Surfer Pushed into the Path of a Shark

Many people from shark enthusiasts to researchers would love to swim with sharks in their natural environment. We all know the possible dangers of certain species of shark that are exaggerated by films such as ‘Jaws’ and played up in many documentaries. Due to an increased exposure to wild animals via this medium, are some people becoming too relaxed around wild animals?

There is no doubt in many individuals’ minds of the worth of well written and executed documentaries, but what about sensationalist pieces which concentrate on Hollywood stereotypes and do not mention the ‘whole deal’ when it comes to different species? Are we losing a sense of how dangerous wild animals can be with the apparent ‘safeness’ of certain species?

A video has been posted recently of a surfer that is pushed into the path of a shark in the Irish Sea and reported by the media as ‘not as dangerous as it may look’ due the shark in question, being a basking shark. This may be a case of bad journalism, but it highlights a worrying underlying thought of a ‘safe’ wild animal.

Basking sharks are filter feeders, concentrating on plankton found in the sea. Even if they did develop a taste for larger prey, they would not be able to swallow it as their throat only measures 4 inches in diameter. For a shark that can measure up to 10 meters, that is a surprisingly small throat!

However, this does not mean they are ‘safe’ to play around with because they are not ‘as bite-y’ as other sharks. Basking sharks typically measure around 6 – 8 meters, all of which is mostly muscle. If that surfer had been hit by the shark’s tail, it would have resulted in a morbidly different story and no doubt, cries of ‘Jaws’ off the Irish coast.

Despite the basking sharks tag as a ‘safe shark’, it is a very large and powerful wild animal. It is a shame that some bad journalism is promoting the apparent safeness of some species, probably making the decision to push your friend into the path of a basking shark easier than if it was a great white!

Videos like this are making the protection of this vulnerable species and other species harder as disturbances to their behaviour by unregulated boats or flying surfers, will have severe consequences for their population.  Although social media is a great way to promote conservation, unfortunately, some irresponsible individuals are using it to get more hits, retweets and a popular hashtag.

 

Haley Dolton

 

 

It’s World Penguin Day!

I’m sure you’ve all got this marked down in your calendar, but it is world penguin day! So to celebrate, here are 10 facts about these beautiful birds:

1)            Some species of penguin can live up to 15 – 20 years old

2)            They spend 75% of their lives at sea

3)            Penguin biodiversity ranges from 17 – 20 species

4)            The tallest penguin, the emperor penguin, can reach the dizzy height of 3 feet 7 inches

5)            Penguins can dive further than any other bird species, the emperor penguin can dive 1,870ft for up to 22 minutes at a time

6)            A group of penguins is called a rookery

7)            They can swim at speeds of up to 25mph

8)            Penguins can survive more than 3 months without food or water

9)            The only penguin to cross the northern hemisphere is the Galapagos penguin

10)         The eyesight of penguins is far better underwater than on land

So now you’re armed with 10 fun facts about penguins, go and spread the word about world penguin day! Sadly, most of these penguins need your help to conserve them for future generations!

Haley Dolton

Slow Acting Pesticide To Blame For Bee Population Declines

During the past few years, you may have become aware of a decline in bee populations throughout North America and Europe. The sudden disappearance of adult bees from a nest has been termed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and presently has the power to seriously disrupt the environment and economy of North America and Europe.

Bees play a vital role in all environments requiring pollinators such as crops and wild flowers. Not only do they enrich the natural environment, they also provide huge economic benefits from produce such as honey, fruits and vegetables for human consumption. They certainly are busy bees, in the U.S. alone, they are estimated to provide $8-12 billion to the economy!

Professor Chensheng (Alex) Lu and his team of Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have shown that CCD is not caused by instantaneous death of bees by predators or disease as previously thought, but by the commonly used pesticide, imidacloprid.

Imidacloprid acts slowly on a bee’s central nervous system, often leaving adults unable to return to their nest. Researchers from HSPH exposed 16 hives to differing concentrations of imidacloprid and left 4 untreated. After 12 weeks, all bees were alive, but those exposed to higher levels of imidacloprid were weaker. By 23 weeks 15 out of 16 hives exposed to imidacloprid, entered CCD presenting almost empty nests!

CCD has been affecting bee populations since high – fructose corn syrup has been used to feed bees. In 2004 – 2005 producers of corn in the U.S. started to use imidacloprid to treat crops, a year later outbreaks of CCD occurred.

This research, along with others published last week, provides a vital step towards protecting highly important bee species, for both the environment and economy.

Haley Dolton

 

President of wildlife commission sets bad example

Daniel Richards, the president of the California Fish and Wildlife Commission, has been pictured happily posing with a dead mountain lion (Puma concolor), enraging many around the world.

Mr Richards is believed to have shot the mountain lion in Idaho where hunting big cats is legal. However, the state where his jurisdiction applies, California, has protected the mountain lion from hunters since 1990.

Many in California are now calling for Mr Richards to resign, as the general public feels someone who is meant to be protecting their wildlife, has betrayed them. Not only is the mountain lion protected in California, $30 million of state funding has been set aside to purchase important habitats shared by mountain lions and many other species. This clearly demonstrates a degree of hypocorism to what Mr Richards has done by hunting a species that he has used millions to protect.

This story highlights the sad fact that not everybody at the top of wildlife organizations are as passionate as others when it comes to the wildlife they are meant to be protecting. Not only this, Mr Richards has betrayed the trust of those that employed him and that of the public.

Haley Dolton

Burmese Pythons Devastate Mammal Populations In The Everglades


According to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the invasive species, the Burmese python (Python molurus bivittatus), is the cause of a devastating decline in mammals found in the Everglades, Florida.

Currently, there are no valid estimates for the population density of the Burmese python, but the number caught each year is on the increase. They are thought to have originated in the Everglades due to pet owners being unable to cope with such a large snake at home and consequently, releasing them into the wild.

Data collected in the 1990’s of road kill and live and dead animals seen on surveys, were compared with data collected (using a similar method) between 2003 – 2011. On average the snakes measured approximately 12 feet long! Due to their large size, they are capable of preying upon some of the Everglade’s endangered species such as, the Key Largo woodrat (Neotoma floridana smalli), listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List and the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), listed as Vulnerable.

Results from this research indicate that the Burmese python is the cause of a dramatic drop in the populations of native mammals found in the Everglades. Bobcat (Lynx rufus) sightings were down by 87.5%, white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) by 94.1%, Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) by 98.9%, raccoons (Procyon lotor) by 98.9% and marsh rabbits were not recorded at all! Sightings of these, and other mammals were also more common in the areas where the Burmese python has not been present for very long.

It is also important to note that the introduction of a top predator that should not be there, may be affecting the whole food chain found within the Everglades. For example, the larger mammals such as the bobcat have probably been displaced to other habitats due their prey, marsh rabbits, disappearing, rather than the Burmese python developing a sudden taste for bobcats.

The U.S. federal government is obviously very keen to try and reverse the affects of unwanted pets released into the Everglades. Importation and sale of the Burmese python, the yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) and two subspecies of the African python (Python sebae), are now banned.

Hopefully, this research has highlighted the significant effect an invasive species can have on a highly important ecosystem such as the Everglades and action can be taken to preserve it and prevent similar situations arising in the future.

By Haley Dolton


Bootylicious Beyonce Horsefly Discovered

Photo courtesy of Bryan Lessard

A species of previously undescribed horsefly, held in fly collection since 1981, has been named after the singer Beyonce (Scaptia (Plinthina) beyonceae)). Mr Bryan Lessard, a researcher at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, chose to name the fly after Beyonce due to it’s dazzling golden behind.

Some people may have experienced the painful bite of a female horsefly whilst on a countryside walk. However, it is unknown whether this species feeds on nectar, pollen or if it is a bloodsucker. This is because a specimen of this particular horsefly has not been found in the wild despite attempts made by Mr Lessard in 2010. Encouragingly, Mr Lessard did obtain anecdotal evidence from locals of northeast Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands who had been bitten from a ‘gold bum fly.’

These statements suggest the Beyonce horsefly may rely on blood as a primary food source, but until more specimens are found or the flies are observed in the wild, this is speculation.

The discovery of a new horsefly species is significant to humans (despite their tendency to give us a nasty nip) as they are fundamental pollinators of plants, ensuring the survival of necessary food chains and for the aesthetic pleasures of diverse and plentiful flora.

Mr Lessard’s choice of name will encourage others who may be fans of Beyonce, to take an interest in something they might normally ignore. This is surely a good thing for conservation and perhaps we will see additional new species named after celebrities in the future? Maybe a Rickey Gervais beetle being chased by hoard of angry Madonna birds after presenting itself cheekily, one too many times?

Haley Dolton

2011: a fantastic year for discovering new species!

Matilda’s horned viper. Photo by: Tim Davenport.

Despite some conservationists warning about the possible problems of unearthing new species to poachers in the media, their existence should celebrated by conservationists and animal lovers alike! Here is just a selection of some of the good news we have had from researchers this year:

  • Frogs the size of Tic Tacs belonging to the genus Paedophryne were discovered in Papa New Guinea
  • Three different species of pit vipers – two in Southeast Asia and the beautiful Matilda’s horned viper in Tanzania
  • A new species of bottlenose dolphin in Southeast Australia
  • The Italian sparrow was finally confirmed as a distinct species
  • A new species of titi monkey in Brazil
  • In Vietnam, researchers were shocked by the new peculiar species, the ferret – badger
  • Over 300 species of flora and fauna were described by the California Academy of Sciences and other scientific institutions in the Philippines
  • A colourful new species of mushroom in Borneo named after SpongeBob SquarePants

This is just a selection of the new species that researchers have discovered this year. With camera traps and DNA analysis becoming common practice whilst identifying new species, hopefully similar discoveries will continue throughout 2012!

Haley Dolton

KILLER WHALES VISIT CORNWALL

Photo courtesy of Alan Vernon

Every summer in the UK, there will undoubtedly be a story in the news regarding a great white shark being spotted off the Cornish coast. These stories are reported in the peak of the summer holidays, scaring the tourists that were brave enough to venture into our chilly seas, to stay firmly on land. Hopefully, the general public will react positively to the news of a mother and calf killer whale duo, being spotted 100 metres off the Cornish coast.

It is widely known that killer whales are present in Scotland’s waters and during the summer, they venture closer to shore around Shetland, Orkney and Caithness. For the rest of the year, it is hypothesized that pods of killer whales follow the migration of mackerel around Scotland to gain a reliable food source, in addition to larger prey such as seals.

The killer whales spotted off the Cornish coast, could belong to the same pods in Scotland, but why have they travelled south? It could be due to the extremely high population of seals found in both Devon and Cornwall, providing a very attractive food source for hungry killer whales. In fact, there has been an instance of killer whales preying upon a basking shark, a species that frequents the Devon and Cornish waters every year. This shows killer whales are no strangers to migrating further south from Scotland to obtain vital food.

Hopefully, the public will react positively to this news without shouting the dolphin equivalent of; “JAWS!” and causing panic within the community that use the sea for financial and recreational purposes. Although they are apex predators, a wild killer whale has never killed a human and if we don’t bother them, they are very unlikely to cause harm to us.

This sighting highlights the diversity of the UK’s fauna and must be very exciting news for the killer whale researchers based in Scotland. It may stimulate new research, due to possibly highlighting an unknown migration route for killer whales.

So don’t be afraid of this news, grab your binoculars and head down south for a chance to see one of natures beautiful, top predators cruising around.

Haley Dolton

X FACTOR OF THE ANIMAL WORLD

With all the hype of the X Factor in the media every week, a comparison between the talent of the natural world and the individuals that will appear on the show can offer an interesting comparison!

Mimic – each year a contestant will try and impersonate their favourite singer on the show for maximum effect. However, they are never going to be as good as mimicking abilities of the lyrebird which is endemic to Australia. Of all the passerines, the lyrebird has the most complex musculature surrounding the syrinx allowing this species to imitate a variety of natural and man made sounds including car alarms and chainsaws.

Loudest – some of the characters on the X Factor do not suffer from shyness in terms of their singing volume and neither does the blue whale. The blue whale call can reach up to approximately 188 decibels and can travel for hundreds of miles underwater. That is the equivalent of the noise produced by a rocket launch pad. If humans stood near to this without ear protection the noise would cause irreversible damage to our hearing.

Specialist – the occasional contestant will try and do something different during their audition to get noticed including rapping and beat boxing. An army of frogs all croaking at alternating times may give the beat boxers a run for their money as different pitches and styles are combined. The sound is produced via a space in the throat called the glottis which is surrounded by the vocal chords and arytenoid cartilage. The loud noise reverberates around the expanding vocal sac causing the croak to become louder.

Sounds to make you shudder – during the first few weeks of the X Factor, there will be plenty of contestants who think they can sing resulting in cutting comments from the judges. Vocalisations from some species have the same affect on people such as a cockerel crow or a noisy dog living next door to you. The near – threatened aye – aye gets a raw deal if it is heard in its native Madagascar due to superstitions. Indigenous people think of the aye – aye as a symbol of death and as a consequence, they will dispatch of any if they are seen or heard.

Surprising sound from an unlikely source – many auditions show macho men singing in high pitched tones or beautiful opera performed from an unexpected individual. In nature, various species also make surprising noises. A rabbit will generate a high pitched squeal when in distress and cheetahs make a chirping noise, quite dissimilar to the roar of most big cats. This chirp is a very intense noise and can be heard approximately one mile away!

By Haley Dolton

THE SLOW WADDLE OF A PREGNANT DOLPHIN

We are all used to seeing acrobatic dolphins surfing and jumping effortlessly through the ocean. But until recently, we were unaware of the expectant mothers lagging behind their pod.

Dr. Shawn Noren and her team observed dolphins (located in Hawaii) for 10 days before giving birth and followed their progress for 2 years after calving. Dr. Noren observed that during their 12-month gestation period, dolphins develop a ‘bump’ akin to the ‘bumps’ seen in humans. However, for a marine mammal designed to be streamlined, the ‘bump’ could drastically affect an expectant mother’s lifestyle and lifespan!

Dr. Noren explained how the drag experienced by an expectant mother effects their speed:

“When a pregnant animal is swimming at 1.7 metres per second, it has the same drag force acting on it as a non-pregnant dolphin swimming at 3.4 metres per second.”

“So the pregnant dolphin can only go half the speed as the non-pregnant dolphin before it gets the same drag force.”

Dr. Noren also observed the arc of the tail whilst swimming reduces by 13% in a pregnant female. This is thought to be down to the location of the foetus in the abdomen creating surface tension in the mother’s skin, reducing its flexibility. 

These two factors slow pregnant females to a maximum speed of 13km/h (8mph), which is markedly slower than a non – pregnant female whom can reach speeds in excess of 22km/h (14mph). This puts them in danger of becoming ‘easy prey,’ as the top speed of their natural predators would be equal to, or higher than, the maximum speed of a pregnant dolphin.

Pregnant humans may feel ‘less streamlined’ as the weeks pass by, but at least they are not reliant on their shape to glide through the world’s oceans like these graceful mammals!

By Haley Dolton