Monday, February 13, 2017

Black Beauty

This pup wiggled her way right up to the fence next to the boardwalk where visitors view the seals. everyone was delighted with  her. too delighted. they were reaching through the fence to pet her. She didn't seem to mind, but getting friendly with people is not good for wild animals. petting is fine for domestic animals, but it's harassment to wild animals. The Marine Mammal Center sent a team out to rescue her.

Animals sometimes need to be rescued just because they are in the wrong place. Being too close to people -- and their dogs -- puts an animal at risk. this pup's teeth were only beginning to emerge, but a bite would not be harmless. Think, a 100-pound dog biting you.

Ideally, weaned pups should weigh about 100 kg, 220 lbs. She weighed only 57 kg, 125 pounds. not huge, but she was otherwise healthy. The Marine Mammal Center sends weaned pups that have stranded to the main hospital at Sausalito if they weigh 50 kg or less.

They decided she didn't need any further care, and transported her to a more isolated beach and turned her loose. Her future is in the wild.

She has an orange tag, indicating that she was rescued, on her back flipper, number WO217. Keep an eye out for her.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Marine mammal strandings

NASA Scientist Studies Whether Solar Storms Cause Animal Beachings


A long-standing mystery among marine biologists is why otherwise healthy whales, dolphins, and porpoises — collectively known as cetaceans — end up getting stranded along coastal areas worldwide. Could severe solar storms, which affect Earth’s magnetic fields, be confusing their internal compasses and causing them to lose their way?

Humpback whale calf stranded in Alaska
Veterinarians Rachel Berngartt and Kate Savage volunteer with NMFS' Alaska Marine Mammal Stranding Network during the necropsy of a humpback whale calf that stranded on Baranof Island, Alaska.
Credits: Aleria Jensen, NOAA/NMFS/AKFSC
Although some have postulated this and other theories, no one has ever initiated a thorough study to determine whether a relationship exists — until now. NASA heliophysicist Antti Pulkkinen, who works at the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has teamed with the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW, to determine whether a link exists.

Strandings occur around the world, involving as few as three to as many as several hundred animals per event. Although a global phenomenon, such strandings tend to happen more often in New Zealand, Australia, and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, said project collaborator Katie Moore, the director of IFAW’s global Animal Rescue Program. Headquartered in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, IFAW operates in 40 countries, rescuing animals and promoting conservation to secure a safe habitat for wildlife.

“These locations share some key characteristics, such as the geography, gently sloping beaches, and fine-grained sediment, which we think all play some role in these events,” she said.

Skewed Compasses

Another possibility is that these animals’ internal compasses are somehow skewed by humans’ use of multi-beam echo sounders and other sonar-type equipment used to map the seafloor or locate potential fishing sites, to name just a few applications.

“However, these human-made influences do not explain most of the strandings,” said Pulkkinen, an expert in space weather and its effect on Earth. “Theories as to the cause include magnetic anomalies and meteorological events, such as extreme tides during a new moon and coastal storms, which are thought to disorient the animals. It has been speculated that due to the possible magnetic-field sensing used by these animals to navigate, magnetic anomalies could be at least partially responsible.”

Indeed, magnetic anomalies caused when the sun’s corona ejects gigantic bubbles of charged particles out into the solar system can cause problems for Earth-orbiting satellites and power grids when they slam into Earth’s protective magnetosphere. It’s possible they could affect animals, as well, Pulkkinen said.

“The type of data that Antti has accumulated, together with the extensive stranding data at our disposal, will allow us to undertake the first rigorous analysis to test possible links between cetacean mass strandings and space-weather phenomena,” said Desray Reeb, a marine biologist at BOEM’s headquarters in Sterling, Virginia. Reeb approached Pulkkinen about launching a research effort after hearing his presentation about space weather in June 2015.

Massive Data-Mining Effort

With funding from BOEM and NASA’s Science Innovation Fund, Pulkkinen and his collaborators are carrying out a massive data-mining operation. The team will analyze NASA’s large space-weather databases, including field recordings and space observations, and stranding data gathered by BOEM and IFAW.

The artist’s illustration shows how events on the sun change the conditions in near-Earth space.
The artist’s illustration shows how events on the sun change the conditions in near-Earth space. A Goddard scientist is investigating if solar storms are linked to animal strandings that occur worldwide.
Credits: NASA
“We estimate that records on the order of hundreds of cetacean mass strandings will be available for study, thus making our analyses statistically significant,” Pulkkinen said. “We therefore expect that we will be able to reliably test the hypothesis. So far, there has been very little quantitative research, just a lot of speculation,” Pulkkinen continued. “What we’re going to do is throw cold, hard data at this. It’s a long-standing mystery and it’s important that we figure out what’s going on.”

The team expects to complete the study by the end of September and publish its findings in a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. Should the study reveal a statistical correlation, team members said the results won’t necessarily imply a causal link. However, it would provide the first thorough research into this hypothesis and offer the first step toward determining if it’s correct.

“Save More Animals”

“The results of this study will be informative for researchers, stranding network organizers, resource agencies and regulatory agencies,” Reeb said. “If we understand the relationship between the two, we may be able to use observations of solar storms as an early warning for potential strandings to occur,” added Moore, who said she “was immediately keen” to get involved in the study. “This would allow stranding responders in global hotspots, and really around the world, to be better prepared to respond, thus having the opportunity to save more animals.”

For more technology-related news, go to: http://gsfctechnology.gsfc.nasa.gov/newsletter/Current.pdf
Lori Keesey
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Thursday, February 2, 2017

First pup rescued in 2017

Hikers walking along the north end of the Boucher Trail heard a pup barking. They found her tangled in a pile of driftwood in a ravine. On Wednesday, Jan. 25, she became the first elephant seal pup of the 2017 season to be rescued by volunteers for The Marine Mammal Center in San Luis Obispo County.
The pup was in a pile of kelp and driftwood.
The hikers called State Parks to report the seal, who then called The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo Operations Center in Morro Bay. A team of five trained volunteers set off to find the pup.

The ranger helpfully left an orange cone on the highway next to the spot where the pup was stranded.
“Otherwise, it can be very difficult to find the exact place where a seal is stranded,” said San Luis Obispo Operations Manager Diana Kramer.

The crew hiked down the trail and found the pup. No other animals were nearby, and the mother was not located. Too young to survive on its own, and finding the conditions safe to perform a rescue, they made their way over to the animal.
Using herding boards, the trained rescue volunteers maneuvered the elephant seal pup into the large animal carrier. Volunteers at the center handle the pups as little as possible, improving the pup’s chances of being able to return to its wild home in the future.

After the successful rescue, the hikers named the elephant seal Stormy Night. She weighed a healthy 65 pounds, about normal for a newborn.

The pup was covered with black fur they are born with. Elephant seal pups lose their “blackcoat” after about 28 days of nursing. She had some blubber, so she’d had some attention from her mother before they were separated. Stormy Night also had a scrape on her head but was otherwise uninjured.

When Kramer and another volunteer crew member arrived for night duty at 7:30 pm, the pup was barking. Without knowing how long it had been since the pup had last eaten, the trained rescuers tube-fed Stormy Night electrolytes to boost hydration. The pup responded well to the tube-feeding and will soon start on a smoothie-like mixture of sustainable caught Alaskan herring, milk powder and water.

Volunteers Joy Sherrick and John Farhar tube feed Stormy Night
Tube feeding is a sure way to rehydrate a pup.
Stormy Night was later transported to the center’s main hospital in Sausalito on Friday morning, Jan. 27.

Kramer reminds the public that seal and sea lion pups are likely to become stranded on local beaches in the coming months. The best thing for people to do is to keep their distance. It’s OK to take photos and admire the animals, but people should remember to keep a safe distance of at least 150 feet.
Anyone who sees a seal or sea lion in distress in San Luis Obispo County should call our rescue and response team in Morro Bay at (805) 771-8300. The center will monitor the pup for 24 hours or more, depending on the situation and, if necessary, trained volunteers and staff will rescue it safely.

From The Cambrian.

Read more here: http://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/community/cambrian/article130090689.html#storylink=cpy

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sharks!

January 2 was an unusual day at the bluff. I saw several things I've never seen before: a shark-killed carcass, a shark-bitten bull who will survive, a beachmaster bleeding from fighting wounds, a pup washed to sea and swimming for his life, and another pup nursing so much the milk dripped down.

The shark attacks, reported to Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist who follows shark activity, follow a report in the newspaper of a 22-foot great white shark that stole a lingcod off a fisherman's line off Montana de Oro, 50 miles south of here.
These remains clearly show the impressions of shark teeth.

This adult bull was recovering from shark bites to his flippers.


Sharks attack from below and behind. Adult bulls are not thought to be their most vulnerable prey. A big bull like this can turn around and bite the attacker. An injured shark could be unable to hunt.

This beachmaster is the first on the beach, presiding over a harem on the south end of the site. The calloused area on the chest, the chest shield, develops as the seal matures, and is a thick skin that takes the worst of most fights. Bulls rip and tear at each other with their teeth. This one's bloody injuries invite the speculation: What does the loser look like?

One pup got washed out to sea. Apparently, pups can swim when they are born. He was only a few days old, yet swam back and forth in the surf. Unfortunately, he didn't know enough to come back to the beach. It was raining hard and I didn't wait to find out.

On the beach, this pup was enjoying a good feed. a gull came over to steal milk.
It's a mixed bag during the breeding season. Heavy rains are forecast later this week. We'll see how that affects the seals.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

King Tides

California had King Tides in December, and more will happen January 10, 11 and 12. I took photos of some local places during the December tides, comparing high and low tides:


Leffingwell Landing. I had to back up when I came returned for the low tide picture, in order to show the tide line., so the photos are not from exactly the same vantage point.


San Simeon Cove, looking north from the pier.

San Simeon Cove, looking south from the pier.

Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery.

I'll repeat this on the tides in January.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Green Tie is back!

Green Tie, an elephant seal bull who was initially rescued from plastic entangled around his neck in 2011 is back on the north beach at Piedras Blancas. He's easily recognizable because of the unique double scar from the green plastic that cut deep into his flesh.
Rescuers gave him the name after freeing him from the plastic. He got attention in 2012 and 2013, when his scar looked as if it might still have foreign material in it. He was sedated so that the veterinarian could examine him. She determined that the skin was inflamed, a skin fold dermatitis, that posed no threat to him.

In 2011, his weight was estimated at 700 pounds, making him one of the largest seals ever rescued. In 2013, rescuers estimated him at 1,100 pounds. He's really big now, certainly well over a ton.
When he raises up, the scars show clearly that he is no longer entangled. Those scars tell a terrible story, though.

I use him as a teaching animal, explaining to visitors how this happened and what it took to save his life. He's my ambassador for clean oceans.

Being able to recognize an individual makes him feel special. And, in his own way, cute. I wonder whether he will rule a harem this year and mate.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Tagging seals for research


There’s always something different to see at the elephant seal viewpoint. Beachwalker Elizabeth Bettenhausen spotted this marked seal at Arroyo Laguna beach in April. Her sighting became part of Patrick Robinson’s research.
Dr. Robinson, UC Año Nuevo Island Reserve Director and UC Santa Cruz lecturer, has marked hundreds of flipper-tagged animals each year. The markings make it easier to identify them from a distance, without disturbing them. Or, incidentally, putting the observer at any risk. Watch how Dr. Robinson marks the seals in this video.

“We marked this seal up at Ano Nuevo a few months ago and it appears to have returned home,” he said. “I'll incorporate this sighting in our database.  Many thanks!”

His research is discovering where seals go, and identifying which seals are on local beaches. This seal is in a general demographic study.

The dyed markings are temporary. They will peel off with her skin when she molts, which is happening in April and May.

Elephant seals molt their skin annually in the spring. All other seals molt, but most do so gradually, so it isn’t as noticeable. Molting seals show pearl gray new skin underneath the tattered old brown skin, peeling back.

The new skin is already formed beneath the old skin. Blood gradually stops flowing to the old skin, and it peels off in pieces. Friends of the Elephant Seals docents have samples of it to show visitors. Visitors are welcome to touch it, feel its bristly hairs. Some visitors are reluctant, but most are willing.

Some of the seals have a color-coded tag on their hind flippers that indicates where they were born. About three quarters of the seals return to their birth beach. About ten percent of Piedras Blancas seal pups get a white tag. All colors of tags show up here. The tags are small, only an inch and a half long, and can’t be seen when the flippers are folded, as they usually are when the seals are at rest. Look for a seal stretching its flippers to see a white, red (San Nicolas Island,) yellow (San Miguel Island), pink (Farallones Islands and Point Reyes), purple (Gorda) or green (Ano Nuevo) tag.
This seal got two white tags.
This yellow tag indicates the seal was born on San Miguel Island.
 
Markings and tags allow researchers to glean information about where the seals go and what they are doing there. Citizen scientists who see markings help by reporting sightings.

Elephant seals are deep divers, spending their days at 500 to 2,000 feet down in the ocean. That makes them difficult for fragile humans to follow. We’d be crushed at the pressure, more than 60 times the atmosphere on the surface. Humans experience serious effects at 100 feet, and even professional free divers don’t go past 400 feet. Digital tracking equipment opens opportunities that would otherwise be beyond human observation.

Tell a blue-jacketed docent if you observe unusual markings. Be part of the adventure of elephant seals.
Published in The Cambrian.