Did you know that dolphins have skin lesions and physical deformities?

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A bottlenose dolphin with skin lesions swims off Southern California — image:©maddalenabearzi/ocs (under NOAA permit)

Dolphins are top predators, meaning they feed at the top of the food chain. When chemical pollutants settle into seafloor sediments, they are absorbed by a variety of small organisms. Some of these animals end up in the stomachs of bottom feeders, which, in turn, accumulate higher concentrations of the same contaminants in their body tissues. Every time the contaminants move up the food chain into a new predator, the concentration intensifies in a process called bio-magnification.

By the time the contaminants reach the adult dolphin population at the top of the food chain, the concentrations are severe — so much so that stranded dead dolphins are regularly handled and disposed of as hazardous waste. Pollutants also pass from one generation to the next. Through their milk, dolphin mothers transfer sub-lethal doses of harmful chemicals to newborns during a lactation period that may last up to two years. …


How to eat an octopus without using your hands

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Bottlenose dolphin handling an octopus. Image:©K. Sprogis & M. Franklin/Murdock University

What do predators do when the prey is too big to be swallowed whole? It really depends on the size, texture and shape of the targeted victim but, generally speaking, it goes through some form of “processing” before being consumed.
Different animals around the world have found clever, interesting, and at times dangerous ways, of handling their game. In the oceans, leopard seals thrash seal pups and seabirds to break them down into smaller, more digestible chunks. …


California is still burning and I can feel it down in my throat

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Sky turns orange as wildfires rage on US West Coast. Image:©niklas-schweinzer/unsplash

California is still burning this morning and I can feel it down in my throat as I wake up in my Los Angeles home. I wash my face and I wonder how some people — including “our” president and his administration — can still deny the role of human-induced climate change even when racing flames have now scorched an area almost as big as Connecticut.

I sip some coffee while my eyes catch a headline in the Washington Post: “The World Health Organization on Sunday reported the highest one-day increase in coronavirus infections since the pandemic began: more than 308,000 new cases. …


Keeping dolphins in captivity is not acceptable anymore

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We think of dolphins as happy animals. Let’s not forget that dolphins also die smiling — image:©maddalenabearzi

I have spent much time in the company of wild dolphins over the last thirty years. I’ve built a career following their everyday movements and observing their behavior from research boats. When I began my studies, I knew these creatures primarily as the objects of my research but, as the years passed, I came to recognize them as single individuals, not solely for their unique dorsal fin notches, but also for their cognitive abilities, personalities and emotions.

Spending thousands of hours at sea, I began to know some of them by sight, and like my human friends, they became an integral part of my life. I learned of their needs, not only for space but also for companionship. And I witnessed their fluid, complex societies, which in many ways are quite similar to our own. …


A political change must happen now if we hope to slow ecological collapse

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A calving glacier. Witness to global warming - image courtesy of NOAA/Unsplash

For over three decades, I have conducted scientific and conservation research on wild marine mammals in different parts of the world. Over the years, with thousands of hours at sea in the company of dolphins and whales under my belt, I’ve grown increasingly worried about these creatures and their ecosystems.

As a scientist, I know that stopping climate change must be at the top of my priorities because it is the most pressing threat our Planet is facing today.

The hard question is: What can I do about it? …


King penguins emit so much laughing gas, scientists get… comic relief!

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King penguin colony in Antarctica — Image: ©Paul Carroll/Unsplash

Antarctic King penguins are not only known for being the second largest species of penguins and skilled divers, reaching depths of 300 meters (900 ft). Now, these tuxedo-clad wobblers living in large colonies are getting their minute of fame for pooping out so much laughing gas to make researchers go cuckoo!

How do we actually know this?
Scientists at the University of Copenhagen were interested in understanding the effect of glacier retreat and penguin activity on greenhouse gas emissions. …


Learn simple and easy ways to better explain science to non-scientists

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Dr. Maddalena Bearzi (center) talks about science & movies with Emmy-winning public television and radio host Patt Morrison (right) at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum.

Many scientists have a bad tendency: they often speak in a way that is incomprehensible to the general public.

I know what I am talking about because I am a scientist.

In our defense, traditional scientific training doesn’t typically prepare us to be effective communicators outside academic circles. Scientific peer-reviewed papers are frequently written in language that would require a translator to be grasped by a non-specialist, and even in every day conversations, we can easily slip into speaking in technical terms as soon as the conversation turns anywhere toward our respective field of expertise. We often sound boring!

For a marine biologist like myself, the need to directly engage the public and effectively disseminate information is becoming imperative due to the critical and complex environmental issues our oceans now face. Traveling the world as a whale and dolphin field researcher, I’ve witnessed first-hand the loss of biodiversity and habitat degradation.
I now believe that research is no longer enough and scientists increasingly need to engage in conservation efforts. The more I’ve learned, the more I feel compelled to tell as many people as I can about my experiences in company of animals, and most importantly, about the pressing need to protect them and the environment in which they live. …


Have you ever wondered where dolphins go after you get a glimpse of them as they surf a wave or catch a bow-ride off a boat? I did.

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Bottlenose dolphins traveling along the California coastline. Photograph by Maddalena Bearzi/Ocean Conservation Society under NOAA permit.

Bottlenose dolphins off California, one of the marine mammal species I’ve studied in this stretch of the Pacific Ocean for over two decades now, are known to occur here in two distinct forms. There are coastal bottlenose, usually frequenting shallow waters less than one mile from the shore, and offshore bottlenose, found primarily in deeper pelagic waters. …


Yes, other animals can teach too

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face-to-face with a wild bottlenose dolphin — ©maddalenabearzi/ocs

“Why do you study dolphins?” an enthusiastic student asks me as we walk through the metal detectors at his high school in a poor neighborhood of Los Angeles. I was invited here to give a talk to his class about my experiences as a marine biologist and the current problems facing local dolphins and their habitat.

I tell him how, at the beginning, I was motivated mainly by the naïve curiosity of a nature-lover drawn toward dolphins and their underwater world. …


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Humpback whale mother and calf ©maddalenabearzi/ocs

In the last days, it was not enough to witness a reckless Mr. Trump making an informal declaration of martial law and using the name of George Floyd to tout what he views as his administration’s economic victories. Even with everyone still shaken by a pandemic that has claimed over 100,000 lives in the US and protests spreading throughout America under his nose, the President still found the time to dismantle even more environmental regulations.

A few days ago, Mr. Trump signed an executive order opening the Atlantic Ocean’s only fully protected Marine Sanctuary off New England to commercial fishing. Back in 2016, The Obama administration closed off nearly 5,000 square miles of these waters to protect whales, depleted fisheries and the overall marine ecosystem in an effort to allow recovery from many years of overfishing. Trump’s executive order completely dismisses all scientific findings that nets, crabs traps, lines dangling hooks and other fishing gear cause harm to whales and other species swimming in these waters. On top of that, Mr. Trump made this action even though there is no evidence that commercial fishing in the area has been negatively affected since the Sanctuary was created. …

About

Maddalena Bearzi

Ocean Conservation Society President - Marine Biologist (dolphins + whales), Conservationist - Published author - Journalist/Blogger (National Geographic)

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