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Think few reported oiled seabirds is good news? Not so fast, says MUN biologist

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The first dead oiled seabird has been found after Husky Energy’s SeaRose FPSO spilled an estimated 250,000 litres of crude into the Grand Banks region of Newfoundland’s waters, and a Memorial University biologist is bracing for more — possibly 100,000 more.

The province’s offshore regulator reported Wednesday that 14 live oiled birds have been found, and four of them have been taken for cleaning at a rehabilitation centre set up by Husky in St. John’s.

But it’s misleading to think simply washing the birds can save them, says Ian Jones, a seabird ecologist at MUN.

“It’s more of a public relations thing,” he said. “As soon as you get an oiled bird on camera being washed, everybody’s happy.”

Jones, a professor at Memorial University, says although it’s heartbreaking to see the birds suffer, efforts shouldn’t be focused on cleaning up individual animals. (Gary Locke/CBC)

And though the numbers of birds found so far may seem low, Jones says even a few sightings right now could indicate catastrophic mortality.

“My guess is it means there’s a horrendous number of dead birds out there.”

They’ll die an agonizing death, even if they get exposed to a tiny amount of oil.– Ian Jones

Sea conditions since the spill have been extremely rough, hampering everything from cleanup efforts to a full damage assessment by remotely operated vehicles.

The chance of spotting birds in the towering waves, Jones said, is extremely low.

“Imagine being on a roller-coaster in a blizzard and then trying to make a bird count,” he said. “I’m amazed they’ve seen any oiled birds.”

As many as 100,000 seabirds, primarily murres and dovekies, risk hypothermia and poisoning in the wake of the spill, biologists have said. CBC News has requested access to Husky’s bird rehabilitation centre, but a spokesperson for the company said only medical personnel may be admitted while birds stabilize.

Frothy oil mixture can be deadly

Those rough sea conditions have also whipped the oil into a frothy mix that could be even more lethal for the birds, Jones said.

“It’s getting pulverized into an emulsion like and oil and vinegar salad dressing,” Jones said.

According to Jones, just one drop from an eyedropper of the petroleum mixture can cause a dovekie to die of hypothermia in a matter of days, separating the watertight coat and allowing cold water to penetrate to the birds’ skin.

A teaspoon could kill a murre, he said.

Sometimes the damage isn’t visible, as the coat may look untouched, he said.

“But there might be a bird inside horribly suffering.”

The regulator and the federal environment ministry said Wednesday that no oil sheens were spotted in the Grand Banks area during recent observation flights.

“One of the big questions that’s emerging is where is the oil?” he said.

Since the oil spilled from a flowline near the bottom of the sea, large quantities of it may still be migrating up to the surface, he said.

The water temperature, weather and density of the oil will all affect how quickly that happens, he said.

‘At death’s door’

Jones said during the province’s last major spill in 2004, responders would capture and wash the birds’ coats to the point of being “squeaky clean” — only for their feathered wards to die just hours later.

Oiled birds like this one were found washed ashore after the Terra Nova spill in 2004. (CBC)

At the point of recovery, seabirds are already weak, stressed and poisoned, Jones explained.

“They’re at death’s door, and just washing the oil off them isn’t going to do anything,” he said.

Seabird populations are distinctly more fragile than other bird populations, he said. Murres, for example, wait until they’re much older to breed, and they lay just one egg at a time.

“They just can’t handle mortality,” he said. “A loss of 10,000 or 100,000 seabirds is huge damage to a seabird population.”

All creatures at risk

While seabirds bear the brunt of ecological risk, other marine species are also susceptible to poisoning.

Whales, dolphins, fish, krill and plankton — practically all links of the food chain — could be killed through contact with toxic oil particles, Jones said.

Biologists say an estimated tens of thousands of seabirds died after the 2004 Terra Nova spill. (CBC)

“Any amount of crude oil suddenly released into the cold ocean is very damaging,” he said.

When animals ingest those particles, it ruins their internal organs, he added.

“So they’ll die an agonizing death, even if they get exposed to a tiny amount of oil.”

With files from Carolyn Stokes

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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