Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Predator Squid Feasting On Fish-Sharks

Filmmaker and show host Scott Cassel with the Undersea Voyager Project has long hypothesized that the wholesale collapse of the shark populations in both Mexico and along the west coast of the USA has lead to a veritable oceanic plague of giant squids.

His theory is bearing fruit, as untold numbers of these super predators are being found as far north as Oregon in population densities never before seen. As Scott recently told us "these animals breed at a rate of millions, if you take their primary predator out of the loop, they will explode on to the scene and dominate the niche the sharks vanished from".

Scott has a way of being right about his observations on the ocean:

BODEGA BAY, Calif. (CBS) In Mexico, they are called the "red devil" and "the beast" in Central America. They are jumbo squid: deadly, fast moving creatures with tentacles that can suck the life out of a human being.

The squid are devouring parts of large populations of native fish in Northern California.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute has been tracking the population explosion of the squid. In just a few years, they have gone from occasional visitor to numbering possibly in the hundreds of thousands.

"It's a stout, very muscular animal, very high speed, excellent vision," said Karl Menard of the Bodega Bay Research Laboratory. "They are called the jumbo flying squid for a reason. They can actually leap out of the water and project themselves into the air into schools of nearby fish.

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Blowfish testicles poison seven in Japan

O.K, so we just finished a post about why direct action campaigns against cultural food items are most often ineffective.

Then there's the curious case of this food item which, by the looks of things, is allowing the blowfish population off the coast of Japan to remain intact:

Blowfish testicles have left seven Japanese ill, one critically, renewing public fears over the dangerous delicacy.The group ate raw meat and baked testes of blowfish - known in Japan as fugu - at an upscale restaurant on Monday in Tsuruoka, an old castle town 350 kilometres north of Tokyo.

They were treated at a hospital for numbness in the hands and legs and other symptoms. One of them was in a critical condition yesterday.

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Keeping and Eye on the "Moveable Feast"

Something for all you natural predation people out there. Local California white shark hotspot, Ano Nuevo, has installed high definition Elephant Seal Cams on it's island.

As part of a HD failed venture to bring 24/7 wildlife programming to the world the camera system will allow the public and researchers to monitor these ungainly critters from the comfort of your desktop (ours is running right now).

For the shark world, you just may catch a natural predation, if you are lucky.

"I know how much positive correspondence we get from people all around the world who are absolutely captivated by the video. In New York, people said they would leave the video running on their desktop day in and day out because it was so refreshing to hear the sound of the elephant seals chattering," said Alan Friedman, chief information officer for California State Parks.

Click here for HD Seal Cam and good hunting!

Image:Lucky E-seal Isla Guadalupe survives shark attack. RTSea image

David McGuire, Filmmaker, Activist, Thinker

This morning David McGuire posted an excellent and very well thought out look into the pitfalls of direct action animal campaigns when the greatest divide is cultural.

To distill this thought down, imagine 22 Chinese Americans waving protest signs outside a McDonalds directed at the predominately white customers inside. "Meat is murder" "Cows are killed inhumanely for this meat". You begin to see why this divide becomes almost impossible to bridge while the salient fact of whites telling Asians what they should and should not eat remains on the table for discussion.

That's not to say it cannot be done. Following the masters of the game WildAid and their campaign strategy of mass communication with members of the Asian community is effective. The subtext here is campaign effectiveness:

Having briefly observed and filmed the Chinese Flower Parade kicking of the New Year in San Francisco, I was amazed at the colors, smells and richness of the Chinese community. San Francisco has the largest Chinese Community in the USA, and a walk down Stockton Avenue is a walk into Asia.

A demonstration by the Shark Safe Project and aided by COARE approached shark fin soup restaurants and came out on the streets passing out information, but the shark activists were overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of Chinese Americans flooding the narrow streets of Chinatown. Most passersby appeared indifferent, a few were angry, most just passed on without making eye contact. Even so, a hard core group of activists, many from out of the area gathered to pass out information for sharks.

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Goblin girl on... red list assessments.

Now I'm back at home after a meeting with my fellow "fish geeks"- or as we more officially are called "the expertgroup on fishes". We are 7-8 biologists who currently works on an update of the Swedish red list for 2010. There are national red lists around the world as well as a global red list following guidelines from IUCN (= the International Union for Conservation of Nature). The red list list both commercial and non commercial species and the system is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction.

I've been a member since before the update in 2005 and I must say that it isn't easy to do these assessments. We use all data we can find from surveys, landing data from fisheries and other sources, but the red list works best for animals on the savannah! We can't say that there are exactly 253641 spiny dogfish left in our waters and that last year it was 398526. We are not even totally sure that there is just one population of spiny dogfish in the NE Atlantic! Still, the spiny dogfish is one of the few elasmobranch species that we at least have SOME data on. For many of the skates and rays we don't have a clue of age for sexual maturity (which means that we don't know the generation time which is an important factor in the assessment) and we lack landing data specified down to species. All we know is that they are probably late in getting in mature and long lived.

Ever since I made my masters thesis on spiny dogfish (back in 1997) I have tried to make my colleagues set a quota on it in our waters. I mean, an animal that is 12 - 14 years old when it becomes sexual mature and that carries it's pups for 18-20 months (!), can't possibly tolerate a heavy fishing pressure. But since we are part of the European community, we have had to wait until EU finally set a - much to high - quota in 2007. In 2003 came a report most commonly referred to as DELASS (=Development of Elasmobranch Assessments). After having analyzed data and made several models, the conclusion of the report was that in 25 years the population of spiny dogfish in the NE Atlantic might have been fished down with as much as 95-98 %!

With this knowledge, the spiny dogfish was listed as EN (endangerd) on Swedens red list for 2005. The IUCN shark specialist group held a workshop for the NE Atlantic elasmobranchs in 2006 where spiny dogfish got listed under the highest criteria CR (critically endangered). (See figure below for explantions.)

We do these assessments to point out to those responsible that action needs to be taken, but it's not legally binding. The ideal situation is that the red list is blank - that all species are sustainably exploited or not threatend by habitat destruction etc. For some species, the situation is getting better after their debut on the red list, but for sharks action is very slow. Therefore we need people like you, reading this, to take action. Sign that petition, send an e-mail to that shop selling shark products or to a politician that has some power or make an activity celebrating the International year of the shark. Tell everyone that it's not ok to exterminate the sharks!

I'm VERY sad to say that it seems like the spiny dogfish will be listed on CR on the Swedish redlist for 2010. I've done everything I could to change it's dire situation. And it wasn't enough!