The Dangerous Truth of the Modern Seafood Industry

The ocean may seem like an endless resource; vast, mysterious and without limit. Throughout history, the ocean has provided humankind with massive amounts of fish and other marine creatures to consume, yet the health and biodiversity of our oceans are rapidly declining worldwide. Fortunately there is plenty we can do to help if we take responsibility and make ourselves aware of this issue.

The threats to our seas are often kept out of the public eye for the sake of economic profit, with many large corporations in the seafood industry adopting the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. Overfishing, lack of effective management, and human consumption habits are all factors causing a rapid decline in wild fish populations. These aren’t just theories or speculation, either; there is plentiful evidence for the decline of many species of fish. Atlantic populations of halibut and yellowtail flounder are at all-time lows. The reproduction rate of Pacific bluefin tuna is at only four percent of its original size. Up to ninety percent of the world’s fisheries are overexploited, fully exploited, or collapsed.

The fishing industry doesn’t just affect the target fish species. With the use of most types of modern fishing gear, unwanted bycatch and habitat damage are of growing concern. The gear is large, covers extensive area, and is highly unselective – meaning it catches (and often kills) many more animals than just the target species. This bycatch can include sharks, sea turtles, porpoises, dolphins, and even whales.

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No butts on the beach!

Pacific Whale Foundation received an outreach and education grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Marine Debris Program in the summer of 2016. As a recipient of this grant, it’s our goal to:

  • Educate the public about marine debris and its effects on the environment.
  • Remove marine debris and cigarette butts from Maui’s coastline.
  • Inform people on Maui’s tobacco free beaches and parks bill; it is illegal to smoke on any of Maui County’s parks, beaches and recreational areas.

Since awarded this grant, our Research and Conservation staff have provided outreach and education about this important topic to 310,920 members of the public and 17,603 keiki. We have also hosted several educational events such as Ocean Camp, where Maui keiki get hands-on experience with a certified Marine Naturalist, and hosting the Maui screening of the documentary A Plastic Ocean at the historic Iao Theatre to raise awareness about single-use plastics.

We also have an outreach station located at popular Ulua Beach, where beachgoers can talk to our onsite Naturalist about marine debris, tobacco use, or general ocean health. By personally bringing the information to the public, we hope to raise awareness and encourage a change in behavior when it comes to marine debris.

Through various clean-up events and ongoing research projects, the Research Team has collected 53,392 pieces of debris since 2013, of which 21,468 were cigarette butts! At the Get the Drift and Bag it! harbor clean up on International Coastal Clean-Up day, volunteers picked up 15,356 cigarette butts. With a recently announced extension to this grant, Pacific Whale Foundation will continue educating the public on marine debris and cleaning our coastlines through January 2018.

 

Ocean Play, the Sustainable Way – the Importance of Using Reef-Safe Sunscreen

The chance to explore the warm, bright blue waters and vibrant coral reefs of Maui is one of the biggest draws for visitors to our island paradise. It’s nothing short of magical to watch colorful reef fish dart amongst the coral heads beneath you while graceful, lumbering green sea turtles meander slowly up from the sea floor to take their gulps of air. When you’re lucky enough to be frolicking in the ocean here, whether you’re snorkeling, diving, surfing, beach-combing, swimming, paddle-boarding, kayaking, or simply floating on your back and watching the world go by, you’re in one of the most relaxing places on Earth. We get so much from the ocean – shouldn’t it be part of our job to make sure we’re taking care of her in return?

Sunscreen, one of the first toiletries many think to pack when traveling to an island, has become a big topic of concern out here in this popular vacation spot. Naturally, sun protection is an important part of taking care of our skin, but many don’t consider that there are plenty more options apart from the typical creams, sprays, and lotions that line the shelves at convenience stores. Did you know that certain ingredients in many of the most common sunscreen brands are actually killing our coral reefs? It’s easy to forget about the products we’re slathering on our bodies when we’re excited to jump in and explore these beautiful underwater places. But oxybenzone and octinoxate are two common active ingredients in sunscreen that can dramatically harm the tiny animals that make up our fragile coral reef ecosystems. Researches are finding that these chemicals can cause coral viruses, which in turn can cause bleaching and polyp death. They’ve even been shown to disrupt the endocrine systems of larger marine creatures, like shrimps and clams.

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More Than Just a Whalewatch

Anyone who has seen a humpback whale and witnessed one of these animals in the wild is likely to enthusiastically share their experience. Many embark on their first whalewatch with high hopes and come back with a new appreciation for these fascinating creatures. Whalewatching is a very fun recreational activity, but it also has the potential to be an important venue for raising awareness of humpback whales and getting the public involved in protecting our oceans.

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For over 35 years, Pacific Whale Foundation has been on the forefront of researching and developing an internationally recognized model of whalewatching. Our whalewatches create enjoyable educational experiences and challenge passengers to change how they relate to the ocean. People from all different backgrounds can come together and share the excitement of encountering a humpback whale in the wild, knowing that they are playing an important role in funding research and conservation efforts that are creating lasting impacts far beyond the whalewatch itself. As the demand for eco-tourism increases, so also does the potential for turning the industry into one that is constructive and sustainable.

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Seeing Some Familiar Fins

The PWF research team recently had a great encounter with a pod of bottlenose dolphins that were hunting fish. Back in the office, we used the bottlenose dolphin photo-identification catalog to reveal some interesting information about the group. As it turns out, this pod contained an adoption animal (#095, “Pa‘ani”), our oldest cataloged animal (#005), a dolphin newly confirmed as a male (#114), and a female who had a calf last summer (#006).

Dolphin #005 was sighted in the very first pod added to the PWF bottlenose dolphin catalog in 1996, and dolphin #006 was first seen in 1997, making them at least 21 and 20 years old, respectively. Our adoptable female, #095 (“Pa‘ani”), was first seen in 2010, meaning she is potentially a bit younger than #005 and #006. Since she had already reached her adult size when she was first seen, it is difficult to determine her actual age, but we know she is at least 7 years old.

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A Dynamic Disequilibrium

When we go on whalewatches, we are entering the world of humpback whales to encounter them in their natural environment. Passengers and crew are often astounded by the diverse behaviors and characteristics of these animals, but occasionally we are also presented with sobering reminders that threats to whales and other marine life are still very real. On one of our recent whalewatches out of Hervey Bay, Australia, all those aboard Ocean Defender were given a glimpse into humpback whale entanglement.

Whale 1 Resize

As we entered Platypus Bay we saw our first whale sighting of the day, and the level of excitement was rising. There was a whale swimming by itself, which is not unusual for a humpback whale, but after a few minutes it seemed there may be something wrong. This particular whale was acting stressed and swimming erratically. Then we noticed something odd; as the whale surfaced we could see a laceration on its dorsal fin from dragging several lines.

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