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As salmon die on the high seas, scientists suspect climate change

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About 400 miles to the south, in Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery set a record last year, with more than 66 million salmon returning to the rivers in the watershed. That total is expected to be broken again this year.

Salmon in the Pacific Ocean face dramatically different fates from one river system to the next. As the planet warms, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, scientists say changes in ocean conditions are helping drive these wild swings and collapses of key stocks. These North Pacific fish account for most of the world’s wild-caught salmon, and their survival has implications for economies and cultures around the Pacific Rim.

During her three decades as a government scientist, as climate change has intensified, Laurie Weitkamp has watched these fluctuations in salmon numbers become bigger and the models that predict how many salmon will return from sea become more unreliable.

“Salmon will go out, in what we think is a really good ocean, and then it collapses,” said Weitkamp, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration based in Oregon. “They don’t come back.”

The pressures salmon face in their home rivers, and their experience in coastal waters, are well documented. But less is known about what they endure on the high seas. It is there where some species of salmon spend several years before returning to spawn — and where Weitkamp says many are dying as marine heat waves driven by climate change are altering their ecosystem.

“Once they leave that coastal area, that’s where they enter the black box,” she said.

The largest-ever salmon research expedition in the North Pacific, now underway, aims to shed light on that stage in the salmon life cycle. Five ships from the United States, Canada and Russia have been collecting salmon samples and studying ocean conditions across about a million square miles. Researchers hope to map where salmon from different rivers spend their winter months — when less food is available and they are particularly vulnerable — and detect signs of competition between salmon species following marine heat waves in recent years.

“We’ve seen dramatic or severe declines in many of our salmon stocks,” said Jackie King, chief scientist on the Canadian research ship the Sir John Franklin. “There is a high mortality rate in the ocean, and that seems to be one of the toughest things for us to estimate.”

In Canada, the nearly 10 million sockeye salmon that normally return to the Fraser River plummeted to a record low of 293,000 in 2020, before rebounding slightly last year. Russians have protested salmon declines off its east coast in recent years. Scientists from those countries, as well as Japan and South Korea, are participating in the research trip to study salmon populations that intermingle in the North Pacific.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, however, has disrupted this international effort. Shortly before Russia’s research ship was scheduled to leave Vladivostok, the Biden administration pulled off the four American scientists who were slated to be onboard the Tinro. The U.S. government also blocked the Tinro from operating in America’s exclusive economic zone waters, which extend some 200 miles south of the Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, where the Russian vessel had planned to do some of its sampling.

Russia is now expected to complete only half of about 80 locations on the research grid that it had intended to study.

“When you have holes in the grid, it’s never good,” said Alexei Pinchuk, a biological oceanography professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who participated on the American ship, the Bell M. Shimada. “Of course it will affect our confidence in the results.”

Weitkamp served as the lead scientist on the Shimada, a 209-foot NOAA research vessel that recently returned from 38 days at sea after making a stop in Kodiak, Alaska. The 40-person crew, which included 14 scientists, took on winds that reached 50 knots and waves up to 15 feet high as they traveled more than 6,000 miles.

“I’m still rocking and rolling,” she said the day after the Shimada docked at the NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific in Newport, Ore.

During the trip, scientists dragged a trawl net about 100 feet wide for an hour at a time before bringing on board the salmon or other species caught in the net. On the high seas, salmon spread out more than when they swim in coastal waters or rivers. The most they ever caught in one of these trawls was 45 fish. A CTD sensor — a large circular device comprised of a cluster of water collection tubes — would sample the water column’s temperature, salinity and other characteristics at various depths down to more than 3,000 feet. Then the ship would motor for several hours to the next research location, 60 nautical miles away.

On board, the scientists preserved samples of salmon muscles, blood, scales, gonads, livers and the otoliths — ear bones that reveal age lines like the rings of a tree. They examined the salmon’s stomachs to gauge what they’re eating and collected DNA from the seawater to see what other organisms were present — and absent.

Salmon experts know enough about the genetics of different salmon stocks around the Pacific Rim that they can catch a fish in the open ocean and know exactly where it came from.

“The genetics have just exploded,” Weitkamp said. “We can distinguish 10 separate populations in the Columbia River alone.”

Many of the chum salmon that the Shimada scientists caught appeared skinny and malnourished, fish that Weitkamp described as “the survivors.” In coming months, laboratory analysis will determine if the fish were enduring the normal difficulties of winter or were starving and eating their internal organs. In coming months, the scientists will study the relative abundance and condition of prey and the salmon’s fatty acids and body chemistry to get a longer-term view of their diet beyond what they had just eaten before getting caught.

“The reason why this cruise was so exciting is there is very, very little data on the winter ecology in the Gulf of Alaska,” said Pinchuk, who focuses on zooplankton, the tiny marine animals drifting on ocean currents that become prey for salmon and other fish.

The research mission, known as the 2022 Pan-Pacific High Seas Expedition, expands on earlier surveys done in the Gulf of Alaska in 2019 and 2020. Shimada scientists identified some general contrasts to prior trips: The water was colder than in previous years, and salmon tended to be found further south. While coho salmon were the second-most abundant species caught in 2019, this year so far there were fewer.

With these expeditions, scientists hope to explain how salmon will survive in a warming Pacific. Starting in 2013, a mass of unusually warm water lingered off the West Coast of the United States. It lasted three years, spread across roughly 1,000 square miles and became known as the “blob.” A second Pacific blob emerged in 2019.

Teasing out the reasons the connection between a warming planet and why salmon may be dying is not easy. Salmon face many predators at every stage in their life cycle. Climate change damages the streams where they are hatched, and not just by raising the water temperature: Droughts alter stream flow, forest fires destroy shoreline habitat, and mudslides silt up rivers. The changing conditions also reshape life for communities of zooplankton, krill, squid and other fish salmon rely on for prey in the ocean.

For coldblooded salmon, heat increases metabolic rates. This increased metabolism can also reduce the caloric content of their prey, making them a less nourishing meal. So warmer water makes salmon need more food, at times when less may be available.

“We know that that marine heat really disrupted the food web,” said Ed Farley, of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, who was on the Shimada. “We think that was one of the reasons we saw drastic declines of returns, especially around the Gulf of Alaska, after the first marine heat wave.”

That was particularly a problem for pink and chum salmon returning to southeast Alaska after the first heat wave, he said.

But the sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, which power the area’s $2 billion commercial fishing industry, remainan exception. The returns here have been increasing to record levels and are projected to surpass more than 70 million sockeye this year.

Climate change is probably driving these changes as well. Unlike many salmon, Bristol Bay sockeye live in inland lakes for a time before venturing into the ocean. Those warming lakes are probably producing more food for the young salmon, according to biologists, helping prepare them for life on the high seas.

Salmon populations tend to travel to different parts of the Pacific. Many Bristol Bay sockeye spend their winters south of the Aleutian islands, where surveys more than a decade ago showed they were feeding well. But the Russian ship won’t travel to that area during the expedition this year.

The recent extreme decline of western Alaska chum salmon, particularly those returning to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, represents an urgent mystery fisheries scientists want to solve. Alaskans have pointed to fishing pressure — including salmon taken as bycatch by other ocean-going vessels — as well as competition from hatchery-raised fish, as possible factors in the Yukon salmon collapse.

Farley said the mass of warmer Pacific water, which slowly moved north into the Bering Sea, likely made it more difficult for these chum, particularly early in their lives, and is probably a main reason they died in great numbers.

“If you’re a juvenile salmon and you’re spending your first year in the ocean, one thing you want to do is you want to grow,” he said. “We can see that these juvenile chum salmon did not put on a lot of fat prior to winter.”

Climate modeling suggests marine heat waves will occur more often as atmosphere and the oceans continue to warm.

Salmon in the Pacific are still a “survival story,” Farley said. But these dramatic crashes in salmon populations are an ominous sign. Climate change, in his opinion, “drove a lot of the mortality that we’re seeing.”

“If we’re going to really understand the future, we need to understand how climate’s going to be impacting these fish,” he said.



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This fan has shaped anti-discrimination policy in Australian cricket after alleging racial abuse at a match

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Two years after alleging he was racially abused at a cricket match, an Indian fan has had a hand in shaping how the sport tackles discrimination in Australia.



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Connecticut student jailed after fight, accused of bringing gun and high-capacity magazine to school

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A Connecticut student was jailed on numerous charges Wednesday after a fight in school led to the discovery of a gun and a high-capacity magazine hidden in a classroom closet.

The 18-year-old student was first charged with assault and disorderly conduct on Tuesday after an altercation with a 16-year-old at the Hamden Collaborative Learning Center, police said.

Officers were called back later in the morning after school security received a report that handgun was in the school. They recovered the 9-millimeter gun and loaded magazine from inside the closet, police said. Police rearrested the 18-year-old on charges of carrying a pistol without a permit, negligent storage of a firearm, first-degree reckless endangerment, possession of a weapon on school grounds and illegal possession of a large-capacity magazine.

CONNECTICUT GOV. LAMONT PROPOSES STATE’S 1ST TAX CUT IN NEARLY 30 YEARS

He is being held in lieu of a $150,000 bond. It was not clear Wednesday if he had hired an attorney.

A student from Connecticut is facing multiple charges after a gun and magazine were found hidden in a classroom closet.

A student from Connecticut is facing multiple charges after a gun and magazine were found hidden in a classroom closet. (Fox News)

Hamden police said they plan to have a school resource officer meet with staff and students daily at the school, which the district describes as an “alternative education program for students, grades 10-12, who have not achieved success in the larger school environment.”

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Hamden, a New Haven suburb, is about 28 miles from Newtown, where 26 students and educators were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.



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LeBron James breaks NBA all-time scoring record

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LeBron James has become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 39-year-old record.

Los Angeles Lakers star James, 38, hit 38 points in a 133-130 defeat by the Oklahoma City Thunder to surpass Abdul-Jabbar’s mark of 38,387.

Abdul-Jabbar initially broke the scoring record in April 1984, eight months before James was born.

“To be able to be in the presence of a legend and great as Kareem, it means so much to me,” said James.

James, who needed 36 points to break the record, did so with a fadeaway jumper at the end of the third quarter and he finished the match with a career total of 38,390.

An emotional James rose both arms in celebration while 75-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, who was at the match at the Lakers home court, stood and applauded.

There was a brief break in play for a ceremony to mark the achievement, with James taking a microphone to make a speech on court.

“Everybody that has ever been a part of this run with me the last 20-plus years, I want to say thank you so much because I wouldn’t be me without all you. You all helped. Your passion and sacrifices helped me to get to this point,” he said.

“And to the NBA to Adam Silver, to the late great David Stern, thank you very much for allowing me to be a part of something I always dreamed about. I would never in a million years dreamt this to be even better than what it is tonight.”

Abdul-Jabbar ceremoniously handed over the ball to James to recognise his new record in front of a cheering crowd that included tennis legend John McEnroe, music stars Jay-Z, LL Cool J and Bad Bunny, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr and actor Denzel Washington.

“I thought it had every chance of being broken. It just had to have someone that the offense focused on continually,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who retired in 1989.

“LeBron’s career is one of someone who planned to dominate this game. You have to give him credit for just the way he played and for the way he’s lasted and dominated.”

Four-time NBA champion James is in his 20th season in the NBA, having been drafted first overall by hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003.

The forward joined the Miami Heat in 2010, winning two titles, before returning to lead Cleveland to the only NBA title in their history in 2016.

He has been with the Lakers since 2018 and helped them win the 2020 title, which was also the fourth time he has been named NBA finals MVP.

Two-time Olympic champion James has won four regular season MVP titles and appeared in the NBA Finals 10 times.

Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers, during which he won six titles, six regular season MVP crowns and was named finals MVP twice.

Asked after the game whether he is the best NBA player of all time, James said: “I’ll let everybody else decide who that is or just talk about it, but it’s great barbershop talk.

“Me personally, I’m going to take myself against anybody who’s ever played this game. But everyone’s going to decide who their favourite is.”

Analysis

Nesta McGregor, BBC Sport

Many thought this was an insurmountable milestone, but it’s finally been surpassed.

Lebron ‘The King’ James has added a new jewel to his crown.

For two decades he has been the dominant force in the NBA – playing for his home town team Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and now LA Lakers – winning a championship with each.

Amongst all his achievements, this may be considered the greatest yet. He’d already overtaken superstars like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, but for some, breaking Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s long-standing record cements James’ status as the best ever.

Lebron is still performing at the very top level. He still averages 30 points a game. So the big question now is how much longer can he continue?

As he celebrates this achievement with his loved ones, James has made no secret of the fact he wants to stick around long enough to pay with – or against – his eldest son Bronny, 18.

And who would bet against him?

Player Pts Played Minutes Pts/game
LeBron James 38,390 1,410 53,741 27.2
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 38,387 1,560 57,446 24.6
Karl Malone 36,928 1,476 54,852 25.0
Kobe Bryant 33,643 1,346 48,643 25.0
Michael Jordan 32,292 1,072 41,010 30.1
Dirk Nowitzki 31,560 1,522 51,367 20.7
Wilt Chamberlain 31,419 1,045 47,859 30.1
Shaquille O’Neal 28,596 1,207 41,917 23.7
Carmelo Anthony 28,289 1,260 43,513 22.5
Moses Malone 27,409 1,329 45,071 20.6

James holds the records as the youngest player to reach every significant points tally from 5,000 to 35,000.

He passed six-time NBA champion Jordan into fourth overall in March 2019 and late Lakers great Bryant to move into third all-time in January 2020.

James then surpassed Karl Malone into second overall in March last year, a month after he beat Abdul-Jabbar’s record for the most combined regular season and play-off points. The NBA’s official all-time scoring list only takes into account regular season points.

James, a 19-time All-Star, scored 23,119 points in 849 games for the Cavaliers during 11 seasons across two spells.

He scored 7,919 points for the Heat in 294 games over four seasons and now has 7,314 points in 266 games over five seasons for the Lakers.

James is also in the top-10 all-time lists for assists, steals, defensive rebounds, field goals made and three-pointers made.

‘You elevated the game’ – Lebron James tributes

US President Joe Biden: “LeBron, congratulations. With your whole heart and soul you broke a hell of a record. You elevated the game. More than that, like Kareem, Bill Russell and others who came before you, you challenged and inspired the nation to be better, do better and live up to our full promise.”

Los Angeles Lakers great Magic Johnson: “I never thought that Kareem’s scoring record would be broken by anybody. It means more to myself and to our fans because you’re wearing that purple and gold and broke it as a Laker. This historic moment is so special because we will never see another LeBron James.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver: “It’s a towering achievement that speaks to his sustained excellence over 20 seasons in the league. And quite amazingly, LeBron continues to play at an elite level and his basketball history is still being written.”

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry: Your sustained level of play for 20 years, reaching this pinnacle of scoring in basketball, it is unbelievable. Way down the road, when we’re reflecting back on our careers, we’ll be able to be at that level knowing what it was like to battle at the highest level.”

Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant: “It’s even funny to just even say that, you know coming from where you have come from, how hard you grinded for this long. It’s been an inspiration since day one. Much love and keep setting the bar high.”

Timeline of success

26 June 2003 – drafted number one by the Cleveland Cavaliers

30 October 2003 – makes debut aged 18 against the Sacramento Kings, recording 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals

20 February 2005 – makes All-Star Game debut, the first of 19 appearances

7 June 2007 – first NBA Finals appearance for Cleveland, who go on to lose to San Antonio Spurs

24 August 2008 – wins Olympic gold with the USA at Beijing Games

4 May 2009 – wins the first of his four regular season MVP titles

8 July 2010 – joins the Miami Heat after seven seasons with the Cavaliers

21 June 2012 – wins first NBA championship with the Heat and claim first of four Finals MVP titles

12 August 2012 – wins second Olympic gold at London Games

20 June 2013 – becomes back-to-back NBA champion with the Heat

11 July 2014 – returns to Cleveland after four seasons in Miami

19 June 2016 – leads the Cavaliers back from 3-1 down against the Golden State Warriors to win their first NBA Championship

9 July 2018 – signs for the Los Angeles Lakers after four years during second stint in Cleveland

11 October 2020 – claims fourth NBA title by beating the Miami Heat, also becoming first player to win Finals MVP for three different teams

8 February 2023 – passes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to become NBA’s all-time leading points scorer

Lebron James’ record-breaking moment – in pictures

Lebron James' record-breaking shot
LeBron James’ fallaway jumper shot with 10.9 seconds left of the third quarter sees him become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer
Lebron James with both arms in the air after breaking the record
James then saluted the crowd who roared in celebration
An emotional Lebron James covers his face as he makes a speech on court
The game was paused for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to ceremoniously hand over the ball to James, who became emotional as he addressed the crowd
Lebron James about to hug his daughter Zhuri on court
James was then joined on court by his family, including mum Gloria, wife Savannah and daughter Zhuri
Lebron James shaking hands with Floyd Mayweather Jr
Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr was among the celebrities courtside to congratulate James

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