Orca grandmothers, carbon powerhouses, rare bird soars: 3 stories you may have missed

© Conservation International photo by María Claudia Díazgranados

Editor's Note: News about conservation and the environment is made every day, but some of it can fly under the radar. In a recurring feature, Conservation News shares three stories from the past week that you should know about.

1. Yes, killer whales benefit from grandmotherly love too 

According to a new study, grandmother orcas are critical to the species’ survival.

The Story: After analyzing the survival rates of two orca populations in the Pacific Northwest, researchers discovered that grandmother killer whales help boost the survival rates of their grandcalves, reported Michael Levinson for The New York Times. The authors of this study concluded that by stopping their own reproduction, grandmother whales can help care for their children’s offspring and guide their families to salmon stocks for food, preventing starvation in times of scarcity.  

The Big Picture: “[Killer whales] are these large-bodied apex predators, and a lot of the life span for post-reproductive females is spent caring for, and being there, with their families,” said Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology. “We don’t see that as readily in other species.” This research shows that grandmother orcas are just as important as younger members of the species, and it is critical to strengthen conservation efforts to benefit the entire population. 

Read more here.

Mangroves are critical to fighting climate change — and they are in danger.

The Story: Mangroves — the world’s most effective natural carbon sink — are becoming increasingly threatened by deforestation, pollution and extreme weather events linked to climate change, reported Eliza Barclay for Vox. Researchers in Indonesia are currently measuring the exact amount of carbon that mangroves can store to emphasize the importance of protecting this coastal tree for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Big Picture: “Indonesia now has a lot of political will to do something about blue carbon,” said Conservation International’s Marine Climate Change Director Jennifer Howard, referring to the carbon stored in marine ecosystems such as mangroves. Indonesia holds almost a quarter of the world’s mangroves but has lost 40 percent of them in the past 30 years. Updated data about mangrove’s carbon storage abilities may lead to better legal protections for this critical ecosystem. 

Read more here.

Ten endangered species have increased in population size this year, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 

The Story: Once extinct in the wild, Guam rail bird population sizes are recovering thanks to captive breeding programs, reported Fiona Harvey for the Guardian. This is only the second time in history that a bird population has been successfully repopulated after going extinct in nature. According to the recently released IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, nine other endangered species have shown a growth in population size following extensive conservation efforts. 

The Big Picture: “The impact that a changing climate will have on the ability of ecosystems to support plant and animal life, and the challenges that biodiversity already face in a warming world are both vast,” said Gareth Redmond-King, the head of climate change at the World Wildlife Fund UK. This species success story could help drive funding toward more conservation efforts to protect nature and the wildlife that depends on it.

Read more here.

Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: An orca swimming in Antarctica. (© Conservation International photo by María Claudia Díazgranados) 

Further reading: