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...
Why are marine mammals washing up dead?

Why are marine mammals washing up dead?

Answer 1: Life’s tough, and more to the point, finite. So, animals die, even the charismatic ones that humans like. That’s Nature. Answer 2: Some thing, or things, are happening in the ocean, and these are signs of that. I don’t know what the answer is, but there have been a lot of stories lately about marine mammals washing up dead on B.C. beaches. I’ve certainly reported on a few for CBC News. For example: The Department of Fisheries and Oceans told me yesterday they’re “concerned, but not panicking” about at least eight harbour porpoises that have washed up dead in recent days on southern Vancouver Island. Maybe they were hunted to exhaustion by transient killer whales, or the weaker ones died during breeding season, or something else. The provincial government’s Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford is conducting necropsies starting today. [Update: now, at least nine porpoises have washed up in five days.] A brand new killer whale calf just washed up near Victoria. Again, the cause of death is not known, and the Animal Health Centre is investigating. Here’s my story interviewing the veterinary pathologist on the case. Survival is low among newborn killer whales, so the death itself isn’t surprising, but some populations of them are so endangered this death was treated (a) as an urgent case and (b) as an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on. There have also been at least five grey whales washing up north and south of the border (CBC) (The Province). This is apparently not unusual; it happened at the time when grey whales pass here on the way...
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...
A decent year for some threatened whales

A decent year for some threatened whales

One whale story begets another, I suppose. Researching another story this week on humpbacks, I called up Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard at the Vancouver Aquarium. He’s a scientist with a gift for speaking clearly, and he studies marine mammals on our coast. He’s also the co-chair of the Killer Whale Recovery Team organized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I asked him about the killer whales he studies — the Northern Resident population, which can be seen in the Johnstone Strait area and further north during the summer. Last year, he had spoken out about that population starving, and described whales swimming for hours before finding fish to eat. (Their preferred food: chinook salmon). This year, what a difference. The central coast runs for chinook were abundant, he told me. So the whales seemed to have enough to eat, and it could be seen in how they act. “That basically means the whales don’t have to be making a living every minute of the day they have time to socialize,” said Barrett-Lennard in an interview on the Aquarium’s research boat, Skana. “When whales are ‘happy,’ we see a lot of social behaviour, they’re a lot like us in that respect,” he said. “We see larger groups, lots of playing, lots of pushing and shoving and jumping and rolling over on their backs.” Take a look at my CBC TV story (vid link) to see killer whales, and learn what other threats they...