Best of our wild blogs: 28 Aug 13

Oak trees in Macritchie
from lekowala!

Kids Enjoy Our Living Forest at MacRitchie
from Cicada Tree Eco-Place

Amazing reef at Pulau Semakau's northern shore
from Peiyan.Photography

from The annotated budak

Butterflies Galore! : Sumatran Gem
from Butterflies of Singapore

The Majestic Dead Leaf Mantis
from Macro Photography in Singapore

Tanimbar Corella and Pong Pong (Cerbera odollam)
from Bird Ecology Study Group

Singapore's marine life in Pacific marine invert ID cards
from wild shores of singapore

Sharing our shores with CHIJ Katong Convent
from wild shores of singapore

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Has 'global city' vision reached its end date?

Donald Low For The Straits Times 28 Aug 13;

THE Prime Minister's National Day Rally address on Aug 18 and Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's speech at the Academy of Medicine last week point to a government that might be ambling towards a new social compact. While the changes announced so far do not represent a radical departure from current approaches, there was enough of a change in the tone of their messages to suggest that further, more substantive, reforms are due.

In a more diverse, politically contested Singapore, there should not be a presumption that a consensus on the new social compact can be easily forged. The process of building the new compact will, inevitably, be a contested and negotiated one.

Nonetheless, it is useful to consider what principles might inform this process. In this regard, a number of findings in recent decades in the hard and social sciences - economics, psychology, neuroscience, biology and even physics - have profound implications for our understanding of what makes for thriving and resilient societies.

The limits of being a global city

SINCE our first foreign minister S. Rajaratnam gave articulation to it, the idea of Singapore as a global city has animated the People's Action Party's (PAP) vision for the country. The "global city" idea has clearly been a success. In a span of under 50 years, the PAP government has come close to achieving a vision articulated by its founders which at the time of conception seemed unimaginable. But the vision now faces inherent limits and internal contradictions.

The limits of the global city idea became particularly salient in recent years as the population surged on the back of very liberal immigration and foreign worker policies; inequality rose from levels that were already higher than in other developed countries; and overcrowding began to undermine trust in government.

Citizens began expressing greater unease about competition from foreigners and the wage stagnation caused by cheap foreign labour.

The reaction of many Singaporeans to the Population White Paper - which in many ways represents a continuation of the global city vision - should give the government reason to reflect on the real possibility that the global city idea has reached the limits of its attractiveness.

To be sure, Singapore as a small, open economy can never turn its back on the world. But the appeal of the global city vision as a narrative to induce pride and a sense of belonging no longer resonates with Singaporeans, and should probably be retired as a vision for the country.

A just city, not (just) a global city

SO WHAT should we look to as an alternative narrative to the global city idea? The "just city" perspective suggested by Harvard University's Professor Susan Fainstein provides a useful starting point; she defines a just city as having three essential attributes: equity, diversity and democracy.

Rather than viewing the city only or primarily through the lens of economic competitiveness, Prof Fainstein's framework encourages us to analyse it through the lens of urban and social justice.

Global cities such as New York and London do well on the diversity and democracy dimensions, but they are also much less equal than other rich cities. Others such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam do well on equity and democracy, but struggle to absorb and integrate their immigrants.

How does Singapore fare as a just city?

The state's activism in urban redevelopment and in providing good public housing has helped to foster a sense of community. In the first 40 years of nationhood, we also forged an egalitarian ethos that frowned on conspicuous displays of wealth. But recent changes and policies have made the city a lot more unequal, and visibly so, in the last decade.

The city has become more cosmopolitan, but this diversity has been of quite a superficial kind - with well-heeled foreigners ensconced in private estates and foreign workers hidden away on their worksites and in dormitories.

On democracy, it would be a stretch to say that the residents of Singapore feel they have significantly more voice and enjoy more democratic rights today than they did a decade ago.

Embracing the idea of a just city would suggest far-reaching reforms in a wide range of public policies and institutions. For instance, taking seriously the diversity and equity objectives would entail an overhaul of current policies on the large contingent of migrant workers. For a start, it would mean paying them the same wages as Singaporean workers doing the same job.

To ensure that the measures to ensure fairer treatment of our guest workers are widely accepted, they have to be complemented by at least two other sets of policy reforms. The first is to tighten immigration and foreign worker policies. This would sharpen incentives for employers to increase productivity and raise wages.

The second is to develop a stronger social security system that gives less-educated, less- skilled Singaporeans not just adequate social protection (especially in education, health care and retirement funding), but also strong incentives to work.

A just-city perspective would require the state to prioritise citizen and social well-being. Despite the fact that the Pledge places "happiness" before "prosperity", the government has tended to prioritise economic growth over other measures of well-being.

In an earlier context when the citizen population was young, when wages across-the-board were rising, and when economic growth benefited virtually all segments of society, this emphasis on economic growth was sensible.

But in an era of an ageing population, a maturing economy, stagnant wages for less-skilled segments of the workforce, and growth which no longer lifts all boats, a stubborn insistence on the primacy of growth is neither desirable nor sustainable.

Prioritising well-being requires the state to develop new metrics to measure society's health.

Growth of income per capita is a highly imperfect proxy of individual and social well-being at best. The higher a country's per capita income, the more perverse the consequences of an unthinking fetish for growth.

Prioritise well-being, not growth

A JUST-CITY perspective also helps us see that the economy no longer delivers the inclusion and cohesion it did in the past, even if it continues to achieve high growth rates. Inequality also tends to beget inequality, especially if rapid technological change concentrates wealth in the hands of those with capital and skills.

One of the most significant challenges to the idea of Singapore as a land of opportunity and an inclusive society is the relative fall in wages of those at the lower reaches of the labour market, especially when contrasted with the opportunities available to those at the top. It is becoming clear that economic growth no longer creates the inclusive and just society that Singaporeans seek.

The writer is associate dean (executive education and research) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore.

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New initiative offers youth volunteers a helping hand

Move seen as timely, as good platform to match them to projects is lacking
Janice Tai And Charissa Yong Straits Times 28 Aug 13;

WHEN things get hectic at work or school, voluntary work usually takes a backseat for many young people.

Not for undergraduate Jasmine Yeo, 21.

The National University of Singapore student took a gap semester this month to continue her work at youth leadership organisation Halogen Foundation Singapore.

"My parents were understandably worried about my decision but were later convinced when they saw how I have grown in confidence," said Ms Yeo, who organises events and leadership workshops at Halogen.

Young people who are interested in community work will now get a helping hand with the setting up of the volunteer youth corps.

The youth corps - for those aged 15 to 35 - will receive allowances if they want to take time out from their studies for full-time volunteering. Details on the allowances will be released at a later date.

They will also receive training and mentoring, government funding for projects and networking opportunities.

The initiative, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the National Day Rally earlier this month, is to spur young Singaporeans to take up community work, and continue to do so beyond their schooling years.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, and the National Youth Council (NYC), which will spearhead the initiative, will start with a few hundred volunteers early next year. It hopes to eventually involve some 6,000 young people.

Those active in the youth sector say the move is timely because a good platform to match volunteers to local community service projects is now lacking.

The NYC now offers funding for the Youth Expedition Project but that is mainly for overseas projects.

A better approach for managing volunteers - which includes matching their interest to the needs of community groups - is important.

Mr Martin Tan, co-founder of Halogen Foundation Singapore, said most young people are involved in "ad hoc" or project-based volunteerism. Their involvement in community work may end when the project is completed, or once they leave school.

Statistics from the NYC from 2010 showed that 72 per cent of 15- to 19-year-olds were involved in at least one community group, compared with only 44 per cent of people aged 25 to 29.

The new initiative can help to create longer and more meaningful attachments at community organisations by training and mentoring young volunteers, said Mr Tan, who received the Singapore Youth Award this year for his work in the youth sector.

He added: "This is so that (young people) are more likely to commit for the long term if they feel they are growing personally and professionally."

Mr Joachim Goh, 28, said the youth corps can help people start projects, even small ones. "Just stepping out for the very first time, after that you'd want to do more," he said.

Despite putting in at least 50 hours a week as a manager at accounting firm KPMG, he managed to squeeze in five trips in the last two years to places like Sri Lanka and Laos to teach English, build houses and set up medical clinics in villages.

Singapore Management University student Yong Shi Yun, 22, also welcomes the move. She set up the first campus arm of Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organisation which helps build houses for the needy abroad.

The new scheme, she said, is a good way to "embed yourself in a community of volunteers (to) learn and receive emotional support from them".

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Indonesia: Flights can't land in haze-shrouded Pekanbaru

Singapore at risk as number of hot spots stays high
Zubaidah Nazeer Indonesia Correspondent In Jakarta Straits Times 28 Aug 13;

THICK haze over the provincial capital of Riau has forced almost every single flight to turn back from Pekanbaru airport over the past two days, as the number of hot spots shot up to 488 on Monday.

Visibility has been worsening as the number of hot spots rose to their highest level since June, when the highest haze readings in 16 years were recorded in neighbouring countries.

Schools were closed and people donned masks yesterday as the smell of burning intensified and visibility dropped to less than 500m.

"This morning, the haze was so bad that you can see it in the living room and the burning smell is suffocating," Mr Rusmadya Maharuddin, a Pekanbaru resident and forest campaigner, told The Straits Times by phone yesterday.

The worsening conditions have raised fears of haze shrouding the region again.

In its advisory yesterday, Singapore's National Environment Agency (NEA) said the number of hot spots detected in Sumatra yesterday remained high at 308 and moderate to dense smoke haze was observed to have extended over the Strait of Malacca.

While Singapore may experience hazy conditions, it said that the PSI was expected to be in the "good" band today and the PM2.5 is expected to be slightly elevated.

More worrying is the fact that the return of the haze underlines the lack of progress by Indonesia in stopping the clearing of land by illegal burning. Farmers and big plantation companies continue to defy sanctions and tough talk of clampdowns.

At least one fire was reported closer to Singapore - in Bintan - where farmers were seen burning land to open up areas for harvest, but it did not show up on the NEA's satellite map.

Forest watchers predict hot spots from forest fires could increase until October.

"It is now very hot in Pekanbaru with very little rain. Activities after the (Idul Fitri) break have picked up and that could mean more burnings as this is still the season to clear land," said Mr Rusmadya, a forest campaigner for the Greenpeace group.

Indonesia's National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) has resumed water bombings, cloud-seeding sorties and land operations to snuff out fires.

The spike in hot spots prompted Singapore's Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan to take to Facebook on Monday.

"An exercise in frustration - big increase in hot spots (488) in Sumatra today. We have been spared so far because of wind direction," he wrote.

"We remain at risk. Have to keep up the pressure on Indonesian authorities and companies to do the right thing for the sake of their own citizens and ours."

BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho urged the Forestry, Agriculture and Environment and other agencies to step up monitoring and enforcement.

"Implementing the law is the key to overcoming land and forest burnings," he said.

297 hotspots for forest fires detected in Riau
Antara 27 Aug 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The Terra and Aqua satellite has detected 297 hotspots for forest fires throughout the Riau Province, according to the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology, and geophysics station (BMKG).

"In Sumatra, the highest number of hotspots is still in Riau, with 297 of them, a significant increase from the 37 hotspots seen the previous day," Tri Puryanti, an analyst with the Pekanbaru BMKG, said here on Tuesday.

The hotspots have created a haze that is currently polluting the air of Riau`s cities and districts.

Pelalawan District alone has more than 100 hotspots, and others were found in the Indragiri Hulu District, Indragiri Hilir, and Kampar, Puryanti noted.

Meanwhile, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB), quoting NOAA 18 Satellite`s data, announced that Riau`s 10 districts and cities have a total of 264 hotspots.

Pelalawan District has 76 hotspots, while Indragiri Hulu has 42; Rokan Hilir, 34; Indragiri Hilir, 29; Kampar, 26; Bengkalis, 20; Siak, 11; Rokan Hulu, 8; and Dumai City, 4.

BNPB pointed out that other provinces on Sumatra Island also have hotspots.

The NOAA 18 satellite has detected 100 hotspots in West Sumatra, while Jambi has 57; South Sumatra, 31; Bengkulu, 15; and North Sumatra, 12.

The haze produced by this collection of hotspots has drastically reduced visibility in Pekanbaru to only 500 meters on Tuesday morning.

Several flight schedules had to be postponed, and flight arrivals were diverted to Medan (North Sumatra) and Batam (Riau Island).

The fastest and cheapest way to clear new land for planting crops is by burning; however, this practice has been banned by the government. (*)

Editor: Heru

Sumatra's haze might affect Malaysia due to wind direction
Antara 27 Aug 13;

Pekanbaru, Riau Province (ANTARA News) - Haze from land-clearance fires in Riau Province, Sumatra Island, might affect Malaysia, with the wind blowing toward the neighboring country, said a weather analyst.

"Based on our analysis, the wind in Riau is blowing from Southeast to Southwest direction at a maximum speed of 30 km per hour. Its direction is towards Malacca Strait," said Warih Budi Lestari, an analyst of the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology and geophysics station, on Tuesday.

If the wind direction does not change, haze problem might return to Malaysia, like what had happened several months ago, he added.

In June 2013, Malaysia declared a state of emergency in some areas after air pollution from illegal burning of forests and peat lands in Indonesia reached hazardous levels.

The Terra and Aqua satellite has detected 297 hotspots from forest fires throughout Riau Province, according to the Pekanbaru meteorological, climatology, and geophysics station (BMKG).

"In Sumatra, the highest number of hotspots is still in Riau, with 297 of them, a significant increase from the 37 hotspots seen the previous day," Tri Puryanti, an analyst with the Pekanbaru BMKG, said here on Tuesday.

The hotspots have created a haze that is currently polluting the air of Riau`s cities and districts.

Pelalawan District alone has more than 100 hotspots, and others were found in the Indragiri Hulu District, Indragiri Hilir, and Kampar, Puryanti noted.

The haze reduced visibility in Pekanbaru to around 500 meters on Tuesday morning. (*)

Editor: Heru

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Malaysia: Silence of the bulbul

Tan Cheng Li The Star 27 Aug 13;

Due to intense poaching, the melodious sounds of one bird no longer ring through the forest.

WITH a rusty orange-coloured crown and black-streaked upper breast, the straw-headed bulbul is a rather pretty bird. But its appeal lies more in its calls, a varied repertoire ranging from melodious songs to rhythmic tunes which have made it a hot favourite among bird-lovers – and also the reason behind its “endangered” status.

The popularity of the bird has led to intense trapping for trade. Once common in lowland scrub and forests, occurring mostly near rivers and open water bodies, the straw-headed bulbul is a rare sight these days. The forest is now silent of its beautiful calls.

Its high sale value and poor legal protection in parts of its range are pushing the prized songbird towards extinction in the wild, according to a report Straw-headed Bulbul Pycnonotus zeylanicus: Legal Protection and Enforcement Action in Malaysia by Traffic South-East Asia, the wildlife trade monitoring body.

As recently as two decades ago, the straw-headed bulbul was common across much of its range but today, it is thought to be extinct in Thailand, and its status in Myanmar and Brunei is not known. In Indonesia, the species was extirpated from Java by the mid-20th century and possibly no longer exists in the wild in Sumatra. In Kalimantan, it is believed to survive only in remote areas.

Remaining populations in Malaysia and Singapore are believed to be in serious decline due to severe poaching for the caged-bird trade, stated the report written by Chris R. Shepherd, Loretta Ann Shepherd and Kaitlyn-Elizabeth Foley.

Trade in the species became controlled and subjected to licensing in 1997 when it was included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). However, illicit trade continues.

In Peninsular Malaysia, straw-headed bulbuls (known as barau-barau locally) became totally protected only with the enactment of the Wildlife Conservation Act 2010, which makes it illegal to capture, trade and keep the species. Prior to that, individuals could apply for licences and permits from the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to trade and keep this bird.

The 2010 annual report of Perhilitan showed a total of 874 straw-headed bulbuls kept in captivity by licence-holders as permitted by the previous law. Some legal export of the bird was permitted in the past, but involved very few birds. According to trade data, Malaysia exported 15 wild-caught straw-headed bulbuls to Singapore in 2000. The species is protected in Sabah under the Wildlife Conservation Enactment 1997, and totally protected in Sarawak, under the Wildlife Protection Ordinance 1998.

Despite legal protection in Malaysia, illegal capture and trade continues, with much of the demand coming from neighbouring countries, stated the report. During a spot check by Traffic in 2010, 10 straw-headed bulbuls were found for sale in a shop in Betong, Thailand, close to the Malaysian border, and all were said to have come from Peninsular Malaysia. Sources said the species was frequently sold there. In Singapore, bird dealers and bird enthusiasts claimed that straw-headed bulbuls were occasionally smuggled into the country from the peninsula.

The greatest demand for the species comes from Indonesia, where the birds are frequently sold in bird markets in Medan, Sumatra, and Jakarta, Java. Monthly surveys by Shepherd in 2000 and 2001 found 421 straw-headed bulbuls for sale. Dealers in both cities claimed that some of the birds had been captured in Kalimantan and Sumatra, and as the population declined in Indonesia, from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. The species remain unprotected in Indonesia. Therefore, unless smugglers are detected at entry points into the country (in violation of CITES), legal action is virtually impossible.

Straw-headed bulbuls are now rarely seen in bird shops in Malaysia as the trade has gone underground, facilitated by bird hobbyist forums, trading websites and social networking sites. As such, the extent and nature of the trade are unknown, according to the report.

In a random survey of five shops in Kuala Lumpur in April 2010, Traffic found no straw-headed bulbuls for sale. The following year, one shop (out of five surveyed) in Ipoh, Perak, offered four birds and last year, three birds were seen in one shop in Ipoh. Perhilitan has seized 42 straw-headed bulbuls between 2006 and 2011, the bulk of which was from Malacca.

“It is highly likely that more were seized but unfortunately, seizures have in the past sometimes not been reported to species level and very little information regarding the status of the cases is available in the public domain,” said the report.

As trapping of the bird for the caged-bird trade pushes the species closer to the brink, the authors called for more monitoring and enforcement.

There should also be an analysis to assess whether the species meets the criteria for a transfer from CITES Appendix II to Appendix I, where trade is banned. Also needed is research to identify collection sites and trade routes as well as a trade forensic study, and full protection for the species in Indonesia.

Also, penalties for offenders should be increased to serve as deterrent. In October 2010, Perhilitan raided a business premise in Kuala Lumpur and found 34 protected and totally protected animals, including two straw-headed bulbuls, palm cockatoos, yellow-crested cockatoos, a leopard cat and giant squirrels. At the time, the new legislation was not yet in force, therefore the two people who were arrested were liable to a fine of not more than RM3,000 or three years’ jail under the Protection of Wild Life Act 1972. However, they were also charged under the International Trade in Endangered Species Act 2008, where they faced a fine of RM100,000 for each animal (up to RM1mil) or imprisonment for up to seven years. The offenders were eventually fined a total of RM45,600.

The author urged the public to report incidents of trapping, trading and buying of this species to the Wildlife Crime Hotline by sending a text message or calling 019-356 4194, or by e-mail to

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Indonesia: Indigenous Peoples Vow to Map Customary Forests

Jakarta Globe 27 Aug 13;

An organization representing Indonesia’s indigenous people is determined to map out the country’s customary forests in order to save them from the encroachment of palm oil companies and other development projects.

A recent ruling by the Constitutional Court which acknowledged that indigenous communities — and not the state — have rights over some 40 million hectares of customary forests influenced the decision to chart such lands, the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN) said in a statement on Friday.

“We have already mapped seven million hectares of land, but that took us 15 years. We need to take advantage of new mapping tools like GPS and 3D mapping to accelerate the process of charting the more than 30 million hectares we have left to document,” Abdon Nababan, the secretary general of the alliance that represents some 17 million indigenous peoples, said.

Abdon told the Global Conference on Participatory Mapping of Indigenous Territories, which was held in Samosir, North Sumatra, over the weekend, that AMAN is aiming to map out all contested forests by 2020.

Nababan added that the need to map these lands has become more urgent since the Constitutional Court’s decision in May, which determined that a line in the country’s 1999 Forestry Law — which stated that customary forests are state forests — was not constitutional.

To take advantage of the landmark decision, Nababan said it’s crucial for indigenous peoples to put these forests on paper.

“Based on mapping technologies we have used so far and the lack of government support for our mapping efforts, it would take us 30 years to map all indigenous territories,” he said.

“But we don’t have that luxury. We need to learn [about mapping technology] from other indigenous peoples in Asia, Latin America and Africa about how to map more quickly and effectively,” Abdon added.

Kasmita Widodo, the national coordinator of the Participatory Mapping Network (JPKK), an organization that supports indigenous peoples’ mapping efforts, said the government has never mapped customary forests, which often overlap with concessions the government has handed out to palm oil and pulp and paper companies.

“Some 70 percent of forest areas in Indonesia are located in areas with overlapping permits,” he said.

Under its one-map policy, the government hopes to create a single map of all forests in order to clarify overlaps.

“It will be a challenge for the entire country… [but it is necessary] to facilitate a fair decision making process for indigenous peoples and to reduce conflicts,” Widodo said.

At the Global Conference, representatives of indigenous communities from across the globe who have mapped their lands using advanced technology gathered to discuss how to ramp up efforts to protect their forests and lands against development, climate change and other threats.

Indigenous peoples from Nepal, the Philippines, Brazil, Peru, Nicaragua and Kenya attended the event to share their maps and experiences.

The conference was organized by AMAN and the Phillipines-based the Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education (Tebtebba)

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NOAA: Virus likely causing dolphin deaths

Brock Vergakis National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Associated Press Yahoo News 28 Aug 13;

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Federal officials identified a virus Tuesday as the likely reason hundreds of bottlenose dolphins died along the East Coast, but they say there's little they can do to stop the deaths.

More than 330 dolphins have been stranded between New York and North Carolina since July 1, with nearly all of them dead by the time they wash up on shore, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

That's more than nine times the historical average for dolphin strandings in the region during July and August.

"Along the Atlantic seaboard, this is extraordinary," Teri Rowles, NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program coordinator, said in a conference call with reporters.

Earlier this month, NOAA declared an unusual mortality event so it could provide additional resources to study what was behind the rapid increase in deaths — more than half of which have occurred in Virginia. At the time, they suspected the cetacean morbillivirus was causing the deaths, just as it did during the last major dolphin die-off. In 1987 and 1988, the virus was blamed for causing 740 dolphin deaths between New Jersey and Florida.

Although research will continue, NOAA said it has collected enough evidence to declare the virus as the "tentative cause" in the most recent string of deaths as well. Morbillivirus is found in a broad range of mammals, and dolphins with it typically experience symptoms such as skin lesions, brain infections and pneumonia. The virus is usually spread through inhalation of respiratory particles or direct contact between animals, although officials said there's no risk of humans catching it. Bottlenose dolphins are typically found in groups of two to 15.

"At this point there isn't anything we can do to stop the virus," Rowles said. "We don't have a vaccine that is developed that could be easily deployed in a wild population of bottlenose dolphins or subpopulations."

Officials at the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center said many of the dolphins washing up on the state's beaches are badly decomposed. State and federal officials say there are untold numbers of other dolphins that have also died and haven't washed ashore, likely making the total death count much higher.

"We've definitely gotten reports of floating carcasses that we were not able to recover — and there are plenty of those," said Margaret Lynott, the aquarium's stranding coordinator.

Using the 1980s die-off as a guide, officials believe the disease and strandings will spread south and last through the spring of 2014. Eventually, remaining dolphins will become more resistant to the disease, just as they have before. Bottlenose dolphins typically live between 40 and 50 years, but a new generation of dolphins will also likely become susceptible to the disease again in the future.

There are two different stocks of dolphins that populate the affected region, with the northern stock having between 7,000 and 9,000 dolphins, while the southern stock has between 9,900 to 12,000 dolphins, according to federal estimates.

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