Friday, December 12, 2014

Week in Review: Landmark Study on Plastic Pollution, Deep Sea "Treasure Trove" Discovered, and Much More

1. 270,000 Tons of Plastic Polluting Our Oceans 

The most comprehensive study to date on plastic in the oceans estimates that the oceans now contain more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, collectively weighing nearly 270,000 tons. While large pieces like plastic bags and fishing lines can kill seabirds, seals, and turtles outright, most of these pieces are "micro plastics" measuring less than 5 mm, which are ingested by fish and move up the food chain. Chemicals in the plastics, along with the pollution they attract, cause damage to all species in the food chain - including humans. Read more...


2. Deep Sea "Treasure Trove" Discovered 

Exploratory scientific cruises in Mid-Atlantic submarine canyons have revealed spectacular finds, including forests of unusual corals, endangered fin and sperm whales, sea butterflies and whiplash squid. The discoveries point to rich and vulnerable ecosystems that require further exploration and protection from damage by fishing trawlers. Read more...


3. Ocean Temps Contributing to California Droughts 

It should come as no surprise that the ocean plays a role in weather on land. Researchers at NOAA have identified a pattern of ocean temperatures that may predict the formation of a high-pressure ridge off the California coast that blocks winter rainstorms from moving inland. Read more...


4. Captivity Necessary for Orca Survival, Sea World Claims

Mother Jones has investigated claims on Sea World's website that by keeping orcas in captivity, Sea World "[creates] a controlled setting for science that is impossible to replicate in the wild." This talking point doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Sea World's contribution to scientific study of captive whales has been minimal, and study of orcas in the wild has made big strides. Read more...


5. More Humpback Whales Sighted in NYC Waters

Humpback whales have recently been spotted within a mile of the Rockaway peninsula, part of New York's borough of Queens. In 2012 there were 15 sightings by whale-watching boats; in 2013, 33, and in 2014, 87, with 19 different humpbacks identified. Some think the whales' return is a result of cleaner waters. Read more...


6. Fast-Warming Gulf of Maine a Climate Change "Laboratory"

In the waters off the coast of Maine, invasive green crabs are devastating critical seagrass meadows and the softshell clam harvest. The surge in green crabs in just one sign of changes in the Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than most of the world's oceans, and marine scientists are watching closely. The gulf has become a "living laboratory" for how climate change could affect the rest of the world's marine ecosystems. Read more...


7. Underwater City Proposed by Japanese Firm

A Japanese construction firm has unveiled a plan for a $25 billion deep-sea eco-city that it aims to build by 2030. The concept, called Ocean Spiral, is designed to house 5,000 people and would produce electricity through ocean thermal energy conversion. It would also have fish farms and produce desalinated water using hydraulic pressure. Read more...


8. Sperm Whales Die in Mass Beaching

A pod of seven sperm whales became stranded in shallow waters and died on a South Australia beach this week. An eighth whale was saved after being ushered into deeper waters by officials. Sperm whales, which inhabit deep waters and live in large, tightly knit groups, are among the most susceptible to strandings. Theories for what causes whale strandings remain controversial. Read more...


9. Humpback Calves a Plentiful Food Source for Orcas and Shark Scavengers

A study published in Marine Mammal Science reports that orcas in the waters off Western Australia may prey regularly on humpback whale calves, and that humpback "escorts" help mothers protect their calves from attacks.  Read more...


10. Possible Ambergris Discovered in Wales

A man in Angelsey, Wales, has found what may be ambergris, a rare substance vomited by whales. This solid, waxy, flammable substance, produced in whales' intestines, acquires a sweet scent as it ages and was formerly highly sought after by perfumers. Now it has largely been replaced by synthetics, and its possession and trade is prohibited in the U.S. by the Endangered Species Act. Read more...


11. Sea Ice Studies Give Glimpse of Our Future

A recent study on the historic emergence of ice in the Arctic Ocean offers new insight into urgent climate issues as today's sea ice shrinks. "We have not had an ice free period in the Arctic in 2.6 million years," says one of the study's authors, Jochen Knies. "However, we may see it in our lifetime." The knowledge will improve future climate models and help us understand what kind of climate to expect by the end of this century, when the Arctic is likely to be completely free of ice. Read more...


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Sea Save Foundation is committed to raising awareness of marine conservation. The Week in Review is a team effort produced by the Sea Save staff to provide a weekly summary of the latest in marine research, policy, and news.