Tag: oceans

Sharks And Stingrays Close To Extinction, According To New Study

Sharks have been fascinating sea creatures for as long as we can remember. Are they as life-threatening as it’s depicted in Jaws? But unfortunately, sharks are not threatening our lives; they are endangered themselves. A new report reveals many of the world’s most unique sharks and rays are close to extinction. This includes the largetooth sawfish, whale sharks, electric rays, and more. These sea creatures have swum the oceans for over 250 million years.

But now, they’ll soon disappear into extinction— forever.

More At Risk

According to the new report, sharks, rays, and chimeras are among many animals on the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. Many of these sharks and rays are at the top of their food chain, making them crucial to the health of the Earth’s ecosystem. If they were to go extinct, it would harm the entire aquatic environment.

EDGE Sharks coordinator Fran Cabada said, “Sharks, rays, and chimeras have been around since the age of the dinosaurs, but due to human activities, their modern relatives are facing threats all over the world.”

But now that conservationists know these animals are on the endangered species list, they can implement efforts to protect these sea creatures from complete extinction. Who would want to say goodbye to these beautiful sea animals?

The Largetooth Sawfish

The most critically endangered shark is the popular largetooth sawfish. Usually found in tropical waters, the shark is famous for its unique shape. Unfortunately, the sawfish population has declined rapidly in recent years, largely due to unsustainable fishing.

Everyone can agree the shark is unique, but it’s now the highest-ranked EDGE species in the world. That’s not something to celebrate.

The Basking Shark

Not that many people know about this unique shark, but the basking shark is a generally harmless shark. As a slow-moving sea creature, it feeds in shallow waters.

Much like the largetooth sawfish, the basking shark population is decreasing because of the fishing industry. The shark’s fins are found in soup and its cartilage is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The Whale Shark

The largest living fish species, the whale shark can live up to 100 years old. But now, they’re at high risk of endangerment. Because of their impressive size, growing up to 40 feet, the sharks are targeted by fishermen.

Conservationists have worked hard to protect these sea creatures. Their hunting is now banned in the Philippines, India, and Taiwan.

Sting Rays

While sharks are endangered species, we can’t neglect rays, who dominate the EDGE species list. This includes stingrays, eagle rays, and guitarfishes. At the moment, conservation action for rays is lagging far behind protection for endangered sharks.

Overfishing is the main threat to the species. Rays have been decreasing in the ocean system for the past 30 years. Unfortunately, if they, along with sharks, were to become extinct, it would harm the Earth’s ecosystem in more ways than what many realize.

“The modern extinction of a single species from this list would cause the loss of millions of years of evolutionary history,” said Matthew Gollock of the Zoological Society of London.

MORE: World populations of marine wildlife have declined by 50% over the past four decades. Which species are most in danger and what can be done to protect them?

Sea Cucumbers Are Fueling The Black Market

Sea cucumbers are spiny, squishy-bodied creatures that live on the ocean floor. They are mostly sedentary and feed by waving their feathery tentacles through the water and filtering out microorganisms. For a long time, nobody cared much about or bothered these strange animals, but a recent surge in popularity has led to drastic overfishing, driving multiple species of sea cucumber to threatened or endangered levels.

Their Role In The Environment

The impact of sea cucumbers on their local ecosystems is far from trivial. These creatures are filtering machines, removing toxins and microscopic debris from their surroundings and replacing it with clean seawater and sediment. In areas where sea cucumber populations have declined, the amount of particulate matter suspended in the water has increased noticeably, leaving the water murky.

When these crucial animals are removed from their homes in coral reefs, the rate of coral bleaching increases drastically. Sea cucumbers play an essential role in the balancing of ocean pH as rising carbon dioxide levels make oceans more acidic. While these creatures continue to thrive in their deeper habitats, out of the reach of commercial fishers, populations in shallower waters are rapidly depleted.

As A Delicacy

In many Asian countries, especially in China, sea cucumbers are considered a delicacy. Demand for the peculiar-looking food has soared in recent years with the growth of the middle-class population in China. Adding to its allure, the seafood is also reported to have beneficial medicinal qualities.

Some studies have shown that the flesh of sea cucumbers does contain compounds that can help soothe arthritis pains and possibly slow the growth of cancerous cells. As amazing as those claims are, more consumers are drawn to sea cucumbers as they are believed to be an aphrodisiac. Domestic fisheries cannot keep up with the local demand, so the countries have outsourced to international exporters, many of which operate under the nose of the law. The sudden boom in popularity has created a lucrative black market niche that is causing incredible environmental damage.

Black Market Goods

The black market trade of sea cucumbers is a staple in some coastal economies, particularly in Morocco, where the shallow reefs a short distance offshore were home to thousands of these animals. Weak legislation surrounding international exports and local fishing has facilitated the overfishing of marine life. When a town comes to depend on the capture and export of an animal like sea cucumbers, which are being harvested more quickly than they can reproduce, the fisheries tend to become exhausted in a matter of years.

Once a local population has been depleted, the market moves on to the next fishery. This migrating market is not only detrimental to the coastal varieties of sea cucumbers, but it devastates the host towns by disrupting their local economies. Families who had once made their living doing legitimate work end up drawn in with the promise of quick and easy cash. As the resource dries up, money becomes harder to come by, and families find that they have less and less to live on as time goes on. Eventually, the buyers decide that the fishery is no longer lucrative and they move on to the next location.

Global Warming Could Spell The End For Sea Turtles

As global air and sea temperatures rise, numerous species are facing the consequences of our actions. Habitats are disappearing, climate change is shifting habitable zones, and some animals just can’t take the heat. Among the sea turtle populations, scientists are observing an unusual and disturbing trend that could prove fatal in a matter of generations.

A Biology Lesson

Sea turtles are part of a group of reptiles whose biological sexes are determined by their environment. Specifically, sea turtle eggs are impacted by the temperature of the sand around them. If the sand is cool, the eggs hatch as males. If the sand is warm, the eggs hatch as females. Rising temperatures had scientists wondering if more heated sands might mean that slightly more females were hatching. To find out, they traveled to a major sea turtle breeding ground near the Australian coast.

When they arrived, the marine biologists set out to determine the sexes of the sea turtles that had returned to their breeding grounds to lay eggs. Blood tests and laparoscopic observations helped the scientists count and catalog the number of females and males present on the breeding grounds. Their findings were undoubtedly fascinating, confirming their suspicions, but more than that, they also established the scientists’ greatest fears. Not only had the number of female turtles risen with the increase in temperature, but the males had become outnumbered 116 to 1.

The Undeniable Truth

Raine Island, one of the major breeding beaches in the Coral Sea area, is a point of significant concern for scientists. The rookery is nesting grounds for up to 200,000 turtles, with 18,000 coming to nest at any given time during peak season. With such a high output, maintaining gender diversity is important, which is why what the scientists found was so alarming. Based on their analysis, Raine Island has been producing almost exclusively female offspring for nearly 20 years. The ratio of females to males has been increasing since the 1970s and 80s, though the numbers were closer to 6 to 1 back then.

As the sea temperatures rise, the coral bleaches and the sand grows ever warmer, scientists worry that the outlook may be grim for these massive turtles. But, all is not lost. At another breeding ground near Brisbane, farther south where the temperatures are cooler, the female turtles only outnumber the males by a factor of two-to-one. The difference between the two rookeries confirmed for the scientists that climate change was playing a significant role in the female-favoring shift.

A Worldwide Perspective

Studies of breeding grounds across the world indicate that the global average is shifting noticeably in favor of females, with a roughly 3 to 1 average ratio. Having the numbers slightly skewed toward females might not be all bad, as long as the bias remains relatively small. Male turtles can mate with multiple females, which continues to work out just fine when there are a few more ladies around than there are gents. However, as the temperatures climb, scientists fear that the variation might become more noticeable as it has on Raine Island.

Although sea turtles have been around for thousands of years, the temperature fluctuations in the past have been gradual. Present-day turtles are seeing climate swings throughout single-lifetimes as opposed to generations. The oceans 50 years ago were cooler and cleaner than they are today. In coming decades, we may witness the extinction of some endangered species of turtles as their breeding grounds warm and skew their gender ratios. With any luck, the turtles will migrate to cooler waters and save themselves.

Other than these all-female turtle births, there have been a lot of other really strange things happening in our oceans lately…

Deep-Sea Fisherman’s Catches Will Make You Rethink Your Next Dip In The Ocean

While it may be tempting to believe that humans are pretty well-versed on most of our planet’s creatures, prepare to think again. Considering that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, we know fairly little about what exactly lurks beneath the waves. It’s estimated that up to 80% of the underwater realms of our oceans remain unexplored.

Roman Fedorstov’s Crazy Catches

That’s where a deep-sea fisherman named Roman Fedorstov comes in. Based in the port city of Murmansk, Russia, Roman spends his days fishing in the Arctic Ocean.  There he comes across all manner of insane sea creatures, many of which look like something from another planet altogether. Consider yourself forewarned that what you’re about to see may not be the best viewing material for the easily freaked out or those who regularly love indulging in seafood buffets.

Roman decided to help advance the cause of science by sharing some of his most bizarre deep-sea catches on his Instagram account. Once the Internet got a load of the strange and often grotesque creatures that Roman regularly pulls up from the depths, he began to build a following which is now close to 50,000.

If you’re wondering where some of these creatures have been hiding, then fear not. Here’s a sort of crash course in the deep sea regions they call home.

The Literal Twilight Zone

First, you’ve got the what’s commonly known as the ocean’s “twilight zone,” a place where few scuba divers dare to lurk. It’s only in the recent past that scuba equipment capable of safely transporting divers to this zone has even begun to be developed.

View this post on Instagram

It's Monday!)

A post shared by Роман Федорцов (@rfedortsov_official_account) on

The twilight zone is technically known as the Mesopelagic and it’s not easy to get too. In order to take a trip there, you’d be faced with swimming down anywhere from 200 to 1,000 meters (around 660 to 3,300 feet) beneath the ocean’s surface.

View this post on Instagram

Scary, but tasty. Страшный, но вкусный.

A post shared by Роман Федорцов (@rfedortsov_official_account) on

If that’s not quite crazy enough for you, then rest assured that an even deeper part of the ocean called the Bathyal zone, also known as the ‘midnight zone.’

The Midnight Zone

The midnight zone extends 1,000 to 4,000 meters deep (3,300 to 13,000 feet) and takes its name from the fact that not a speck of sunlight is able to reach it. Here you’ll find animals you won’t see in your average aquarium and there’s actually a pretty good reason why.

Creatures that call the midnight zone their homes have adapted to a very specific set of conditions that involve super cold water and very high pressure. Combine that with the need for complete darkness and it makes for hard conditions to recreate on land, much less in an aquarium environment.

That said, there are some aquariums that have attempted it, though the vast majority of them have been set up for research purposes alone. The only exception is an aquarium in France which set up an “Abyss Box.” Unfortunately, their tank was only big enough to hold about 16 liters of water so they stuck to displaying small crustaceans.

View this post on Instagram

From the Dark Water. Photo by @trapman_bermagui

A post shared by Роман Федорцов (@rfedortsov_official_account) on

Considering that most of these faces are those that only a mother fish could love, perhaps it’s best that, for the most part, they’re left to enjoy their deep-sea habitat.

The Ocean Is A Vast, Unexplored Mystery That’s Still Full Of Secrets

Space is hardly the final frontier when it comes to human exploration.

All around us are the oceans, a vast and unmapped region teeming with life that is largely undiscovered. The amount of stuff that science doesn’t know about the world’s oceans could literally fill an ocean.

Creatures of the Deep

Most of the species that live in the ocean are unknown to us. According to a study that was featured in the journal Biology, the oceans are home to up to one million different species.

Of them, around two-thirds have yet to be discovered. In many ways, the world’s oceans are a mysterious realm of possibility that humans have barely begun to explore.

There is so much unknown life in the oceans, an average of 200 new ocean species are discovered every year and we’ve still barely scratched the surface.

What You Never Knew

The oceans cover about 70 percent of the surface of the Earth, and yet there are so many unknowns about the mysteries lurking beneath those blue waves.

The deepest part of the oceans, the Mariana Trench, extends 7 miles below the surface of the water.

To put that into perspective, Mount Everest could fit down in the trench with room to spare.

Manned explorations of the trench have never descended deeper than 35,797 feet below the surface.

Entire ecosystems exist under the surface of the oceans, including lakes, rivers, mountain ranges, volcanoes, and waterfalls.

The most impressive waterfall in the entire world lies beneath the surface of the ocean. The Denmark Strait is a waterfall with an 11,500-foot drop that makes Niagara Falls look like a trickle.

More to Discover

One oceanographer has estimated that humans have actually explored less than 10 percent of the planet. But for humans, it’s extremely difficult to explore the deep areas of the ocean and we have yet to successfully map the entire ocean floor.

Equipment makes it possible to get a general idea of what’s down there, but even the most sophisticated technology doesn’t provide detail.

The U.S. National Ocean Service says that more than 80 percent of the ocean is “unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored,” an idea that’s both thrilling and chilling. An untold number of shipwrecks and air wrecks lay on the floor of the ocean, out of sight and out of reach.

Legend hints that the remnants of fabulous cities, like the mythic Atlantis, lay waiting down here in the darkness as well. The ocean could hold the keys to some of history’s greatest mysteries.

Sleeping Secrets

Humans have explored about 5 percent of the ocean floor. The other 95 percent has never been seen by human eyes.

There are canyons wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon, incredible valleys, lakes that are more than 300 feet deep and species no person has ever seen hiding under the waters of the ocean.

The plant and animal life that exists here is incredibly varied and may answer all sorts of questions we have about our world.

But we’ll have to find them first.

Humans are not built to spend extended periods of time underwater, which puts an enormous amount of pressure on the body.

The temperatures in the ocean also vary widely, getting as hot at 750 degrees F in some places near underwater volcanoes.

The ocean remains a place of shadowy, hidden mysteries that humans can’t yet reach. That makes the possibilities tantalizing and thrilling.