Puerto Lopez

Humpback whales are freeing our hearts

It was a Sunday afternoon when a woman sent me a text message explaining that she had been observing whales on land with binoculars in Ayampe (20 minutes away from Puerto Lopez). Unfortunately, during her whalewatching, she spotted an entangled whale trailing yellow buoys, which are commonly used on nets in the area. She further explained that the net was draped over the whales back, and it was almost stranding near Ayampe beach.

A terrible sensation flooded me as I rushed to call the Machalilla National Park whale entanglement rescue team. The team, including myself, were ready in no time and went out into a really choppy ocean with high hopes of finding and freeing the whale. After about an hour of looking, we finally spotted the distressed animal fairly close to shore. It appeared to be struggling to get the net away from its mouth, closing and opening it with a comprehensible amount of desperation and fear.

Following the usual procedure the team started to add buoys to the entanglement, hoping the added weight would tire the whale so it would stay at the surface. This would then allow the team to be able to remove the net using long poles and sharp blades. Unfortunately, while attempting to cut through the large amount of net around the whale’s fluke, the cutting knife became dislodged and was lost in the ocean. This was difficult as the knife was specially made by NOAA and donated to us to use when freeing entangled whales. With no other options, the rescue team started using hooks made by the park rangers of Machalilla National Park. One by one, these hooks made with steel started to bend from the heavy netting. The whale at this time had so much bunched netting that the pressure of trying to cut it was futile. This was by far the most difficult rescue we had experienced and the bunched netting was too strong for our blades.

Soon the day started fading away and we started losing hope and realized we needed additional help. One of the park rangers and rescue team member decided to call his brother, who was a diving fisherman, and asked him to come and help. When he arrived, his team was ready to help. They put on their dive gear and cautiously got into the water with the helpless whale. It took about 4 more hours of risky direct contact with the stressed whale to take most of the net off and free the pectoral fins. When this happened, the whale recovered its strength and started swimming fast and trying to dive. We realized this was the time to let go, as it was getting dark and was going to be almost impossible for us to remove the last bit of remaining net around its flukes. Hopefully, the remaining gear will untangle or detach by itself.

We watched the whale swim away looking much less distressed and welcoming its regained freedom. In the middle of the ocean we lay there, tired, hungry and cold, but satisfied we did everything we could to help the whale. Nothing could take that satisfaction away from us. Not only did we free the whale from a slow and tragic death, but we had also comforted a bit of our own guilt, as the whale was caught in our man-made netting.

I would like to thank the special people of Machalilla National Park whale entanglement team and the fishermen who were able to come and help. Thank you for dedicating your time and even risking your lives to this noble effort of giving another opportunity to these gentle giants of the sea. Whales are definitely freeing our hearts.

Las ballenas jorobadas estan liberando nuestros corazones

Era una domingo por la tarde cuando una señora me escribio a mi celular. Ella habia estado observando ballenas con binoculares desde Ayampe, a tan solo 20 minutos de Puerto Lopez. No traia buenas noticias: ella habia observado una ballena enredada en redes de pesca con las caracteristicas boyas amarillas alrededor de su cuerpo, muy cercana a varar en las playas de Ayampe.

Una terrible sensación inmediatamente me invadio mientras me apresure a llamar al equipo de rescate del Parque Nacional Machalilla. Pronto estuvimos listos para zarpar en busca de la ballena. Despues de casi 1 hora de busqueda, finalmente la encontramos muy cerca a la orilla, luchando por deshacerse de la red que envolvia su rostro, mandibula y aletas pectorales, abriendo y cerrando la boca con un comprensible nivel de desesperacion y miedo.

Siguiendo el procedimiento habitual, el equipo empezo a amarrar boyas a la ballena, en un intento de cansarla y calmarla, para que permanezca en la superficie y que ellos sean capaces de cortar la red utilizando un tubo largo y una cuchilla especial. Debido a la enorme cantidad de red entrelazada en la cola de la ballena, la gran cantidad de presion al tratar de cortarla hizo que perdieramos la cuchilla especial que el equipo de rescate de ballenas de NOAA nos habia donado en años anteriores, de modo que tuvimos que reemplazar estas con unas cuchillas artesanales que los guardaparques del Parque Nacional Machalilla habian desarrollado para esta causa. Una por una, esas cuchillas, hechas de acero, comenzaron a doblarse…SI, a doblarse. La ballena tenia tanta red amontonada en su cola que la presion al intentar cortarla era demasiada…una presion que no habiamos experimentado antes, y que era mucho mas fuerte que nuestras cuchillas.

Pronto, el dia empezaba a esfumarse, junto con nuestras esperanzas..necesitabamos ayuda. Uno de los guardapaques del equipo llamo a su hermano, pescador buzo de Puerto Lopez, y le pidio ayuda. Cuando llegaron, el equipo de rescate no dudo en ningun momento: al instante usaron el equipo de compresion y tomaron las mangueras para sumergirse a bucear con la tan necesitada ballena. Tomo 4 horas mas de un peligroso contacto directo con la estresada ballena para removerla mayoria de la red de pesca y finalmente liberar sus aletas pectorales. Cuando esto ocurrio, la ballena recupero su fuerza e inmediatamente empezo a nadar rapido y a tratar de sumergirse. Entonces nos dimos cuenta que ya era tiempo de dejarla ir..el dia se estaba oscureciendo e iba a resultar casi imposible ya removerle el ultimo resto de cuerda alrededor de su cola…el cual ojala con el tiempo se desenrede o degrade por si solo.

Finalmente, observamos a la ballena irse nadando..ya no con movimientos bruscos ni de inconformidad, sino simplemente de nado y bienvenida a su libertad recuperada. En la mitad del oceano, alli yaciamos, cansados, hambrientos y con frio…pero satisfechos. Ni siquiera la sensacion mas perturbadora podria quitarnos esa satisfaccion tan inmensa. No solamente habiamos librado a una ballena de una muerte lenta y tragica….tambien habiamos consolado un poco de nuestra culpa…la culpa de cada uno de nosotros los humanos, responsables por el daño que les hacemos a estas maravillosas criaturas, y al mundo entero. Agradezco a las personas especiales del equipo de rescate de ballenas del Parque Nacional Machalilla, y a los pescadores que siempre estan dispuestos a ayudar. Gracias por dedicarles su tiempo y hasta poner en riesgo sus vidas para este noble esfuerzo de darles una nueva oportunidad a estos gentiles gigantes del oceano. Definitivamente las ballenas estan liberando a nuestros corazones..

Puerto Lopez

Sea Turtles of Isla De La Plata

Sea turtles are one of the main attractions of the Isla De La Plata tour. Hundreds of tourists look forward to arriving at Drake Bay to watch turtles gather around the boat giving them one of the most amazing spectacles of their lives. Some rush to submerge their GoPros in the water in hope of catching an underwater glimpse of this ancient creature of the sea, while others prefer to take pictures them from the top of the vessel to get a wider perspective.

However, it was not always like this. Only 5 years ago, sea turtles were rarely seen at Drake Bay, Isla De La Plata. So what was caused this increase in sea turtle numbers in such a short time?

For year, captains from Isla De La Plata vessels would rush straight to the island and barely slow down until they reached Drake Bay. If they were asked by tourists or guides to slow down because of potential collisions with sea turtles, they would respond with “sorry, we need to arrive as soon as possible”. Captains did not much care about the sea turtles, as they were not tourist attractions and slowing down was considered a waste of their time. Luckily for the turtles, this was about to change in a drastic way.

 

Machalilla National Park hired a new manager, who ordered the park rangers to be alert of speeding vessels near Isla De La Plata and to enforce speed limits that had long been in place. The fining of a single vessel is all it took to begin to see a change in vessels navigating these waters.

At first, captains were a little reluctant to abide by the enforced regulations, but with time and the increasing numbers of sea turtles catching the tourists’ attention, they themselves started to sympathize with this wonderful animal.

Today, sea turtles can be easily be found in big aggregations around Isla De La Plata. The population seems to be thriving and the turtles have become a major feature in Isla La Plata tours. Sea turtles have not only stolen our hearts, but also those of the boat captains, who once did not care about them at all. Now when a captain is asked to hurry to the island they respond with: “no, the turtles need us to slow down to ensure their safety”.

Las Tortugas Marinas En La Isla De La Plata

Las tortugas marinas son una de las atracciones principales del tour a la Isla de la Plata, y cada año cientos de turistas esperan al momento de verlas rodear el bote y darles uno de los más increíbles espectáculos de sus vidas cuando llegan a Bahía Drake. Algunos se apresuran a sumergir sus Gopros en el agua con la esperanza de vislumbrar bajo el agua a estas criaturas ancestrales del mar, mientras otros prefieren tomarles fotografías desde la parte superior del bote para obtener una amplia imagen de su presencia.

Sin embargo, no siemprefue así. Hace solo 5 años atrás, pocas eran las tortugas que se podían observar en la Isla, y el tour a la isla no era promovido con la idea de observar tortugas. ¿Entonces, que cambio en tan poco tiempo? Hace tan solo 5 años, los capitanes de las embarcaciones que iban a la Isla iban tan apurados por ganarle a los demás botes y terminar el tour rápido que apenas disminuían la velocidad hasta llegar a Bahía Drake. Si algún turista o guía les pedían que bajen la velocidad para no chocarse contra tortugas marinas, ellos se molestaban y simplemente decían: “¡que tortugas ni que tortugas!, debemos llegar rápido a la isla”. A ellos no les importaban las tortugas marinas: ellas no eran atracciones turísticas y solo les hacían perder el tiempo al tener que bajar la velocidad. Afortunadamente, esto estaba a punto de cambiar…

Al Parque Nacional Machalilla llego un nuevo jefe de área, quien ordeno a todos los guardaparques que estén alerta de botes que no acaten la ley de bajar la velocidad cerca de la isla de la Plata, y de aplicar medidas estrictas a las embarcaciones que no cumplieran con esta regulación (que ya existía, pero que nadie obedecia). Tan solo basto una multa y demanda a una de las embarcaciones para que todo cambiara….y para recuperar a nuestra población de tortugas marinas en la Isla de la Plata.

Al principio, los capitanes estaban renuentes a acatar esta disposición, pero con tiempo y el incremento de observación de tortugas en la Isla de la Plata que atraían a los turistas, ellos mismos empezaron a simpatizar con estos hermosos animales, e incluso empezaron a alimentarlas con lechuga y frutas, para de alguna manera atraer a las pocas tortugas que aun había en ese entonces en la Isla, y que al mismo tiempo estas entretengan al turista.

En la actualidad, las tortugas marinas pueden ser encontradas fácilmente en grandes agregaciones en Bahia Drake. La población esta totalmente recuperada y se ha convertido en una importante parte del tour a la Isla de la Plata! Estos hermosos reptiles no solo se han robado nuestros corazones, sino también los corazones de los capitanes de los botes de turismo, a quienes antes no les importaban. Ellos ahora verdaderamente las aprecian mucho, hasta el punto que, cuando les dicen que se apuren para llegar rápido a la isla, ellos mismos responden: “No, las tortugas necesitan que bajemos la velocidad para estar a salvo”.

Puerto Lopez

Unusual Encounter with Bryde’s Whale in Ecuador

We were welcomed by a beautiful sunny day on the first week of the Ecuador research season. The excitement began when we saw the sun reflecting off of a whales’ dorsal fin, which was quickly followed by the characteristic blow. Echoing the whales blow were the cheers of excitement from the tourists as they knew we were about to experience seeing these amazing animals and confirm the start of our research season.

When you are in Isla de la Plata it’s easy to tell when the whales have arrived, as the horizon is dotted with white plumes of water vapor from the whales blow. This season, however, humpback whales are not the only species capturing the attention of tourists. The Bryde’s whale (pronounced “broodus” whale) has remained longer than usual and has captured everyone’s attention. Tourists may find the “not so acrobatic” Bryde’s whale less enchanting than the humpback whale, which is known for it’s magnificent breaches. For researchers, being able to study both species simultaneously is a rare occurrence, akin to finding a pot of gold.

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We have been limited to reports of feeding Bryde’s whales among large groups of birds to date, however, today we got the opportunity to photograph this species. Normally this species is moving continually, presenting few opportunities for photo-ID, but today’s encounter lasted for almost 10 minutes! We are looking forward to seeing more of them and, of course, searching for possible interactions with humpback whales. After all, they are all sharing the same magical area that is Machalilla National Park.

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Whalewatching with “The Greatest”

Pacific Whale Foundation was founded in 1980, in Makena, Maui, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Our roots are embedded in credible research studies, backed by effective education and critical conservation programs. Through the years, Pacific Whale Foundation has grown to become “the people’s whale organization.” Each year Pacific Whale Foundation takes nearly 300,000 supporters out on the water to experience whales “face-to-fluke,” or marine life “face-to-fin.” Our supporters come from all regions of the globe, and are of every race, color, creed, religion and political persuasion.

We have worked successfully to bridge the chasm of hard science by bringing scientific findings to the public to comprehend and act upon. We have engaged and enlisted the support of the public in a worthy and winnable cause: to save whales and their ocean home.

During the last three decades I have had some incredible whale experiences at Pacific Whale Foundation. People always ask me “what was the best whalewatching experience you ever had?” or “tell me about your most amazing whale experience.” Having spent thousands of hours on the ocean in the presence of whales, it really is hard to choose just one to single out as “the greatest” whale experience.

Frankly, I hope that experience has yet to happen. It is what drives me to discover, to learn more, and to seek out new venues to study whales. My experiences with ‘Migaloo’, the only all-white humpback whale in the world have been incredible and awe-inspiring. So too has been the time I spent underwater with humpback whales – most notably the time a curious calf gathered me in his pec fins and tried to carry me down to his waiting mother, literally taking my breath away.

When I reflect on my experiences with the whales, however, it is really my shared experiences watching whales with people I recall most fondly. In 1981, when we were a fledgling organization, 112 fourth graders from Kihei Elementary raised $3,800 (all in quarters!) for our research efforts. That whalewatch from Ma’alaea Harbor with those kids (whose kids are now adults going on whalewatches with Pacific Whale Foundation with their kids) will forever live fresh in my memory.

There have been hundreds of similar experiences that motivate and remind me of how sound and just our mission is. Last evening, Ocean Voyager’s sunset whalewatch, was another poignant reminder. It was a perfect evening for a whalewatch — light winds, clear skies, calm seas, plenty of whales, a perfect sunset and a glorious full moon. A picture perfect whalewatch experienced by myself and 92 other passengers, including “The Greatest,” Muhammad Ali, and his dear friend, singer, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson.

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Celebrate Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is a celebration of the nation’s wildlife and wild places and is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species. Started in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day occurs on the 3rd Friday of May to inspire people to take action in their everyday lives to help protect endangered species.

At Pacific Whale Foundation we research two endangered species: humpback whales and false killer whales.

As with many endangered species, both humpback whales and false killer whales are endangered due to human activities. The North Pacific population of humpback whales was hunted until only a few hundred individuals remained. Although their population has recovered immensely—recent estimates suggest approximately 20,000 humpbacks in the North Pacific—they and other large whale species are still at risk of vessel collisions and entanglement in fishing gear. Our current research on humpback whales aims to reduce the risk of these collisions by determining which factors contribute to detectability of the whales.

The major threat for false killer whales is entanglement in longline fishing gear. False killer whales prey on economically important pelagic fish such as mahi and tuna. Unfortunately, this results in frequent interactions with fishing gear that lead to entanglement injuries and bycatch events. Research on false killer whales at Pacific Whale Foundation focuses on abundance, distribution and social structure, allowing us to better manage and conserve this species.

For Endangered Species Day 2016, try incorporating these actions into your daily routine:

Make purchasing choices to protect endangered species:

Opt for biodegradable packaging instead of plastics and other synthetic materials that contribute to the growing problem of persistent marine debris. Use the Seafood Watch app from Monterey Bay Aquarium to choose fish that are caught in ways that protect endangered species from threats such as entanglement and bycatch.

Visit a national wildlife refuge, park, or sanctuary:

One of the best ways to conserve endangered species is to conserve the places that they call home. National wildlife refuges, parks, and sanctuaries are often designated because they provide crucial habitat for endangered species. Whether it’s watching humpback whales within the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary or trying to catch a glimpse of a manatee in Everglades National Park, visiting and supporting these protected areas goes a long way toward the conservation of these species.

Support experiences that respect wildlife and their habitats:

For your summer vacation, choose activities that respect wildlife and natural areas. Look for certified ecotourism companies with a focus on conservation and responsible management of endangered species.  For example, Pacific Whale Foundation is a certified sustainable tour operator with science, advocacy, and conservation at the core of its mission.

Adopt an Endangered Species:

Several organizations offer the opportunity to adopt different endangered species. Adoptions are a great way to support conservation efforts while getting to know the life history of individual animals. At Pacific Whale Foundation, you can adopt your very own humpback whale or false killer whale to help our researchers learn more about these species. We offer multiple levels of adoption packages, but all include an adoption certificate, sightings history, and sightings map of your whale.

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Top 10 Ways To Celebrate Earth Day

In honor of Earth Day, we wanted to share 10 ways to engage with Mother Nature. You probably already recycle, so here are ten alternative ways to help the planet:

10. Participate in a citizen science project to help marine life.

  • Whale & Dolphin Tracker is a mobile web-application to report sightings of whales and dolphins so scientists can learn more about their patterns. You can log sightings in real-time and view them on a map or review profiles later. Visit log.pacificwhale.org to register with your smartphone.
  • Match My Whale is a web-based app to help researchers photo identify humpback whales by their flukes. Learn more and join today at www.matchmywhale.org

9. Visiting Maui? You can Volunteer on Vacation through Pacific Whale Foundation. Help clean up beach debris, remove invasive weeds, or work on other environmental projects on the island to “give back” while also creating meaningful and lasting memories of your time on Maui.

8. Help conserve Hawaii’s coral reefs. Eyes of the Reef offers free public trainings on how to report changes in the coral reef conditions in Hawaii. This helps resource managers detect the early onset of coral bleaching, disease, crown-of-thorn seastars, and outbreaks of invasive species.

7. Eat only sustainable seafood, both at home and while dining out. There are now many apps, like Seafood Watch, that will tell you what is safe to consume.

6. Get the most out of your binge-watching with our environmental documentary top picks:

  • “The 11th Hour” is Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2007 film featuring interviews with various politicians and scientists, including Mikhail Gorbachev and Stephen Hawking. It presents an interesting thesis: that human society possesses the technology to reduce our environmental impact by more than 90%.
  • “The Cove” won an Oscar for Best Documentary in 2010 as well as the Audience Award at Sundance. Not many films have caused as much public outcry as this expose on the fate of 23,000 of dolphins every year in Japan.
  • “An Inconvenient Truth” lit the fire of climate change awareness around the world. Originating from Al Gore’s speaking campaign after his unsuccessful 2000 presidential bid, the film won two Academy Awards in 2006.
  • “Catching the Sun” captures the global race to lead the clean energy future. Premieres on Netflix April 22.

5. Do a bit of research and buy only from companies with sustainable practices. PWF Eco-Adventures prides itself on being eco-friendly and offers numerous “green features” as detailed on our website.

4. Reduce your carbon footprint by carpooling. Also, many employers, such as Pacific Whale Foundation, offer incentives for employees who ride the bus to work or who purchase ultra-high-efficiency vehicles. Contact your employer about your options.

3. Go paperless when possible. Sign up for online or mobile banking. Read the newspaper online. Use note-taking apps on your phone. Think twice about printing that email at work.

2. Cut down on plastic waste. Our marine debris surveys find that plastic is the most common source of garbage in Hawaii’s oceans. Plastics are also commonly found in the stomachs of whales, dolphins and turtles. Choose reusable food and beverage containers, purchase items with less packing, and bring your own shopping bags.

1. Watch the United Nations Paris Agreement on Climate Change signing ceremony on April 22. Find out more about Sustainable Development Goals and the need to limit global temperature rise. All sessions will be livestreamed on http://webtv.un.org

Leave us a message in the comments and let us know how you are choosing to spend your Earth Day.