More Than 130 Whales Dead After West African Mass Stranding Event

At least 136 melon-headed whales are dead after a mass stranding event off the coast of western Africa last week, according to environmental conservation non-profit BIOS.CV.

Dozens of volunteers from local agencies assisted in relocating a total of 163 adult, juvenile, and calf whales back into the water after they were discovered on September 24 on the island of Boa Vista.

“Unfortunately, upon being re-introduced in the sea, most of the animals stranded again,” wrote the organization in a Facebook post.

Officials are working to bury the individuals to “prevent any environmental and public health hazards,” said BIOS.CV in an update posted on September 26. Samples were taken from 50 of the whales and another four individuals were frozen for future examination by veterinarians.

Though the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers melon-headed whales a species of least concern, the toothed cetaceans are threatened by a number of concerns including habitat changes from climate change, ocean noise, and fisheries bycatch. Closely related to pygmy sperm whales and false killer whales, Peponocephala electra are often found in deep tropical waters around the globe, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They typically live together in groups of hundreds to over 1,000 individuals.

Researchers are still unclear as to what caused the whales to beach themselves.

 

In recent years, a number of mass stranding events have occurred around the world. Last November saw several events, including two pods of pilot whales, totaling 145 individuals, dead after stranding on New Zealand shores. Just three days later, a humpback whale and 27 pilot whales were found beached in Australia. Earlier this year, at least 50 pilot whales were found dead on a remote beach in Iceland after possibly becoming caught in a strong tidal current that prevented them from reaching deeper waters. Since the beginning of 2019, at least 70 gray whales have washed up along the west coast of North America, from Alaska southward to Mexico – so many that NOAA has run out of space to bury decomposing carcasses. 

Mass mortality events and whale strandings are becoming more common than before and the reason why is unclear. This could in part be due to the fact that protections in the last few decades have increased whale populations in waters around the world. However, it could be due to external factors such as disease or extreme weather. Cetaceans may also become stranded after being chased into shallower waters by predators or when chasing prey, increasing the likelihood that they become disoriented and caught by a retreating tide. Furthermore, studies have suggested that naval sonar could impact whales’ ability to navigate via echolocation, perhaps even giving them decompression sickness.

Even after human intervention, many whales die from dehydration and can drown if the tide rises over their blowholes.

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Anarchists Unlikely Tool for Fighting Climate Change: Farming

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 220 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

In the waning months of 2011, Tim Holland was deeply involved in Occupy Denver, the local arm of the international Occupy movement. The 41-year-old anarchist and hip-hop artist, who goes by the stage name Sole, had been living in the Mile High City since 2009. When Occupiers first set up an encampment at Lincoln Park, Holland organized street protests, public assemblies, fundraisers, reading groups, and more. Protesters interrupted city council meetings and repeatedly attempted to take over government buildings before the movement was quashed when their second encampment in Civic Center Park went up in a haze of flames. Following Occupy Denvers suppression by law enforcement, gentrification in the city seemed to shift into hyperdrive, forcing Holland to rethink living there.

I wanted to pull myself out of the rat race and reimagine what a new form of my political interventions and practices could be, he said.

Holland had visited intentional communities in France, where radicals were successfully supporting themselves through farming. The idea of anarchists in North America doing the same captured his imagination. He left Denver in 2018, relocating with his wife and young child to an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Brunswick, Maine.

Earlier in the year that I moved, I learned about the Ogallala Aquifer, which feeds all of the farmland of the breadbasketand Colorado as well, Holland said. Its going to be depleted in 20 years from now. Wanting to reorient his life and politics around food autonomyor self-sustaining food productionHolland saw the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as not only a strike against staying in Denver but grim proof of what awaited much of American society, which depends on conventional food production to survive.

The dire threat that climate change poses to conventional food production in the United States has been anticipated for years. In a 2012 report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicted that post-2050 most crop and livestock production would suffer from a combination of rising temperatures, variable precipitation, and more frequent extreme weather events, such as droughts or floods. The USDA anticipates that, even in the short-term, these effects will exacerbate hunger among the poorest and most vulnerable.

For anarchists like Holland, the anonymously written text Desert was a wake-up call. The 80-page zine, published both online and in print in 2011, argues that the inevitability of climate change will lead to widespread desertification, which governments are incapable of preventing. As extreme as that may sound, Holland felt that he could see the writing on the wall, even from the relative privilege of Denver.

If Deserts diagnosis rang true, so too did its prognosis. The texts author suggests that while the consequences of climate change are unavoidable, anarchists may yet prevail against both capitalism and the state. Positing that desertification will cause both markets and governments to retract, Desert argues that in their absence, anarchists could thriveif only they could first survive.

In this metaphor of the desert, where does life emerge? Holland wondered. If we end up unable to create some mass movement to overthrow the government, what does it look like to build a material force capable of sustaining itself, capable of struggle, capable of being the grounds that make government obsolete?

In Brunswick, Holland is beginning the search for answers. These days, Holland commits much of his time to gardening, but doesnt see it as a step away from his anarchist politics. Rather, he sees it as a step forward.

On an acre and a half of land, his budding interest in gardening blossomed into greater study and practice of permaculture, a form of agriculture that emphasizes the creation of sustainable ecosystems with minimal need for external resources, such as fertilizer. With only the occasional help from family and friends, he has cleared half the land of brush, planted 100 fruit, nut, and berry trees and shrubs in addition to a variety of greens and root vegetables. Holland has managed to eek out some staples like lettuce and tomatoes, but has had greater success with perennials like hablitzia, Turkish rocket, and asparagus chives. Hes also learned to forage for berries and wild greens, such as raspberries and sorrell. Many of the plants will take years to mature, especially the fruit trees, but his efforts are already providing daily salads and he expects to harvest hundreds of pounds of carrots, potatoes, and pumpkins.

Although Holland has been unable to provide all of his familys food, he says thats not necessarily the goal. (If I had been living off the land, 100 percent I would have died this year, he joked.) Belief in the anarchist ideal of mutual aid, which encourages sharing and cooperation to build collective strength, led Holland to think beyond his family. To that end, he has been forming a network across his new home state.

If we end up unable to create some mass movement to overthrow the government, what does it look like to build a material force capable of sustaining itself?"

Ive been coming into contact with lots of radical farmers in Maine, he said, and its exciting to think what kind of good could come from farming networks based on mutual aid and solidarity.

Reaching out to neighbors and other local agricultural enthusiasts, Holland has been able to learn how to deal with Maines unfamiliar soil, which plants can thrive in the short growing seasons, and even how to tap trees for maple syrup. The ad hoc network has not only quickly gotten him up to speed with his new surroundings, but given him a way to share the results of his own experiments in permaculture, like which perennials can survive a cold snap or the best ways to cook with unfamiliar vegetables. The exchanges between farmers include seeds and plants, but also ideas, like extending the growing season with greenhouses or the basics of herbal medicine.

Its an idea that Im actively working on and talking about with other people I've met, Holland said of creating a mutual aid farming network in Maine. But if anything, I have more questions about where to go with it, than I have a fixed idea in my head. So for me, its about getting a lay of the land here, getting to know people not spinning my wheels trying to impose solutions on a place I still don't fully understand.

While Hollands efforts are still in their early stages, others like Inhabit are further along. The project, which appeared both online and in book form in 2018, was collectively produced by 50 participants over the course of three years. It declines to describe itself as anarchist37-year-old participant Sean Heizner, said Inhabit is from the left, but not of the leftyet has a somewhat similar approach. The project advocates that radicals find each other and create hubs of self-sustenance, such as collective farms, in order to provide for themselves in the wake of climate change.

To help create and connect those hubs, Inhabit is building networking tools for hundreds of radicals across North America. Its newsletter, for example, shares resources, lessons, and experiences related to everything from permaculture to computer programming.

Each is devoted to building communal bonds and autonomous infrastructure that meaningfully changes people's experience of their territories, said Heizner of the hubs.

Tucker Lang is a participant in one of Inhabits hubs. A 26-year-old engineer in South-Central Indiana, Langlike Hollandwas also deeply inspired by the Occupy movement. He discovered Inhabit while travelling through the United States in search of a different way of life, as he put it.

I found a diffuse constellation of projectsmaker spaces, urban farms, bike repair collectives, sustainable builders, ecovillages, art venues, DIY spaces, intentional communities, and so many other forms of life, all with the similar trajectory of taking control of their lives, said Lang of Inhabit. The network is what gives me strength, knowing that there are many people in many places fighting and building.

Like Holland, Lang also purchased a farm two years ago. Its 10 and a half acres, although mostly wooded, with only an acre of usable farmland. With the aid of friends and family, he is mostly growing garden staples, such as tomatoes, cucumber, squash, lettuce and other greens. But rather than focusing on producing food for consumption, Lang is interested in using his farm to conduct research and experiments into improving growth rates and yields, the results of which he can share through Inhabit. He is currently working on a project collecting and diverting rainwater through a system of ponds.

Connecting people working on complementary projects in the hopes that they will materially support each other, as Holland and Inhabit are doing, may seem like a small thing compared to the scale of challenging the state or surviving climate change. But their aims are not to abandon the city for the country, to build a farm-turned-fortress for a single family to weather out global warming. If the goal is collective self-sustenance, then it is imperative to build relationships with like-minded people.

As Holland points out, going back to the land for anarchists means more than simply farming; it entails understanding the places where they live, from the nature to the neighbors.

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Climate change and the US south for a year

I crisscrossed a region my own that is mired in a culture of denial and delay. The conversation on the climate crisis has not changed fast enough

atmosphere

Its 96 degrees in downtown Beaufort, North Carolina, a place where I spent much of my childhood. The sidewalk is too hot for dogs to walk on. The iconic wild horses, visible on Shackleford Banks, wade in the marsh, munching cordgrass. Ive been watching the horses since I was in elementary school, and now Im sharing them with my elementary school-aged daughters on summer vacation.

My girls love them, as I did. The legend is that the horses swam to safety from an old Spanish shipwreck. Its moving to watch the small, strong horses grazing on the dunes. For now, theyve survived the latest big hurricane, and theyre free.

The 100 or so wild horses have one square kilometer of high ground on which to weather hurricanes and sea level rise, and a shortage of fresh water endangered by encroaching salt water and storm surge. Some scientists recommend that the Shackleford horses be relocated, although they have been there for centuries.

The story is a familiar one that will be told in a thousand different ways as the atmosphere warms in the years to come: we must think creatively and quickly to save the things we love.

I wrote my Climate Changed column between hurricane seasons, in the wake of Hurricane Florence and before the start of Hurricane Barry. I close the column from Beaufort, a place where Florence brought a record storm surge; it caused $17bn in damage to the state. As my daughters and I drive over the bridge into Morehead City, I see bulldozers still clearing the last of the Channel Marker restaurant, a fixture of Atlantic Beach flooded during Florence.

I thought that Hurricane Florence might serve as a turning point in the conversation about the realities of climate change in a region still mired in a culture of denial and delay. After a year of research and reporting, I am not convinced that the conversation has changed fast enough, if much at all. Here in Beaufort, like Miami and Charleston, I encounter deniers, continued waterfront development, hurricane damage and blistering temperatures.

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A great blue heron is silhouetted by the reflection of the rising sun at Lake Johnson Park in Raleigh. Photograph: Alamy

 

If there is any part of the south where technology, tax dollars and public opinion are aligning to make changes, its Miami, even though new waterfront real estate is still being built. But for the most part, climate change discussions continue to fall along party lines in a divided nation. To many rural southerners, the bigger, well-funded environmental movements seem to be rooted in California and New England. The conversations appear to be taking place in the echo chamber of privileged believers.

I saw more of the south while reporting for this column than I ever saw in my 30 years of living there. My travel reinforced what I already knew: there is no one south. In 2019 it is multitudinous, diverse and still reckoning with its plantation economy and cruel social history. It has PhDs, evangelicals, Trump enthusiasts, environmentalists, artists and activists. Its this very tension that has often made the south the genesis of social movements; one hopes it might happen again, and soon.

Social and environmental racism, income inequality and poverty are as present as they have ever been, and are only weaponized by climate change, as I reported from Virginia and Natchez, Mississippi.

I found that in places like eastern North Carolina, the river parishes of Louisiana, Miami, and Mississippis Gulf coast, chronic exposure to natural disasters has resulted in psychological resilience, and created a desire in some to go down with the ship. In places like New Orleans, trauma strengthens the sense of community. As Tropical Storm Barry moved in to New Orleans, I emailed with former interviewees who shared forecasts and concerns. Im gritting my teeth, one wrote. But Im not evacuating. Home is sometimes more an emotional than a rational commitment.

In eastern North Carolina, where I grew up and write from, climate change was never a polite topic of conversation. I was told the same in a coffee shop in Mississippi, and by a minister in Georgia. Too many southerners are still dancing around the reality of climate change, and the cost of avoiding the conversation is going to be steep.

What does a better and more inclusive conversation look like? Non-traditional environmentalists can be critical allies in addressing the culture of climate change denial below the Mason-Dixon Line, like hunters in Arkansas and evangelical Christians in places like St Simons, Georgia. But too often, the perspectives and interests of frontline communities are ignored, further exacerbating the environmental racism so pervasive in the south.

When it comes to climate change preparedness in this region, part of the continued challenge is that the power structures of the old south remain in place. A Pew survey indicated that white evangelical protestants are the least likely to profess a belief in climate change. Power companies, developers and conservative politicians have a vested interest in deregulation and maintaining the environmental status quo, and many paint environmental concerns as nothing but liberal pagan ideas.

When I began this column, I felt more of a duty to listen to all sides, but frankly I do not believe that climate change is an issue of which one can pretend, or afford, to hear both sides. I believe that to deny climate change and delay productive action in 2019 is malicious and akin to governmental malpractice. A government that is not actively protecting its citizens from the future challenges of climate change (property loss, food system collapse, increased intensity of storms, flooded infrastructure, extreme heat, economic disruption) is not acting in the interests of its citizens. A politician who delays climate action is not acting in his or her constituents best interests, and may be going so far as to actually cause harm.

We do not need to hear another word from deniers, or cater to their anti-science position. Something the progressive south has always struggled to do: take the megaphone away from the people who want to live in the past.

Now that Ive seen more of the south, I cant help but feel losses and concerns in a specific way. As I began to write this final column, a fire raged through the Everglades, which I had driven through just months before. Storms threatened to challenge the already saturated Mississippi and its river control structures. I thought about the gators in the marsh, the last wild panthers darting to safety in the Everglades, the bartender who was kind to me in an ancient pub on Natchez-under-the-hill. The loss of life and landscape in climate change scenarios has always troubled me, but now it is real and urgent in a way it has never been before.

When the wild horses of Shackleford Banks weather storms, the dominant male gathers his harem on high ground or in the deep parts of the maritime forest, and they turn their backs to the wind and rain. A researcher observed that while wild herds are typically divided into harems, the divisions break down in extreme weather. The horses gave up their internal political dynamics, he said, staying together on the relatively highest ground of that site. That is how they survive.

To navigate the decades ahead, and save the places we love and call home, southerners will need to dismantle old political dynamics and build new, inclusive alliances.

 

 

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