The Making of a Marine Naturalist: Meet Sarah Bonneson

A few weeks ago we introduced you to one of our Marine Naturalists at Pacific Whale Foundation, Erin Hord. We’re back again and excited to introduce you to another crew member, the charismatic Sarah Bonneson. Let’s dive deeper into her passion for the ocean, and find out what brought her on this journey towards working with our team in research, education, and conservation. Make sure to stay tuned for our next crew interview!


Hey Sarah! Where did you originally call home? 

I’m originally from a small town in Southern Maine. Growing up so close to the ocean and being immersed in Maine’s rugged beauty no doubt helped form my immense passion for the environment.

What about the ocean most captivates you?

The ocean is liquid outer-space. It is home to some of the most bizarre organisms on the planet and caters to some of the most mind-boggling adaptations of life. I love the mystery that the ocean holds and the endless questions that it prods from us.

What do you enjoy most about working for Pacific Whale Foundation?

I love the platform PWF creates to reach people and tug on their heart strings. For many of us, being able to connect a feeling with an experience can be life changing and I think that is the ultimate goal of Pacific Whale Foundation: to enact change through education and use our trips as an avenue to empower our passengers to be advocates for the ocean.

What experiences and education were most influential on your path to becoming a Marine Naturalist?

I went on my first whale watch out of Plymouth, Massachusetts and completely fell in love with humpback whales as one swam under the boat, showing its colossal size paired with an elegance and awareness that cemented my ties with the ocean indefinitely. From that moment on I was hooked.

What does the world need to know about conservation?

You do not have to be a scientist to make a difference. It can be as simple as eliminating one plastic item off of your shopping list, remembering to bring your reusable bags or forgoing that plastic straw at the bar. You will soon find that these small changes begin to bleed into your everyday decisions and now you are creating a ripple effect. Your friends, family, your children see you taking the extra time to be environmentally conscious and it will empower them to do the same. Start today, let your actions speak volumes for the ocean!

What is your favorite humpback whale behaviour to see and interpret for guests on board a whalewatch?

This is a hard one. I have to say one of my all time favorites would have to be an Inverted Pectoral Slap. A repetitive behavior thought to be used for communication. The whale looks like its “lollygagging” at the ocean’s surface and doing the backstroke. Honestly though, I really love when I see a whale doing a behavior that I have no idea how to interpret. I think it humbles my whale watches and reminds me of how little we truly know about these magnificent creatures and how much more we have to learn.

Why do you feel whalewatching is an amazing way to connect people with the marine environment?

I think connecting a powerful emotion with an experience is what brings about change and this is exactly what these gentle giants are best at. Most of the time on whale watches the whales speak for themselves, creating an intimate connection with every person onboard. Being able to view these animals for yourself and see them leap out of the water, take an interest in the boat or just enjoying their natural habitat is incredibly moving.

How do you stay motivated while working in the field of marine biology and conservation?

Most of my favorite memories are connected to the ocean in some way or form. Its taught me a lot about patience, trust and respect. From meeting eyes with a humpback whale to flying with manta rays or just bobbing with turtles, these animals have been some of the most wonderful hosts I have ever met as they share with me their world. I want everyone to have these connections as it becomes so incredibly paramount that we must protect their home and in turn our own.

And lastly…what is your oceanic spirit animal?

I think I would want to combine a few different ocean animals but I’ll go with an octopus. I am by no means as intelligent as these underwater aliens but their ability to make the best of whatever backdrop they are given and learn from their surroundings reminds me of my own nomadic lifestyle.


There you have it! Sarah brings an incredible energy to the team and to each and every one of her whalewatches; it’s a true delight to have her onboard Ocean Defender as a Marine Naturalist. Come visit us in Hervey Bay and experience the powerful message of ocean conservation and whale research that Sarah shares every day.

Stay tuned for our next interview!

Still Australia’s Best Kept Secret

Hervey Bay, Australia’s best keep secret, is a coastal city in southern Queensland approximately 180 miles north of Brisbane. From June to October this otherwise quaint fishing community has ostentatious visitors that create quite the excitement; south pacific humpback whales come to the Platypus Bay to rest and build up energy for their migration back to Antarctica.

Known as the “humpback highway,” there are definitely few places in the world that compare to the awe-inspiring, soul-evoking, up-close whale watching encounters that you will find in Hervey Bay. I am always amazed by how incredible each whalewatch is; the whales are so inquisitive and there is no lack of “best ever” experiences. Young sub adults are the first passing through this remarkable landscape, followed by mom and calf pairs. The bay is rich with wildlife including other species of odontocetes, dugongs, turtles and more.

The best vessel for photographers is Ocean Defender, not only because of the remarkable foundation it supports (Pacific Whale Foundation) but also because of its small capacity and “whale-eye” view; there are no bad seats. You are also able to plan more trips because of its capable speed to get up to the northern part of the bay where the whales are found. Most vessels can take up to two hours to reach the first pod. It’s also recommend you dress in layers, as it can get cold out at sea but the sun can heat things up pretty quickly.

  • Tip: bring an assortment of lenses, I find I use my wide-angle lens more often than my big telephoto. Ocean Defender is the best vessel in the bay to use Go Pros for that underwater footage. Getting the perfect shot of a whale can prove to be very difficult for even the most experienced photographers, when in doubt shoot video!

 

The best month to go is in August; the weather tends to be warmer, the Ocean Festival takes place and the community comes together to celebrate these magnificent creatures with an array of events including the Hervey Bay Seafood Festival, Fraser Coast Kite Karnival, Paddle Out for the Whales and Whale Parade.

  • Tip: take time to enjoy each event by taking a walkabout; avoid driving – you will meet more people walking around. Also plan an afternoon to walk down Urangan Pier, built in 1913 that has since been a historical icon, restored not entirely in it’s original formality, it still reaches over nine football fields in length.

Other things to do is to visit Fraser Island, also known as the largest sand island in the world, this diverse eco system is home to the purest bread of dingoes, it has rainforests, eucalyptus woodland, mangrove forests and the most stunning lakes. You can plan a day trip or plan a camping trip but make sure to rent a 4×4 vehicle otherwise you will not be granted access.

Another must do is to visit Lady Elliot Island, the southernmost coral cay of the Great Barrier Reef. The snorkeling is unbelievable; you can literally spend all day in the lagoon exploring and observing wildlife. A short 30 minute flight from Hervey Bay on a very small prop plane, the carrier Seabird Aviation offers day trips, but I recommend staying the night at their low-key and eco-friendly resort. Be sure to book in advance as it’s the only resort.

  • Tip: Although the cost of your ticket includes everything including snorkel gear, I recommend bringing your own for the sake of time.

This is a well worth destination and links below can help you plan your trip.

 

The Elusive False Killer Whale

In 2013, Jens Currie came to Pacific Whale Foundation as a data analyst from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. With an ambition to explore more robust statistical methods of potential anthropogenic impacts on cetacean populations, Jens is now Senior Research Analyst. Here, he lends a helping hand for those of us that are new to understanding and appreciating the endangered false killer whale.

scroll below to watch video

What is a false killer whale, and can you dissect the name for me?
False killer whales are the fourth largest species of dolphin. They are characterized by their dark coloration, slender body, crescent-shaped dorsal fin, and small rounded head with no beak. Individuals of this species weigh between 1,000-3,000 lbs. Adult females reach lengths of 16 feet, while adult males are almost 20 feet long.

The name Pseudorca (pseudo-orca) comes from the similarly shaped skulls that false killer whales have to that of killer whales (Orcinus orca). The “crassidens” in their scientific name Pseudorca crassidens means “thick tooth.” They were first discovered and described by fossils.

What is their lifespan, what do they eat, how do they stand out?
These animals have a lifespan of 60 years or more.  False killer whales feed primarily on fish and cephalopods in open water habitats.  The prey items of this species include economically important fish, such as mahi-mahi and tuna, and occasionally other marine mammal species. It has been documented that false killer whales cooperatively hunt, and will share food between individuals in their group.

Where are they found in the world?
False killer whales are distributed throughout warm and temperate waters in the tropics and subtropics, with the highest abundance in warmer waters. They are typically found in the open ocean but can also occur closer to shore, particularly near tropical oceanic islands such as the Hawaiian Islands. Based on genetic and photographic data, there are three populations of false killer whales surrounding the Hawaiian Islands: the main Hawaiian Islands insular population, the northwestern Hawaiian Islands insular population, and an offshore/open-ocean population.

Do they migrate? Are they kama’aina?
They do not migrate and the main Hawaiian Islands insular population is kama’aina

Why are there so few remaining?
The endangered main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale population is estimated to be around 150 individuals. The historical population size is unknown; however, spotter planes from the 1980s report seeing large aggregations of 350-400 whales in a single area. Aerial data suggest that the population has declined at an average rate of 9% per year through the early 2000’s (NOAA Fisheries, 2018).

The reason why there are so few false killer whales is unknown; however, there are several factors that likely play a role. Given their endangered status, in 2010 a Biological Review Team (BRT) was established to conduct a status review of the species. In the Status Review report (Oleson et al. 2010) of the 29 identified threats identified, the most substantial threats to the population include: the effects of small population size (inbreeding depression and Allee effects), exposure to environmental contaminants, competition for food with commercial fisheries, and hooking, entanglement, and/or intentional harm by fishermen.

How can citizen scientists help us ID these elusive animals?
Citizen scientists can help us ID these animals by donating any photos they have of false killer whales in Hawaii. We can photo-identify individual Pseudorca through unique scars and markings, and by using their dorsal fin. Photo-identification is an important part of our research and how we can track changes in population size over time.

Another way to help is to notify PWF’s researchers when false killer whales are sighted in the Maui Nui region! We would greatly appreciate a phone call or text if any water users see false killer whales so we can initiate a rapid response (weather and time permitting).

Can you give me 3-5 reasons why they are awesome?

  • They share food with each other, and have been documented offering fish to humans that are diving or boating.
  • They are one of very few species known to enter menopause. Most animals continue to reproduce until they die; the only known exceptions to this are humans, killer whales, false killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales.
  • False killer whales were first discovered by their fossils and were thought to be an extinct species until a pod was observed in 1861.

All photos and videos were taken under NMFS Permit # 16479.

The Making of a Marine Naturalist: Meet Erin Hord

Our Marine Naturalists at Pacific Whale Foundation are so much more than boat crew. Each member of our marine education team has a unique background and brings a variety of knowledge and experiences. We love highlighting the uniqueness that each of our Naturalists brings to the boat, and diving deeper into their passion for the ocean. We’ll be highlighting a new crew member each month. As our whalewatching season continues in full swing here in Hervey Bay, we’re thrilled to introduce Erin Hord.


Hi Erin! Whereabouts are you from? 

I was born in Miami, Florida, but I have lived the majority of my life thus far in Madison, Ohio.

What is your first memory of the ocean?

I think my first vivid memory of the ocean was when I was 8 years old and the ocean was flooding the street outside my family’s apartment building because of a tropical storm. That obviously didn’t deter me from ending up in a Marine Biology career though!

What drew you to work for Pacific Whale Foundation?

I was drawn to work for Pacific Whale Foundation because I absolutely love watching
whales in their natural habitat and working to protect the oceans they dwell in.

What experiences and education prepared you for your journey to becoming a Marine Naturalist?

I went to a small liberal arts college where the opportunities to get involved in my future career were endless. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Biology and Marine Science, and I was able to study at the Duke University Marine Lab and have immersive marine science courses in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, and St. Croix. I think the experience that helped most with my journey to becoming a Marine Naturalist was my summer internship with the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, based in New Hampshire. I was an education and research intern aboard whale watch vessels, which really helped ignite my passion for marine mammal conservation.

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PWF Marine Debris Action Plan Partnership

In concert with our core research, education and conservation work focused on marine mammals, Pacific Whale Foundation began to research marine debris in 2013 when we noticed how much floating trash we were encountering during whale and dolphin surveys. By conducting formal research studies we strive to understand the types and amounts of debris that are impacting Maui coasts and marine resources, as well as closely monitor the effects of education, policy and outreach on reducing marine debris. This prevalence of debris in our oceans and along our coasts has enormous impacts on marine life, including marine mammals – making the issue essential to our work.

In August 2018, Mark Manuel, the Pacific Islands Marine Debris Regional Coordinator, invited Pacific Whale Foundation to participate in a statewide working group evaluating the progress made in Hawaii since a plan was last revised in 2016. Supported by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, the group first convened in 2008 and brought together 30 representatives from government, academia, nongovernmental organizations and private businesses to prioritize marine debris issues specific to Hawaii. Over time, 48 organizations developed the Hawai‘i Marine Debris Action Plan, which established a comprehensive framework for strategic action to reduce the ecological, health and safety, and economic impacts of marine debris in Hawai‘i from 2016 through 2020.

Goals of the Plan:

  • Reduce sources of marine debris through prevention
  • Reduce the amount and impacts of ocean-based marine debris
  • Support and sustain marine debris removal
  • Increase capacity to address abandoned and derelict vessels (ADVs)
  • Conduct high quality research to understand marine debris

During the August 2018 Oahu-based meeting, each of the 30 participating organizations reported progress made towards achieving these goals and then worked collaboratively revise the Action Plan for the next 2 years, creating ways that each can work together to tackle the most pressing issues facing Hawaii.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s marine debris work provided significant progress towards achieving the goals outlined in the 2016 plan and was among the top contributing organizations of the original 48 that helped to develop the plan, along with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, Surfrider Foundation, 808 Cleanups and Hawaii Wildlife Fund. We are actively working towards 4 of the 5 goals through our continued land and at-sea marine debris research, as well as our ongoing education and outreach initiatives.

“To find effective solutions to Hawaii’s marine debris problem will require all stakeholders such as governments, NGOs, academia, the private sector, and the public to work together,” remarks Pacific Whale Foundation Senior Research Analyst Jens Currie, “Marine debris accumulation is a multi-step process and PWF is focusing their efforts on understanding the “end of the line” impacts on our oceans and marine life. We want to address the issue at the source, so we can work towards effective solutions. Being included in this statewide consortium allows us to work with other organizations to target larger audiences to ensure our findings are impacting change.”

Pacific Whale Foundation has dedicated substantial resources to better understand the impact that marine debris poses to Hawaii. In addition to maintaining removal efforts, we strive to leverage these opportunities for data collection and scientific research. Working closely with the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, we are producing the scientific research needed to assess and evaluate impactful legislative decisions and mitigation measures.

To make a donation in support of this important work, please visit https://www.pacificwhale.org/you-can-help/make-donation/.

Have a group interested in making a difference with a beach cleanup activity? Sponsor a 2-3 hour event; we will provide coastal marine debris monitoring program kits, research and conservation experts, transportation and any coordination you need. Contact us

The Last Straw Art Sculpture, “From the Artist”

Meet Rachael Lallo, one of our talented graphic designers in the Pacific Whale Foundation marketing department.

Rachael worked long and hard to design the Last Straw Campaign that launched on World Oceans Day in June. The Last Straw is our conservation campaign to raise awareness about single-use plastics, focusing on plastic drinking straws. Rachael was on a creative streak and decided to use her artistic talents to create a sculpture using 5,200 individual straws and working for a total of 65 hours to create this focal point for plastic straw awareness.

Rachael Lallo: “This was a big project. Of course I couldn’t create a simple easy piece, ha ha! Being the artist I am, I wanted to make something that would be impactful and have the power to make a difference. I wanted the piece to educate people in an instant about the overpowering global issue of marine debris and debris in general. I remember being educated in grade school about other types of conservation, but now a fast shift is being made to focus on the overwhelming and alarming issue of marine debris. We’re needing to put out our own fires. This issue has grown so fast and wild that it’s consuming our planet. It’s obviously a huge threat and it feels that we’ve only recently realized it. But it’s never too late to make a change.

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