Archive for February 17, 2008

Day’s End, Just Rambling On

The rams broke down a gate today and decided to eat the mare’s grass and hay.  The mare, not to be outdone, decided that she would go into the ram pasture and spend the day eating their grass and hay.  Since both the mare and the rams appeared quite pleased with themselves, I let them be. 

Tonight, I opened the gate into the ram pen and they happily ran back into their barn.  The mare was nowhere to be seen.  I called, and she answered from the front yard on the sidewalk at the walk through people gate, waiting for the hired help (me) to come open the gate and let her back to her pasture.  After opening the gate, she happily walked across the driveway and waited for me to open the next gate that led to her territory.  No roses were eaten on her walk across.  Yet.  I’m sure she filed the rose location (the last survivors from livestock nibbling) away for next time.

I put the ducklings out in a bottomless 3 x 4 cage today so they could do a little foraging in the warm weather while being protected from marauding hawks and cats.  They appeared to be pleased to see me (I was greeted with happy whistles) and to come back to the heat lamp after a long, exhausting day of grass nibbling and bug chasing.

While out feeding the mare, I heard frantic chick peeps.  I’ve seen a couple of hens that have hatched out chicks in the past few days.  The chicks, surprisingly enough, will survive if they are not caught in a sudden cold shower.  The heat of the summer and high incidence of disease kills more chicks than the winter temperatures.  However, a newly hatched little chick like this one would be quickly eaten by owls, foxes, or possums.  He/she was glad to see me and actually ran to me peeping happily.  I picked it up and looked for its momma to no avail.  I couldn’t really put it with the ducklings who were older and might harm it.  I found another hen that had some chicks and stuck it under her.  Hopefully she won’t kill it in the morning and will completely forget this episode of chick stuffing.

One of the old teenage Tunis ewes is showing no appetite tonight.  Her best friend, the old Rambouillet ewe, is quite blind.  She serves as a guide for the old blind ewe and the two are inseparable.  Due to her advanced age, I didn’t turn her out with the rams to breed, but she apparently had other plans and is *very* pregnant.  I’m hoping that the strain of this pregnancy isn’t going to be too much for the old girl.  I’ll check her every couple of hours tonight until about midnight and if she shows no signs of labor, check her again about 6 a.m.  If her appetite hasn’t improved in the morning, I’ll treat her for acidosis and/or ketosis.

I hope the old blind Rambouillet ewe hasn’t sneaky gotten pregnant as well.  She took very good care of her lamb last year but was constantly losing her and then running around frantically calling for the lamb while the lamb was off playing and refusing to answer momma.  The lamb had contracted flexor tendons at birth and had trouble standing to nurse to the point that I needed to make splints for her legs (paint stirring sticks work quite well for this).   Her knees were also affected.  After a few weeks of physical therapy, she was bouncing around the pasture with no sequelae. The worry this year is that with a job in town, I won’t be able to do any intensive care for any lambs (or old ewes) that need extra help in order to survive.

Why do I have old ewes in their teens hanging around and eating up hay that I have to work in town to be able to buy?  They were daughter’s grand champion 4-H sheep (the last survivors from her original flock) from long ago. 

Today, the old mare alternated between eating ram hay and standing on my front porch looking into the living room.  When I left the living room because I was nervous about her deciding to come right through the big picture window and join me on the sofa, she then walked around the house to look in the windows on the back porch to see if I was in the office.  That was better; those windows are smaller and far less expensive to replace.

The chickens and cats stare in the bedroom window and meeeeow or cluck at me if I haven’t gotten out of bed by the time that they think I should.  Do I own them, or do they own me?  

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Keep the Old Livestock Breeds from Becoming Extinct

mulefoots.jpgScienceDaily (Feb. 17, 2008) — Phil Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, has spent more than 30 years working to make sure certain living pieces of history — some dating to the 15th century — don’t become extinct.Sponenberg’s brand of living history comes in the form of various rare strains of livestock, which were involved in events like Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Caribbean Islands and the Spanish conquest of the Americas.Sponenberg’s involvement began with Choctaw horses when he was a college student, and has spread to other kinds of animals through the years. Ancestors of Choctaw horses, Colonial Spanish horses were brought to the Caribbean Islands by Columbus and to Mexico by Hernándo Cortés. The horses were stolen from Mexico and rapidly traded north by Pueblo Indians.These horses were noted by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their expedition to explore the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the Spanish influence extended up to the Carolinas, across the Gulf Coast, and throughout the West.“The Choctaws were one of the tribes displaced from Mississippi, and they took their livestock with them,” Sponenberg says.The breeding stock has dispersed and not everyone can recognize a rare breed when they have one. Sponenberg received a call about a short horse that was about to be gelded. It turned out that the small horse, Icki, was a Choctaw. “Icki was the end of his bloodline,” says Sponenberg, who was able to buy the stallion and return him to a small herd to sire more Choctaw horses. Sponenberg has also identified another group of the Spanish horses still in the South — “Marsh Tacky” horses, which were used to manage cattle and to chase wild hogs across swampy terrain.

Another Spanish livestock breed Sponenberg has run across in his travels is South Pineywoods cattle — also known as Florida Cracker Cattle. Small, rugged, horned, heat-tolerant, and disease-resistant, “these cattle are exquisitely adapted to this environment,” Sponenberg says. They are also long-lived and productive.

Through the years, Sponenberg has also found more Spanish horses, cotton patch geese, old Spanish goats, and some locally adapted Spanish sheep.

In fact, Sponenberg himself is the owner of a Choctaw horse, and he raises Tennessee myotonic (fainting) goats. The goats are from two old lines from New Braunfels, Texas.

Saving rare breeds

Sponenberg says he loves field work — discovering a new pocket of preserved livestock, making friends, and working with the people who manage the animals. His success, he says, is a result of the friendships and interest he has created — but also because of the strategies he has developed through scientific research.

Along the way, Sponenberg has done work and published strategies specific to rare breeds conservation, documentation, and genetic management.

Now, the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is providing technical support for recapturing certain animals for pure breeding. The Bureau of Land Management contacts him to identify Spanish-type horses in wild herds to help the bureau conserve the horses.

Sponenberg stays connected with conservation efforts and affiliations and works to establish new relationships. He has collaborated with the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy since 1978, and with Iberian researchers since the early 1990s.

As a result of his work, several new strains of horses have been added and excluded through detailed blood typing or DNA typing.

About other rare breeds:

Pineywoods Cattle:

…..remain from the earliest days of Spanish control of what is now the southeastern United States
…..usefulness to local populations as sources of meat, milk, hides, and oxen persists today

Cotton Patch Geese:

…..used extensively to weed cotton fields in the early 1900s
…..avidly consume grassy weeds and leave alone broad-leaved plants like cotton

Pine Tacky saddle horses:

…..local Spanish-type horses, found in the deep South
only three have been discovered and identified to date

Gulf Coast or Native sheep:

…..adapted descendants of old family flocks from the coastal deep South
trace back to an Iberian origin and are now being registered by the Gulf Coast Native Sheep Alliance

A Boer Goat Descendent (sic).

Local goats:

…..Nearly extinct, largely due to crossbreeding to the imported Boer goat
…..identified strains are exquisitely adapted to the local area


…..remnants of an old Iberian type, usually black or grey in color, and poorly muscled
…..historically desired as a source of lard and cured meat
…..often earnotched, several have fused toes (mulefoot) and wattles (fleshy appendages) on the neck

This is a particular passion of mine. The old breeds of livestock were (and are) adapted to the area in which they lived, could eat the local grasses, were resistant to disease, and could raise their progeny without assistance. They also taste good.

For anybody that wishes to raise their own food, I strongly advise them to search out the old, endangered breeds.  The endangered breeds are not limited to the large breeds of livestock such as cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep.  Old breeds of chickens and ducks are also endangered.  The latest super producing strain of layers for the huge poultry houses may give you many eggs, but will not be keeping your landscape bug free while supplementing her diet.  For those of you that do not know, egg yolks should be a bright reddish orange in color (about the color of the sun when I post the no sunspots today picture), not the anemic yellow I’ve seen in store eggsThe quick growing breed of poultry that has been hybridized for quick growth and slaughter at 6 to 8 weeks of age may not be the ideal dual-purpose breed for eggs, meat, and growing replacements on a small acreage.

The old lard-type hogs I used to grow (see mulefoot picture at top for example) were friendly, docile, happily shared the barn with nesting ducks and chickens, and had the best tasting bacon I’ve ever eaten.

Every house doesn’t need a cow that gives 10 gallons of milk a day. A smaller pastured cow that grazed a good portion of her feed would be fine. A dual-purpose miniature cow such as a Dexter would probably work well.
 Irish Dexter cow picture taken from Jerico Farms website.  They have a sale page there in case you are in the market for a small dual purpose cow.  (I haven’t got a herd of these cows only because I don’t have the time/room, although I have traveled up to Missouri to look at several cows and gave it careful consideration!)

For more information on where you can locate rare breeds to conserve or to find out what else you can do to help, please contact the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

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Denmark Riots Continue

mo-bombhead.jpgCOPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Bands of youths set fire to cars, buses and schools in Denmark on Saturday, the seventh night of rioting and vandalism in the capital Copenhagen and other Danish cities, police said on Sunday.

Four youths were arrested in the capital for suspected arson and at least 24 fires were reported across the country. Several youths were detained in Denmark’s second city Aarhus in Jutland, and in Odense on Funen island.

“It is some of the same groups that have roamed the city for the last couple of nights,” police operations leader Preben Jorgensen told Reuters while inspecting fire damage at Tingbjerg School in the outskirts of Copenhagen.

Hundreds of cars and a number of schools have been vandalised or burned in the past week. Police could give no reason, but said unusually mild weather and the closure of schools for a winter break might have contributed.

Authorities have arrested dozens of youths, predominantly with immigrant backgrounds.

Police said that Saturday night was calmer than earlier in the week.

Social workers said an alleged plot to kill a Danish cartoonist for his drawing two years ago of the Prophet Mohammad might have fuelled the riots. Danish newspapers reprinted the cartoon on Wednesday in protest against the plot.

Read the rest:

Freedom of speech and of the press is something that we in the west take for granted.  I would like to show my support for the brave Danish cartoonist and newspapers (who have shown more intestinal fortitude than the press in the US). 

Yo, offended rioters in Denmark!  Y’all are a bunch of thin-skinned morons.  If you don’t like freedom of speech and the press, move back to your third-world homelands.  

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Why Flu Season is Getting Worse

ATLANTA (AP) — U.S. health officials say the flu season is getting worse and it’s partly because the flu vaccine doesn’t protect against most of the spreading flu bugs.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said yesterday that the flu shot is a good match for only about 40
percent of this year’s flu viruses.

That’s worse than last week’s report when the CDC said the vaccine was protective against roughly half the circulating strains. In good years, the vaccine can fend off 70 to 90 percent.

The CDC’s chief of influenza epidemiology, Doctor Joe Bresee said infections from an unexpected strain have been booming, and now are the main agent behind most of the nation’s
lab-confirmed flu cases.

It’s too soon to know whether this will prove to be a bad flu season overall, but it’s fair to say a lot of people are suffering at the moment. Bresee said, “Every area of the country is
experiencing lots of flu right now.”

This week, 44 states reported widespread flu activity, up from 31 last week. The number of children who have died from the flu has
risen to 10 since the flu season’s official September 30th start.

Those numbers aren’t considered alarming. Early February is the time of year when flu cases tend to peak. Bresee said the 10 pediatric deaths, though tragic, are about the same number as was
reported at this time in the last two flu seasons.

The biggest surprise has been how poorly the vaccine has performed.

Hmmmmm.  I wonder if the upper respiratory infection that SwampMan and I suffered from for the last couple of weeks was actually the flu…..naaaaah.  If  I have to wonder whether or not I had the flu, I didn’t.  I’ll just continue to hope that the flu shot I got was good against any strains I’m exposed to.

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Health Officials Keep Watch on Drug Resistant Flu Strain

Ten Chicago-area patients have tested positive for an unusual type of drug-resistant influenza, prompting concern and increased surveillance by local and federal health officials.

The strain of flu can be treated successfully with some drugs, but it does not respond to Tamiflu, the most common anti-viral medication for flu. The Illinois Department of Public Health issued a health alert to doctors and hospitals Thursday, suggesting that flu patients who are in intensive care receive a combination of drugs until their virus can be analyzed.

Officials said eight of the Tamiflu-resistant infections came from an outbreak at a single Chicago health-care facility, the name of which has not been released.

Source: Chicago Tribune

The significance of that is, of course, that the only treatment for H5N1 aka bird or avian flu are antiviral drugs.

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Indonesia’s Bird Flu Deaths Increase to 105

JAKARTA (AP): Bird flu killed a 3-year-old boy and a teenager in Indonesia, the health ministry announced, bringing the country’s death toll from the disease to 105.

The latest victim was identified only as Han, a 3-year-old boy from the capital, Jakarta, who died Friday at a hospital in the city, radio El-Shinta reported Saturday.

Nyoman Kandun, a senior Health Ministry official, confirmed the report but did not provide details.

Laboratory tests confirmed the boy had the dangerous H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus, Kandun said. It was not clear how he was infected.

Earlier Saturday, the Health Ministry said a 16-year-old Indonesian boy from Central Java province died of bird flu. The boy, whose name was not disclosed, became ill on Feb. 3 with a cough and other respiratory symptoms, according to the Health Ministry’s Web other respiratory symptoms, according to the Health Ministry’s Web site.

He died a week later in a hospital in the city of Solo, about 450 kilometers southeast of Jakarta, said Sumardi, a ministry spokesman. Like many Indonesians, he goes by one name.

Tests confirmed the teenager had been infected by the H5N1 virus, the ministry’s Web site said.

Source: The Jakarta Post.

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For “EcoMoms”, Saving the Earth Begins at Home

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. — The women gathered in the airy living room, wine poured and pleasantries exchanged. In no time, the conversation turned lively — not about the literary merits of Geraldine Brooks or Cormac McCarthy but the pitfalls of antibacterial hand sanitizers and how to retool the laundry using only cold water and biodegradable detergent during non-prime-time energy hours (after 7 p.m.).Move over, Tupperware. The EcoMom party has arrived, with its ever-expanding “to do” list that includes preparing waste-free school lunches; lobbying for green building codes; transforming oneself into a “locovore,” eating locally grown food; and remembering not to idle the car when picking up children from school (if one must drive). Here, the small talk is about the volatile compounds emitted by dry-erase markers at school.

Perhaps not since the days of “dishpan hands” has the household been so all-consuming. But instead of gleaming floors and sparkling dishes, the obsession is on installing compact fluorescent light bulbs, buying in bulk and using “smart” power strips that shut off electricity to the espresso machine, microwave, X-Box, VCR, coffee grinder, television and laptop when not in use.

“It’s like eating too many brownies one day and then jogging extra the next,” said Kimberly Danek Pinkson, 38, the founder of the EcoMom Alliance, speaking to the group of efforts to curb eco-guilt through carbon offsets for air travel.

Part “Hints from Heloise” and part political self-help group, the alliance, which Ms. Pinkson says has 9,000 members across the country, joins a growing subculture dedicated to the “green mom,” with blogs and Web sites like and Web-based organizations like the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park, Md., advocate reducing consumption and offer a registry that helps brides “celebrate the less-material wedding of your dreams.”

At an EcoMom circle in Palo Alto, executive mothers whipped out spreadsheets to tally their goals, inspired by a 10-step program that urges using only nontoxic products for cleaning, bathing and make-up, as well as cutting down garbage by 10 percent.

“I used to feel anxiety,” said Kathy Miller, 49, an alliance member, recalling life before she started investigating weather-sensitive irrigation controls for her garden with nine growing zones. “Now I feel I’m doing something.”

The notion of “ecoanxiety” has crept into the culture here. It was the subject of a recent cover story in San Francisco magazine that quotes a Berkeley mother so stressed out about the extravagance of her nightly baths that she started to reuse her daughter’s bath water. Where there is ecoanxiety, of course, there are ecotherapists.

Read the rest here.

Everybody searches for meaning in their lives through religion of one kind or another.  It doesn’t have to be a formally recognized religion.  This looks like a group of people have found comfort in devoting their lives in service to Gaia.

Robert D, we missed out on an opportunity to be ecotherapists! Hey, wait, you live in California.  You can go into business!

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Novel Approach Strips Staphylococcus aureus of Virulence

staphylococcus-aureus.jpgAn international team of researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has blocked staph infections in mice using a drug previously tested in clinical trials as a cholesterol-lowering agent. The novel approach, described in the February 14 online edition of Science, could offer a new direction for therapies against a bacterium that’s becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. “By following their scientific instinct about a basic biological process, the researchers made a surprising discovery with important clinical implications,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. “Although the results are still very preliminary, they offer a promising new lead for developing drugs to treat a very timely and medically important health concern.”This work was supported by three NIH components: the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.A pigment similar to the one that gives carrots their color turns Staphylococcus aureus (“staph”) golden. In the bacterium, this pigment acts as an antioxidant to block the reactive oxygen molecules the immune system uses to kill bacteria.Researchers had speculated that blocking pigment formation in staph could restore the immune system’s ability to thwart infection. While perusing a magazine on microbial research, Eric Oldfield, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign read how in 2005 University of California, San Diego researchers knocked out a gene in staph’s pigment-making pathway to create colorless—and less pathogenic—bacteria.

“I looked at the metabolic pathway and noticed that it was similar to the one for the production of cholesterol in humans,” said Oldfield, senior author of the Science paper, who had spent decades studying this pathway. With numerous cholesterol-lowering drugs already on the market and in development, he wondered if any could turn staph colorless and make them once again susceptible to the immune system.

Colleagues in Taiwan determined the structure of the enzyme that triggers the first critical step in staph’s pigment formation and observed striking similarities to an enzyme involved in human cholesterol production. They also captured the structures of several cholesterol-lowering drugs bound to the bacterial enzyme.

Building on their 2005 research that sparked the current study, Victor Nizet, M.D., and George Liu, M.D., Ph.D., now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, Calif., tested eight different drug compounds that act on the human cholesterol enzyme. Three blocked pigment production in laboratory tests. When the researchers treated mice infected with S. aureus with one of the compounds, the bacterial population was reduced by 98 percent.

Because the approach reduces the virulence of the bacteria by stopping pigment production, it may not cause selective pressures on the population, which can lead to antibiotic resistance. It also targets only S. aureus, possibly reducing side effects.

“This is an entirely new approach that seems to work in animals, and now we need to take the next step to explore if it will work in humans,” said Oldfield.

Contributing authors also include Chia-I Liu, Ph.D., Wen-Yih Jeng, Ph.D., and Andrew H.-J. Wang, Ph.D., of the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan; Mary E. Hensler, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego; and Yongcheng Song, Ph.D., and Fenglin Yin, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Source: National Institute of General Medical Sciences

If this works out in human studies (and as we well know, products that cure mice do not always work out well in other species), it will be a wonderful new tool to treat people that have contracted this disease.  I had an uncle that died from an MRSA infection.

Whenever possible, I like to present the actual article instead of the condensed version presented on television shows and in newspapers. I have found that those articles tend to present popular belief as fact and to draw inferences that do not exist.

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Patient with Rare Disorder Responds to Cancer Drug

A rare disorder caused by an excess of two types of immune cells—the mast cell found in various tissues and its blood-based twin, the basophil—has successfully been treated with a cancer drug, report scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The study, now available online at the Web site of the journal Haematologica, was a collaborative effort led by Dean Metcalfe, M.D., chief of the NIAID Laboratory of Allergic Diseases and Jan Cools, Ph.D., a staff scientist, at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven within the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology and the Department of Molecular and Developmental Genetics, in Leuven, Belgium.

A few years ago, the 61-year-old patient was referred to the NIH Clinical Center because he was quite ill with symptoms of systemic mastocytosis, a disease caused by excessive numbers of mast cells, and chronic basophilic leukemia, a rare type of bone marrow cancer characterized by an overabundance of basophils.

Systemic mastocytosis often results from a mutation in the gene that codes for the KIT receptor found on the surface of mast cells, a discovery first made by Dr. Metcalfe and his team in 1995. In this patient, however, the KIT receptor mutation was ruled out. In further studies, NIAID researchers and their collaborators found a chromosomal abnormality that led to the discovery of a fusion protein in the cell, created by two genes joining together. They also found that the fusion protein was the basis of the disorder and figured that the patient should respond to imatinib, a drug already approved to treat different types of cancers and systemic mastocytosis. After the patient was treated with the cancer drug imatinib, his clinical symptoms improved quickly and dramatically, and he remains in clinical remission three years after treatment was started.

This is a rare report of the simultaneous occurrence of these two conditions in one patient, and the first describing a response to therapy. Diagnosing a patient who has such an atypical disorder can be difficult, says Dr. Metcalfe. Recently, another patient with similar clinical findings was referred to their clinic. Based on their experience with the first patient, the researchers started treatment with imatinib and, according to Dr. Metcalfe, this patient also is responding well.

Identifying this newly recognized chromosomal abnormality and the fusion protein in patients who present with clinical findings of systemic mastocytosis and chronic basophilic leukemia may enable doctors to successfully treat these individuals with imatinib, according to Dr. Metcalfe.

ARTICLE: I Lahortiga et al. Activity of imatinib in systemic mastocytosis with chronic basophilic leukemia and a PRKG2-PDGFRB fusion. Haematologica DOI: 10.3324/haematol.11836 (2008

Source: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease

I’m glad that this apparently very rare disease now has an effective treatment.

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Oceans’ Fiercest Predators Now Vulnerable to Extinction

Sharks are disappearing from the world’s oceans. The numbers of many large shark species have declined by more than half due to increased demand for shark fins and meat, recreational shark fisheries, as well as tuna and swordfish fisheries, where millions of sharks are taken as bycatch each year.

Now, the global status of large sharks has been assessed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which is widely recognized as the most comprehensive, scientific-based information source on the threat status of plants and animals.

“As a result of high and mostly unrestricted fishing pressure, many sharks are now considered to be at risk of extinction,” explained Julia Baum, a member of the IUCN’s Shark Specialist Group who will be speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Conference in Boston, which runs from February 14 to 18. She will outline management measures required to conserve sharks at an afternoon press conference on February 17.

“Of particular concern is the scalloped hammerhead shark, an iconic coastal species, which will be listed on the 2008 IUCN Red List as globally ‘endangered’ due to overfishing and high demand for its valuable fins in the shark fin trade,” added Baum, who is an NSERC Postdoctoral Fellow at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Baum pointed out that fishing for sharks in international waters is unrestricted, and she supports a recently adopted United Nations resolution calling for immediate shark catch limits as well as a meaningful ban on shark finning (the practice of removing only a shark’s fins and dumping the still live but now helpless shark into the ocean to die).

Research at Dalhousie University over the past five years, conducted by Baum and the late Ransom Myers, demonstrated the magnitude of shark declines in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. All species the team looked at had declined by over 50 per cent since the early 1970s. For many large coastal shark species, the declines were much greater: tiger, scalloped hammerhead, bull and dusky shark populations have all plummeted by more than 95 per cent.


I never thought I’d see the day where I thought sharks needed protection but that day has come.

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