SC67A | Bled, Slovenia

Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.

PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.

A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.

This year was historic in that the IWC allowed the creation of a working group comprised of members of the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee, ensuring for the first time that conservation measures will rely upon scientific advice and not purely political concerns.

Despite the positive achievements at this year’s SC, members were left somber with the recent loss of Dr. Carole Carlson, a pioneering whale scientist, naturalist, conservationist and PWF Board Member. Dr. Carlson served on the Whalewatch Sub-Committee of the IWC since 1994, and organized and conducted multiple international whalewatching workshops.

One calm afternoon, traditional boats called pletna took members of both committees to an islet in the lake’s center where the Church of the Assumption of Maria is located. The evening commemorated Dr. Carlson’s commitment to the development of whalewatching guidelines throughout the world, and her dedication to education and scientific programs on behalf of whales and their natural habitats.

Many of her close colleagues said a few words, including Greg who made a very moving speech about his dear friend and the vision they shared. “Dr. Carlson was a visionary, a guardian of the sea, and an engaging advocate for public education and whale conservation. Her contributions are a living legacy to the protection of whales and their ocean home.” It was remarkable how Carole affected so many people. As the sun set over the still ice-capped mountains, a sense of hope embraced the gathering knowing that efforts will continue to be made in her memory to conserve and protect the world’s whales and our ocean environment.

Watch the Memorial for Carole Carlson, 14th May 2017, Bled, Slovenia.

 

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Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

In this upcoming series of blogs, I’d like to introduce some of the incredible naturalists who work for our organization and explore their passions and experiences that led them to Pacific Whale Foundation.

Meet Maddie Buresh. This red-headed force of nature has been passionate about animals and biology since childhood. I asked her a few questions about how she got her start and what motivates her on a day-to-day basis. Check out our conversation!

1) When did you first realize you wanted to be involved with marine conservation?

I wanted to be a veterinarian since kindergarten, and it was only when I switched my college major from biology to marine vertebrate biology that I realized that I wanted to pursue that instead. No classes had ever made me feel that passionate about a subject or so driven to go and share what I learned.

2) What is your favorite part of being a Marine Naturalist?

The keiki. I love working with the kids. They’re just so enthusiastic and excited about the smallest things. You teach them, and they teach you too.

3) What’s one of the coolest experiences you’ve had out on the water?

There are so many amazing moments, but the coolest one was during a Sunset Cocktail Cruise, when a mother humpback whale and her calf came mere feet from our boat’s swim step.

4) How do you spend your free time on Maui when you’re not out saving our oceans through science and advocacy?

I like to spend time journaling and drawing in coffee shops, and I like to be outside. I also really love hanging out with my friends and their three little children.

5) What’s one thing folks may not know about being a Marine Naturalist?

We’re often in the spotlight as boat crew and educators, and many people probably think that is all that we do. But there is a lot that happens behind the scenes. As a PWF naturalist, a day’s work may require me to be a lifeguard, a research assistant, a wildlife interpreter, a cocktail server, a maintenance assistant, and a free diver to name a few. We have a lot of job descriptions wrapped up together, and a lot of responsibility –  but we also have amazing jobs.

6) You’re headed to Australia soon! Can you tell us what you’ll be doing down there and what you’re most excited/nervous about?

Pacific Whale Foundation is operating Hervey Bay Ultimate Whalewatches in Australia this summer – which is their winter. I’ll be playing a few different roles, from whalewatch naturalist, to research assistant, to office worker and retail staff. There is one word that can sum up both what makes me nervous and what excites me: CHANGE! It will definitely take me out of my comfort zone and challenge me, but I’m definitely looking forward to the whole experience and the growth that will come from it.

7) If there’s just one conservation message you’d like to leave folks with, what would it be?

If we let them, environmental issues can really get us down. But what would it look like if everyone in the world just did something as seemingly small as picking up one piece of trash a day? That would be over 7 billion pieces of trash. Let’s reflect on the negative things only as much as it takes to learn from them how we can make changes and work toward more sustainable lifestyles and a healthier planet.

Isn’t Maddie awesome? We think so too! Stay tuned for more features on our other naturalists. If you have any questions for us, we’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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FACT OF THE WEEK: Whales play a crucial role in the carbon cycle

MORE ON THIS: In a previous Fact of the Week, we learned how plankton helps the oceans ‘biological pump’, a process that supports the global carbon cycle by removing carbon from the air and storing it in the deep sea. This week, we’re going to talk about the largest living creatures in the ocean, whales, and their role in the carbon cycle. Their movements, deaths, and even feces all contribute to the ‘whale pump’ which works with the biological pump to promote carbon storage.

Movement: When whales swim from deep waters to the surface, they move nutrients up with them. Bringing nutrients to the surface increases the food source for phytoplankton, which play the first part in carbon uptake.

 

Death: When dead whales sink to the ocean floor, they take with them all the carbon that has built up in their body over their lifetime. As the largest marine mammals, that’s a lot of carbon, similar to the huge amounts of carbon stored in old trees.

Feces: When whales swim to the surface, they poo, releasing large fecal plumes which are extremely nutrient-rich and widely consumed by plankton. As one of the larger whale species, sperm whale poop alone might remove hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon from the atmosphere by promoting plankton growth.

Before population declines due to industrial whaling, it is estimated that large baleen whales used to remove millions of tons more carbon than they do today. Scientists suggest that restoring whale populations could greatly increase ocean carbon storage again and may be just as effective as reforestation projects and ocean iron fertilization.

By Kaitlin Yehle

 

FURTHER READING:

  1. Whales Keep Carbon out of the Atmosphere.
  2. The Impact of Whaling on the Ocean Carbon Cycle: Why Bigger Was Better.
  3. Whales as marine ecosystem engineers. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. Roman J, Estes JA, Morissette L, Smith C, Costa D, McCarthy J, Nation JB, Nicol S, Pershing A and Smetacek V. 2014. 12(7): 377-385.

 

Exciting matches in South Pacific catalog

We have been busy in the research department adding humpback whales from the 2016 Hervey Bay field season into our South Pacific humpback whale catalog. Along with adding some new animals, we have already made two matches, which is quite a feat considering that each new photo has to be checked against over 6000 others.

The two matched whales were each sighted with a calf during this field season, meaning we can confidently know that they are females. Both females have a long sighting history going back to 1993. Although we don’t know their exact ages, this sighting span means that both animals are at least 23 years old. As we continue to process the 2016 field data, we’re looking forward to making additional matches like these two in order to help us learn more about the South Pacific humpback whales.

Marine Biologist & Mai Tai Maker: My Life as a PWF Marine Naturalist

I can’t count the number of times a guest on our boat will come up to me, enthusiastically gushing “You have the most amazing job!” or “Wow, what an office!” It’s true — I do have a great job and the best view at PacWhale. As ECO team members, we encounter incredible marine wildlife on a daily basis, and we are doing meaningful conservation and education work. But there’s a lot more to being a Marine Naturalist than meets the eye.

For starters … who serves up crumbly apple danishes and yummy banana bread slices for breakfast? The naturalists do! Who makes sure everyone is properly caffeinated, sun-screened, and snorkeling gear-equipped? We do! Who makes sure all questions are answered and reasonable requests fulfilled so our wonderful guests can have the best day of their vacation? Why, the naturalists of course!

We wear a lot of hats out there on the water, and I’m not just talking about our cute PWF whale-tail caps. We’re lifeguards, waiters, educators, snorkel instructors, nautical knot experts, onboard researchers, whale spotters, wildlife interpreters, reef tour guides, sunscreen applicators, keiki teachers, fish experts, fundraisers, deck hands, boat scrubbers, gear washers, freedivers, boat mechanics, bilge pumpers, and ultimately — advocates of ocean love and environmental stewardship.

It’s a lot of work, we never stop moving, and we love what we do. The ocean is our thing. It’s what wakes us up in the morning and gets us excited about work every day. Every time a little kid gasps with wonder at a sea turtle, or an excited first-time visitor asks me about a fish they’ve never seen before, or anyone laughs at my whale jokes, another wave of gratitude washes over me. These little things make me stop and ask myself “Do I actually get to do this for a living?

And how exactly does one become a Marine Naturalist? Stay tuned for my next post and also check out this page for more info on PacWhale’s vessel crew.

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FACT OF THE WEEK – Plankton, the unsung hero of the ocean

Zooplankton caught in the leeward waters of Maui. Specimens shown under the microscope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in Maui we witness one of the greatest migrations in the world—that of the humpback whale. However, what our human eyes can’t see is another one of the world’s largest mass migrations happening every dawn and dusk in waters around the world.  Microscopic zooplankton move vertically through the water column to seek prey and avoid predators. This is called diel vertical migration (DVM).

Under the cover of darkness each night, zooplankton migrate to the surface of the ocean to feed on phytoplankton (“plant” plankton). In the darkness, predators can’t see them as well which makes feeding safer. Once the sun rises, the zooplankton retreat deeper into sea to avoid being seen by hungry fish. Because zooplankton are so small, this journey is as difficult for them as it would be for a person to swim through an ocean of molasses.

Here in Hawaii and throughout the tropics, plankton is much less abundant. This is why our water is so crystal clear and why whales must migrate up to Alaska’s plankton-rich water to feed. However, there are still small amounts of plankton in these waters, and the cycles of DVM affect it each day and night.

DVM is very important to a healthy ocean. After zooplankton fill up on carbon-rich phytoplankton and migrate deeper into the water column, they excrete that same carbon. This helps a process called the “biological pump” that captures carbon dioxide from the air and moves it into the deep sea where some provides nutrients for other organisms, and some becomes part of the sandy bottom.  If the biological pump didn’t exist, almost twice as much carbon dioxide would be in our atmosphere. DVM is a small variable in this large process that keeps our planet healthy.

 

For further information, see the links below.

By Simona Clausnitzer