The Beacon

Meet the Faces of the Ocean Hero Junior Awards!

Winners of the 2010 Ocean Hero Award, the Shark Finatics' most recent project involved plastic bottles filled with important ocean conservation messages. 

The Shark Finatics were the 2010 Ocean Hero Awards Junior Winners!

Since winning the Ocean Hero Award in 2010, the Shark Finatics have expanded their conservation work beyond their original shark adoption efforts.

This past fall, they participated in Asher Jay’s “creative diaspora,” when plastic bottles they decorated and filled with important ocean conservation messages were featured in the Washington, DC, exhibit of “Sea Speak Sphere.”

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Delaware Sends Shark Fin Ban to Governor

Less than one week after passing the state Assembly, the Delaware state Senate has signed on to a bill banning the trade of shark fins within the state’s borders. 

The states spanning the entire West Coast, plus Hawaii and Illinois, already have shark fin bans in place.  In Maryland, a similar bill was just signed into law today by Governor Martin O'Malley, and the New York Legislature is considering a ban as well.

The gruesome practice of shark finning—slicing off a shark’s fins and throwing the body overboard, often while still alive—is illegal in the United States.  But shark fin soup remains a pricey Asian delicacy, often selling for up to $100 a bowl, and fins can be imported from other countries where the practice is legal.

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Happy World Penguin Day!

Clockwise from upper left: Chinstrap, Emperor, Gentoo, Southern Rockhopper, Adélie. Courtesy of Pew Environment.

Though penguins are known for their impeccable black tie fashion, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, styles, and personalities.  From the little penguin in Australia to Antarctica’s emperor penguin, we celebrate each of them today.  Even the jackass gets a little recognition on World Penguin Day.

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The Death of a Queen

A pod of orcas Photo: Wikimedia commons

On January 10, a recreational boater reported spotting the remains of an orca (killer whale) stranded on the shore.  Three days later, scientists from the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture and Land and the University of Alaska-Fairbanks arrived to conduct a full necropsy to gain insight into why the creature had died.

The whale was identified as Yakat, the matriarch of the so-called A4 pod that spends most of its time in British Columbia’s Johnstone Strait.  While the necropsy will not be able to provide conclusive cause of death, Yakat’s death will provide insight into what orcas choose to eat when their favorite meal—salmon—is scarce, and her very location already provides clues as to where she takes her pod in the winter months.

Yakat leaves two surviving daughters, Nahwitti (A56) and Skagit (A35), at least four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, all belonging to Skagit.  She also leaves behind Springer, her grand-niece and adopted daughter who brought attention to Yakat and her family when they generously adopted the orphaned whale in 2002 after it was rescued and released from a rehabilitation facility.

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Competing Pressures for the Arctic

The Arctic is a fragile ecosystem sitting alone at the top of the world.

Well, it used to be alone.  Now, countries and corporations are competing for a share of its economic potential—its rich natural resources, untapped energy sources, and emerging trade routes.

On March 12 The Economist is hosting its Arctic Summit in Oslo, where 150 interested policy-makers, CEOs and influential commentators will come together to discuss the possibilities for a responsibly governed Arctic.

At Oceana we work hard to protect the Arctic’s marine ecosystem and the subsistence life of its peoples.  In order to make real progress, all of the intersecting threats—climate change, industrial fishing, shipping, pollution, and oil and gas development—need to be addressed together.  You can make a difference in the Arctic by signing Oceana’s petition to stop oil and gas drilling.

We commend The Economist and all of the Arctic Summit participants for taking on such an important and critical set of issues.

Stay tuned for an update from our own Nicolas Fournier, who will be representing Oceana at the conference.

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Mystery of a Prehistoric Fish's Bizarre Body Part Solved

The many faces of Helicoprion. Artwork © Ray Troll / Idaho State University 2013

One of the tricks of paleontology is figuring out how all those fossils fit together to form a whole animal.

The placement of the puzzle pieces wasn’t so clear with the bewildering spiral jaw of one 270 million year old “ghost shark.” Scientists have known since 1899 that the six-meter long shark-like Helicoprion (which means “spiral saw”) had a whorl of fused teeth somewhere in its makeup. But the original discovery of this mysterious body part found it detached from the rest of the animal’s body, with no good indication of its location.

The Russian geologist who unearthed this first fossil theorized that it was a weapon curling up out of the Helicoprion’s mouth, like a sawfish’s saw that had spiraled upwards. Others thought it was the lower jaw, curled below the giant fish’s chin.  Still others couldn’t imagine having such a monstrosity for a face, and guessed that it was located somewhere along the shark’s back—perhaps growing from its dorsal fin—or on its tail.

Less than a decade after the initial fossil was discovered, an American found an intact fossil of the toothy spiral in the creature’s mouth. But this did not settle the controversy over its attachment to the upper or lower jaw or its position inside or outside of the mouth.

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Alaskan Skate Nurseries Gain Protection

On Thursday, six skate nurseries in Alaska’s Bering Sea were designated as “Habitat Areas of Particular Concern.”  Skates are a member of the ray family, and live on the seafloor.  The designation requires consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service before activities such as offshore oil and gas development can take place.

The protected nurseries are six of only 13 or 14 total sites in the Bering Sea where skates lay their leathery egg cases, commonly known as mermaid’s purses, in deep submarine canyons.  Skate eggs take three years hatch, making them extremely vulnerable to seafloor destruction. 

With over 200 species of skate around the globe, they are part of the ancient family that includes sharks and rays.  While the family has survived many mass extinctions, including those that killed the dinosaurs, they have not evolved to survive the dramatic impacts of humans on their habitat.  Many species, including the common skate, have been dangerously overfished, and the nurseries in the Bering Sea are critical to the continued survival of skates in the North Pacific.

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Feeding the World with Wild Seafood

The Economist hosts it's Feeding the World summit this week in Amsterdam.

What food requires no fresh water, produces little carbon dioxide, does not use any arable land, and provides healthy, lean protein at a cost accessible to the world’s poor?


This is the same question our very own CEO Andrew Sharpless will be asking audience members at The Economist’s “Feeding the World” conference this week in Amsterdam.

In addition to Oceana, other experts from agribusiness, policy, science, and the NGO community will join the conversation by discussing and debating the future of food security as the world population grows toward 9 billion by 2050.

Andy will contribute to this prestigious global conversation by presenting Oceana’s “Save the Oceans: Feed the World” initiative which details the benefits of wild fish as a food source. He’ll explain the many advantages wild fish has over traditional agriculture, especially in developing countries, as it’s cheap and accessible to anyone with a hook or a net and requires no ownership of land or access to fresh water.

The best part is that we already know how to maximize the ocean’s potential as a food source. It requires the same steps we’re already taking to preserve biodiversity, such as reducing bycatch, protecting habitat and enforcing scientific quotas. We just have to do it in the right places.

If managed effectively in the 25 countries that control 75% of the world’s fish stocks, wild fish will be abundant enough to feed 12 billion people by 2050, which far exceeds the current population projections. Andy will explain that by protecting our dwindling fish stocks and focusing on effective fisheries management in the top fishing nations, fish can become the perfect protein of the future.

Andy has discussed Oceana’s efforts in previous presentations, but The Economist’s conference is especially timely given the European Union’s recent action to curb overfishing in its waters.

Learn more about how saving the oceans can feed the world.

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Rescued Right Whales Show off New Calves

Right whale calf swims with it's mother. Courtsey of NOAA.

One of the dangers whales face is entanglement in fishing gear such as longlines, traps and pots.  When officials become aware of these events, disentanglement teams are sent out to assess the situation and free the whales whenever possible.

Some researchers have worried that the stress of being caught in fishing gear and the prolonged exposure to humans during the rescue might permanently affect the whales, possibly hindering their ability to reproduce.  But this birthing season, three formerly entangled right whales were spotted and photographed with their calves, The Washington Post reports.

Equator, so named for the rope scar around her middle, was seen with her newborn near Little Saint Simon’s island off the Georgia coast. 

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Massachusetts Tackles Seafood Fraud

Massachusetts legislators are taking a stand against seafood fraud, which includes mislabeling or substituting one type of fish for another that is cheaper, less desirable or more readily available, usually for financial gain.  Oceana commends the Massachusetts Legislature for taking up the bill (H.D. 3189) and sees it as a major step toward combating the growing problem of seafood fraud.

How much do you know about seafood fraud? Take this quiz to find out!

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