I originally heard about this on NPR, and it brightened my morning drive up a bit to hear about Sea World’s successful hatching of 82 endangered green sea turtle babies last month. As a lifelong San Diego resident, I’ve been to Sea World many, many times. They’re a for-profit organization and I never got the impression that the animals there were very happy, so I haven’t felt compelled to visit for many years, but I was delighted to hear about the turtle births.

According to the Associated Press reports, the turtles were all hatched on the park’s Shipwreck Beach without any human assistance or intervention. Thad Dirksen, curator of fishes remarked, “It’s unusual to have sea turtles hatch in a zoological environment. And this time marked the first time we’ve done so without assisting the eggs through incubation.” Indeed, hearing about sea turtle births anywhere is pretty exciting for me, since they’re adorable and all sea turtle species are endangered or threatened. But it’s especially fun to hear about a hatching this size, right in my own neighborhood. They should go on display before the end of the year, so I’ll try to go out and visit them.

The Cove, the striking documentary about the annual dolphin slaughter in Taiji, has finally screened in Japan. It was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival this week, according to an interview with director Louie Psihoyos, posted on Boing Boing today.

Although Psihoyos noted the screening was tucked away at 10:30am and not publicized, showing the movie in Japan is a hugely important step for those concerned about dolphin conservation. The movie debuted earlier this year (I saw a preview for it before The End of the Line), and shows damning footage of the bloody annual hunt, including dolphin meat being sold to Japanese schools surreptitiously. Since dolphins are top-level predators, they can have dangerously high levels of mercury — up to 5000 the levels legally allowed by Japan. Of course, dolphins are also highly charismatic animals, beloved by most people. It’s particularly striking that the dolphin hunters in Taiji make a much larger profit for capturing a dolphin and selling it to amusement parks or aquariums than selling it for meat.

Last month, on September 1, the media arrived in Taiji to publicize the beginning of the annual hunt. For the first time, even members of the Japanese media were present. Under the pressure, the hunt was delayed as hunters debated how to proceed. Former Flipper trainer Rick O’Barry, star of The Cove, was even in town to watch events unfold.

By the end of the first week of September, however, the hunt had finally begun. Of the dolphins caught that day, half were sold to aquariums, and half were released.

Although the publicity has been unkind to Taiji, their dolphin hunt is not the only one of its kind. Because of the cove setting, it’s very photogenic, but dolphin hunts outside of Japan persist, mainly for food. Dolphin hunts are ongoing in the Soloman Islands. Less than 100 dolphins are killed there each year, but there may only be hundreds of dolphins in the entire population in that area. The public outcry over The Cove will hopefully help contribute to awareness of dolphin slaughter.

If you were planning to head out to the beaches this sunny July weekend, you might want to reconsider. The Telegraph reports that Humboldt squid, also known as jumbo flying squid, have uncharacteristically invaded the waters off of San Diego.

Mike Bear, a local diver, said: “I wouldn’t go into the water with them for the same reason I wouldn’t walk into a pride of lions on the Serengeti, For all I know, I’m missing the experience of a lifetime.”
Shanda Magill was surprised by a large squid which hit her from behind and grabbed at her with its arms, pulling her sideways in the water. It ripped her buoyancy hose away from her chest and knocked away her light.
“I just kicked like crazy. The first thing you think of is, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I’m going to survive this’. If that squid wanted to hurt me, it would have,” she said.

Humboldt squid can grow up to 6 feet long and weigh near 100 pounds. They’re known to be aggressive and travel in large groups of hundreds or thousands at a time. The cephalopods are known as diablos rojos (“red devils”) to the Mexican fisherman who catch them. They’re carnivorous, using sharp, barbed suckers on their tentacles to “pierce the flesh of prey and drag it to their mouths where a fierce, baseball-sized beak tears it to shreds.”

Last night I went to see the documentary The End of the Line, about overfishing and the impending collapse of fish populations, at the Ken Cinema in San Diego. Today is the last day it’s playing there.

The big picture was basically that fish stocks have declined dramatically and are at critical levels. Global fish catch started declining in 1989, but wasn’t noticed until 2002 because some extremely exaggerated figures from China skewed statistics enough that it appeared as though global catch was still increasing. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

The details include a number of fish species that are being over-fished to almost certain extinction, like the highly sought after (and critically endangered) blue fin tuna. Many other species are suffering similar fates, and the lack of large fish predators is causing some strange fluctuations in ocean ecology, resulting in ballooning numbers of other species like rays and jellyfish. Fish farms aren’t a viable solution because farmed fish are actually fed wild-caught smaller fish, further straining the delicate ecological balance. For example, apparently one pound of farmed salmon requires five pounds of a smaller fish such as wild anchovies to produce.

The film wraps up with a heartwarming, optimistic little encouragement to the audience to make sure to request seafood that’s been legally and sustainably caught. A widget is available to determine which fish are best to eat, ecologically speaking, and you can download a pocket guide [PDF] put out by the Marine Conservation Society.

As a sensitive little vegetarian, I was a little icked out by the many, many graphic depictions of fish bloodshed. Potential viewers might also want to take note of the fact that “science in action” typically isn’t terribly exciting to film. Lots of cheesy graphics and stereotypical interviews with professors in their offices, backed with overwrought, dramatic, and incongruous music.

For a more detailed account of the film, check out this post on the Tetrapod Zoology blog.