World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list

A rare leatherback sea turtle named Yawkey moves off the beach and returns to the the Atlantic Ocean at Isle of Palms, S.C., after it was treated at the South Carolina Aquarium. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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World’s largest sea turtle could come off ‘endangered’ list

Federal ocean managers say it might be time to move the East Coast population of the world’s largest turtle from the United States’ list of endangered animals.
An arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has received a petition from a fishing group asking that the Northwest Atlantic Ocean’s leatherback sea turtles be listed as “threatened,” but not endangered, under the Endangered Species Act. The giant reptiles, which can weigh 2,000 pounds, would remain protected under federal law, but their status would be moved down a notch.
NOAA officials have said the agency has reviewed the petition from New Jersey-based Blue Water Fishermen’s Association and found “substantial scientific and commercial information” that the move might be warranted. The agency now has about eight months to make a decision about the status of the turtles.
Leatherbacks live all over the world’s oceans and have been listed as endangered by the US since 1970. Deciding whether the listing should be changed will require determining the stability of the population, said Jennifer Schultz, a fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries.
“We’ll look at scientific papers, we look at the best available scientific and commercial data,” she said. “And then we’ll say, ‘What does the status look like? How are they doing?’“
The fishing group that requested the change wants the Northwestern Atlantic’s leatherback population to be considered a distinct segment of the population. That segment would include all of the leatherbacks that nest on beaches in the eastern US states. But NOAA Fisheries is going to look at the status of the turtles worldwide, said Angela Somma, chief of endangered species division with NOAA Fisheries.
Blue Water Fishermen’s Association requested the change of listing in part to spur new research into the status of the leatherback population, said Ernie Panacek, a past president of the organization. Data about species such as sea turtles and marine mammals play a role in crafting fishing regulations, and fishermen fear the government is using outdated data about leatherbacks, he said.
“I get a little frustrated in the fact that they are making regulations without scientific data in front of them,” he said. “The more turtles there are, the more interactions you are bound to have with them.”
The leatherback sea turtle has been the subject of intense interest from conservation groups over the years. It’s listing as endangered by the US predates the modern Endangered Species Act that was enacted in 1973. The Costa Rica-based Leatherback Trust, an international nonprofit group, describes them as “ancient creatures celebrated in creation myths belonging to diverse cultures around the world.”
International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the leatherback sea turtle as “vulnerable,” which is one notch above “endangered” on the IUCN’s scale. It’s one of the largest reptiles on Earth, feeding mostly on jellyfish, which has left them at risk to plastic in the ocean, which can kill them if they ingest it. They are also notable for being the deepest diving and most migratory of all sea turtles, and for their lack of a bony shell.
NOAA is collecting information and comments on the subject until Feb. 5.


Tesla in Autopilot sped up before Utah crash

Updated 25 May 2018
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Tesla in Autopilot sped up before Utah crash

  • Heather Lommatzsch, the driver of the vehicle, told police she thought the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle.
  • Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her des
SALT LAKE CITY, US: A Tesla that crashed while in Autopilot mode in Utah this month accelerated in the seconds before it smashed into a stopped firetruck, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press Thursday. Two people were injured.
Data from the Model S electric vehicle show it picked up speed for 3.5 seconds shortly before crashing into a stopped firetruck in suburban Salt Lake City, the report said. The driver manually hit the brakes a fraction of a second before impact.
Police suggested that the car was following another vehicle and dropped its speed to 55 mph to match the leading vehicle. They say the leading vehicle then likely changed lanes and the Tesla automatically sped up to its preset of 60 mph (97 kph) without noticing the stopped cars ahead of it.
The police report, which was obtained through an open records request, provides detail about the vehicle’s actions immediately before the May 11 crash and the driver’s familiarity with its system.
The driver of the vehicle, Heather Lommatzsch, 29, told police she thought the vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system would detect traffic and stop before the car hit another vehicle.
She said she had owned the car for two years and used the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature on all sorts of roadways, including on the Utah highway where she crashed, according to the report.
Lommatzsch said the car did not provide any audio or visual warnings before the crash. A witness told police she did not see signs the car illuminate its brake lights or swerve to avoid the truck ahead of it.
Lommatzsch did not return a voicemail Thursday. A Tesla spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The car company has said it repeatedly warns drivers to stay alert, keep their hands on the wheel and maintain control of their vehicle at all times while using the Autopilot system.
Police say car data show Lommatzsch did not touch the steering wheel for 80 seconds before the crash. She told police she was looking at her phone at the time and comparing different routes to her destination.
She broke her foot in the crash and this week was charged with a misdemeanor traffic citation. Online court records do not show an attorney listed for her.
The driver of the firetruck told police he had injuries consistent with whiplash but did not go to a hospital.
Tesla’s Autopilot system uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors and radar to sense the vehicle’s surrounding environment and perform basic functions automatically.
Among those functions is automatic emergency braking, which the company says on its website is designed “to detect objects that the car may impact and applies the brakes accordingly.” Tesla says the system is not designed to avoid a collision and warns drivers not to rely on it entirely.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said it is investigating the May 11 crash.
Tesla’s Autopilot has been the subject of previous scrutiny following other crashes involving the vehicles.
In March, a driver was killed when a Model X with Autopilot engaged hit a barrier while traveling at “freeway speed” in California. NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating that case.
This week, Tesla said Autopilot was not engaged when a Model S veered off a road and plunged into a pond outside San Francisco, killing the driver.
Earlier in May, the NTSB opened a probe into an accident in which a Model S caught fire after crashing into a wall at a high speed in Florida. Two 18-year-olds were trapped and died in the blaze. The agency has said it does not expect Autopilot to be a focus in that investigation.