Starved polar bear perished due to record sea-ice melt, says expert


Climate change has reduced ice in the Arctic to record lows in the past year, forcing animals to range further in search of food.

This 16-year-old male polar bear died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

This 16-year-old male polar bear died of starvation resulting from the lack of ice on which to hunt seals. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

 

A starved polar bear found found dead in Svalbard as “little more than skin and bones” perished due to a lack of sea ice on which to hunt seals, according to a reknowned polar bear expert.

Climate change has reduced sea ice in the Arctic to record lows in the last year and Dr Ian Stirling, who has studied the bears for almost 40 years and examined the animal, said the lack of ice forced the bear into ranging far and wide in an ultimately unsuccessful search for food.

“From his lying position in death, the bear appears to simply have starved and died where he dropped,” Stirling said. “He had no external suggestion of any remaining fat, having been reduced to little more than skin and bone.”

The bear had been examined by scientists from the Norwegian Polar Institute in April in the southern part of Svalbard, an Arctic island archipelago, and appeared healthy. The same bear had been captured in the same area in previous years, suggesting that the discovery of its body, 250km away in northern Svalbard in July, represented an unusual movement away from its normal range. The bear probably followed the fjords inland as it trekked north, meaning it may have walked double or treble that distance.

Polar bears feed almost exclusively on seals and need sea ice to capture their prey. But 2012 saw the lowest level of sea ice in the Arctic on record. Prond Robertson, at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, said: “The sea ice break up around Svalbard in 2013 was both fast and very early.” He said recent years had been poor for ice around the islands: “Warm water entered the western fjords in 2005-06 and since then has not shifted.”

Stirling, now at Polar Bears International and previously at the University of Alberta and the Canadian Wildlife Service, said: “Most of the fjords and inter-island channels in Svalbard did not freeze normally last winter and so many potential areas known to that bear for hunting seals in spring do not appear to have been as productive as in a normal winter. As a result, the bear likely went looking for food in another area but appears to have been unsuccessful.”

Scientists are tracking polar bears with radio collars in Svalbard, Norway, to monitor their search for food. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

Scientists are tracking polar bears with radio collars in Svalbard, Norway, to monitor their search for food. Photograph: Ashley Cooper/Global Warming Images

 

Research published in May showed that loss of sea ice was harming the health, breeding success and population size of the polar bears of Hudson Bay, Canada as they spent longer on land waiting for the sea to refreeze. Other work has shown polar bear weights are declining. In February, a panel of polar bear experts published a paper stating that rapid ice loss meant options such the feeding of starving bears by humans needed to be considered to protect the 20,000-25,000 animals thought to remain.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest professional conservation network, states that of the 19 populations of polar bear around the Arctic, data is available for 12. Of those, eight are declining, three are stable and one is increasing.

The IUCN predicts that increasing ice loss will mean between one-third and a half of polar bears will be lost in the next three generations, about 45 years. But the US and Russian governments said in March that faster-than-expected ice losses could mean two-thirds are lost.

Attributing a single incident to climate change can be controversial, but Douglas Richardson, head of living collections at the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, said: “It’s not just one bear though. There are an increasing number of bears in this condition: they are just not putting down enough fat to survive their summer fast. This particular polar bear is the latest bit of evidence of the impact of climate change.”

Ice loss due to climate change is “absolutely, categorically and without question” the cause of falling polar bear populations, said Richardson, who cares for the UK’s only publicly kept polar bears. He said 16 years was not particularly old for a wild male polar bear, which usually live into their early 20s. “There may have been some underlying disease, but I would be surprised if this was anything other than starvation,” he said. “Once polar bears reach adulthood they are normally nigh on indestructible, they are hard as nails.”

Jeff Flocken, at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “While it is difficult to ascribe a single death or act to climate change it couldn’t be clearer that drastic and long-term changes in their Arctic habitat threaten the survival of the polar bear. The threat of habitat loss from climate change, exacerbated by unsustainable killing for commercial trade in Canada, could lead to the demise of one of the world’s most iconic animals, and this would be a true tragedy.”

Blackbird hitches a ride atop a red-tailed hawk


Remarkable image is one of a series captured by a photographer during a recent trip to a Northern California wildlife area

Originally posted by

grindtv.com by

Brave Little Balckbird

Brave Little Balckbird

Landing On A Raptor Sonoma-Spring-62

Earlier this week we shared vivid photos of red-tailed hawks engaged in a dogfight with two ravens that were interested in the raptors’ nest and babies.

The image atop this post might be even more incredible—or at least unique. It shows a red-winged blackbird standing on the back of a red-tailed hawk, looking as if it’s catching a ride to another destination.

The series of images were captured recently by photographer Eric Dugan at Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area in Northern California. They first appeared in a San Francisco Chronicle story written by outdoors columnist Tom Stienstra.

Dugan described the event:

“I was exploring the wildlife refuge and heard the screech of a red-tailed hawk, loud and repeated. I scanned the sky but didn’t see anything at first. Then, in the distance, I saw a young red-tailed hawk sitting on a telephone pole and the red-winged blackbirds were jumping on and off its back and head, apparently to drive it away from a nesting area.

 

“I immediately stopped, changed to my long lens, and set up my camera in anticipation for the show. As I walked closer, I anticipated that the hawk would take flight and the blackbirds would pursue it, to drive it out of their territory. I raised the camera and the blackbird actually landed on the hawk multiple times.

 

“The small bird was so far more maneuverable in flight that all the hawk could do was tolerate it and fly away.”

Dugan stated via email that the photos “are 100 percent legit” and that his only edits were exposure- and shadow-related since lighting was harsh at certain points because of the bright sunshine.

“I went back to the same spot a few days later hoping lightning would strike twice,” Dugan said. “But the red-tailed hawks were hunting way off in the distance.”

His final remark: “Red-winged blackbirds are fearless.”

—Dugan’s photos can be viewed on his Flickr page

—Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter

 

Dogs and Humans Evolved Together, Study Suggests


The gray wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), also known as the timber wolf, is the largest wild member of the dog family. Found in parts of North America

The gray wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), also known as the timber wolf, is the largest wild member of the dog family. Found in parts of North America

Originally posted by:

Dogs are more than man’s best friend: They may be partners in humans’ evolutionary journey, according to a new study.

The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs‘ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans.

The findings suggest a more ancient origin for dog domestication than previously suggested. They also hint that a common environment drove both dog and human evolution for thousands of years.

“As domestication is often associated with large increases in population density and crowded living conditions, these ‘unfavorable’ environments might be the selective pressure that drove the rewiring of both species,” the researchers wrote in their article, published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Communications.

First domestication

It isn’t clear precisely when wolves were tamed and transformed into man’s best friend, and the date has been hotly debated. An ancient, doglike skull uncovered in the Siberian Mountains suggested that the first dogs were domesticated around 33,000 years ago from gray wolves. But genetic analysis suggested dogs in China were domesticated only about 16,000 years ago.

In any case, most researchers agree that by about 10,000 years ago, dogs were firmly ensconced in human society. [10 Breeds: What Your Dog Says About You]

Some studies show that the wild dogs of South China may have been the first domesticated canines.

To understand this domestication, Guo-dong Wang, a genetics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and his colleagues analyzed the DNA of four gray wolves, three indigenous Chinese dogs and a German shepherd, a Belgian Malinois and a Tibetan mastiff.

The DNA suggests that the gray wolves split off from the indigenous dogs about 32,000 years ago, the researchers said.

“Chinese indigenous dogs might represent the missing link in dog domestication,” the researchers write in the paper.

Since then, dogs’ evolution has been gradual, and there were no sharp decreases in the dog population over time, suggesting dogs gradually became domesticated, after many years of scavenging from humans.

Parallel evolution

The team then compared corresponding genes in dogs and humans. They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport. Those changes could be due to a dramatic change in the proportion of animal versus plant-based foods that occurred in both at around the same time, the researchers said.

The team also found co-evolution in several brain processes — for instance, in genes that affect the processing of the brain chemical serotonin. In humans, variations in these genes affect levels of aggression. (This shared genetic trajectory might explain why Fluffy can be helped by antidepressant drugs, the authors hypothesize.)

Two bald eagles in air battle crash land at airport


Fighting eagles lock talons and are unable to disengage, but both survive

How two bald eagles appeared after crash landing. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

How two bald eagles appeared after crash landing. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

 

Originally posted by:

May 14, 2013 by

There was a crash landing Sunday at the Duluth International Airport, but it didn’t involve airplanes. Rather, it was two bald eagles, which were fighting in midair when they locked talons. In a rare spectacle of nature, they were unable to disengage in time before crashing to the runway.

“Apparently, mature eagles will sometimes fight over territories,” Randy Hanzal, a Minnesota Conservation Officer, told GrindTV in an email. “They will do battle in the air, crashing into each other and grabbing an intruding eagle with their talons.

Photo shows talons intertwined. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

Photo shows talons intertwined. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

“Usually, they will let go of each other before hitting the ground, but in this case, they had the talons so deeply imbedded in each other they may have been unable to let go.”

Hanzal was the one who was called in to collect the birds and deliver them to Wildwoods, a wildlife rehabilitation center in Duluth.

“Surprisingly the two eagles were remarkably calm as I grabbed them both and loaded them into the back of my truck,” Hanzal said. “I think they were still more intent on winning the battle than any concern for me.”

Hanzal didn’t have a container big enough for the eagles, so he put them in the bed of his truck, covered them with blankets and jackets, and strapped them down with webbing, according to a report in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Halfway to the rehabber, there was a ruckus in the back of the truck,” Hanzal told the News Tribune. “I looked around and saw feathers flying up. One of the eagles jumped out the back, onto my tailgate.”

That eagle flew away, apparently no worse for wear. The other eagle smartly hung around to get treated with antibiotics, fluids and pain medication. The eagles were both expected to recover.

Another wildlife expert told the News Tribune that it is “pretty rare” for fighting eagles to hit the ground like this.

“I have never seen this before,” Hanzal told Grind.

The injured eagle is expected to recover. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

The injured eagle is expected to recover. Photo courtesy of Randy Hanzal, Minnesota Conservation Officer.

This is Pretty Funny…


Stunning footage shows attacking bullfrog’s epic fail versus dragonfly

Photographer says he captured the extraordinary scene by accident

April 08, 2013 by

The New York Times recently published a story about dragonflies and how prolific the flying insects are as hunters. But what probably stood out for most readers was the jaw-dropping footage used to illustrate the piece–notably the super-slow-motion footage showing a spotted skimmer dragonfly evading a predatory leaping frog (watch as the frog believes it has scored an easy meal, only to fall into the water empty-handed).

We asked Dr. Andrew Mountcastle, the Harvard researcher who captured the footage, to share a few details about his photo session and he confessed that he chronicled the event by accident while at a city park in Seattle, filming for a project featuring insect flight.

“Eight spotted skimmers frequently hunt from perches on twigs and rocks near water, so I had focused my camera on one such perch to try to capture take-off and landing sequences,” Mountcastle explained. “As I was waiting for the dragonfly to take off, I briefly looked away, at which point I heard a splash in the water. When I looked back at the perch, the dragonfly was gone and the water underneath the perch was disturbed.

“But fortunately the camera had recorded the entire event. It wasn’t until I reviewed the video that I saw the frog had stolen the scene.”

New research, according to the New York Times, suggests that dragonflies “may well be the most brutally effective hunters in the animal kingdom.”

For example, they manage to snare prey items–flies and mosquitoes, etc.–in midair at an astonishing 95 percent success rate.

Furthermore, they’re surprisingly voracious. Stacey Combes, another Harvard researcher, once watched a dragonfly consume 30 flies in a row.

Their adeptness stems from their ability to calculate a trajectory to intercept their prey, and to adjust that trajectory as needed.

Clearly, judging by the footage, they’re masters of evasion as well.

–To view more of Mountcastle’s movie clips, visit his website