[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] California surfer killed in shark attack


California surfer killed in shark attack

Oct 24, 2012 3:41 AM EDT

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (AP) - A shark attack at an Air Force base beach has claimed the life of an experienced 39-year-old surfer, following months of frequent shark sightings along the central California coast.

Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., of Orcutt, was bitten in his upper torso while he was surfing with a friend who witnessed the attack.

They were in the ocean off the coastal Vandenberg Air Force Base, on Surf Beach in Lompoc, the Santa Barbara County sheriff's department said in a statement.

"His friend ended up swimming over and pulling him from the water where he received first aid," said sheriff's Sgt. Mark A. Williams. Solorio was pronounced dead at the scene.

Surf Beach, about 150 miles northwest of Los Angeles, was also the site of an October 2010 fatal attack. Lucas Ransom, a 19-year-old student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, died when a shark nearly severed his leg as he body-boarded.

The type of shark involved and other details of the latest death were under investigation.

Death by shark attack is rare. An average of 65 shark attacks occur each year around the world that typically result in two or three deaths, according to the Pew Environment Group.

The Air Force said Solorio was not affiliated with the base, which allows public access to some of its beaches. All beaches on the base's coastline will be closed for at least 72 hours as a precaution, Col. Nina Armagno said.

No shark warning signs were posted Tuesday at Surf Beach, said Lt. Erik Raney. Beaches don't typically post such notices unless the location had a recent shark sighting, he said.

"We've had shark sightings up and down the Santa Barbara coastline pretty frequently recently," said Raney, adding that the sightings are publicized.

Friends said Solorio had ridden the waves off the Vandenberg beach since he was a young boy.

"He was a really good surfer," friend Nathan Winkles told KEYT-TV in Santa Barbara.

Last month, warning signs were posted at Santa Barbara Harbor, about 65 miles southeast of Surf Beach, after a 14-foot great white shark was spotted by a surfer.

In July, a man escaped injury near Santa Cruz after being thrown from his kayak by a great white shark that bit through the vessel. An almost identical incident occurred off the coast of Cambria in May.

Hundreds of miles south near the coast of San Diego, a 15-foot great white shark is believed to have killed triathlete David Martin in 2008.

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Arctic could wreak havoc on Florida's weather


Arctic could wreak havoc on Florida's weather

This Sept. 16, 2012, image released by NASA shows the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic, at center in white, and the 1979 to 2000 average extent for the day shown, with the yellow line. Scientists say sea ice in the Arctic shrank to an all-time low of 1.32 million square miles on Sept. 16(AP Photo/U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center, File)

By Kate Spinner
Herald Tribune

Forecasters say winter in Florida and along the southeastern U.S. coast will be wetter and a tad cooler than normal, but an unprecedented loss of Arctic sea ice this fall could wreak havoc with that prediction.

The experts made almost the same long-range forecast three years ago, based on Pacific Ocean temperatures similar to those expected to develop this year. But instead of a mild chill, Florida got record-breaking cold weather that winter.

If such extremely cold weather hits Florida again this winter, some scientists say the blame may lie nearly 3,000 miles away — in the Arctic Ocean. Sea ice there dropped to its lowest level ever recorded in September, shattering the previous mark set in 2007 by 16 percent.

Many climate scientists see a link between shrinking ice and unusual weather patterns that force Arctic air south instead of east for prolonged periods. The change can bring long-lasting winter weather extremes that cause droughts, floods and brutally long cold snaps.

But there is one big catch.

Although climate scientists expect Arctic air to venture south, they can't say where. Florida might even end up warmer than normal.

"We're not sure where the crazy stuff is going to set up," said Jennifer Francis, a research professor at Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences.

When sea ice shrinks, the Arctic can become warmer than normal, reducing the temperature difference between the North Pole and the equator. The temperature difference powers the jet stream — the river of air that drives weather around the globe. Without as much power, the jet stream meanders farther south than normal and can stay there for months.

"According to what our research has shown, the type of weather patterns that set up this fall should be more slow moving. They should stick around longer," Rutger's Francis said.

Unlike sea ice, the weather pattern called El Niño — caused by warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific — has predictable effects on winter weather.

El Niño is predicted to take hold this winter, which usually causes the jet stream to push stronger rain and snow storms, and cooler air, farther south over the Eastern U.S. and Florida. That is the main reason forecasters are predicting a wetter and slightly cooler winter for Florida.

But sea ice measurements only go back to 1979, and scientists don't yet see a definitive link between less Arctic sea ice and extreme cold in any particular place.

"There's not a lot of sustained evidence that it's consistently changing things from year to year," said Paul Pastelok, head of long-range forecasting for Accuweather.com.

Pastelok acknowledges that the sea ice loss could throw a wrench in the forecast. He expects to see more extreme weather during winters that follow extremely low September sea ice coverage.

"My gut feeling is that it will have some impact," Pastelok said.

The federal Climate Prediction Center also predicted a cooler and wetter Florida winter this year, but they did not have much confidence in their forecast Thursday. Their uncertainty stemmed from mixed signals over whether El Nino would form in time to affect winter weather.

The loss of Artic Ocean ice is likely to have some effect on weather if only because the ocean absorbed so much heat.

Ice reflects 80 percent of heat energy from the sun back into the atmosphere. Without the ice, the ocean absorbs 90 percent of that heat.

That heat has to go somewhere, explains Arctic climate scientist Julienne Stroeve, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Sea ice was at its minimum coverage area on Sept. 16 before beginning to expand with the colder weather.

Once the ocean begins to freeze, the heat it absorbed is released into the atmosphere, creating an overall warmer Arctic.

It is that extra warmth that scientists say will shift weather patterns.

Francis said that due to the retreating ice, the ocean absorbed enough heat energy from the sun to meet U.S. energy demands for 26 years.

"It's just an amazing amount of energy, so it's really not a little thing at all," Francis said.

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Whale Racket: Sounding out How Loud the Oceans Were from Whale Vocalizing Prior


Woods Hole, MA — Concern is growing that human-generated noise in the ocean disrupts marine animals that rely on sound for communication and navigation. In the modern ocean, the background noise can be ten times louder than it was just 50 years ago. But new modeling based on recently published data suggests that 200 years ago -- prior to the industrial whaling era -- the ocean was even louder than today due to the various sounds whales make.

California researchers Michael Stocker and Tom Reuterdahl of Ocean Conservation Research in Lagunitas, Calif., present their findings at the 164th meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), held Oct. 22 -- 26 in Kansas City, Missouri. Using historic population estimates, the researchers assigned "sound generation values" to the species for which they had good vocalization data. "In one example, 350,000 fin whales in the North Atlantic may have contributed 126 decibels -- about as loud as a rock concert -- to the ocean ambient sound level in the early 19th century," Stocker notes. This noise would have been emitted at a frequency from 18 -- 22 hertz.

According to the researchers, use of whaling records to determine just how many whales were harvested from the ocean over the course of industrialized whaling is difficult because the captains were taxed on their catch and therefore had an incentive to "fudge" the numbers. Some captains kept two sets of books. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the real reports began surfacing. In one example the Soviets initially reported taking approximately 2,710 humpback whales from the late 1950s to the mid-1960s. The newer data reveal the actual number was closer to 48,000.

This more accurate data was supported by population estimates using mitochondrial DNA, which does not change through female lines of a species. Thus the current diversity in DNA can serve as a proxy for historic population numbers.

While their estimates suggest there was a whole lot of whale racket a couple centuries ago, Stocker says "we can assume that animals have adapted to biological noise over the eons, which may not be the case with anthropogenic noise. Anthropogenic noise is often broader band and differently textured than natural noise, so the impacts are likely different as well. Investigating these differences and their impact on marine life is the topic of intense research."

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The algae's toxins already are taking a toll on marine life. Jason Lenes, research associate with the University of South Florida's Center for Prediction of Red Tides, said dead fish are littering beaches from Sarasota south.

"Right now, we have a bloom that's pretty substantial in size," he said, "with the concentration as far north as Pinellas, but mostly it's off the coast from Sarasota to Charlotte Harbor."

He compared this year's [2012] version to the 2006 bloom. The red tide in 2005 was record setting, lasting from January that year to February the following year [2006].

Red tide can make it into Tampa Bay, but that usually does not happen because of tidal flow and currents at the mouth of the Bay, he said.

Scientists are unsure about the causes of red tide, scientifically known as _Karenia brevis_. They know that blooms begin 30 to 40 miles
[48-64 km] offshore as a natural occurrence. Typically, they stay there, unless winds and currents drive them toward shore.

Biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Research Institute also are keeping an eye on the bloom that was detected this past week. The concentrations ranged from trace to medium, with the highest concentrations found at Cabbage Key in the Pine Island Sound area of Lee County.( and now Collier County)

A 10-year study completed last year [2011] found that red tide algae contains at least 12 different toxins that can be harmful to people.
It also discovered an antitoxin in red tide that currently is being used to develop a drug to fight cystic fibrosis.

Communicated by:
ProMED-mail from HealthMap alerts

[Red tide or harmful algal blooms (HABs) are events in which single-celled protists, dinoflagellates, proliferate rapidly and accumulate in the water column. These events are associated with wildlife mortalities, because under certain circumstances these organisms can produce potent toxins. Normally these toxins enter the food web when they are consumed by filter feeding animals, such as clams, oysters, mussels, in which the toxins bioaccumulate. _Karenia brevis_ is a marine dinoflagellate common in Gulf of Mexico waters, and is the organism responsible for Florida red tides. The toxin it produces is called brevetoxin, which can cause neurotoxic shellfish poisoning.

People should avoid consuming marine animals that accumulate the toxins, such as hard-shell clams, soft-shell clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops.

For an image of the dinoflagellate go to <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a0/Karenia_brevis.jpg>.

The state of Florida can be located on the HealthMap/ProMED-mail interactive map at <http://healthmap.org/r/1AYs>. A Florida county map can be seen at <http://www.digital-topo-maps.com/county-map/florida.shtml>. - Mod.PMB]

[see also:
Red tide, shellfish - USA (02): (WA) clarification 20120926.1309673 Red tide, shellfish - USA: (WA) 20120916.1295932 Red tide, fish - USA (02): (TX) 20120817.1249584 Red tide, redhead ducks - USA (02): (TX) comment 20120228.1055491 Red tide, redhead ducks - USA: (TX) 20120226.1053079 Red tide, double crested cormorants - USA: (TX) 20120211.1039575 Red tide, fish - USA: (FL) bird, turtle 20120116.1011990
Red tide, fish - USA (04): (FL) 20111231.3720 Red tide, shellfish - USA (02): (TX) oyster 20111216.3608 Red tide, fish - USA (03): (FL) 20111202.3513 Red tide, fish - USA (02): (TX) 20111104.3283 Red tide, fish - USA: (TX) 20111026.3180 Red tide, shellfish - USA: (MA) alert 20110506.1400 2010
Paralytic shellfish poisoning - USA: (ME) warning 20100714.2353] .................................................sb/pmb/mj/jw/ll
ProMED-mail makes every effort to verify the reports that are posted, but the accuracy and completeness of the
information, and of any statements or opinions based
thereon, are not guaranteed. The reader assumes all risks in
using information posted or archived by ProMED-mail. ISID
and its associated service providers shall not be held responsible for errors or omissions or held liable for any damages incurred as a result of use or reliance upon posted or archived material.

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Stalking sea mammals in Langkawi


Shah Alam, MALAYSIA - Marine biologist Dr Louisa Ponnampalam is `living her dream', studying marine mammals. Biologists are collecting data on cetaceans in Langkawi in a bid to understand how best to protect them.

WHENEVER Langkawi is mentioned, it usually conjures up images of sandy beaches, rainforests, waterfalls, mangroves and duty-free shopping. Few visitors realise that the waters around Langkawi's 104 islands are home to dolphins, porpoises and even whales.

Marine biologist Dr Louisa Ponnampalam, co-founder of the MareCet Research Organisation which is involved in marine mammal research, hopes that this will change and is working hard to increase awareness and collect data about marine mammals in the island off Kedah.

"If we can do good research here in Langkawi, then we can start to think about starting similar research projects in places like Penang and Perak," she says.

Last month, she conducted a week-long survey of marine mammals with volunteers and members of Langkawi Dolphin Research, a project of MareCet. The organisation derives its name from the Latin mare – meaning sea – and a contraction of the word cetacean, which is the collective noun for whales, dolphins and porpoises. As the name suggests, these are the animals that are the object of Ponnampalam's study.

"We've been doing this since 2010. The more data we collect, the more we will know about the habits of these mammals in their natural environment. We can use this knowledge to understand how best to protect them."

Some of the data gathered during the field trip includes new information on the distribution of marine mammals around Langkawi, including estimates of group size and the movement and abundance of these groups. By comparing photos from previous field trips, Ponnampalam has shown that some individual humpback dolphins seem to prefer certain sites around Langkawi, while others tend to move around the archipelago a bit more.

When asked why the organisation chose to focus on Langkawi, she replies: "We had already heard of quite a few sightings in Langkawi, so we knew there were marine mammals here, but there was no reliable data to say exactly how many and of what species. Since Langkawi is one of Malaysia's top tourism destinations, we felt it important to understand the dynamics of how land-based and water-based human activities may be affecting the animals and their marine environment. The fact that Langkawi is easily accessible compared to the islands on the east coast of the peninsula makes a difference, too."

As well as spending time at sea looking for cetaceans, members of MareCet are also actively involved in establishing a dialogue with local fishermen who are also an important source of first-hand information about the presence and behaviour of marine mammals. MareCet provides guidelines to them on safe fishing practices, particularly the types of nets and hooks to be used to avoid injuring or killing marine mammals. Their website also provides advice for tourism operators, which include not allowing anyone to feed, touch or swim with the animals.

Ponnampalam is a dynamic young woman who clearly has the dedication and drive necessary for her chosen career.

"This is what I've always wanted to do," she says. "I am living my dream. When I was 13, I told everyone that I would go to Hawaii and study to become a marine biologist and that I would set up my own research facility back in Malaysia. I haven't quite achieved the second part yet, but MareCet is a starting point."

Although she studied in Hawaii and Scotland and did research for her PhD in Oman, she always planned on returning to Malaysia. "I love to travel, but Malaysia is my home. And the marine mammals here are begging to be studied. Marine biology is still very young in Malaysia. Compared to other countries, there is still a lot to do here. That makes it exciting to be a marine biologist in Malaysia. In a way, we are pioneers."

During last month's survey, the group sighted Indo-Pacific finless porpoises, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and Bryde's whales around Langkawi as well as Irrawaddy dolphins close to Kuala Perlis. Group sizes for the dolphins and porpoises ranged from one to 150 individuals but for whales, only one or two were seen at a time.

I was lucky enough to be invited to join the survey team on two of their field trips. Both days, we set off before 7am and did not get back until 10pm. Most of that time was spent out on the water.

"It's a reality check for some of the young students who are considering a career in marine biology," says Ponnampalam. "My friends say, `Oh, you're so lucky to go out on the boat' but they don't see the long hours we put in. Not everyone is willing, or able, to spend time in such basic conditions, or eat peanut butter sandwiches every day," she says with a laugh.

Most of her days on board are spent in a high seat that reminds me of a tennis umpire's chair. From that vantage point, there is a greater field of vision, but it is exhausting to keep watching the waves for any sign of movement in the water. Every wave and shadow makes you wonder if something is there.

The first morning, after barely half an hour out of Kuah harbour, we spot something. The boat idles to a halt. The silence ringing in my ears after the engine cuts out is soon replaced by the splash of waves against the fibreglass hull of the boat.

"Indo-Pacific finless porpoise – three, possibly five," calls out Ponnampalam from her perch, looking through a pair of binoculars. This information is noted down, along with the GPS coordinates. Visibility and wave swell height according to the Beaufort scale are jotted down as well and we take measurements of depth, water temperature, salinity, level of dissolved oxygen and the presence of any other boats in the vicinity. All this raw data will be fed into a computer at the end of the day and will provide Ponnampalam with plenty of work at her post in the Institute of Ocean and Earth Sciences in Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur.

"We've seen large groups of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins during this trip and they appear to consist mainly of mother-calf pairs, perhaps a strategy of `safety in numbers'. We also observed very high-energy social and sexual activity in the groups of humpback dolphins that we encountered."

This year, another boat has joined in the survey. Dr Satoko Kimura of Nagoya University in Japan is an acoustics specialist conducting research on freshwater ñnless porpoises found in the Yangtze River in China and has come to Langkawi to further her research.

"We are very lucky that she can join us on this field trip," says Ponnampalam. "It's the first time that we are using acoustic methods to study dolphins in Malaysia."

I join Kimura's boat in the afternoon. The skipper is a sleepy fisherman who spends his nights fishing for squid. I help Kimura keep him awake, but occasionally he falls asleep and the boat steers wildly off course. Her boat travels more slowly than the lead boat and trails a long cable with specially designed microphones attached.

"Dolphins and porpoises make sounds all the time," says Kimura. "If there is poor visibility, they use sounds to let each other know where they are. They communicate in very high-frequency sounds that humans cannot hear. We can hear 16-20 hertz but Yangtze finless porpoises can hear up to 125 hertz."

There are two NBHF (Narrow-Band High-Frequency) units on the cable, each with two microphones. Analysing the sounds by triangulation can give the precise location of a mammal and, in a small group, give an idea of the number of individuals present. This data will later be compared to Ponnampalam's visual sightings.

"Maybe she can see two or three dolphins but the acoustic readings can sometimes show that there were more individuals below the surface. This gives us more accurate data," says Kimura.

Other than the few porpoises in the morning, we don't see anything else for the rest of the day. The steady hypnotic hum of the boat engine and the rocking of the waves conspire to lull me to sleep. I wake to find that the wind has picked up. White crests are zipping across the peaks of the waves as the weather hovers between three and four on the Beaufort scale.

GPS coordinates have been pre-set and we follow invisible transect lines along the sea, ranging from almost all the way south to Pulau Payar, where fishing trawlers hover just beyond the border of the designated marine park, close to Kuala Perlis in the north, just a couple of nautical miles shy of the border with Thailand. It is dark by the time we return to Kuah harbour.

The following evening, Ponnampalam tells me that the team sighted 152 Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. This was something I really wanted to see, so I joined the team again the following day in the hopes of sighting something similar. This time, the transect lines were shorter and ranged more to the south of Langkawi, skirting Pulau Tuba, Pulau Dayang Bunting and dozens of smaller islands with isolated empty beaches and interesting rock formations. I discovered parts of Langkawi that I had never seen before, well off the paths of the standard island-hopping tours that are so popular with the island's visitors.

I was travelling in Kimura's boat. Ponnampalam and her team had reached the end of the line and were waiting for us to arrive. Suddenly everyone was standing up and pointing at something in the water. I saw see a few ripples, but couldn't tell what it was.

"A whale shark," shouts Ponnampalam excitedly. I took from her demeanour that this was something quite exceptional.

Our boatman took us in a bit closer to the ripples, but I still couldn't see anything except the reflected glare off the surface of the water. Then suddenly it was there right beside our boat, barely a metre beneath the surface. I was stunned by the size of it – almost as long as our boat and more than big enough to overturn us if it should so wish, but the whale shark seemed content to let us admire the rows of star-like patterns on its back and give us the time to snap a few photos. The whale shark is the world's biggest fish and can measure up to 14m. The creature we spotted is roughly half that size.

After a few minutes, it dived deeper and then the surface ripples appeared further out. The boatmen turned their boats and we headed back towards the main island.

"According to local fishermen, they are found near Langkawi from September to February," says Ponnampalam .

The following day, the MareCet team made two more whale shark sightings in addition to all the other data gathered over the week.

Malaysia is a maritime nation and a fish-eating nation. It depends on the health of its waters to feed its population and maintain its fisheries. In order to protect its maritime assets, more has to be understood about these complex ecosystems and that requires dedicated researchers like Ponnampalam and her team and the facilities necessary to do their work.

"I hope that we can raise awareness of the importance of marine conservation in Malaysia and that the work we are doing will someday materialise into a permanent research facility here in Langkawi," says Ponnampalam.

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Biologists Record Increasing Amounts of Plastic Litter in the Arctic Deep Sea


Berlin, DE (Germany) — The sea bed in the Arctic deep sea is increasingly strewn with litter and plastic waste, according to researchers.

The study is published in the advance online publication of the scientific journal Marine Pollution Bulletin by Dr. Melanie Bergmann, biologist and deep-sea expert at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in the Helmholtz Association. The quantities of waste observed at the AWI deep-sea observatory HAUSGARTEN are even higher than those found in a deep-sea canyon near the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

For this study Dr. Melanie Bergmann examined some 2100 seafloor photographs taken near HAUSGARTEN, the deep-sea observatory of the Alfred Wegener Institute in the eastern Fram Strait. This is the sea route between Greenland and the Norwegian island Spitsbergen. "The study was prompted by a gut feeling. When looking through our images I got the impression that plastic bags and other litter on the seafloor were seen more frequently in photos from 2011 than in those dating back to earlier years. For this reason I decided to go systematically through all photos from 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2011," Melanie Bergmann explains.

The deep-sea scientists from the HGF-MPG Group for Deep-Sea Ecology and Technology of the Alfred Wegener Institute regularly deploy their towed camera system OFOS (Ocean Floor Observation System) during Polarstern expeditions to the HAUSGARTEN. At the central HAUSGARTEN station it is towed at a water depth of 2500 metres, 1.5 metres above the sea bed, and takes a photograph every 30 seconds. Deep-sea biologists principally use these photographs to document changes in biodiversity with respect to larger inhabitants such as sea cucumbers, sea lilies, sponges, fish and shrimps.

However, for Melanie Bergmann they also provided evidence of increasing deep-sea pollution: "Waste can be seen in around one percent of the images from 2002, primarily plastic. In the images from 2011 we made the same discovery on around two percent of the footage. The quantity of waste on the sea bed has therefore doubled," the scientist says. If we consider the time span between 2007 and 2011 the amount has even risen by an order of magnitude.

At first sight, the "two percent" result may not cause much concern. However a comparison demonstrates the true extent of the pollution in the Arctic deep sea: "The Arctic Ocean and especially its deep-sea areas have long been considered to be the most remote and secluded regions of our planet. Unfortunately, our results refute this notion at least for our observatory. The quantities observed were higher than those recorded from a deep-sea canyon not far from the industrialised Portuguese capital Lisbon," Melanie Bergmann explains. It is also important to bear in mind that, according to recent research, more plastic waste will accumulate in deep-sea canyons than in open slope environments such as HAUSGARTEN.

Melanie Bergmann is unable to determine the origin of litter from photographs alone. However she suspects that the shrinking and thinning of the Arctic sea ice may play an important role. "The Arctic sea ice cover normally acts as a natural barrier, preventing wind blowing waste from land out onto the sea, and blocking the path of most ships. Ship traffic has increased enormously since the ice cover has been continuously shrinking and getting thinner. We are now seeing three times the number of private yachts and up to 36 times more fishing vessels in the waters surrounding Spitsbergen compared to pre-2007 times," Melanie Bergmann says. Furthermore, litter counts made during annual clean-ups of the beaches of Spitsbergen have shown that the litter washed up there originates primarily from fisheries.

The main victims of the increasing contamination of the seafloor are the deep-sea inhabitants. "Almost 70 percent of the plastic litter that we recorded had come into some kind of contact with deep-sea organisms. For example we found plastic bags entangled in sponges, sea anemones settling on pieces of plastic or rope, cardboard and a beer bottle colonised by sea lilies," Melanie Bergmann says.

When sponges or other suspension feeders come into contact with plastic, this may cause injuries to the surface of their body. The consequence: the inhabitants of the sea bed are able to absorb fewer food particles, grow more slowly as a result, and probably reproduce less often. Breathing could also be impaired. Furthermore, plastic always contains chemical additives, which have various toxic effects. "Other studies have also revealed that plastic bags that sink to the seafloor can alter the gas exchange processes in this area.

The sediment below then becomes a low oxygen zone, in which only few organisms survive," Melanie Bergmann says. On the other hand, other animals use the waste as hard substratum to settle on. "This allows colonisation by species that previously would have found hardly any suitable substratum. This means that the waste could change the deep-sea composition of species and therefore biodiversity in the long-term," the researcher adds.

In view of the far-reaching climate changes in the Arctic, Melanie Bergmann and colleagues want to expand their research projects on "litter in the sea": "Until now our results from the Fram Strait merely constitute a snapshot, reflecting the observations that we were able to make with the naked eye," the scientist explains. For example, the focus is currently moving to the question of deep-sea pollution resulting from so-called micro-plastic particles. "We took samples for the first time during the last expedition with our research ice breaker POLARSTERN to the HAUSGARTEN observatory. Our AWI colleagues from Helgoland will analyse them for micro-plastics," says Melanie Bergmann. Micro-plastics can be ingested by marine animals including commercially harvested prawns and fish and enter the human food chain.

During this expedition Belgian mammal and bird observers also counted 32 pieces of litter floating at the water surface. The probability of researchers finding more litter on the deep ocean floor is therefore great. Melanie Bergmann: "Pieces of plastic on the deep seafloor are unlikely to degrade into micro-plastics as quickly as is the case on the North Sea coast, for example. This is due to the lack both of sunlight at a depth below 200 metres and of strong water movement. Instead it is dark and cold there. Under these conditions plastic waste can probably persist for centuries."

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] Whale with a human voice emerges after 30 years


(I find Ridgway's final comment infuriating. – Mod. MB)

Whales have been observed mimicking human voices. But would they ever be able to speak?

By Jennifer Viegas
Mon Oct 22, 2012 12:00 PM ET

Long periods of human contact have led whales to mimic the vocal sounds of their caretakers. Click to enlarge this image.
Corbis Images
Certain whales can imitate the voices of humans, according to a new paper that highlights the vocal mimicry skills of one whale in particular.

The marine mammal, a white whale named NOC, copied the sound of people so well that at first, researchers thought they were hearing humans conversing in the distance. A diver who worked with NOC once even left the water, wondering, "Who told me to get out?" The voice turned out to be that of NOC.

"They are highly vocal animals," lead author Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation told Discovery News, adding that NOC was not the first to copy human speech.

"A major instance occurred at Vancouver Aquarium in 1979," he said. "In that case, people thought the whale uttered his name ("Lagosi") and other sounds that were like garbled German or Russian. Our whale was the second example, however, ours was the first solid demonstration using acoustic analysis including 'voice print' simultaneously with human speech."

The study, described in the latest issue of Current Biology, revealed an amplitude rhythm in NOC's vocalizations that was comparable to human speech. Fundamental frequencies in the whale's vocalizations were also in the same range of human speech and were several octaves lower than the whale's usual sounds.

Ridgway said NOC spent long periods in close contact with humans, listening to them from both above and below the surface.

"The whale often heard divers talking over underwater communication equipment," he continued. "I think that vocal animals like feedback. Perhaps this figured in his motivation."

NOC also went to a lot of trouble to make the sounds. The researchers explain that the whale had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole.

NOC, who unfortunately passed away after 30 years at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, stopped making the human speech-like sounds after the age of 3 or 4 years old, Ridgway said. At the time, Ridgway presented the news at a scientific conference, but the work was not funded and became lost in the research shuffle until more recently, when colleagues encouraged him to publish the data.

There are a few possibilities as to why NOC stopped his human vocal mimicry while still a youngster.

The first is that hormonal changes related to sexual maturity may diminish a whale's urges to mimic. Another possible reason is that the novelty might have simply worn off for NOC.

Ridgway explained that "we trained the whale to interact with us acoustically for hearing test and for reaction time determinations, among other things. For this new work, the whale was responding to us vocally. These responses may have limited his interest in the human speech-like sounds."

William Schevill, now deceased, of Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology, was the first to document spontaneous human voice mimicry in a white whale. Schevill and colleague Barbara Lawrence noted that "occasionally the calls would suggest a crowd of children shouting in the distance."

The findings open up the possibility of teaching white whales how to speak, but that effort might not be worthwhile, Ridgway suggests.

"They readily learn," he said. "I think they could be taught many sounds. I do not know that teaching speech would be scientifically worthwhile."

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[MARINE_BIOLOGY_INTERNATIONAL] A Whale With a Distinctly Human-Like Voice


Maryland Heights, MO — For the first time, researchers have been able to show by acoustic analysis that whales -- or at least one very special white whale -- can imitate the voices of humans. That's a surprise, because whales typically produce sounds in a manner that is wholly different from humans, say researchers who report their findings in the October 23 issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

"Our observations suggest that the whale had to modify its vocal mechanics in order to make the speech-like sounds," said Sam Ridgway of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. "Such obvious effort suggests motivation for contact."

It all started in 1984 when Ridgway and others began to notice some unusual sounds in the vicinity of the whale and dolphin enclosure. As they describe it, it sounded as though two people were conversing in the distance, just out of range of their understanding.

Those unusually familiar sounds were traced back to one white whale in particular only some time later when a diver surfaced from the whale enclosure to ask his colleagues an odd question: "Who told me to get out?"

They deduced that those utterances came from a most surprising source: a white whale by the name of NOC. That whale had lived among dolphins and other white whales and had often been in the presence of humans.

In fact, there had been other anecdotal reports of whales sounding like humans before, but in this case Ridgway's team wanted to capture some real evidence. They recorded the whale's sounds to reveal a rhythm similar to human speech and fundamental frequencies several octaves lower than typical whale sounds, much closer to that of the human voice.

"Whale voice prints were similar to human voice and unlike the whale's usual sounds," Ridgway said. "The sounds we heard were clearly an example of vocal learning by the white whale."

That's all the more remarkable because whales make sounds via their nasal tract, not in the larynx as humans do. To make those human-like sounds, NOC had to vary the pressure in his nasal tract while making other muscular adjustments and inflating the vestibular sac in his blowhole, the researchers found. In other words, it wasn't easy.

Sadly, after 30 years at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, NOC passed away five years ago. But the sound of his voice lives on.

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