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Seals have been protected since 1972 by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, when they almost went extinct, hunted by fishermen who thought they were competing with them for fish. As Laura Walsh (Associated Press) says in her article, only 5,800 harbor seals were counted in Maine in 1973.

Today, New Englanders call Maritime Aquarium officials to report that they have a seal in their backyard. It is believed that as many as 100,000 harbor seals can be found in New England waters. Some of them are even electing this area their new permanent home due to the increase of the seal population in Maine and Massachusetts waters. Traditionally, seals migrate south to New England waters from colder ones during the wintertime.

As a result of this growing number, a study is going to be conducted to see if these harbor seals have some genetic links with the ones found in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It will help to know a little more about these mammals as well, as so much still remains unknown. The commercial fishermen of Connecticut also think that this new knowledge is critical for them because they have seen the flounder population drop.

"If the research comes to show that we're never going to get a strong winter flounder stock because seals are knocking the population down to very low levels, then that would be nice to know. I wouldn't like the idea of it, but at least I would have something to say to these fishermen," said Eric Smith, director of the state's Department of Environmental Protection's Marine Fisheries Division.

Smith doesn't think that seals are in danger of being hunted again. Let's just hope he is right and that people will welcome the seals. As Smith added "The short take home message to people is that seals are a big part of our sea life now."

To continue with good news to begin this New Year, the U.S. Geological Survey announced, on Dec. 23, that marine researchers have made a significant discovery that may be unique: the deepest photosynthetic coral reef. It lies 250 feet deep on a submerged barrier-island named Pulley Ridge off the coast of southwest Florida and is allegedly the deepest ever found in the U.S. waters.

"We were all blown away by this bizarre, flat, living sea floor covered with blue and brown corals and lettuce-like green algae," researcher Bret Jarrett said of seeing live video from an unmanned submersible.

Do you want to see pictures? Just click on the Pulley Ridge link to reveal them and... be blown away too!

And now that the word is out, well, officials are concerned and want to protect and preserve the reef. The Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council will decide soon whether to restrict fishing or trawling in the area based on the scientists' research.

"Pulley Ridge is an area of particular environmental concern due to its unusual benthic community and fragile nature--living corals are easily disturbed. Activity such as removal of live-bottom materials for fish tanks would be particularly harmful," said Albert Hine, Professor and Associate Dean of Research in the College of Marine Science at USF.

Joel Gallup, an environmental and political reporter for the Newport News-Times, has an interesting column on about a potentially revolutionary mechanism for managing fish populations in the Northwest Pacific: monitor the gonads of female black rockfish, which increase and decrease in weight with the fluctuations of El Nino.

Blanchard and his friends measured the weight of female reproductive organs -- incongrously, called "gonads" in black rockfish -- the species that prompted Oregon's Labor Day sport closure. They correlated the female gonads' weight to sea surface temperatures. The gonad weights they found in the non-El Nino year of 1996 were the same they found in 1995, when there was a mild El Nino. The mild event had no effect on gonad weight, compared to the normal winds year of 1996.

But in 1997, when a full-fledged El Nino arrived, gonad weights dropped. It was a signal that went unrecognized, but it foretold of fewer groundfish being born that year -- and fewer catch fish in the near future.

What do all you Oceana scientists and fish experts think of this? Here's the full article (which, to give credit where credit is due, I came across on Gristmill).

The 2004 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan biologist whose Green Belt Movement -- which started as a local tree-planting project -- has grown into an international movement for sustainable development and democracy.

Environmentalists tend to get pigeonholed as spoiled, self-righteous hippies obsessed with a trivial cause; Maathai's work is a good demonstration of how fundamental the protection of natural resources is to sustainable development, democratic governance, and international peace. She explains it best, so go ahead and read her Nobel Lecture.

Here's a start:

I stand before you and the world humbled by this recognition and uplifted by the honour of being the 2004 Nobel Peace Laureate.

As the first African woman to receive this prize, I accept it on behalf of the people of Kenya and Africa, and indeed the world. I am especially mindful of women and the girl child. I hope it will encourage them to raise their voices and take more space for leadership. I know the honour also gives a deep sense of pride to our men, both old and young. As a mother, I appreciate the inspiration this brings to the youth and urge them to use it to pursue their dreams.


Since 1992, marine biologists from Woods Hole have been tracking a lone whale as it roams the Pacific ocean, singing a song unlike that of any known species and following a migratory pattern that has baffled the scientists completely.

The whale's calls identify it as a baleen whale (blue, fin and humpback whales all belong to this category) but the frequency of the calls is far too high for a blue or fin whale and far too low for a humpback. The calls have deepened with the passing years; otherwise the song has not changed. Talk about a unique voice.

Check the New Scientist for the full story.