Best of our wild blogs: 14 Apr 15

Pellets from Tuas: 8. Black-shouldered Kite feeding chicks
Bird Ecology Study Group

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Mass fish deaths: Premature to decide if fish farmers need to relocate, says Maliki

SIAU MING EN Today Online 13 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE — With the authorities still studying the causes behind the plankton blooms that have led to the recent fish deaths, Minister of State (National Development) Maliki Osman said today (April 13) it is premature to determine if there is a need for fish farmers to relocate or if plankton blooms will hinder production targets.

Responding to a question tabled by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Yee Jenn Jong today, Dr Maliki said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) is studying the causes of plankton blooms in the Johor Straits more comprehensively, to see if they are “simply ad-hoc events or regular occurrences”.

He told Parliament: “It is premature to determine whether there is a need for fish farmers to relocate away from the Johor Straits, and whether plankton blooms will significantly hinder us from reaching our 15 per cent local fish production target.”

Last month, up to 600 tonnes of fish from 55 farms here were lost because of an algal bloom. Last year, a plankton bloom cost 53 farms about 500 tonnes of fish.

Dr Maliki said the AVA monitors a few indictors of water quality, such as plankton count and dissolved oxygen at the coastal fish farm areas, which allow the authority to give farmers early warning when adverse conditions are detected.

The AVA was able to alert the famers of the impending plankton bloom “well ahead of time”, and those who heeded its advice averted the worst of the fish kills.

In his supplementary question, Mr Yee asked if there are studies to see if reclamation works affect the environment and if Singapore is confident of hitting the 15 per cent local fish production target.

Dr Maliki replied that it is “really not clear” whether ongoing reclamation works in Malaysia have an impact on fish deaths. He added that the AVA is also working with the Tropical Marine Science Institute at the National University of Singapore to conduct studies on plankton bloom and develop solutions to mitigate the problem.

He said the AVA had awarded a tender to five companies to develop sustainable sea-base farming system that will minimise farms’ exposure to environmental challenges such as plankton bloom.

On meeting the 15 per cent target, the authority is also encouraging fish farmers to modernise and explore various options, such as the close-containment system and the possibility of high-rise technologies in fish farming.

“We have been going to various countries to study various options available ... So, we are working very hard to meet these targets,” Dr Maliki added.

Parliament: Premature to relocate fish farms over plankton blooms, says Maliki
RACHEL AU-YONG Straits Times 13 Apr 15;

SINGAPORE - Even as researchers study what caused the plankton blooms that saw mass fish deaths recently, it is premature to relocate fish farms at this moment, said Minister of State for National Development Maliki Osman on Monday.

Earlier this year, about 600 tonnes of fish died, with farms near the East Johor Strait the worst hit.

Responding to Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, Dr Maliki said his ministry is studying the causes of plankton bloom to see whether they are "simply ad-hoc events or regular occurrences."

Until then, "it is premature to determine whether there is a need for fish farmers to relocate away from the Johor Straits, and whether plankton blooms will significantly hinder us from reaching our 15 per cent local fish production target", he said.

Plankton is a main food source for sea creatures but an unexpected population explosion can suffocate them. Such blooms could be triggered by factors such as dry weather and pollution.

Dr Maliki said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) monitors indicators of water quality, such as plankton count and dissolved oxygen, at coastal fish-farming areas.

As such, it was able to alert fish farmers of the impending plankton bloom well-ahead of time this year, he said.

He added: "Those who heeded AVA's advice averted the worst of the fish kills."

He also advised farmers to take steps to minimise the impact of another plankton bloom, should they occur.

While the AVA will help farmers to develop contingency plans, "fish farmers must also modernise their farming methods so that they are better protected", he said suggesting that they can tap on the AVA's Agriculture Productivity Fund to do so.

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Javan mynah rules the roost in Singapore

Feng ZengkunThe Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Apr 15;

THE Common mynah ruled the roost in Singapore 30 years ago, topping the Nature Society (Singapore)'s or NSS' one-day census of birds in the country in 1986.

But since then, the small black and brown bird has suffered a dramatic reversal of fortunes, losing its lofty perch to a relative, the Javan or White-vented mynah.

The Common mynah's fall has been so steep that NSS volunteers counted just 28 of them in the latest census last month, compared with 543 in 1986.

Although the NSS and birdwatchers said field studies are needed to uncover the cause, they noted that the Common and Javan species are ecologically similar and most likely compete for the same resources.

This fight for dominance within the mynah family is just one of many facts about the bird kingdom here revealed by the NSS' long-term data.
Since April 1986, the society has conducted a one-day, islandwide census every year.

The 1986 count spanned 30 sites, which included parks, nature reserves and other green spaces here, such as Botanic Gardens.

The latest census covered 26 of those sites as fewer volunteers were available.

Mr Lim Kim Seng, 54, helped to coordinate the latest count. The nature guide and part-time lecturer said the 30 years' worth of data has been "very valuable in telling us about the changes in Singapore's ecology".

The House swift, for example, has declined even more spectacularly than the Common mynah, and may be in danger of disappearing here altogether. It was ranked fifth in the 1986 census with 281 counted but, last month, the volunteers saw just two.

"This was due to the boom in swiftlet farming in South-east Asia, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia," said Mr Lim.

The swiftlets, a relative of the House, are valued because their nests are used to make the bird's nest soup delicacy. Mr Lim said it is likely that the swiftlets flew to Singapore, fought the House swifts for dominance and won.

The Pink-necked green pigeon, on the other hand, has climbed the ranks over the years. It ranked No. 7 in the 1986 census with 213 sightings, but was No. 3 this year with 464 counts.

"It appears to be benefiting from the aggressive tree planting in new towns and regional centres, especially of trees with fruit such as palms, cinnamon and various Eugenia species," said Mr Lim.

The Little egret and Grey heron are two other birds that have flourished here due to Singapore's conservation policies. "They benefited from the Mandai mudflats and the expansion of the coastal reservoirs," he said.

Mr Lim said the society intends to continue the annual census.

He said: "We won't have 100 per cent coverage of the island, but if you do the surveys over a long period, it can tell you which species are going up, down or are maintaining their populations. If some of the birds seem to be having problems, you can also try to intervene to save them."

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Make a date with dinos

Chang Ai-LienThe Straits Times AsiaOne 14 Apr 15;

The creatures are waiting. Over 2,000 specimens to be exact, ranging from majestic dinosaur fossils to a bird in the collection of famed British naturalist Alfred Wallace, will be on show to the public on April 28 at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

Chang Ai-Lien takes a look inside, and checks out the book which tells its story.

Early days

The idea of setting up a museum in Singapore goes back to 1823, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded the Singapore Institution.

Formally established as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1878, Singapore's natural history museum began life in Stamford Road in 1887, exhibiting preserved animal specimens from South-east Asia.

Over the years, it became known as the Raffles Museum and National Museum - which had collections of natural history, anthropology and art.

In 1972, after it split from the National Museum, it was often referred to as the Raffles Collection or the Raffles Natural History Collection. After it became ensconced in the Department of Zoology at the National University of Singapore, it became known as the Zoological Reference Collection and, from 1998, formed the core of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research.

Now it has found a permanent home at the new Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, where the displays, such as this one which includes crocodiles, and a Komodo dragon skeleton, are designed to evoke excitement and interest in the diversity of life. Rather than cluttering the displays with text, the researchers behind it created a special app that allows visitors to get details on each exhibit using their smartphones.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

The whale that got away

In 1892, the museum acquired a 42-foot (12.8m) skeleton of an Indian fin whale which died after being stranded near Malacca.

Lack of space at the museum prevented the skeleton from being properly mounted for display, and it remained in storage for the next 15 years.

In 1907, the skeleton was finally mounted. Missing bones - a scapula, the "hands", and several vertebrae and ribs - were modelled out of wood and plaster of paris and the whole skeleton "was suspended by steel ropes from the ceiling".

When unveiled, it was undoubtedly "the most striking exhibit in the Zoological gallery".

The museum now had on display a specimen of the world's largest creature in its galleries.

In May 1974, after the National Museum gave up its natural history collection to the Science Centre, the whale was taken down, dismantled into three pieces and sent by truck as a gift to the Muzium Negara (National Museum) in Kuala Lumpur.

Source: Of Whales And Dinosaurs

Dino delights

Three dinosaurs will be the highlight of the museum.

Skeletons of the three diplodocid sauropods, some of the biggest creatures to walk on earth some 150 million years ago, were found together at a quarry in Wyoming in the United States, and are more than 80 per cent complete.

Two of them - Apollonia and Prince - were adults measuring 24m and 27m respectively from head to tail, while the baby dinosaur, Twinky, was 12m long. After they were uncovered, the bones were first wrapped in paper towels and encased in a protective plaster and burlap cast. They were then moved to a lab where the casing was removed. Once the bones were exposed, the rock was chipped off, and a strengthening liquid was added to preserve and harden the fossils.

In Singapore, the bones were authenticated by putting them through CT scans. Then the dinosaurs were pieced together again on a custom-built frame, with missing pieces filled in with resin parts made from casts.

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Malaysian mammals face extinction

PATRICK LEE The Star 14 Apr 15;

PETALING JAYA: At least a fifth of Malaysia’s mammal species, including the Sumatran serow, dugong and the Malayan tiger, face extinction, making the country one of the most dangerous for endangered animals.

Data from the World Bank showed that 70 of Malaysia’s 336 mammal species were threatened as of 2014, the seventh highest in the world in this category.

Some of Malaysia’s dying mammals include the Sumatran serow, Sumatran rhino, dugong, and the Malayan tiger, with many numbering only in the hundreds.

In South-East Asia, Malaysia is second only to Indonesia, which has 184 endangered mammal species, making it the number one in the world.

Although the World Bank does not say why, it is presumed that many mammals worldwide are dying out due to human activities such as logging, over-development, wildlife trafficking and poaching.

When contacted, local green groups said they were not surprised by the data.

TRAFFIC South-East Asia’s Elizabeth John said the region was well known for its biodiversity.

“Unfortunately, this makes the region a magnet for those wanting to plunder such resources,” said the senior communications officer.

She warned that other kinds of wildlife – birds, fish and plants – were also at risk.

Once these were lost, restoring them was not only expensive but almost impossible.

“It just makes more sense to invest in protection and fighting threats,” she said.

Wildlife Conservation Society Malaysia director Dr Melvin Gumal said the data confirmed what biologists were seeing everyday.

“We must reverse this trend for if we don’t, our collective legacy will be the witnessing and documenting of the loss of our wildlife species,” he said.

Malaysian Nature Society president Henry Goh said stronger laws are needed against wildlife crime and more enforcement.

However, he said it was not just up to governments to solve the problem but the public and businesses as well.

“Everyone must do their part,” he said.

It was reported that nearly 100 live tigers and tiger parts were seized by authorities between 2000 and 2012.

It is a huge number as there may be only between 250 and 340 tigers left in Malaysia’s wild.

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Malaysia: More thunderstorms until mid-May, says weatherman

NICHOLAS CHENG The Star 14 Apr 15;

KUALA LUMPUR: Thunderstorms that have been plaguing the west coast of peninsular Malaysia are expected to last until mid-May, said Meteorological Department director-general Datuk Che Gayah Ismail.

She said the thunderstorms and heavy rain were typical in the region this time of year, brought about by the inter-monsoon season.

Most states on the western coast could expect more rain during evenings until mid-May before the dry period starts in June with the south-west monsoon, she added.

The American Red Cross, in an advisory, suggested that people postpone outdoor activities if they observe darkening skies and strong winds, as lightning could occur even when there was no rain.

If a severe thunderstorm warning is issued, people should take shelter in a building or in a vehicle with the windows closed. It recommends staying inside for at least 30 minutes after the last thunderclap.

“If you are driving, try to safely exit the roadway and park. Stay in the vehicle and turn on the emergency flashers until the heavy rain ends. Avoid touching metal or surfaces that conduct electricity in and outside the vehicle.

“If you are outside and cannot reach a safe building, avoid high ground; water; tall, isolated trees; and metal objects such as fences or bleachers. Picnic shelters, dugouts and sheds are NOT safe,” it said on its website.

The Meteorological Department has been issuing thunderstorm warnings almost on a daily basis this month, as the Fire and Rescue Department reported flash floods and falling trees occurring during the evening downpours.

Meanwhile, DUKE Highway officials clarified a report yesterday of a flash flood occurring in Persimpangan Clock Tower near the Batu toll plaza, saying that the flood was on the Federal Highway and not on DUKE.

Malaysia experiences the second highest number of lightning strikes in the world, according to the United States National Lightning Safety Institute in a 2010 report.

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Malaysia: Two cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning reported in Labuan

The Star 14 Apr 15;

LABUAN: Two cases of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) have been reported in Labuan following the red tide phenomenon in the waters off the island, which was detected since early this month.

Labuan Health director Dr Ismail Ali said the two local women, aged 59 and 36, from Sg Miri here were confirmed to have symptoms of PSP and had received outpatient treatment last Thursday.

"They have been diagnosed to have the symptoms after eating seafood and are advised to immediately report to the hospital if the symptoms persist," he told Bernama on Monday.

He said early symptoms included tingling of lips and headache and in severe conditions the patient can develop paralysis of chest and abdominal muscles, which can result in death within two to 23 hours.

He said the villagers living near the coastal areas must avoid consuming any types of shellfish or bivalves immediately.

Red tide is named after the reddish colour that toxic plankton produces and certain marine creatures that feed on the contaminated plankton had caused deaths in Sabah in the early 1980s. - Bernama

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Japan hopes to resume whale hunt this year, despite opposition by expert panel

Elaine Lies and Sarah Young PlanetArk 14 Apr 15;

Japan on Monday said it hoped to resume its Antarctic whale hunt around the end of this year, after providing further information to win over an international panel that says its whaling plan does not prove the need for killing the animals.

Last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's decades-old whale hunt in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting Tokyo to cancel the bulk of its whaling for the 2014/2015 season and submit a scaled-down plan for future hunts.

Japan has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its food culture.

On Monday, an expert panel of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the global body that oversees whales, said it opposed a new Japanese whaling plan that proposed to take 333 minke whales in the Antarctic.

Japan's commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita, said the country would furnish additional material before a May meeting of the IWC's scientific panel for a final report, adding that Tokyo hoped the new data would win over the panel.

"I believe that we'll move forward with the aim of resuming whaling around the end of the year," Morishita told a news conference, though he did not rule out the possibility of changes to the proposal.

The IWC's expert panel said the information in Japan's latest proposal did not enable it to determine if lethal sampling of whales was necessary.

"The current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives," it said, referring to the plan's key aims.

Japan's determination to resume whaling remains unchanged, said Morishita, echoing statements by government leaders.

Japan took the panel's recommendations seriously, he said, but added, "They haven't unilaterally said that it's no good, neither have they come out on the other side with, 'Go ahead, do whatever research you want to do.'"

Japan began what it calls scientific whaling in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect, despite growing global opposition.

It also runs a separate whaling program in the Northern Pacific that was unaffected by the international court ruling.

(This version of the story adds quotes, background and a byline)

(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Experts reject Japan's new whaling plan
International Whaling Committee say proposal to resume hunt in Southern Ocean offers no scientific evidence that it is necessary
Justin McCurry The Guardian 14 Apr 15;

Japan’s hopes of resuming its whale hunts in the Southern Ocean have suffered a setback after International Whaling Committee experts said its latest plan offered no scientific justification for the slaughter.

The IWC panel said Japan’s revised programme, known as Newrep-A, did not contain enough information for experts to determine whether Japan needed to kill whales to fulfil two key objectives: calculating the size of populations necessary for a return to sustainable commercial hunting, and gaining a better understanding of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

“With the information presented in the proposal, the panel was not able to determine whether lethal sampling is necessary to achieve the two major objectives,” the IWC experts’ report said. “Therefore the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives.”

Japanese officials have been working on a revised whaling programme since last year when the international court of justice in The Hague ordered an immediate halt to its Antarctic hunts after concluding that they were not, as Japan had claimed, being conducted for scientific research.

The UN court’s ruling was in response to a landmark legal challenge to the Southern Ocean hunts by Australia, which claimed Japan was using science as a cover for commercial whaling.

Under the moratorium on commercial whaling Japan is allowed to sell meat from the “scientific” hunts on the open market, although consumption has fallen dramatically since the postwar years when it was a rare source of protein.

Tokyo hoped that its revised plan, involving the killing of fewer whales, would pave the way for the resumption of the Antarctic hunts, possibly by the end of this year.
Its whaling fleet recently returned from the Southern Ocean, although it had not planned to kill any whales, in accordance with the ICJ ruling.

“The ICJ ruling ensured that for the first season in more than a century whales in the southern hemisphere were not hunted for commercial purposes,” said Patrick Ramage, global whale programme director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

“It is disappointing … that Japan’s fisheries bureaucrats would defy the world’s highest court and try to restart illegal whaling in the Southern Ocean.”

In its reworked plan Japan proposed an annual cull of up to 333 minke whales over the next 12 years, down from more than 900 a year previously. The total cull over that period would reach 3,996 whales, compared with the 13,000 whales it has killed since the IWC ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1987.

Japan has long claimed that it needs to conduct “lethal research” to better understand whale populations’ migratory, feeding and reproduction habits with a view to a return to commercial whaling. It argues that many whale species, including minke, are not endangered.

Japanese officials said they would provide more information before the IWC’s scientific committee meets in San Diego next month. “I believe that we’ll move forward with the aim of resuming whaling around the end of the year,” the country’s commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita, told reporters, although he did not rule out changes to the proposal.

Morishita said Japan took the panel’s report seriously but added: “They haven’t unilaterally said that it’s no good; neither have they come out on the other side with ‘Go ahead, do whatever research you want to do.’”

Environmental campaigners welcomed the IWC panel’s decision. “[The findings] reiterate and underline the concern of the international community: you don’t need to kill whales in order to study them,” said Claire Bass, UK director of the Humane Society International.

“It has long been clear that Japan’s large-scale whaling operations are driven by politicians, not scientists, and serve no useful conservation or scientific need. This latest report from the IWC review panel essentially sends Japan back to the drawing board as it has failed to make a case for the need to kill whales in the name of science.”

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