Four Dead Sperm Whales Wash Up on British Beaches

Four dead sperm whales have washed up on beaches in eastern England, coastguard authorities said Sunday, a week after similar deaths across the North Sea in Germany and the Netherlands.

They are thought to be from the same pod as a dead whale on Hunstanton beach, 25 kilometres (15 miles) across The Wash bay, which stranded and died on Friday.

That young adult male was part of a group of six in The Wash.

“It is unknown where the rest of the pod are at this stage,” the MCA said Sunday.

The whales are around 15 metres (48 feet) long.

“We believe that the three whales at Skegness died at sea and then washed ashore,” said coastguard Richard Johnson.

“We are advising members of the public to stay away from the beach.

“We have informed the Receiver of Wreck and we are expecting an officer from the Zoological Society of London to attend the scene and carry out tests on the whales.”

Doctor Peter Evans, director of the Seawatch Foundation, said the whales probably swam south looking for food but got disorientated.

He believed they could have been part of a large pod, some of which beached in the Netherlands and Germany.

The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales, and the largest toothed predator.

It can measure up to 20 metres (67 feet) long and weigh over 50 tonnes.

It is 10 years since a northern bottlenose whale swam up the Thames in central London, bringing thousands to the riverbanks to see the extremely rare sight.

The whale died during a rescue attempt on January 21, 2006.

Hundreds of Turtles Found Dead on Beach in India

The Times Of India reports that more than 300 olive ridley turtles have been found dead on Puri Beach in eastern India.

The publication notes that the turtles do on occasion wash up at this time of year, but a mass beaching of this size has people searching for answers.

While the cause of the mass death is not yet certain, initial theories suggest the animals may have been hit by fishing trawlers, the Times reporting that two ships have been seized in the area for illegal fishing.

considered the most abundant sea turtle species, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. Their range includes the tropical portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. Adults can weight about 100 pounds and reach about 2.5 feet long.

When nesting, the turtles gather just off shore and then head for the beach together, in a mass event known as an “arribada” (Spanish for arrival). Females nest once per year and make two trips to deposit up to 100 eggs per visit.

The trawlers were seized because they were in violation of a fishing ban period put in place to accommodate the turtles’ nesting season.

via Discovery news


How cutting-edge technology may save endangered amphibians from hungry trout in Yosemite’s alpine lakes.

A Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog scans the landscape in Yosemite National Park

It used to be hard not to find a Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog underfoot when hiking around Yosemite National Park’s alpine lakes and meadows; it was once the most abundant amphibian in the region. But today, with less than 5 percent of the frog’s former numbers remaining, they’re one of North America’s most endangered amphibians. The recent global spread of the deadly chytrid fungus is partly to blame, but the tale of the yellow-legged frog’s demise begins more than a century ago. This is when park officials—aiming to please anglers—introduced trout to the park’s naturally fishless mountain lakes and streams. The trout ate the tadpoles, and frog numbers plummeted. Oops.

In response, for the past several years, Yosemite has dispatched “killing crews” to cull trout from the park’s high-altitude lakes each summer. These amphibian avengers snag the fish, deliver a death blow, and then chuck the corpses back into the water, where they can decompose without attracting sharp-nosed bears. Once the lakes are deemed fish-free and frog-friendly, park biologists—who stopped stocking trout in 1991—reintroduce the amphibians. So far, they’ve released about 20 adult frogs into two of the seven restored lakes. With the dastardly fish out of the way, the hoppers and many other native creatures, like finches and damselflies, are expected to rapidly return, as they have in other Yosemite lakes where trout naturally died out.

It’s a great strategy, except for one problem: How can park biologists be certain that sneaky anglers don’t restock the voracious fish, or that the swimmers don’t find some other way back into the waters? Enter a CSI-like solution: eDNA.

Caren Goldberg, an ecologist at Washington State University, is knee-deep in the cutting-edge field of environmental DNA, or eDNA. This modern approach to surveying species in freshwater environments takes advantage of the fact that animals leave DNA—from sloughed off skin, feces, or urine—behind in the water. Researchers simply take water samples and then analyze them for eDNA to determine which species are present.

“It has a high power to detect which species are there,” says Goldberg. And the benefits over traditional surveying methods, which can involve extensive field analyses and disturbed habitat, are substantial. “With this approach, you aren’t turning over rocks, or kicking up mud, or searching for well-camouflaged or incredibly rare individual animals. You’re simply taking water samples.”

PHOTO: JESSICA THOMPSONColleen Kamoroff takes a water sample from an alpine lake

Goldberg has used eDNA to look for chinook salmon and invasive New Zealand mud snails in Washington, amphibians in Idaho, and endangered Colombia spotted frogs in Oregon and Idaho.

Of course, like all emerging technologies, eDNA isn’t perfect. A major limitation is that while it’s pretty accurate in detecting if a species is present, it can’t determine exactly how many individuals there are. Furthermore, it’s still unclear if the technique can differentiate between dead animals and live ones. In the case of Yosemite, all that decaying trout at the bottom of the park’s lakes could lead to false positives. Fortunately, Colleen Kamoroff, a grad student advisee of Goldberg’s (and a five-year Yosemite trout-removal veteran), has been on the case.

In January, Kamoroff launched a study to determine how long eDNA from dead fish persists. After sacrificing several goldfish (killing them “kind of choked me up, even though I’ve killed thousands of trout in the Sierras,” she says) and putting them in buckets of water, she tested for eDNA through winter and spring. She found that as the fish degraded, their genetic material became too small to be captured by filters with large pores—filters she could use for testing in the field. Her study also indicated that eDNA sinks over time. “That tells me that if I’m sampling at the surface, as we do, and I find eDNA, then I would think it’s from live fish.”

Armed with this knowledge, Kamoroff spent the summer sampling two dozen lakes in Yosemite and nearby Sequoia Kings Canyon. Using a jury-rigged brake pump for automobiles and coffee mug–size water filters, she took water samples around each lake, one every 130 feet. She tested both trout-free and trout-ridden areas, so she could compare results. By the end of this month, she expects to have analyzed all of her samples and to know if her trout detection tool is one that park biologists can use.

While in the field, Kamoroff got a glimpse of what Yosemite’s alpine lakes probably looked like a century ago. One spot she tested in Sequoia Kings Canyon was “loaded” with yellow-legged frogs. “It was just so great to see what seemed to be a healthy population,” she says. If eDNA helps frogs bounce back, high-altitude hikers may once again have to watch their step.

Article Source: onEarth