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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Oceans - Heart of our Blue Planet

Does the ocean capture your imagination? Are you concerned about its status and all we are doing to it? Do you want to learn more?

Do you have an ipad? Download the FREE CEMEX conservation book about the oceans by clicking here https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/oceans/id478004100?mt=8. The book contains some remarkable photographs by the world's leading underwater photographers belonging to the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) and is totally worth a browse. Consider it an early christmas present to you and your loved ones!

For those of you who do not have an ipad, you can see a selection of the amazing photographs by watching this short youtube video.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Noisy oceans

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is currently documenting human-made noises in the ocean which they then hope to transform into the world's first large sound maps. The ocean visualizations use bright colors to symbolize the sounds radiating out through the oceanic depths, frequently over distances of hundreds of miles. The map above is one such example. The hotter colours (reds) are areas of higher noise while the cooler colours (blues) represent areas of less noise.

The impact of noise on marine mammals is something that is generally hard to quantify - even though we know it is increasing and having devastating effects. For an animal that relies on acoustics for its survival, a noisy ocean is not a great place to live. Imagine it.

To learn more about this study, read this article http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/11/science/project-seeks-to-map-and-reduce-ocean-noise-pollution.html?pagewanted=1&ref=science and make sure you listen to the sounds of the various sounds and the podcast on the left hand side of the page!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Results from Deepsea Challenge expedition!!!

Have you been wondering what interesting findings were made on this expedition? Here filmmaker and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence James Cameron talks via Skype about early findings from his record-breaking dive to the Mariana Trench in March of this year. He and his science colleagues presented findings at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Fransicso.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Blue whales pirouette before engulfing their prey: Watch this!

As if behemoth ballerinas, blue whales pirouette before lunging at their prey, a strategy that may help the giants ambush krill from below.

"This behavior probably improves the whales' chances to engulf the most krill possible," said study co-author Ari Friedlaender, a marine biologist at Duke University.

The new findings, detailed today (Nov. 27) in the journal Biology Letters, may shed light on how the enigmatic creatures hunt and devour their shrimplike prey......

Watch this video and read the article in LiveScience. http://www.livescience.com/25077-whales-turn-while-diving.html

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Marine acoustics with Kelly Benoit-Bird

For the longest time the only thing I really knew about Kelly Benoit-Bird was that she was a recipient of the 2010 MacArthur Genius Award, which happens to be one of the most prestigious awards available. I then saw her keynote presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting last year and I secretly sent my approval to the MacArthur Foundation for their incredible choice. Kelly uses marine acoustics in novel ways to learn more about ecosystems in the open ocean. More recently I have had the opportunity to work very closely with one of Kelly's former PhD students, my good friend Amanda Kaltenberg. As a result I have learnt that not only is Kelly a genius but she also happens to be a great person, mentor and friend. 

Watch this short Pop!Tech talk to learn more about the work Kelly does!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Tongan humpback baby boom continues!

Calf number 19. A beautiful bouncing baby boy! Photo credit: Tony Wu
How many of you remember the Tongan humpback baby boom last year where we all oohed and ahhed at the amazing number of new calves in Tonga? My friend the incredible underwater photographer Tony Wu recorded 48 new calves in the 2011 season and that was a new record. This year, he went back. He recorded an incredible 52 new calves - that's four more than last year!!!

I encourage you all to read his blogpost here: http://www.tonywublog.com/20121104/record-number-of-humpback-whale-calves-tonga-2012.html

....AND to find out more, you can download the document here: http://www.tonywublog.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/humpback-whale-calf-count-tonga-2012-tony-wu-v1.pdf

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Magical Migaloo might have a mate

Photo: Dan Fisher (http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/albino-humpback.html#cr)
Do you remember Migaloo? (http://whalessrilanka.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/magical-migaloo-rare-white-humpback.html). It seems he is not alone -- Dan Fisher spotted another albino humpback whale in the Svalbard Archipelago in August 2012. Click here to see the story and a full range of photographs http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/albino-humpback.html#cr

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

What is the world's rarest whale?

Photo courtesy New Zealand Government

It's the spade-toothed beaked whale!!!

This whale was first named from a partial jaw washed up on Pitt Island in New Zealand in 1872. Since then the only live specimens of this species to be seen were a mother-calf pair that washed up on Opape Beach, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. They were finally distinguished from their other relatives through DNA analysis and a description only this month - November 2012. How amazing is that? 140 years since it was 'discovered' and no one has yet seen it alive in the wild!

Read more here: http://www.sciencealert.com.au/news/20120511-23834.html

Monday, October 29, 2012

Traffic victim

Photo: Tony Wu
When he visited Sri Lanka - one of the best places in the world to see blue whales - this was not the picture that photographer Tony Wu had in mind. Floating inert in the water, its body broken by a huge impact, this blue whale was almost certainly the victim of a ship-strike. Marine biologist Asha de Vos says that a few carcasses are discovered every year, but that exactly how many of these ocean giants are being killed is unclear. "The southern coast of Sri Lanka is home to one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and it overlaps with areas of high blue-whale activity, so there is definitely cause for concern," she told BBC Wildlife. 

Get your copy of the latest BBC Wildlife magazine now!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

CNN idea series: Saving the magnificent blue whale

It’s a beautiful day to be on the water a few kilometres off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. Within view of shore the spinner dolphins twist and turn energetically, flying fish launch out of the water and cruise for what seems like ages and a manta ray gracefully glides under my boat. In the safety of my 20-foot research boat I am the biggest thing on the water.

Suddenly, a blue whale emerges close by and as it breaks the surface it exhales. This creature is so immense that the vertical tower of mist that escapes from its blowholes is taller than my boat is long. As it calmly swims it teases me by revealing just parts of its huge self. It is hard to fathom just how large this creature truly is. I am mesmerised by the scene, impressed at how the buoyancy of the ocean has aided this giant to achieve near maximum size..........

Read the rest of the story here: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/26/opinion/de-vos-saving-blue-whales/index.html#cnn-disqus-area

NB: Excitingly, this story was one of the top stories on CNN.com this weekend. Check it out :)

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beluga whale mimics a human

Here's a story about the first demonstration of spontaneous human voice mimicry in a cetacean (the collective term for whales and dolphins). Schevill and Lawrence who first studied the sounds of the white whale, or beluga, in the wild wrote that "occasionally the calls would suggest a crowd of children shouting in the distance". Listen to the recording in this article http://inkfish.fieldofscience.com/2012/10/you-have-to-hear-this-beluga-mimicking.html and make your own decision about what it sounds like. 

These sounds were made by NOC, a beluga that lived at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego until he died five years ago. The whale was recognised as the source of the sound when one day a diver surfaced outside the whale's enclosure and asked "Who told me to get out?". Researchers have since done tests to understand how the sounds were made and more details can be found in a new paper in Current Biology http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982212010093

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Did you know? Moby Dick's birthday

Today is the 161st anniversary of Moby Dick! Check out today's Google Doodle! I hope you have been diligently downloading all those chapters and listening to the audiobook! 

If you missed my last post about this click here: http://whalessrilanka.blogspot.com.au/2012/10/moby-dick-audio-book-get-it-here.html (who can say no to a free audiobook!)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Moby Dick audio book: Get it here!

Herman Melville's Moby Dick, first published in 1851 is considered a piece of Great American literature. The story is about a sailor called Ishmael who works aboard the whaleship Pequod commanded by Captain Ahab. Turns out Ahab's sole purpose (perhaps in life) is to seek out the ferocious white whale, Moby Dick because in a previous encounter Moby destroyed Ahab's ship and bit off his leg.

Many of you will want to argue that sperm whales do not bite (unless you are a giant squid of course), however, enter the world and imagination of Mr. Melville himself by downloading this classic audiobook one chapter a day from http://www.mobydickbigread.com/.

For those of you interested in the origins of this story, it turns out Herman Melville was inspired by a true story about the Nantucket whaling ship the Essex that was struck and sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific ocean in 1820. The book describing the incident by Nathanial Philbrick is definitely worth a read and is title, In the heart of the sea. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Did you know? Coral symbionts.

A photosynthesising animal?
Yesterday I went for a talk titled 'Coral-dinoflagellate symbiosis: evolution, ecology and interaction states' by Dr. Michael Stat. While the title might sound complex, here's a few facts about coral and some new ones based on what I learnt yesterday!

1. Corals represent an endosymbiotic system where an animal (the coral) has single-celled dinoflagellates of the genus Symbiodinium (a type of algae) living inside the corals' tissue. 
2. The relationship is symbiotic because the two species have a close and long-term relationship with one another. In this case, it's mutual as both partners exchange nutrients.
3. The photosynthetic ability of the algae means the coral, in essence, makes its own food. 
4. Turns out, corals have host specific (specific to that particular type of coral) and shared symbionts. The difference is based on the acquisition strategy i.e. whether the symbiont was horizontally transmitted (symbionts expelled into the ocean and picked up) or vertically transmitted (symbiont is passed on from generation to generation).
5. One of the big threats that corals face is called bleaching. Bleaching occurs when the conditions necessary for the coral to thrive change drastically. For example when the ocean temperatures increase beyond what the coral can tolerate. At this point, the symbionts are either expelled or lose their pigmentation.
6. If conditions go back to normal, tolerable levels, the coral can recover. In this case, some corals perform better than others. Scientists were curious as to why this was the case. Basically, if you are the kind of coral that tightly associates with only one type of symbiont, your recovery is likely to be less or not at all (depending on the intensity and duration of the stress).

Here is the abstract of the talk in case you are interested.

Corals form an obligate symbiosis with unicellular photosynthetic dinoflagellates. The diversity of dinoflagellates associated with a host is the result of both evolutionary and ecological influences. While mutualism is the paradigm for coral-dinoflagellate symbiosis, recent evidence shows that not all host-symbiont interactions are equally beneficial. The dynamics of host-symbiont partnerships and the exchange of nutrients that ultimately defines the interaction state of the symbiosis are important factors that contribute to the variability in response of corals to changes in the environment.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Climate change may shrink fish

Climate change will decrease Haddock sizes in the future.
Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Canada modelled the impact of rising temperatures on more than 600 species of fish between 2001 and 2050. The results show that warming waters could decrease ocean oxygen levels which would lead to a decrease in body weight of fish. Up to now, scientists were only concerned that climate change would alter distribution and reproductive capabilities of fish but this new finding adds a further dimension to the problems.

"Rising temperatures directly increase the metabolic rate of the fish's body function," said Dr. William Cheung from UBC. 
"This leads to an increase in oxygen demand for normal body activities. So the fish will run out of oxygen for growth at a smaller body size."
The model also predicts that fish will move polewards at a rate of up to 36 km per decade. "So in, say, the North Sea," says Dr Cheung, "one would expect to see more smaller-body fish from tropical waters in the future. The largest decreases of about 24% are predicted to occur in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
Dr Alan Baudron, from the University of Aberdeen, UK, who has studied changes in the growth of haddock in the North Sea said "smaller individuals produce fewer and smaller eggs which could affect the reproductive potential of fish stocks and could potentially reduce their resilience to other factors."
While the authors acknowledge some shortcomings in the research, they say it highlights a need to look at the biological implications of climate change and push for further research to be conducted. 
Read the article in Nature Climate Change here: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1691.html

Monday, October 1, 2012

Magical Migaloo: The rare white humpback whale

This may sound like  a page out of Herman Melville's classic, if Moby Dick wasn't a sperm whale.

Migaloo, meaning 'White Fella' in the Aboriginal Australian language is a rare white humpback whale. So rare in fact that he was the only white humpback whale in the world until last September when a white calf was spotted near the Great Barrier reef. On the 27th of September 2012 Migaloo was spotted off the east coast of Australia after 3 years while migrating back from northern waters. 

White humpback whale calf spotted near the Great Barrier reef in September 2011.

Greg Kaufman from the Pacific Whale Foundation based in Hawaii said it was possible that Migaloo the 20-something whale was on the prowl - looking for a mate. 

Migaloo is such a legend that the Pacific Whale Foundation hosts a website that documents the activities of this unusual marine mammal and monitors interactions between the whale and curious humans here: http://www.migaloowhale.org/

The only other white cetacean known to be roaming the ocean these days is 'Iceberg' the all white killer whale spotted by Russian scientists in August 2010.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And the good news...whale watch regulations for Sri Lanka

Whale watch boats wait for the re-emergence of a blue whale, Mirissa, Sri Lanka.
Photo credit: Ashvin de Vos

A new set of Sea mammal regulations has been compiled under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka and will be presented to the Parliament by the Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife. While it seems to cover all angles of the industry, it is interesting to see what the full set of regulations looks like. While I understand that the prices quoted are an effort to maintain consistency amongst operators, it makes one wonder how it will change the industry. 

I agree that prices should be kept affordable for locals to enjoy what lies in our waters but at the quoted prices (Rs 20 per local adult) I question if the boats will be able to run beyond the entrance to the harbour. In addition, in light of our slipping economy $8 for a foreign adult will be next to nothing in no time (if it isn't already). Knowing full well that regulations of this nature remain stagnant over time, the fact that there appears to be no mention of a percentage increase in price from year to year is worrying. While I am aware that the full regulations do have a maximum passenger limit per vessel, at these prices, how will the industry survive and are we undercutting ourselves as a nation? 

There's plenty more to discuss on the snapshot provided by this article http://www.sundaytimes.lk/120916/news/strict-guidelines-set-for-whale-and-dolphin-watching-12755.html but perhaps I'll wait till I have analysed the full document to make my comments.   

Closing note: I have been pushing for whale watch regulations since 2003 when the Odyssey expedition of which I was part, brought media attention to the presence of a great number and variety of cetaceans in Sri Lankan waters. I pushed and argued for having regulations in place before an industry commenced (my first article on this matter was published in the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society journal 'Loris') but was opposed by a number of people, some from the tourism industry. Elsewhere in the world, research is conducted on cetacean populations to gain a good understanding of them and their habitat prior to the establishment of such an industry. That way, it is possible to look out for the impacts of disturbance and mitigate them. In Sri Lanka we are doing things inside out, with The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project running parallel to a growing whale watch industry. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Humpback whale heat run in Tonga

Apologies for the long silence. I've been away from a decent connection and working hard on some very interesting data. I hope you all understand and are as excited as I am about what the data is telling us! 

Some of you may remember last year's post about the humpback whale baby boom in Tonga documented by my friend, underwater photographer Tony Wu. He photographed and catalogued 48 new calves in the 2011 season and this year he has already documented 31 with a few weeks to go. Spending lots of time in the water with these giants brings some incredible opportunities and this is no exception - a humpback whale heat run! Click the link to read the story: http://www.tonywublog.com/20120918/humpback-whale-heat-run-tonga-2012.html#axzz26mi59tod

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Tracking a Subtle Scent, a Dog May Help Save the Whales

Dogs are incredible companions and pets as many of us will agree. In recent times, scientists have learnt how to use their incredible sense of smell to help protect endangered species both on land and in the water. To learn more read today's NYT article and watch the video.

Insane in the chromatophore - Greg Gage

The setup

Musically stimulated squid skin as seen through an 8x microscope zoomed in on the dorsal side of the fin.
There is no doubt, everyone is intrigued by the fast colour-changing nature of squid's skin. Squids (like many other cephalapods) can quickly control pigmented cells called chromatophores to reflect light. TED fellow Greg Gage's fascination with neuroscience led him to the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole, MA this summer where he experimented on the giant axons of the Longfin inshore squid (Loligo pealei). This species has three different chromatophore colours: Brown, Red and Yellow. Each chromatophore has tiny muscles along the circumference of the cell that can contract to reveal the pigment underneath.
Here we see get a peak at some of Greg's tests on the squid's chromatophores using the cockroach leg stimulus protocol they have devised. They used home made DIY suction electrodes to attach to the squid's fin nerve, then connected the electrode to an iPod nano as the simulator. The iPod plays music by converting digital music to a small current that it sends to tiny magnets in the earbuds. The magnets are connected to cones that vibrate and produce sound.
Since this is the same electrical current that neurons use to communicate, he cut off the ear buds and instead placed the wire into the fin nerve. When the iPod sends bass frequencies (<100hz action="action" an="an" axons="axons" cause="cause" charge="charge" chromatophores="chromatophores" contract.="contract." enough="enough" fire="fire" font="font" have="have" in="in" muscles="muscles" nerves="nerves" potential.="potential." the="the" this="this" to="to" turn="turn" will="will">
More details of this and other super interesting but accesible neuroscience conducted by Greg and his team can be found at http://news.backyardbrains.com/2012/08/insane-in-the-chromatophores/

For a better explanation as well as a few more demos watch Greg's TED talk: http://on.ted.com/Gage.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How does YOUR ear work?

This morning at my Methods in Bioacoustics course at the Duke Marine Labs we are learning about 'Fundamentals of Hearing'. Wendy Dow Piniak, a Duke PhD student who studies hearing in sea turtles (very cool!) introduced us to this great video of how your ear works. A fun learning tool that will have you laughing. Guaranteed. Hopefully you will gain new appreciation for your ears and how incredible your brain is! Stay tuned for more....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nurturing ocean heroes

Amisha De Alwis - 9 years of age.
Aniika and Maya Tennekoon - 11 and 5 years of age.
I believe that to love something and protect it, you have to understand it and feel it. Today I introduce to the world three girls who are fuelled with the curiosity that will hold them in good stead no matter what path they embark on. Selfishly, I hope the ocean will continue to mesmerise them.

These three girls are daughters of two of my friends. Fine women who have taken on the immense task of teaching their children about the beauty and secrets of the ocean. Thank you Shanu and Devini, you make my task so much easier. Once, not so long ago we were running around the school back garden, eating mangoes and haggling over the corner piece of chocolate cake. Some things have changed but thankfully, not everything. We were and remain bonded by our love for the outdoors (amongst other things).

Thank you for lending me your art and thoughts Amisha, Aniika and Maya. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Do you believe in miracles? The survival of the sea turtle

Have you ever wanted to learn something -- different? Something that your teacher didn't tell you about in class? Have you heard about TED ED? Click here to learn more about TED's most incredible initiative. It is a programme that brings together some of the best educators and talented animators to produce a new library of exceptional educational videos. It's a place to learn something - truly new!

Today I want to share with you the absolutely beautiful and relevant lesson titled 'the survival of the sea turtle'. "Watch the miraculous journey of infant sea turtles as these tiny animals run the gauntlet of predators and harsh conditions. Then, in numbers, see how human behaviour has made their tough lives even MORE challenging". Once you have watched it, take the quick quiz and dig deeper to learn more about our incredible ocean friends. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Young Guns - West Weekend

This article was featured in the West Australian's Saturday magazine called West Weekend on Saturday the 21st of July 2012. Its part of the series called Young Guns which aims to portray young people living in West Australia who are doing different and interesting things. I've pasted the text below in case you are unable to read the article in the print version.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ever dreamt of living underwater? Welcome to Mission Aquarius.

Dr. Sylvia Earle answers one of the most important questions ever Why do we need the ocean? In the background you see the living reef of the Aquarius Reef Base where Sylvia and five other aquanauts are living this week.

The Aquarius Reefbase is the world' only undersea research station and is located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The laboratory is deployed three and a half miles offshore at a depth of 60 feet, next to conch reef. This facility is  owned by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and operated by the University of North Carolina–Wilmington. Scientists have been using Aquarius since 1986, when it was first established to understand the disappearance of coral reefs, train NASA astronauts for space and research sea sponges, the source of cancer drugs. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, we might be living in the times of the last ever Aquarius Mission. A sad sad thought.

The ongoing mission, which commenced on the 16th of July, is focused on celebrating the 50 years that have passed since Jacques Cousteau put history’s first habitat, Conshelf I, 33 feet underwater off Marseille, France.    

I am sure, you now have a million questions swirling in your mind. How do you get there? How do you get your equipment in there? How do you enter the facility without letting in any water? Can you communicate with the outside world at all?

Its a marine biologists dream and, as Dr. Sylvia Earle puts it, its 'a gift of time', because the team of aquanauts are saturation diving, and they can dive for 9 hours of the day at a stretch rather than the 45 minutes you normally get if you dive from a boat.

The concept is incredible and it will be a great loss to science if we were to shut it down. I encourage you to watch this introductory video to the mission http://www.youtube.com/user/OneWorldOneOcean and follow all the live feeds on twitter by following #MissionAquarius to stay abreast of what's happening. 

In addition, check out the Mission Blue blog; http://blog.sylviaearlealliance.org/Check out the dedicated oneworld one ocean website: http://www.oneworldoneocean.org/expeditions/aquarius and learn more about Aquarius reef base here: http://aquarius.uncw.edu/

Do whales plug their ears when faced with loud noise?

A team of scientists at the University of Hawaii lead by Paul Nachtigall have found that MAYBE marine mammals can plug their ears when faced with loud noises. This gives us a glimmer of hope in light of the whaley mixed week of wins and losses.

Of course its not all perfect, and our understanding of the issue is probably too shallow to get hasty about it all. 

"Peter Madsen, a professor of marine biology at Aarhus University in Denmark, said he applauded the Hawaiian team for its ''elegant study'' and the promise of innovative ways of ''getting at some of the noise problems''. But he cautioned against letting the discovery slow global efforts to reduce the oceanic roar, which would aid the beleaguered sea mammals more directly." - The New York Times.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/whale-watch/whales-get-some-help-in-tuning-out-manmade-noises-20120717-228ai.html#ixzz211w9jSul

Monday, July 16, 2012

A whaley mixed week of wins and losses

This last week has certainly been a roller coaster for whale news that has left me with mixed emotions. To kick it all off, mid last week I was excited to hear that South Korea is reconsidering their whaling plans. They stated; 

"We may not conduct whaling for scientific research if there is another way to achieve the goal," Kang Joon-Suk said.

Mr Kang said South Korea would fully consult international and domestic experts before and after presenting a detailed whaling programme to the IWC's scientific committee, set to meet in South Korea in May next year.

"We will respect the committee's recommendations in making our decision," he said.

Read more: http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/political-news/south-korea-reconsiders-whaling-plan-20120712-21x35.html#ixzz20kOOPDHu

We await with bated breath for the result of this discussion. 

A few days later I received a petition against training plans by the United States Navy that;

"According to its own environmental impact statements, the Navy estimates that the planned exercises would kill up to 2,000 marine mammals, including a large number of animals from endangered species, such as right whales," he said. "Thousands of others would suffer permanent lung damage. An additional 16,000 would be permanently deafened and 5 million would be temporarily deafened by the exercises."

Finally, yesterday, the feds have decided to reroute ships in San Francisco Bay to help protect whales!!!! Yay! The plan not only proposes to reroute shipping lanes but they are going to establish better ways to track whale locations. What an incredible victory for blue whales around the world! This decision was based on scientific data collected over multiple years and is the result of a two year effort. Just goes to show how what an important role science plays and makes us hopeful that in the very near future, the blue whales off Sri Lanka will also be treated with similar respect. 

Read more: http://www.longislandpress.com/2012/07/15/feds-to-reroute-sf-bay-ships-to-protect-whales/

At the International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama City last month, Sri Lanka was identified as the worst place for ship strikes of whales in the world. Its a really saddening thought that we are number one for something so terrible. A summary of the most recent paper submitted to the IWC by myself, Tony Wu and Bob Brownell is presented on page 4 of this document. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported the Sri Lankan blue whale project thus far....we still have a ways to go but with your backing, we WILL do it. The whales need us. 

The call of the whale: Fellows Friday interview

Whale researcher Asha de Vos spends her days weaving a 6-meter boat through shipping lanes crowded with giant container ships, fishing boats, and marine life, collecting data crucial to the survival of the singular Sri Lankan blue whale.

Read on for more...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do whales fall?

A fallen whale - showing the various worms and creatures that feast on the carcass. 
Illustration by Michael Rothman.

Actually, they do. But as you can imagine, not like we would. (Yeah, how DO you fall in water right?) Whale fall is basically a whale carcass that has fallen to the ocean floor. Often whales that die in shallow waters are devoured by scavengers over several months but, have you ever wondered what happens to whales that die in deeper water? In these waters, beyond about 2,000 m, there are very few scavengers and the carcass provides sustenance for a very complex ecosystem over a period of decades even!

A World of Undersea Cutouts by Sharon Shattuck.
This little video uses paper cutouts to illustrate the different stages a whale carcass goes through after dropping to the bottom of the ocean. What does that have to do with falling whales? read on to find out!

Whale falls were first discovered in the 1980s with the advent of deep-sea robotic exploration. The first person to actually study them was Dr. Craig Smith from the University of Hawaii. His earliest attempts to study whale fall weren't successful but it makes for a great story. To learn more from the man himself listen to his RadioLab interview. N.B. you'll need to fast forward to 28m 52s to get to this particular interview. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Plastic Free July

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to avoid buying disposable plastic in July for;
1 shopping trip
1 day
1 week 
1 month

Now I am not about to boast that I have registered for this event however, I have 3 good friends who have and the awareness it has raised amongst a bunch of us is pretty incredible. See the impact of plastics on ourselves and our world is another one of those intangibles. We put the plastic bag in the back of the garbage truck and it is removed from our lives forever. But if you have you ever stopped to wonder where it actually goes, you realise, its not quite as simple as that. Check out this photo of the central installation from the Out to Sea – The Plastic Garbage Project that just opened in the Zurich Museum of Design, Switzerland.

Every 15 seconds this amount of plastic garbage gets released into the sea

Every plastic bag, every plastic water bottle, every straw, every bit of packaging ends up in the ocean and deteriorates immediately right? Wrong. Most stuff takes more than a single human lifetime to degrade. See the list of very familiar items below...
Glass bottle - 1 million years
Fishing line - 600 years
Plastic bottle - 450 years
Aluminium can - 80-200 years
Plastic cup - 50 years
Plastic bag - 10-20 years
Cigarette filter - 1-5 years
Newspaper - 6 weeks

Ok, so it sinks to the bottom of the the ocean and causes no harm right? Wrong again. Whales get entangled in fishing net underwater and because of their need to breathe at the surface, they can drown, and seals and sea lions get throttled by plastics. Because plastic bags resemble jelly fish in the ocean and sea turtles such as green turtles eat jellyfish they accidentally ingest plastic bags that clog up their digestive tracts and kill them. Look at this link showing the plastic in an albatross chicks stomach. We are all quick to condemn killers - but is it time to look in the mirror?

We ARE the 'plastic generation'. The first generation to use plastic so heavily and be so dependent on it.  We have no idea what the effects of it all are. How much chemicals do we ingest every time we drink a hot drink out of a plastic cup? or when our babies drink hot milk out of a plastic milk bottle? what about when we heat our food in plastic boxes in the microwave? Has plastic just become so 'convenient' that we conveniently block out the hazardous impacts of its use from our minds?

There's a lot of information all over the internet about the impacts of our increasingly plastic-dependent lives, and this blog is not about repeating what has already been said. Instead, through this, I want to 
1. reawaken your awareness about the impacts of your daily actions not just on the environment, but on ourselves and 
2. ask you, are you willing to take on the challenge?

For more about the Plastic Free July initiative and information about how to live a more plastic free life please check out the website