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.

#PWFSaveTheWhales: 35 Ways to Save the Whales on our 35th Anniversary

35 yearsThirty five years ago, Pacific Whale Foundation was founded with the primary goal of saving the humpback whales, which were dangerously close to extinction in 1980. Now, our mission is to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. In our 35 years as an organization, we’re proud to have had ocean conservation victories on behalf of the whales.

A few highlights from years past include stopping the operation of a high speed ferry through calving grounds, banning plastic bags in Maui County and banning smoking and tobacco use at Maui County beaches and parks, banning the display of captive cetaceans in Maui County, and helping to designate the false killer whale as an endangered species. Learn more here.

However, humpback whales are not “out of the woods” yet. Humpback whales are still on the endangered species list and still have many threats facing them. At the top of the food chain, whales have an important role in the overall health of the ocean. Though whale protections and public awareness of the inhumaneness of whaling have improved, unfortunately seven out of the 13 great whale species are classified as endangered or vulnerable, even after decades of protection.  What are threats to whales and how can we help save them?

There are a lot of ways to make a difference for the whales, no matter where you live. Each time you take action to save the whales, document it and use the hashtag #PWFSaveTheWhales to show the world how YOU are standing up for the whales.

  1. Don’t delist! Keep Humpback Whales on the endangered species list.
  2. Marine debris, trash in the ocean, is now a major threat to whales. Leave the ocean cleaner than you found it.
  3. Stop whaling in Japan, Norway and Iceland (where over 1000 whales a year are killed for commercial hunting in Iceland, including fin whales).
  4. Support the International Whaling Commission’s ban on Japan’s “scientific” whaling and support non-lethal whale research instead.
  5. Oppose cetacean captivity around the world. PWF successfully petitioned to ban captive marine mammals in Maui County in 2002.
  6. Ship strikes are major causes of whale fatalities. Do your best to buy local to avoid excessive shipping.
  7. Naval sonar testing is believed to be harmful to cetaceans, oppose testing in your region and learn more from Pelagos Institute.
  8. Report any stranded marine mammals with NOAA’s smartphone app.
  9. Entanglement is a primary threat to cetaceans. Learn more and help out NOAA’s Hawaiian Islands Disentanglement Network, of which PWF is proud to be a part.
  10. PWF has found that reduced speed of whale watching boats lessens the risk of whale-vessel collisions. Learn more from our Be Whale Aware program and choose responsible ecotourism whenever you travel.
  11. Wherever you live, do your part to reduce climate change and rising sea surface temperatures. Rising temperatures in the ocean change where whales’ feeding grounds occur.
  12. Become an armchair whale scientist. Support noninvasive whale research and participate in PWF’s citizen science fluke ID project. http://matchmywhale.org/
  13. Support marine education and do your part to share your knowledge about whale conservation.
  14. Removing dams is not only salmon friendly; it also helps increase fish food supply for orcas in the Pacific Northwest.
  15. Buy sustainable seafood. Your choices will guide responsible fishing and make the oceans healthier. Learn more from Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch.
  16. Whales need a safe home, support the founding and enforcement of Marine Mammal Protected Areas worldwide.
  17. Support bans on trade in endangered species products and be sure to not purchase products made with endangered species.
  18. Encourage the U.S. to uphold the ban on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission.
  19. Use less plastic in your everyday life: it accidentally ends up in whales’ bellies.
  20. Use monofilament recycling bins to dispose to used fishing line. Check out Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program here on Maui.
  21. Support our conservation efforts and learn more at http://www.pacificwhale.org/content/conservation-programs.
  22. Set a good example as an ocean steward by respecting the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s approach limits, which is the law.
  23. “Adopt” a whale with Pacific Whale Foundation.
  24. Education is how we influence the next generation of ocean advocates. Share what you’ve learned.
  25. Check out “Dolphin SMART”, a program by NOAA that identifies responsible dolphin watching tours.
  26. All drains lead to the ocean. Use eco-friendly cleaning products.
  27. Cut the car: Bikes, buses, skateboards, feet, use ‘em!
  28. Oil and gas development produce noise and pollution in the ocean that disturb whales, look into renewable energy options.
  29. Support our efforts in promoting responsible boating. Check out our Be Whale Aware program as a guide for responsible boating and navigation around large whales.
  30. We don’t know everything about whales yet. We need research that better identifies areas that are important in whales’ life history for better protection.
  31. Be part of the solution: Join a local environmental group and volunteer your time, wherever you live.
  32. Say “No” to plastic bags: Plastic bags are estimated to kill over 100,000 birds, turtles and marine mammals each year. Invest in reusable bags.
  33. Avoid products with contaminants such as PCBs, which are harmful to orcas and other marine mammals.
  34. Wean off our oil dependency- oil spills drastically affect marine mammal populations.
  35. Become a member of PWF and help our efforts in science and advocacy.

Connect with us!

Twitter: @PacificWhale

Instagram: PacificWhaleFoundation

Facebook: Pacific Whale Foundation

Help Protect Maui’s Coral Reefs and Manta Rays

Maui truly is blessed in being surrounded by an underwater wonderland. In addition to hosting one of the largest concentrations of humpback whales during their birthing season in the world, we are also lucky to have the chance to see other graceful, unique denizens of the deep, such as monk seals, several species of sharks and even manta rays.

Maui is one of a few places in the entire world with a resident population of manta rays. Olowalu Reef, off of West Maui, is home to an estimated 350 resident reef manta rays. In nearshore reef locations, manta rays congregate around “cleaning stations”, where Hawaiian cleaner wrasse eat parasites of  the skin of a manta ray. Manta rays are also thought to breed in the shallow coral reef habitat.

Unfortunately, both species of manta ray (Manta birostris and Manta alfredi) are currently listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Manta rays are hunted in some countries for their skin, their fins (for the shark fin soup trade) and for their gill rakers, which are used in some Chinese medicines. Since manta rays mature slowly and have few pups, they are especially susceptible to fishing pressures. Manta rays around Maui have also been spotted entangled in fishing line and some have even lost part of their fins due to this marine debris. Learn more from HAMER.

To raise awareness, Pacific Whale Foundation has just launched a seasonal conservation campaign to take action and help protect the coral reefs of Maui that resident manta rays depend on.

On Maui, proposed shoreline development near the Olowalu area would cause increased runoff, which would smother coral polyps. Encourage sustainable development and responsible environmental policies by supporting conservation minded local officials, no matter where you live. Be sure to clean up and recycle monofilament fishing lines with Pacific Whale Foundation’s fishing line recycling program. Much is still to be learned about manta ray populations, migrations, habitat use, and behavior. Help add to knowledge of these animals by donating any “belly shots”, with sighting location and date, to Hawaii Association for Marine Education and Research for mantas in Maui, or to Manta Trust, for mantas spotted in other parts of the world.  Good luck spotting these amazing ambassadors of the reefs!

FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawaii’s State Mammal is Critically Endangered

MORE ON THIS: To native Hawaiians, this furry creature may be referred to as ‘llioholoikauaua, but you personally know them as Hawaiian monk seals. These monk seals are endemic, meaning they are only found in Hawai‘i. They are one of the most endangered animals in the world, with their population of about 1,100 still declining.

These marine mammals are semiaquatic, spending most of their time at sea and some of their time on land.  “Hauling out” is a process where the seal goes onto the beaches to sleep, nurse, molt and rest. Here, a mother will nurse her pup for about 6 weeks and then the roughly 200-pound pup will have to fend for itself. An adult will grow from 6 to 7.5 feet in length and will weight between 375 to 600 pounds. They are generalist feeders, feeding on what is readily available, such as squid, eel, octopi, fish, and crustaceans.

There are many dangers that threaten the life of a monk seal. Food limitations, marine debris entanglement, falling victim to bycatch, mother-pup disturbances and illegal sealing (killing) are some of the anthropogenic, or human-caused, threats to these mammals. Disease outbreaks, predators and low genetic diversity are some of the natural threats that can harm them.  However, overfishing, littering, utilizing harmful fishery equipment, and harassing or killing seals are all very crucial things that humans can cease doing to promote population growth. Natural disturbances may not be able to be avoided, but humans can learn to live in harmony with these animals.

What we can do to help is:

  • give the seals lots of space when hauled out or in the water
  • follow fishing guidelines and restrictions
  • pick up litter
  • report stranded or entangled seals to the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Hotline at 1-888-256-9840
  • report harassment to NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement at 1-888-853-1964
  • report ALL sightings of monk seals on Maui to (808) 292-2372

Many foundations around the island may also have volunteer opportunities for the public. Educating the public around hauled out seals and helping with population counts can benefit them immensely.  Even you can help the monk seal!

FURTHER READING:

  1. Hawai‘i Wildlife Watching Guide: Hawaiian Monk Seal. Pacific Whale Foundation. 2010. http://www.pacificwhale.org/sites/pacificwhale.org/files/Monk-Seal-Guide.pdf
  2. Protected Resources Division. NOAA. 2010. http://www.fpir.noaa.gov/PRD/prd_hms_population_threats.html
  3. Hawaiian Monk Seal. National Geographic. n.d. http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/hawaiian-monk-seal
  4. Who’s Killing Hawaii’s Monk Seals? Huffington Post. 2013. Nathan Eagle & Sophie Cook. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/06/killing-monk-seals_n_4399723.html

Written by Melissa Freese

Hawksbill turtle hatchling. Photo courtesy of Cheryl King, Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

FACT OF THE WEEK: Hawksbill turtles are nesting on Maui

MORE ON THIS: In Hawai‘i, Hawksbill turtles mostly nest on Hawai‘i Island, but Maui is home to some of the nesting beaches for ten of these turtles.  Beginning around age 20, a female will return to the area where she was born between May and October every 3 to 9 years to lay her eggs.  Hawksbills will nest at night and will lay 2-5 sets of eggs, or clutches, in the same season. Each clutch will be laid approximately 16-23 days apart.  To lay eggs, the turtle will haul out onto a beach to find a suitable area, dig a deep pit using her flippers, and then fill the pit with her eggs.  A single clutch averages 180 eggs.  Once she is done laying her eggs, she will use her flippers to fill the hole in with sand before returning to the sea.

After approximately 60 days, the eggs will hatch and tiny turtles will begin racing towards the sea.  This is one of the most dangerous times in their life and many don’t make it, except for on Maui where Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund closely monitors each nest to ensure each hatchling crawls to the ocean safely.  A variety of larger animals such as crabs or birds will prey on the small turtles as they make their way to the water.  Hawksbill turtles are listed as endangered throughout the world, including in Hawai‘i, largely in part because of humans.  They have been exploited for many years for tortoise shell, which is thought to make beautiful décor.  Other threats include habitat loss from coastal development, marine debris, being caught as fishing by-catch and light pollution.

Adult Hawksbill Turtle. Photo courtesy of Cheryl King, Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

Adult Hawksbill Turtle. Photo courtesy of Cheryl King, Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

What is being done to help these turtles?  Organizations such as Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund, NOAA, and US Fish and Wildlife Service have built turtle fences to prevent turtles from crossing roads, and created annual nesting and hatching patrols.  They are also working with local home owners, businesses and resorts to reduce coastal lighting that may prevent turtles from nesting on beaches and/or confuse hatching turtles and cause them to head inland instead of out towards the sea.  With these efforts, hawksbill turtle populations will hopefully be on the rise.

Sea turtles are protected under state law and the US endangered species act. It is illegal to harass, kill or capture a sea turtle. If you ever spot a hawksbill on the beach, take a photo of one while swimming, or would like to be a volunteer to help with nesting and hatching patrols, please contact Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund at (808)280-8124 or wild@aloha.net

FURTHER READING:

  1. Hawai‘i Wildlife Watching Guide: Sea turtles. 2010. Pacific Whale Foundation. Available online: http://www.pacificwhale.org/sites/pacificwhale.org/files/Sea-Turtles-Guide.pdf
  2. Hawksbill Sea Turtle. 2014. Florida: US Fish and Wildlife Service. Available online: http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/seaturtles/turtle%20factsheets/hawksbill-sea-turtle.htm
  3. Hawaiian Hawksbill Sea Turtles. N.D. NOAA-NMFS and Hawai‘i Wildlife Fund. Available online: http://wildhawaii.org/documents/hawaiian_hawksbill_brochure.pdf

Written by Sarah Mousel