A sea turtle swimming in Beirut, Lebanon. A new paper revealed that sea turtles use their limbs to assist with eating.JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
“Sea turtles don’t have a developed frontal cortex, independent articulating digits or any social learning. And yet here we have them ‘licking their fingers’ just like a kid who does have all those tools,” Kyle Van Houtan, science director at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, told the newspaper.
But Houtan and his team at the aquarium discovered that sea turtles use their fins in human-like ways. After surveying images and videos of the creatures, the team found how sea turtles use their fins. For example, one turtle leveraged a reef to break an anemone away for meal time and another rolled a scallop along the floor of the ocean.
The authors note in their paper, published in the journal PeerJ, that many marine tetrapods, or four-footed animals, do use their limbs to forage for food, though it is still rare.
“Despite being the oldest extant line of marine tetrapods, this is the first time such a wide range of limb-use has been described in marine turtles,” they write.
A sea turtle swims in Western France.LOIC VENANCE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
According to ScienceDaily, walruses, seals and manatees all exhibited these behaviors. This new paper shows that sea turtles are very similar to other groups of sea mammals. Study co-author Jessica Fujii, also of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, said that using their limbs to dine isn’t efficient but is nevertheless helpful to sea turtles.
“Sea turtles’ limbs have evolved mostly for locomotion, not for manipulating prey,” Fujii said in Science Daily. “But that they’re doing it anyway suggests that, even if it’s not the most efficient or effective way, it’s better than not using them at all.”
Although not perfected, these skills are vital as most sea turtles are carnivorous, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Tracking down that jellyfish for dinner definitely takes some maneuvering.
Previously, researchers believed that marine mammals could be so large because the buoyancy of water frees them from the constraints of gravity. Although this freedom may still be a factor, Gearty says that his results show that marine mammals need their heft to keep themselves warm in the often chilly oceans.
“These animals are big for very specific reasons. It’s not that they could be big, it’s that they must be big,” he says.
BIGGER IS BETTER?
When Gearty and colleagues created a series of computer models analyzing factors that influence size, they found two that converged to determine body size in aquatic mammals.
But larger animals need more food to support their bulk, which created the second factor in Gearty’s model. Big mammals may trap heat better, but if they can’t get enough food to fuel their metabolism, then it doesn’t matter. (See National Geographic’s amazing whale pictures.)
Body size is one of the most important traits to study in animals, according to Chris Venditti, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in England who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“If you’re going to measure one thing in an animal, it should be body size because that one thing is related to so many others,” Venditti says. “If you know how big an animal is, you probably know something about how it moves and its metabolic rate.”
In the last five years, scientists have uncovered evidence showing that, over time, families of mammals have tended to evolve larger body sizes. Bulkier animals can better fight off rivals for mating, food, and other resources, as well as access a wider variety of foods.
Land mammals, however, are hemmed in by gravity: They need massive bones and blood vessels to support their bulk while maintaining mobility—no easy feat when you tip the scales at several tons, like an elephant. (Read how blue whales are mostly “left-handed.”)
Initially, when Gearty started studying the factors that affected body size in marine mammals, he thought that he would simply see the elimination of gravity as a constraint.
Instead, his data told him that the minimum size of aquatic mammals was a thousand times larger than the smallest terrestrial mammals. The maximum size, however, was only 25 times larger, which meant that something must be forcing marine mammals to get large.
Scientists still haven’t entirely cracked the mystery of what determines body size in animals, Venditti says, but that hasn’t stopped life from evolving an array of shapes and sizes to fill every niche.
By-catch deaths of five Hector’s dolphins in fishing nets off the Canterbury coast has prompted an order to fast-track work on a new protection plan for the nationally endangered species.
The dolphins were trapped in a commercial set net about six nautical miles north of Banks Peninsula on February 17, and their deaths were reported to Fisheries Inshore New Zealand (FINZ), and to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
There were an estimated 9000 Hector’s dolphins off the South Island’s east coast, and these were a sub-group of the wider South Island population of 15,000 mammals.
Fisheries officials believe the east coast population may be declining.
Hector’s dolphins live close to the coast, making them highly vulnerable to being caught in set nets.
Official records show 188 Hector’s and Maui dolphin are known to have been killed in set nets since 1973, although potential Hector’s dolphin captures could range between 19 and 78 each year.
Fisheries Minister Stuart Nash and Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage have now pointed out areas where more work needs to be done and have asked whether changes can be made to some fishing practices in the short-term.
Options included prioritising the development of a new Threat Management Plan (TMP) for Maui and Hector’s dolphins, reviewing the use of set nets in a bid to reduce or phase out their use, and considering extending the ban on set nets in the Banks Peninsula Marine Mammal Sanctuary further offshore.
Other potential measures included encouraging voluntary closures of certain fisheries to set nets, such as those recently put in place by commercial set netters to protect the yellow-eyed penguin off Southland, and reviewing the role of observers and camera coverage on fishing boats.
Nash said the fisherman did the right thing by coming forward to report the catch, as legally required.
FINZ chief executive Dr Jeremy Helson had since told him that the fisherman “deeply regrets” the capture and had now decided to stop set netting in the area, Nash said.
“I am also advised he appears to have been fishing outside the area closed to set netting, although MPI compliance staff are still assessing the incident.”
Nash and Sage are overseeing a review of the TMP, in place since 2008, which will consider longer-term measures to better protect the dolphins from the risks of set netting and deaths caused by other human activity.
“In light of this capture, I have asked officials to prioritise the development of a new plan,” Nash said.
Sage said the “needless” deaths of five dolphins in one set net underlined an ongoing problem of set net use in places where highly endangered species, like Hector’s and Maui dolphins live, “and the indiscriminate nature of set nets as a fishing method”.
As well as Hector’s and Maui dolphins, set nets caught and drowned seabirds such as yellow-eyed penguin, little blue and Fiordland crested penguins, shags, shearwaters and terns.
“Areas around Banks Peninsula and on the North Island’s West Coast have been closed to set nets to protect Hector’s and Maui dolphins, but dolphins and seabirds continue to get caught and die in set nets,” Sage said.
“Having a serious look at how to best phase out these near invisible and deadly mono-filament gill nets is long overdue. Fishers can use other methods to catch target species such as butterfish, mullet, rig and school shark.”
Sage believed New Zealand could follow the example of American states such as California and North Carolina, which have banned commercial set nets to protect endangered seabirds, marine mammals and turtles.
“South Australia has done the same to protect the Australasian sea lion, as has Finland for the Saimaa ringed seal.”
In a media statement today, Helson reaffirmed the industry regretted the incident.
“The fisher involved is also deeply affected and has moved completely out of the area in which the incident occurred.”
FINZ had “moved quickly” to suggest that MPI bring forward the review of the Hector’s dolphin threat management plan, along with measures that will help to prevent such an incident happening again, Helson said.
“This incident is regrettable, unusual, and upsetting for all involved.”
Helson noted in a letter to Nash that MPI had estimated more than 95 Hector’s dolphin mortalities would need to occur annually before the species’ long-term viability would be at risk.
“While fishing mortality is estimated to be well within those bounds, the seafood industry is committed to reducing our impacts on the marine environment.”
ATLANTIC OCEAN—Concerned that the unappealing affliction would spoil his plans for a romantic evening, an embarrassed right whale was reportedly panicking Monday after having a huge barnacle outbreak before an upcoming date. “Oh god, I look terrible, they’re all over my face,” said the mortified cetacean, scrambling in vain to clear his skin by rubbing against a nearby rock outcropping. “I can’t believe this, I haven’t had a single barnacle in months, and tonight of all nights I get dozens of them. The worst part is, there’s basically nothing I can do about it. I guess I’ll just take her to a darker part of the ocean and hope she doesn’t notice. This is so humiliating.” At press time, the whale was reportedly feeling much more relaxed after his companion showed up for their date with her face completely covered in a fishing net.
There is little reason to wonder why Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes when you witness its dramatic volcanic landscape filled with vast forests, lagoons, lakes and pristine beaches. Located in the middle of the Americas, Nicaragua is home to a rich variety of plants and animals, and its beaches provide important nesting habitat for sea turtles.
Globally, there are seven species of sea turtle swimming in our oceans. Sea turtles are generally long-lived and can migrate vast distances between feeding sites and nesting beaches. They face a multitude of threats including poaching for their eggs, meat and shells, accidental entanglement in fishing nets and the potentially detrimental effect of climate change on hatchling sex ratio.
In Nicaragua, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) focuses on protecting three sea turtle species: hawksbill, leatherback and olive ridley – all of which are sadly included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The hawksbill turtle has a distinctive pattern of overlapping scales that form a serrated look on the edge of its shell. This beautifully patterned shell is commonly referred to as “tortoiseshell”. Hawksbills use their narrow head and pointy beak to find food, such as sponges, in hard-to-reach places. They are found throughout the world’s tropical oceans, but are most often encountered near coastlines among coral reefs.
The leatherback is the largest sea turtle species, growing up to seven feet long and frequently exceeding 900 kilogrammes. Their shell is leather-like and flexible rather than hard, and features seven narrow ridges running the length of the carapace (top shell). Leatherbacks have the widest global distribution of any sea turtle and are found throughout the world’s oceans.
The olive ridley is the second smallest sea turtle, and gains its name from the olive-green hue of its shell. These turtles prefer the open ocean and come together as a group once a year for the arribada, when females nest in vast numbers on the same beaches – sometimes in their thousands.
Turning poachers into protectors
FFI is reducing poaching of sea turtles and their eggs by turning poachers into turtle protectors. Having identified priority nesting beaches, FFI has been working with local communities to provide education and sustainable livelihood opportunities. For example, economic incentives have led to many local people choosing to patrol nesting beaches and protect sea turtles and their eggs instead of poaching.
As a result of this work, on several beaches poaching of nests has dramatically reduced from all eggs being taken to none. In addition, national public education campaigns, “Yo no como huevos de tortugas” (I don’t eat turtle eggs) and “Yo no uso carey” (I don’t use tortoiseshell), are changing public perceptions about turtle egg consumption and shell use. FFI is also eliminating destructive fishing practices to protect marine habitat and reduce the accidental capture of sea turtles.
As a result of this work, over 90% of Nicaragua’s nesting leatherbacks, and 42% of all hawksbill turtles in the entire eastern Pacific Ocean are now protected by FFI’s team in Nicaragua.
However, sea turtles are long-lived, so we will not truly see the impact of our work until the turtle hatchlings we are protecting today are old enough to return to nest on the beaches where they were born. Only then will we see changes to overall population numbers.
While there are still enough males out there to breed with females and maintain genetic diversity, experts say they’re not sure how long that will last.
The culprit? Higher temperatures caused by a changing climate. The sex of a sea turtle hatchling is determined by the temperature of the sand around the eggs. The hotter the sand, the greater the chance the hatchlings will be female.
And in recent years, Florida has simply been too hot to produce many males.
Scientists say there are some artificial means of keeping turtle nests cooler so they can produce more males. But that, experts say, is merely buying time.
Clarke Gayford has described the dramatic moment he was pinned against a boat by a whale shark.
The Fish of the Day host was invited to catch fish for a local restaurant while in Rarotonga with his partner Jacinda Ardern, he told The Project.
Clarke Gayford ‘pinned against a boat’ by whale shark
Clarke Gayford’s adorable reaction to Jacinda Ardern’s Vogue photoshoot
While the Prime Minister engaged in diplomacy, Gayford found himself facing quite a different challenge: two curious whale sharks.
When one began circling their fishing boat, he swam with one of the sizeable creatures for the very first time.
“They keep coming at you and coming at you and coming at you,” he says of the sharks, which can be up to 12m long. “[They’re] really inquisitive.”
The crew encountered a second whale shark, which was a little more assertive when Gayford got into the water again.
“I went over the side of the boat and it came straight up underneath me. I didn’t have a chance to get out of the way,” he recounted.
“It caught me and then pushed me back into the boat. It was coming up for a big back scratch, I think.”
Gayford’s leg was momentarily caught between the shark and the fishing boat, making for a memorable experience.
“It was too quick to be scared but I had a couple of moments where I was definitely stuck and this 20-tonne animal was giving itself a good rub.”
Whale sharks have no teeth so he wasn’t afraid of being eaten, although he says you can never be sure.
“They’re quite opportunist, they say they feed on plankton but I’m pretty sure that anything that went down its mouth hole would be prime protein.”
As an experienced fisherman, Gayford’s been around plenty of sharks in his time.
“Sharks are a sign of a healthy ocean so it’s quite encouraging when you get out in the water and actually see one,” he says.
“You are scared when it first happens, but over time you get to learn their behaviours and learn how to react around them.”
However this was his first up-close encounter with a whale shark, which he says has long been a dream of his.
“One of my earliest childhood memories is sitting in Room 5 of Makauri Primary School and Mrs Rutherford the teacher was there, and I was on a coloured mat – and I remember telling her about whale sharks,” he explained.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to see one, so that was pretty lucky to have that all happen then.”
He also revealed his startling lung capacity. Out in the open ocean he can hold his breath for about one minute and 45 seconds.
“If I’m floating flat in a pool with no stimulus, about five minutes.”
He says learning to spend more time comfortably under water isn’t as hard as it looks.
“Anyone can get in a pool, and once you get over that fear and start to fight those contractions your breath times go up pretty quickly.”
“The Sea Turtle Conservation Program of the Riviera Maya, headed up by Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México AC, environmental and social arm of Grupo Experiencias Xcaret, is recognized nationally and internationally for its uninterrupted work of 15 years, the quality of the work done, as well as being in charge of 13 of the main nesting beaches of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas),” said Guadalupe Quintana Pali, General Manager of the organization.
Commenting on the achievements of this conservation effort, Quintana Pali explained that from 1996 to 2017, just over 12 million, 649 thousand sea turtle hatchlings made their journey to the sea, a fact unprecedented in the history of the conservation of the species. which speaks of the consistency that has been made in this effort.
The green turtle has recorded the best recovery of its populations throughout these 22 years of work. 2017 was, undoubtedly, the best year for the population of Chelonia mydas, as 1,507,645 hatchlings managed to reach the sea, which marks a new record after 2015 recorded the best figure in the history of the program.
Flora, Fauna y Cultura de México A.C. protects sea turtles on the beaches of Solidaridad, Cozumel (Xel-Há), and Tulum, in four protected natural areas of Quintana Roo: Xcacel-Xcacelito Sea Turtle Sanctuary, Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, Tulum National Park and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. The protection of the 13 nesting beaches is carried out through five turtle camps: Aventuras-DIF, Xcacel, Xel-Há, Kanzul and Caahpechén.
“Although the results are positive, it is necessary to continue the efforts on a permanent basis,” said Guadalupe Quintana. She said that the team in charge of this responsibility is composed of around 30 professional caregivers and more than 40 volunteers, and stated that in the task of conservation all support is important and welcome.
In this regard, she recognized the support of Grupo Experiencias Xcaret, Hotel Nueva Vida de Ramiro, Grupo Posadas and Hotel Bahía Príncipe, mainly as allies and donors that have allowed this ambitious program to continue.
Flora Fauna y Cultura de México A.C. is celebrating 15 years of work, seeding the future.
It is a non-profit civil society organization that works for the conservation of the natural and cultural heritage of Mexico and created a decade and a half ago as a response to the environmental and cultural problems generated by the accelerated urban and tourist development registered in the state of Quintana Roo in the last decades.
It works in partnership with different social actions interested in the welfare of our environment and our community, in order to join efforts to achieve collective benefits.
Award-winning Australian freediver Adam Stern has left the world collectively holding their breath after posting a risky game of hide and seek online.
The catch – the game took place 45 metres under water in the Philippines, and he was ‘seeking’ his diving gear, scattered across the ocean floor by his wife.
The video was shot while the couple were exploring Barracuda Lake in Coron, the Philippines.
His wife dispersed the gear throughout the stunning lake, leaving Adam to swim around looking for it at alarming depths, and then assembling it — all without coming up for air. Not everyone’s idea of a fun holiday activity.
Freediving is a form of underwater diving in which the diver is required to hold a single breath for the duration.It’s definitely not a sport for amateurs, requiring a high level of skill and exposure to high ambient pressure.
Luckily, Adam was ranked fifth in the world in 2016 for the ‘Men’s with Fins’ category, and can dive an astonishing 104 metres in one breath – not that it makes the video any less nail-biting to watch, check it out above.Freediving professionals are known to hold their breath for up to 22 minutes (I KNOW) and dive at depths of more than 200 metres.
However, stealing the champion’s thunder in the clip above is the stunning marine-scape of Barracuda Lake.Made up of jagged limestone caves and rock faces, it’s an incredible spot for divers to explore.
The Philippines is already a diving hot spot, but Coron in particular is known for its incredible World War II shipwrecks, freakishly warm water temperatures, and limestone encircled lagoon, supposedly formed by a sink hole.