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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Naturalist Spotlight: Maddie Buresh

“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”

We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?

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The Last Straw

What’s the big deal about having a straw in my drink?

Fact: 500 million plastic straws are used and thrown away every day in the U.S. alone. Shocking, right? That’s why, as of July 2016, PacWhale Eco-Adventures no longer serves plastic drinking straws on our vessels.

Increased air pollution. Plastic production needs electricity, one of the leading sources of air pollution in the U.S., according to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report. Oil and gas are also needed which means drilling, a harmful process known for destroying habitats. Then, gas is needed to transport the plastic materials from producers to straw makers, electricity is used to power straw-making machines, and even more gas is needed to deliver straws to customers. Besides banning straws, PacWhale Eco-Adventures has implemented a number of other green features, including using high efficiency engines on our vessels, locally sourced catering for our cruises, and LED lighting for our offices.

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Freeing the Whales

Entanglement in fishing gear is responsible for the death of an estimated 300,000 whales and dolphins each year. Last year, a total of 13 individual humpbacks were confirmed entangled in Hawai’i waters. It was the highest annual number of confirmed large whale entanglements in Hawai’i since reporting began in 2002. While 13 confirmed entanglements is a far cry from 300,000 animals, the issue hits home when it happens right in your backyard.

On Maui, the Hawai’i Disentanglement Network is responsible for responding to large whale entanglements. The Network is comprised of Sanctuary staff, tour boat operators, commercial airline pilots, tugboat captains, fishers, researchers, and private citizens. The Network relies on these individuals to alert the proper authorities of an entanglement. On-the-water efforts to disentangle animals are led by the Sanctuary’s Large Whale Disentanglement Coordinator, Ed Lyman.

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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.

Picture donated by Blake Moore

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.

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The Plastic Problem: Part I “What are Plastics”

Plastics are everywhere – from cell phones to soda bottles, to trash on the beach and in our oceans. Yet while our lives are dominated by plastic, plastics and their environmental impacts are still largely misunderstood by many people. This three part series explores plastics—from their creation to what happens once they go in your trash can or recycling bin. Part I begins by answering the first big question: “What are plastics?!” 

While some plastics are naturally found in the environment, the majority are man-made. Man-made plastics are created when individual carbon molecules are chemically bonded together. These carbon molecules are typically extracted from oil, a non-renewable resource, but more eco-friendly alternatives use carbon derived from natural materials like corn oil. Individual carbon molecules are combined to create compounds like styrene, ethylene and formaldehyde. 

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