Plastic Free Life

Five practical tips to reduce plastic, starting today.

  1. Re-use glass jars. There are a ton of prepared foods you can purchase in glass jars; think pasta sauce, peanut butter, salsa, pickles and so on. Instead of buying plastic containers, re-use your jars for leftovers, packed lunches or keep them for storing your dry goods. Which brings us to the next tip…
  2. Buy in bulk. Many stores provide items such as grains, pasta, legumes, nuts and cereals for you to buy unpackaged. Simply bring your jars and measure out what you need. You’ll save money as well as the planet. Remember to check with customer service before you begin, as each store has a particular method for measuring weights. Hint: cotton bags are another great option when buying unpackaged items, and often have their weight printed on the tag (making it easy to deduct at the checkout).
  3. Say no to plastic produce bags. Many of us already bring reusable bags for our groceries, but go that little step further and use them when buying your fruit and vegetables too. Global estimates report that 2 million plastic bags are used every minute. That translates into an unsustainable amount of waste being produced each day! To learn more about the impact of plastic production on our environment, check out our previous blog The Last Straw.
  4. Stop unnecessary packaging. You’d be surprised at the amount of plastic that goes into producing and packaging store bought items; even worse for mail order. In 2012, containers and packaging accounted for 75.2 million tons of solid waste generated in the US alone. Try picking up clothes and other items at secondhand stores and yard sales instead. If you really must order something online, choose a company that promote sustainable packaging. Are your favorite company’s not on the list? Let them know how important the issue is to you,  companies like Dell and Stonyfield Farm are already improving their wasteful ways based on customer feedback!
  5. Use an eco-friendly water bottle. I’m sure you’ve heard this one before and if you’re using one today, awesome! If not, it’s time to make that change. Bottled water produces 1.5 million tons of plastic waste around the world per year, and requires 47 million gallons of oil to produce. It’s overpriced and not necessarily any cleaner than the water you get out of your tap. Don’t be fooled, grab a reusable water bottle today.

Some of these tips you may have heard before but it’s time to start implementing them today. If it seems like too much, just choose one and build up your environmental stewardship with time. You’ll be making a major change in our world and setting a green example for others in your community.

Sources

Earth Policy Plastic Bag Facts

Environmental Protection Agency Waste Management 

Food & Water Watch

Watching Whales from Land

Did you know that Pacific Whale Foundation studies Maui’s humpback whales from land? Using a piece of equipment called a theodolite, we observe the whales’ behavior and recreate their path of travel. You may have seen a theodolite being used on the side of the road—it sits on a tripod and is commonly used for roadwork and construction projects. It has a powerful telescope that allows our researchers to view whales up to three miles away from shore. Using this telescope, we can determine the overall behavior of the pod, how many animals are in the group, and whether there are any calves present. Once the whales come to the surface, the researcher finds them in the telescope, and the theodolite measures angles between the researcher and the whales. These measurements provide a track of the whales’ location without using more invasive methods such as placing tags on the animals.

Our survey site is atop Pu‘u Olai in the Makena region of Maui. At 360 feet high, this site provides an excellent platform for this type of survey. Land-based surveys offer a way to observe whales’ behavior without using a boat, making this method the least invasive type of whale research possible. This study is designed to examine whether whales change their behavior during or after visits from vessels. Since we are not using a vessel to observe the whales, we don’t have to worry that our own boat will change anything about the whales’ behavior. These results add to Pacific Whale Foundation’s surprise encounter study which examined factors that may lead to whale-vessel collisions. By adding the land-based study, the research team aims to determine if the presence of vessels affects the behavior of whales, which may impact the likelihood of collisions between vessels and whales.

If you’re feeling up for a bit of a hike, Pu‘u Olai is also a stunning place to view humpback whales on your own—don’t forget your binoculars!

The Last Straw

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.

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

  1. 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.
  2. Increased ocean pollution. Plastic drinking straws are one of the top 10 items picked up at beach cleanups worldwide. And it’s not just straws; studies estimate that 10-20 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean each year. Once there, plastic can harm marine life through ingestion and/or entanglement. All species of sea turtles and approximately one third of all seabird species have suffered from harmful effects caused by eating plastic. If swallowed, plastics can cause internal blockages leading to starvation and drowning. Plastics also contain chemicals which can stop animals from being able to reproduce. Entanglement in debris also threatens marine life. Ongoing efforts to recover the endangered Hawaiian monk seal have been hindered by entanglement deaths. If you want to help clean up plastic debris from our coastlines, you can sign up for Pacific Whale Foundation’s Volunteering on Vacation program. If you’re not on Maui, don’t let that stop you, grab a reusable bag and head down to your local beach to collect some rubbish today.
  3. Unsustainable growth of landfills. Every piece of plastic ever made, regardless of whether it has been recycled, still exists. Up to 43% of the worlds plastic ends up in landfills, a situation that is only going to get worse.

So take a stand with us and say no to plastic straws, and single use plastics in general. You’ll be helping to create a more sustainable earth with cleaner air, land, and oceans for generations to come.

 

Sources

Pod types in Hervey Bay

In an earlier post, we mentioned the recent appearance of mothers with calves in Hervey Bay. Humpback whales do not all migrate at the same time; rather, multiple group types will be predominantly seen at different points throughout the migration.

The earliest pulse of whales to arrive in Hervey Bay is sub-adult whales; meaning whales that are sexually mature but have not yet reached their full size. Sub-adults in this area seem particularly curious about the vessels, and the early portion of the season is well known for “mugging” events where the whales approach the vessel. Later in the season, mothers and calves begin to migrate through the area, and the sub-adults continue their migration toward their Antarctic feeding grounds. Mothers with calves tend to stay in the tropical breeding areas longer than the sub-adults, likely to allow the calf more time to build up its muscles and blubber layer before beginning the migration southward. The protected waters on the westward side of Fraser Island provide a safe, sheltered stopover for these mothers to rest and nurse their calves.

Nursing is commonly observed here in Hervey Bay, and occasionally the mothers exhibit an interesting “fluke up” posture while feeding their calves. This behavior is characterized by the mother sticking her tail flukes out of the water and pointing her head downwards. While the mother is stationary in this posture, the calf will dive down to nurse and then pop up to the surface repeatedly for quick breaths of air. Eventually, as with the sub-adults, the mothers and calves will leave the area to continue their migration. It is important for the mother to return to the feeding grounds to replenish her energy stores lost from nursing as well as to properly wean her calf and teach it to feed on its own.

After the bulk of the mothers and calves have left the bay, mature whales will make up the majority of the latest pods in the season. These are whales that remained in the breeding areas the longest, for example, adult males trying to ensure the best chances of mating.

There are interesting trade-offs to consider in such a large scale migration where whales travel away from their feeding grounds, and these trade-offs affect whales differently depending on their sex, age, and reproductive status.

Are the whales jumping for joy in Hervey Bay?

Breaching, or jumping out of the water, is a behavior that the PWF researchers in Hervey Bay and in Maui observe frequently. A commonly asked question is “Why do whales breach”? The short answer is that no one knows a single cause for this behavior; however, there are a number of theories about what drives such impressive whale acrobatics.

One possibility is that the whales breach just for fun, similar to humans and other terrestrial mammals when they are excited or playing. Another option is that they use breaching and other surface activity as a way of communicating to other whales. If you’ve ever been close to a breaching whale, you know that the sound is astonishing. The sound is also quite loud underwater and may be used to communicate the whale’s location or activity level to other whales in the distance. It has also been suggested that whales breach to deter predators or other perceived threats.

Young calves may have a completely separate motivation for breaching. As more mother and calf pairs enter Hervey Bay, researchers and whalewatch passengers alike can’t help but to notice the awkward jumps of young calves. These calves are trying to imitate what the larger whales are doing with mixed success. Breaching calves are entertaining to watch, but there has been recent research suggesting that through repeated breaching, humpback whale calves increase the amount of myoglobin in their muscles. Myoglobin is a protein that binds iron and oxygen, and high concentrations of myoglobin can improve the diving ability of marine mammals.

There are a variety of possible explanations for why whales breach, but it is most likely that whales do not breach for any single reason, but rather do this behavior for a number of reasons that serve different functions throughout the seasons and over the course of their lives.

Written by Eilidh Milligan

Paddle Out For The Whales makes a splash in Australia

As part of the Hervey Bay Oceans Festival, our researchers had the opportunity to be involved in Paddle Out for the Whales–an event to help raise awareness of the threats whales face today. 

The event involved paddling out on a craft of your choice (SUP, kayak, inflatable raft, or handmade) to observe a minute of silence acknowledging the importance of whales and the ocean to Hervey Bay. Before the paddle out began, a live Zumba session got the paddlers loose and limber. One of our research volunteers, Jaimi, paddled out by kayak to participate in the event while Research Assistant Jessica remained on land to give an informative talk about PWF’s research in Hervey Bay. A PWF booth was present at the event to sell items from our Australia-based gift shop, as well as engage with community members about the research in Australia.  The event also featured live music, sandcastle building, and construction of a 6-foot papier mache whale.

Written by Eilidh Milligan