Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wildlife Bytes 14/4/10

Wildlife MiniBytes

Ship Stranding
Apparently the stricken Shen Neng 1 has been successfully refloated last night, and the Bligh Government has moved to "get tough" with reef polluters. The attempt began about 6pm, ahead of the high tide and by 8pm the vessel was floating off Douglas Shoal. Ms Bligh has announced the maximum penalty for corporations involved in oil spills in Queensland waters will increase from $1.75m to $10m while the maximum fine for individuals will increase from $350,000 to $500,000. We would have thought it was more inportant to ensure that ships DIDNT pollute the GBR, rather than fining them afterwards. If every ship inside the GBR was forced to put an Australian pilot on board, that risk woud be cut dramatically. Meanwhile the Age reports toxic paint from the hull of the Shen Neng 1 is killing coral in protected reef waters off Queensland. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says the Shen Neng 1 has left a column of damage about one kilometre long. It says toxic anti-fouling paint from the hull is killing coral around Douglas Shoal. * WPAA


As Canadian anger over the recent EU seal product ban grows, potentially putting an EU-Canada trade pact in danger, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian hunters who legally cull seal but have to bury or burn the cadavers consider the ban to be a waste of a good resource. Between the years 2000 and 2007, coastal regions in the three Nordic states received money from Brussels to come up with new techniques to make use of the seal carcasses which are culled every year in order to protect the local fishing industry. Nordic chefs received EU money to come up with new seal dishes The project, named "Seal: A common resource," received over €300,000 from the EU Interreg Programme (for inter-regional co-operation), and included, among other things, workshops on how to treat seal skin after culling and DVDs on hunting techniques. Read More

Flying Foxes

An influx of flying foxes landing in Moreland backyards over the past two months has stunned residents. Moreland Council has received numerous inquiries about the bats, with some residents grumbling about their fruit trees being plundered. Melbourne's flying fox population surged by some 20,000 after recent floods in northern NSW and Queensland destroyed their food sources pushing them south. Department of Sustainability and Environment wildlife management project leader, Ian Temby, said more than 50,000 of the threatened species were now based at Yarra Bend Park in Melbourne's east, up from the park's summer average of 31,000. A further 31,700 bats were currently in Geelong. ``Residents will be seeing bats from the colony at Yarra Bend as they will travel up to 50km looking for food,'' Mr Temby said. ``We ask that residents do not take matters into their own hands and try and remove the flying foxes as they are a threatened species and can't be culled.'' Mr Temby said the bats would likely move on as other food sources became available. In the meantime residents could protect fruit trees by covering them with knitted netting, available from some nurseries. Monofilament netting should not be used because it could entangle birds and bats, Mr Temby said. He said there was no special health risk associated with having flying-foxes visit trees. ``Australian Bat Lyssavirus, a rabies-like disease, can only be transmitted to people via a bite or scratch from an infected animal. * Leader. Meanwhile the management of the Sydney Botanical Gardens are still pushing to try to relocate the flyingfoxes there. A decision to move the flying foxes or not, will soon be made by Environment Minister Peter Garrett.

Late April Fools Joke?

We understand Federal Environment Minister Peter Garret has been awarded an environmental award by WWF, which has prompted some of our readers to ask if this was a late April Fools joke!


Yearly Commercial Kill Totals. 1991 2,912,823, 1992 2,816,649, 1993 2,976,198, 1994 3,293,227, 1995 3,260,448, 1996 3,101,123, 1997 2,289,687, 1998 2,592,776, 1999 2,600,139, 2000 2,746,132, 2001 3,392,259 2002 3,905,277, 2003 3,474,483, 2004 2,992,071, 2005 3,112,344, 2006 3,289,367, 2007 2,986,470, 2008 2,193,207, 2009 1,950,002 (11% down on 2008).

These figures were released (2009 figures) to the California Govt BEFORE they released them to us........ I think we all know why these figures are so low despite what they tell us that for the last three years populations are increasing. If that is so why the decline in animals shot? Or could part of this be due to the effect the Russian ban has had? *Network Item

Invasive Lionfish

Belize Marine authorities are waging an all-out war against the dreaded Lionfish, which has invaded Belizean waters. Since late last year when this voracious predator was discovered in Belize waters, more than 400 have been caught and destroyed. Still a vigorous campaign is in effect today to rid the Caribbean of Lion fish (genera pterois) before it does serious damage to commercial fisheries. Its plan is to educate stake-holders on how they can become involved in protecting the fisheries resources of Belize from the depredations of one of the most poisonous creatures of the ocean. It is believed that lionfish were introduced into Caribbean waters after a hurricane destroyed an acquarium in South Florida where they were being kept. Lionfish are native to Indo-pacific region, but they have spread to many other areas of ocean. *The Reporter, Belize


The recent posting of a graphic video showing a turtle having its flippers hacked off while still alive has prompted RSPCA Qld to call for a review of traditional hunting. The RSPCA would also like to find out where the video was actually filmed so they can investigate the incident. “We’re committed to ensuring that any breaches of the Animal Care and Protection Act are fully investigated while at the same time taking into consideration traditional hunting rights,” RSPCA Qld chief inspector Michael Pecic said. RSPCA Qld chief executive Mark Townend said that until now cruelty to animals using traditional hunting methods has been “put in the ‘too hard’ basket by governments”. “We can’t do this alone. We’re a charity and yet it appears we’re the only organisation that is taking this matter seriously.” He emphasised that the RSPCA’s stance was not an attack on the indigenous community. “Far from it,” he said. “We have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island elders who support us on this issue. Hunting from tinnies with rifles is not traditional. Leaving turtles and dugongs to be butchered alive and left to die on the beach is not traditional.” *Qld Times

Fisher Protection Likely

Wildlife advocates have filed suit seeking legal protection for the fisher -- a weasel-like Sierra Nevada predator that kills porcupines. It qualifies as endangered but is stuck in regulatory limbo. By nature, the fisher keeps a low profile. Even researchers who study the speedy, weasel-like creature in California old-growth forests say they rarely see it. But now environmentalists are forcing the shy fisher into the spotlight. In a lawsuit filed last week, the Sierra Nevada predator is being made a poster critter for scores of rare animals stuck in what advocates say is regulatory limbo: They qualify as endangered species but remain on a waiting list. Read more...,0,5586570.story


Almost 30 dolphins have died following a mass stranding on Tasmania's west coast. Parks and Wildlife Service staff and marine specialists from the Resource Management and Conservation Division of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment are helping in the management of dolphins stranded in the Pieman River. PWS Incident Controller Chris Arthur said staff have been on site near Corinna since reports of 50 dolphins in the river were received late on Sunday. The dolphins are in groups above and below the village of Corinna. Approximately 12 dolphins died on Sunday afternoon. A further 34 stranded on a beach at the mouth of the Pieman River. Seventeen have since died. Mr Arthur said the conditions are proving challenging for the dolphins and the crew on site. "We are having to use the river as transport because heavy rain has made parts of the area inaccessible," he said. The rescue continues today. *Mercury


Black market dugong and turtle meat was regularly being transported in eskies from the Torres Strait to Cairns, the Opposition has claimed. Opposition frontbencher Glen Elmes today claimed in Parliament that that the illegal meat load was sent on commercial flights from Horn Island and fetched $50 a kilogram. Mr Elmes also highlighted a YouTube video of the dismembering of a live turtle, saying the practice was “brutal’’ and inhumane’’ but being ignored by authorities. The October 2009 video shows a large turtle being dragged out of the water on its back while several Indigenous men hack off the animals flippers. “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are entitled to hunt using traditional methods for their own consumption, the LNP recognises, acknowledges and supports that entitlement, Mr Elmes said. “But no one is entitled to transport kill, no one is entitled to sell the meat.’’ Comment is being sought from the State Government. *Courier Mail

Wildlife Bytes


Tasmanian possum products could soon feature in menus and on fashion catwalks worldwide. The Federal Government is considering a draft management plan for the commercial harvest and export of Tasmanian brushtail opossums. The proposal outrages animal rights groups who say it is exploiting a native animal. But it has been welcomed by farmers who say they are sick of possums destroying their crops. It is also welcomed by Lenah Game Meats proprietor John Kelly who says he could sell $1 million worth of possum fur to New Zealand tomorrow if he could access them. Last year an estimated 376,000 opossums were slaughtered for crop protection but possum products have not been exported since 2004, when the last management plan expired. The new management plan aims to "assist in reducing the adverse impacts of brushtail possums on primary production while ensuring the ecological sustainability of brushtail possum harvesting in Tasmania". Populations would be closely monitored and quotas would be decided year by year.

But Against Animal Cruelty Tasmania co-ordinator Chris Simcox said the plan was a clear exploitation of wildlife for commercial gain. "Any industry that is built around the killing of animals is of concern, but even more so when it is our native animal," Mr Simcox said. "In Tasmania our wildlife are treated with contempt and this is a further indication of that." RSPCA president Paul Swiatkowski said native animals should stay in their environment. "The RSPCA believes each animal has its own integrity and place in its environment," Dr Swiatkowski said. "If this goes ahead the RSPCA will be concerned about the welfare of the animals as they are caught, transported and slaughtered." Hamilton farmer Tim Parsons said he would be among the first to volunteer his property for a sustainable management plan if it went ahead. He said possums had killed many eucalyptus trees on his property, Curringa Farm, and they regularly damaged his poppy crop. "Their numbers are out of control," he said. "Irrigation and cropping in farming areas has caused their numbers to swell to false and unsustainable levels."

Mr Kelly, who previously operated a possum abattoir at Highclere, said he believed possums could become a big earner for Tasmania. "I could sell $1 million worth of skins to New Zealand tomorrow because they have built up a market," he said. "[And] there is definitely a market for possum meat in China." *Mercury The Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts has received an application for approval of a Wildlife Trade Management Plan under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

You are invited to comment on the Draft Management Plan for the Commercial Harvest and Export of the Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) in Tasmania, 2010 - 2014 Submissions must be in by 23rd of April. The Australian Government's authority on this matter relates to approval of the plan for export of common brushtail possum products. In accordance with the provisions of section 303FR of the Act, you are invited to comment on this proposed management plan. Please submit your comments by Friday 23 April 2010. Please include your full name, postal address and email address in your submission. Remember that the EPBC Act has a requirement to address humane issues. A decision to stop the possum kill by Garret's Department will be only made by law, under the EPBC Act, and not by emotions.

Comments should be addressed to: The Director, Wildlife Trade Assessments, Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts, GPO Box 787, Canberra ACT 2601 or can be emailed to: To assist the Minister in considering comments, the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts encourages you to provide comments under the following headings: Sustainability of the Harvesting Regime, Monitoring, Quota Setting Regime, Licensing Regime, Welfare, Other.

There is a very distressing video of the possums being inhumanely killed in Mr Kellys processing plant. We are trying to get it put online for people to use in their submissions, but there are some legal issues to work through first. The comments below are taken from the Animal Lib SA website. We may be able to give you the link to teh video footage in a couple of days.

A video was taken in the Lenah Valley possum slaughterhouse in January 1999, over 6 months after the Senate Committee report was published, with its endorsement of the industry. The video clearly showed: Several possums were not rendered unconscious by the first hit of the captive bolt pistol. The stunner then slowly walked over to reload the pistol, and slowly returned to the possum for a second shot. Since the possum was hit by the first shot, it is likely to have suffered pain during this time. A disturbing number of possums were not unconscious when their throat was cut. Some were sufficiently mobile to leap out of the trough onto the floor. Problems occurred when the slaughterman stopped to sharpen his knife, and stunned possums coming through the chute piled up. In some cases the slaughterman had trouble holding a struggling possum still while he tried to slit the throat. Pouch joeys were picked up and bashed against a metal trough, then dumped in a waste bin. *

Flying Foxes

The relocation of the Flying Fox colony at Burdekin Park will be abandoned. A meeting of the Flying Fox Steering Committee saw members agree unanimously to abandon the relocation project and that the steering committee itself be dissolved because the project is not achieving the results desired and the costs are increasing. According to community representative at the meeting Jack Francis, the committee has been frustrated by the constant battle with State and Federal government red tapes. "Maybe we do need to close it and bring a focus onto the bureaucratic mess that way,” Mr Francis told The Singleton Argus yesterday. The Federal Governments department of Environment Water Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) has continued to make the licence application for the relocation project harder and harder. Council has had the consistent battle with approval of licences on a state level, but then hearing that they do not have approval on a federal level. The licences also have an expiration date. In the minutes Cr Val Scott said the expiration date of the state licence would come before the approval of the federal licence would be granted.

For Mr Francis, bringing as much attention to the red tape issues as possible is the next step. “I will be going to the current affairs programs to bring this issue to light,” Mr Francis said. “I don’t know what else to do. “It is not about the trees and bats anymore and we need to make people aware that government bureaucracy is running and ruining our lives.” Mr Francis said at the meeting that there needs to be a new tactic given that there are not endless funds to continue to be spent on the problem and that he believes it is through the media. In the minutes Mr Francis further said that the motion to disband the committee is not about giving up, it is about accessing other avenues that could not be done through the committee.

Bright lights, loud noise and fake gunfire will be used to move on a colony of up 10,000 flying foxes in the central Queensland town of North Eton. Climate Change and Sustainability Minister Kate Jones said Mackay Regional Council had been given the green light to start moving the flying foxes from April 12. Ms Jones said the council had been granted a permit at the end of 2009, but they had to wait until the breeding season was over. "I know the colony has been a real concern for the North Eton community, but it was important to wait until the breeding cycle was over so that the young flying foxes were mature enough to be dispersed with the rest of the colony," Ms Jones said.

State member for Mackay Tim Mulherin said patience had been the key to moving on the colony. "This has been a huge problem with between 6000 and 10,000 flying foxes at any one time affecting residents and I sincerely hope the relocation efforts will be a success," Mr Mulherin said. Ms Jones said there was several methods for the council to disperse the mammals. "I understand the council will trim the trees in which the flying foxes have been nesting overnight while the animals are away," she said. "If that doesn't do the trick then the council will try fogging the trees as well as using noise, bright lights and BirdFrite, a non-lethal 12-gauge cartridge which simultaneously produces a loud noise and flash to move them on." Officers from DERM and the RSPCA will be on hand to ensure that the dispersal is carried out as humanely as possible. *

Ed Comment; This is really bad news, as this may weaken the attempts of wildlife groups to stop the planned "dispersal" of the Sydney Botanic Gardens flying foxes.


The Defence Department has hit back at Queenscliff golfers over their claims an “out of control” kangaroo population is tearing up their Swan Island course. A spokesperson said the department had “no current plans” to answer the golfers’ call for a cull of kangaroos. The spokesperson also rejected claims the defence department was responsible for introducing kangaroos to Swan Island. “There are no records indicating that the introduction of kangaroos was officially carried out or sanctioned by defence,” the spokesperson said. “It is believed the kangaroos may have been introduced by residents of the island a number of decades ago.” The Defence Department spokesperson estimated about 150 kangaroos were on Swan Island. The department did not regard the kangaroos as an “environmental or safety risk”, he said.

Queenscliff Golf Club’s Kevin Cameron, who told the Independent last week that the kangaroos were costing the club members and money, said the department’s response had left the club “disappointed and surprised”. “The army keeps saying it will get back to us and fix the problem but we feel like we’re beating our heads against the wall because they aren’t doing anything,” Mr Cameron said. Club president Glenda Werrett said directors had heard nothing from the department since last year. “They sent us a letter saying they were considering contraception late last year but we haven’t heard anything else,” Mr Werrett said. Queenscliff Mayor Bob Merriman said the department’s response to the golf club was “disappointing”. But he believed a solution was “still in the pipeline”. “I have a real concern about the impact of the damage to the area. Kangaroos are virtually destroying all the flora and fauna, so it’s really a serious environmental and animal-welfare matter,” Cr Merriman said. “On that basis, I think we need to do something because it’s continuing to cause difficulty not only for humans but also for other species.” Cr Merriman said he had contacted State Government about the kangaroos and was awaiting a response. *StarNewsGro

Pet Wildlife

Australia's wildlife is becoming extinct faster than had been expected, and there is criticism that the old way, "lock it up" conservation, is not working. Native animals are no longer safe in the bush; a deadly onslaught of ferals - foxes, goats, pigs, cats, canetoads and exotic weeds - are out-gunning native species. Now, Australia may trial a new paradigm - market forces - as a way to combat extinction. A soon-to-be-released rural industry report suggests giving endangered species like the eastern quoll (or marsupial native cat), hopping mice and sugar gliders an economic value, in order to save them. Ideas being floated are that people be encouraged to keep the native creatures as pets, rather than cats or dogs, or that Australians can trade in them, have many more backyard captive breeding programs that earn an income and even export them. In the United States, Australian sugar gliders are captive bred and marketed as "pocket pets". One entrepreneur alone sells 20,000 sugar gliders each year.

The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has completed a feasibility study into the pros and cons of encouraging people to have native mammals as pets, the sale of which might fund captive breeding programs to help future re-release of some species in the wild. One of the report's investigators, Rosie Cooney, says having more native mammals as pets will raise their profile and make sure more people care about their plight in the wild. "The vast majority of Australians know very little about the vast majority of our species, so there's no possible way they can value them," she said. "The better we know our species, the more chance we've got that people are going to care about their long-term conservation." It is a red hot debate and there are many complex problems: one is the "cuteness factor". Many people are only likely to be interested in the pretty new pets. Another is whether a selective breeding program should be allowed, so that the antisocial aspects of some native animals are bred out, to make them more acceptable as domestic additions to our homes. *ABC

Ed Comment; If its such a "redhot" debate, one has to wonder why they didnt talk to someone from the wildlife groups.

They don't bark, bite or scratch the furniture: now the native turtle is to become a household pet, under a NSW Government plan to make it easier to own wildlife . Spurred by the Bindi Irwin phenomenon, Environment Minister Frank Sartor is seeking ways to help children own native animals such as turtles. Pet reptiles are soaring in popularity, with almost 16,000 licensed owners of snakes and lizards in NSW, up from 500 only 12 years ago. Under existing laws, a licence is required to keep any one of more than 440 species of native birds, reptiles, frogs and mammals. The pet industry is lobbying the NSW Government to allow many native animals, including other reptiles, to be sold in shops. The Government is expected to reject the plan, but Mr Sartor said he would consider cutting red tape over ownership of some ``child-friendly'' animals. Breeder Debbie Weeding said some turtles made great family pets. *Sunday Telegraph

Ed comment; I happen to know that the Irwin family do not support wildlife for pets.

New Nature Reserves
Thousands of acres of old quarries could be turned into nature reserves to support wildlife such as natterjack toads, otters and nightingales, campaigners claim. Conservation experts have produced a plan to work with council planners, landowners, quarry operators and local communities to help turn sites into habitats such as woods, wetlands and heathlands. Under the plan the majority of quarries in England could be turned into wild areas, creating thousands of acres of space for threatened species, the RSPB said. It is also supported by the Minerals Products Association which aims to establish high quality habitat on former quarry sites. The RSPB believes almost 56,000 hectares of active mineral sites in England alone would be suitable for restoring into one or more of 17 different habitats which the Government listed as priorities for conservation.

Focusing efforts on sites close to existing habitat could mean targets to increase the amount of nine different landscapes including lowland heathland, wet reedbeds and grazing marshes could be met or even exceeded, the charity said. But the RSPB's conservation director Mark Avery said conversion to wild habitat could become ''mired in bureaucracy'', and some councils needed to do more to help minerals sites become nature reserves. ''Quarries can have a major impact on the landscape - but once they have reached the end of their life they have a fantastic potential to deliver habitats for threatened wildlife," he said. ''There are some wonderful nature reserves up and down the country which have been created in former quarries, with wetlands for otters and wading birds, woodland for nightingales and woodpeckers, heathland for natterjack toads and grayling butterflies and much more besides. ''We will now have a small team of officers on the ground working with operators, planners, landowners and the local communities to ensure restoration plans for former quarries become reality and I am confident they will make a real difference.''

He added: ''Some county councils, like Surrey for example, are thinking very proactively in this area and making real headway. But sadly the same cannot be said everywhere. ''Turning a gravel quarry into an area of lakes, reedbeds and meadows is a major planning exercise which can take years and get mired in bureaucracy. ''Councils are often not doing enough to get these plans through quickly and smoothly and as a result we may be missing vital opportunities to provide habitat for wildlife.'' AAP


The last ship of Japan's Antarctic whaling fleet has sailed home with the lowest catch in years and whalers have blamed the shortfall on high-seas clashes with environmental group Sea Shepherd. The Nisshin Maru, the last of five whaling ships to return to Japan, sailed into Tokyo harbour with its hull splattered with blood-red paint thrown by the protesters. The fleet's catch of 507 whales was down sharply on last year's cull of 680 and below the target of about 850, said Japan's fisheries agency, which blamed harassment by the Sea Shepherd group for the shortfall. It was the smallest catch on record except for the 2006-07 expedition when the fleet caught only 505 whales after a fire aboard a ship hampered whaling operations.This season's confrontations in icy Antarctic waters saw the sinking of a Sea Shepherd vessel, the Ady Gil, and the arrest of one of its activists, Peter Bethune, who faces trial in Japan for assault, trespass and three other charges. Whalers and their opponents also blasted each other with water cannons, while activists hurled rancid butter stink bombs and the whalers targeted the environmentalists with a sonic crowd-control device.

"I am furious," the whaling fleet's leader, Shigetoshi Nishiwaki, said. He says the activists "say they want to protect the ocean, but they don't care about leaking oil or leaving pieces of a broken ship behind" - a reference to the group's sunken powerboat, the Ady Gil. Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986 but Japan justifies its annual hunts as lethal scientific research while not hiding the fact that the meat is later sold in shops and restaurants. Tensions have risen between whaling nations including Iceland and Norway and anti-whaling nations such as Australia, which has threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice over the issue. The International Whaling Commission, which meets in June in Morocco, is considering a plan to allow whaling nations to hunt the ocean giants openly if they agree to reduce their catch "significantly" over 10 years. Japan and Australia have rejected the plan, while New Zealand has voiced support for the compromise. * AFP

Gazing past the rolling whitecaps in the middle of San Diego's whale-watching season, boat captain Bill Reese was dismayed by what he wasn't seeing. "Where are the whales?" said Reese. "Where are the whales?" Long held as an environmental success story after being taken off the endangered list in 1994, California gray whales draw legions of fans into boats or atop cliffs to watch the leviathans lumber down the coast to spawning grounds in Baja. But whale-watching skippers became alarmed after sightings dropped from 25 a day in good years to five a day this season. Such anecdotal evidence has left conservationists and state officials worried about the whale's future, especially now. The federal government's monitoring of the mammals has fallen off in recent years. And the International Whaling Commission in June will consider allowing 1,400 gray whales to be hunted over the next decade. The decision will rely on a report that says the population is flourishing — a study critics say is spotty and outdated. "If you count 2,500 animals, all you really know rock solid for sure is there are more than 2,500. Beyond that you're using models and assumptions," said Stanford University marine biology professor Steve Palumbi. "The problem comes when you say, 'We do know how many whales there are and we're going to start making unalterable management decisions on that basis.'"

The study draws on annual population estimates dating from 1967, but in the past decade only three census counts have been released, the most recent in 2006. Since than, the estimated number of calves has plunged from more than 1,000 in 2006 to 312 in 2009. In addition, the species suffered a die-off of several thousand whales in 2000. "You can't set specific quotas for 10 years based on 2006 data," said Sara Wan, a California Gray Whale Coalition member who is also a state coastal commissioner. "It's irresponsible." In January, the California Coastal Commission pressed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for an updated gray whale study. The count is done but the analysis won't be finished until long after the whaling commission's decision. NOAA scientists say their population estimates are reliable because the numbers have remained relatively consistent over time. They say the drop in calf numbers may reflect nature thinning out the herd. The population is still more than double what it was in the 1960s and has been fairly stable of the past couple decades, said Paul Wade, one of the study's co-authors and a member of the commission's scientific committee. "If it truly does go into an important decline, it's not going to happen overnight. We're going to see it," he said.

The gray whale's success has created a complex dynamic for NOAA researchers, who recently have focused on more threatened, less charismatic whales such as the North Atlantic Right whales, whose population may be as low as 30. Over the years, scientists have been able to do a great amount of research on gray whales because they are so accessible and popular with the public. Any indication of trouble galvanizes countless fans. "Gray whales are our pets, they're in our backyard," said David Rugh, a NOAA biologist who oversaw gray whale counts for years. "Of course we have a concern about them going through so many environments from Mexico to the Arctic but there are other species out there that we're also concerned about." Gray whales migrate thousands of miles each fall from Alaska to Baja, then back north between February and May. They spend summers in the Bering Sea and Arctic. Biologists sit in a little stand on California's central coast, counting adult whales as they swim south. Calves are counted as the whales make the return trip north. The counts are used to extrapolate overall population and monitor reproduction.

When gray whales were listed as endangered in 1970, an estimated 12,000 remained. A moratorium on commercial hunting and close monitoring helped the population rebound to more than 20,000. Deemed recovered, the whales only needed to be monitored every five years, instead of annually, and there was no longer dedicated funding for the whale, which cost about $170,000 a season to count. The 2006 count yielded about 2,500 whales, leading researchers to calculate about 20,000 whales total. The most recent calf count of 2009, however, revealed the fewest since 2001. "These are troubling numbers," said Randy Reeves, chair of the Cetacean specialist group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. "If they're being reinforced by comments from whale watching guys, then it gets that much more troubling." Wayne Perryman, who oversees NOAA gray whale counts, said he believes there is a correlation between lower reproduction rates and colder winters when lingering ice blocks whales from getting to feeding grounds. He also does not see reason to panic. "I think it's like in a room when someone yells 'fire!'" Perryman said.

The whaling commission allows the Russian Chukotka people and the Makah Indian tribe in Washington to hunt 140 gray whales per year. While they typically revisit the issue every five years, the panel is considering limits through 2020. Douglas DeMaster, the U.S. delegation's deputy commissioner, the number is about half of 1 percent of the current estimated population. "This is a very conservative number and provides subsistence needs to aboriginals," he said. But Liz Alter, a marine biologist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "Given that we have very little ability to predict what climate change, ocean acidification and other threats will mean to the whale population for the coming years, it seems reckless to me to set catch limits for that length of time." *


First there were bats in the trees and skies, now Charters Towers residents are being urged to keep an eye out for microbats heading into winter. The tiny microbats are in a feeding frenzy as they fatten up on insects to see them through winter. The Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife reminded people to keep a look out for the microbats that can take up residents in the roof or walls, with autumn described as a good time for gentle bat eviction. Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife CEO Leonie Gale said microbats are much more common than people may think. She said right now they are eating as much as 40 per cent of their own body weight in a single night or several hundred insects per hour. `Many of our microbat species are hollow-dependent which means they live during the daylight hours inside the hollows of trees or branches,'' she said. ``Competition from birds, possums and gliders, along with the clearing of many old trees, means that microbats may find the roof or walls of your home the perfect roosting place.

The smallest microbat weighs only three grams about the same as a single serve sugar sachet or a single A4 sheet of paper. If these tiny bats cannot find a suitable hollow, they can slip into gaps as small as 5mm and snuggle down in the roof and walls of buildings. This is why artificial roost sites are important as they provide an alternative. Ms Gale said fortunately for the little bats, there are humane ways to evict them and now is the time. In Australia, microbat babies are born in late spring and remain with their mothers until the end of January. Gentle autumn eviction attempts after February and before June make certain that the young are independent. ``Charters Towers microbats are fully protected which might raise the issue of offences and penalties if any are in fact harmed,'' Ms Gale said. ``If done correctly, walls can become bat free and the little bats provided with an alternative roost site and retained in the backyard to go about their insect feeding work which is of great benefit to all of us.'' If you have microbats in your walls or roof, visit Bat Rescue Inc at for detailed information on how to remove them. *Northern Miner

Fraser Island Dingoes

Recently Wildlife Bytes ran the story about Jennifer Parkhurst, the photographer who had her house invaded by DERM thugs early one morning last year. Jennifer now faces a maximum two years' jail or up to a $300,000 fine under the Nature Conservation Act and Recreation Area Management Act, for allegedly interfering with the Fraser Island dingoes. The real reasons for the raid were that, like many others, Jennifer has been highly critical of the Fraser Island dingo mis-management strategies. Anyway, a rally or two are being planned, and Fund has been set up to help Jennifer and the dingoes. People can contribute to the fund at Westpac Bank, Pialba, Hervey Bay. Save Fraser island Dingoes Inc. BSB 034-136 Acct 303196.