Sea Shepherd in epic chase of Antarctic ‘poaching’ ship


Sea Shepherd in epic chase of Antarctic ‘poaching’ ship
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Jan 9, 2015

Polar bear populations are slowly shifting northward
Anchorage, Alaska (UPI) Jan 8, 2015 – As habitats to the east and south of the Arctic region become more unstable — and as suitable habitat continues to erode — polar bears are relocating to far-northern Canada, where sea ice is plentiful and reliable.
In analyzing the genetic makeup of local polar bear populations, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey found that over the last three generations (beginning in the 1990s) polar bears have been slowly migrating north — to the Canadian Archipelago, where there is sea ice year-round.

“Instead of sort of random movements of bears across the Arctic that we found in sort of the more ancient historical picture, we found directional movement towards the Canadian Archipelago,” Lily Peacock, a wildlife biologist with USGS, told Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN).

Scientists say this type of gene analysis, using collected blood samples, offers a wide-angle, long-term perspective that isn’t possible by simply tracking bears via satellite.

“By examining the genetic makeup of polar bears, we can estimate levels and directions of gene flow, which represents the past story of mating and movement, and population expansion and contraction,” Peacock explained in a press release. “Gene flow occurs over generations, and would not be detectable by using data from satellite-collars which can only be deployed on a few polar bears for short periods of time.”

Though the shift in genes is gradual, rendered over several generations, researchers say the trend could accentuate the species’ vulnerability in the future. As a population becomes isolated it is at greater risk of extinction.

“And what can happen when populations of animals become isolated is that they can blink out if something happens,” Peacock told APRN. “If they have a bad winter or bad spring and that stresses the population and it gets smaller and smaller, but the migration corridor has been cut off and you can’t repopulate.”

The work of Peacock and her colleagues was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd said Friday it has been chasing a “poaching” ship for three weeks amid heavy ice flows in an attempt to stop the crew from illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean.

Peter Hammarstedt, the captain of Sea Shepherd’s lead ship, Bob Barker, said his crew has been pursuing the Nigerian-flagged boat Thunder for 22 days, in what the group said is the world’s longest sea chase of an alleged poaching vessel.

“When we found them, they were actively fishing,” Hammarstedt told AFP from the Bob Barker, which on Friday was about 900 nautical miles south-east of South Africa.

The chase started 2,300 nautical miles from South Africa — or about 80 nautical miles outside of Australian Antarctic waters — in a fishing area regulated by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), a multi-national body.

“I radioed them and told them they were committing a crime… it’s been 22 days since then and they’ve taken us through a gauntlet of heavy ice and heavy seas,” he said.

“Certainly we are prepared to chase these poachers to the ends of the Earth and back if we have to.”

Hammarstedt said Thunder’s crew had tried to shake off their pursuers by sailing through waters with moderate and heavy ice flows.

At one stage, the ice had become so heavy the captain said he had to use the Bob Barker as a “500-tonne steel snow plough to get through”.

Thunder, on a list of boats deemed to have engaged in illegal, unreported, or unregulated fishing activities by CCAMLR, is suspected of illegal fishing for Patagonian toothfish and other rare species in the Antarctic.

Two gillnets left behind by Thunder were retrieved with more than 700 Patagonian toothfish and other marine life dead in the mesh, Sea Shepherd said.

Toothfish are sold as Chilean sea bass which is popular in high-end restaurants. It sells primarily in the United States, Europe and Japan, though there is also a growing market in China. .

Related Links
Beyond the Ice Age

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