Polar bear numbers seen declining

a third from Arctic sea ice melt

 

NEW YORK (Reuters): Rising temperatures that melt sea ice in the Arctic will probably reduce the polar bear population by a third over the next few decades, and the same warming trend is likely to worsen the decline of wild reindeer, scientists said on Monday. The new findings by university and government researchers were presented as part of a panel discussion about climate impacts on wildlife during a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco. The presentation was streamed live on the internet. The polar bear research is drawn from new satellite data documenting a loss of Arctic sea ice - the animal’s chief habitat - from 1979 to 2015, and forming the basis of projections in further declines of both ice and bears over the coming decades. Polar bears currently number about 26,000, but their population is expected to diminish by some 8,600 animals over the next 35 to 40 years, the scientists said. At the time polar bears were declared a threatened species in 2008, one study predicted they could vanish from two-thirds of their native range by mid-century.The latest data better quantifies such an outcome.

“There is the potential for a large reduction in the global population of polar bears over the next three generations if the sea ice loss continues at the rate we’ve seen it,” said Kristin Laidre, a marine mammal ecologist at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center.

Polar bears, standing as tall as 11 feet (3.35 meters) and weighing up to 1,400 pounds (635 kg), use floating sea ice as platforms for everything from mating and rearing their young to hunting their preferred prey of ringed seals.

The study was led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Eric Regehr, who told Reuters habitat loss was unequivocal but that effects have varied among the world’s 19 sub-populations of polar bears, whose range lies mainly within the Arctic Circle.

He pointed to a region north of Alaska where the number has dropped sharply amid significant sea ice losses. Another population west of Alaska appears to have experienced less impact, but that area may sustain larger, healthier populations of seals and other polar bear prey, Regehr said.

A warmer climate also is thought to be a primary culprit in the rapid decline of wild reindeer and their close cousins, caribou, Andrey Petrov, head of the Arctic Center at the University of Northern Iowa, said at Monday’s symposium.

Petrov’s study of wild reindeer in Taimyr in northern Russia shows that herd’s population has fallen to about 600,000 animals, from 1 million in 2000.The Taimyr population, accounting for about 24 percent of all wild reindeer, is challenged by such factors as loss of young because of migration patterns hampered by a warming climate.

 

 

Miss Universe criticised for whale

shark swim in Philippines

 

MANILA (AFP): Environmentalists have hit out at organisers of the Miss Universe beauty pageant in the Philippines, calling them “irresponsible” for letting contestants swim with endangered whale sharks. A group of bikini-clad Miss Universe candidates were photographed smiling and waving from boats on their way to swim with the world’s largest living fish in waters off the island of Cebu on Tuesday, ahead of January’s contest. Tourists swimming with the creatures are strongly discouraged by environmental groups, who say feeding whale sharks makes them dependent and also leaves them vulnerable to poaching or injuries from boat propellers. “We are afraid because with Miss Universe going there, the Philippines is promoting a bad tourism practice,” Vince Cinches of Greenpeace Southeast Asia told AFP.

“We are telling the world it’s okay to do this, aggravating this kind of behaviour.”

The Philippines is hosting Miss Universe next year and the tourism department said the trip was part of an inspection of potential competition sites.

The whale shark visit was coordinated with the help of the local municipality “which promised a well managed marine interaction experience”, tourism undersecretary Kat De Castro told AFP.

Wildlife conservation groups in the Philippines have for years opposed whale shark tourism in Cebu’s Oslob city, but local officials say the practice is a source of livelihood for the community.

Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines opposes this.

“It’s irresponsible and unsustainable. It’s not even ecotourism. You sacrifice the environment just for a selfie,” the group’s director AA Yaptinchay told AFP.

A veterinarian and aquatic ecologist, Yaptinchay urged the government to enforce guidelines including maintaining a three-metre distance from the whale sharks and prohibiting swimmers from touching them.

Internet users in the social media-obsessed nation expressed outrage online.

“Miss Universe, please don’t be a bitch to the environment”, Gabriel Yap wrote on Facebook.

Besides environmental issues, security has been a concern for the Miss Universe competition.

In August, authorities said they were looking into a “serious” threat by an Islamic State-related group to bomb the pageant.

 

 

Six-storey-high wave sets a record: UN agency

GENEVA  (AFP): The UN’s weather agency on Tuesday announced the highest wave on record - a behemoth that towered 19 metres (62.3 feet) above the North Atlantic. Scrutiny of data sent back by an automated buoy showed a monster wave rose at 0600 GMT on February 4, 2013 at a remote spot between Britain and Iceland, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said. “This is the first time we have ever measured a wave of 19 meters. It is a remarkable record,” WMO deputy chief Wenjian Zhang said in a statement. Taller than a six-storey building, the mighty wave occurred after a “very strong” cold front had barrelled through the area, producing winds up of 43.8 knots (81 kilometres, 50.4 miles per hour). The previous record height for a wave was 18.3m, notched up in December 2007, also in the North Atlantic.  Automated buoys are vital tools for oceanographers, sending back data on sea currents, temperatures and swells for seafarers, climate researchers and others. “We need high quality and extensive ocean records to help in our understanding of weather/ocean interactions,” said Zhang.

“Despite the huge strides in satellite technology, the sustained observations and data records from moored and drifting buoys and ships still play a major role in this respect.”

The North Atlantic, from the Grand Banks underwater plateau off Canada to south of Iceland and the west of Britain, is the world’s biggest breeding ground for giant waves.

At wintertime, wind circulation and atmospheric pressure cause intense extratropical storms, often dubbed “bombs,” the WMO said.

The height of a wave is defined as the distance from the crest of one wave to the trough of the next.

The UN agency occasionally reveals quirky weather-related milestones, like its September finding that an August 2012 lightning flash in France was the longest-lasting bolt ever recorded.

 

 

Malaysia enthrones new king in lavish ceremony 

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP): Malaysia on Tuesday installed its 15th king, Sultan Muhammad V, a relatively youthful monarch known for his fondness for four-wheel driving and other extreme sports. In a ceremony steeped in pomp and centuries of tradition, the 47-year-old Sultan, dressed in gold-coloured traditional Malay formal wear, took the oath of office in the national palace in Kuala Lumpur. The ceremony, marked by honour guards and Islamic prayers, was televised nationally and attended by Prime Minister Najib Razak and hundreds of guests decked out in Islamic finery.Sultan Muhammad V, currently the ceremonial ruler of the conservative Islamic northern state of Kelantan, takes the national throne under the rotating monarchy in place since independence from Britain in 1957.

In a unique arrangement, the throne of the Muslim-majority country changes hands every five years between the rulers of the nine Malaysian states still headed by Islamic royalty.

Sultan Muhammad V studied at St Cross College at Oxford and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, according to official media.

He is known for a relaxed public persona, taking part in walkathons to promote health, and has been photographed wearing a baseball cap backwards.

The Sultan “fills his free time by reading and has an interest in extreme sports such as four-wheel drive expeditions and endurance challenges and shooting,” Bernama news agency said.

Despite the merely ceremonial role, Malaysia’s Islamic royalty command great respect, especially from Muslim Malays, the country’s majority group, and criticizing them is strictly forbidden.

Portraits of the king and queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The king is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as the nominal chief of the military.

Malaysia’s sultans trace a lineage back to Malay sultanates of the 15th century. The king is referred to as Yang di-Pertuan Agong, or “He Who Is Made Lord”.

Sultan Muhammad V replaces Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah from the northern state of Kedah, now 89, who was king previously in the 1970s and became the first person to hold the position twice.