Nav: Home

Diverse and abundant megafauna documented at new Atlantic US Marine National Monument

May 16, 2018

BOSTON (May 17, 2018) Airborne marine biologists were dazzled by the diversity and abundance of large, unusual and sometimes endangered marine wildlife on a recent trip to the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument, about 150 miles southeast of Cape Cod. Scientists with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium observed dozens of dolphins mixing with schools of pilot whales plus more than a dozen of the very rarely seen and mysterious Sowerby's beaked whales. The researchers, aboard a twin engine airplane, also spotted endangered, Moby Dick-like sperm whales as well as the second largest species of sharks in the world and the bizarre-looking giant ocean sunfish or mola mola.

The Northeast Canyons marine monument is a critical hotspot of biodiversity on the edge of the continental shelf where the shallow seas off of New England drop sharply into the deep waters of the northwestern Atlantic. In 2016, President Obama designated three underwater canyons that are deeper than the Grand Canyon, and four seamounts as tall as the Rockies, as the first American marine national monument in Atlantic waters. However in 2017, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke recommended to President Trump that the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts either be downsized or eliminated. The exact nature of the recommendation has yet to be specified.

Given the great distance offshore, documenting the marine life there is a challenge. During the 4.5-hour aerial survey, the team spotted 169 bottlenose dolphins, 57 pilot whales, 44 Risso's dolphin's, 13 rare Sowerby's beaked whales, four sperm whales, and 44 other dolphins of various species. In two sightings, they saw a mixed group of up to 50 bottlenose dolphins and 30 pilot whales, but what intrigued the researchers most was that three groups of Sowerby's beaked whales were spotted at the water's surface, a rare occurrence given their marathon dive times

This is "extraordinary for such a small area," said Dr. Ester Quintana, the lead scientist on the Anderson Cabot Center aerial team, adding that they also observed basking sharks, the second largest species of shark in the world, and the strange, large, plankton-feeding Mola mola, or ocean sunfish.

The aerial sightings help researchers understand how the species are using the richly biodiverse monument waters and deep coral canyons at different times of year and for different purposes. "One of the reasons we do this work is that we are just discovering what's going on out there," said Dr. Scott Kraus of the Anderson Cabot Center. "This is an opportunity to see how animals use this habitat. No one has ever done this before."

This was the third in a series of aerial surveys of the monument that began in summer 2017, and the number of sightings by the scientists during this survey was higher than any other, nearly double the number of animals observed last fall.

"These surveys continue to show the incredible abundance of marine life in the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument," said Kraus. "These sightings support the idea that this area is worthy of complete protection."

"This area was declared protected because it is a fragile ecosystem with a wide diversity of corals, deep water fishes, and invertebrates around these pristine canyons and seamounts that support a vast array of whales, dolphins, and large fish," Dr. Quintana said. "As new policies recommend opening more waters off the US coast to offshore drilling, it is incredibly important to have areas that remain protected."

She said the Northeast Canyons monument area is about one-tenth of one percent of all US ocean territorial waters. "Yet, the wildlife diversity we are seeing out there highlights the importance of preserving its ecological value," Dr. Quintana said.
-end-
Here's a Dropbox link of photos from the aerial survey: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/p8exs91d9s2u8oz/AAB4PL9BW77PnjK9N4Xr_nDia?dl=0

INTERVIEWS WITH DRS. QUINTANA AND KRAUS UPON REQUEST.

CONTACT: Tony LaCasse, tlacasse@neaq.org, 617-877-6871

New England Aquarium

Related Dolphins Articles:

Exeter researchers help protect Peru's river dolphins
River dolphins and Amazonian manatees in Peru will benefit from new protection thanks to a plan developed with help from the University of Exeter.
New study defines the environment as an influencer of immune system responses in dolphins
Two populations of wild dolphins living off the coast of Florida and South Carolina are experiencing more chronically activated immune systems than dolphins living in controlled environments, raising concerns of researchers about overall ocean health, and the long-term health of bottlenose dolphins.
Immature spinner dolphin calf SCUBA tanks spell disaster in tuna fisheries
Dolphins that live in the deep ocean have well developed oxygen storage, but now it turns out that spinner dolphin calves do not develop their SCUBA capacity any faster than coastal species, despite their deep diving lifestyle.
The latest HKU study clarifies how many dolphins there are in Hong Kong waters
The latest study by researchers at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) delivered the first-ever comprehensive population assessment of the Chinese white dolphins that inhabit Hong Kong waters, and what they found differs from the common public belief.
Crocodiles and dolphins evolved similar skulls to catch the same prey: Study finds
A new study involving biologists from Monash University Australia has found that despite their very different ancestors, dolphins and crocodiles evolved similarly shaped skulls to feed on similar prey.
Cutting-edge cameras reveal the secret life of dolphins
A world-first study testing new underwater cameras on wild dolphins has given researchers the best view yet into their hidden marine world.
Dolphins following shrimp trawlers cluster in social groups
Bottlenose dolphins near Savannah, Georgia are split into social groups according to whether or not they forage behind commercial shrimp trawlers, according to a study published Feb.
Scientists studying dolphins find Bay of Bengal a realm of evolutionary change
Marine scientists have discovered that two species of dolphin in the waters off Bangladesh are genetically distinct from those in other regions of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans, a finding that supports a growing body of evidence that the Bay of Bengal harbors conditions that drive the evolution of new life forms, according to a new study by the American Museum of Natural History(AMNH), WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), and the cE3c -- Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Changes (Universidade de Lisboa).
Researchers probing the beneficial secrets in dolphins' proteins
Why reinvent the wheel when nature has the answer? That's what researcher Michael Janech, Ph.D. of the Medical University of South Carolina, has found to be true, drawing from the field of biomimicry where researchers look to nature for creative solutions to human problems.
Former pesticide ingredient found in dolphins, birds and fish
A family of common industrial compounds called perfluoroalkyl substances, which are best known for making carpets stain resistant and cookware non-stick, has been under scrutiny for potentially causing health problems.

Related Dolphins Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Climate Crisis
There's no greater threat to humanity than climate change. What can we do to stop the worst consequences? This hour, TED speakers explore how we can save our planet and whether we can do it in time. Guests include climate activist Greta Thunberg, chemical engineer Jennifer Wilcox, research scientist Sean Davis, food innovator Bruce Friedrich, and psychologist Per Espen Stoknes.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...