An Occasional Ramble by the Sea
March 24, 2006
By David Helvarg
Striper success story being flushed down Chesapeake drain
Often hailed as a model of how to do marine protection the right way, striped bass have made a dramatic come back since they were fished to near extinction in the 1970s and ‘80s. Cooperative efforts by government agencies, commercial and recreational fishermen as well as clean-ups of their habitats in the Hudson and Chesapeake resulted in a dramatic comeback of these feisty predator fish that can grow as large as bulldogs.
Now increased pollution in the Chesapeake Bay is being blamed for an epidemic of wasting disease that is decimating strippers while also causing painful skin infections to some people who handle them. Scientists don’t know why, a decade after the “mycobacteriosis” bacteria first appeared in the bay, some 70 percent of area stripers are now infected, or what this means in terms of the population’s long-term survival. Along with polluted runoff from factory farms and development, another possible culprit is the decline of menhaden baitfish in the bay. The decline of menhaden in the stripper’s diet has also paralleled the increase in their disease.
I’ll Take Menhaden
An oil rich herring like fish, the Menhaden has long been the base of the Atlantic marine food web as well as an “industrial fish” caught and converted into fish oil and fertilizer among other products. But as the fish declined precipitously in recent years Maryland decided to ban menhaden fishing in its waters. Not so Virginia, where Omega Protein, a company spawned by the Bush family founded Zapata oil drilling company now operates a huge menhaden fish processing plant. Omega recently got the Virginia state legislature to block limits on how many fish can be taken. While they’re no longer able to catch more than 100,000 tons a year because of the decline of the biomass, they still insist on their right to do so should the fish recover from what they’re doing to them. Fighting to protect the menhaden’s ecological niche in the bay is a flotilla of marine conservation interests ranging from recreational fishermen to scientists to Greenpeace enviros. There’s an excellent article on Menhaden in the March/April issue of Mother Jones magazine (the issue cheerfully titled, ‘The Last Days of the Ocean’). The Menhaden article is written by Rutgers professor H. Bruce Franklin who has also written a book about the fish. This will join a tasty new literary school that includes recent popular books on Cod, Sturgeon, Shad, lobster and Oysters.
Young Killer Whale too nice to live
Luna, a juvenile killer whale from Washington State who got lost in Canada’s Nootka Sound in 2001 and started keeping company with people recently died after being accidentally struck by a tugboat prop according to the Associated Press. The big seagoing tug had pulled into sheltered waters to escape rough weather in the Pacific.
“Luna came over as he does and was interacting – disappearing under the hull and so on. … He must have gotten drawn into the propeller,” said government research scientist and orca expert John Ford. “It was one of our fears about what might happen to Luna…he’s been engaging in these risky interactions with boats for several years now.”
Always curious, Luna had become a regular visitor to local boaters and fishermen. Since Orcas can live about as long as humans, Luna, who was about 6-years-old was like a young child.
Canada tried to reunite Luna with his pod in the Strait of Juan de Fuca back in 2004. That effort was scrapped when local Indians lured Luna away from the net pen intended to snare him. The Mowachaht/Muchalaht Tribe believed Luna embodied the spirit of their dead chief, Ambrose Maquinna, and did not want him removed. While that may or may not be so, he was also a curious young whale separated from his family and left to fend for himself in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
What oil spills?
How about 9.2 million gallons in the Post Katrina & Rita Gulf of Mexico region according to the Coast Guard? That’s not counting up to 3 million gallons released after a barge hit a sunken oil-rig in November (See Blue Notes #22). When I was in the Gulf a few weeks after Katrina I thought there would be major media coverage of the spills after the final human remains were collected, but for some reason this never happened. Now there’s a major pipeline spill on the Alaskan tundra in Prudhoe Bay (around 250,00 gallons that went undetected for days), a result of aging and corroding pipelines on the North Slope. And how has Congress reacted to these disasters? – With a major push to open up protected offshore ocean areas to new oil and gas drilling plus a new Senate budget rider to again try and open up the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The latest scheme passed 51-49 on the night of March 16 (with democratic Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana voting in favor). The proposal would create a $10 billion Gulf Coast restoration fund to be financed from the leasing of Arctic Refuge drilling rights. Since the lease sales wouldn’t take place for several years, I assume the restoration fund will be for recovery from future fossil fuel driven hurricanes that will continue to ravage our coasts as we (and by we I mean the Petroleum lobby and its fully-owned subsidiary on Capitol Hill) continue to ignore the consequences of global warming.
Blond claws way to the top
And at over 7,000 feet that’s a long way to go. A team of American-led divers from MBARI, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, discovered a new species (and family) of crustacean that resembles a 6-inch white lobster covered in silky blond fur 7,540 feet beneath the sea’s surface some 900 miles south of Easter Island. The sightless animal’s pinchers are thickly covered with sinuous, hair-like strands. The discovery, made last year, was recently reported and described in the journal of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. So to repeat, a hard-shelled blond who won’t look at you but gets you in way over your head. And this is news because…?
50 Ways to…Aw Shucks.
“Combining wisdom and humor, scientific accuracy and artistic genius, Helvarg and Toomey show why the ocean matters to all of us…Everyone, from toddler to tycoon, can find inspiration for action in this must-have guide to ocean care.” – Sylvia Earle, marine scientist, author and National Geographic explorer-in-residence.
It’s finally here: ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ written by myself, illustrated by Sherman’s Lagoon creator Jim Toomey and with a foreword by Philippe Cousteau. Plus that smiling sea lion on the cover is worth the price alone. Officially the book launches take place in NY and DC just before and on Earth Day (April 21 & 22). For the full 26 city tour schedule and other information go to: www.50waystosavetheocean.com If you’d like to do discount bulk orders, hold your own book party, have me (and/or Jim Toomey) speak at an ocean event or meet me on the road please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org