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Sea lions take over dock at Moss Landing, California

tagged manatees

NC horses in VA
Instead, they are thought to have been descended from Spanish mustangs that lived free on the North Carolina Outer Banks for centuries.
While many of these mustang descendants now live in the Currituck Wild Horse Sanctuary in North Carolina, the Pungo horses were bound and determined to cross over the state line and establish residence in Virginia.
Over time, this group, under the leadership of a shiny red stallion with a long black mane, left their larger gang behind in North Carolina. Perhaps to isolate his mares from the other stallions, the big male began bringing his family up into Virginia, where they enjoyed fine dining in grassy Sandbridge yards and entranced many residents.
Donna Snow, president of Virginia Wild Horse Rescue,

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Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle trudges through beach, photo by krembo1

The sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico may turn out to be the ones in the most trouble from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Even though they haven’t shown signs of oil, they may be ingesting it.

Dr. Mike Ziccardi, a veterinarian who runs the Oiled Wildlife Care Network and is handling all the non-bird oiled wildlife in the gulf, now says they’re getting a high number of dead turtles, 156 so far. Mostly juveniles and mostly the rarest kind, Kemp’s Ridley, TampaBay.com reports. The dead sea turtles “are in higher numbers than you would expect,” he told Reuters.

No one is sure what killed the turtles. There was Dr. Ziccardi was initially very cautious, noting that turtles just wash up dead this time of year and that they showed no oil. Some blamed shrimpers. OnEarth, the NRDC blog, says that Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) estimates fishermen kill 25,000 sea turtles each year.  And that’s way down from a decade ago, before the mandated Turtle Exclusion Device, when 86,000 were wiped out.

Now Dr. Ziccardi he’s contemplating something more insidious: that they are injesting the oil but it doesn’t show up on the outside. “Marine mammals and sea turtles are much more likely to have less apparent external exposure and greater internal exposure than avian species,” he wrote on his blog. Animals that don’t show oil can have internal oil damage. Sometimes you can see it in their feces but others have “sub-apparent internal exposure.” You can find that by looking for microscopic toxin damage or chemical analysis, he says.

Kemp’s Ridley’s are critically endangered and only found in the gulf and on the east coast. They’re carnivorous bottom-feeders, exactly what you don’t want to be in this oil spill. It’s the smallest sea turtle, nests during the day and en masse at sites called arribadas. In 1947 42,000 nested in one day near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. That fell to 5,00, but has climbed up to 7,866 in 2006. They nest at Padre Island, TX, too, but only 127 nests were counted in 2007.

A big set back was a 1979 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Ixtoc I,  that’s a lot like Deepwater Horizon. the Blow Out Preventer failed. The spill was slow moving. Relatively few dead animals were found. Though the direct link was never found, the Times says, the population went way down.

All seven species of sea turtle are either endangered or threatened and five live in the Gulf of Mexico, the Parks Service says. The other big threat to sea turtles is people stealing the eggs and eating the females when they go ashore to lay them. It’s mostly outlawed, but just this week Mexican cops caught two guys with 5,800 eggs near Acapulco.  In Denespar, Indonesia, cops confiscated 71 huge, endangered green sea turtles about to be served as food in a stall, the AP reports. The Jakarta Post says they also just caught men smuggling 12,000 turtle eggs in cigarette cartons aboard a ferry.

Looks like we might not have oiled birds being soaped up for camera, but something much slower and grimmer.

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Hundreds of volunteers are assembling booms at Boom B Qs

Funny thing about all that hair and fur being shorn around the country to great fanfare to sop up the BP gulf oil spill: nobody wants it. Or at least the people actually cleaning up the oil say it isn’t as good as the store-bought booms they’re using. But that hasn’t stopped people from sending it in and reporters from extensively covering the sweet but so far futile gesture.

Last week the official spill Facebook page, Deepwater Horizon Response,  put out this deeply unpopular message:

We are not using hair booms at this time but are using commercially available sorbent boom when possible. In a February 2010 NOAA field test, commercial sorbent boom absorbed more oil and much less water than hair boom. Widespread deployment of hair boom could exacerbate the debris problem. There is adequate supply of …sorbent boom for now, but we do encourage ideas of alternative solutions by calling (281) 366-5511.

The main group amassing hair, Matter of Trust, does some amazing recycling and has been championing and testing hairmats since at least 2007. The hair, stuffed inside pantyhose, really seems to work. But even they say only the hazmat crews should install and remove the booms. They’re taking the rejection graciously, but proceeding full steam ahead:

BP hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the properties of hair, fur, wool and fleece. And they’re a little busy right now…. Matter of Trust is saying officially: “At this time, we are simply providing volunteers the opportunity to make hair boom and stockpile them all along the Gulf Coast, in case BP needs them.” We’re calling it Plan H (H is for Hair).

But let none of that get in the way of a “local people helping in international crisis” story.

Even the Canadians and horses are getting in on it. Well after the word that booms aren’t being used, alpacas are still getting shaved and National Geographic is still doing a story on it. The group collected 10,000 pounds of alpaca hair. Hair is coming from Soho, Petco, and fans of Rachel Maddow. The Miami Herald and  About.com are still pushing haircuts. ZooToo has a how-to story on donating your pet’s hair. Some stories have a teeny disclaimer on the end–oh, yeah, this may not work or be used sort of thing.

All of this is a sweet gesture, like donating blood after a catastrophe. It’s wonderful to see so many people worried about the turtles, pelicans, dolphins and manatees their hair might help. But is it doing any good?

Where to Go to See Wildlife
Where to Go See Wildlife Down South

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The Wild Bird Fund, which is New York City’s defacto wildlife rehabilitation center, collected signatures this weekend to become the city’s official place to go with injured, sick or orphaned wild birds and animals. They explained to people at a wildlife fest that New York is the only big U.S. city without a real wildlife care center.
wild bird fund is working to get a nyc wildlife rehab center

So a bunch of volunteer wildlife rehabbers have picked up the slack. Rita McMahon and Karen Heidgerd run the Wild Bird Fund though  Animal General, a vet practice that donated care for 1,146 birds and 13 mammals last year.

Theodore Roosevelet Sanctuary Hawk Talk
Hawk from Teddy Roosevelt Audubon Sanctuary

Ruby and squirrel babyA handful of other rehabbers do heroic amounts of work, too. Bobby and Kathy Horvath take the really hard cases, like coyotes and injured hawks. Vivienne Sokol is Manhattan’s bird rehab expert. My friends Vicki Puluso, Chris Durham and Maura Mondrano handle squirrel cases.

Because the city is strapped, the Wild Bird fund is hoping to get a grant from Pepsi. Bobby Horvath has told me the plan got a boost after the recent coyote episode.

The New Yorkers that call me with animal troubles are usually surprised the city doesn’t do anything for wild animals. Renee, a pregnant mom from outer Queens, about a day and night worrying and searching for some solution for the baby squirrels she found abandoned in her air conditioner. (I got to see them at the fest, looking plump and happy. Another rehabber, Ruby, took them in. New Yorkers see baby squirrels like unseen mythical beasts).

The finders and baby squirrels show up as if with a dowry of a cage, esbilac, dishes, blankets and nuts. Which makes me think New Yorkers would be behind getting the center going.

Donate to the Wild Bird Fund
Sign Their Petition to Get a Real NYC Rehab Center
Where to See Animals Around New York City

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Jay is telling cat to go awayA blue jay has built a nest on the fire escape on Fifth Street in Manhattan. It’s not a great spot; sooner or later the babies–in the natural course of things–end up on the ground before they learn to fly. And inevitably some well-meaning person picks them up to save them.

As if the mother blue jay doesn’t have enough problems, her mate is not really contributing the to the household. Instead of getting food, he has fixated on a cat that lives in a third floor apartment down the block. The jay constantly buzzes and swoops at the cat’s window, as if he’s going to convince the cat to move out.

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A gray whale illegally harpooned off by the Makah tribe in Washington

Do the Chukotka people really each eat 419 pounds of gray whale each year? That’s what the Russian government is asking the world to believe as it asks the International Whaling Commission to extend its absurd “subsistence” quota of 140 gray whales for the Chukotka people.

They’re the ones Sarah Palin can see from her house; Chukotka is a peninsula of Russia on the Bering Sea. Only one-third of the tiny population of Chukotka (53,000) is native. That means 18,000 people are supposed to be eating 140 whales that each weigh 27,6,00 to 36,000 kg  (59,000 to 79,000 pounds).  That amounts to a stunning 466 pounds of whale per person.

What about bones? Ok, soft tissue makes up 90% of a whale’s weight. That’s still an amazing 419 pounds per native person. Could anyone eat 18 ounces of whale every single day, all year? Absurd. By contrast, Americans–not known for our tiny appetites–eat 222 pounds of meat a year, up from 144 in 1950.

A while back the Chukotka were caught using their sustenance meat to feed fox on fur farms–which still managed to be unprofitable. A gray whale with a Russian harpoon washed up in California in March. Russia is required to report whales that get away, but never mentioned this one. Gray whale meat with evidence of harpoons has shown up in Japanese markets, according to Oregon State University.

In June The International Whaling Commission, which wants to legalize whale hunting again, is set to consider a proposal to allow the 140 whale a year habit to continue for a decade. Russia has even argued that they would really like 350 whales–even though they are now eating more whale than ever. Whale used to account for 50% of their meat in 1985; now it’s 90%.

The western gray whale population is about 26,000; this is the one that migrates to Chukotka. No one thinks they mix with the eastern population, which is only about 130–even though no one is supposed to be hunting it–and lives in an area where it’s disturbed by Russian oil drilling. Now California whale watchers are saying that their whales may not be as secure; numbers are mysteriously dropping. Could it have anything to do with where they spend the winter?

About 10% of gray whales are what biologists call “stinky.” Stinky whales are inedible. Dogs won’t even eat them and if you do eat them, you’ll get sick. V. Ilyashenko writes: 

hunters state that sometimes they can identify “stinky” whales in the ocean, if the wind blows from the spout toward the whaling boat. In some hunting areas, the hunters have estimated that up to ten percent of the whales are “stinky” in a given year. Skilled hunters do not attempt to kill “stinky whales”. Nevertheless, several “stinky whales” are struck and landed in most years. In some years up to 10 “stinky” whales were harvested. Sometimes the “stinky” whale odor appears only during cutting up the whale or only while cooking whale meat.

Stinky whales have been noticed since the 60s and it’s no surprise that their numbers are increasing. They’re evolving a defense mechanism. The stinkier they are, the safer they are from whalers. If they can pass on their propensity to stinkiness, they’re really have something. The stinky factor alone should push the IWC to make the Russians find another food source.

In other gray whale news, Lilly, a gray whale freed from fishing lines in Dana Point, still lingers and looks sickly

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BP sign from alvez modified by animaltourism.com

Wildlife rescuers in the gulf are getting so few oiled animals they’re starting to worry that the cost per animal seem ridiculous. After Exxon we had reports of “$80,000 otters.” If you hear anything about a $300,000 sea gull, be skeptical.

Mike Ziccardi, a veterinarian who runs Oiled Wildlife Care Network, has been offering the most candid and complete news on the wildlife situation on their blog.  He’s been bracing for both an onslaught of injured animals and a backlash against the cost of saving them. “This response is likely to be very costly when it is all said and done – especially if compared on a “per-bird” or “per-turtle/mammal” basis (or at least I hope it is, as that will imply low animal numbers),” he writes today.

In Valdez less than 5% of costs went to wildlife care, Ziccardi says. Caring for oiled wildlife is always done on the cheap, staffed by volunteers, who often sleep in their cars. And lord knows you’ve already heard about Dawn donating its useful soap.

In 1992 James Estes first criticized oiled wildlife rehabilitation efforts as showy and ineffective, pricing the surviving otters at $80,000 each from a total $18 million otter effort. (I’d say that you have to count the dead ones, too–even though that only brings it down to $14,500.) Later he asked “why rehabilitate oiled wildlife“? So you don’t hate him, know that Estes, an adjunct professor at UC-Santa Cruz, isn’t saying screw you, sea otters. He’s saying the money could be better spent trying to prevent spills and shore up vulnerable populations.

In 1999 Dr. David Jessup and Dr. Jonna Mazet argued at the International Oil Spill Conference that the $80,000 figure was wildly inflated and took into account building several extremely remote care facilities from scratch. “The actual cost of collecting and caring for oiled sea otters is about $4,000 to $5,000 and marine birds about $600 to $750 [bargain!]–about one-twentieth the cost often cited from the Exxon Valdez experience,” they write.

Replacement cost is another way to value animals (and other kinds of intangible losses). Luckily, the gulf doesn’t have those expensive sea otters. But it does have some endangered sea turtles that should be nesting soon and manatees. People would pay a pretty penny for any of those.

But why bother saving them? Because it’s the right thing to do. The question itself seems based in the reactionary view that only ecosystems and the environment matter and that it is somehow childish to value the life of an individual animal. Too many people are so afraid of being called anthropomorphic that they rush to something I would call tree-pomorphic, the assumption that other animals have no value beyond their physical properties and contribution to the environment.

Where to Go to See Wildlife
Where to Go See Wildlife Down South


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Burnaby Crows by Magalie L’Abbé

When crows pick a town to roost in, locals tend to react badly. They think it’s spooky, worry about guano and try to do ridiculous things to drive them off–like shoot them. But one Canadian city sees it another way. Burnaby, BC, loves its crow roost. Thousands of crows have been sleeping together in the seaside town east of Vancouver since at least the 1970s.

“If you go around dusk they cover the sky,” says Kelsey Downey, marketing coordinator for Tourism Burnaby. “I used to go to school right in the area and it’s a pretty amazing site.”

The crows fly eastward over the city at dusk. They’re more concentrated in the winter. And they tend to be seen most around Willingdon Avenue, which is an exit off Highway 1. Downey recommends checking out Still Creek Drive, which runs next to the highway.

Burnaby sticks up for their crows. Kirsten Starcher, who writes the blog Crows to Burnaby [which is really more about arts than crows] is just one of the residents who fretted when a Costco displaced one of the big roost sites in 2006 about how it would impact their crows. “It was sad to lose it,” one crow fan told the Vancouver Sun at the time. Another protested on YouTube.

About 500 students each painted their own model crow for an art project Along the Flight Path, that fixed the crows to a fence.  A Vancouver tourism site boasted that the Northwestern Crow was the most conspicuous local bird and that Burnaby had “easily the most amazing gathering in the province.” Crows.net says the Burnaby is “one of the most renowned crow roosts.” It’s great to see a town that appreciates its wildlife.

Where to Go to See Weird Birds or Unusual Bird Events
Where to See Animals Out West

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Gray whale from Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center

A lone gray whale showed up in the Mediterranean Sea this week. Biologists are baffled. Gray whales haven’t been seen on this side of the Atlantic for centuries. Is this bad news–just a lone whale hundreds of miles off track? Or good news–a lone explorer, trying out a new migration oute–or, really, an ancient one?

The Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center verified it as definitely a gray whale. Biologist are betting on the lone lost soul explanation. NOAA’s Phillip Clapham of  told Discovery that either “there has been a relict population in the North Atlantic that no one has noticed (virtually impossible), or (more likely) that this whale came down through the ice-free Northwest Passage and is now hopelessly lost.”

I’d like to think there’s a third possibility: the whale is forging a new route. Maybe in response to the whaling pressure it still faces in Asia. Migration routes aren’t stagnant. Animal populations are constantly changing, usually led by a lone male branching out looking for a mate. Marine biologists used to think the manatees that migrate up the east coast were lost, so they’d catch them and haul them down to Florida. Now they realize it’s just what they do.

There used to be four populations of gray whales, Jim Darling notes. Two–the ones one the east and west shores of the North Atlantic–are dead.

Two populations survive–on the east and west of the Pacific. The one that hugs the North American coast has been protected since 1947 and now is about 20,000. They thrive, delighting whale watchers with their friendly overtures towards boaters. Gray whales used to roam Florida to New England. Imagine the kind of animal tourism attraction we’re missing. Right in Florida we’d probably have the same magical, close-up whale watching experience people now trek to Baja to get.

The Asian population is anemic–only 100 to 200. Even though nobody is supposed to be hunting it. And no one is sure if the two populations touch.

Where to Go to See Whales

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Mommy Squirrel BegsMickey, the sweet black squirrel with a malocclusion, had an intruder this weekend. A wild squirrel we call Mommy Squirrel bust into the apartment and got Mickey so agitated that for the first time in three months she bothered to escape from her cage and climb a brick wall.

Mickey normally doesn’t like to go out of her house. She comes out to eat, go to the bathroom, harumph around to complain if I haven’t adequately stocked her with avocado. She only climbs the bars if she’s agitated.

Mommy Squirrel lives nearby. Like last year, she is nursing and hungry enough to make a pest of herself. She is both pushy and picky. If she mere peanuts, apples and bananas are offered on the window sill, she’ll put her paws to the window. Where’s my chestnut? Or even a walnut will do.

Saturday I was painting and had the window open. I walk into the office to find Mommy on my desk chair and Mickey climbing the wall. I’m not sure which of these ladies upset the other. I’d like to think Mickey, enraged at yet another encroachment on her home ownership, came out to drive intruder Mommy Squirrel away.

I shooed Mommy outside, then guided Mickey back to her house. Once Mommy was out, she headed back that way anyway. The only solution I can think of is just to leave plenty of nuts outside for Mommy, who is having a tough time this year because her ne’er-do-well sons from last year have claimed my bountiful window sill as their turf and try to chase her away.  

Mickey eats breakfast 
Where to Go to See Special Squirrels
Plenty of Wildlife Lives in NYC. Found Out Where

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