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July 2011 Issue

US Agencies Launch Three-Year, $9 Million Deepwater Expedition
Scientists from BOEMRE, NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) launched in June a two-week expedition to map deepwater canyons and to identify sensitive biological habitats, coral communities and archeological sites, such as shipwrecks and other historically significant areas.

The expedition, the first of several in a $9 million joint-agency partnership taking place over the next three years, was conducted from Nancy Foster. Scientists with the project were mapping canyons located off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland. Technicians are generating 3D bathymetric seafloor maps, which will allow scientists to identify features on the seafloor to be investigated in follow-up expeditions. For more information, visit http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov.

Marine Lab Tracks Pollutants in Dolphins and Beluga Whales
Bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales accumulate more chemical pollutants in their bodies when they live and feed in waters near urbanized areas, according to scientists working at the Hollings Marine Laboratory.

In papers published online in February and April in Environmental Science & Technology, one research team looked at the levels of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) found in male dolphins along the U.S. East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico and Bermuda, while the other group examined perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) in beluga whales in Alaska.

To study POP concentrations in male bottlenose dolphins, researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and other organizations worked to collect and examine blubber biopsy samples from 2000 to 2007 at eight U.S. locations. The researchers analyzed the dolphin blubber for POPs that were once used as insecticides (such as DDT), insulating fluids (polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs), flame retardants (polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs) and a fungicide (hexachlorobenzene, or HCB).

Overall, PCBs were the pollutants found in the highest concentrations, followed by DDT. Levels for POPs were statistically higher in dolphins living and feeding in waters near more urban and industrialized areas. The exceptions were the PCB levels recorded in dolphins living near Brunswick, Georgia, in waters contaminated from a former factory that is now a Superfund clean-up site. These PCB levels were the highest ever observed in a group of living marine mammals.

In the second study, an NIST team analyzed the levels of 12 PFCs in livers harvested from 68 beluga whales that had lived and fed in two Alaskan locations: Cook Inlet and the Chukchi Sea. The samples were collected from 1989 to 2006 by native Alaskans during subsistence hunts and stored at NIST's National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank. This was the first study to look at PFC concentrations in belugas from Alaska.

PFCs were detected in all of the beluga livers. Two compounds—perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctane sulfonamide (PFOSA)—were found in more than half the samples. All but one of the PFC concentrations measured were significantly higher in the Cook Inlet belugas, a result scientists expected given the nearby urban, industrialized area. The exception was PFOSA, where levels were higher amongst the Chukchi Sea whales. The researchers are unsure if this is the result of the pollutant being carried into the remote region by ocean currents, atmospheric transport or a combination of both. They also found that PFC concentrations in beluga whales increased significantly over the seven-year study period. For more information, visit www.nist.gov.

NOAA Authorizes Killing of Salmon-Eating Sea Lions
NOAA's Fisheries Service authorized in May the states of Washington and Oregon to lethally remove specific California sea lions that congregate 140 miles from the Pacific Ocean below the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam to eat thousands of adult salmon and steelhead swimming to spawn.

Some of the salmon and steelhead are listed as threatened or endangered. Although California sea lions are also protected by federal law, the population on the West Coast is considered healthy and stable with an estimated 238,000 sea lions, NOAA said.

NOAA initially gave the states authorization in 2008 to "permanently remove" problem California sea lions, a move that allowed relocating them to zoos or trapping and euthanizing them. A lawsuit that year resulted in a 2009 federal district court ruling supporting NOAA's lethal removal authorization, but a finding by an appeals court in late 2010 overturned the authorization and sent the decision back to NOAA to better explain its rationale for protecting salmon by removing offending sea lions.

NOAA said its most recent decision responds to the court's concerns and gives the states permission under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to remove, lethally if necessary, individually identifiable sea lions observed eating salmon or steelhead. The authorization, which expires in 2013, covers removal of up to 85 California sea lions annually. For more information, visit www.noaanews.noaa.gov.

Copepods, Whales Both Employ 'Diver's Weight Belt' Technique
A deep-sea mystery has been solved with the discovery that the three-millimeter-long copepods use the same buoyancy control as whales.

As reported in June in Limnology and Oceanography, scientists from the British Antarctic Survey describe how Southern Ocean copepods 'hibernate' in the deep ocean during winter when seas are stormy and food scarce.

To reach the ocean depths, the copepod's oily body fluids undergo a transformation. As the animals swim deeper, water pressure triggers a process that converts their oil to a more solid form similar to the consistency of butter. This change in density acts like a diver's weight belt, scientists said, enabling them to be neutrally buoyant and spend winter in deep waters without wasting energy on constant swimming.

"This discovery is a breakthrough and will help enormously with the development of simulations of their behavior," said David Pond, lead author from the British Antarctic Survey.

For more information, visit www.sciencedaily.com.


2012:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC
2011:  JAN | FEB | MARCH | APRIL | MAY | JUNE | JULY | AUG | SEPT | OCT | NOV | DEC


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