Jul 27
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Guest Blog – National Marine Week 2013

The UK has been experiencing some uncharacteristically hot weather over the last few weeks, so what better time to get out to our beautiful coast? Take this opportunity to find out more about the fantastic diversity of species and habitats we have off our shores, and join in The Wildlife Trusts’ annual National Marine Week! This celebration of all things marine actually runs for more than two weeks, from Saturday 27 July to Sunday 11 August, to make the most of the tides.

Velvet swimming crab image

Velvet swimming crab

We are fortunate in the UK to have an awe-inspiring range of habitats and species around our coasts. From shallow seagrass meadows and kelp forests to gullies and canyons over 2,000 metres deep, these habitats provide homes and feeding grounds for countless species, including colourful sea slugs, charismatic fish such as the tompot blenny, and the bottlenose dolphin, one of 11 species of whale, dolphin and porpoise regularly seen in our waters! Our seas are also home to the second largest fish in the world, the basking shark. This gentle giant can be spotted in the summer as it comes close to the shore, filter feeding micro-organisms.

Basking shark image

Basking shark

All around our coasts, Wildlife Trusts staff and volunteers will be sharing their knowledge, so whether you want to find out more about minke whales or molluscs, velvet swimming crabs or strawberry anemones, breadcrumb sponges or butterfish, and seals or seabirds, there will be events where people can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the sea and learn more about its riches.

The Wildlife Trusts hold these events to showcase some of the UK’s marine wildlife, and to educate and enthuse people about this fantastic resource on our doorstep. As well as being a source of wonder, our seas are also a playground, a food supply, a conduit for our imports and exports, and a climate regulator that absorbs vast quantities of greenhouse gases while releasing the oxygen we breathe. We are an island nation, and the sea is a vital part of our national identity.

Jewel anemone image

Jewel anemones

However, the seas are not as productive as they once were. For years, we have taken too much with too little care. Our seas’ resources are not inexhaustible, and their ability to cope with the pressures we put on them – damage from fishing, industrial pollution and the impacts of a changing climate – is limited. Much of our marine wildlife is in decline. Two species of whale and dolphin have become extinct in UK waters in the last 400 years, and basking shark numbers have declined by 95%. Commercial species are also under pressure, and in 2009 the EU Commission declared that 88% of marine fish stocks were overexploited.

Grey seal image

Grey seal

In order to provide better protection for our marine environment, here at The Wildlife Trusts we are campaigning for an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas – areas that offer protection not just to our most rare and vulnerable species, but to the full range of species and habitats found in the seas.

These areas will protect marine life within their boundaries, and with careful management they can also have an influence beyond these boundaries, as burgeoning populations spill out into the surrounding sea. A well-designed and effectively managed network will help boost the health of the marine environment as a whole, helping it to recover from past impacts and sustain current pressures. Although we have made a start on our network, we still have a long way to go, and at the moment progress towards achieving the network is slow.

The Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week and our events provide us with a crucial opportunity to highlight the need to continue to put pressure on UK Governments to ensure that this vital ambition is achieved. It offers countless opportunities for people to savour the seaside and find out so much more about what our coasts have to offer. Why not head over to The Wildlife Trusts’ marine wildlife weeks page to find an event near you!

Ali Plummer, Living Seas Officer for The Wildlife Trusts

Jul 23
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Guest blog: ARKive in the Australian classroom by Barbara Sing

As a Primary Teacher in the Kimberley I have utilised ARKive’s resources over several years as the content is engaging and relevant to the knowledge base of my students; 77% of whom are Aboriginal from many different language groups across the Kimberley; an area three times the size of the UK.

I thought I would share a couple of examples of how I have used ARKive education resources and how they have worked for me and my students.

Keys and classification

Identification keys – sharks and raysWith the implementation of The Australian Curriculum I have found ARKive’s classification resources specifically meet the Year 7 Biological Science content descriptor ACSSU111 which states “There are differences within and between groups of organisms; classification helps organise this diversity” (ACARA).

My students particularly enjoy the ‘Sharks and Rays Identification’ activities as our community is located on the edge of a crocodile infested tidal mangrove habitat and most students engage in recreational fishing and hunting activities. Students of all abilities are able to navigate the identification keys easily and the accompanying presentations on shark and ray identification and classification resources make the lesson preparation seamless. The other activities provided engage students over a series of lessons and I normally conclude the unit by getting my students out of the classroom with a visit to a Munkayarra Wetland. During the visit students use an identification key similar to the ARKive keys to identify macro invertebrates they collected.

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetland © Barbara Sing

Students using classification keys at Munkayarra Wetlands

Human Impacts on the Environment

Human Impacts on the Environment education resourcesAlthough my students have some idea of the impact of plastic in the marine environment the ‘Human Impacts on the Environment’ resource was certainly an eye opener for many of them. The module explores the different ways humans can have negative impacts on the environment and endangered species. I recommend it highly as a resource for Sustainability, Science as a Human Endeavour and also Chemical Science.

Spreading the word

I easily keep up to date with new resources through the ARKive facebook page and share the resources with other teachers and environmental groups.

Thanks for providing a growing useable resource for teachers globally!

Barbara Sing Derby District High School (K-12), West Kimberley, Western Australia

Apr 23
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ARKive’s Top Ten Animals in Literature

Organised by UNESCO, World Book and Copyright Day is held yearly on the 23rd of April, a date which also marks the birth and death of William Shakespeare, and aims to promote reading, publishing and copyright. To celebrate and help people rediscover the pleasure of reading, we’ve gathered together some of our favourite animals featured in famous and much-loved works of literature. How many of these books have you read?!

Life of Pi – Richard Parker

Bengal tiger image

Bengal tiger

Winner of four Oscars, the popular 2012 film Life of Pi was based on Yann Martel’s intriguing novel of the same name, and tells the story of Pi, a young boy from Pondicherry, India, who ends up on a remarkable journey. When the ship taking him to North America sinks, Pi is left stranded on a lifeboat for 227 days with only Richard Parker for company. Trouble is, Richard Parker is a Bengal tiger

Harry Potter – Hedwig

Snowy owl image

Snowy owl

Adored by children and adults alike, the Harry Potter books have sold more than 450 million copies worldwide, making it the best-selling series in history. Each novel in the seven-book series envelops readers in a wonderful world of magic and mayhem, and is filled with charismatic characters and fantastical creatures. Among these is Harry Potter’s loyal feathery friend Hedwig the snowy owl, a large, powerful owl species with piercing golden-yellow eyes.

Moby Dick – Moby Dick

Sperm whale image

Sperm whale

He tasks me! That whale, he tasks me!

It doesn’t end at all well for Captain Ahab when he tries to take on Moby Dick, the gigantic white sperm whale that had bitten off the sea-farer’s leg on his last whaling voyage. In the story, Captain Ahab, a vengeful whale-hunter, is determined to track down the great whale and kill it, but the tables are turned when the harpoon rope becomes entangled around his neck, and he is dragged to the ocean’s depths by the very animal he was trying to kill.

Esio Trot – Alfie

Egyptian tortoise image

Egyptian tortoise

ESIO TROT, ESIO TROT, TEG REGGIB REGGIB!”

The star of Roald Dahl’s 1990 children’s novel Esio Trot is none other than Alfie, a little tortoise who, his owner believes, would be much happier if he were a little bigger. We can’t be sure exactly what species Alfie is supposed to be, but one fellow carapaced creature that knows all about being diminutive is the Egyptian tortoise. This runty reptile has a high-domed shell which grows no longer than about 14 centimetres at full size!

The Ancient Mariner – the albatross

Wandering albatross image

Wandering albatross

Being followed by an albatross is often considered to be a good omen for sea-farers, and in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an albatross appears at a most opportune moment, leading the ship and its crew out of the bitterly cold Antarctic. However, much to the anger of the other sailors, the Mariner shoots the bird, an action which causes bad fortune to befall him and his ship mates. The albatross in the poem could well have been a wandering albatross, which has the largest wingspan of any bird, reaching up to an impressive 3.5 metres across.

The Jungle Book – Baloo

Sloth bear image

Sloth bear

Much-loved by many, Baloo the bear in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book is described as being ‘the sleepy brown bear’. However, this law-teaching character is actually thought to be a sloth bear, which is found in the Seoni area of India where the novel takes place. Sloth bears are unique amongst bears in that the majority of their diet is composed of insects, particularly termites and ants…this might explain Baloo’s choice of snack as he sings ‘Bear Necessities’ in the animated Disney film adaptation!

White Fang – White Fang

Grey wolf image

Grey wolf

Published in 1906, Jack London’s novel White Fang is set during the Klondike Gold Rush in Canada’s Yukon Territory at the end of the 19th century. It tells the story of the trials and tribulations faced by White Fang, part dog and part grey wolf, as he grows from a feisty pup into a majestic canine. Grey wolves are highly social and intelligent animals which hunt efficiently in packs. Once wide ranging in the northern hemisphere, the grey wolf now has a more restricted distribution, being extinct in parts of Western Europe, Mexico and the USA.

Jaws – the great white shark

Great white shark image

Great white shark

A 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the story of the residents of a fictional seaside town terrorised by a man-eating great white shark, and the efforts of three men to rid the small resort of the fearsome beast. While the film of the same name became a Hollywood blockbuster, it can’t have done much good for the reputation of some of the ocean’s most incredible predators! Despite media frenzy surrounding the topic, only an average of 30 to 50 shark attacks are reported each year, and of these just 5 to 10 prove to be fatal. If you consider that, in the coastal states of the USA alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year, it’s really not that high a statistic!

The Wind in the Willows – Mr Toad

Common toad image

Common toad

Mr Toad, an impulsive motor car enthusiast and the owner of Toad Hall, is one of the central characters in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Described as resourceful and intelligent, Mr Toad is a self-centred yet loveable rogue, and finds himself in several scrapes throughout the book. While not known for its penchant for tweed suits, the common toad is believed to be the inspiration behind the wealthy occupant of Toad Hall.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – the caterpillar

Swallowtail caterpillar image

Swallowtail caterpillar

We couldn’t finish off this blog without mentioning a wonderful childhood favourite which documents a fascinating biological process…The Very Hungry Caterpillar! Young and old are enthralled by this picture book following the journey of a caterpillar as it chomps its way through various food items before pupating and emerging as a beautiful butterfly!

We hope you’ve enjoyed reuniting with some of the most famous (and infamous!) creatures in literature! Was your favourite animal character featured here? If not, comment below to tell us who your top choice is!

Four of our Top Ten Animals in Literature have made it onto the shortlist of the world’s Top 50 Favourite Species…so why not check out what else has been nominated and cast your vote!

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

Apr 13
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Endangered Species of the Week: Angel shark

Photo of angel shark resting, camouflaged on the seabed

Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Species: Angel shark (Squatina squatina)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: With its flat body and large pectoral fins, the angel shark more closely resembles a large ray than a shark.

The angel shark is a large, stocky fish with strong jaws and sharp, needle-like teeth. An ambush predator, it spends the day lying buried in mud or sand with just its eyes protruding, and bursts out with impressive speed to catch fish, crustaceans and molluscs. Female angel sharks give birth to up to 25 pups after a gestation period of 8 to 10 months. The angel shark historically occurred from Norway to North Africa, the Canary Islands and the Mediterranean and Black Seas, but it has now vanished from many parts of its former range.

Although the angel shark is not a major target of fisheries, its habit of lying on the ocean bottom makes it vulnerable to becoming bycatch in trawl fisheries. As a result, its populations have undergone a dramatic decline. Like other Squatina species, the angel shark is protected within three Balearic Islands marine reserves, where fishing for these sharks is banned. However, more research is needed to better understand the status of the angel shark across its range, so that appropriate conservation measures can be put in place to protect it.

Find out more about the conservation of sharks and rays at Save Our Seas Foundation, Project Aware and The Shark Trust.

See images and videos of the angel shark on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Mar 12
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In the News: Sharks win protection at CITES meeting

In an historic day for shark conservation, five species of shark have been awarded additional protection at the CITES meeting in Bangkok, Thailand.

Oceanic whitetip shark image

The oceanic whitetip shark is classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List

Historic day for sharks

Conservationists have spent nearly two decades working to get sharks listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and at the latest meeting they have finally succeeded, winning the vote for five shark species and two species of manta ray to receive better protection. While similar proposals have been rejected in the past with strong opposition from China and Japan, new-found support from West African and Latin American countries swayed the most recent vote in favour of the sharks.

Today’s outcome could be a turning point in how CITES can assist in the regulation of trade in marine species,” said Glenn Sant, Marine Programme leader with TRAFFIC. “If accepted in plenary, this meeting will go down in history as the one where CITES finally realised its marine potential.”

Restrictions and regulations

The seven species, three of which are highly threatened but commercially valuable, will now be listed under Appendix II of CITES. While this does not equate to an outright ban on trade in these species, it does mean that tougher regulations will be put in place, with the introduction of strictly controlled permits to import and export fins. Nations will face heavy sanctions if too many individuals of the species in question are fished.

During the meeting currently being held in Thailand, a two-thirds majority voted to upgrade the CITES status of the great hammerhead shark, scalloped hammerhead shark, smooth hammerhead shark, oceanic whitetip shark, porbeagle, giant manta ray and reef manta ray.

Porbeagle image

The porbeagle narrowly missed out on protection at the 2010 CITES meeting

Threats to sharks

As we reported in the ARKive blog earlier this month, sharks and rays face many threats, with an estimated 100 million individuals killed every year. Overfishing in particular has led to an unprecedented decline in shark numbers, and as these highly sought-after species are slow to mature and produce few offspring, they are extremely vulnerable to population crashes.

While the fins of the scalloped hammerhead are among the most valuable, protection has also been awarded to two other hammerhead species, as there was concern that these species could be targeted should only the scalloped hammerhead receive protection.

Shark finning image

Shark fin soup is a delicacy in certain countries

Turning point

Experts believe that the critical factor in the latest ground-breaking decision is the shift in the views of South American nations, who are coming to understand that live sharks are more valuable to local communities than dead ones.

They’ve come to realise, particularly for those with hammerhead stocks, the tourist value of these species and the long term future that will be protected by a CITES listing,” said Dr Colman O’Criodain from WWF International.

An additional factor in the recent shark victory was money, with cash being made available from the European Union to help poorer countries change their fishing practices.

Great hammerhead shark image

The great hammerhead is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Importance

Removing sharks from the ecosystem can have a serious and detrimental knock-on effect on the rest of the food chain. Without top predators, prey species can burgeon and destroy stocks of other commercially valuable species such as scallops.

We are thrilled that the tide is now turning for shark conservation, with governments listening to the science and acting in the interests of sustainability,” said Elizabeth Wilson, manager of Pew’s Global Shark Conservation campaign. “With these new protections, they will have the chance to recover and once again fulfil their role as top predators.”

The battle is not over yet

While the latest news from CITES is promising for sharks, there is still the possibility that the ruling could be overturned – and hopes dashed – during the plenary session on the final day of proceedings. Back in 2010, the porbeagle won protection in earlier sessions, only to be stripped of it in the plenary by just one vote.

Yet there is still hope for the struggling shark species, and it is hoped that some good will come of the early decision.

This is a landmark moment showing that the world’s governments support sustainable fisheries and are concerned about the reckless over-exploitation of sharks for commercial use,” said Carlos Drews, head of WWF’s delegation at CITES. “Today’s decision will go a long way in slowing down the frenzied overfishing of sharks that is pushing them to the brink of collapse to feed the luxury goods market.”

Read more on this story at BBC News – ‘Historic’ day for shark protection and The Guardian – Five shark species win protection against finning trade.

View photos and videos of sharks, rays and related species on ARKive.

 

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author

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