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What’s killing off blue whales? Scientists say their ear wax can tell us

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The endangered blue whale species could be saved by its ear wax, according to new research.

Throughout their lives, blue whales accumulate layers of wax in the ear canal that form a plug, almost a foot long, and which remain permanently in place until they die.

Scientists from Texas have analysed these layers, in a manner similar to tree rings, to roughly estimate a specific whale’s age, track changes in its hormone levels, and see which chemicals it was exposed to in the ocean.

This wax can also be used by researchers to work out what needs to be done to protect them from stress, pollution and other threats in the future.

The blue whale is the largest animal on Earth and is listed as ‘endangered’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

Dr Sascha Usenko from Baylor University made the breakthrough by using the wax from a dead 12-year-old blue whale.

He found fluctuating levels of testosterone and the stress hormone, cortisol, during its life. At the time of its death, Usenko said the whale had twice as much cortisol in its blood than at any other point.

He believes this could relate to food availability, changes in social status, pollution exposure and environmental noise. Testosterone levels suggest the male blue whale reached sexual maturity at about 10 years of age.

‘The general increase in cortisol over the animal’s lifetime could be associated with a multitude of factors including weaning, development, sexual maturity, migration, food availability, environmental conditions, changes in social status, accumulated contaminant exposure or environmental noise,’ said Dr Usenko.

The study also showed the whale had accumulated substantial levels of pollutants – such as pesticides and flame retardants – within its first year of life during gestation or nursing.

In contrast mercury levels in the earplug – which measured around 10 inches – spiked during two distinct time periods later in the animal’s life.

The researchers suggest earplug analysis could help assessments of the impacts of human activities on marine organisms and their ecosystems.

‘Currently obtaining lifetime chemical profiles from birth to death is extremely rare and difficult for most of Earth’s animals,’ said Dr Usenko. 

‘We have developed a unique approach to quantify hormone and contaminant lifetime profiles for an individual blue whale using the wax earplug as a natural matrix capable of archiving and preserving these temporal profiles. 

‘Using a male blue whale earplug chemical analysis reveals lifetime patterns of mercury and organic pollutant exposure as well as fluctuating hormone levels.

‘We anticipate this technique will fundamentally transform our ability to assess human impact on these environmental sentinels and their ecosystems.

‘The use of a whale earplug to reconstruct lifetime chemical profiles will allow for a more comprehensive examination of stress, development, and contaminant exposure, as well as improve the assessment of contaminant use or emission, environmental noise, ship traffic and climate change on these important marine sentinels.’

Dr Usenko added the 70ft blue whale he studied was hit by a ship off the coast of California in 2007.

Blue whales are the largest mammal to have ever existed on Earth and grow up to 90ft and can weigh 150 tonnes.

They could once be spotted in all major oceans and numbers topped around 200,000, yet after being hunted almost to extinction, there is now thought be as few as 8,000.

The International Whaling Commission has taken steps to protect these creatures by appointing committees of experts to work against whaling, entrapment and predation, but their population remains low.

The findings were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

Source: Daily Mail

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Dived Up Publish New Book: Scuba Diving Operational Risk Management

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new book

Scuba Diving Operational Risk Management: an SAS approach to principles, techniques and application by Claudio Gino Ferreri published this week

Scuba Diving Operational Risk Management is the first book dedicated to the practical application of risk management to diving of all kinds and at all levels.

new bookIn seeking to maintain diver safety, inform rescue management procedures and learn from near misses a process for identifying and dealing with risks is vital. In this key text, former SAS Assault Swimmer Class 1 Gino Ferreri details the step-by-step procedure for pinpointing the real causes of dangers, and mitigating against them and their effects.

  • Dive smarter – reduce uncertainty.
  • Includes a diving ‘Risk Management Toolkit’ of ready-reckoners, templates and downloads.
  • Looks at diving risk management the SAS way.
  • Contains information that aligns with the ISO 31000 international risk management standard.

Of great benefit to recreational, advanced, and professional divers, plus anyone directly or indirectly associated with diving. All will find practical value in the principles and techniques contained in the book, which will remain relevant throughout their personal development and any future advances in equipment and approaches.

About the author

Claudio Gino Ferreri BSc (Security) has made risk management his life’s work, having dived as a member of the Australian SAS, been a permanent acting police senior sergeant with the Western Australia counter­terrorism and bomb disposal teams, and a government security manager for the Anti Corruption Commission and Corruption and Crime Commission. He holds recreational diving qualifications to TDI Trimix level, and has served as committee member and Diving Officer to the Underwater Explorers Club of Western Australia.

The book

Release date 27 February 2024 | RRP GBP £20/USD $34.95/AUS $49.95
Paperback & Ebook | ISBN 978-1-909455-49-8 | 192 pages
1st Edition | 234 x 156 mm | Available from Divedup.com, online and from retailers

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DIVE SHOW SPECIAL: Save up to 40% off your next liveaboard with Oyster Diving Holidays

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red sea liveaboard

Scuba Scene, the leading name in luxury liveaboard dive experiences, is excited to announce an incredible limited-time offer on its Red Sea itineraries. Dive enthusiasts can now embark on the ultimate underwater adventure aboard the Scuba Scene Liveaboard at discounts of up to 40%, making it an unbeatable opportunity to explore the wonders of the Red Sea.

red sea liveaboard

Itineraries for Every Diver:

Shark Weeks:

Immerse yourself in the thrilling world of sharks with specially curated itineraries focused on these majestic creatures. From the awe-inspiring hammerheads to the elusive oceanic whitetips, Shark Weeks with Scuba Scene promise an unforgettable experience for shark enthusiasts.

‘Brothers, Daedalus, and Elphinstone’:

Explore the iconic dive sites of the Red Sea, including the Brothers Islands, Daedalus Reef, and Elphinstone Reef. These itineraries offer a diverse range of marine life, vibrant coral reefs, and the chance to encounter pelagic wonders.

red sea liveaboard

Deep South:

For the more experienced divers seeking a deeper adventure, the Deep South itineraries take you to the lesser-explored regions of the Red Sea. Discover hidden gems, untouched coral formations, and marine life that thrives in the deeper depths.

Scuba Scene is offering up to 40% off on selected Red Sea Liveaboard itineraries, making this the perfect time to turn your diving dreams into reality.

Whether you’re a novice or an experienced diver, Scuba Scene ensures an inclusive and personalized experience for all levels of expertise.

red sea liveaboard

Why Choose Scuba Scene:

  • Luxury Accommodations: Experience unparalleled comfort in well-appointed cabins and communal areas.
  • Experienced Dive Crew: Dive with confidence alongside a team of expert dive masters and instructors.
  • Customizable Itineraries: Tailor your dive experience to match your preferences, ensuring a personalized adventure.

Now is the time to secure your spot on the Scuba Scene Liveaboard and explore the Red Sea like never before. These exclusive discounts are available for a limited time, promising an extraordinary underwater experience at an irresistible price.

Horizon 3 Liveaboard, the epitome of luxury and adventure in the Maldives, invites scuba enthusiasts and travellers alike to experience the enchanting underwater world with unprecedented savings. Embark on an unforgettable journey through the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives aboard Horizon 3, and make the most of exclusive discounts on select itineraries.

red sea liveaboard

Special Offer Itineraries

17th to 31st March 2024 – 14 Night Itinerary:

Original Price: £4,670

Now Only £3,500 (Save 25%)

31st March to 7th April 2024 – 7 Night Itinerary:

Original Price: £2,330

Now Only £1,750 (Save 25%)

14th to 21st April 2024 – 7 Night Itinerary:

Original Price: £2,330

Now Only £1,750 (Save 25%)

These exclusive discounts present an extraordinary opportunity for adventure-seekers to indulge in the luxury and thrill of a Horizon 3 Liveaboard experience at unbeatable prices. Horizon 3 is renowned for its world-class service, top-notch amenities, and expertly curated itineraries that showcase the mesmerizing beauty of the Maldives’ underwater paradise.

To book your adventure and take advantage of the up to 40% off offer, visit Oyster Diving Holidays  or contact their dedicated customer service team at 0800 699 0243.

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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