Field Report from Chile

Chile’s Chiloé Island and its surrounding waters serve as a crucial feeding ground for blue whales of the southern hemisphere, a migratory route for several bird species, and are a key area for the critically endangered southeast population of southern right whales.

However, the long-term conservation of the area is under threat due to the planned construction of a mega wind farm project on the coast line of Mar Brava, one of the richest zones of coastal biodiversity in Chile. Although renewable energy resources are a great alternative to reducing the consumption of fossil fuels, they can also have a negative environmental impact if not suitably located.

In November 2013, Centro de Conservatcion Cetacea participated with the International League of Conservation Photographers in documenting the area and biodiversity that would be negatively affected by this project. The work is being used to support a strong public campaign for the relocation of the mega wind farm project, and grant long term protection to the area from industrial development.

Ocean Camp in Maui

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.

From fluke to stomach, we dove into and digested the different anatomical features of the whale. After examining the cluttery contents found in its stomach (albeit a non-invasive cardboard-constructed, brown-boxed belly), campers were motivated to partake in a beach clean-up along the south shore of Maui.  In about 30 minutes, they accumulated over 400 pieces of trash. Cigarettes butts and monofilament fishing line along with bottles and cans galore were ingloriously represented in this raid for rubbish removal, but campers delighted in their dutiful stewardship and were even recognized and appreciated by fellow beach patrons.

As the camp week closed, our campers celebrated America’s Independence Day and the freedom this day represents so that we can be a voice to create change. Among captivity, whaling and SONAR, one of the major concerns our campers voiced was the effects of litter and marine debris.

Poster with USA flag, breaching whale and "no more trash" Ultimately, we learned to be “Wild About Whales” is to be both whale and well informed. By acquiring knowledge and awareness, we are empowered to protect freely a habitat where inhabitants can live freely — free of debris, captivity, SONAR and other conservation issues. We dream big at Ocean Camp!

Hawai’i Conservation Conference

lauren_conference2Today marked the final day of the 22nd annual Hawai’i Conservation Conference, where the “who’s who” of the protection and management of Hawaiian ecosystems descend upon the island of O’ahu to discuss issues such as coral reef health, marine mammal protection, climate change adaptation and building local capacity.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to exhibit Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program during the conference, and connected with numerous individuals and organizations to help expand this important program throughout Hawai’i.

Fishing line wrapped around a coral head (Maui)

Fishing line wrapped around a coral head (Maui)

Popularized in Florida, fishing line recycling programs are now found throughout coastal states, and represent a voluntary, community-based environmental initiative. Anglers and fishermen are encouraged to not only recycle their line, but to sponsor bins that they (along with their community) will maintain in the future.

Improperly discarded fishing line can entangle wildlife (most notably turtles, fish, seabirds and wildlife), and also pose a hazard to boaters and ocean users. By encouraging anglers to recycle their line, the program both directly reduces the amount of line that ends up in the environment and reduces the amount of virgin plastic that is needed to make items such as tackle boxes or spools.  And as you may know, plastics are the number one most common piece of trash found in the environment – so the less plastic we create, the less trash we make!

Kahului Fishing Line Recycling Bin

Kahului Fishing Line Recycling Bin

To date, Pacific Whale Foundation has installed two separate bins – one at Kahului Harbor and one at Ma’alaea Harbor.  These bins have thus far collected over 5,000 feet of monofilament line!!

Marine debris is a serious issue throughout the world’s marine and coastal environments, but it is local initiatives such as recycling fishing line or encouraging the use of reusable bags and water bottles that will lead to a more healthy (and happy!) environment.  These types of initiatives, furthermore, put the change directly in the hands of the community, and in doing so, empower the people who rely directly on the resources.

To learn more about Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program, please visit Don’t Leave Your Line Behind.

FACT OF THE WEEK: Can’t Touch This

FACT OF THE WEEK: Zoonotic disease Brucellosis found shared between marine mammals and humans.

MORE ON THIS: Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between humans and animals. Brucella spp. is the genus of bacteria which causes the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, and can be found in numerous domesticated livestock and wild animals. The Brucella strain in domesticated animals has been eradicated in most industrialized countries, but unfortunately, in developing countries, it is still an issue. The disease has also been found in marine mammals, particularly recorded in dolphins, seals and sea lions. Symptoms in each terrestrial or marine mammal vary, and acquiring the disease can be done by ingesting the bacterium or by touching an open wound.

Spotted dolphin with a lesion

Dolphin with an open wound

A case of a New Zealand man acquiring Brucella was reported in 2002. Initially doctors thought the transfer was from the man dressing a pig a year prior. Upon further investigation through laboratory tests, the Brucella strain found in the man was more closely associated with a strain found in a United States bottlenose dolphin and common seals. The man was interviewed and stated that he was never directly in contact with a marine mammal, but he was in contact with different types of bait and he had consumed a raw fish (Brucella is killed by cooking). Now you know that marine mammals can have diseases which can be passed to humans, so please refrain from approaching or touching them!

FURTHER READING:

  • NOAA Fisheries: Brucella Infection in Marine Mammals Read More
  • McDonald, W. L., Jamaludin, R., Mackereth, G., Hansen, M., Humphrey, S., Short, P., Taylor, T., Swingler, J., Dawson, C.E., Whatmore, A.M., Stubberfield, E., Perrett, L.L., & Simmons, G. (2006). Characterization of a Brucella sp. strain as a marine-mammal type despite isolation from a patient with spinal osteomyelitis in New Zealand. Journal of clinical microbiology44(12): 4363-4370.

Written by Laura Behm

World Orca Day!

Today is World Orca Day! On July 14th, we celebrate and focus on campaigns, films, awards, conservation efforts, and everything else about orca, also known as killer whales. This specific date was chosen to commemorate the successful release of an orca named Springer back in the wild, in British Columbia (BC), Canada, in 2002.

Springer, officially named A73, is a member of the northern resident orca community that frequents the waters off the northern part of Vancouver Island, BC, every summer. In 2002, Springer’s mother died and she was discovered alone and emaciated off the waters of Seattle, Washington, some 250 miles south. Luckily, orca populations along the eastern North Pacific coastline have been extensively studied since the pioneering work of Michael Bigg in the early 1970s.

Orcas can be found in all oceans and belong to regional ecological groups called “ecotypes”. Each ecotype can be told apart as they have distinct color patterns, morphology, behavior, diet, ranges, and genetics. Springer belongs to the “resident” ecotype. These orcas are larger than the “transient” or “offshore” ecotypes also found in the eastern North Pacific. The tip of residents’ dorsal fin is also rounded and curves backward in females. Their dorsal saddle may also contain some black. Thanks to photographs of her eye and saddle patch, as well as her distinctive vocal calls, experts were able to determine which pod Springer belonged to and that her mother was Sutlej (A45).

In June 2012, a decision was made by the United States National Fisheries Service or NMFS, after months of public debate, to capture Springer and attempt to reunite her with her pod. After being treated for medical conditions and given extra food, she was released near her relatives in July. The following year, she was sighted in July returning to Johnstone Strait with the A-clan orcas (her close relatives).

As of 2013, Springer has been sighted with her pod in Johnstone Strait. In July 2013, she was also observed with a new calf, which is very exciting. The release of Springer in the wild after human intervention is a real success story. Being able to see orcas, and other marine mammals in the wild, is priceless. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) believes that cetaceans (whales, dolphins, and porpoises) are highly intelligent animals and should not be kept in captivity for the purpose of entertainment. Click here to find out more about PWF campaign to keep dolphins free in the wild.

A73, or Springer, was spotted on July 4, 2013 with a new calf. Photo by: EverettRobotman

A73, or Springer, was spotted on July 4, 2013 with a new calf. Photo by: EverettRobotman

Bottlenose dolphin in Maalaea Harbor

Dolphin in Maalaea Harbor

The research team did not have to go far on July 3rd to spot a dolphin. There was one swimming around Maalaea Harbor! It looked like a sub-adult, meaning it was not fully grown. We photographed it following our protocol, and this week searched for a match within our bottlenose dolphin catalog, but this individual had not been photographed previously by our researchers. When we were examining the photos, we noticed a lot of tooth rake scars on the posterior (back) half of its body – perhaps it was seeking shelter from another dolphin or predator, it was curious, or maybe it had simply gotten lost. The team watched for a while and eventually the dolphin followed another boat out of the harbor.  Teenagers are always getting into trouble!

Rake Marks Photoshopped