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Scientists Are Trying to Figure Out Why So Many Dolphins and Whales Are Dying This Year

Authorities believe that a number of possible causes could be at play.

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Dolphins Whales Are Dying This Year
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(TMU) — In a particularly unnerving trend that has unfolded on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, hundreds of carcasses belonging to marine mammals such as whales and dolphins have been washing up on beaches in the United States, in what scientists are calling “unusual mortality events.

The mass die-offs affecting cetaceans, the family of species including whales and dolphins, is hinting ever more at the devastation of maritime life resulting from changing ecological conditions, pollution, and other problems stemming from human economic activity.

Since February, approximately 300 dead and dying bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore along four Gulf Coast states between Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle, according to CBS 4 Miami.

Last week, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Program designated the die-off an Unusual Mortality Event, or UME—a designation that opens up additional resources to respond to and investigate the deaths.

Authorities believe that a number of possible causes could be at play, ranging from the lingering toxic legacy of the 2010 BP oil spill to freshwater exposure, chemicals and pollutants, and other issues stemming from this year’s heavy flooding in the south.

NOAA official Erin Fougeres with NOAA Fisheries told CBS News:

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“I would say it’s concerning and bordering on alarming primarily because it’s a group of dolphins that have been impacted because of other unusual mortality events … So this is the same area that was impacted by the Deep Water Horizon spill.

It’s an area where dolphins have been previously exposed to oil, they have compromised health … They have lingering health issues and um, so they are more susceptible to any additional stressor; anything could tip them potentially over the edge.”

Researchers plan to continue investigating the cause of the die-off, she added.

On the other side of the United States, along the U.S. West Coast, a similarly shocking Unusual Mortality Event was declared last month by the federal agency: the washing-up of about 160 gray whales on coastlines between Mexico and Canada, along their traditional migratory route.

And scientists believe that the number of whales washing onshore is just a fraction of the total death toll, with many animals simply decomposing at sea or ending up on remote rock outcroppings or small islands.

The die-off may be the highest in 20 years, reports Huffington Post, when the 1999-2000 El Niño rapidly warmed the ocean.

Officials believe that numerous whale deaths will continue to occur over the course of the coming months. Researchers are blaming vanishing food sources and dramatically warming waters brought about by changing climatic conditions.

Gray whales typically spend their summers in the once-frigid northern Bering and Chukchi Seas, where they were able to consume a year’s worth of food that allowed them to migrate south to Mexico for the winter.

However, NOAA notes that plummeting sea ice levels in Alaska and rising temperatures have sharply depleted the whales’ primary source of food, which consists of local amphipod crustaceans.

Whales are now also showing up in areas where they typically wouldn’t venture, such as in the San Francisco Bay or Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, California.

The result has been the starvation of whales, which now appear emaciated as they return north from Mexico due to the effects of last summer’s poor feeding.

The problem has grown to such a scale that NOAA Fisheries is even asking people who own beachfront property to “host” rotting whale carcasses due to a death of public land that can be used as a burial site.

The die-offs are a potential preview of a downward trend for a species of whale that once had a huge population throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and was removed from the endangered species list in 1994. There are about 27,000 gray whales along the West Coast.

Betsy Carlson, the citizen science co-ordinator for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, told Associated Press:

“There’s such sadness in them just washing up on the shores and seeing these big, majestic animals there.”

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Animals

Scientists Catch a Glimpse of a Ultra-Rare Giant Phantom Jelly, With Bizarre Ribbon-Like Arms

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Researchers have seen a large deep-sea jellyfish with the assistance of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) named Doc Ricketts off the coast of California, in an extremely rare sighting. The footage revealed the creature’s unique and exquisite features.

The uncommon encounter was documented in November this year, 990 meters (3,200 ft) deep in Monterey Bay, according to a report issued by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

Youtube Screenshot

The enigmatic phantom jellyfish was initially discovered in 1899, but scientists did not recognize it as a distinct species until 1960. Scientists still know very little about this creature.

The specimen of the huge phantom jelly has only been seen 110 times in 110 years across the world. According to the MBARI research, despite thousands of dives, their ROVs have only observed this amazing species nine times.

The huge phantom jellyfish has the following characteristics:

The bell of this deep-sea denizen is more than one meter (3.3 feet) broad, with four ribbon-like oral (or mouth) arms that can grow to be more than 10 meters (33 feet) long, according to an MBARI report.

Youtube Screenshot

The species is said to inhabit anywhere between the surface and 21,900 feet in depth. It does, however, remain in the twilight zone, which is just beyond the reach of sunlight.

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The organism, formally known as ‘Stygiomedusa gigantea’, is found all across the planet except in the Arctic Ocean, according to the experts.

Youtube Screenshot

It’s worth noting that, in the past, scientists depended on trawl-nets to examine deep-sea species; but, the jellies, which transform into a viscous goo in trawl nets, were difficult to research using this outdated method. Fish, crabs, and squids are among the only creatures that can be effectively studied from nets.

Researchers may now examine these creatures in their native habitat with high-definition footage thanks to the robot cams. I, personally, prefer this “no-touch” approach.

Watch the mesmerizing video here:

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Animals

Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida

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A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.

In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.

“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.

Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.

Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.

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Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.

Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.

However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.

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Animals

Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son

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A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.

The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.

The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.

“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.

“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.

The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.

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The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.

“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.

The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.

The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.

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