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500 Million Animals Killed as Australia Fires Create “Apocalyptic” Smoke Plume Wider Than Europe

A massive plume of smoke spanning roughly 2.1 million square miles has begun drifting toward New Zealand.

Elias Marat

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Australia Fires Smoke Plume

(TMU) — As Australia’s horrific bushfire crisis continues unabated, smoke plumes believed to cover an area greater than that of Europe have been created while glaciers in neighboring New Zealand have been turned black by soot from the fires.

In the meantime, nearly 500,000,000 animals have been killed while the human death toll has climbed to at least 17. Experts have warned of a broader humanitarian crisis looming over the country, fueling anger at the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

On Wednesday, experts noted that a massive plume of smoke spanning roughly 2.1 million square miles (5.5 million sq km) had begun drifting over the Pacific Ocean toward New Zealand, which BBC reports has been blanketed in smoke and haze from the Australia fires in recent days. The Guardian reports that vacationers have described the hazy skies in New Zealand as “sepia,” “orange” and “apocalyptic.”

Antti Lipponen, a research scientist at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, wrote in a tweet that the smoke plume is well over four times the size of Alaska, 14 times the size of Japan, and roughly equal to the distance between Iceland and Turkey.

The smoke and soot have even stained New Zealand’s iconic white glaciers, turning them black and “caramelizing” the snow in a process that could further endanger glaciers already threatened by climate change. Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark wrote in a tweet that the impact of Australian ash on glaciers “is likely to accelerate melting.”

Snow and ice usually reflect the sun’s heat and slows melting while white. However, snow blackened by ash and dust rapidly absorbs heat and therefore melts at faster rates.

The environmental calamity has been stoked by a combination of extreme winds, record-shattering heat waves, and drought-parched forests, grasslands, and brush. Australia’s bushfires have also grown so monstrous that they are generating their own weather in the form of pyro-cumulonimbus clouds—or thunderstorms that create more fires—according to Victoria’s Bureau of Meteorology.

Weather forecasts have predicted continued withering hot conditions and fierce winds across southern Australia on Friday as well as dangerous bushfire conditions in eastern Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) on Saturday. Thousand of firefighters, including huge numbers of volunteers, have been fighting the over 100 fires in NSW and over 40 in Victoria.

The nightmarish nature of the crisis took a new form over the weekend as 4,000 people in the coastal town of Mallacoota, Victoria, fled to the shore and even into the water as the blaze threatened to consume their homes.

Tourist Kai Kirschbaum told ABC Australia:

“I think that was our biggest threat in terms of what are we doing with the children if we need to go in the water to protect ourselves given the fact that they are only 1, 3 and 5.

If you’re a good swimmer it doesn’t really matter if you have to be in the water for a longer time, but doing that with three kids that would have been, I think, a nightmare.”

In the meantime, ecologists are fearing a tremendous tragedy for wildlife as nearly 500 million mammals, reptiles and birds—including 8,000 koalas—are estimated to have been killed. The massive loss of life threatens to forever tip the balance for entire species of animals and plants.

Over 300 baby flying foxes were abandoned by their mothers who were trying to survive by any means, according to experts.

https://twitter.com/Reuters/status/1211610532568023040

Wildlife rescuer Jenny Packwood told the Sydney Morning Herald:

“Mothers are abandoning babies at two weeks after birth because there is no food for them. Last week we had 300 come in, and we’ve been flat out feeding since then.

I’ve never seen anything like this before—we’re calling it a starvation event.”

Species like bats also face the threat of local extinction from the massive obliteration of small creatures such as insects in wildfire-impacted regions, thre Independent reported.

Koala Crisis wrote on Facebook:

“Not one carer KC has spoken to has seen bees, insects, grubs, worms, snails, beetles, millipedes, for months. Nothing struggles through the dustbowls which are now covering millions of hectares in all states.

There’s no grass for the ’roos, no insects for the birds, the leaves on eucalypts are brittle, ensuring starvation for koalas, gliders, possums, birds, insects.”

The bushfires devastating Australia have been raging since September, laying waste to wildlife and private property alike. Experts are fearing that a humanitarian crisis is imminent as the country faces the worst fire season in recorded history with three more months of the summer season left.

Along with the fires, arid conditions due to a prolonged drought have wrought devastation on the livelihoods of farmers and local economies.

The Australian government, headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has been accused of denying the realities of climate change despite its belated verbal acknowledgment that changing climate conditions have played a role in the crisis. The government has been accused of obstructing global summits on climate change and skirting its obligations under the 2015 Paris accord while doing little to curtail the country’s role as the world’s number one exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas.

Australians’ anger toward the prime minister—who has derisively been nicknamed “ScoMo” or “Scummo”—was abundantly clear Thursday when he was forced to scrap a meet-and-greet with locals in a fire-scourged NSW town. As the beleaguered prime minister attempted to reassure residents, locals showered abuse on him.

The Guardian quoted residents cursing Morrison as “an idiot,” telling him that he’s “not welcome” and should “piss off” and not expect any future votes.

By Elias Marat | Creative Commons | TheMindUnleashed.com

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Scientists Say Species Throughout Earth’s History Keep Inexplicably Evolving Into Crabs

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A paper from 2017 recently resurfaced online and has gone semi-viral because of its weird, and, according to some scientists, somewhat disturbing/amazing conclusion: that life on Earth seems to naturally evolve toward crab-like species.

Originally published in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, the paper is titled “One hundred years of carcinization – the evolution of the crab-like habitus in Anomura.” It found a new life in mid-October on Boing Boing under the title “Animals have evolved into a crab-like-shape at least 5 separate times” and has since been the subject of articles on Popular Mechanics and several other websites.

So what are popular science writers – and their readers – so worked up about? The original paper discusses the curious and highly improbable sequence of instances involving convergent and parallel evolution of animals into crab-like species. These instances of carcinization – the scientific term for when a crustacean evolves from a non-crab-like form into a crab-like one – has happened at least five different times in completely different historical contexts.

In the paper, the researchers write:

“The fact that a crab-like habitus did not evolve solely in ‘true’ crabs but also several times independently in the Anomura makes this process ideal for evolutionary research.”

Parallel evolution is certainly no stranger to Earth’s history. For example, marsupials are commonly referred to in this context. Convergent evolution, which refers to species from independent epochs of time developing analogous morphological structures, is also well established by Darwinian principles. Species on separate evolutionary tracks of both habitat and time can end up arriving at the same traits and structures. However, the number of times it happens with the crab-like shape and features seems to baffle more than a few scientists.

Additionally, the researchers point out, the similarities are not just relegated to superficial appearances in shells and claws: the five evolutionary journeys toward carcinization include shared functional traits in neurological processes and circulatory systems.

“Curiously, not only did the crab-like habitus evolve independently from the ‘true’ crabs (Brachyura), it also evolved three times independently within anomurans. […] Although enormous morphological disparity is observed in the internal anatomy of the crab-like taxa, reflecting the fact that the evolution of the crab-like habitus was indeed convergent, various corresponding dependences are found across the different lineages between the external characters of a crab-like habitus/morphotype and inner structures. In other words, as a result of carcinization certain structural coherences led to the specific internal anatomical patterns found in crab-like forms.”

So, what does it all mean? Is life on Earth somehow predisposed to crabs? Does this mean that when we meet aliens someday they will be giant intelligent crabs? Or could there be some strategic evolutionary advantage in the crab-like habitus and internal structures?

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7 Arrested In Florida For Trafficking Flying Squirrels

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At least seven people are facing numerous criminal charges after they were caught trafficking flying squirrels. According to investigators, their operation was worth an estimated $1 million.

In a statement on Monday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that the suspects have been charged with racketeering, money laundering, scheming to defraud, and other organized criminal laws involving “an elaborate organized enterprise to smuggle Florida’s wildlife to interstate and international buyers.”

The agency says that in January of 2019, they received a complaint from a concerned citizen about flying squirrels being illegally trapped in a rural part of Marion County. Flying squirrels are considered a protected wild animal in Florida, but they are illegally sold internationally because their rarity fetches such high prices.

After receiving the initial complaints, the FWC began a 19-month investigation where they tracked the hunters and monitored their international operation. The investigators found that once the poachers captured the squirrels, they sold the animals to a wildlife dealer in Bushnell and were laundered through the licensed business of the dealer, who claimed they were captive-bred, which would have made them legal to sell.

The poachers set out an estimated 10,000 squirrel traps throughout central Florida and investigators tracked as many as 3,600 flying squirrels being captured by the group in less than three years.

It is not clear how the agency estimated the operation to be worth $1 million, because the dealer involved in the scheme only received an estimated $213,800 in gross sales in the three years that he was being monitored.

The wildlife dealer was selling the animals to buyers from South Korea who traveled to the United States specifically for the squirrels. The buyers would then take the animals to Chicago, where they were sent to Asia by a wildlife exporter who was unaware of the plot. The investigation into the flying squirrels revealed that the same group was trafficking a variety of other poached animals, including protected freshwater turtles and alligators. There were also dealers and traffickers in Florida and Georgia dealing with the group. However, the operation was meticulous and careful, and many of the people involved with the scheme did not even know each other.

Maj. Grant Burton, FWC Investigation’s section leader, said that the poachers were a danger to the state’s wildlife.

“Wildlife conservation laws protect Florida’s precious natural resources from abuse. The concerned citizen who initially reported this activity started an investigation that uncovered a major smuggling operation. These poachers could have severely damaged Florida’s wildlife populations,” said Maj. Burton.

The life expectancy of flying squirrels in the wild is about six years, but flying squirrels can live up to fifteen years in zoos. The mortality rate in young flying squirrels is high because of predators and diseases. Predators of flying squirrels include tree snakes, raccoons, owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, bobcats, and feral cats. In the Pacific Northwest of North America, the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) is a common predator of flying squirrels. Obviously, poachers also represent a serious threat to the species.

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More than 5,000 baby seals wash up on Namibia beach in unprecedented die-off

Elias Marat

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Thousands of dead seal pups have washed ashore on the coast of Namibia, raising grave concerns from conservationist groups.

Locals were in shock after an estimated 5,000 premature cape fur seal pups washed up along the coast of Pelican Point peninsula, turning the popular tourist destination known for its thriving schools of dolphins and seal colonies into a pup graveyard.

Cape fur seals are often referred to as the “dogs of the ocean,” owing to their playful nature and abundant energy. However, the seals are known to desert their young or suffer miscarriages when food supplies are scarce.

The unprecedented die-off of the 5,000 Cape fur seals is now being probed by the country’s fisheries ministry, reports Bloomberg.

Nearly all were born prematurely before quickly dying, according to marine biologist Naude Dreyer of  Ocean Conservation Namibia.

“When the pregnant female feels she does not have enough reserves, she can abort,” he explained. “A few premature deaths is a natural event, but thousands of premature dead pups is extremely rare.”

Dreyer noticed the masses of dead seal pups while flying his drone over the Pelican Point seal colony on Oct. 5.

“This is the situation at Pelican Point, Namibia,” his non-profit group wrote in a Facebook post. “All the little red circles mark dead seal pups. A rough estimate brings the numbers to more than 5,000 at our seal colony alone. This is tragic, as it makes up a large portion of the new pup arrivals expected in late November.”

This is the situation at Pelican Point. All the little red circles mark dead seal pups. A rough estimate brings the…

Posted by Ocean Conservation Namibia on Tuesday, October 13, 2020

The seals are commonly found across the southern Atlantic coastlines of the African continent, spanning Namibia and South Africa to the southern tip of Angola.

“Normally cape fur seals would give birth from mid-November until early December,” Dr. Tess Gridley told Africa News.  “That’s the height of pupping that we would normally expect but what has been happening this year is there has been an increase in abortions that was first seen starting in August and really sort of peaked just last week in October.”

However, female cape fur seals are increasingly appearing emaciated and starving, raising alarm among conservationists about the long-term health of the typically thriving seal population.

 “There are about 1.7 million cape fur seals in total and about a million of those are actually in Namibia so in terms of the overall number of animals, they are quite resilient to these effects,” Gridley explained.

“But one issue that we do think might happen in the future is you will see a dip in reproduction potentially going forward particularly now for those animals that have unfortunately died,” she continued. “They are not going to be recruited into the population, so you might see a localized effect at the Pelican Point colony and also we are trying to monitor to see whether there is a wider scale impact that might affect other colonies as well.”

An absence of fish in the region and the spread of disease and toxins in the water are among the possible reasons behind the die-off. 

“The seals look a bit thin and it could likely be caused by a lack of food,” Dreyer said. “Other seal colonies at other beaches look much better and they do not record the same amount of premature pups.”

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