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Alaska's Northern Fur Seal Showing Up in Growing Numbers at Unlikely Location | NewsGram
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Alaska’s Northern Fur Seal Showing Up in Growing Numbers at Unlikely Location

Still, northern fur seal moms find the remote island's rocky beaches perfect for giving birth and mothering pups

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Alaska, Fur Seals, Location
This August 2019 photo released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries (NOAA) shows northern fur seal adults and pups on a beach on Bogoslof Island, Alaska. VOA

Alaska’s northern fur seal population for three decades has been classified as depleted, but the marine mammals are showing up in growing numbers at an unlikely location — a tiny island that forms the tip of an active undersea volcano.

Vents on Bogoslof Island continue to spew mud, steam and sulfurous gases two years after an eruption sent ash clouds into the path of jetliners passing over the Bering Sea. Still, northern fur seal moms find the remote island’s rocky beaches perfect for giving birth and mothering pups.

“The population growth of northern fur seals on Bogoslof has been extraordinary,” said Tom Gelatt, who leads a NOAA Fisheries group that studies northern fur seals. Federal scientists visited the island in August.

Geographically speaking, the island is not a particularly unusual place for the seals known for their thick coats to hang out. Most of the world’s roughly 1.1 million northern fur seals breed in the eastern Bering Sea. The animals live in the ocean from November to June and head for land in summer to breed and nurse pups.

Alaska, Fur Seals, Location
Vents on Bogoslof Island continue to spew mud, steam and sulfurous gases two years after an eruption sent ash clouds into the path of jetliners passing over the Bering Sea. VOA

But why the seals chose volatile Bogoslof over the dozens of other uninhabited Aleutian Islands is unclear.

“The surface is covered with these big, ballistic blocks, some as big as 10 meters [33 feet] in length that were exploded out of the vent,” said Chris Waythomas, a U.S. Geological Survey research geophysicist at the Alaska Volcano Observatory. “They litter the surface. It’s pretty wild.”

The eastern Bering Sea population of northern fur seals numbers about 635,000, with their main breeding ground on St. Paul Island, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northwest of Bogoslof. A California stock in the San Miguel, Channel and Farallon Islands is estimated at about 14,000 animals. Other northern fur seals live in Russian waters, though it’s unclear how many.

Fur seals were first spotted on Bogoslof in 1980, and NOAA researchers have since conducted periodic checks on the population. In 2015, biologists estimated an annual growth rate of just over 10% to approximately 28,000 pups on the island. The 2019 estimate likely will be more than 36,000 pups, Gelatt said. Food in the deep water near the island could be a factor.

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The animals stay on beaches, but on Bogoslof — which is about a third the size of New York City’s Central Park — they are never far from signs of volcanic activity.

The center of the island supports a field of fumaroles, openings through which hot gases emerge. Some roar “like jet engines” and spurt mud geysers several meters high, Waythomas said. He has visited the last two summers.

“It was amazing, the sounds that were being produced,” he said.

Eruptions in 2016 and 2017 showered the landscape with rocks and killed all vegetation. They also shrank and grew the island. Explosions destroyed acres of Bogoslof only to have fragmented material blown from lava vents create new real estate. The island remains about 0.5 square miles (1.2 square kilometers).

Alaska, Fur Seals, Location
Vents on Bogoslof Island continue to spew mud, steam and sulfurous gases two years after an eruption sent ash clouds into the path of jetliners passing over the Bering Sea. Pixabay

Bogoslof is surrounded by deep water, and its seals eat squid and northern smoothtongue, a deep-water fish that looks like a smelt. Seals on St. Paul, the largest of the Pribilof Islands, forage on the shallow continental shelf for walleye pollock, a fish targeted by commercial fishermen.

Females with pups on Bogoslof return from foraging faster than Pribilof mothers, possibly allowing their pups to receive more meals and wean at a larger size, Gelatt said. Bogoslof also is closer to winter feeding grounds south of the Aleutians, possibly allowing pups to reach the grounds with less risk from Bering Sea storms.

Northern fur seals are distinct from harbor, ringed, bearded, ribbon and spotted seals in Alaska, which have no ear flaps. Northern fur seals, like sea lions, are eared seals. They were named for their concentrated fur: Fur seals have 350,000 hairs per square inch (60,000 hairs per square centimeter).

The animals have a prominent role in the history of colonized Alaska. After hunting sea otters to near-extinction, Russian traders turned to northern fur seals and relocated Aleuts to the Pribilofs to kill and process seals. When Emperor Alexander II needed cash and decided to sell Alaska to the United States in 1867, fur was one of the future state’s known assets.

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But by 1988, four years after the commercial harvest ended on St. Paul, the northern fur seal population had declined by more than half from its 1950s estimated population of 2.1 million animals.

NOAA biologists don’t know why northern fur seals have not made a comeback.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Gelatt said. Competition for prey from the commercial fishing fleet, predation by killer whales, disease and ecosystem changes affecting seal or prey behavior are possibilities.

Volcanic activity on Bogoslof has been relatively stable, but Gelatt’s crew chose not to camp there during their weeklong August expedition, fearing a recurrence of explosions that could shoot boulders like bottle rockets. They instead made day trips from an anchored boat.

The crew tallied seals and assessed whether aerial images taken from unmanned aircraft could be used in future counts. As fewer seals breed on St. Paul Island, the growth on Bogoslof is significant.

“Barring other future catastrophic eruptions that could dramatically change the geography of the island, there is plenty of room for a lot more seals on Bogoslof,” Gelatt said. (VOA)

 

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Google Starts Showing Locations of Food, Night Shelters in Cities Across India

People can also enter the above queries into Google Search, or ask their Google Assistant on smartphones or on a KaiOS device

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Google
The tech giant said it is working closely with state and central government authorities to surface the locations of these relief centres. Pixabay

Google on Monday said it has started showing the locations of food shelters and night shelters in cities across India on its services like Maps, to help people especially migrant workers find relief centers with ease.

The tech giant said it is working closely with state and central government authorities to surface the locations of these relief centres. “As the COVID-19 situation develops, we are making a concerted effort to build solutions that help people during these times of need,” Anal Ghosh, Senior Programme Manager, Google India, said in a statement.

“Highlighting the locations of food and night shelters on Google Maps is a step to make this information easily available to the users in need, and ensure they can avail the food and shelter services being provided by the government authorities,” Ghosh said.

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People can now find these locations in 30 cities at the moment on Google Maps, Search and Google Assistant. This will soon be available in Hindi, Google said, adding that the company is working towards making the facility available in other Indian languages over the coming weeks, as well as adding additional shelters in more cities across the country.

People can also enter the above queries into Google Search, or ask their Google Assistant on smartphones or on a KaiOS device. In the coming days, it will become even easier to access this feature, with features like quick-access shortcuts that will appear beneath the search bar on the Google Maps app, shortcuts on Google Maps on KaiOS feature phones, and food and night shelter pins appearing on the map by default when the Maps app is first opened, Google said.

Maps
Google on Monday said it has started showing the locations of food shelters and night shelters in cities across India on its services like Maps, to help people especially migrant workers find relief centers with ease. Pixabay

“With the help of volunteers, NGOs, and traffic authorities, we hope to convey this important information to the affected people, many of whom may not have access to a smartphone or mobile device during this time,” informed Ghosh.

Google Maps is also offering user location data to help public health officials spot increase or decrease of movement across high-level categories of places � such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential areas.

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Health officials in India can go to the ‘COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports’ website, pick the country and download a PDF that charts the community movements. (IANS)


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Google Maps Offers User Location Data To Help Public Health Officials

This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings

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Google maps
"Just like how people can use Google Maps to identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded, we're using the same aggregated, anonymized data to provide high-level insights into what has changed," the company said in a statement late Thursday. Pixabay

Google Maps is offering user location data to help public health officials spot increase or decrease of movement across high-level categories of places — such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential areas.

Health officials will be able to go to the ‘COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports’ website, pick their country and download a PDF that charts the community movements. The community mobility reports are now available for 131 countries, including India.

“Just like how people can use Google Maps to identify when a local business tends to be the most crowded, we’re using the same aggregated, anonymized data to provide high-level insights into what has changed,” the company said in a statement late Thursday.

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“We have heard from public health officials that this same type of aggregated, anonymized data could be helpful as they make critical decisions to combat COVID-19,” Jen Fitzpatrick, Senior Vice President, Google Maps, said in a blog post.

“We’re publishing an early release of our COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports to provide insights into what has changed in response to work from home, shelter in place, and other policies aimed at flattening the curve of this pandemic,” he added.

The report will show trends over several weeks, with the most recent information representing 48-to-72 hours prior. “While we display a percentage point increase or decrease in visits, we do not share the absolute number of visits,” the company said.

Google Maps
Google Maps is offering user location data to help public health officials spot increase or decrease of movement across high-level categories of places — such as retail and recreation, groceries and pharmacies, parks, transit stations, workplaces and residential areas. Pixabay

In the coming weeks, the company will work to add additional countries and regions to ensure these reports remain helpful to public health officials across the globe looking to protect people from the spread of COVID-19.

This information could help officials understand changes in essential trips that can shape recommendations on business hours or inform delivery service offerings.

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Similarly, persistent visits to transportation hubs might indicate the need to add additional buses or trains in order to allow people who need to travel room to spread out for social distancing.  (IANS)


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FCC Proposes $200 mn Fine For Major US Mobile Carriers for Selling User Information

Over $200 mn fine for major US carriers for selling user location data

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Mobile data breach
The FCC has proposed a fine of over $200 million for all major US mobile carriers for selling the location data of customers to some agencies. Pixabay

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a fine of over $200 million for all major US mobile carriers for selling the location data of customers to some agencies.

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed fines against the nation’s four largest wireless carriers for apparently selling access to their customers’ location information without taking reasonable measures to protect against unauthorised access to that information. As a result, T-Mobile faces a proposed fine of more than $91 million, AT&T faces a proposed fine of more than $57 million, Verizon faces a proposed fine of more than $48 million, and Sprint faces a proposed fine of more than $12 million, the FCC said in a statement on Friday.

The Enforcement Bureau of FCC opened this investigation after reports surfaced that a Missouri Sheriff, Cory Hutcheson, used a “location-finding service” operated by Securus, a provider of communications services to correctional facilities, to access the location information of the wireless carriers’ customers without their consent between 2014 and 2017.

Mobile data breach
The FCC also admonished these carriers for apparently disclosing their customers’ location information, without their authorisation, to a third party. Pixabay

“American consumers take their wireless phones with them wherever they go. And information about a wireless customer’s location is highly personal and sensitive. The FCC has long had clear rules on the books requiring all phone companies to protect their customers’ personal information. And since 2007, these companies have been on notice that they must take reasonable precautions to safeguard this data and that the FCC will take strong enforcement action if they don’t. Today, we do just that,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“This FCC will not tolerate phone companies putting Americans’ privacy at risk.”

The FCC also admonished these carriers for apparently disclosing their customers’ location information, without their authorisation, to a third party.

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The four major US carriers mentioned sold access to their customers’ location information to “aggregators,” who then resold access to such information to third-party location-based service providers (like Securus).

Although their exact practices varied, each carrier relied heavily on contract-based assurances that the location-based services providers (acting on the carriers’ behalf) would obtain consent from the wireless carrier’s customer before accessing that customer’s location information. (IANS)


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