Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Sea Shepherd permanently abandons Antarctic whaling face-off over Japanese military fears

Activist group Sea Shepherd is abandoning its annual face-off with Japanese whaling ships in Antarctic waters, saying it has little chance of success against Japan's economic and military might.

The end of the 12-year campaign means Japan will continue its so-called "scientific" whaling programme without the group trying to physically prevent the annual slaughter, which takes place despite loud international protest.

Japan reportedly intends to take about 4000 whales over the next 12 years in the name of "research", and ultimately plans to resume commercial whaling.

A minke whale is loaded on to the Japanese whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru.

In a statement, Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson said Japan had doubled its hunting grounds in the Southern Ocean and reduced its annual whale-kill quota to 333, giving its fleet "more time and more area to kill".

He said Japan was also using "military" tactics in the form of real-time satellite surveillance to track Sea Shepherd ship movements, "and if they know where our ships are at any given moment, they can easily avoid us … we cannot compete with their military grade technology".

"The decision we have had to face is: do we spend our limited resources on another campaign to the Southern Ocean that will have little chance of a successful intervention or do we regroup with different strategies and tactics?

"If something is not working the only recourse is to look for a better plan," he wrote.

Watson said Japanese whalers were backed by resources and subsidies from their government, while Sea Shepherd was "limited in resources and we have hostile governments against us in Australia, New Zealand and the United States."

Watson pointed to Australia's refusal to allow the group charitable tax-deduction status, hampering its ability to raise funds.

He said the group was "not abandoning the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary ... we need to cultivate the resources, the tactics and the ability to significantly shut down the illegal whaling operations of the Japanese whaling fleet".

Watson said Sea Shepherd was "in the Southern Ocean doing what the Australian government has the responsibility to do but has refused to do". He called on the Turnbull government to uphold international and Australian law in relation to whaling.


Saturday, 26 August 2017

Keeping tabs on Canterbury's increasingly rare kea

Have you seen Atawhai? Beryl? Maybe Hopey or Windscreen? They all like mountains, flying and the colour green.

They're kea, they're endangered and they're all on the new online Kea Database.

Laura Young, Mark Brabyn and George Moon – or the Arthur's Pass Kea Team as they like to be known –have worked on the database for some months. Now they're pleased to let it fly.
"People like interacting with kea, they like taking photos with them, they like feeding them, even though they shouldn't," Young said.

She said encouraging people to become citizen scientists and log kea sightings would promote interacting with the bird "in a more meaningful way".


Sunday, 20 August 2017

Great Barrier Reef, Australia: is it really dying?

Bec Finlayson, marine biologist for Coral Expeditions, explains the impact of "bleaching" on the Great Barrier Reef's multi-billion-dollar tourist industry.

Whatever happens, said Bec Finlayson to the audience in the top-deck lounge, don't come back from snorkelling saying "I saw a yellow fish", and expect her to name the species.

On colour alone, you might have seen a butterflyfish or rabbitfish or forcepfish or beaked coralfish, and even the Chinese footballer cod and bicolour angelfish have yellow bits, so you'll need to be more specific.

Finlayson, a marine biologist and general fount of watery knowledge, was delivering a crash course in fish, cetaceans, coral and climate change to the 20-odd guests cruising Australia's Great Barrier Reef marine park on the 35-metre Coral Expeditions II.

We were not long out from Cairns, the start and endpoint for the ship's two itineraries: a four-day loop north to Lizard Island and a three-day loop south to Hinchinbrook Island. Guests can do either or, as I did, run them together for a seven-day figure-of-eight route.
It was mid-winter, which meant the water was 24C and you could stay in forever. It was a bit cloudy and windy that first day, but the coral and fish don't care about that, so there'd been plenty of takers for the snorkelling as well as the glass-bottomed boat, which seated 20 and launched from a forklift-style cradle at the back of the ship.


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

An Unprecedented Fire Is Raging Across Greenland Right Now

Wildfires are known for striking in hot, dry regions of the planet, but a huge fire is currently raging across the icy, cold surface of Greenland, one of the most northernmost countries in the world.
It's not clear what started the fire, but it seems to be made up of multiple blazes happening in the tundra on the coast of the country. Just before the fires started, relatively high temperatures of 12 degrees Celsius (53 degrees Fahrenheit) were recorded in the area.

Experts think climate change could be to blame – that dead plant matter usually encased in permafrost is catching fire as the frost melts due to warming temperatures. Scientists have spotted much more wildfire activity in Greenland so far during 2017 than in any other previous year on record.

"There are fires in Greenland, but it's not an African Savannah," Stef Lhermitte, from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, told Maddie Stone at Gizmodo. "As far as I can see, the current fire is the biggest one recorded by satellites since 2000. I think it's the biggest on record."


Saturday, 12 August 2017

Fears rare native falcon could kill every dotterel on Eastbourne beach

A rare, native kārearea could wipe out the entire banded dotterel population on a popular Eastbourne beach.

The sight of one of the world's fastest flyers would normally be a source of  great enjoyment for Parker Jones, if it was not for the falcon's sinister intentions.

Jones is part of the Mainland Island Restoration Organisation (MIRO) and his pet project is looking after the local population of banded dotterel.

A tiny population of endangered banded dotterel on the Eastbourne beach is facing an unexpected threat from a rare karearea.

A tiny colony exists in front of houses where people walk their dogs, jog and enjoy the beach daily, without knowing they share it with the endangered bird.


Monday, 7 August 2017

HIV scientists get help from cattle

Prospects for defeating HIV, once considered an invincible killer, look brighter with major advances against the AIDS-causing virus discussed at an international conference recently.

One of those pieces of good news comes from the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. In collaboration with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, its researchers have generated "broadly neutralising antibodies" that kill HIV using an unexpected source – cattle.

The startling feat was announced in a study published in the journal Nature. It marks another milestone step toward the long-elusive aim of creating a vaccine against the virus, with the antibodies perhaps also leading to creation of new HIV drugs.

"It takes humans years" for the immune system to trigger formation and full production of broadly neutralising antibodies. "The cows solved it in a couple of months," said Dennis Burton, co-author of the new report and a longtime researcher of such antibodies at Scripps Research.

In other news at the 9th IAS Conference on HIV Science in Paris, researchers highlighted the case of an HIV-infected child who has apparently been cured of the virus. They also announced success in using a long-lasting injection to suppress HIV levels.

Yet another study showed that certain HIV drugs were able to prevent transmission of the virus in hundreds of couples where at least one person was HIV-positive.


Friday, 4 August 2017

eSecret possum rescuers: the people who love a hated New Zealand pest

Little Batman is fighting for his life.

The baby possum struggles to feed after the soft roof of his mouth when damaged when he was ripped from his mother's pouch by a hunter.
Too young to regulate his body temperature, the six-week-old is fed through a tube by his carer, who tends to his every need, desperately trying to keep him alive.

Little Batman is critically ill. He has to be fed with a tube because his mouth was damaged when he was ripped from his mother's pouch by a hunter.

She may be breaking the law by doing so.

Sally (not her real name) is part of an underground network across the country, dedicated to saving the lives of animals that are, to most Kiwis, one of our most hated pests.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

New Zealand's more than 2000 moth species at odds with LED street lights

LED street lights will save money, but could come at a cost to native moths, says one environment-lover.

All older, yellow, high-pressure sodium lighting in Auckland is to be replaced with new light-emitting diode (LED) street lights by about 2025.

The first stage of fitting 44,000 LED residential street lights, has been under way for the past 18 months.

The lights use just a third of the electricity the older style lights use, and last four to six times longer. They have the potential to save the city $32 million over the 20-year life of the lights.

But Geoff Reid wasn't glowing about it, saying the lights could negatively affect New Zealand's more than 2000 species of moth, as the tone of the light changes from golden yellow to white.

"Moths are really important in our ecosystem. They are kind of these central key species because they not only provide food for birds, they pollinate plants and also provide food for other insects," Reid said.

He said the new LED street lights, measured in kelvin, sit at more than 4000 while the current bulbs are around 2200. He said anything over about 2800 kelvin is bad for moths who are drawn to the blue light.

"They extract moths out of the ecosystem. It wears them out and they also congregate in one area around a light and what we're finding is mice are just cleaning them up."