Wildlife Populations Abundant in Fukushima: Study
Wed, April 21, 2021

Wildlife Populations Abundant in Fukushima: Study

Following a magnitude 9 earthquake on the east coast of Japan, a tsunami cooled off the Fukushima Daiichi reactors that caused the nuclear accident on March 11, 2011 / Photo by: IAEA Imagebank via Wikimedia Commons

 

Following a magnitude 9 earthquake on the east coast of Japan, a tsunami cooled off the Fukushima Daiichi reactors that caused the nuclear accident on March 11, 2011.  All three reactors’ core melted three days after the accident, which was rated level 7 on the International Nuclear Events Scale (INES) scale because of the high radioactive releases. More than 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes to ensure that no radiation sickness and deaths would be recorded. But how are the animals in Fukushima doing?

Different Species of Wildlife Found in Fukushima

A study conducted by the University of Georgia nearly a decade since the nuclear accident found that wildlife populations are abundant in Fukushima, which is void of human life. This study appeared in an article by research news provider Science Daily.

Researchers detailed that more than 267,000 wildlife photos were gathered comprising over 20 species. These animals include raccoon dogs, foxes, pheasants, macaques, Japanese hare, and wild boar found in different landscapes of Fukushima.

Co-author James Beasley from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources said that there have been questions and speculations among the general public and the scientific community about the status of wildlife in the area after the nuclear accidents. Their study represents the first-ever evidence that there are plenty of animals of different species in the Fukushima Evacuation Zone despite the radiological contamination.

Researchers detailed that more than 267,000 wildlife photos were gathered comprising over 20 species. These animals include raccoon dogs, foxes, pheasants, macaques, Japanese hare, and wild boar found in different landscapes of Fukushima / Photo by: Angelica Kaufmann via Wikimedia Commons

 

Collecting Photographic Data

Beasley, who is a UGA wildlife biologist by profession, added that the species that are usually in conflict with the human population were mostly captured by their cameras. For instance, plenty of wild boars were seen. This only shows that their presence increased after people evacuated the area. Beasley and colleagues determined the three zones for their study. In these zones, they installed 106 cameras to gather photographic data. The team said that the three zones they used in their research were also previously established by the government of Japan after the nuclear accident.

Their cameras captured more than 46,000 photos of wild boars only within 120 days from installation. Over 26,000 of said photos were taken in areas that are uninhabited compared to 7,000 from inhibited zones and 13,000 more photos from the restricted zones.

Species That Are Higher in Number

The species that are high in number in both restricted and uninhabited zones are the Japanese monkeys, Japanese marten, and the raccoons. Fukushima University Institute of Environmental Radioactivity’s professor Thomas Hinton, who is also a part of the research, explained that their research is a significant contribution to the scientific community as it examines the radiological impact to the wildlife populations. Previous studies focus more on the effects of radiation on certain animals and not the population. They included taking photos from the uninhabited zones to serve as their control zone for the study.

Variables, such as time of activity, distance to road, vegetation type, elevation, stamps, and the cameras’ date and time, were also evaluated in terms of their impact. Beasley said that habitats also support the species types.

Human Activity and Habitat Type Influence the Abundance of Animals

Based on the group’s analysis, the human activity level, habitat type, and the elevation serve as the main factors that influence the abundance of animals evaluated instead of the level of radiation in the area. The results show that the activity pattern of the species is in alignment with their behavior patterns and history. For instance, nocturnal raccoons remain more active during the night and daytime pheasants remained more active during the day. On the other hand, wild boar in the human-inhabited zones were less active than those in the uninhabited zones. This suggests that the boars were changing their behavior based on the absence or presence of humans.

An exception to the activity pattern is the species of Japanese serow, which is a goat-antelope. This animal is normally far-removed from people, but the camera footage shows that they are often seen in rural upland areas inhabited by humans. Researchers believe that such a behavioral adjustment is done to avoid the growing population of wild boars in the evacuated zone.

Based on the group’s analysis, the human activity level, habitat type, and the elevation serve as the main factors that influence the abundance of animals evaluated instead of the level of radiation in the area / Photo by: Purplepumpkins via Wikimedia Commons

 

Wildlife in Japan: Statistics

In fiscal year 2005, a total of 1.18 million wildlife was captured by hunting in Japan. The number increased to 1.26 million the following year then down again to 1.14 million in 2007. Approximately 1.23 million wildlife were also captured in 2008, 1.1 million in 2009, 1.19 million in 2010, 0.87 million in 2011, 0.99 million in 2012, 0.79 million in 2013, and 0.92 million in 2013. The fiscal year followed by database company Statista begins on April 1 and ends on March 31.

Statista also shared that as of August 2017, the level of radiation in Fukushima City was at 0.15 microsieverts per hour, compared to 0.06 and 0.05 μSv/hours in Iwaki and Aizuwakamatsu, respectively.

The findings of this study show that the ecosystem of Fukushima demonstrated resilience despite radiological contamination. As the permanent return to the city remains a high priority to Japan, it is a reminder of how the situation has gradually stabilized. Hope that it may soon outweigh the radiological hazards is also around the corner.