Unhappy feet – why we need more than a day of penguin awareness

A couple of days ago (20th January) was penguin awareness day1. But do we really need to be more aware of penguins?  Well, actually yes.

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 Photo by Chris Parsons

 We conducted a study a couple of years ago  (pdf also available) to look at public awareness of penguins (using university students as a sample) and found that nearly half (43%) of those questioned though that  penguins were protected under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) and were thus listed as  “endangered.” At the time only one penguin was listed on the ESA (the Galapagos penguin, Spheniscus mendiculus). The IUCN currently classifies five species of penguin as “endangered” 2 and six as “vulnerable” 3. The biggest threat to penguins generally is, unsurprisingly, climate change. The chicks of Magellanic penguins (S. magellanicus) in Argentina have experienced increasing mortality because of increasing numbers and severity of storms, and will continue to experience mortality as these further increase, in addition to additional mortality  from increasing rainfall and temperatures. Changing patterns of sea ice cover are impacting Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) foraging at Ross Island, Antarctica. In various locations in the Antarctic Penninsula in particular, Adelie colonies are expected to be impacted by warming temperatures and changes in sea ice with perhaps as many as 75% of colonies decreasing or declining. Although in some locales, melting ice has increased potential Adelie habitat.  Chinstrap colonies have been reported to be in decline as well, despite this being a more open water species, that was previously being thought of as potential benefactors from melting sea ice – penguin nest occupation on Deception Island declined by more than third between 2002/2003 and 2009/10. These chinstrap penguins are likely being impacted by declining krill stocks, as will their  Adelie penguin cousins, in addition to ice loss which so affects this latter species. Overall, across the Antarctic Pennisula, there has been a decline in both Adelie and chinstrap penguin numbers. Read More

More large sharks were killed by recreational anglers than commercial fishermen in the U.S. last year

aThe United States National Marine Fisheries Service just released the 2013 “fisheries of the United States” report. The extremely detailed report contains lots of important information on both recreational and commercial fisheries in U.S. waters, and I recommend giving it a thorough read. I noticed an interesting detail about the U.S. shark fishery, though. In 2013, more large (non-dogfish) sharks were landed by U.S. recreational shark anglers (~4.5 million pounds) than by U.S. commercial shark fishermen (~3 million pounds). This was not the case in 2012.

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Fin-Body Ratios for Smooth Dogfish – Depends on How You Slice It

The 2010 Shark Conservation Act prohibits removal of fins at sea for all sharks landed in U.S. Waters, with a glaring exception for smooth dogfish, or smoothhound sharks.  In an effort to ensure that fishermen aren’t performing the cruel practice of throwing a still-living but finless shark overboard, a fin:body ratio of 12% for smooth dogfish became law as part of this bill.  This means that the total weight of smooth dogfish fins cannot be more than 12% of the total dressed weight of the bodies when the sharks are landed.

Some time ago I wrote a post questioning where this 12% ratio came from, especially since the best available published literature at the time suggested a ratio of only 3.5% for smooth dogfish.  The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Management Commission (ASMFC) responded, claiming that they had data backing up a find:body weight ratio of 7-12%.  Now, thanks to the SEDAR stock assessment workshop for this species, the study conducted by the ASMFC is publicly available (albeit nearly four years after it was written into the law).

So where does this seemingly extremely high fin:body ratio come from?  It depends on how you slice it.

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A Primer on Ethics in the Human Dimensions of Conservation

Think about the word ‘ethics’ for a moment. For some, the word creates images of smiling people sitting around a table, the picture of diversity, happily planning a future in which no one is ever taken advantage of. For others, the image may be of nun-like ascetics peering over your shoulder with an armful of paperwork tied together with a pretty bow of red tape. For still others, it’s something heartily discussed in a liberal arts course or late-night dorm philosophizing during doe-eyed college days. In reality, though, practicing ethics is never as clear-cut an image and making ethics part of daily research life is still a distant goal.

Some fields, like genetics and medicine, have had to confront ethical conundrums head-on and consequently, create a precedent for how we think about ethics in a research and institutional context. Sadly, this precedent is full of angry conflict, covering ethical missteps after-the-fact, and millions of dollars worth of lawsuits. This precedent rightfully leaves many people jumpy about addressing ethics head-on, like the proverbial third-rail of program management that no one dare touch for fear of inviting the flak created in these precedent cases. To use another cliched analogy, ethics then becomes the elephant in the room, except this elephant is staring at you over your cubicle wall and periodically sticking its trunk over the wall to search for peanuts. In reality, choosing to not address ethics amounts to consciously deciding to accept whatever emerges organically, whether you like it or not. So what does this mean for less life-or-death fields that work with stakeholders, like the marine sciences? Let’s start with the foundation that’s already laid.

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A citizen science project to monitor sevengill sharks in San Diego

by Michael Bear

MikeyMichael Bear is  Science Diving Editor for California Diver Magazine and  currently contributor to Marine Science Today with over a 1000 cold-water dives, an AAUS (American Academy of Underwater Sciences) Scientific Diver and  founder of Sevengill Shark Sightings.org. He  lives and work  in San Diego.

 

I am not a professional shark researcher–just an experienced San Diego diver who has been diving in the San Diego area since 2000. In October of 2008, I began hearing reports of encounters between local San Diego divers and Sevengill sharks, (Notorynchus cepedianus).   At the time, I thought this a bit unusual, since this was the first I had heard of these encounters in nearly a decade of regular diving in the San Diego area and monitoring local Internet dive boards. Between 2000 and 2006, almost no encounters were reported. But in 2008, that all changed and they began appearing on  the dive boards and  lists, one here, two there, five there,  slowing increasing until it was obvious that something was happening–exactly what was not clear–only that more and more encounters were being reported by divers.

Then, in the summer of 2009, I had my own memorable encounter with a Sevengill.   I was diving off of Point La Jolla when a large seven footer glided majestically between me and my dive buddy, who was no more than two meters away from me.   To say we were startled would be an understatement.   It was this incident, along with the increase in reports by other divers, caused me to set up a website  later that same year,  allowing San Diego divers to log and document their encounters with this species, as a sort of  personal citizen science project, because  no local marine institution, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA SW Fisheries in La Jolla, had ever done any baseline studies locally prior to this point–I know, because we checked.

#RaysTheRoof : Research symposium will focus on the biology and conservation of stingrays

davesquare

July 10-15th in Albuquerque!

July 10-15th in Albuquerque! I hope to see you there!

The upcoming Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists will include a research symposium focusing on the biology and conservation of durophagous (shell-eating) stingrays. Organized by Dr.’s Matt Ajemian (Texas A&M University Corpus Christi) and Julie Neer (Southeast Data Assessment and Review), this symposium aims to gather together the world’s experts on these ecologically important and poorly understood animals.  It will include more than 15 research presentations, as well as a Q&A panel discussion and poster session.

Though they were once best known for their visually stunning schooling behavior, durophagous rays like the cownose ray are now considered a pest species by many fishers because of their perceived role in the collapse of shellfish stocks in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere. This has led to a misguided targeted fishing campaign called “eat a ray, save the bay“. With their slow growth and  limited reproductive rate, this is a receipt for a conservation disaster, particularly when paired with the extremely limited regulations governing the fishery. The symposium will cover this issue as well as the current state of biology and conservation of other durophagous stingrays, including spotted eagle rays and other perceived pest species like the Japanese longheaded eagle ray.

For those of you attending the Joint Meeting, this symposium will take place Friday, July 12th from 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 P.M. (mountain time) . If you’re not attending the meeting, follow along on twitter with #RaysTheRoof (and #AES2013 / #JMIH2013, the conference hashtags). We’ll take question from twitter during the Q&A!

A Call to Action: Preventing a Potential Setback in U.S. Atlantic Shark Finning Policy

Sonja Fordham President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham
President, Shark Advocates International

SAISonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at  Ocean Conservancy.  She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

After many months of intense attention to advances in international shark conservation policy through CITES and the European Parliament, it’s time to refocus on sharks in my backyard.  A potentially terrible shark policy precedent has been brewing through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), and threatens to weaken that body’s coast-wide ban on finning (slicing off a shark’s fins and discarding the body at sea) smoothhounds and other sharks.  Help from the concerned public is needed in the final few days of the official public comment for this proposal!

 

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Know Your Fishermen as well as your Farmer

Members of Walking Fish in NC pick up their shar, photo by author

Members of Walking Fish in NC pick up their share, photo by author

amysquareFisheries had their ups and downs in the US in 2012. We’ve all heard the stories of overfishing, but there were also a few glimmers of hope as the New England cod fishery proposed to open previously closed areas, the Chesapeake oysters showed slight recovery, and MSC certification expanded and became more popular. News on the social side of the fishery – the fishermen and their families – is not as prevalent outside the small towns where they live. However, some of the most exciting developments happened on this front, starting with official community supported fisheries declaring themselves here to stay. They held a successful summit in New Hampshire this past July, placing them more in the public eye than ever before.

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Ethics, Interdisciplinarity, and the Institutional Review Board

from batmancomic.info

Say your local Lions Club wants to hold a focus group to determine what the community thinks would be the best way to direct community service efforts? What if you, as a blog writer, want to survey your readership about their demographics? What if the local food group wants to stand in front of a grocery store surveying people where they get their food from? What if an independent scholar wants to interview people for their next book? These are all real-world applications of social science that may have significant positive impacts to the community involved. But are they responsible to anyone for ethical behavior? Should they be? If they were University scholars, they’d be subject Institutional Review Board oversight. No IRB approval means no publishing and no funding.

Even in the university setting, what if a scholar decides to cross disciplines and use some social science methods? Are they subject ot IRB review? Say fisheries biologists want to interview fishers about their knowledge of fish stocks and aggregations or an agricultural extension agent wants to survey local farmers where they get their seed? The what-if’s could go on forever. And they are all in the ethical grey area.

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The importance of being Aquaman, or how to save the Atlantean from his briny fate

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1

Aquaman has an unpleasant lunch. From New 52 Aquaman #1 DC Comics.

Two weeks ago, I challenged the world to consider how the greatest hero in the DC Universe would fair if forced to survive in the real world. The result was a hypothermic, brain-dead lump of jerky with brittle bones forced to suffer through constant screams of agony even as he consumes sea life at a rate that would impress Galactus. In short, the ocean is a rough place, even for Aquaman.

Since that post made its way across the internet, several people have asked me to discuss what adaptations Aquaman would need to survive in this, science-based, ocean. So I went back to my comic books and my textbooks to assemble an Aquaman with a suite of evolutionary adaptations that would allow a largely humanoid organism to rule the waves, trident triumphantly raised.

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