SciBlogs

Posts Tagged NIWA

Old ship log books dusted off for whale conservation Peter Griffin May 10

2 Comments

New Zealand and Australia are these days passionately opposed to commercial whaling, a stance that in recent weeks has put them at odds with significant trading partner Japan.

But it wasn’t always that way – the 1830s and 1840s were the golden age of whaling in New Zealand and Australia as whalers, predominantly from America, took to our seas harpoon in hand, seeking the rich whale blubber, meat, oil and bone that was in such demand around the world.

The captains of these ships kept detailed logs of where the whales were caught or sighted, taking careful note of their frequently used habitats to avoid fruitless searches of the seas. Now researchers are using those logs to better understand the movements of southern right whales and sperm whales in the Pacific and the Tasman Sea.

This from a release on the research NIWA put out today:

’We are using these data, that are over a hundred years old, to tell us what the key foraging, migratory, and frequently used habitats were for southern right whales and sperm whales, because abundance levels were high in the 19th century before heavy whaling,’ says NIWA marine ecologist Dr Leigh Torres.

Apparently the log books and historic records, compiled by the World Whaling History project, contain the locations of 46,000 strikes or sightings of whales – as well as records of where the whalers searched for whales but came up empty-handed.

The scientists want to compare the distribution of whales back when they were being hunted with today. Dr Torres adds:

’Using data from a long time period and a large area, we hope to predict where whales are within tens of kilometres during certain months.’

The idea is that scientists gain a fairly accurate picture of where whales congregate so that fishing activity involving long lines and nets, oil drilling and active shipping routes can avoid these areas in the name of conservation. Scientists already have a pretty good idea of how whale numbers have changed from the 1830s when whaling in the region was at its peak. Back then, there was an estimated 27,000 southern right whales in New Zealand waters. Now there are 5000. Sperm whale numbers are harder to pinpoint on a regional scale. Says NIWA:

Sperm whales are classified as threatened which means that they are likely to become endangered. The numbers of sperm whales in New Zealand waters are unknown, but a recent global estimate was about a million whales during the pre-whaling era, with about 32% of this original population level remaining in 1999, 10 years after the end of large-scale hunting. The percentage reduction in New Zealand waters is likely to be similar.

This is not the first time old ship’s log books have come in handy to scientists. Last year, climatoligists began using data form Captain Cook’s log books to gain a better picture of historic temperature, ice formation, air pressure and wind speed trends.

An example of a whaling log - from the American whaler Tybeo

An example of a whaling log - from the American whaler Tybeo

Sighting locations of southern right whales by American whaling vessels: 1820-1925 Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Sighting locations of southern right whales by American whaling vessels: 1820-1925 Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Sighting locations of sperm whales by American whaling vessels: 1820-1925 Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Sighting locations of sperm whales by American whaling vessels: 1820-1925 Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Daily locations of American whaling vessels when no whale was observed: 1820-1925  Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Daily locations of American whaling vessels when no whale was observed: 1820-1925 Credit: Dr Leigh Torres and World Whaling History Project.

Credit: Dr Leigh Torres Southern Right Whale, Hermanus, South Africa

Credit: Dr Leigh Torres Southern Right Whale, Hermanus, South Africa

Bluff oysters bouncing back Peter Griffin Mar 01

No Comments

Bluff oyster lovers will be heartened to learn that NIWA surveys of the oyster beds in Foveaux Strait show them to be looking increasingly healthy.

The Bluff oyster season starts today, so you will soon see the expensive delicacy on menus at good restaurants around the country. But as in recent years, prices will be high as the fishing industry maintain’s a self-imposed limit of 7.5 million oysters, as opposed to a 15 million annual catch entitlement.

Bluff oyster stocks have been limited for years due to bonamia, the nasty blood disease that affects shellfish.

As NIWA points out:

Bonamia is an oyster-specific disease that is not harmful to other animal or humans. It kills oysters by sapping their energy, so that they cannot keep their shells together, exposing them to the many oyster predators.

The only time you want a Bluff oyster to be exposed to a predator is when the predator is you and the oyster is sitting exposed in its shell with a squirt of lemon over it!

The industry isn’t out of the woods yet. While oyster numbers in key fishing areas seem to be increasing, oyster density is decreasing in some areas.

A fuller picture of the health of the Bluff oyster fishery will emerge in April when NIWA’s investigation into Bluff oyster population health gets a public release.

In the meantime, some lovely photos of Bluff oysters and oyster fishers. All photos below supplied by NIWA…

Bluff Oyster   credit: NIWA

Bluff Oyster credit: NIWA

Fisherman Jimmy Foggo 'culching' oysters on the Golden Lea

Fisherman Jimmy Foggo 'culching' oysters on the Golden Lea credit: NIWA

Fishing boats lined up at Bluff

Fishing boats lined up at Bluff credit: NIWA

The key to cutting through climate confusion Peter Griffin Jan 25

23 Comments

Dr Klaus Bosselman is right when he suggests in a New Zealand Herald article today that opinion polls carried out by the media are fickle things and that Government policies in relation to climate change should be based on sound science not public opinion.

But there’s no denying the fact that the public is becoming increasingly sceptical about the scientific claims made in support of anthropogenic global warming and that this has serious implications for us all unless the scientific community moves to counter it. As I was quoted as saying in the same Herald article today:

“If the overwhelming majority of the public isn’t satisfied that the science indicates a need to act … the political will dissipates too.”

Virtually all of the world’s governments are on the same page on climate change – they agree in principle that the science suggests a need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So in effect, they are basing their policies on science rather than fickle public opinion – but the reality is obviously a lot more complicated than that. Turning up at Copenhagen alongside other world leaders costs nothing, nor does adding your signature to a list of undertakings that are not legally binding. Getting the support to pass an Emissions Trading Scheme is much more difficult, as our Government found out last year.

Actually pushing through the policy and legislation that will lead to change requires broad, genuine support and it is here that the measures of public opinion come into play in a big way. There is nothing new in this, politics has always been about the weight of numbers and in many respects, timing.

Take for instance, the polarising debate about gay marriage going on in the US at the moment. As this interesting New Yorker piece points out, a major Supreme Court case underway in San Francisco could help decide whether same-sex marriage becomes legal across the US rather than in the five states where it is currently legally recognised.

You would expect gay people and those who support same-sex marriage to be supportive of the Supreme Court bid to make gay marriage legal. But that isn’t the case – a lot of activists in this area are worried the legal fight is too soon, that a defeat could sway public opinion against gay marriage when it is gradually creeping further in favour of it. While 29 states in the US have passed legislation prohibiting gay marriage since 1993, polls suggest that around forty per cent of Americans support marriage for gay couples, and more than fifty per cent support civil unions. Political scientists quoted in the New Yorker piece suggest that “in five years a majority of Americans will favor same-sex marriage–the result of generational replacement and …’attitude adjustment’.’

As the New Yorker sums up: “Why push the Court far ahead of public opinion if public opinion is moving in that direction anyway?”

Now, gay marriage is unlike climate change in that arguments for or against it aren’t based on science as is the case with climate change. But it is an issue that goes to the centre of people’s belief systems and our judgements on how we should live our lives. In that respect, it shares many of the characteristics of the issue of climate change, which is equally as polarising in the US as the gay marriage issue is. The difference is the time factor. Whether same sex marriage becomes legal in the US next year or in five years, is immaterial as far as the world is concerned. Whether governments are given the mandate to act on climate change now or in five years will determine our effectiveness in combating global warming, scientists tell us. If the trend in public opinion is accurate, it may also be much more difficult for governments to secure a mandate from their citizens to act. As such, a slide in public opinion going the other way – towards scepticism rather than acceptance of the scientific consensus on the issue, is disturbing.

Science needs a new approach

It is only a matter of time before opinion polls translate into inaction on climate change, policies shelved, plans deferred – Copenhagen hinted at the inertia. Politicians will use any excuse to put off spending money or undertaking great efforts that detract from short-term goals that improve the public’s perception of them. So the scientific community really has very little time to repair the dents in the credibility of climate science – and get the public back on board.

It would be too late to wait until the next IPCC report is published. What those in the world of climate science need to undertake is a comprehensive and credible recap of what is known about climate change and more transparent examination and commentary on the areas that are causing most dispute. This needs to be communicated in a way the public can understand. That is easier said than done. It is also exasperating for scientists who resent having to spend increasing amounts of time explaining the science, rather than working on the science itself. That’s too bad. Increasing scrutiny is being placed not only on the research results of climate science but the funding of climate science programmes and organisations.

A more informed discussion on climate change with more input from scientists also needs to happen in the mainstream media – not the blogosphere. A good example of what we need to see more of is this Q&A piece published on the Herald website today, where NIWA climate scientist Dr Jim Renwick is asked to answer questions submitted by Herald readers. In some short answers he is quickly able to cut through some of the misconceptions about climate change. We need more of this type of thing.

I ask nearly everyone I meet what they think about climate change and the majority of them are sceptical of the human component of it. But when you probe a bit further and ask them to explain why, the usual sceptic arguments that have played out extensively in the media are usually referenced. Meanwhile, global warming predictions often appear hysterical in contrast to what the sceptics have to say. As Dr Renwick explains:

We’ve already discovered that the deficit model of science communication is ineffective. As this essay points out
In modern societies – particularly given the power and pervasiveness of today’s communications technologies – trust and respect need to be generated; they cannot be taken for granted or imposed from above, whether in science or any other type of social activity.

That implies the need for an openness to dialogue, and a willingness to come out from behind closed walls, whether these belong to the ivory towers in which scientific knowledge has traditionally been produced, or the boardrooms and corridors of power in which key decisions about the production and application of this knowledge are taken.

This is something that those involved in climate science still need to get their heads around. If it wasn’t important before it is now fundamental to everything people in the field do. As Zim Sherman writing in the letters page of today’s Otago Daily Times (see below) sums up:
All the knowledge in the world is meaningless unless you let it out of the box
From the Otago Daily Times, Jan 25, 2010

From the Otago Daily Times, Jan 25, 2010

New Zealand and Australia – warmest decade on record Peter Griffin Jan 06

1 Comment

New Zealand and Australia experienced their warmest periods in the decade just closed since records began according to data released by NIWA and Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

While 2009 was slightly cooler overall than the 1971 – 2000 average, says NIWA, the decade was still the warmest, followed by the 1980s, the 1970s and the 1990s, in that order.

’This result is caused by a combination of natural variability and a background warming trend,’ Dr James Renwick, NIWA Principal Scientist said in a statement.

Across the Tasman, Australian scientists also confirmed the warmest decade on record since reliable records began in 1910:

“2009 ends Australia’s warmest decade on record, with a decadal mean temperature anomaly of +0.48°C (above the 1961-90 average). In Australia, each decade since the 1940s has been warmer than the preceding decade. In contrast, decadal temperature variations during the first few decades of Australia’s climate record do not display any specific trend. This suggests an apparent shift in Australia’s climate from one characterised by natural variability to one increasingly characterised by a trend to warmer temperatures.”

Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology

In the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks, the World Meteorological Organisation predicted the decade 2000 – 2009 would be the warmest on record for the globe. The local results from New Zealand and Australia will be taken into account in the finalised WMO climate data for the decade.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Network-wide options by YD - Freelance Wordpress Developer