Depleted on Oregon Coast, Live Sea Otter Found | What That Means

Published 04/06/21 at 5:35 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Considered Extinct, Live Sea Otter on Oregon Coast | What That Means

(Manzanita, Oregon) – It was a delightful, rare treat when Seaside Aquarium was called to attend to a live sea otter that had washed ashore on the north Oregon coast. Sea otters have been extinct in Oregon for over 100 years, so there was a glimmer of something hopeful here. However, the tale did not have a happy ending and according to experts the one sighting does not mean a possible shift in the population. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)Latest Coastal Lodging News AlertsIn Seaside:
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On Monday, Seaside Aquarium received a call about a live, stranded sea otter at the very southern end of Manzanita’s beach, around the Nehalem Spit.

It was the very first sea otter that the aquarium has responded to, said educator / media representative Tiffany Boothe.

“The otter was lethargic and showing signs of possible neurological issues,” Boothe said. “The sea otter was taken back to the Seaside Aquarium and transferred to a rehab center up in Washington. Unfortunately, the sea otter did not make it. A necropsy will be performed but it is thought that the animal was suffering from a protozoal infection. “

Boothe said sea otters were once quite common off the Oregon coast, but due to intense hunting from the fur trade they were wiped out and pronounced extinct in the early 1900’s. River otters are spotted quite frequently along the coast and sometimes mistaken for sea otters.

“Previous efforts to reintroduce sea otters on the Oregon coast have failed but there is a group currently working on a plan to once again reintroduce sea otters to Oregon,” she said. “Sea otters reside in both Alaska, California, and Washington State.”

That group is the Elahka Alliance, which has been working for many years towards this goal. Currently, the closest sea otters colonies are up on the Washington coast’s Olympic Peninsula.

What does this single sea otter mean for the work the Elahka Alliance is doing?

Elakha’s Director of Science & Policy, John Goodel, said it doesn’t mean much.

“Unless there was a lot sea otters a lot closer to Oregon, it’s not an avenue for recovery,” Goodell.

Goodell said lone males sometimes explore long distances from the Washington coast.

“But female sea otters won’t,” he said. “So they’re kind of the natural limiter of sea otter expansion. They have a huge energy demand on them, feeding pups. They can’t afford the long trip.”

While larger, main pods of sea otters may not move the males will, Goodell said.

“There’s such big gaps now that you have lone sea otters looking for others but they don’t find them,” he said. “They never seem to stay in Oregon. If a couple, two three did stay it’s not a viable population.”

Sea otters in Oregon began getting hunted for their fur in the late 1700s, but a little over 100 years later most were gone not just in Oregon but around the Pacific Rim. By 1910 they were officially gone. Sea otters were restored for a brief two years in the ‘70s, but for reasons still unknown those populations failed. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

World’s rarest great ape is on the brink of extinction

The Tapanuli orangutan, the most endangered great ape species, is at a greater risk of extinction than previously thought because of rapid habitat loss and unsustainable hunting, according to a new scientific report published at the beginning of January.ByTrang Chu Minh | March 30, 2021

Less than 800 Tapanuli orangutans remain confined to the small mountainous region of Batang Toru in North Sumatra, Indonesia.


Recognized as a separate species only in 2017, the Tapanuli orangutans suffered a staggering 83 percent decline in just three generations, and retain a mere 2.7 percent of their original habitat occupied 130 years ago.

According to Erik Meijaard, lead author of the recent study and founder of conservation group Borneo Futures, if more than 1 percent of the adult population is extracted — that is killed, translocated or captured — from the wild every year, the species’s extinction is inevitable, which would signal the first great ape extinction in modern times.

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By analyzing previously unknown and unpublished historical records, the new research contradicts existing scientific claims with two main arguments: Firstly, the Tapanuli orangutans are driven toward extinction in their original habitat due to unsustainable hunting and habitat fragmentation which continue to plague the species.

Secondly, because they were forced from their natural habitat, they are not adapted to living in highland conditions, and should instead occupy a more diverse range of environments for a better chance of survival, including lowland forests and peatlands.

Hydropower project threatens remaining habitat


Among the many threats faced by the species, a planned hydroelectric power plant along the Batang Toru River in South Tapanuli Regency came under international scrutiny for encroaching on the last remaining habitat of the Tapanuli orangutans.

Although the company responsible for building the dam, PT. North Sumatra Hydro Energy (PT NSHE) claims that the land occupied by the project — around 122 hectares — is negligible, Meijaard and others have pointed out that the issue is not the size of the power plant, but its location.







The project sits at the intersection of three subpopulations of Tapanuli orangutans which could be permanently separated if the dam is built. According to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP), the western block is considered the only genetically viable population in the long run, so connecting it to the eastern block and two smaller nature reserves are critical to preventing inbreeding and disease, and increasing genetic diversity and thus the survival rate of the species.

Construction for the dam was temporarily suspended in January 2020 because of COVID-19, and as the Bank of China, slated to become one of the main financiers of the project, has seemingly withdrawn funding, the project faces a delay of up to three years.

Meijaard and co-author Serge Wich, co-vice chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) primate specialists’ section on great apes, have questioned the scientific validity and objectivity of the environmental impact assessment that was carried out by individuals hired by PT NSHE.

They urge to use the suspension of the project as an opportunity to carry out an independent investigation in collaboration with all stakeholders, including the developer, the government, SOCP and IUCN.

Lack of transparency

PT NSHE could not be reached for an interview, but the IUCN released a fact-checking report in 2020 which refutes in detail claims made by the company on the minimal impact of the hydro project on the Tapanuli orangutans and their surrounding ecosystems, and efforts undertaken to mitigate this impact.

Allegations about widespread crackdown on those who spoke up against the hydro dam abound, although PT NSHE denied these claims. Defamation charges and the dismissal of conservationists on the ground were compounded by the suspicious death of an environmental activist and legal aide who at the time was working on a lawsuit aimed to revoke the environmental permit for the dam.

Many of the conservationists and scientists involved on the ground declined a request for comment on the state of the hydro project or efforts to protect the Tapanuli orangutan, often citing fear of backlash. Reluctance to share information publicly reflects a lack of transparency over the issue, says Wich.

Government officials, including Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya, said that the Tapanuli orangutan is at no risk of extinction, and that the hydropower project will have no detrimental impact on the species’s living conditions.

Other threats faced by the species

Wich also cautions against letting the hydropower project divert efforts from addressing some of the other risks faced by the Tapanuli orangutans. Habitat loss in the area has, over the years, been exacerbated by a variety of extractive activities, including logging, gold and silver mining and geothermal power generation.

SOCP has successfully advocated for a status change in 2014 for 85 percent of the Batang Toru Ecosystem from “production” to “protection forest” which would prohibit any extractive activities. The remaining area, however, is still home to the highest density — 10 percent — of the remaining Tapanuli orangutan population.

Unsustainable hunting and weak law enforcement

In addition, according to Meijaard, orangutan conservationists tend to focus on deforestation and habitat loss, when in reality, the biggest risk is the unsustainable hunting and capture of the species that have been a regular practice for centuries based on the historical records examined in his latest study.

Although orangutans are protected by both national laws and international conventions, “there appears to be a lack of political will to convict people who illegally poach, harm or own orangutans, compared to other wildlife crime,” says Julie Sherman, executive director at nonprofit Wildlife Impact.

Citing a scientific study, Sherman contrasts the prosecution rate for the illegal poaching and trade of tigers at 90 percent compared to only 0.1 percent for orangutans.

Translocation should remain last resort

Based on figures shared by Meijaard, approximately $80 million is spent on orangutan conservation every year, yet the population numbers of all three orangutan species — the Bornean, the Sumatran and the Tapanuli orangutans — continue to dwindle.

The current focus on orangutan translocation, rehabilitation and reintroduction to the wild is very expensive, and there is limited data available on the welfare or survival rate of the orangutans due to limited post-translocation monitoring, says Meijaard.

Once they are reintroduced into the wild, it’s challenging to track the orangutans remotely because there is no technology available yet, such as chips implanted into the released animals, that’s both reliable and safe for the orangutans, explains Ian Singleton, director of SOCP.

SOCP, a partnership between the PanEco Foundation, the Foundation for Sustainable Ecosystem (YEL) and the Directorate General of Nature Resources and Ecosystem Conservation, operates the only orangutan rehabilitation center in the area.

“Whilst [translocation] may sometimes be in the best interests of the individual orangutans concerned, namely getting them out of a situation in which they are likely to die or be killed, it is not really a sustainable solution to the problem of human-orangutan conflicts, nor is it likely to make much of an impact on the long term conservation prospects for the species, at least at the present time,” adds Singleton.

Translocation does not negate the need to address the wider issues of habitat loss and weak law enforcement, says Panut Hadisiswoyo, founder of the nonprofit Orangutan Information Centre (OIC).

The rescue of a Tapanuli orangutan by OIC, YEL and government conservation agency BBKSDA Sumut. Photo credit: BBKSDA Sumut and OIC

While critics warn that translocation is often considered an easy fallback option because the government has made it so easy to report a trespassing orangutan, Hadisiswoyo believes that it’s best to be immediately alerted to a potential human-orangutan conflict so it can be addressed without loss of life.

Prevention and education

Both the SOCP and the OIC place great emphasis on preventative measures to reduce the need for translocation, including the education of local communities on the value of safeguarding orangutans and their ecosystems.

“A coordinated approach is desirable … to tackle not only the drivers of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, but also community issues that often result in the killing of orangutans in conflict situations,” says Singleton.

Initiatives include building buffer zones of plants to prevent orangutans from crossing over to villages, or conflict mitigation training. The OIC, for example, is teaching locals how to make and use noise-making tools such as bamboo cannons to scare away crop-raiding orangutans without injuring or killing them.

Primatologist Wanda Kuswanda argues in his recent study for the need to offer noncash support to local communities, including seeds for plants that cannot be consumed by orangutans such as coffee, cocoa or snake fruit. He also recommends developing orangutan ecotourism ventures to demonstrate the economic value of protecting the species.

COVID-19 exacerbates extinction risk

The COVID-19 pandemic has, however, made conservation efforts imminently more challenging.

Although there is limited information on the health impact of COVID-19 on great apes and there are no known cases of infected orangutans, conservationists cannot risk even a small chance of infection for a species that is so close to extinction already.

Although rescue, translocation and rehabilitation efforts continue, no orangutans have been released into the wild by SOCP since March 2020, and most research studies focused on wild orangutans have been suspended in the past 12 months to mitigate contagion risk.

SOCP’s captive orangutan facilities are operating with strict precautionary measures which have incurred considerable costs at a time when conservation organizations grapple with dwindling funds from both donors or income-generating activities such as tourism.

In addition, based on satellite imagery and other sources, Singleton warns that illegal activities have increased in the forests, as have orangutan killings. Tolerance for the crop-raiding great ape is decreasing as villagers struggle to earn a livelihood amidst the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Despite the grim situation, conservationists and scientists such as Wich or Hadisiswoyo believe that there is still a chance to save the Tapanuli orangutans from extinction, but only if a robust action plan is put in place. Efforts need to focus on protecting their remaining habitat, mitigating human-orangutan conflict without having to translocate the animals, and the improved enforcement of wildlife protection laws.

This story was developed as part of the author’s participation in the “Reporting on climate change and energy transition” training and mentorship program organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and the European Climate Foundation.

Crocodiles survived dinosaur-killing asteroid due to snappy evolution

Shivali Best For Mailonline  16 hrs ago

TV Presenter Attacked by Naked Woman Live on AirFlorida woman missing for weeks found trapped, naked in storm draina close up of a reptile: MailOnline logo© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo

It’s a mystery that has baffled scientists for years – why did crocodiles survive the asteroid strike that wiped out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago?

Now, researchers believe they may have the answer, and it all comes down to aptly named ‘snappy evolution.’

In a new study, scientists suggest that crocodiles underwent rapid evolution that meant the creatures could flourish on land and in the oceans.

Dr Stephanie Pierce, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolution Biology at Harvard University, said: ‘Ancient crocodiles came in a dizzyingly array of forms. They were adapted to running on land, swimming in the water, snapping fish, and even chewing plants.

‘Our study shows that these very different ways of living evolved incredibly fast, allowing extinct crocodiles to rapidly thrive and dominate novel ecological niches over many millions of years.’a close up of a reptile: In a new study, scientists suggest that crocodiles underwent rapid evolution that meant the creatures could flourish on land and in the oceans. Pictured is a modern crocodile© Provided by Daily Mail In a new study, scientists suggest that crocodiles underwent rapid evolution that meant the creatures could flourish on land and in the oceans. Pictured is a modern crocodile

In the study, researchers from the University of Bristol and Harvard University studied over 200 skulls and jaws of crocodiles and their extinct species, spanning 230 million years.

The team analysed how the shape of the skulls and jaws varied between species, and studied how fast crocodile groups changed with time.

Their findings suggest that some extinct crocodile groups, including dolphin-like thalattosuchians and land-dwelling notosuchians, evolved very fast over millions of year.

These species also underwent huge changes to their skulls and jaws, becoming almost mammal-like at times.

And while today’s crocodiles, alligators and gharials are often referred to as ‘living fossil’, the researchers suggest that this isn’t the case, and that there is ‘no evidence for a slow-down in their evolution.’

Instead, the team believes that today’s crocodiles, alligators and gharials evolved steadily for the last 80 million years.

Dr Tom Stubbs, who led the study, said: ‘Crocodiles and their ancestors are an incredible group for understanding the rise and fall of biodiversity.A fossil of a land-dwelling crocodile from the Cretaceous. Notosuchians had diverse diets, including insect-eating and plant-eating© Provided by Daily Mail A fossil of a land-dwelling crocodile from the Cretaceous. Notosuchians had diverse diets, including insect-eating and plant-eatingThis tiny skull belonged to an early ancestor of crocodiles which lived on land and had a diverse diet© Provided by Daily Mail This tiny skull belonged to an early ancestor of crocodiles which lived on land and had a diverse diet

‘There are only 26 crocodile species around today, most of which look very similar. However, there are hundreds of fossil species with spectacular variation, particularly in their feeding apparatus.’

While scientists have long believed that dramatic shifts in habitat and diet can trigger rapid evolution, this is the first time it has been shown in crocodiles.

Professor Micahel Benton, who also worked on the study, said: ‘It’s not clear why modern crocodiles are so limited in their adaptations. a wooden table: While scientists have long believed that dramatic shifts in habitat and diet can trigger rapid evolution, this is the first time it has been shown in crocodiles. Pictured is an extinct ocean-going crocodile from the Jurassic© Provided by Daily Mail While scientists have long believed that dramatic shifts in habitat and diet can trigger rapid evolution, this is the first time it has been shown in crocodiles. Pictured is an extinct ocean-going crocodile from the Jurassic

‘If we only had the living species, we might argue they are limited in their modes of life by being cold-blooded or because of their anatomy.

‘However, the fossil record shows their amazing capabilities, including large numbers of species in the oceans and on land. 

‘Perhaps they only did well when world climates were warmer than today.’Read moreContinue Reading Crocodiles survived dinosaur-killing asteroid due to snappy evolution (

Humans Share Genes With Weird Headless Creatures

Tim Childers  6 hrs ago

New cross-country storm to bring more severe weatherFans Are Calling Out Khloé Kardashian’s Photoshopping in New Bikini PictureResearchers traced genes found in humans back to some of the earliest multicellular animals to roam Earth.© Evans, et. al./Proceedings of the Royal Society B/Courtesy Christine Hall Researchers traced genes found in humans back to some of the earliest multicellular animals to roam Earth.

  • Researchers traced genes found in humans back to some of the earliest multicellular animals to roam Earth.
  • The 555-million-year old fossils belong to oceanic creatures that predate the Cambrian explosion.
  • The animals may be the missing link between the first complex life forms on Earth and humans.

Peer back far enough into the fossil record and the evolutionary links between modern animals and ancient creatures become increasingly unclear. Although some of Earth’s first organisms lacked now-common features like heads, arms, and legs, researchers have traced back genes found in today’s animals—including humans—to some of the oldest complex multicellular creatures.

➡ Science is bad***. Let’s nerd out over it together.

Their research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, uses genetic analysis to link the appearance of 555-million-year-old fossils of simple oceanic critters to the genes found in complex modern-day animals. These findings could help biologists understand the evolution of the first animals on Earth during one of the most critical periods of the planet’s history.

The Cambrian explosion has long been considered the“big bang” of the evolution of life on Earth. During this period, beginning more than half a billion years ago, almost every major animal group inhabiting the planet today appeared in the fossil record over the span of a few million years.

But recent discoveries are leading scientists to believe the Ediacaran era, a brief period beginning 40 million years before the Cambrian explosion, may have been just as pivotal in the history of evolution. The Ediacaran period is marked by the emergence of the earliest known complex multicellular organisms on Earth. It’s also when scientists believe some of the defining characteristics of animals first took form.

“None of them had heads or skeletons,” study coauthor Mary Droser, Ph.D., a geology professor at the University of California, Riverside, said in a statement. She continued:

“Many of them probably looked like three-dimensional bath mats on the seafloor, round discs that stuck up. These animals are so weird and so different, it’s difficult to assign them to modern categories of living organisms just by looking at them, and it’s not like we can extract their DNA—we can’t.”

Lacking concrete DNA evidence, the researchers examined the appearance and likely behaviors of the animals that are clearly represented by genetic markers in modern animals. These markers include genes like SoxB2, which is believed to play a key role in the formation of an animal’s nervous system.

“The fact that we can say these genes were operating in something that’s been extinct for half a billion years is fascinating to me,” said study coauthor Scott Evans, Ph.D., a professor in the department of geosciences at Virginia Tech.

From more than 40 species identified from the Ediacaran period, the researchers picked four animals to study closely.(a,b) Kimberella quadrata (K) with frill or muscular foot (MF), proboscis (P) and associated scratch marks (SM); (c,d) Ikaria wariootia with wider end indicated by white stars and with associated trace fossil Helminthoidichnites; (e) Dickinsonia costata with white arrow indicating the direction of movement; and (f) Tribrachidium heraldicum.© Evans, et. al./Proceedings of the Royal Society B/Courtesy Christine Hall (a,bKimberella quadrata (K) with frill or muscular foot (MF), proboscis (P) and associated scratch marks (SM); (c,dIkaria wariootia with wider end indicated by white stars and with associated trace fossil Helminthoidichnites; (eDickinsonia costata with white arrow indicating the direction of movement; and (fTribrachidium heraldicum.

The most iconic and largest of the bunch, the oval-shaped Dickinsonia, has been found to grow to almost a meter in length with a series of raised bands on its surface. Recently, scientists discovered Dickinsonia may have been capable of repairing itself from damage, showing the possibility of it having a primitive immune system.

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The smallest critter, Ikaria, which Droser and her colleagues recently discovered, was about the size and shape of a grain of rice. It’s also one of the oldest bilaterians—an animal with two front and back openings connected by a gut—ever found. Scientists believe Ikaria was one of nature’s first scavengers, crawling using primitive muscles across the sea floor and eating organic matter.

The researchers also analyzed a teardrop-shaped animal called Kimberella, which may have scraped the ocean floor for food using a proboscis. Lastly, they studied Tribrachidium, a living ninja-star that the scientists, using computationational fluid mechanics simulations, believe used gravity to filter out particles of food falling into its spiral trap.

“Our work is a way to put these animals on the tree of life, in some respects,” Droser said.“And show they’re genetically linked to modern animals, and to us.”

Given their complexity, the researchers believe the animals likely had the genetic building blocks responsible for the formation of heads and sensory organs that could form a central nervous system. This includes genes like Hox, which are responsible for specifying the organization of parts of the body during development. However, the interaction between those building blocks wasn’t yet complex enough to create the concentrated nervous systems found in Cambrian-period animals.

In the future, the scientists hope to examine muscle development and perform functional studies to better understand this ancient period of animal evolution.

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Continued: Humans Share Genes With Weird Headless Creatures (

‘Pompeii of prehistoric plants’ unlocks evolutionary secret: study

MARCH 8, 2021

by University of Birmingham

'Pompeii of prehistoric plants' unlocks evolutionary secret: study
Reconstruction of the crown of Paratingia wuhaia sp. nov. Credit: University of Birmingham

Spectacular fossil plants preserved within a volcanic ash fall in China have shed light on an evolutionary race 300 million years ago, which was eventually won by the seed-bearing plants that dominate so much of the Earth today.

New research into fossils found at the ‘Pompeii of prehistoric plants‘, in Wuda, Inner Mongolia, reveals that the plants, called Noeggerathiales, were highly-evolved members of the lineage from which came seed plants.

Noeggerathiales were important peat-forming plants that lived around 325 to 251 million years ago. Understanding their relationships to other plant groups has been limited by poorly preserved examples until now.

The fossils found in China have allowed experts to work out that Noeggerathiales are more closely related to seed plants than to other fern groups.

No longer considered an evolutionary dead-end, they are now recognized as advanced tree-ferns that evolved complex cone-like structures from modified leaves. Despite their sophistication, Noeggerathiales fell victim to the profound environmental and climate changes of 251 million years ago that destroyed swamp ecosystems globally.

The international research team, led by palaeontologists at Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology and the University of Birmingham, today published its findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

'Pompeii of prehistoric plants' unlocks evolutionary secret: study
This reconstruction is based on the type specimen from the Wuda Tuff Flora and shows what scientist think the plant looked like when it was alive. Reconstruction of the peat-forming plant community at Wuda in which the new species Paratingia wuhaia (yellow arrows) grew. Credit: University of Birmingham

Co-author Dr. Jason Hilton, Reader in Palaeobiology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Forest Research, commented: “Noeggerathiales were recognized as early as the 1930s, but scientists have treated them as a ‘taxonomic football’, endlessly kicked around without anyone identifying their place in the Story of Life.

“The spectacular fossil plants found in China are becoming renowned as the plant equivalent of Pompeii. Thanks to this slice of life preserved in volcanic ash, we were able to reconstruct a new species of Noeggerathiales that finally settles the group’s affinity and evolutionary importance.

“The fate of the Noeggerathiales is a stark reminder of what can happen when even very advanced life forms are faced with rapid environmental change.”×280&!1&btvi=1&fsb=1&xpc=cKoMtQYfNY&p=https%3A//

The researchers studied complete Noeggerathiales preserved in a bed of volcanic ash 66 cm thick formed 298 million years ago, smothering all the plants growing in a nearby swamp.

The ash stopped the fossils from rotting or being consumed, and preserved many complete individuals in microscopic detail.

'Pompeii of prehistoric plants' unlocks evolutionary secret: study
Fossil specimen of the new species preserving the crown of the tree with leaves and its fertile organs attached to the stem. Credit: University of Birmingham

Lead-Author Jun Wang, Professor of Palaeobotany at Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology, commented: “Many specimens were identified in excavations in 2006-2007 when a few leaves were visible on the surface of the ash. It looked they might be connected to each other and a stem below—we revealed the crown on site, but then extracted the specimens complete to take them back to the lab.

“It has taken many years to study these fully and the additional specimens we have found more recently. The complete trees are the most impressive fossil plants I have seen and because of our careful work they are also some of the most important to science.”

The researchers also deduced that that the ancestral lineage from which seed plants evolved diversified alongside the earliest seed plant radiation during the Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian periods, and did not rapidly die out as previously thought.

90% of all big fish have been taken from the oceans


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It has been achieved with industrial fishing. Large boats with large nets and large fleets with satellite tracking are stripping the oceans of fish. But the most prized large valuable fish are the most fertile. So as they are removed, so is the reproductive capacity of a species. Some species such as sturgeon are almost extinct. Now more countries are involved in this industrial removal of fish. Some countries sell fishing rights in their exclusive economic zones. And this leads to overfishing. China has the largest fishing fleet and is a major player in distant water fishing.

Daniel Pauly
Professor of Fisheries
University of British Colombia
Vancouver Canada

Robyn Williams

David Fisher

The Boyer Lectures ABC RN presented by Andrew ForrestDuration: 8min 12secBroadcast: Sat 13 Feb 2021, 12:03pm


Freshwater fish in “catastrophic” decline, one-third face extinction

Sophie Lewis  56 mins ago

Wandering horse and pony found in NewburySnow likely tonight

Thousands of fish species are facing “catastrophic” decline — threatening the health, food security and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people around the world. New research shows that one-third of all freshwater fish now face extinctiona rocky beach next to a body of water: GREECE-ENVIRONMENT© SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images GREECE-ENVIRONMENT

According to a report published Tuesday by 16 global conservation groups, 18,075 species of freshwater fish inhabit our oceans, accounting for over half of the world’s total fish species and a quarter of all vertebrates on Earth. This biodiversity is critical to maintaining not only the health of the planet, but the economic prosperity of communities worldwide.

About 200 million people across Asia, Africa and South America rely on freshwater fishers for their main source of protein, researchers said in “The World’s Forgotten Fishes” report. About one-third of those people also rely on them for their jobs and livelihoods. 

Despite their importance, freshwater fishes are “undervalued and overlooked,” researchers said — and now freshwater biodiversity is declining at twice the rate of that in oceans and forests. 

Eighty freshwater species have already been declared extinct — 16 of them in 2020 alone. a rocky beach next to a body of water: Thousands of dead freshwater fish are seen around Lake Koroneia, Greece, on September 19, 2019.  / Credit: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images© Provided by CBS News Thousands of dead freshwater fish are seen around Lake Koroneia, Greece, on September 19, 2019.  / Credit: SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP via Getty Images

“Nowhere is the world’s nature crisis more acute than in our rivers, lakes and wetlands, and the clearest indicator of the damage we are doing is the rapid decline in freshwater fish populations. They are the aquatic version of the canary in the coal mine, and we must heed the warning,” said Stuart Orr of the World Wildlife Fund. “Despite their importance to local communities and indigenous people across the globe, freshwater fish are invariably forgotten and not factored into development decisions about hydropower dams or water use or building on floodplains.”PauseCurrent Time 0:11/Duration 0:55Loaded: 40.48%Unmute0HQCaptionsFullscreenGiant Chinese paddlefish declared extinct after surviving 150 million yearsClick to expand

Migratory species have dropped by more than three-quarters in the last 50 years, while populations of larger species, known as “megafish,” have declined by a “catastrophic” 94%. 

Freshwater ecosystems face a devastating combination of threats — including habitat destruction, hydropower dams, over-abstraction of water for irrigation, various types of pollution, overfishing, the introduction of invasive species and ongoing climate change.  

Organizations including the World Wildlife Fund, Global Wildlife Conservation and The Nature Conservancy have now called for governments to implement an “Emergency Recovery Plan” to save freshwater biodiversity. They recommend protecting and restoring rivers, water quality and crucial habitats — undoing the damages caused by overfishing. 

“Freshwater fish matter to the health of people and the freshwater ecosystems that all people and all life on land depend on,” Orr said. “It’s time we remembered that.”

Freshwater fish in “catastrophic” decline, one-third face extinction (

How many early human species existed on Earth?

By Benjamin Plackett – Live Science Contributor 9 hours ago

It depends on your definition of human.

Australopithecus skullAn Australopithecus skull(Image: © Jose A. Bernat Bacete via Getty Images)

We Homo sapiens didn’t used to be alone. Long ago, there was a lot more human diversity; Homo sapiens lived alongside an estimated eight now-extinct species of human about 300,000 years ago. As recently as 15,000 years ago, we were sharing caves with another human species known as the Denisovans. And fossilized remains indicate an even higher number of early human species once populated Earth before our species came along.

“We have one human species right now, and historically, that’s really weird,” said Nick Longrich, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom. “Not that far back, we weren’t that special, but now we’re the only ones left.”

So, how many early human species were there? 

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When it comes to figuring out exactly how many distinct species of humans existed, it gets complicated pretty quickly, especially because researchers keep unearthing new fossils that end up being totally separate and previously unknown species.  

“The number is mounting, and it’ll vary depending on whom you talk to,” said John Stewart, an evolutionary paleoecologist at Bournemouth University in the United Kingdom. Some researchers argue that the species known as Homo erectus is in fact made up of several different species, including Homo georgicus and Homo ergaster.

“It’s all about the definition of a species and the degree to which you accept variation within a species,” Stewart told Live Science. “It can become a slightly irritating and pedantic discussion, because everyone wants an answer. But the truth is that it really does depend.”

What is a species?

The definition of a species used to be nice and simple: If two individuals could produce fertile offspring, they were from the same species. For example, a horse and a donkey can mate to produce a mule, but mules can’t successfully reproduce with each other. Therefore, horses and donkeys, though biologically similar, are not the same species. In recent decades, however, that simplicity has given way to a more complex scientific debate about how to define a species. Critics of the interbreeding definition point out that not all life reproduces sexually; some plants and bacteria can reproduce asexually. 

Others have argued that we should define species by grouping together organisms with similar anatomical features, but that method has weaknesses as well. There can be significant morphological variation between the sexes and even individuals of the same species in different parts of the world, making it a very subjective way of classifying life. 

Some biologists prefer to use DNA to draw the lines between species, and with advancing technology, they can do so with increasing precision. But we don’t have the DNA of every ancient human — the genome of Homo erectus, for instance, has never been sequenced, Live Science previously reported

skulls of early human species
The skulls of various human species  (Image credit: Shutterstock)

It gets even murkier when you consider that as much as 2% of the average European’s DNA comes from Neanderthals and up to 6% of the DNA of some Melanesians (Indigenous people from islands directly northeast of Australia in Oceania) comes from Denisovans. So, are we a separate species from these ancestors? 

“Some people will tell you that Neanderthals are the same species as us,” Stewart said. “They’re just a slightly different type of modern humans and the interbreeding is the proof, but again the definition of species has moved on from just interbreeding.”

Related: Why haven’t all primates evolved into humans?

After taking all of this into account, some experts have argued that the concept of a species doesn’t actually exist. But others say that, while a cast-iron definition of a species is almost impossible to achieve, it’s still worth the effort so that we can talk about evolution — including the evolution of our own species — in a meaningful way. 

So we muddle on, knowing that a species means different things to different people — which means, of course, that people will disagree on how many species of human have ever existed. It’s also a question of what constitutes a human. To answer this question, it helps to understand the word hominin, a large group that includes humans and chimps going back to their shared ancestor.

“The chimpanzee and us have evolved from a common ancestor,” Stewart said. If we decide that humans are everything that arrived after our split from ancient chimpanzees about 6 million to 7 million years ago, then it’s likely to be a diverse group. The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History has listed at least 21 human species that are recognized by most scientists. Granted, it’s not a totally complete list; the Denisovans, for instance, are missing. Advertisement

Those on the list include Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, the Indonesian hobbit-size peopleHomo erectus and Homo naledi. The list also includes other species that existed closer in time to the common ancestor of humans and chimps, and so look more like chimpanzees than modern-day humans. Despite their looks, these species are still known as early humans. “You can’t go back 5 million years and expect them to look like us,” Stewart said.RELATED MYSTERIES

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If the Smithsonian says there are 21, then you can be sure the diversity is much greater, Stewart said. That’s because the list errs on the side of caution, picking the species that are close to universally recognized. For instance, the recently discovered dwarf human species Homo luzonensis, who is known from just a few bones unearthed in an Indonesian cave, is not included on the Smithsonian’s list.

Researchers also suspect there are many other fossilized species yet to be excavated. “The list has only ever grown and I don’t see why that will change,” Stewart said.

Originally published on Live Science.

Elusive Catalina Island Shrew, feared extinct, spotted for 1st time in years


by: Associated PressPosted: Jan 10, 2021 / 12:03 AM PST / Updated: Jan 10, 2021 / 12:04 AM PST

A tiny mouse-like animal has been spotted on Santa Catalina Island off Southern California for the first time since 2004, showing that the species is not extinct.

A Catalina Island Shrew was spotted in a photograph taken by a remote “camera trap” during a major effort to detect the diminutive animal early last year, the Catalina Island Conservancy said Wednesday.

(Photo by Catalina Island Conservancy)

“We have been looking for the Catalina Island Shrew for years,” said conservancy wildlife biologist Emily Hamblen said in a statement. “I thought, and really hoped, that they still existed somewhere on the Island.”

The Catalina Island Shrew was listed as a species of special concern by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1996.

An adult shrew is just 3.74 inches (95 millimeters) long, including tail, and they weigh about 3.96 grams (0.14 ounce). According to the conservancy, shrews have such a high metabolism they can’t survive long without eating.

To try to spy a shrew, the conservancy rotated seven camera traps among 28 locations on the island between February and May 2020.

Each trap was an upside bucket with a camera pointing down, bait in the center and four small openings.

The 12 weeks of trapping produced more than 83,000 photographs and only a few thousand have been reviewed so far.

The conservancy says the next step is to determine how to promote the survival of the species.

Earth is 2,000 light years closer to the Milky Way’s supermassive black hole than previously thought


NOVEMBER 29, 2020 / 7:59 AM / CBS NEWS

A new map of the Milky Way created by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan shows Earth is spiraling faster and is 2,000 light years closer to the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy than was previously thought. 

In 1985, the International Astronomical Union announced that Earth was 27,700 light years away from the black hole, named Sagittarius A*. But a 15-year analysis through Japanese radio astronomy project VERA found that the Earth is actually only 25,800 light years away. They also found that Earth is moving 7 km/s faster than they previously believed.

Sagittarius A* and black holes of the like are dubbed “supermassive” for a reason — they are billions of times more massive than the sun. 

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But the NAOJ said there is no need to worry, as the latest data does not indicate the planet is “plunging towards the black hole.” It just means there is now a “better model of the Milky Way galaxy.” 

Position and velocity map of the Milky Way Galaxy. Arrows show position and velocity data for the 224 objects used to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines show the positions of the Galaxy’s spiral arms. The colors indicate groups of objects belonging the same arm. The background is a simulation image. NAOJ

Using the VERA Astrometry Catalog, scientists created a position and velocity map that lays out the center of the Milky Way galaxy and the objects that reside within. The first VERA Astrometry Catalog was published this year and includes data for 99 objects. 

Positioning indicates that Earth orbits the Galactic Center, where the black hole is located, at 227 km/s. Astronomers originally thought the orbit was at a speed of 220 km/s.

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“Because Earth is located inside the Milky Way Galaxy, we can’t step back and see what the Galaxy looks like from the outside,” NAOJ said in a press statement. “Astrometry, accurate measurement of the positions and motions of objects, is a vital tool to understand the overall structure of the Galaxy and our place in it.”

VERA, Very Long Baseline Interferometry Exploration of Radio Astrometry, was created in 2000 and uses interferometry to aggregate data from radio telescopes located throughout Japan. Through the project, scientists can create the same resolution as a 2,300 km diameter telescope, which “is sharp enough in theory to resolve a United States penny placed on the surface of the moon,” NAOJ said. 

NAOJ scientists are hoping to gather data on even more objects, with a focus on those that are close to Sagittarius A*.