Environment Forum

Brad Pitt, Matt Damon give krill a star turn

There are no small parts, only small actors, or so the old show-biz saying goes. Now there are big stars — Matt Damon and Brad Pitt — playing two of the smallest parts ever. In a far cry from “Ocean’s Eleven” (and 12 and 13) they’re lending their voices to a pair of krill, small shrimp-like creatures that form the base of the Antarctic food web.

Pitt and Damon play Will and Bill, the krill, in “Happy Feet Two,” the sequel to the 2006 dancing-penguins animated feature. Both films have conservation themes. The latest movie  opens  in mid-November.

These Hollywood names might help shine a spotlight on krill at a time when the species is under pressure, according to the Pew Environment Group. An international meeting under way now in Hobart, Tasmania, is expected to consider more protection for these tiny animals, which penguins, seals and whales depend on to survive.

Increasing demand for krill as feed for industrially farmed fish and for nutritional supplements has pushed the krill fishery beyond a sustainable level, the conservation group said in a statement. Krill fishing in some areas could outpace efforts to protect the well-known animals that rely on it.

“Existing efforts to regulate krill catch must be sustained and enforced, so that animals such as penguins and seals are not competing against industrial fishing vessels just to survive,” said Gerry Leape, a senior officer at the Pew group.

Polar bears, sure. But grolar bears?

RUSSIA/Most people have seen a polar bear, usually at the local zoo. And most zoo-goers know that wildlife advocates worry about the big white bears’ future as their icy Arctic habitat literally melts away as a result of global climate change. But apparently more than the climate is changing above the Arctic Circle.

The new mammal around the North Pole is the grolar bear, a hybrid created when a polar bear and a grizzly bear mate. Then there’s the narluga, a hybrid of the narwhal and beluga whale. The presence of these two new creatures and others produced by cross-breeding may be caused when melting sea ice allows them to mingle in ways they couldn’t before, according to a comment in the journal Nature.

These hybrids could push some Arctic species to extinction, the three American authors said in their Nature piece. They identified 22 marine mammals at risk of hybridization, including 14 listed or candidates for listing as endangered, threatened or of special concern by one or more nations.

Are whales and dolphins smart enough to get special rights?

whaleSome conservationists and experts on philosophy and ethics reckon that whales and dolphins are so intelligent that they should be given rights to life like humans. That could mean extra pressure on whalers in Japan, Norway and Iceland to end their hunts.

The focus on rights is a shift after conservationists successfully won a ban on almost all whale hunts from 1986, arguing that they had been harpooned close to extinction.

And in recent years (with evidence that some stocks are big enough to withstand hunts), many opponents say the moratorium should stay in place, arguing that shooting grenade-tipped harpoons at whales can mean a long, cruel death.

Emotive debate resurfaces as whale meat exports resume

Thar she blows! An emotive and familiar but very important debate.

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News that Iceland and Norway have resumed whale meat exports to Japan for the first time since the early 1990s despite a U.N. ban is the latest twist in a saga that stirs passions in the conservation and animal welfare communities like few others.

The bottom line: Norway, Iceland and Japan hunt and eat whales despite a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium on these practices and condemnation from many countries.

There have been predictable howls of protest from various green and animal welfare groups.

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