Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sea Mammals Find U.S. Safe Harbor

12.04.2013
In 1972, a U.S. Senate committee reported, “Many of the great whales which once populated the oceans have now dwindled to the edge of extinction,” due to commercial hunting.
The committee also worried about how tuna fishing was accidentally killing thousands of dolphins, trapped in fishing gear. And they considered reports about seal hunting and the decline of other mammals, including sea otters and walruses.

In October of that year, Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Four decades later, new research shows that the law is working.

Not only has the act “successfully prevented the extirpation of any marine mammal population in the United States in the forty years since it was enacted,” write UVM conservation biologist Joe Roman and his colleagues in a new report, but also, “the current status of many marine mammal populations is considerably better than in 1972.”

Their study, published online on March 22, in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, shows that population trends for most stocks of these animals remain unknown, but of those stocks that are known, many are increasing.

“At a very fundamental level, the MMPA has accomplished what its framers set out to do,” says co-author Andrew Read, professor of marine biology at Duke University, “to protect individual marine mammals from harm as a result of human activities.”

Restored roles

Some marine mammals, like endangered right whales, continue to be in deep trouble, but other populations “particularly seals and sea lions, have recovered to or near their carrying capacity,” the scientists write.

“We have seen remarkable recoveries of some populations of marine mammals, such as gray seals in New England and sea lions and elephant seals along the Pacific coast,” says Read.

“U.S. waters are pretty compromised with lots of ship traffic and ship strikes, big fisheries, pollution, boat noise, “ Joe Roman says. “And yet it’s safer to be a marine mammal in U.S. waters than elsewhere,” he says, due to the Act’s strong protections against commercial and accidental killing — what the law calls “take” — and its aim to maintain sustainable populations of mammals and their ecological roles in oceans.

“It’s important to evaluate such broad legislation,” says Caitlin Campbell ’12, an Environmental Sciences graduate from UVM’s College of Arts & Sciences, and a co-author on the paper.

“A lot of people think that the hard part was getting it passed through Congress, but in reality you have to make sure that big protective measures like this actually are effective,” she says. “This paper shows that this act is doing its job.”

The research team — Campbell; Joe Roman in UVM’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics; Irit Altman from Boston University; Meagan Dunphy-Daly and Andrew Read from Duke University; and Michael Jasny from the Natural Resources Defense Council — gathered hundreds of data sets from around the world, including from NOAA, Canadian agencies, and the IUCN. Their goal was to get an accurate picture of population levels and trends of more than two hundred stocks of marine mammals from the Pantropical Spotted Dolphin to the West Indian Manatee.

The team concluded that for many of these animals there simply aren't enough data. For seventy-one percent of the stocks they identified, they couldn’t say which way the population was heading, up or down. “There isn’t enough research,” Roman says.

But for the ones they could evaluate, they found that nineteen percent of stocks were increasing, while five percent were stable and only five percent were declining.

Another fundamental conclusion of this research: “stopping harvesting these mammals, stop fisheries bycatch, stop killing them — and many populations bounce back,” says Roman. Marine mammals are long-lived “so it’s going to take decades, maybe longer for populations to rebound,” he says, “but it seems the trends are increasing.”

Beyond whale oil

In 1934, trends were definitely not increasing for right whales, when an international treaty banned hunting these nearly extinguished creatures. But other protections lagged, and by the 1960s many whales and other marine mammals — including some dolphins and seals — faced plummeting populations and the risk of extinction.

Yet in the early 1970s, the U.S. Department of Defense resisted legislation to protect whales and other marine mammals: they relied on sperm whale oil for use as a lubricant in submarines and other military engines, Roman’s team writes.

In one curious part of the complex negotiations at the White House, Lee Talbot, a canny scientist working for Richard Nixon, produced an affidavit from the DuPont Corporation stating that they could produce an artificial lubricant that could do the same job as the whale oil. This helped make the Pentagon more receptive toward whale-protecting legislation. In October 1972, the Marine Mammal Protection Act passed. This victory was also a key step toward the passage of the more forceful (though less ecologically oriented) Endangered Species Act that passed the next year.

Under these two laws, “countless tens of thousands of individual whales, seals, and manatees have been protected from harm since 1972,” the scientists write, “exactly as intended by those who crafted the legislation.”

In 1994, major amendments to the MMPA established a new framework for dealing with interactions between marine mammals and commercial fisheries, “which remains perhaps the most important conservation issue facing these iconic animals," says Andrew Read.

This new framework, relies on “a negotiated rule-making process,” Read says, looking for solutions to the incidental death of mammals in commercial fisheries. One of the strengths of the new process is that it “requires the direct involvement of fishermen, conservationists and scientists in the management process,” Read says.

Still, some deeply depleted species, like right whales, may never recover, and additional threats beyond direct killing remain. The Marine Mammal Protection Act has generally been ineffective in dealing with problems like increasing underwater noise from naval operations and other ships, new diseases, and depleted prey species in fraying food webs. “Existing conservation measures have not protected large whales from fisheries interactions or ship strikes in the northwestern Atlantic,” the team writes.

And this points to a new generation of challenges such as moving shipping lanes in whale feeding territory, slowing speed boats in manatee habitat, changing lobster fishing technologies and other fishing gear modifications, and continuing to improve ecosystem-based fisheries management. “That’s going to be hard and require real political will,” Joe Roman says.

Joshua Brown | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uvm.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Waste in the water – New purification techniques for healthier aquatic ecosystems
24.07.2018 | Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen

nachricht Plenty of habitat for bears in Europe
24.07.2018 | Deutsches Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: It’s All in the Mix: Jülich Researchers are Developing Fast-Charging Solid-State Batteries

There are currently great hopes for solid-state batteries. They contain no liquid parts that could leak or catch fire. For this reason, they do not require cooling and are considered to be much safer, more reliable, and longer lasting than traditional lithium-ion batteries. Jülich scientists have now introduced a new concept that allows currents up to ten times greater during charging and discharging than previously described in the literature. The improvement was achieved by a “clever” choice of materials with a focus on consistently good compatibility. All components were made from phosphate compounds, which are well matched both chemically and mechanically.

The low current is considered one of the biggest hurdles in the development of solid-state batteries. It is the reason why the batteries take a relatively long...

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum bugs, meet your new swatter

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

A novel synthetic antibody enables conditional “protein knockdown” in vertebrates

20.08.2018 | Life Sciences

Metamolds: Molding a mold

20.08.2018 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>