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February 2013 Issue

NOAA Report Identifies Nations Involved in Illegal Fishing
NOAA in January submitted a congressionally mandated report identifying 10 nations whose fishing vessels engage in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2011 or 2012, or had ineffective measures to prevent the unintended catch of protected species in 2012.

The U.S. will consult with each of the nations—Colombia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Mexico, Panama, South Korea, Spain, Tanzania and Venezuela—to encourage them to address IUU fishing and bycatch by their fishermen.

Mexico was also identified for ineffective management of the bycatch of North Pacific loggerhead sea turtles.

Six nations identified in the previous 2011 biennial report (Colombia, Ecuador, Italy, Panama, Portugal and Venezuela) have taken action against IUU fishing by sanctioning vessels, adopting or amending laws, or improving monitoring and enforcement.

If a nation fails to address IUU fishing, its fishing vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports, and imports of certain fish or fish products from that nation into the U.S. may be prohibited.

Gliders Used to Locate, Track Whales for First Time
Two Teledyne Webb Research (East Falmouth, Massachusetts) Slocum gliders, deployed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) scientists, have detected in real time nine endangered North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of Maine. This is the first successful use of technology to report detections of several species of baleen whales from autonomous vehicles, WHOI said in January.

The sightings were reported to NOAA, which then created a dynamic management area, asking mariners to voluntarily slow their vessel speed to avoid striking the animals.

The project, led by WHOI scientists Mark Baumgartner and Dave Fratantoni, was underway from November through December about 60 miles south of Bar Harbor, Maine, and 90 miles northeast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Whale researchers want to learn what draws whales to this part of the ocean.

Typically, the high winds and rough seas typical of that time of year make studying the whales very difficult, as ship- or plane-based human observation becomes very labor-intensive and time-consuming. Using the gliders’ real-time data, the team was able to locate whales in a few hours.

The gliders were equipped with a WHOI-developed digital acoustic monitoring (DMON) instrument and pitch-tracking software, allowing the vehicle to detect and classify calls from four species of baleen whales: sei, fin, humpback and right whales. Baumgartner developed the software, and Fratantoni operated the gliders.

The DMON records audio and generates spectrograms, from which Baumgartner’s software generates a “pitch track,” a visual representation of a whale call, and estimates which whale species made it. Tallies of each species’ detected calls and a small subset of detected pitch tracks can be transmitted to shore by the vehicle.

“Each pitch track takes less than 100 bytes, whereas transmitting just one of those calls as an audio clip would take about 8,000 bytes of data,” Baumgartner said. The software can also be updated to identify more whale calls.

Jellyfish Populations Found to Cyclically Rise, Fall Over Decades
Scientists have cast doubt on the widely held perception that there has been a global increase in jellyfish over the past two centuries. Media and scientific opinion for the perception of an increase in jellyfish was evidenced by a few local and regional case studies in Japan and parts of the Mediterranean.

However, the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, found that global jellyfish populations undergo concurrent fluctuations with successive decadal periods of rise and fall, including a rising phase in the 1990s and early 2000s that has contributed to the idea that the jellyfish population is rising globally.

The previous period of high jellyfish numbers during the 1970s went unnoticed due to limited research on jellyfish at the time, less awareness of global-scale problems and a lower capacity for information sharing.

While there has been no increase over the long term, the authors detected a hint of a slight increase in jellyfish since 1970, although this trend was countered by the observation that there was no difference in the proportion of increasing versus decreasing jellyfish populations over time.

Shipping Lanes to be Adjusted to Protect Whales on California Coast
The International Maritime Organization adopted three proposals to reduce incidents of ships striking whales on the approach to San Francisco Bay, the Santa Barbara Channel, and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Vessels in these areas also travel through NOAA’s Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries.

Extending the three lanes will reduce interaction between ships and whales within the two national marine sanctuaries, where blue, humpback and fin whales feed and congregate.

The proposed vessel lane changes in the Santa Barbara Channel and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary narrow the lanes’ width and shift the southbound lane 1 nautical mile north.

Scientists Find Bipolar Distribution Of Marine Bacteria
Scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory have found bipolar species of bacteria that occur in the Arctic and Antarctic, but nowhere else, further discrediting the Baas-Becking hypothesis of “everything is everywhere” as far as bacterial distribution in the ocean.

They also found fewer bipolar species than would turn up if marine bacteria were randomly distributed everywhere, suggesting there are forces in the ocean limiting the dispersal of bacteria. What these barriers may be is under investigation.

“Before, many people thought microbes distribute everywhere, so we don’t have to worry if some disappear locally,” said Linda Amaral-Zettler, an author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. “But we are finding that, no, there is a biogeography of very small organisms, and there may be consequences to that.”


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