January 6, 2014

Scientists Uncover Hidden River of Rubbish Threatening to Devastate Wildlife and more wildlife health news stories


Scientists focus on harbor seals as "samplers of the environment'

... Scientists are increasingly finding ocean mammals are valuable sources of information about diseases and toxins found in coastal waters. The most recent research has focused on harbor seals, who live from birth to death just off shore. "I view them as samplers for the environment," said Stephanie Hughes, a recent graduate of the Moss Landing Marine Labs and marine scientist who researches diseases in seals.

The seals, whose territory ranges from Alaska to Mexico, live close to humans and eat many of the same fish that people do, including sardines and salmon. They scoop up sediment full of human contaminants when they swoop to the sea floor for bottom-feeding fish. "Seals do similar things that we do, in the same places. So if seals can get something, then people ask, 'Well, what if I swim in the bay?'" said Denise Greig, a marine scientist who studies chemical contamination in seals at Sausalito's Marine Mammal Center.

In a recent study of water from San Francisco to Monterey Bay, Greig and her colleagues found Monterey Bay seal blubber had high levels of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, while San Francisco Bay seals were full of flame retardant chemicals and other industrial toxins.

To better track the local trends, the Marine Mammal Center plans to make "disease maps" for the California coast. Scientists are using the past 10 years' worth of data about diseases in stranded seals, sea lions and whales captured by mammal labs from San Diego to Sausalito.

Inside Bay Area
04 Jan 2014
Cat Ferguson

West Nile Virus Is Behind Bald Eagle Deaths in Utah

The mysterious deaths of at least 27 bald eagles in Utah were caused by the West Nile virus, state officials said on Tuesday.

Officials with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources were concerned by the birds’ deaths in recent weeks. Many eagles were found dead in the wild, and six died while being treated in rehabilitation centers, officials said.

The department tested the birds and ruled out several other possible causes of death, including toxic chemicals, poisons, bacterial infections and viruses. Officials believe that the birds contracted the virus by eating infected waterfowl, called eared grebes, that died in the Great Salt Lake.

The virus is rare during the winter because it usually spreads through mosquitoes, which are more active during the warmer months, officials said.

New York Times
31 Dec 2013
EG Fitzsimmons


Scientists Uncover Hidden River of Rubbish Threatening to Devastate Wildlife

Thousands of pieces of plastic have been discovered, submerged along the river bed of the upper Thames Estuary by scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Natural History Museum.

The sheer amount of plastic recovered shows there is an unseen stream of rubbish flowing through London which could be a serious threat to aquatic wildlife. The findings, published online in Marine Pollution Bulletin, highlight the cause for concern, not only for ecosystems around the river but for the North Sea, in to which the Thames flows.

... The potential impacts this could have for wildlife are far reaching: not only are the species that live in and around the river affected, but also those in seas that rivers feed into."... This litter moves up and down the river bed depending on tides. The movement causes the pieces of plastic to break down into smaller fragments. These are small enough to be eaten by even the smallest animals, which are in turn eaten by larger fish and birds. Once digested, plastic can release toxic chemicals which are then passed through the food chain. These toxic chemicals, in high doses, could harm the health of wildlife."

Science Daily
02 Jan 2014

Cited Journal Article
David Morritt, Paris V. Stefanoudis, Dave Pearce, Oliver A. Crimmen, Paul F. Clark. Plastic in the Thames: A river runs through it. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 2013; DOI: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.10.035

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