Fishlines newsletter

Vol. 36, No. 8
August 2016

Coming up

Discovery of New Beaked Whale

Students with beaked whale skullKate Wynne photo

It’s surprising that in the 21st century scientists have discovered a beaked whale so different from any other known whale in size, shape, and DNA that it can be named a new species. According to a recent article in Marine Mammal Science that’s exactly what happened, and a lot of the evidence was found in Alaska.

Spurred by many Japanese whaler reports of a small, dark “form” of the Baird’s beaked whale near Japan since the 1940s, and records of dead specimens in Alaska fitting a similar description, scientists searched for more cases for DNA comparisons. After analyzing 178 Baird’s and “black” beaked whales from the Okhotsk and Bering Seas, mostly from labs and museums, they concluded the Baird’s and the smaller beaked whale are significantly different. The scientists have never seen the “new” one alive.

Former Alaska Sea Grant faculty members Kate Wynne and Reid Brewer each played a small role in the discovery. Wynne helped research a dead whale that washed up in the Pribilof Islands in 2014 and Brewer oversaw skeleton reconstruction from a dead specimen in Unalaska in 2004.

Brewer and Unalaska students re-articulated the beaked whale skeleton after natural processes degraded the flesh and hung it in the high school gym. A decade later the skeleton served as a DNA source for Philip Morin, NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, who oversaw the breakthrough genetic analysis. The skeleton turned out to be one of eight “black” beaked whales in the study.

Morin also had access to the beaked whale stranded in the Pribilofs. In 2014 citizen monitors and local researchers could not identify the beached whale on St. George Island. They told Wynne about it and submitted information to federal stranded mammal data banks. Later they involved local high school students in a search for the whale’s head after it had haplessly washed away. Realizing the possibility of a new species, Wynne alerted beaked whale experts who were eager to acquire the skull. In 2015 Wynne and Michelle Ridgway, of Oceanus Alaska, escorted five students to the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, to meet scientists and hear how the whale skull they re-located was contributing to identification of the new species.

The work of international scientists from several agencies and institutions, as well as citizen monitors and students, has resulted in a 2016 publication presenting evidence for the new but not-yet-named species. Next, whale taxonomy specialists will consider the evidence and publish the new name.

New Book Helps Seafood Suppliers Target Hong Kong

Book cover showing aerial view of Hong Kong

The new Alaska Sea Grant publication Synopsis of the Hong Kong Seafood Market is authored by Quentin Fong, Marine Advisory seafood marketing specialist and UAF associate professor, and Qiujie Zheng UAA assistant professor of economics.

Using the thorough details about the Hong Kong seafood market in this publication, US seafood exporters, policy makers, and NGOs can make informed decisions on potential trade and marketing of Alaska/US seafood products in Hong Kong. Included are a history of the Hong Kong economy, the current food marketing structure, and seafood import and export statistics with source countries and seafood species.

Key information is presented on popular seafood items and product forms, sales and restaurant venues, as well as Hong Kong consumer habits and trends. US seafood products have established a niche in the Hong Kong market because US seafood and food products traditionally are perceived as high quality and safe, and often command a price premium that places their products in the high-end markets.

31st Wakefield Fisheries Symposium

fish in wave logo

Alaska Sea Grant will hold the 31st Wakefield Fisheries Symposium May 9-12, 2017, in Anchorage—Impacts of a Changing Environment on the Dynamics of High-latitude Fish and Fisheries. The symposium will feature Hans-Otto Pörtner, of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Germany, as keynote speaker. Pörtner heads the Integrative Ecophysiology group at the Institute and was coordinating lead author of the Ocean Systems Chapter of the 5th climate change impact assessment report for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Also on the invited speaker roster are Anna Neuheimer, University of Hawaii; Christian Möllmann, University of Hamburg; Brad Seibel, University of South Florida; Charles Stock, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and Kathy Mills, Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

The symposium will examine the impacts of the environment, especially climate change and variability, on the dynamics of arctic and subarctic species of commercial, subsistence, and ecological importance. The focus will be on the effects of warming, loss of sea ice, ocean acidification, and oceanographic variability on the distribution, phenology, life history, population dynamics, and interactions of these species and how a better understanding can inform the management of fish and invertebrates in a changing ocean to benefit affected communities.

Co-chairing the steering committee for the symposium are Franz Mueter, UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and Anne Hollowed, NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Harmful Algal Bloom Workshop

people harvesting clams

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a persistent problem in coastal areas of Alaska because of health risks to humans, marine birds, and marine mammals. A few species of microscopic algae produce toxins that are passed up the food chain and can accumulate in tissues of filter feeders such as clams. When predators like fish, birds, marine mammals, and humans eat toxic shellfish, the accumulated toxins can cause illness and death.

Alaska Sea Grant and the Alaska Ocean Observing System are leading an effort to create an action plan to address harmful algal blooms in Alaska. A multi-agency committee is organizing the workshop, Developing a Harmful Algal Bloom Action Plan for Alaska, to cover monitoring, event response, outreach, and research. The workshop will be held December 8, 2016, in Anchorage, and a work session is scheduled for December 9.

A broad audience is invited for day 1, including resource managers, shellfish growers, researchers, and anyone affected by or interested in HABs in Alaska. Presentations will provide an overview and summary of HAB-related activities around Alaska, and discussion. Vera Trainer, who manages the Marine Biotoxin Program at the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, will be a featured speaker.

On the second day a working session with a smaller work group will develop an action plan for HAB research, data sharing, outreach, and education.

Partners include the Alaska Division of Public Health, Alaska Ocean Observing System, Alaska Sea Grant, Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, and Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research, and University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. Registration for the workshop is free and participants should register by November 8.

Alaska Ocean Acidification Network

Alaska Ocean Acidification Network website home page

The Alaska region is the fourth in the nation to create an ocean acidification network, recently formed by the Alaska Ocean Observing System. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network will help connect scientists and stakeholder communities, recommend regional priorities, share data, and determine best practices for monitoring this potentially damaging marine phenomenon. The network will hold an OA “State of the Science” Workshop November 30-December 1, 2016.