Showing posts tagged as "endangered species"
A Sad Anniversary—and a Cautionary Tale for Our Oceans
By Jim Covel, Director of Guest Experience
September 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of the last passenger pigeon. Named “Martha,” this bird has the dubious distinction of being an “endling,” meaning she was the very last of her species. Martha spent most of her estimated 29 years at the Cincinnati Zoo in one of the first captive breeding programs, which was ultimately unsuccessful.
What makes Martha’s story so remarkable—and regrettable—is that a century earlier the number of passenger pigeons in North America was estimated as high as 3-5 billion birds! The flocks depended on large tracts of hardwood forest for food, nesting and roosting areas. One nesting area in Wisconsin was estimated at 850 square miles hosting over 130,000,000 passenger pigeons. Migrating flocks would darken the skies for hours or days at a time.
Despite those unimaginable numbers, in less than 100 years only Martha remained—and then there were none. Unregulated commercial hunting wiped out one flock after another. The bird’s habit of consistently returning to the same areas facilitated the slaughter. Removing vast tracts of forest that were essential habitat for the passenger pigeon put the final nail in the species coffin.
In retrospect, Martha and her kind provided an awful awakening that we humans had the power to drive nearly any species over the precipice into extinction. Martha inspired a new round of conservation measures that limited and eventually eliminated many forms of commercial hunting. It would be nice to know that we learned that lesson well. But have we?
Passenger Pigeons of the Ocean?
If we look to the sea rather than the sky, there are fishes that might be considered the passenger pigeons of the ocean—species once so abundant their numbers were considered both inestimable and inexhaustible. The great runs of salmon on our Pacific Coast might be one example. Most major rivers along this coast supported runs of salmon ranging from the hundreds of thousands to over 10 million in the Columbia River. These fish were concentrated into defined spawning runs, much like the passenger pigeons occupied specific nesting and roosting areas. Early fishers could row from shore placing large seine nets around the salmon and then using teams of horses to drag the laden nets up onto shore.
Yet today many salmon runs are considered endangered. Commercial salmon fishing is highly regulated as is sport fishing, so why are salmon numbers still in trouble? The quality of salmon habitat—particularly spawning streams and rivers—continues to decline. Just as farmland replaced the extensive hardwood forests the passenger pigeons relied upon, human demands for fresh water leave less and less available in streams for the fish. A universal truth in nature is that any species is only as healthy as the habitat it depends upon.
So if we work toward healthy oceans and healthy streams, perhaps we can enjoy healthy populations of many important fishes well into the future. The very thought that someday there could be an “endling” coho salmon, or bluefin tuna is too terrible to contemplate. Remember Martha, and as we acknowledge her regrettable anniversary we can renew our commitment to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Learn more about conservation at the Aquarium
(Image from Smithsonian Institution Archives)
Look Who’s Headed to Monterey!
On Thursday, we returned one young loggerhead sea turtle to North Carolina for release back to the wild. Today, this hatchling will make the trip to the West Coast for a year-long stay on exhibit in our Open Sea galleries.
It will arrive tonight and go straight from the airport to the exhibit.
This new #TravelingTurtle, like its predecessor, was late to emerge from its nest on a North Carolina beach. It was rescued, along with other laggard hatchlings, and raised by colleagues at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
The rescued turtles are loaned to aquariums around the country as a way to share the story of this endangered species while the youngsters grow large enough for release.
Our first turtle weighed less than half a pound and measured nearly 4 1/2 inches when it arrived. Yesterday it was nearly 10 inches long and weighed almost 5 pounds.
The new turtle will also be relatively tiny — and will grow impressively fast.
And when it’s big enough, it will again be a #TravelingTurtle: from Monterey to North Carolina to the wild Atlantic.
Photo courtesy North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.
Did you know that today is Endangered Species Day, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the federal Endangered Species Act? We rescue, study and care for many endangered species at the Aquarium, in cooperation with government agencies. These include snowy plovers, sharks, sea otters, penguins, rockfish and albatross. How will you celebrate this special day?
New Future for Great White Sharks?
Should great white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific be placed on the endangered species list? That’s the issue being considered by Californa and U.S. wildlife officials, who have received petitions calling for protection under state and federal Endangered Species acts.
The Aquarium is very supportive of this process, and we’re assisting in any way we can so the final decision is based on the best, most current science.
Much of what’s known about the lives of adult and juvenile great white sharks today – from migration patterns and population size, to the contaminant levels in their tissues – is the result of studies in which the Aquarium, along with a broad consortium of scientists from Stanford, UC Davis, CSU Long Beach and other institutions, has played a key role.
There’s more public concern about the future of great white sharks in part because we have, since 2004, introduced more than 3 million people to a half-dozen young sharks face-to-face in our Open Sea exhibit. Visitors tell us that the experience changed their attitudes and say they were inspired to help protect white sharks in the wild.
While the review process is under way, we’ve decided not to collect white sharks for exhibit. It’s our hope that any new policies protecting white sharks will allow for occasional exhibit of white sharks (before their return to the wild) and for a vigorous field research program. Both public engagement and research are essential to assure a future for white sharks.