Monthly Archives: July 2012

Reason intervenes in South Korea’s plan to resume scientific whaling

Minke whaleSouth Korea has seen reason and announced it will not be starting a program of scientific whaling.

During the most recent International Whaling Commision (IWC) meeting, the country had made a surprise plan to start hunting minke whales in its waters for ‘scientific purposes’.  The ‘scientific whaling’ loophole is a contentious one, and the announcement sparked a global backlash.

As a result, the somewhat unpopular government held several meetings with its ministers, in which blame was laid on the Fisheries Ministry for pushing ahead with the plan without first seeking a consensus.  President Lee Myung-bak also came under fire.

Thankfully, pressure from home and overseas brought the government to its senses.  A not-so-quiet word in the ear from abroad and a bit of political wrangling and: voila!  Now if only it was so easy to overturn Japan’s scientific whaling program…

Read more on the story here:  theaustralian.com.au / theage.com.au

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Don’t feed the dolphins – they can learn bad habits from each other

Wild dolphin visits boat. Picture by Gail Broady on FlickrYou’re out on a boat fishing and a dolphin appears beside you.  It looks at you sideways, with those intelligent eyes.  What harm could there be from giving it a bit of fish?  Maybe it’ll stick around. You toss it over to the animal.  Yum.

What could be the harm in this?

Sadly, the answer is: quite a lot.

Studies into provisional feeding (humans giving animals food in the wild) have shown that animals can become dependent on these food handouts. The classic example is the famous Monkey Mia, where visitors have been able to feed local dolphins by hand for over 40 years.  In the 1960s, fishers returning to Monkey Mia began sharing their catch with some local dolphins.  Over the years, the dolphins’ trust grew and several more were fed at the jetty and later the beach.  As increasing numbers of visitors came to see the dolphins, news of the phenomenon spread.

Yet as the practice grew, some of the dolphins came to rely on hand-outs and began to lose their wild instincts, such as their ability to hunt.  Calves of some overfed dolphins even starved to death because of neglect by their mothers.  Between 1987 and 1994, 92% (11 of 12) of nursing calves born to provisioned (hand-fed) females died.   Since 1995, when the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) changed the feeding program, only 23% (3 of 13) of calves born to provisioned females have died, one of whom was killed by a shark.  Careful management means that the dolphins can continue to be able to support themselves naturally, and pass on these survival skills to the next generation.

Bad Habit

It is illegal under state and federal law in Australia to feed wild dolphins.  The managed feeding of wild dolphins occurs in only a few places, where interactions are licensed and subject to stringent regulations so as to protect the animals.

Monkey Mia taught us why.  And another recent study from Cockburn Sound near Perth emphasises it.

Bec Donaldson from Murdoch University’s Conservation Medicine Program started researching the Cockburn Sound dolphins in 1993, focusing on social ecology.  Further research was carried out until 2003 by Hugh Finn of the University’s Cetacean Research Unit (MUCRU).  The 80km2, semi-enclosed bay south of Fremantle includes Perth’s main industrial area, a naval base, and important recreational and commercial fisheries. There are also about 75 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins resident year-round.

Over the years, the researchers collected information on illegal feeding of the dolphins by recreational fishers in the area.  The number of dolphins ‘begging’ for food increased from one individual at first (‘Touch’) to fourteen (especially males, I might add).  How?  Associates of beggars learned how to do it themselves.  Dolphins were more likely to become beggars if they spent more time in areas with lots of recreational boats, and associated with other begging dolphins.

Dolphins are social animals, and can learn from each other.  Even bad behaviours.  So what?

Begging is not a good thing to learn.  The researchers also found that dolphins who had learned to beg from humans had higher rates of injury from boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.  They became conditioned to human interactions.  One dolphin, ‘Hook’, disappeared after eight years of begging, in which his behaviour changed dramatically.  He became a loner and started travelling  to beg from boats far out of his home range.  He hasn’t been seen since 2008-9.

A community education campaign in the area in 2008 reduced the amount of illegal feeding, but it hasn’t stopped entirely.

What to do?

Managers need to take into account that dolphins can potentially learn harmful behaviours from each other socially.  More research must be conducted on individual animals to determine what factors may influence this.

Secondly, we as the public need to be aware that – no matter how cute they are and how harmless it may seem – feeding animals in the wild is just not good for them.  Don’t do it.  If you’re out on the water and a dolphin pops up beside you that’s great… In fact it’s pretty awesome!  But please think about the potential effect you could have before tossing into that grinning mouth a big delicious fish.

Link to the scientific paper:

Donaldson, R., Finn, H., Bejder, L., Lusseau, D., Calver, M. (2012), The social side of human–wildlife interaction: wildlife can learn harmful behaviours from each other. Animal Conservation. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-1795.2012.00548.x

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Perth Zoo leading the way towards solar independence

 Sustainable solar power at Perth Zoo

Great News!

Perth Zoo is now home to the largest solar panel array in WA, boasting 755 solar panels in the form of a solar pergola busport running along the northern perimeter road of the zoo.  The 237kW system will provide approximately 33% of Perth Zoo’s currently electricity requirements and save the zoo over $100,000 a year.

Perth Zoo is part of the Perth Solar City program.  Along with five other landmark sites it was chosen to showcase major sustainable energy options – and the zoo’s solar installation will be the largest of the five.  The zoo has also reduced its environmental footprint in other ways.  Compared with 2010/11 it has:

  • Reduced natural gas use by over 50% since 2005/06
  • Reduced electricity use by 5.9% since 2005/06
  • Constructed an ecologically sustainable ablution facility (‘eco toilet’)
  • Reduced scheme water use by 47% since 1997/98
  • Reduced ground water use by 30% since 1997/98
  • Commenced an $11.9m Integrated Water Management Project over the next five years that will see the replacement of ageing water infrastructure and further improvements in water efficiency.  The largest capital project ever undertaken by Perth Zoo.
  • Recycle plastics, paper, cardboard, aluminium cans, batteries, scrap metal, green waste and soil.
  • Where possible [we] source raw materials sustainably.  An example of this is the boardwalk in the Australian Wetlands – all timber is 100% recycled.  Source: Perth Zoo

With around 300 sunny days a year in Perth, we can be sure the new installation will be in good use and saving the planet in no time.

Australia’s other Solar Cities are Adelaide, Alice Springs, Blacktown, Central Victoria, Moreland and Townsville.  I particularly like how Adelaide incorporated solar energy in the city to create the world’s first solar powered public bus, Tindo.  Well done to the Australian government, its people, businesses and officials, in making a real difference with these initiatives.  I can’t wait to own my own home so that I can be more energy efficient too.

Read more on Perth Zoo’s remarkable accomplishment at Science Network WA.

Oh and by the way, the world’s largest solar energy generating system is in California.  The SEGS in the Mojave desert consists of nine solar power plants, with a 354 MW installed capacity.

Even eBay, IKEA, London and Germany have a long way to go before they beat that.

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