Chincoteague Ponies Survived Hurricane Sandy

Photo by deanwissing, Creative Commons.

From Georgia to Maryland, wild horses live on low lying sandy islands, and manage to eek out a living on a diet of marsh grass and shrubs. Most well known of these horses are the Chincoteague Ponies, made famous by Marguerite Henry in the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague. These small horses live most of the year on nearby Assateague Island, where they are well managed by the local volunteer fire fighters. Thankfully the ponies were able to find high ground and rode out the storm safely.

ASSATEAGUE–The island’s wild pony herd successfully weathered Hurricane Sandy’s tidal surges and strong winds.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent out a mass e-mail Tuesday to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company notifying members of the herd’s safety.
“Everybody looks healthy and satisfied,” said Denise Bowden, spokesperson for the fire company, which owns and maintains the 135 ponies.
“They did a quick head count and nobody’s missing, everybody’s there,” she said.
On Sunday, fire company members opened the gates that contain the southern herd, allowing the ponies to seek higher ground at the White Hills area.

On the Maryland [this is correction, thanks to a reader who caught the error!] side of the island, other than birth control and in occasional extreme circumstances the horses are treated as wild animals and are left to survive on their own. Farther to the south, along the outer banks of North Carolina to Georgia other bands of wild horses are collectively referred to as “Bankers” or “Banker Ponies”, the term derived from the fact that they live on the outer banks – and luckily,  Hurricane Sandy landed its force farther up the coast, sparing the 500 or so wild and unique horses that call the region home.

These horses eat marsh grass and shrubs. (Photo by Ctwirler12, Creative Commons)

Cumberland Island, Georgia, horses (National Park Service Photo)

Corolla North Carolina 'Bankers" show evidence of Spanish descent.

Cousteau and Dr. Visser Explain Why the Orca Morgan Needs to be Freed; Time is Crucial, Dutch Court Hears the Case Tomorrow (11/1/12)

Jean-Michel Cousteau and Dr. Ingrid Visser in conversation with WILD TIME’s Thomas Janak bring clarity and insight into the fundamental importance of returning this young killer whale to the wild. They point out that times have changed along with our understanding of these intelligent whales, and Cousteau makes the case that we have more to learn from them in the wild than we can in captivity. Orca biologist Dr. Visser explains the suffering that Morgan endures in captivity, and makes suggestions for what people can do to help. For more information please go to

Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Rake marks on Morgan from other whales (Courtesy of End Killer Whale Captivity)

Climate Change Denier Senator James Inhofe Receives Rubber Dodo Award

(Center for Biological Diversity)

“I am truly honored that yet another radical environmental group has given me an award for my efforts to put a stop to President Obama’s far-left global warming agenda,” Senator Inhofe said.  “The Center for Biological Diversity should be pleased to know that my award will have a prominent place in my office, along with all the others I have been proud to receive over the years.  As the top Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I have worked every day to expose the radical left’s extremist agenda aimed at ending American production of oil, gas, and coal because of the devastating consequences it will have on the American people.”
From the Center for Biological Diversity:

TUCSON, Ariz.— Senator James Inhofe, one of Congress’ staunchest deniers of climate change and stalwart human obstacle to federal action on this unprecedented global crisis, is the lucky recipient of the Center for Biological Diversity’s 2012 Rubber Dodo Award, which is given annually to those who have done the most to drive endangered species extinct.
Rubber dodo

Previous winners include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2011), former BP CEO Tony Hayward (2010), massive land speculator Michael Winer (2009), Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (2008) and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne (2007).
When it comes to denying the climate crisis — the single-greatest threat now facing life on Earth — James Inhofe has few peers. The Oklahoma Republican is the ringleader of anti-science climate-deniers in Congress and a driving force behind the tragic lack of U.S. action to tackle this complex problem. 2012 saw the publication, to resoundingly little critical acclaim, of Sen. Inhofe’s book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, by WND Press, an entity also known for its “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama.
“As climate change ravages the world, Senator Inhofe insists that we deny the reality unfolding in front of us and choose instead to blunder headlong into chaos,” said Kierán Suckling, the Center’s executive director. “Senator Inhofe gets the 2012 Rubber Dodo Award for being at the vanguard of the retrograde climate-denier movement.”
This year is on track to become the warmest on record; some 40,000 temperature records have been broken in the United States in 2012 alone, while Arctic sea ice has melted to a record low. The year has also seen record droughts, crop failures, massive wildfires, floods and other unmistakable signals that manmade global warming is tightening its grip, threatening people and wildlife around the globe.
“Senator Inhofe’s pet theory that climate change is an elaborate hoax would be hilarious, if only he weren’t an elected representative of the American people,” Suckling said. “If he were, say, a performance artist, it’d be really funny. But sadly he has the power to affect U.S. climate policy. The United States has a chance — and a duty — to take significant steps to slow the climate crisis, and a brief window of time before it’s too late for us to do so. Deniers like Inhofe, in positions of leadership, are dooming future generations of people to a far more difficult world.

Background on the Dodo
In 1598, Dutch sailors landing on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius discovered a flightless, three-foot-tall, extraordinarily friendly bird. Its original scientific name was Didus ineptus. (Contemporary scientists use the less defamatory Raphus cucullatus.) To the rest of the world, it’s the dodo — the most famous extinct species on Earth. It evolved over millions of years with no natural predators and eventually lost the ability to fly, becoming a land-based consumer of fruits, nuts and berries. Having never known predators, it showed no fear of humans or the menagerie of animals accompanying them to Mauritius.

Its trusting nature led to its rapid extinction. By 1681 the dodo was extinct, having been hunted and outcompeted by humans, dogs, cats, rats, macaques and pigs. Humans logged its forest cover while pigs uprooted and ate much of the understory vegetation.
The origin of the name dodo is unclear. It likely came from the Dutch word dodoor, meaning “sluggard,” the Portuguese word doudo, meaning “fool” or “crazy,” or the Dutch word dodaars meaning “plump-arse” (that nation’s name for the little grebe).
The dodo’s reputation as a foolish, ungainly bird derives in part from its friendly naiveté and the very plump captives that were taken on tour across Europe. The animal’s reputation was cemented with the 1865 publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Based on skeleton reconstructions and the discovery of early drawings, scientists now believe that the dodo was a much sleeker animal than commonly portrayed. The rotund European exhibitions were accidentally produced by overfeeding captive birds.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Georgia A-Scary-Um – A Beluga Thriller (Video)

“Something strange is happening at the Georgia Aquarium. This Halloween, as the world’s largest aquarium transforms into the Georgia A-Scary-Um, there is a chill in the air and a noticeable change in the people and animals. Wonder what it could be…” Captivity!
Please oppose the importing of 18 wild Belugas for Georgia Aquarium by October 29th, this is an important issue for many reasons, and it will set an unfortunate precedent for capturing any non-endangered marine mammals for display if the permit is granted. (Find out more here).!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158

What Beluga Whales Are Telling Us

It has been demonstrated that belugas can imitate speech and they try to communicate with us non-verbally as well – and as can be seen in these videos, the beluga is clearly “saying” that he is annoyed, or possibly he is so bored that he has made a game of frightening people.
The tapping, clicking, squeaking, pounding on the glass walls of the beluga tanks is nearly constant for the whales, each visitor not really understanding that it can be aggravating and stressful – and it goes on day in and day out. The aquarium personnel not only permit the behavior, but are disingenuous in what they tell the public.

Uploader: “Hi- I recorded this video… I don’t know who those kids are, but I blame the Mystic aquarium for not posting signs advising that the whales get agitated by people at the glass. An employee told me in confidence that they keep it a secret that the whale reaction is aggressive, because it can be interpreted as playful by someone who doesn’t know.”
A comment: “I’m sure you’ve already gotten this, but in the video Juno is jaw-popping. I’ve visited Mystic often enough to notice the pattern in this behavior. He only jaw pops at kids, and he only jaw pops when people are tapping on the glass. Sometimes the kids don’t even do anything and he STILL jaw pops at them. Normally this is an aggressive behavior, however I’ve been told my multiple employees that he learned it from Kela, and that he either does that for the reaction, or when the noise gets too loud.”

Jun 18, 2011
In an article on the educational value of captive displays of marine mammals, Dr. Lori Marino of the Kimmela Center reports that “I found that these organizations misrepresented information about the welfare and intelligence of marine mammals with boldly inaccurate assertions and biased half-truths.”
In Japan:

Dr. Marino is adamant that sentient, intelligent animals do not belong in tanks where they are continually subjected to unnatural conditions, and where the captive industry fails in their promise of education:

Saying that something is educational is not the same as something actually being educational. And this was the focus of my testimony to Congress at the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife in 2010 on the educational claims of the marine mammal captivity industry.
In my testimony, I questioned whether the marine mammal captivity industry is meeting the educational requirements of the MMPA and argued that in order for any program to meet even minimum standards for education or conservation, two straightforward criteria must be met:
This is the first time since 1993 that a U.S. marine park has sought to acquire wild-caught whales for public display. When asked to justify this major change in policy, the Georgia Aquarium replied that it is “to promote conservation and education.” They play the education card regularly because the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) requires public displays of marine mammals to be educational. They also know that education is an unassailable objective, so all zoos, marine parks and aquariums pay lip service to it.

(Mystic Aquarium, the Shedd Aquarium, and SeaWorld are included in the permit application.)
Please let NOAA know how you feel about taking more belugas from the wild and subjecting them to life in captivity.

Beluga Imitates Human Speech, a Seal Talks, and an Orphaned Orca Imitates a Boat. Who Knew?

“Who told me to get out?” asked a diver, surfacing from a tank that housed a young beluga whale named Noc. It turns out it was the whale ‘speaking’, as shown in this 1985 video just released by The National Marine Mammal Foundation. (See abstract below).

From the Wild Dolphin Conservation Society:

The research was published in Current Biology and shows that these vocalisations were two octaves lower than usual and were made before the whale reached adulthood. Noc, the beluga whale who was recorded making these unusual sounds, died in captivity some five years ago. Yet, it has taken all this time for this research to emerge.
And what did one of the staff at this captive facility believe he heard Noc say when he was in the water cleaning his pool? ‘Out’
Was that ‘Get out’ or ‘Let me Out’? Perhaps we’ll never know.

In contrast, here is a brief clip of natural Beluga sounds:

The classic evidence for vocal production learning involves imitation of novel, often anthropogenic sounds.
Among mammals, this has been reported for dolphins, elephants, harbor seals, and humans.
A broader taxonomic distribution has been reported for vocal convergence, where the acoustic properties of calls from different individuals converge when they are housed together in captivity or form social bonds in the wild.
Vocal convergence has been demonstrated for animals as diverse as songbirds, parakeets, hummingbirds, bats, elephants, cetaceans, and primates. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).

In other words, many species of animals imitate sounds in their environment, and when they are deprived of normal interaction with their own species at a young age they appear to try to establish communication with other species.

Here is something to consider – it may even turn out that the belugas imitate sounds in their environment and incorporate it into their dialects – and this could include other human languages such as Chinese or Russian (belugas are a circum-arctic species):

Abstract for the article on Noc in Current Biology: Although dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have been trained to match numbers and durations of human vocal bursts [1] and reported to spontaneously match computer-generated whistles [2], spontaneous human voice mimicry has not previously been demonstrated. The first to study white whale (Delphinapterus leucas) sounds in the wild, Schevill and Lawrence [3] wrote that “occasionally the calls would suggest a crowd of children shouting in the distance”. Fish and Mowbary [4] described sound types and reviewed past descriptions of sounds from this vociferous species. At Vancouver Aquarium, Canada, keepers suggested that a white whale about 15 years of age, uttered his name “Lagosi”. Other utterances were not perceptible, being described as “garbled human voice, or Russian, or similar to Chinese” by R.L. Eaton in a self-published account in 1979. However, hitherto no acoustic recordings have shown how such sounds emulate speech and deviate from the usual calls of the species. We report here sound recordings and analysis which demonstrate spontaneous mimicry of the human voice, presumably a result of vocal learning [5], by a white whale.

Help Protect the Small Fish – They Can Bring Whales Close to Shore

In June, West Coast fishery officials recognized the importance of abundant populations of small schooling fish, commonly known as forage fish, as the lifeblood of a productive Pacific Ocean ecosystem. Little fish such as sardines, anchovy, and smelt eat tiny plants and animals drifting near the ocean’s surface and are in turn eaten by everything higher in the food web—including bigger fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. The Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC) set an admirable goal of prohibiting new fisheries targeting forage fish until there is proof that the fishery wouldn’t harm the overall ecosystem.
However, the council has not enacted protections for vulnerable forage species such as saury, sand lance, and various kinds of smelts. The panel chose to complete a Fishery Ecosystem Plan before moving on to enacting protections for unmanaged species of forage fish.
Here’s how you can help. The PFMC meets Nov. 2-7. Now is the time to ask the council to complete its Fishery Ecosystem Plan in a timely manner and urge that it include meaningful measures to conserve forage fish. It needs to hear now from West Coast residents who value a healthy ecosystem—people like you!
Please ask the council to adopt a Fishery Ecosystem Plan that will help protect the Pacific marine ecosystem now and for the future. (Pew Environment Group)

Sign the Petition – Please Click Here to Help Protect the Pacific Ocean Food Web

Leonardo DiCaprio Is Drawing Attention to the Antarctic Marine Sanctuary

I’m writing to ask for your help. In days, governments could turn stretches of the Antarctic ocean into the world’s largest marine sanctuary, saving thousands of majestic polar species from the threat of industrial fishing fleets. But a small group of countries could drown the deal unless we act now:
Most countries support the sanctuary, but Russia, South Korea and a few others are threatening to vote it down so they can plunder these seas now that others have been fished to death. This week, a small group of negotiators will meet behind closed doors to make a decision. A massive people-powered surge could break open the talks, isolate those attempting to block the sanctuary, and secure a deal to protect over 6 million square kilometers of the precious Antarctic ocean.
The whales and penguins can’t speak for themselves, so it’s up to us to defend them. Let’s change negotiators’ minds with a massive wave of public pressure — Avaaz will surround the meeting with hard-hitting ads, and together we’ll deliver our message to delegates via a deafening cry on social networks. Sign this urgent petition and share it with everyone you know:
More than 10,000 species call these remote Antarctic waters their home, including blue whales, leopard seals, and emperor penguins, and many are found nowhere else on Earth. Climate change has already taken a cruel toll on their fragile habitat, but they will come under further threat from the industrial fishing fleet’s mile-long nets cast over these precious waters. Only a marine sanctuary will increase their odds for survival.
The 25-member governing body that regulates the Antarctic oceans has already committed to creating these marine protected areas. But the two plans being negotiated — one to protect part of the fragile Ross Sea and one for East Antarctica — are at risk of dilution or delay. Shockingly, the talks have been off the media’s radar and countries like Russia and South Korea are betting their opposition will go unnoticed, but if we cast a public spotlight on the talks we can force them to back off, and encourage champions like the US and EU to push for even stronger protections.
The Avaaz community has come together time and time again to protect our oceans. We’ve already helped win two of the largest marine reserves in the world. But the threats to our oceans continue, and one by one species are coming closer to the brink. Join me in saving the Antarctic ocean before it’s too late.
With hope,
Leonardo DiCaprio, with the Avaaz team
Protect Antarctic waters before it’s too late, says environment coalition (The Guardian)
Alliance Seeks Vast Marine Reserves in Antarctic (New York Times)
Milestone discussions on marine protected areas in Antarctica scheduled for CCAMLR’s 31st annual meetings in Hobart (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources)
Antarctic oceans are under threat (Antarctic Ocean Alliance)
Antarctic seas in the balance (Nature)

How to Write Effective Comments and Make a Difference for Whales and Dolphins

The following tips are among those published by the government to help you increase the impact of comments you submit concerning government regulations, but they are useful points to know any time you want your comments to have impact. (Tips for submitting effective comments).

  • Although agencies receive and appreciate all comments, constructive comments (either positive or negative) are the most likely to have an influence.
  • If you disagree with a proposed action, suggest an alternative (including not regulating at all) and include an explanation and/or analysis of how the alternative might meet the same objective or be more effective.
  • The comment process is not a vote. The government is attempting to formulate the best policy, so when crafting a comment it is important that you adequately explain the reasoning behind your position.
  • Identify credentials and experience that may distinguish your comments from others. If you are commenting in an area in which you have relevant personal or professional experience (i.e., scientist, attorney, fisherman, businessman, etc.) say so.
  • Agency reviewers look for sound science and reasoning in the comments they receive. When possible, support your comment with substantive data, facts, and/or expert opinions. You may also provide personal experience in your comment, as may be appropriate. By supporting your arguments well you are more likely to influence the agency decision making.
  • Consider including examples of how the proposed rule would impact you negatively or positively.

For instance, if you would like to comment on the application submitted to NOAA by the Georgia Aquarium to allow for the importation of belugas from the wild, think about just one or two aspects that you feel strongly about, and emphasize what makes your opinion unique – this is not the time to be modest.  It all counts, from a particular memory to personal beliefs, everyone’s voice is important.  As an example, in the application Georgia Aquarium submitted copies of handwritten thank-you notes from children (which we all remember having to do following field trips as children – so while sweet, the letters may not reflect what the child experienced at all, and a teacher, parent, or really anyone who went on those field trips and wrote the letters can comment upon).


Circus appeal of their “educational” brochure.


Notice in this letter the use of a few simple points and the inclusion of qualifications, as suggested in the tips provided:

Statement Against Proposed Beluga Imports by the Georgia Aquarium
I would like to address three points – education, conservation, and the proposed living conditions – in which I feel that the Georgia Aquarium inaccurately portrays itself in its request to import wild belugas
The Georgia Aquarium misrepresents itself as an educational institution in an attempt to convince the public that deeming a display educational justifies the inhumane conditions which cetaceans are forced to endure in captivity.
While it can be exciting to view whales and dolphins up close in captivity, there is nothing authentically educational in the experience. The content of talks given by aquarium personnel and the accompanying graphics are muted and secondary when compared to the mesmerizing presence of the animals.
What is actually being learned is that there is nothing wrong with taking animals from the wild and keeping them in unnatural conditions.  This kind of learning is due to “meta-communication”,  defined as “Communication that indicates how verbal information should be interpreted; stimuli surrounding the verbal communication that also have meaning, which may or may not be congruent with that of, or support the verbal talk. It may support or contradict verbal communication.”  Seeing these animals – which come with built-in smiles – leads people to think that the whales are happy and healthy.
In the Aquarium’s  “Education & Guest Programs Guide 2011-2012” (provided in the application and found on page 307), founder and chairman Bernie Marcus writes “When I first envisioned the Georgia Aquarium, I knew it had to be educational, entertaining and it must help future generations gain an appreciation for our oceans and the organisms that live there. The Georgia Aquarium has become a remarkable resource serving to promote conservation and awareness to nearly 10 million people. By using the Aquarium as a true learning environment, guests are exposed to the many wonders of the rivers and oceans that surround us.”
Yet in an New York Times article dated 8/27/2012 the Aquarium’s Vice President for Education and Training, Brian Davis, describes the Georgia Aquarium’s contradictory stance on providing true education when he says “…to this day this institution ensures its guests will not hear the term global warming. Visitors are “very conservative,” he said. “When they hear certain terms, our guests shut down. We’ve seen it happen.”
Thus Georgia Aquarium blatantly states that their commitment to education goes as far as telling the public what they think the public wants to hear, despite Marcus’ prose.
Conservation and Living conditions:

The concept of taking wild animals into captivity in order to conserve a species is antiquated, and is based on 19th century thinking in which wild animals were often slaughtered for museums as the populations were otherwise decimated to near extinction.  A case in point is that of the Elephant Seal (Mirounga Angustirostris), a species nearly wiped out in less than two decades:
“In 1892 a Smithsonian expedition to Guadalupe Island discovered 8 elephant seals. But these early expeditions didn’t seem to be interested as much in species preservation as they were in collecting these rare specimens for science. As a result they killed 7 of the seals to bring back to U.S. museums. Reports of this discovery by Charles H. Townsend of the New York Aquarium further reveal that as they were loading the seals in the boats the surf came up and they were forced to leave 4 of the 7 on the sand. Nice.
This was rock-bottom for the elephant seal. It’s estimated that only between 20 and 100 individuals existed at that time. For the next twenty years each scientific expedition to Guadalupe Island killed as many specimens as they could as demand for them in museums of natural history was great. And despite this the population slowly recovered.”
Removing animals for display has the identical effect on the remaining wild population as does killing the targeted individuals, and captivity reduces the quality of life for the individuals removed thus can limit any perceived benefit to the captive gene pool (due to reproductive failure resulting from stress).
Although the Georgia Aquarium argues that the tank sizes meet or exceed APHIS requirements, and that the water quality is closely monitored, they do not appear to attempt the duplication of the natural conditions for belugas.
On page 269 of the application, the data given as representing the natural environment of the belugas proposed for importation is reported as:
“Average annual surface water temperatures are 5 to 7 °C (41 to 44.6 °F) in the north and 2 to 3 °C (35.6 to 37.4 °F) in the south (UNEP 2006). From May to November, average monthly water temperatures remain above freezing (UNEP 2006). Surface water temperatures drop to -1.0 to -1.8 °C (30.2 to 28.8 °F) in the late winter months (February and March), resulting in large formations of sea ice. In the Sea of Okhotsk, there is significant variability in water temperature between surface and sub-surface areas. The Sea is characterized by a layer whose core is -2 °C (28 °F) because of severe cooling on the northern shelf in winter. This cold intermediate layer can persist throughout the warm season and it is a feature unique to the Sea of Okhotsk (Radchenko et al. 2010)”
Yet the Aquarium belugas’ are kept in relatively balmy and uniform 54 degree (F) water which is composed of a “seawater mix with a combination of major salts as found in the ocean”.  However, fundamental to all life in the ocean is the fact that salinity and mineral content varies with many factors, and can define the ecological niche of marine wildlife.
Further, and possibly the most important factor with respect to the housing, is that belugas are unique among cetaceans in that they shed their epidermis in an annual molt, as opposed to the continual sloughing that is the case among other species.  This is known to occur in concert with annual migrations to warmer and fresher water. The Aquarium in no way accommodates this factor in the maintenance of the belugas they already house, nor is there anything in this permit application to suggest that they not the other institutions hoping to receive the belugas have even considered this basic biological need.
I urge you to not allow wild caught belugas to be subjected to captivity, as there are no valid reasons in education or conservation for doing so.
Candace Calloway Whiting
Bachelor of Arts in Psychobiology
Post Baccalaureate of Science in Oceanography

Submitting Comments (the online form is quick and easy to use. Limited to 2000 characters or less in the text).

You may submit comments on this [Beluga Importation] document, identified by NOAA-NMFS-2012-0158, by any of the following methods:

  • Online: Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal:
  • Mail: Submit written comments to:
    Chief, Permits and Conservation Division
    Office of Protected Resources
    NOAA Fisheries
    1315 East-West Highway, Room 13705
    Silver Spring, MD 20910
  • Fax: 301-713-0376; Attn: Jennifer Skidmore

Instructions: Comments must be submitted by one of the above methods to ensure that the comments are received, documented, and considered by NOAA Fisheries. Comments sent by any other method, to any other address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, may not be considered. All comments received are a part of the public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on without change. All personal identifying information (e.g., name, address, etc.) submitted voluntarily by the sender will be publicly accessible. Do not submit confidential business information, or otherwise sensitive or protected information. NOAA Fisheries will accept anonymous comments (enter “N/A” in the required fields if you wish to remain anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, WordPerfect, or Adobe PDF file formats only.