Tag Archives: Hawaii

Amusing Monday: NOAA’s top photos, videos and stories

A photograph of a tiny orange octopus was the most popular image last year among all the photographs posted to Instagram by NOAA Fisheries, the agency formally called the National Marine Fisheries Service. More than 2,000 people “liked” the picture and many more viewed it from among more than 150 top photographs posted last year by NOAA Fisheries’ Communications shop on its Instagram page.

A baby octopus found on an autonomous reef monitoring structure. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: James Morioka/NOAA

The octopus photo was taken during a NOAA expedition to assess the health of coral reefs in the Pacific Remote Islands, which had undergone a massive die-off in 2016 and 2017 caused by excessive warm water. The tiny octopus was discovered on an “autonomous reef monitoring structure” used to measure the recovery of ocean ecosystems. For details about the voyage, see NOAA’s story “Research Expedition to Assess Coral Reef Conditions and Recovery from Mass Bleaching.”

Another popular NOAA photo from last year was a picture of a large number of green sea turtles basking along the French Frigate Shoals in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

Green sea turtles bask on a beach in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: Marylou Staman/NOAA

Starting in 1973, NOAA biologists have traveled to these remote islands to monitor nesting activity among the turtles. They work day and night, counting and marking turtles with unique numbers for identity. Citizens who spot numbered turtles are asked to report them. For more details, check out the story “Honu Count 2018: Help us find numbered sea turtles in Hawaii.”

A video that tells a story of sea turtles also came out among the most popular videos produced by NOAA last year. The story of how their populations are changing is fascinating, and turtles always get attention from readers and viewers, according to NOAA officials.

“One of the really interesting things about sea turtles is their sex is determined by the incubation temperature of the eggs, with cooler temperatures producing more males and warmer temperatures producing more females,” says Michael Jensen, a marine biologist with Ocean Associates.

Jensen, working on a turtle study with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, is the primary voice on the video, in which he talks about how warmer waters in portions of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef are producing about 99 percent female turtles. These findings are based on new genetic studies that track where the turtles are born.

“It’s important to remember that they’ve been around for a hundred million years,” Jensen said. “They’ve outlasted the dinosaurs. They’ve adapted to a changing climate through that whole time. However, the climate is changing faster now than it has ever. The question we are all asking now is: Will they be able to adapt, and will they be able to adapt fast enough. We certainly hope so.”

Humpback whale // Photo: NOAA

One of NOAA’s top stories of last year, as always, was a focus on whales. Communication folks put together some interesting facts for Whale Week, including this one: “Male humpback whales found in U.S. waters sing complex songs in winter breeding areas … that can last up to 20 minutes and be heard miles away.” OK, maybe most of us already knew that, but for each of the 10 whales mentioned, you will find links to a lot more details, such as with humpbacks.

If you are interested in Puget Sound, I would point you toward the “marine mammal” section of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Blue shark // Photo: Mark Conlin/NOAA

NOAA’s number-one story of 2018 was one put together for Shark Week: “12 shark facts that may surprise you.” Here’s a fact that may not be as obvious as it seems:

“Blue sharks are really blue. The blue shark displays a brilliant blue color on the upper portion of its body and is normally snowy white beneath. The mako and porbeagle sharks also exhibit a blue coloration, but it is not nearly as brilliant as that of a blue shark. In life, most sharks are brown, olive, or grayish.”

Another popular “story,” which is actually listed as 16 separate stories, involves issues of sustainable seafood, with mention of National Seafood Month in October. Stories address sustainable labeling, consumer preferences, cuts of fish, fishermen perspectives, species recovery, aquaculture, economics, climate change and descriptions of a variety of individual fish species.

The list of NOAA Fisheries’ top stories, photos and videos can be found on the agency’s news website.

Lights could be creating problems for salmon, seabirds and more

Bright lights that affect the behavior of birds, fish and other wildlife are emerging as a significant environmental concern.

Endangered Hawaiian Petrel
Photo: B. Zaun, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Yesterday, for example, two environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Hawai’i Department of Transportation for bright lights the agency controls at piers and airports. The groups say three species of seabirds on the Endangered Species List have been circling the lights until the birds drop from exhaustion, and some birds have died.

Meanwhile, in Lake Washington and the nearby Cedar River in King County, there is evidence that threatened chinook salmon are at greater risk from predators because of lights on the two floating bridges as well as industrial facilities in Renton.

In Florida, researchers have discovered that female turtles avoid coming ashore to lay their eggs where bright lights are present, and in Virginia salamanders have delayed their feeding efforts in the glare of lights.

The lawsuit in Hawaii was filed by lawyers for Earthjustice out of concern for three species of seabirds: Newell’s shearwater, a threatened species, and Hawaiian petrels and band-rumped storm petrels, both endangered species.

The Hawai’I Department of Transportation has failed to protect the birds, as required by the Endangered Species Act, according to the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Hui Ho‘omalu i Ka ‘Āina, Conservation Council and the Center for Biodiversity. Because the lighting is injuring and killing listed species, the state agency must obtain an incidental take permit and initiate actions to minimize harm, the lawsuit says. For details, see the complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief (PDF 1.4 mb).

Lights at airports and harbor facilities have been documented as the greatest source of injury and death to the seabirds, which migrate at night and become disoriented by the artificial lights, the complaint asserts. Some birds crash into buildings, while others end up on the ground where they may be struck by vehicles or eaten by predators.

Since the 1990s, the Newell’s shearwaters have declined by 94 percent and the Hawaiian petrels on the island of Kauai have dropped by 78 percent.

“Our ancestors depended on the ‘a‘o (Newell’s shearwater), ‘ua‘u (Hawaiian petrel) and ‘akē‘akē (band-rumped storm-petrel) to help locate schools of fish, to navigate from island to island and to know when the weather is changing,” Kauai fisherman Jeff Chandler was quoted as saying in a news release from Earthjustice.

According to the news release, the Department of Transportation dropped out of talks with state and federal wildlife agencies that are developing a habitat conservation plan to protect the seabirds. After Earthjustice filed a notice of intent to sue, the agency rejoined the talks.

“That’s a good start, but talk alone will do nothing to save these rare and important animals from extinction,” said Earthjustice attorney David Henkin. “It’s long past time for the department to take action, not only on Kauai, but everywhere in the state that its operations illegally kill seabirds.”

Lake Washington chinook

As for the lights on and around Lake Washington, I have not heard of any proposed lawsuits to protect the threatened Puget Sound chinook, but concerns continue to simmer.

Lights on the Highway 520 bridge
Photo: Washington Dept. of Transportation

Jason Mulvihill-Kuntz, salmon recovery manager for the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed, told me that the next regional chapter of the chinook recovery plan will call for further study into the effects of lights on juvenile chinook migrating down the Cedar River and through Lake Washington.

“The technical folks have identified light as a potential emerging issue,” Jason said. “We don’t have a good handle on what the impacts are.”

Lights on Lake Washington may be creating a double whammy for young chinook, Jason said. First, the lights attract the fish, which slow down their migration to Puget Sound. Second, the lights keep them visible to predators at night, so the fish may be eaten 24 hours a day.

“Juvenile salmon don’t have a nighttime respite,” Jason said. “At least that’s the hypothesis.”

Nonnative predatory fish include bass, walleye and northern pike. Native predators include cutthroat trout and pike minnow. Predatory birds include the western grebe and great blue heron.

An updated chinook recovery plan for the Lake Washington region is under review and could be finalized this fall. Predation is getting some additional attention this time around, Jason said, and the issue of lights is something that needs more study.

Experts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have identified potential concerns with lighting along Lake Washington in a series of studies going back more than 10 years. It still isn’t clear, however, how much the known problems with predators are exacerbated by bright lights. That’s why more studies are needed.

Following complaints from residents of Laurelhurst near the Highway 520 bridge, the Washington Department of Transportation reduced the amount of illumination coming off that bridge, and further investigation is underway. Check out the King-5 News report below.

Other species

With regard to other species, lights are known to have a variety of effects. Reporter Sharon Guynup outlined the problems for birds, turtles, amphibians, mammals and even insects in a revealing story in National Geographic News, April 17, 2003.

A group of British researchers from the University of Exeter compiled a list of the known effects of light on various species while considering the role of artificial lighting. See “The ecological impacts of nighttime light pollution; a mechanistic appraisal” in Biological Reviews.

Unique ‘tropical oceanic’ orcas still traveling west

UPDATE, Dec. 7

I have received word from researcher Robin Baird that the last remaining transmitter tracking the “tropical oceanic” killer whales stopped working on Nov. 26, six days after this report. The transmitter presumably fell off. I’ve attached a map provided by Robin in the comments section at the bottom of this page. It shows the whales’ last 10 days of travel. They kept on moving southwest.
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KW 2013NOV1-19_WM

“Tropical oceanic” killer whales, which were tagged near Hawaii and tracked by satellite, have now moved about 860 miles west.

As of yesterday, they were approaching Johnston Atoll, seen just to the left of their last known location shown on the map above, according to Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective, based in Olympia.

Initially, three orcas were tagged in this first effort to track the unique breed of killer whale, which travels in the open ocean. For a description of tropical oceanic killer whales, including their varying diet, review the entry in Water Ways on Nov. 12.

Two of the three transmitters attached to the whales have stopped working, presumably because the barbed tags fell off the animals. One transmitter, attached to an adult female, continues to send out information about the location of the four whales, assuming they have stayed together.

After traveling northwest through the Hawaiian Islands, the whales have taken a pretty direct path toward Johnston Atoll, slowing down a few times along the way. It will be interesting to see where they go next.