Animals in the Oceans - Spring 2008

Sea Turtle Goes The Distance

A leatherback sea turtle tracked by satellite tagging was reported to have traveled from Jamursba-Medi, Indonesia to the coast of Oregon-a total of 12,774 miles-over the course of 647 days. National Marine Fisheries Service scientists report that the leatherback's journey is the longest ever to have been recorded for any ocean-going vertebrate, according to an article in The State of the World's Sea Turtles magazine, launched by Conservation International and the IUCN Marine Turtle Specialist Group.


Climate Change Devastates Seal Pup Population

The Baltic Sea has experienced its warmest winter since records began to be kept in 1720, and approximately 500 baby ring seals living north of Germany have died as a result. Ring seals, which are listed as endangered by the World Conservation Union, normally give birth on sea ice and care for their pups for about 40 days.

Because ice floes are melting more quickly, the pups are leaving the birthing lairs and entering the water before they are ready. Unprepared to take care of themselves and without enough blubber to stay warm, the animals often starve and die. Additionally, the lack of ice floes has caused mother seals to move to the mainland to give birth. On land, the baby seals are vulnerable to predators.

The species' once-strong population of 180,000 animals in 1900 was dramatically reduced over the 20th century due to hunting and pollution. However, prior to encountering difficulties this winter, its numbers of 7,000 to 10,000 animals were growing steadily, with the hope of recovery.


The Great Pacific Garbage Patch: A Deadly Landfill at Sea

A plastic refuse twice the size of the continental United States, nicknamed "Plastic Soup" by scientists, is floating in the Northern Pacific Ocean. The polluted expanse was formed when two areas on either side of Hawaii-the Western and Eastern Pacific Garbage Patches-merged to form the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The mass was discovered 11 years ago by US oceanographer Charles Moore as he traveled by boat through the "North Pacific gyre" on his way between Hawaii and Los Angeles.

Inside territory normally avoided due to strong high pressure systems and a lack of wind, Moore uncovered an approximate 100 million tons of debris stretching from about 500 miles off the coast of California nearly all the way to Japan. A committed environmentalist today, he believes this patch could double in size over the next decade if people do not cut back on their use of disposable plastics.

University of Hawaii professor David Karl now wants to see the mass on an expedition to be held later this year. The "soup" can only be seen by traveling through it, he says, because the plastic is translucent and lies just under the ocean surface, making it undetectable by satellite photography. However, the threat to marine animals living in these waters is unavoidable.

An example of the lethal hazard posed by plastics in the ocean is the case of a young female minke whale who washed up from the English Channel in 2002 and was found to have swallowed almost two lbs. of plastic bags. Scientists discovered that she starved to death, with nothing besides the bags in her stomach. Plastic can cause serious damage and death by impeding the digestive tracts of whales and other marine animals, making them feel full and preventing them from eating.

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