Friday, December 18, 2009

Sharks, Rays & Whales: end of the week wrap-up

Here's a collage of several conservation items of interest to close the week:

Chinese Celebrity Promotes Shark Conservation. . . in China
Basketball sports celebrity Yao Ming, ranked as China's most successful celebrity six years running, has been actively promoting shark conservation for several years, often in conjunction with WildAid. Not only is it important to have someone who is Chinese to make the case for sharks and the elimination of shark finning, but it is also strategically critical to bring the issue to where the market for shark products is the greatest. To that end, a new television commercial featuring Yao will air on China central television, the country's main government-run broadcast outlet, in addition to having the commercial play on screens in government buildings.

According to WildAid president Steve Trent, many Chinese are not aware that shark fins (for shark fin soup) are obtained from sharks! And what can be a very effective tool in making the issue personal to the Chinese people is the unfortunate levels of mercury found in shark products. According to Trent, a 2007-2008 WildAid study indicated that a quarter of shark fin samples sold at Hong Kong markets were unfit for human consumption.

Read article in Mother Nature Network.

Panama Bans Fishing of Rays
Cousins to the sharks are the many varieties of rays in the oceans - from small round sting rays up to the manta ray which can reach 20 feet from fin tip to fin tip. This past week, the Panama government instituted a ban on all the fishing and commercialization of rays within its territorial waters. According to WildAid, "the Authority on Aquatic Resources of Panama (ARAP) informed that "the fishing, capture, transport, transfer, possession and commercialisation of rays [is now] totally prohibited" throughout the national territory."

This is a remarkable move on the part of a government because it was in response to an increasing level of catch but the decision was made without scientific evidence that the rays were at risk of being endangered or facing extinction within Panama waters. Unfortunately, decisions of this sort are typically made when a species is at grave risk; but here Panama has taken a preventative step and chosen to follow the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing of the United Nations Fishing and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With the ban in place, scientific studies will now be initiated to determine current populations and what, if any, sustainable levels of fishing can be managed successfully.

Read WildAid news item.

Beached Sperm Whales Died of Ingested Plastic
Scientists have now determined that seven sperm whales that beached themselves last week on the shores of Foggia, Italy, had died due to the ingestion of plastic. The whales, ranging in length from 30 to 45 feet, died within a few days of coming ashore. The results of necropsies showed the whales stomachs contained a variety of plastic, which gets caught up in the digestive tract and causes blockages or can cause the tract to twist or strangle itself. In addition, the stomachs also contained other indigestible items like rope, tin cans, and other containers.

Sperm whales are toothed whales and eat a variety of fish but are particularly fond of squid.
"They must have mistaken the objects for squid, one of their favorite foods," said Giuseppe Nascetti, who teaches marine ecology at Tuscia University.

Read news item.

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