HOW MANY "SPECIES OF THE DAY" ARE YOU FAMILIAR WITH?
Want to learn about some interesting life forms with which we share the planet? Take a look at the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species of the Day archives (www.iucnredlist.org/species-of-the-day/archives). This impressive undertaking was created to celebrate the International Year of Biodiversity in 2010. Each day a different species of plant or animal was selected "to raise awareness of the incredible variety of life on Earth."
From December's list you can read about the dragon's blood tree, which has a deep red resin and is found on the island of Socotra in the Indian Ocean. The tree is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as vulnerable to extinction in the wild. From November's list check out the rare, poorly studied pink fairy armadillo. The smallest of the armadillos, this tiny pink animal is found only in central Argentina. Or you can focus on a particular taxonomic group, such as whales.
The IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, a 100-member committee composed of international experts, plays a key role in "identifying problems of conservation of the world's dolphins, whales, and porpoises." Currently, 87 species of cetaceans are recognized, including the extinct Yangtze river dolphin. Five were featured in 2010 as species of the day: the South Asian river dolphin, blue whale, North Atlantic right whale, Irrawaddy dolphin and the vaquita (a rare species of porpoise). All are at risk of extinction.
The vaquita, the smallest cetacean, lives in Mexico's Gulf of California. It is the poster child for how certain human endeavors threaten the survival of some of our planet's incredible animals. Only 150 to 250 vaquitas are believed to be alive in the wild. The population is "undergoing a disastrous decline" and the species is classified as critically endangered. The culprit? Fishermen's gill nets in which the little mammals become entangled. Efforts have been made to reduce the threat of porpoises becoming by-catch in nets, but the system apparently needs more stringent enforcement and some change in fishing practices to be successful.
Finding out that the blue whale is listed as endangered by IUCN should concern anyone. This is "the largest animal ever to have lived on the planet." I once had my grandson use a tape measure in our backyard and walk the 98-foot distance that would be covered by a blue whale. We were both impressed. According to IUCN, "this giant is found in all oceans, ranging from the tropics to the periphery of drift-ice in polar seas, with a preference for open waters." Overhunted for decades, driven almost to extinction by the 1960s, the blue whale is currently protected from hunting by the International Whaling Commission.
Another endangered cetacean species is the South Asian river dolphin, a freshwater species of the Indus, the Ganges and other rivers of the region. Despite being legally protected, it faces many man-made perils, including damming of rivers, chemical pollution, collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing nets and, in clear violation of legal sanctions, hunting--including harpooning. Being essentially blind, the South Asian river dolphin relies heavily on echolocation for navigation.
The Irrawaddy dolphin of the Indo-Pacific and the North Atlantic right whale both suffer from entanglement in commercial fishing gear and from collisions with ships. The endangered right whales were "historically . . . common on both sides of the Atlantic," but today the species "appears to be effectively extinct in the eastern North Atlantic, . . . having been hunted relentlessly for centuries before being given protection in the 1930s." How can we modify our commercial and cultural attitudes in order to maintain this awesome array of animals?
that focus on a particular group of plants or animals or a specific region
of the world can enlighten students about the plight of some life forms
still here with us. The IUCN website would make an excellent starting
point for such classroom research. The site will soon feature a new series
called Amazing Species. Visit it to expand your own knowledge of Earth's
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