The Last Straw

What’s the big deal about having a straw in my drink?

Fact: 500 million plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. alone. Shocking, right? That’s why, as of July 2016, PacWhale Eco-Adventures no longer serves plastic drinking straws on our vessels.

Increased air pollution. Plastic production needs electricity, one of the leading sources of air pollution in the U.S., according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report. Oil and gas are also needed which means drilling, a harmful process known for destroying habitats. Then, gas is needed to transport the plastic materials from producers to straw makers, electricity is used to power straw-making machines, and even more gas is needed to deliver straws to customers. Besides banning straws, PacWhale Eco-Adventures has implemented a number of other green features, including using high efficiency engines on our vessels, locally sourced catering for our cruises, and LED lighting for our offices.

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Freeing the Whales

Entanglement in fishing gear is responsible for the death of an estimated 300,000 whales and dolphins each year. Last year, a total of 13 individual humpbacks were confirmed entangled in Hawai’i waters. It was the highest annual number of confirmed large whale entanglements in Hawai’i since reporting began in 2002. While 13 confirmed entanglements is a far cry from 300,000 animals, the issue hits home when it happens right in your backyard.

On Maui, the Hawai’i Disentanglement Network is responsible for responding to large whale entanglements. The Network is comprised of Sanctuary staff, tour boat operators, commercial airline pilots, tugboat captains, fishers, researchers, and private citizens. The Network relies on these individuals to alert the proper authorities of an entanglement. On-the-water efforts to disentangle animals are led by the Sanctuary’s Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator, Ed Lyman.

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Help Protect Maui’s Coral Reefs and Manta Rays

Maui truly is blessed in being surrounded by an underwater wonderland. In addition to hosting one of the largest concentrations of humpback whales during their birthing season in the world, we are also lucky to have the chance to see other graceful, unique denizens of the deep, such as monk seals, several species of sharks and even manta rays.

Picture donated by Blake Moore

Maui is one of a few places in the entire world with a resident population of manta rays. Olowalu Reef, off of West Maui, is home to an estimated 350 resident reef manta rays. In nearshore reef locations, manta rays congregate around “cleaning stations”, where Hawaiian cleaner wrasse eat parasites of  the skin of a manta ray. Manta rays are also thought to breed in the shallow coral reef habitat.

Unfortunately, both species of manta ray (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Manta rays are hunted in some countries for their skin, their fins (for the shark fin soup trade) and for their gill rakers, which are used in some Chinese medicines. Since manta rays mature slowly and have few pups, they are especially susceptible to fishing pressures. Manta rays around Maui have also been spotted entangled in fishing line and some have even lost part of their fins due to this marine debris. Learn more from HAMER.

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The Plastic Problem

Plastics are everywhere – from cell phones to soda bottles, to trash on the beach and in our oceans. Yet while our lives are dominated by plastic, plastics and their environmental impacts are still largely misunderstood by many people.

Plastics are created when individual carbon molecules are chemically bonded together. These carbon molecules are typically extracted from oil, a non-renewable resource, but some plastics use carbon derived from natural materials like corn oil. Individual carbon molecules are combined to create compounds like styrene, ethylene and formaldehyde. 

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Wild About Whales!

group photo with whale fluke We ended June and entered July with our “Wild About Whales” week at Ocean Camp.  Although the fastest recorded migration for Hawaii’s humpback whales is 39 days, campers covered this approximate 3,000 mile journey in only four days! Participating in a variety of activities, campers explored humpback whale feeding and calving grounds and learned about the respective whale behaviors occurring in these locations such as bubble net feeding and nursing.

By understanding whale anatomy and research techniques, campers also learned how to identify individual whales from their fluke which is unique to each individual whale similar to how every human has a different fingerprint! We even experienced a behind-the-scenes tour of our research lab where we received tips from the experts while being surrounded by a collection of humpback whale data recorded over the last 30 years.

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Every Day is Oceans Day

During the summer months, the research team continues our year-round dolphin surveys and marine debris study. Last year after six months of surveys, we had 35 encounters with dolphins and collected 430 pieces of debris (e.g. plastic, Styrofoam, cardboard). That’s 12 pieces of marine debris for every dolphin sighting! Even more disturbing is that while surface debris is easy to find and collect, there is much more garbage lurking below the ocean’s surface.

One common item we find while doing ocean surveys are balloons. This is particularly true after holidays such as the 4th of July. Balloons can easily slip out of our fingers and float away, but remember: what goes up must come down.  Smaller debris items such as balloons are often mistaken for food and ingested by wildlife, leading to health problems, choking and death.

Ballooooons

What can you do to help? If you don’t already, start recycling at your house, office and school. If you can’t find a local recycling program, start your own. Participate in local clean ups. If you see litter on the ground, pick it up! If we thought more about where our garbage ends up, it would make a huge difference to the animals that call the ocean home.