Posts Tagged Dolphins

Jun 13 2017

Trump administration overturns rule limiting by-catch of whales, sea turtles and dolphins

The Trump administration decided Monday to withdraw an Obama-era rule limiting the number of whales, sea turtles and dolphins inadvertently caught in nets used by sword fishermen.

At first glance, the decision by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appears to be part of a pattern by administration officials of overturning or delaying rules that are deemed too burdensome on industry. Federal officials say they moved to scrap the rule based in part on how costly the new rule would have been to fishermen. But they also say it was redundant and not backed by science.

The rule, which was still in the process of being developed, would have set firm limits on the number of sea turtles, whales and dolphins that could be accidentally snared in drift nets. If more than two to four animals became entangled, the entire West Coast sword fishery would be shut down for up to two years.

Part of the problem is the method fishermen use to catch swordfish: long, mesh nets that hang in the water from floats. In the early 1990s, up to 500 dolphins a year were getting tangled in the nets, according to NOAA. Thirty-three beaked whales, so-called because of their long, narrow snouts, got stuck between 1990 and 1996.

In response, California banned drift gillnets in state waters in 1990. Six years later, NOAA convened the Take Reduction Team, a group of scientists, academics, environmentalists and fishermen to try to solve the problem in federal waters.

The team decided fishermen should use “pingers,” baton-like devices that hang from the nets and emit a high-frequency noise only detectable by marine mammals, not fish.

The results were dramatic: after 1996, no beaked whales got stuck. In 2015, less than 50 dolphins were entangled. The numbers declined for other species, too.

But the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is a similar stakeholder group to the Take Reduction Team and makes fishery management recommendations to NOAA, wanted to go further. The group, which is also made up of a mix of fisherman, scientists, government officials and academics, voted to put into place strict limits on bycatch and recommended NOAA create a new regulation, which the agency began working on in the final months of the Obama administration.

“We should not be killing any” marine mammals, said Geoff Shester, a senior scientist at the advocacy group Oceana, which is not part of the council but supported the proposed rule. He said he was “furious” when he found out NOAA had decided to abandon the rule, especially because it had been crafted with industry support.

“We don’t usually see politics from a high level affect fisheries,” he said. “The fact that this rule was something that came out of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, and was denied, that’s highly unusual.”

But NOAA officials say their decision had nothing to do with politics. Jim Carretta, a research fishery biologist for NOAA in La Jolla, said he was happy to see the rule pulled because he thought the limits that the council set on by-catch were arbitrary.

“They didn’t seem to be informed by the theoretical underpinnings of how marine mammal populations increase and recover,” he said.

He also said the rule was unnecessary, given the progress the Take Reduction Team has had at reducing by-catch.

Finally, he thought the consequence for inadvertently catching just two to four whales, dolphins or sea turtles – the closure of the fishery – was too severe.

“Nobody likes by-catch. No one ever wants to see a dead dolphin. But one always has to put it in the context of the population as a whole,” Carretta said.

In other words, he said if the number of dolphins inadvertently snared isn’t enough to threaten the population as a whole, and allowing fishing will keep fishermen employed, it’s OK.

David Haworth, a sword fisherman from San Diego, agrees. “It upset me they were going to shut down fisheries over one or two marine mammals,” he said. “If we were harming an endangered species, we should not fish, we should shut down.” But the rule, he said, went way beyond that.

Currently, there are just 16 boats that go out each year to catch sword fish – down from over 200 in the 1980s. Haworth says the fish just aren’t there any more — they’ve moved up the coast into areas where sword fishing is even more restricted than it is off the coast of Southern California.

Originally posted:

Oct 1 2015

Dolphins, Pelagic Red Crab, Sun Fish Point to El Nino Coming to Northern California

The subjects of science are often witnessed through microscopes, tiny squiggly things writhing in a petri dish. But last week as a large research boat drifted through the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, science was getting scrutinized through binoculars and even the naked eye.

For the 12th year in a row, researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science, the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuaries were spending 10 days on the ocean outside the Golden Gate Bridge taking a scientific snapshot of ocean life.

“Our goal is to understand how ocean conditions affect food for birds and whales,” said Jaime Jahncke of Point Blue.

Over several days the team collected krill samples, tested for signs of ocean acidification and attempted to lay eyes on as many critters as possible.

“Our sampling effort looks at birds, mammals, krills, boat activity ,” said Jan Roletto, research coordinator for Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

A researcher scans the ocean for seabirds during a recent scientific cruise in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

But this year’s gathering turned-up some unusual phenomenon, which scientists believe are signs of an El Nino year – which draws unusually warm waters to Northern California. For the first time in decades, scientists saw schools of hundreds of common dolphins which aren’t common to the Bay Area, but rather the typically warm waters of Southern California.

“It’s a sign the water is more warm than we normally see,” Roletto said. “And that’s a sign of El Nino.”

Scientists have recorded large pockets of warm water along the West Coast over the last two years – which they’ve affectionally nicknamed “the blob.”

“This year has been particularly interesting,” Jahncke said. “The ocean has been really warm because of ‘the blob.’ ”

During an expedition earlier this summer, the scientists noted fewer krill in the ocean which in turn was driving humpback whales closer to shore near Half Moon Bay and Monterey to seek out fish.

“There are more whales visible from the mainland,” Roletto said. “That’s because that’s where the fish are being concentrated.”

A small fish sits among a sampling of krill collected by researchers during their scientific cruise.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

In addition to dolphins, Roletto said the group spotted other typically warm water creatures venturing north. Sleepy-looking sun fish were seen basking in the waters. And the researchers’ nets pulled up a curious traveler — a small red pelagic crab that normally makes its home near Baja.

“The last time I personally saw in this region red pelagic crabs was in the 1983, 1984 El Nino,” Roletto said.

Roletto said the lack of krill and juvenile rockfish which are normally abundant along the coast was posing hardships on common murres which have been recently turning-up starving and dead on Northern California beaches. Roletto said the young birds count on juvenile rockfish to survive. She pointed out similar die-offs occurred in past El Nino years.

“That’s pretty extreme,” Roletto said, “pretty significant indicator that something is missing in the eco system.”

As part of the research, observers armed with binoculars lined the boat’s upper deck, calling out every bird and mammal along a set swath of ocean near the Farallon Islands. Sea lions, whales and even plain old seagulls became part of a moving record of the area’s life. The results are compared to previous years’ records to help paint a picture of the changing conditions.

A research team hauls in nets designed to collect krill and other small sea creatures in the Gulf of Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo credit: Joe Rosato Jr.

“It’s really interesting because things change from day to day,” said Danielle Lipski of Cordell Bank Marine Sanctuary. “Sometimes we’ll see lots of whales and seabirds and in other areas we won’t.”

Jahncke stared off across the churning waters as the boat bobbed and jibed across rolling swells — when something suddenly caught his eye. In the distance came the telltale blowhole spout of a whale.

“Do you see it?” he said enthusiastically, quickly tapping record of the sighting into his computer. Then he leaned back to appreciate the view, watching as the ocean swallowed the meandering giant.

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