Thursday, December 2, 2010

BATS, BEES and FISHES

A research report based on a study of brown bats and the continued spread of the fungus infection White Nose Syndrome was released this summer. The study headed by ecologist Thomas Kunz of Boston University found in 115 caves across the United States and Canada where bat hibernate, the numbers of bat have dropped an average of 73 percent since the start of the epidemic. In 2006 the cold loving fungus was detected in Howe Cave about 40 miles from Albany just outside of the Normanskill watershed. The fungus is believed to have originated in Europe. Sanitizing bat caves does not seem effective (or safe). A “best bet” at this point would be discovery of a biological control which could be introduced into the environment to control and/or out compete the fungus. Other hopeful biological outcomes might be the occurrence of more resistant individual brown bats which could breed a resistant population. There is however no evidence that this is happening. An open niche could also possibly be filled by a different bat species. Regional extinction by 2016 as the research report indicates would have unknown effects. Brown bats eat a large amount of insects, including pests. So long term effects of this population lost are unknown. The wild and honeybee declines are still mired in the confusion of what is causing their large-scale death and disappearance (there are many cases of honeybees just apparently flying away to never be seen again, dubbed the “Mary Celeste syndrome” due to the absence of dead bees in many of the empty hives.*) The US government’s Agriculture Research Service (ARS)reports the number of managed honeybee colonies in the US fell by 33.8% last winter. Since 2006 billions of honey bees have died worldwide. Potential causes of the bee deaths include mobile phones messing up their navigation, genetically modified crops made to stand heavier applications and stronger poisons which leads to more poisons entering the ecosystem, parasites such as the blood sucking varroa mites, viral and bacterial infections which may be spread by the mites, pesticides and poor nutrition due to intensive non-organic farming dominating the landscape. Commercial honey bees raised in hives and trucked from farm to farm and from State to State in the US are being targeted as disease carriers and their movement is seen as detrimental to wild bee populations. Less studied than the commercial bees however environmental groups are concerned about the well being of these biodiversities, a few species thought to have been already made extinct. By accident my computer printer spit out 14 pages of reader comments on one of the articles I was copying. It was interesting to hear the comments especially the debate over the “bee decline” being just “silly alarmist nonsense” and others reporting in parts of China that no longer support bees, huge numbers of people are trying to pollinate crops by hand. *The Mary Celeste was a brigantine merchant ship famous for having been discovered in December 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean unmanned and apparently abandoned, despite the fact that the weather was fine and her crew had been experienced and able seamen. The Mary Celeste was in seaworthy condition and still under sail.

The cycle of life for the herring of the Hudson River found at the estuary waters of the Normanskill begins with a new hatch in the Spring. These new herring grow through the Summer months before swimming downstream and out into the ocean. If herring survive for three years or so, they can return to spawn. New York State DEC reports the size and age of Hudson River herring have been decreasing for at least 20 years. They once averaged about 11 inches and now days they only reach about 9 inches. These smaller and younger fish produce fewer eggs when they spawn. All the east coast ocean bordering states are being asked by the federal government to survey herring numbers and if, as expected, the numbers are declining in a few years there may be federal restrictions on the annual herring catch. Kind of slow moving process but there it is. I think the major problem is found out in deeper ocean waters although over fishing the Hudson River and an invasion of zebra mussels who eat plankton, a herring food source, may be contributing. Unsustainable numbers of anchovies, herring, sardines, menhaden, squid and krill are being taken by commercial harvesters from ocean locations. both inside and outside the 10 mile limits of US fishing laws. 90% of this catch is converted to fish meal and fish oil for livestock or aquaculture feed. These forage fish now comprises almost half of the wild marine global fish catch. Dr. Ellen Pikitch, executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science has issued this warning: “Forage fish are key players in the ocean’s complex food web. Their excessive removal from the oceans threatens to cause a breakdown of a very complex ecosystem in which species are interconnected.” Obeeduid and I traveled to Belfast, Maine for the August 21, 2010 “Sardine Extravaganza” which was part cultural arts festival and part community education event. Poets Gary Lawless and Karin Spitfire and the mostly Belfast crowd of divas and poets put together an event of consciousness raising. “For lack of a better word” Karin said in an interview for a local newspaper, “I believe in the power of prayer. We’re going to sing and dance. It’s a prayer for the power of herring” Gary Snyder in his book of essays Back On The Fire (2007) writes on how human song and dance might be perceived by the animal world: One time in Alaska a young woman asked me, “If we have made such a good use of animals, eating them, singing about them, drawing them, riding them, and dreaming about them, what do they get back from us? An excellent question, directly on the point of etiquette and propriety, and from the animals’ side. I told her, “The Ainu say that the deer, salmon, and bear like our music and are fascinated by our languages. So we sing to the fish or the game, speak words to them, say grace. We do ceremonies and rituals. Performance is currency in the deep world’s gift economy.” I went on to say I felt that nonhuman nature is basically well inclined toward humanity and only wishes modern people were more reciprocal, not so bloody. The animals are drawn to us, they see us as good musicians, and they think we have cute ears. --- Alan Casline originally appeared in RD Newsletter Vol.4, No. 4 November 2010

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