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Good news! NOAA Fisheries just gave scalloped hammerhead sharks protection under the Endangered Species Act!  Sharks worldwide are in danger because of “finning” for shark fin soup, and accidental bycatch. We’re glad to have played a lead role in passage of the shark fin ban in California, a movement that’s spreading to many other states – and even to China!

Learn more

Watch them live on exhibit

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DSCOVR captures Moon transiting Earth

The latest breathtaking image from the Deep Space Climate Observatory shows the moon passing in front of Earth. The lunar far side is illuminate and facing the camera, offering a rare glimpse of the Lunar surface seen only by orbiting spacecraft.

The EPIC camera, which is responsible for all Earth-facing photography of the spacecraft, captured this image on July 16, 2015. However, because the new Moon actually occurred at 9:24 pm EDT July 15, the Moon had begun to transition into its crescent phase.

While the Moon was not yet visible from an Earth observer’s standpoint, the right hand side of it in DSCOVR’s images can be seen slightly shadowed.

Orbital mechanics of the DSCOVR spacecraft and the Moon will allow images like this to be taken twice a year, as the plane of the Moon’s orbit aligns with DSCOVR’s.

See the full-size gif here.

(Image credit: U.S. Navy)

Look at that picture and consider the question.

Why are there mountains at that part of the ocean but not in most of the others?

Hot spot? Oceanic ridge?

The answer is because that’s the only spot where a ship’s been.

72% of the Earth’s surface is below the ocean. Most of the Southern Hemisphere hasn’t been explored however and according to geophysicist Robert Ballard, “There are only ever four or five people on the ocean floor at any one time.”

People played golf on the Moon before anyone entered the single largest feature on our own planet, the Mid-Ocean Ridge which covers almost a quarter of the planet.

It’s remarkable that there are people conceiving of ways to colonize other moons and planets and yet where are all the ocean colonies?

Most of the planet doesn’t get touched by Sunlight. At the deepest parts of the oceans, sunlight cannot penetrate and yet life thrives there, living off of chemosynthesis and the heat from the Earth’s core. These same conditions could enable life on Europa and Enceladus.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is America’s other exploration program (NASA’s sibling). One year of NASA’s funding (which is not a lot) could fund our entire oceanic exploration program… for 1,600 years.

Earth is a planet in space. It would do us well to remember this. There’s still so much to learn from our mother planet, why spurn these valuable lessons?

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Sen. James Inhofe’s infamous climate-denying stunt, in which he held up a snowball on the senate floor as “proof” that global warming is a hoax, wasn’t just, as President Obama described it, disturbing. It was also extremely narrow-minded, as new data out from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows. Looking beyond D.C., it turns out, Earth as a whole just lived through its warmest year since record-keeping began in 1880. Sure enough, the world is on fire, with the eastern U.S. as almost the only exception.

Senator Inhofe and company should try looking beyond D.C.

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In a typical month, the planet is shaken by an average of one or two medium-to-large earthquakes. This past month was not typical. Things were running on track up until the end of March, and then the ground went totally bonkers.

There was an incredible 13 quakes of magnitudes 6.5 or higher in April. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which issued bulletins for each one, says that is “easily a record for this institution." Five of these temblors were powerful enough that the center also put out tsunami warnings. They include the massive quakes in northern Chile at the beginning of the month, as well as three more that shook the Solomon Islands in the following weeks.

The unusual spike in seismic activity is shown in this animation, which displays the locations and depths of quakes for the first four months of 2014.

-April Had a Record Number of Big Earthquakes

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Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) 

One of the major threats to marine turtles in the marine environment is incidental capture, injury, and mortality during fishing operations. To address interactions between marine turtles and trawl fishing gear, NOAA Fisheries works cooperatively with the commercial shrimp trawl industry to develop turtle excluder devices, or TEDs.

What is a TED?

A “Turtle Excluder Device” is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom of the trawl net. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals such as shrimp pass through the bars and are caught in the bag end of the trawl. When larger animals, such as marine turtles and sharks are captured in the trawl they strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening. Initial TED designs did not allow for the release of larger leatherback and hardshell turtles and TED openings were later redesigned to address this problem. 

TED Regulations

NOAA Fisheries considered industry concerns and other public comments in developing and implementing TED regulations. Further, industry representatives continue to participate in developing and assessing new TED designs and modifications. NOAA Fisheries gradually phased in TED requirements and has provided numerous workshops and programs to work cooperatively with the industry regarding TEDs. NOAA Fisheries remains committed to working with industry as other geographic areas and fisheries are identified that require the future development and use of TEDs.

TEDs in Other Countries

With respect to foreign shrimp fisheries, NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Department of State have worked closely with numerous other nations that export shrimp to the U.S. to help them develop TED programs comparable to the U.S. program. These programs are now in place in various countries. The first multi-lateral binding treaty devoted solely to sea turtle conservation, the IAC is also an important framework to further promote TED programs in other countries.

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Study Documents Crude Oil’s Toxic Impact on Tuna Hearts

Scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have discovered that crude oil interferes with tuna heart cells in ways that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.

The study, published February 14 in Science, looks at some of the impacts of the massive Deepwater Horizon crude oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The specific mechanism behind the cardiotoxic effects of crude oil were documented for the first time in work by the Stanford team at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center, a 10-year collaboration between Stanford and the Aquarium.

Because heart function in tunas is similar to that in humans, marine mammals and other vertebrates, the Stanford team is recommending further study to determine if human hearts are at risk when they’re exposed to the same hydrocarbon compounds in polluted air. 

The Aquarium, Stanford and NOAA funded the research project.

Learn more about the work of the Tuna Research and Conservation Center.

grist.org
We broke a whole lotta climate records in 2014
Here are four key points to draw from the State of the Climate report.

Carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. The global average carbon dioxide level reached a new record high of 397.2 parts per million last year, a nearly 2 ppm rise from 2013 and a 40 percent increase from preindustrial levels. The average for three months of last year — April, May, and June — was above 400 ppm.

Earth’s temperature continues to rise. Four datasets of global temperatures ranked 2014 as the warmest year on record (or tied for warmest) going back to 1880. A Climate Central analysis showed that 13 of the hottest 15 years on record have all occurred since 2000 and that the odds of that happening randomly without the boost of global warming is 1 in 27 million.

How average temperatures in 2014 compared to the 1981-2010 average, shown as differences in degrees Fahrenheit, with red showing warmer and blue cooler temperatures. NOAA.

The oceans are heating up (which also hauls up sea levels because of expanding water volume attributable to warmer water). Sea surface temperatures and the heat of the upper oceans also hit record highs. “The heat content is just continuing to pile up,” Greg Johnson, an oceanographer at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, said during the call.This trend is key because the oceans absorb about 93 percent of all the excess heat trapped by greenhouse gases. “You can kind of think of ocean warming as being global warming,” Johnson said.The North Pacific in particular was exceptionally hot, and the tropical Pacific moved toward an El Niño state, which features warmer-than-average waters in that region.All of that heat in the oceans also raised global sea levels to a new record high, more than 2.5 inches above what it was in 1993, as water expands as it heats up.

How the heat content of the upper 2,300 feet of the Earth’s oceans differed from the 1993-2014 average. NOAA.

Ice is melting. The area of the Arctic Ocean covered by sea ice in September, when the annual minimum occurs, was the sixth lowest extent in the satellite record, going back to 1979. The eight lowest extents in that record have all occurred within the past eight years, the report notes. A survey of three dozen index glaciers showed that 2014 was the 31st consecutive year of overall glacier ice lost. Since 1980, this melt has effectively lopped off 60 feet of ice from the top of each glacier. Permafrost, the permanently frozen soils found in land areas of the Arctic, have also been melting. Several stations in the North Slope of Alaska and the Brooks Range had record or near-record high temperatures in the permafrost at depths of about 65 feet

via Orca Network: January 24 NOAA Fisheries proposed a rule to grant Lolita equal status with her family as a member of an endangered species, pending a 2-month comment period before it is made final.

Now our challenge is to persuade NOAA Fisheries to overcome the beliefs promulgated to serve their own interests by the combined forces of the entire captive orca industry over the past four decades that captive orcas can never be returned to their native waters because it could kill them or could harm their wild conspecifics (family).

So we are asking all supporters of our proposal for Lolita’s retirement to submit comments to NOAA Fisheries along these lines:

The comment period - to help persuade NOAA Fisheries to not only follow through and grant Lolita’s inclusion as a member of her family, but to allow her to return to her home - began January 27. You can make your comments at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056-1841.

Even if/when she is finally determined to be a member of her family under the ESA, if NOAA Fisheries believes her health or her family’s health could be harmed by her return to her native waters they don’t have to allow her to be retired. We have drafted some basic points to make here to clarify those issues:

3 essential points to make:

1. There is no significant risk to Lolita in any stage of Orca Network’s proposal for Lolita’s retirement in her native waters.
a. Transport of orcas according to established protocols is commonly done and has never resulted in serious health issues;
b. Immersion of captive marine mammals in their native waters is described as therapeutic in veterinary literature;
c. The initial immersion is likely to be followed by exploration of the seapen environs, and heightened energy and metabolic strength, as demonstrated by Keiko upon immersion in Icelandic waters;
d. Her ability to catch and eat wild fish is likely to begin to resume in a matter of weeks or months, again as demonstrated by Keiko.

2. A thorough examination will be conducted by a team of veterinarians and pathologists prior to transport to detect any potential communicable diseases. Assuming there are not, there will be no significant risk to any members of the Southern Resident Community as a result of Lolita’s return to her native waters.

Conclusion: there is no harm to Lolita or her family involved in returning her to her home waters.

3. Remaining in captivity will result in continuing mental and physical stresses and health issues.
a. Abundant evidence, including peer-reviewed scientific publications, indicate that captivity increases mortality rates for orcas;
b. Due to her loneliness from living without the companionship of another orca for over three decades, and due to her exposure to the midday Miami sun, and due to the extremely small size of the tank that has been her only environs for over four decades, she is continually suffering as long as she remains in captivity;
c. Despite Lolita’s unlikely good health at over 45 years of age, she is still subject to the adverse effects of captivity on her emotional, mental and physical health.

Conclusion: remaining in captivity DOES constitute real harm to Lolita, and given her relatively good health notwithstanding her conditions, she is an excellent candidate for return to her native waters for retirement under human care in a sea pen, and potentially for eventual full release.

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Brown bears feeding on a whale carcass. Several whales have washed ashore and died since May, 2015 and scientists do not know why. From press release by NOAA:

Since May 2015, 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale, and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded around the islands of the western Gulf of Alaska and the southern shoreline of the Alaska Peninsula. To date, this brings the large whale strandings for this region to almost three times the historical average.

NOAA Fisheries scientists and partners are very concerned about the large number of whales stranding in the western Gulf of Alaska in recent months,” said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries’ marine mammal health and stranding response coordinator. “While we do not yet know the cause of these strandings, our investigations will give us important information on the health of whales and the ecosystems where they live. Members of the public can greatly assist the investigation by immediately reporting any sightings of dead whales or distressed live animals they discover.”

Experts from the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, which was established in 1991 and is part of the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, determined that the high number of large whale strandings in the western Gulf of Alaska met the criteria for focused resources and research, and recommended the NOAA declaration. The rigorous, collaborative investigation into these deaths will continue to involve scientists from NOAA and partner organizations, as well as members of the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

These kinds of investigations generally require months, or sometimes even years, of data collection and analysis, depending on the nature and duration of the event. NOAA will publish information on its unusual mortality event website as it becomes available.

Members of the public can assist in the investigation by immediately contacting the Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network hotline at 877-9-AKR-PRD (877-925-7773) if they see a stranded or dead marine mammal. Only specially trained marine mammal experts are authorized to respond to marine mammals in distress. The public should not touch stranded or floating whales.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth’s environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on   Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and our other social media channels at http://www.noaa.gov/socialmedia.

Arctic Is Warming Twice As Fast As World Average

“The latest word from scientists studying the Arctic is that the polar region is warming twice as fast as the average rise on the rest of the planet. And researchers say the trend isn’t letting up. That’s the latest from the 2014 Arctic Report Card — a compilation of recent research from more than 60 scientists in 13 countries. The report was released Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”

Learn more from npr.

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Tiros 1, world’s first weather satellite, launched today, April 1, in 1960.

55 years ago, TIROS-1, the first meteorological observation satellite, was launched.

Short for Television and InfraRed Observation Satellite, TIROS was launched on the final Thor-Able rocket for an early-morning liftoff at 6:40 am from pad 17A at Cape Canaveral.

The 280 pound, three-foot wide satellite proved that accurate and useful weather observations could be made from space, a feat unproven by 1960. Two cameras - one wide-angle and one narrow - took photos of the Earth every two seconds. Dual tape recorders stored the images for transmission to one of two ground Command and Data Acquisition centers, one at Fort Monmouth in Belmar, New Jersey and one in Kaena Point, Hawaii.

Additionally, it tested out space-based weather observation equipment which later members of the Tiros series - and other weather satellite series - would improve upon. Tiros 1 was also the first satellite to use the sun angle and Earth’s horizon for orientation. Previously, satellites were oriented only in the direction their launch vehicle left them in upon reaching orbit.

Tiros 1 operated for 77 days until an electrical malfunction shut down its systems. From April 1 to June 17, the satellite took just over 19,000 usable pictures.There were over 10 satellites in the original Tiros program, which lasted until 1965. Successive satellites were given different names, even though their functions and overseeing organizations remained largely the same.

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All organisms pictured above were caught and killed as by-catch by commercial fishermen off the coast of California. These fishermen were using drift gill-nets–mesh nets that can reach one mile in length–to catch sword fish.

As estimated by Geoff Shester, the California Program Director for Oceana, one marine mammal dies for every five swordfish caught. These marine mammals–as well as other marine organisms such as sharks, rays, and turtles–die of either suffocation or intense wounds caused by the nets.

The use of drift gill-nets has been outlawed in California State Waters for over 20 years; however, fishermen who specifically target sword fish are allowed to fish with few restrictions. This basically means that they receive special privileges–one being the fact that they are allowed to use drift nets.

Oceana–an organization promoting marine conservation–supported the legislation to completely ban the use of gill-nets in Californian waters. Unfortunately, those supporting the ban lost their chance to protect marine organisms by one vote.

A friendly tip to those of you who enjoy seafood: please stop eating swordfish–especially if you know that the animal was caught through the use of gill-nets. If you ask a waiter or butcher where they purchase their fish from, they should be able to give an answer (even if they have to ask a manager). If it was caught in California, there may be a good chance that gill-nets were used.

Photos collected from NOAA.
Information from Brian Epstein’s article on PBS.