Stories from the Sea: Listen here

Stories from the Sea: Listen here

At long last, here are my radio stories from the 2nd International Marine Conservation Congress. I was lucky enough to cover the conference for CBC Radio’s On The Coast and All Points West. I think my favourite of the three stories was the one on sharks, which also aired nation-wide on CBC Radio. [Updated June 2012: The CBC links expired, so I put the stories on Soundcloud] I walked into the conference with pretty remedial knowledge on why people are so concerned and passionate about the world’s shark species. Yes, I knew about the problems with “finning,” or killing sharks by cutting off their fins for soup. But I didn’t have a context for why overfishing sharks would be any different than other types of overfishing. I also wasn’t sure whether this was something that affected sharks off Canada’s Pacific coast, or if it was only a problem other places. It turns out, yes, overfishing sharks is different, and yes, the fin trade around the world affects endangered sharks here. I connect the dots with the help of patient scientists, to tell a tale about endangered basking...

Stories about the sea: I’ll be reporting from IMCC

So, killer whales form a pod, fish school, and sharks are said to travel in shivers*. But what do you call 1000+ marine conservation types gathered at once? A “congress,” apparently. The second International Marine Conservation Congress starts in Victoria today. Scientists, policy makers, resource managers, and NGOs are here to share science on our changing oceans, and ideas on how to save them. It’s only been held once before, 2 years ago in Washington, D.C. What I find so interesting is the goal is not just moving the conversation forward by publishing papers in the scientific literature — but also by crafting recommendations that let science inform public policy. I’m here to report for CBC Radio — you’ll hear me talking to Stephen Quinn, host of On the Coast, and Grant Lawrence, guest-hosting All Points West. I’ll be on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at about 5:40 or so in the Vancouver area and 4:50-ish in the rest of B.C. Changing oceans It’s not easy to decide what to cover. The program is huge, covering invasive species, overfishing, aquaculture, planning, and many more issues. I’ll be looking for stories that mean something to a B.C. audience. One piece will be on climate change and ocean acidification — there is a lot on it at this conference, and a topic I find really interesting. We know the pH of the ocean is changing as it absorbs excess CO2 we’re dumping into the atmosphere. It seems to already be causing problems for the shellfish industry in some coastal areas. But it’s not clear just how the complex systems of the sea...
First author, no comment

First author, no comment

Q: When is the lead author of a paper published in Science not allowed to comment on the subject? A: When she works for Canada’s federal government. In this case, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). It is not a new phenomenon that Canada’s federal scientists are prevented from talking about their taxpayer-funded work. Margaret Munro, the science reporter for Postmedia News, wrote a news story last year that pushed this practice into the public eye, prompting coverage by other media outlets (including the CBC), and an opinion piece in the journal Nature calling for change. From Munro’s story: The documents say the “new” rules went into force in March and reveal how they apply to not only to contentious issues including the oilsands, but benign subjects such as floods that occurred 13,000 years ago. But, even if it’s not new, I still think its worth noting when it happens. In this case, the scientist was the first author of study on Fraser River sockeye that provides a new piece to the puzzle of their declining numbers. (CBC story.) Researchers took tissue samples from migrating sockeye salmon, and tagged the fish to see which ones survived to spawn. They found a pattern. The ones with a certain set of active genes were more likely to die before the spawning grounds. The researchers said it looked like the genes were responding to a viral infection — as in the fish that were dying had caught a virus out at sea. The journal’s embargoed release sent to media around the world told reporters to contact DFO communications to reach the lead and...
Squid surveillance, in several ways

Squid surveillance, in several ways

I find squid pretty inherently interesting. They’re believed to be smart, and I’d call them beautiful, but they’re also so alien to our terrestrial, vertebrate selves. Even more interesting, or perhaps alarming, is what’s happening with the Humboldt squid in B.C. waters. First, why are they here? They’re native to northern Mexico, but in the past ten years have spread northward, first to California, and now all the way to southeast Alaska. That is a big change in such a short time. Secondly, they’re washing up dead on beaches in large numbers. Given this, I was pretty curious when I learned about a new study tagging two dozen Humboldt squid and trying to trace their movements around the North Pacific, as part of the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking project. The goal is to figure out what the jumbo squid are doing up here. That’s important to know for fisheries because these squid prey on commercially valuable species like hake. It also matters because their rapid change of range could tell us something about our changing oceans. You can watch my CBC TV story (vid link) from last week to see the squid, and hear from the scientist leading the research. There’s an online text version here. Eyes on the ground If you look at the TV story, or even the photo above, you’ll see that CBC didn’t capture the images of the squid. The video came from a Tofino-based group called the Raincoast Education Society. I found some of it on YouTube, then called up Josie Osborne and asked if we could use it. She said yes, and ended...
Are humpbacks still endangered?

Are humpbacks still endangered?

When I worked on B.C.’s Central Coast in the summer of 2000, seeing a humpback whale was a rare treat. They’re huge, but far more acrobatic than their grey whale cousins we were studying. The good news is: seeing a humpback whale in the North Pacific isn’t as rare anymore. They’re considered threatened in Canada, and for as long as the U.S. has had an endangered species list (since 1973) the humpback has been on it. But that could soon change, in the U.S. at least. This week, NOAA announced it’s reviewing the humpback’s status. A recent international study puts the North Pacific population estimate at almost 20,000, up from a low of less than 2,000 animals. While humpback numbers are now growing steadily, the population is still just one-fifth of the pre-whaling size, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. good, but good enough? “It’s been such a gift to watch them come back,” Jackie Hildering told me this week. She’s a naturalist with Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove, and remembers in 2002 when humpback sightings were uncommon in the Broughton Archipelago. This year, she identified 47 individuals. She laughs in wonder as she recalled to me juvenile humpbacks energetically slapping their tails on the water. But Hildering worries what a loss of protection could mean for the whales, given that status can help drive research funding. “There’s just so much we don’t understand about these animals,” she said. Dr. Jay Barlow, one of NOAA’s own lead scientists studying humpbacks, told me he agrees are still many unknowns — especially when it comes to climate change. For example,...