Kaho’olawe Island Restoration

In February 2018 twelve Pacific Whale Foundation volunteers participated in a public access to one of Hawaii’s most sacred islands – Kaho’olawe. Kaho’olawe is believed to be the kino lau or manifestation of Kanaloa a sacred ground for the people of Hawaii to practice and embrace their culture. This island is known as the piko, or navel of the Hawaiian islands, the crossroads of past and future generations where Hawaiian culture was spread. But the history of Kaho’olawe has not been an easy one. The island is thought to have been settled by Native Hawaiians since 400 AD but, as the years went on, a dark evolution of the island began to take place.

In the 1800’s it was used as a penal colony for adult men, in the early 1900’s the uncontrolled grazing of cattle, sheep, and goats on the ranch lands started to decimate native vegetation. In 1953, in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy took the island under Martial Law as a bombing site. Ordnance were dropped on Kaho’olawe until the early 1990’s, destroying sections of land, eliminating acres of native vegetation, and causing massive amounts of erosion to come from the island.

In 2004 the process of removing unexploded ordnance from the island started, in hopes of restoring it to its once accessible state. Around 75% of the surface area of Kaho’olawe is cleared today and, of this, 11% is cleared to a depth of 4 feet. The next step in the restoration project has been to re-plant native vegetation to stunt the erosion and combat the extensive network of invasive plants that have moved in.

Nowadays so many volunteers apply to assist with this restoration that there is a multi-year waiting list. After a three year wait, a small group of Pacific Whale Foundation employees were admitted access to Kaho’olawe with a conservation mission to help restore the island. Our staff spent three days pulling invasive plant species and replacing them with over 1,000 new native plants, while exploring and learning of the cultural significance this island has to the Hawaiian people. Our staff were honored and  privileged to be allowed to partake in this conservation experience of a lifetime. Hard work and dedication to restoring this island was given to Kaho’olawe by a small group of volunteers, upholding one of Pacific Whale Foundation’s main tiers, conservation and environmental stewardship.

 

Kaho’olawe has generations of restoration work ahead of it, but with passionate volunteers dedicated to conservation and cultural understanding, this island will hopefully one day be restored.

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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Field season in Australia is underway

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia research program is off to a great start this year. Based out of the town of Hervey Bay, we observe the whales as they migrate along the east coast of Australia, traveling south to their Antarctic feeding grounds. We have had some amazing whale encounters, and we are already starting to see mothers arriving with their calves. Our research staff and volunteers have been going out daily since mid-July to photograph the humpback whales that migrate through the region. The whales in this population mate and have their calves in the tropical areas of northeast Australia and Oceania. The bay is relatively shallow and protected by Fraser Island, offering a nice area for the whales to stop over during their long migration south.

Working from the MV Amaroo operated by the Hervey Bay Boat Club, our researchers take opportunistic identification photos of the underside of the whales’ tail flukes. Since each fluke is unique to the individual, these photos allow us to compare the fluke of each whale we see in the field with our catalog of known whales to determine the history of sightings for each animal. Additionally, the team tries to get photos of the dorsal fins and body of the animal which helps us assess overall body condition as well as any lesions or scars that may indicate injury or poor health. To learn more about our Australian research projects, visit our website. To try your hand at matching fluke photos from our South Pacific catalog, create an account and get started at Match My Whale.

 

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Expedition down under

Pacific Whale Foundation researchers arrived this week in Hervey Bay, a quaint community in northern Queensland. For the next few months, I will be documenting research efforts and managing our little shop as humpback whales make their annual migration from the subtropic waters of eastern Australia to their feeding grounds of Antarctica. Stephanie Stack, M.Sc. PWF’s Senior Research Biologist and Research Assistant Laura Behm will be photographing flukes and recording data of daily sightings for ongoing research in the area.

Began in 1984, Pacific Whale Foundation’s Australia humpback whale research program is the longest running study of this population. The overarching goal of PWF’s research is to advance understanding of humpback whale biology, population status and impacts of human activities on the population. PWF’s Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whale ID Catalog is a compilation of 31 seasons of research, combining detailed data on life history, behavior, spatial distribution, and human impacts.

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All Things Are Possible!

Summer break may be finished, but Ocean Camp memories gust thicker than my Oklahoma accent. As I plug away behind my computer reconciling administrative tasks and reacquainting myself with current events, I can easily become discouraged with the empty nest syndrome of a quieter classroom and the multitude of unjust issues impacting our precious marine life. Yet every climb down the stairs in our office confronts me with the reason why I do what I do. Tacked on an otherwise barren, white wall is a sign that speaks volumes above the noisy staircase it decorates. The artistically rendered petition reads, “Save Lolita” referring to a captive orca. This project is a representation of the many efforts that result from our educational program Ocean Camp.

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