Killer whales keep ramming and sinking boats. Scientists now may know why, report says.

“Overall the incidents have mostly involved juveniles, who are “more playful and courageous in approaching boats,” said Zerbini, who also chairs the International Whaling Commission’s scientific committee.
He imagines a young orca butted its head against a boat’s rudder one time and when it moved the orca thought, “This is fun.” After ramming it a few times, a piece of the rudder broke off and that was even more fun because there was something to play with.

“There’s documented evidence of the orcas then playing with the pieces,” he said.

Orcas, which are also called killer whales, are not actually a whale species but are instead the largest member of the dolphin family.

This type of behavior isn’t surprising, given that orcas have culture, exhibit coordinated behavior, share knowledge and have long memories, said Rose.

“It’s a very sophisticated thing to do something for no purpose other than that it amuses you,” she said.”

“Killer whale groups, especially younger individuals, are known for their fads and idiosyncrasies.

In the Pacific Northwest, one group of killer whales suddenly got into the habit of carrying dead salmon around on their heads in 1987. The fad arose and spread widely among the group that summer.

The salmon hats craze began with adolescent orcas but then spread, said Rose.

“By the end everyone was wearing them, including the adults,” she said.

Then the fashion dropped out of style as quickly as it had begun.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/killer-whales-keep-attacking-sinking-090349442.html

Why aren’t we vaccinating birds against bird flu?

“Even with biological, technological, and logistical hurdles surpassed, the decision around vaccination seems to be a monetary one. Beyond the cost of vaccination, there’s the potential of losing key trade partners. Trade agreements, especially for meat, are notoriously delicate, in part because of the risk of introducing infectious diseases and pests into a country’s food chain but more so because governments need to protect the agricultural industry from foreign competition. The National Chicken Council is opposed to vaccination efforts. The National Turkey Federation says unilateral vaccination “would have a severe impact on exports” but that it has urged — and continues to urge — the federal government to “move as rapidly as possible to try to develop new agreements” with trading partners.
“Meat is a highly politically sensitive issue for many countries, and the entire livestock industry is protected in many countries for various reasons,” said Aratchilage. Introducing bird flu vaccines is not going to be easy, he added. “It’s a political decision more than a scientific decision.””

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/24155545/bird-flu-vaccines-h5n1-avian-flu-cows

Bats have a unique superpower. Climate change is turning it into a liability.

“Compared to other mammals, bats have a lot of surface area, and that means they tend to lose water more easily through evaporation across their skin”

“bats are at risk of drying out and dying from dehydration.”

“Temperatures above roughly 105°F can cause heat stress or even death among many species, especially if the animals nest in trees outside, where they’re exposed to the ambient temperatures. Heat waves in Australia, for example, have caused dozens of mass die-offs of flying foxes, big fruit-eating bats that use their noses and large eyes instead of echolocation to find food.”

“Wind turbines kill hundreds of thousands of bats each year in North America alone, and globally they are known to harm more than 30 bat species. Typically, the bats — most of which are migratory species — die from colliding with turbine blades, though it’s not clear why these animals are drawn to them.

Making these threats more troubling is the simple fact that bat populations don’t recover quickly after die-offs, whether or not they’re climate-related. It goes back to their flight-enabled physiologies: Unlike birds, which drop their eggs off at a nest, bats have to fly while pregnant, which isn’t easy. That’s why most bats only have one pup per year”

“they face a wide range of threats beyond climate change, including a disease known as white-nose syndrome, which has killed millions of bats in North America.”

“By eating agricultural pests, such as moths and beetles, bats also provide up to $53 billion in economic value each year in the US alone. They eat pests that bother us, too, including mosquitos. And of course, bats pollinate agave plants as they slurp up their nectar, which give us, among other things, tequila.”

https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/24048465/bats-endangered-climate-change

Bird flu is surging again on poultry farms. The US is normalizing the cruelest mass killing method to stop it.

“the rise of “ventilation shutdown plus” (VSD+), a method being used to mass kill poultry birds on factory farms by sealing off the airflow inside barns and pumping in extreme heat using industrial-scale heaters, so that the animals die of heatstroke over the course of hours. It is one of the worst forms of cruelty being inflicted on animals in the US food system — the equivalent of roasting animals to death — and it’s been used to kill tens of millions of poultry birds during the current avian flu outbreak.
As of this summer, the most recent period for which data is available, more than 49 million birds, or over 80 percent of the depopulated total, were killed in culls that used VSD+ either alone or in combination with other methods, according to an analysis of USDA data by Gwendolen Reyes-Illg, a veterinary adviser to the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), an animal advocacy nonprofit. These mass killings, or “depopulations,” in the industry’s jargon, are paid for with public dollars through a USDA program that compensates livestock farmers for their losses.

In America’s peer countries, ventilation shutdown has been effectively banned because it’s so inhumane; last year, Danish bioethicist Peter Sandøe told me he was “shocked” by the method’s prevalence in the US and that in the European Union, relying on it would be illegal.

Thousands of US veterinarians, animal welfare experts, and animal advocates have protested the use of ventilation shutdown. But a growing body of evidence obtained through public records requests shows that the poultry industry, in partnership with agricultural and veterinary authorities, is quietly normalizing ventilation shutdown and planning its further use — even though the USDA’s own policy says it can only be used as a last resort.”

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/23963820/bird-flu-surge-us-ventilation-shutdown-veterinarians

The ridiculously stupid reason the US is letting animals spiral toward oblivion

“Part of the problem, environmental groups say, is that the FWS is failing to work through a backlog of species that are in desperate need of protection. “Under the ESA, decisions about protection for species are supposed to take two years, but on average, it has taken the Fish and Wildlife Service 12 years,” wrote researchers, including Greenwald, in a 2016 study. “Such lengthy wait times are certain to result in loss of further species.” (A more recent assessment indicates that wait times between 2010 and 2020 were shorter, likely because the FWS received fewer petitions to list species during that time.)
The Fish and Wildlife Service is aware of these delays. Gary Frazer, the agency’s assistant director for ecological services, which administers the act, blames them on funding and staff shortages. The process to formally declare a species endangered, which requires an extensive review, is expensive.

This is something that everyone seems to agree on: The FWS needs a lot more money from Congress to do its job. “Currently, the Service only receives around 50% of the funding required to properly implement the Act,” as more than 120 environmental groups wrote in a letter to Congress in March 2023, urging the government to ramp up spending by hundreds of millions of dollars. (That may sound like a lot, but it’s a tiny, nearly imperceivable fraction of what the US spends on, say, national defense, or fails to recoup in fossil fuel subsidies.)

“[The ESA] isn’t broken, it’s starving,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO and president of Defenders of Wildlife, a conservation group. (She’s stepping down from her role at Defenders next year.) “It can do its job if it’s supported,” said Clark, who formerly led the FWS. “But it’s not.”

Here’s what’s strange: Even though the FWS acknowledges there is a resource shortage, the agency doesn’t ask Congress for more money outside of relatively modest budget increases, according to Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. What’s more, the FWS actually asks Congress to restrict the amount it can spend to list species as threatened or endangered. According to Frazer, that’s because the agency receives an enormous number of petitions. If it were to address all of them, he said, it would have to pull resources away from other important activities under the act.

(When asked why the FWS wouldn’t just request more money overall for the ESA, a spokesperson for the agency said that “federal funding decisions are complex” and pointed me to the agency’s recent budget justification. Hartl suspects the FWS doesn’t ask for more funding because Frazer is highly risk averse and doesn’t want to come under scrutiny for putting forward a more substantial budget request. There are also pro-industry ESA critics who say the law is already too restrictive, even in its underfunded state.)

Limited funding has forced officials and environmental advocates to prioritize efforts to save species in the most critical conditions — the ones that are about to blink out. And that leads to another criticism of the ESA: The law is reactive, helping species only when they’re on the edge of extinction. It fails to address more fundamental problems that are driving wildlife declines in the first place.

In search of a more proactive approach, some policymakers have been trying to pass another environmental law, known as Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (RAWA). The act, as it was envisioned a few years ago, would funnel roughly $1.4 billion to states and Indigenous tribes to restore ailing animals, even before they’re listed as endangered. But it has run into similar problems as the ESA — namely, policymakers can’t figure out how to pay for it. Now the RAWA, at least as it was originally drafted, seems all but dead.”

https://www.vox.com/down-to-earth/2023/12/18/23989030/endangered-species-act-explained-environment-biodiversity-extinction

How cars ruin wild animals’ lives

“The lives of wild animals are defined by mobility. You have all of these different scales, both spatial and temporal, in which animals are moving. They’re moving daily, as they roam around their territories looking for food. They’re moving seasonally, as they migrate between different habitats as the year turns. They have to move, in some cases, once in a lifetime, to disperse through new territory, or in search of a mate.
All of those movements are absolutely imperative to the survival of both individual animals and wildlife populations. Roads terminate or truncate those movements, by killing animals directly, as roadkill, but also by creating a barrier of traffic, what some researchers call a “moving fence” — this kind of impenetrable obstacle that prevents animals from navigating their habitats. To take a really dramatic, stark example, there are herds of mule deer and pronghorn in Wyoming that starve en masse while trying to reach low-elevation valleys to find food in winter because highways have blocked their migrations.”

“One of the really eye-opening experiences that I had working on this book was taking part in some bicycle surveys of roadkill in Montana. When you’re rolling along at 10 miles an hour and you’re much lower to the ground, rather than seated in the captain’s chair of an SUV, you see all of those small lives that you would never see at highway speeds in a car. I was struck by how many birds we saw: raptors, magpies, ravens, songbirds. The avian life along the side of the highway was really, really visible.”

“Hearing is one of the most important senses that wild animals have. It’s absolutely imperative for both predators and prey.”

“Wildlife crossings are incredibly effective, paired with roadside fencing that guides the animals to the crossings.”

“For the most part, the wildlife crossings that we’ve built are aimed at large, common animals that endanger driver safety, like deer and elk and moose: the animals that will wreck your car and maybe end your life if you hit them. We need more of those. But we also need more crossings that benefit the animals that don’t kill drivers on a regular basis, especially reptiles and amphibians, which are some of the most road- and car-endangered groups of animals in the world.

There are turtle culverts and toad tunnels out there, but they’re few and far between. There’s a lot of focus on wildlife crossings that pay for themselves, that prevent enough car crashes to recoup their own construction costs. But I think we’re also starting to see the rise of wildlife crossings that are aimed at conservation, rather than cost savings.”

https://www.vox.com/future-perfect/23868483/cars-roads-roadkill-crossing-goldfarb-national-parks

A fire killed 18,000 cows in Texas. It’s a horrifyingly normal disaster.

“The fires are part of a broader pattern of mass casualty events on factory farms, where 99 percent of America’s meat, dairy, and eggs are produced. Some are the result of human or mechanical error, but many stem from natural disasters, such as hurricanes, blizzards, and extreme temperatures, like last summer’s scorching heat wave in Kansas that killed thousands of cows who were subsequently dumped in a landfill. Disease outbreaks, too, result in mass death or culling on farms.”

“High death tolls could be more likely in the future as mega-factory farms proliferate, packing ever more animals into cramped warehouse-sized sheds. From 1992 to 2017, the number of US farms with 1,000 or more dairy cows has more than tripled, even as the total number of dairy cows has remained about the same.”

U.S. Will No Longer Require Animal Testing for New Drugs

“Previously, all drugs in development were required to undergo animal studies before being tested in human trials. Now, drug companies will still have the option to start testing experimental drugs on animals, but they won’t have to.
This doesn’t mean that drug companies will start going straight to testing drug toxicity on humans, but that they may rely on alternative methods to animal testing. Language in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act now states that tests may “include animal tests, or non-animal or human biology-based tests methods, such as cell-based assays, micro physiological systems, or bioprinted or computer models.”

These days, “there are a slew of other methods that drugmakers employ to assess new medications and treatments, such as computer modeling and ‘organs on a chip,’ thumb-sized microchips that can mimic how organs’ function are affected by pharmaceuticals,” notes NPR.”