is crucial as it allows detecting environmental changes in an indirect way.

There is not much scientific literature about Antarctic marine benthic organisms that proliferate in eutrophic habitats (those rich in organic matter). There are some studies centered on anthropogenic activity impact in the McMurdo base, the largest American scientific base in the Antarctica, to monitor marine invertebrate communities in the area where waste water was dumped.

Antarctic species discovery and protection

The UB-IRBio research team has made other significant discoveries of Antarctic marine invertebrates, for example, the two first bone-eating worms of the genus Osedax, or the nemertean Antarctonemertes riesgoae that has a unique reproductive strategy. However, scientists say that there is still much work to do in order to explore, discover and protect Antarctica.

“It is necessary to continue studying new species and to do our best to protect them,” says Conxita Àvila. “The Antarctic has very special habitats that are difficult to study; measures must be maximized in order to avoid, for instance, anthropogenic pollution and tourism impact.”

“Any change can affect Antarctic regions but we do not have enough data yet. However, it is certain that these changes can cause the extinction of species that remain unknown and unstudied. Besides biodiversity loss, species extinction means missing the opportunity to study the chemical products they produce, which may be molecules with potential biological interest,” alerts Conxita Àvila.

Explore further: Researchers identify marine sponge strategies to survive in Antarctic and Tropical latitudes

More information: “A new Parougia species (Annelida, Dorvilleidae) associated with eutrophic marine habitats in Antarctica.” Polar Biology, April 2015, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 517-527 DOI: 10.1007/S00300-014-1614-7

Entangled humpback whale saved in South Africa


This video is called Humpback Whales – BBC documentary excerpt.

From the Cape Times in South Africa:

Rescue team disentangles whale

April 23 2015 at 10:46am

A WHALE has been rescued near Oyster Bay in the Eastern Cape after it was entangled in rope.

South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) spokesman Craig Lambinon said that the incident happened on Tuesday afternoon.

Oyster Bay is located between Humansdorp and St Francis Bay on the east coast.

“At 4.40pm on Tuesday, the network was activated to approximately one nautical mile offshore of Oyster Bay on reports from Nick Bournman, from the Oyster Bay Beach Lodge, of a whale appearing to be entangled in rope and buoys,” said Lambinon.

“The NSRI St Francis Bay sea rescue craft Spirit of St Francis II responded, carrying trained volunteer members of the network.

“On arrival on the scene at 5.15pm, two humpback whales were located swimming together, possibly a mother and child, and the smaller of the two whales was the one entangled in rope and three floatation buoys, with the rope entangled around the peduncle.”

Lambinon explained that an extensive operation then took place to release the whale using specialised disentanglement equipment.

“In an operation, lasting just under 30 minutes, all rope and floatation buoys were successfully removed from the whale and recovered,” |he said.

“The whale appears to not be injured from the ordeal and appeared to be swimming confidently following the disentanglement, and SAWDN is confident that the operation has been successful.”

British Prince William’s sister-in-law eats whale meat


This video from Australia says about itself:

Swimming with Dwarf minke whales on board Eye to Eye Marine Encounters

From Wildlife Extra:

Pippa Middleton admits eating whale meat in newspaper column

Pippa Middleton has recieved criticism from conservationists across the world for eating whale meat on a trip to Norway, which she recounted in her column for the Daily Telegraph.

In the piece she said: ”We dined on smoked whale carpaccio (which tastes similar to smoked salmon but looks more like venison carpaccio).”

Despite strong international pressure and commercial whaling being banned since 1986 Norway is still one of three countries (the other two are Japan, and Iceland) that still allows whaling and in 2014 had a record year when more than 700 were killed.

“This is really disappointing news, particularly as Pippa is so high-profile, and given how active her brother-in-law, William [Duke of Cambridge], is on speaking out against poaching and wildlife crime. Commercial whale hunting is banned, the UK government backs the ban and for good reason. Killing whales is cruel, there is no humane way to kill them and many are slaughtered using brutal harpoon grenades. Last season, 731 minke whales suffered an agonising death at the hand of Norwegian whalers.”

Pippa does not say what type whale meat she ate but the most likely one is minke, the second smallest baleen whale.

Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: “It’s likely that Pippa Middleton wasn’t aware of the horrific suffering caused by commercial whaling nor the devastating damage that it causes to whale populations.  By eating whale meat, she is unwittingly setting a bad example that may encourage other tourists to do likewise. We would hope she acknowledges her mistake and will promote whale watching true to the slogan: meet us, don’t eat us.”

From Celebitchy.com:

“Pippa is not known for common sense or compassion, but it still beggars belief that anyone, let alone someone from a country like ours, where whale meat has long been banned, could be oblivious to the uproar over Norway’s slaughter of these gentle giants,” Elisa Allen, associate director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals U.K., said Thursday in an exclusive statement to E! News. “Does she think or read? What’s next, a panda steak or an elephant canapé? These whales are harpooned and bled to death before they’re gutted. If Pippa is looking for a culinary experience, some of the best high-end vegan food—recently named by Forbes magazine as a top food trend—can be found in Norway, and it’s good for the heart, an organ Pippa seems to lack.”

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.

Deep sea sperm whale, video


This video says about itself:

Rare Sperm Whale Encounter with ROV | Nautilus Live

14 apr. 2015

At 598 meters (1,962 ft) below the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, ROV Hercules encountered a magnificent sperm whale. The whale circled Hercules several times and gave our cameras the chance to capture some incredible footage of this beautiful creature. Encounters between sperm whales and ROVs are incredibly rare.

E/V Nautilus is exploring the ocean studying biology, geology, archeology, and more. Watch http://www.nautiluslive.org for LIVE video from the ocean floor. For live dive updates follow along on social media at http://www.facebook.com/nautiluslive and http://www.twitter.com/EVNautilus on Twitter.

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.

Fossil whale discovery in Vietnam


Whale fossil, discovered in Vietnam

From Vietnamnet:

06/04/2015

Local resident discovers whale fossil in Ha Tinh

A large piece of a whale‘s fossilised vertebra has just been found in the central province of Ha Tinh.

The fossil, measuring 37cm by 35cm by 80cm and weighing 19kg, was discovered accidentally at Thach Khe metal mine, 1km from Thach Hai Beach, by a local person named Duong Dinh Canh.

Director of Ha Tinh Museum Nguyen Tri Son and Australian archaeologist Philip Palmer examined the fossil and determined it was part of a whale‘s vertebral column. But they cannot determine the exact age of the fossil till some more research is done.

The experts will soon transport the fossil to the provincial museum for further study and exhibition.