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Thursday, September 20, 2012

And the good news...whale watch regulations for Sri Lanka

Whale watch boats wait for the re-emergence of a blue whale, Mirissa, Sri Lanka.
Photo credit: Ashvin de Vos

A new set of Sea mammal regulations has been compiled under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka and will be presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife. While it seems to cover all angles of the industry, it is interesting to see what the full set of regulations looks like. While I understand that the prices quoted are an effort to maintain consistency amongst operators, it makes one wonder how it will change the industry. 

I agree that prices should be kept affordable for locals to enjoy what lies in our waters but at the quoted prices (Rs 20 per local adult) I question if the boats will be able to run beyond the entrance to the harbour. In addition, in light of our slipping economy $8 for a foreign adult will be next to nothing in no time (if it isn't already). Knowing full well that regulations of this nature remain stagnant over time, the fact that there appears to be no mention of a percentage increase in price from year to year is worrying. While I am aware that the full regulations do have a maximum passenger limit per vessel, at these prices, how will the industry survive and are we undercutting ourselves as a nation? 

There's plenty more to discuss on the snapshot provided by this article http://www.sundaytimes.lk/120916/news/strict-guidelines-set-for-whale-and-dolphin-watching-12755.html but perhaps I'll wait till I have analysed the full document to make my comments.   

Closing note: I have been pushing for whale watch regulations since 2003 when the Odyssey expedition of which I was part, brought media attention to the presence of a great number and variety of cetaceans in Sri Lankan waters. I pushed and argued for having regulations in place before an industry commenced (my first article on this matter was published in the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society journal 'Loris') but was opposed by a number of people, some from the tourism industry. Elsewhere in the world, research is conducted on cetacean populations to gain a good understanding of them and their habitat prior to the establishment of such an industry. That way, it is possible to look out for the impacts of disturbance and mitigate them. In Sri Lanka we are doing things inside out, with The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project running parallel to a growing whale watch industry. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Humpback whale heat run in Tonga

Apologies for the long silence. I've been away from a decent connection and working hard on some very interesting data. I hope you all understand and are as excited as I am about what the data is telling us! 

Some of you may remember last year's post about the humpback whale baby boom in Tonga documented by my friend, underwater photographer Tony Wu. He photographed and catalogued 48 new calves in the 2011 season and this year he has already documented 31 with a few weeks to go. Spending lots of time in the water with these giants brings some incredible opportunities and this is no exception - a humpback whale heat run! Click the link to read the story: http://www.tonywublog.com/20120918/humpback-whale-heat-run-tonga-2012.html#axzz26mi59tod

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tracking a Subtle Scent, a Dog May Help Save the Whales

Dogs are incredible companions and pets as many of us will agree. In recent times, scientists have learnt how to use their incredible sense of smell to help protect endangered species both on land and in the water. To learn more read today's NYT article and watch the video.

Insane in the chromatophore - Greg Gage

The setup

Musically stimulated squid skin as seen through an 8x microscope zoomed in on the dorsal side of the fin.
There is no doubt, everyone is intrigued by the fast colour-changing nature of squid's skin. Squids (like many other cephalapods) can quickly control pigmented cells called chromatophores to reflect light. TED fellow Greg Gage's fascination with neuroscience led him to the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA this summer where he experimented on the giant axons of the Longfin inshore squid (Loligo pealei). This species has three different chromatophore colours: Brown, Red and Yellow. Each chromatophore has tiny muscles along the circumference of the cell that can contract to reveal the pigment underneath.
Here we see get a peak at some of Greg's tests on the squid's chromatophores using the cockroach leg stimulus protocol they have devised. They used home made DIY suction electrodes to attach to the squid's fin nerve, then connected the electrode to an iPod nano as the simulator. The iPod plays music by converting digital music to a small current that it sends to tiny magnets in the earbuds. The magnets are connected to cones that vibrate and produce sound.
Since this is the same electrical current that neurons use to communicate, he cut off the ear buds and instead placed the wire into the fin nerve. When the iPod sends bass frequencies (<100hz action="action" an="an" axons="axons" cause="cause" charge="charge" chromatophores="chromatophores" contract.="contract." enough="enough" fire="fire" font="font" have="have" in="in" muscles="muscles" nerves="nerves" potential.="potential." the="the" this="this" to="to" turn="turn" will="will">
More details of this and other super interesting but accesible neuroscience conducted by Greg and his team can be found at http://news.backyardbrains.com/2012/08/insane-in-the-chromatophores/

For a better explanation as well as a few more demos watch Greg's TED talk: http://on.ted.com/Gage.