Posts Tagged 'Endangered Species'

Did you know? Today is Manatee Appreciation Day!

Sometimes called sea cows, manatees are a large, but graceful, endangered species that thrive in warm-water environments ripe with vegetation. The West Indian manatee, one of three living species, can be spotted off the coast of Florida year round.

manatee

Here are ten things you may not know about manatees! 

  1.  Manatees are a migratory species, sometimes traveling up the East Coast in the warmer summer months—some have even been spotted in Maryland.
  2. These herbivores feed on patches of vegetation on the sea floor and can eat up to 1/10 of their body weight in just one day!
  3. With a diet sometimes rich in sand, Manatees’ teeth are made for grinding, not biting, and are constantly being replaced.
  4. Some waterways in Florida have manatee “speed zones” to protect these gentle creatures from boat collisions, one of the leading causes of injury and death in manatees.
  5. Manatees’ closest living relatives are elephants and hyraxes, small mammals found in Africa and the Middle East.
  6. Slow moving, manatees typically travel at about 5 miles per hour but have been known to swim faster in short bursts.
  7. Some manatee species can travel freely between salt and freshwater.
  8. Manatees have to visit the surface for air, but can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes while at rest.
  9. Manatee calves are dependent on their mothers for up to two years. When a calf is born, its mother must help it to the surface for air, but most can swim on their own shortly after birth.
  10. It is believed that the legendary “mermaids” spotted by sailors throughout history were actually manatees.

Being the gentle, slow-moving animals that they are have put manatees at risk of extinction in the face of oil spills, increased motorboat traffic and entanglement. These animals were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1967 and their population numbers have increased in recent years, but there is still much work to do protect manatees and the habitats they depend on.

To learn more about how to get involved in manatee conservation efforts in here in the United States, click here

Thoughtful Thursday: The Endangered Species Act Turns 40

The Endangered Species Act (ESA) was enacted by Congress in December of 1973. Its goal is to provide protection for species that are endangered or threatened and conserve the habitats their survival depends upon.

A species is considered endangered if it is in danger of extinction throughout all or significant portion of its range and threatened if it is likely to become an endangered species in the near future. Currently, there are over 2,000 species listed under the ESA. The efforts to protect these animals are administered by two federal agencies: the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Zoos and Aquariums, including the National Aquarium, work closely with these agencies to both conserve habitats and raise public awareness of these species. Their continued survival is a large part of our organization’s mission. Here are just a few of the threatened/endangered species that call the Aquarium home:

In the last few decades, the Act has successfully prevented the extinction of 99 percent of the species it protects – making it one of the most effective conservation laws in our nation’s history! Check out this video looking back on the last 40 years of the ESA:

While there are many successes we should be celebrating today, there’s still a lot of work to be done in protecting species from decline and inspiring our next generation of conservationists.

Here’s how YOU can support our efforts to conserve and protect these amazing animals!

It’s Sea Otter Awareness Week!

This week is the annual recognition of some of the oceans’ cutest residents, sea otters!

sea otters

Did you know? Sea otters hold hands when sleeping so as to not float apart!

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of Sea Otter Awareness Week, here are ten fun facts about these incredible animals: 

  1. Sea otters sleep, eat, hunt, mate and give birth in the water! They’ll oftentimes use kelp or giant seaweed to anchor themselves nicely in groups.
  2. Their dense, water-repellent fur keep sea otters dry and warm!
  3. Sea otters hunt for their food on the seafloor, but always return to the surface when it’s time to eat.
  4. Floating on their backs, otters will oftentimes use their chests as tables. If the meal of the day is a mollusk or crab, the ever-resourceful otter will also use a rock to crack open its prey!
  5. Sea otter coats have “pockets!” They’ve been observed using the flaps of skin found under each front leg to stash prey during their dives.
  6. Sea otters can reach up to 4 feet in length!
  7. The average life span of a sea otter is 23 years.
  8. Sea otters are meticulously clean animals. They spend hours grooming their fur everyday!
  9. Considered a keystone species, sea otters are critically important to the health of coastline marine ecosystems! They prey upon sea urchins and other invertebrates that destructively graze on giant kelp. Kelp forests are home to a wide diversity of animals, help protect coastlines from storm surge and absorb vast amounts of carbon dioxide!
  10. Because they were regularly hunted for their fur, sea otters were in serious danger of extinction in the early 20th century – only approximately 2,000 were left in the wild. Their numbers have jumped up since being granted protection as an endangered species.

Help us celebrate Sea Otter Awareness Week by sharing your favorite otter fact in the comments section! 

Sawfish Granted Endangered Species Protection

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Earlier this month, the National Marine Fisheries Services granted sawfish protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

largetooth sawfish

Sawfish are one of the most, if not the most, imperiled groups of cartilaginous fish. Like most sharks and rays,  late maturity and low reproduction rates make these animals vulnerable to over-exploitation. Additionally, their toothed “saw” often gets caught in fishing gear and nets, making them susceptible to bycatch. As a result of these threats, populations of sawfish have reportedly declined by as much as 99 percent in recent decades.

All seven recognized species of sawfish are considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).  Nationally however, earlier petitions to grant sawfish similar protection under the ESA have not been successful. The first listing, of the smalltooth sawfish, occured in April of 2003. The largetooth sawfish was listed under the ESA in August of 2011. With the freshwater and largetooth species recently being synonymized, all are now protected under the ESA, including the two living here at the Aquarium.

largetooth sawfish

One of the largetooth sawfish that live in our Shark Alley exhibit.

The designation to list all species of sawfish is a positive step forward for these animals. The hope is that through collaboration with other aquariums, research biologists, conservation groups and NGOs we can assist in the recovery of sawfish populations worldwide.

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Endangered Species Day!

Today is Endangered Species Day (ESD), a day established to raise awareness of the issues – both human and ecological – that face endangered species and their habitats. Here at the National Aquarium, our mission is to inspire conservation of the world’s aquatic treasures. We hope that by connecting with guests and our online community, others will be inspired to join us in protecting our disappearing wildlife.

Threats such as habitat loss, climate change and species exploitation have seriously degraded once richly bio-diverse ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef and Amazon Rain Forest.

In the United States, more than 1,300 species of plants and animals are listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as either threatened or endangered – and an estimated 500 species have gone extinct since the 1600s.

Here in the National Aquarium, we represent 16 species that are threatened or endangered, including the following two species, which can be found in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit:

Panamanian Golden Frog
Critically endangered

Considered by locals to be a symbol of good fortune and luck, this species has seemingly run out of both.

Panamanian Golden Frog

Once abundantly found in the tropical forests of Panama, the golden frog is now considered extinct in the wild. An infectious disease affecting amphibians, chytridiomycosis, has virtually wiped out the frogs in Panama (and an estimated one-third of amphibian species worldwide). Additionally, deforestation and collection for the pet trade have also contributed to the decline of Panamanian golden frogs.

Zoos and Aquariums throughout North America have been participating in breeding programs to try and reintroduce these animals into their native habitat.

Golden Lion Tamarin
Endangered

Native to the coastal rain forests of Brazil, there were fewer than 200 golden lion tamarins reported in the wild in 1970.

golden lion tamarin

Habitat loss and fragmentation, capture for the pet trade and hunting have caused a serious decline of populations of these animals. Although many of these threats have been reduced, the number of golden lion tamarins is still low with limited possibilities for growth due to their restricted range.

Currently, only about 1,500 golden lion tamarins can be found in the wild. Approximately 30 percent of those animals were either relocated from depleted areas or released as part of a reintroduction program. The tamarins at the Aquarium are part of a group managed by the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program, headquartered at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. This group oversees the management of both the wild population of golden lion tamarins in Brazil and the captive population worldwide.

Here are a few things YOU can do to help protect endangered species:

Want to learn more about endangered species? Join the conversation on Twitter by following @NatlAquarium and using #ESDay!


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