W2O Joins Ocean Partners to Protect Our Coast

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, New England Aquarium, Uncategorized

The ocean and our climate are making the headlines with awareness growing about sea level rise, plastic pollution, and the impact of human-induced carbon emissions. Just when it seems the threats to a healthy environment can’t grow any longer, our elected officials have proposed the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.  This proposal would include seismic testing and offshore drilling in the Arctic and off of our coast in the Atlantic, prompting W2O and other organizations to challenge each and every one of us to defend our coast.

The ocean has no borders when it comes to the threat of an oil spill. No herculean effort can contain a spill or determine where it won’t go. The ocean has its own agenda, especially with the proposed area for drilling including the Gulf Stream just hundreds of miles offshore flowing from Mexico right up to Canada, over to Europe and finally to the Norwegian coast. An oil spill would devastate the economic engines of New England; including tourism and the fishing industry.

The first order of business before offshore drilling is exploration using seismic testing, which entails analysis of the ocean floor using airguns that emit a deafening sound. In a statement released this week denouncing the administration’s proposal, the New England Aquarium joined aquariums across the nation to warn of the dangers of this type of exploration.

The statement explains, “Seismic airgun noise travels more than 1,500 miles underwater. Scientific studies show that when seismic surveys happen, fewer fish are caught, more zooplankton die, and marine mammals struggle to flourish. Seismic airguns negatively impact everything around them and haven’t been used in the North Atlantic since the 1980s to search for commercial quantities of oil and gas.”

We think of our oceans as a silent underwater world. In reality, the ocean is full of noise. Diving on any given day, anywhere in the world, you might hear fish chomping, waves crashing, mammals calling to each other and even rain falling. Marine life is wired for sound and depends on it for finding food, mating, and migration. Our critically endangered North Atlantic right whale has fell victim to multiple human stressors with only a few hundred left.  These animals use the proposed area for drilling off of the Atlantic coast as their highway, breeding off of the coast of Georgia and coming north to feed right here in Cape Cod waters.

Explosions in the ocean not only affect the largest of our underwater friends, but also the smallest.  Important nursery grounds and our newly designated first national monument in the Atlantic, the North East Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument are at risk from this proposal. Zooplankton, which is an important part of the ocean food web and includes the larval stage of fish and other marine organisms, dies when exposed to seismic testing according to this article in Nature Ecology and Evolution.  

Join W2O on January 10th for an evening to learn more about seismic surveys, oil and gas exploration and how you can protect our coast. The evening will include short films on the topic and an expert panel monitored by Vikki Spruill, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium, poised to answer questions and inspire you to speak up on behalf of our blue planet. Register here

Free the Feast

By | Action today, Featured Post, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

 

Free the feast! When shopping for produce avoid plastic packaging this holiday season. Single use plastic never goes away, breaks down into smaller and smaller particles, and ends up in our oceans. Mistaken for food, tiny fragments of plastic are often consumed by marine life and can end up at our dinner table in the food we serve to our families.

Shop locally, if possible, and remember to bring your reusable bag. Avoid storing leftovers in plastic wrap (use our handy guide) and invest in some everlasting quality glass or stainless steel containers. Give thanks for our oceans. Make your holiday season a happy and healthy one.. plastic free.

Good for you; good for our oceans!

Sailors for the Sea

By | Action today, Featured Post, In the News, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized

Milk jugs, plastic bags, fishing nets, food packaging, straws; these are now common sightings for avid ocean fanatics. Mark Davis and the “crew” at Sailors for the Sea are on a mission to educated boaters and sailors about how to make sustainable choices and still enjoy being out on the water.

From serious ocean racers, to the average weekend enthusiast, participation in activities on the water while being an ocean steward is a relatively new concept for most. “It use to be that out of sight out of mind mentality,” says author and sailor Barbara Beck of Annapolis Maryland. “I remember ocean racing and tossing large green garbage bags overboard without much thought, hoping they would sink to the bottom.” Today most boaters know about pollution in the ocean but are unaware of how they can be part of the solution. “At our yacht club there are efforts to “go green,” says Beck, “but those efforts often fall short because there doesn’t seem to be easy solutions and people opt for convenience.” Sailors for the Sea is hoping to educate boating enthusiasts that opting for convenience is creating a bigger problem and destroying our oceans for future “Sailors.”

The “Sailor” in our title is “anyone who travels across a body of water”, says Mark Davis, president of Sailors for the Sea. “We won’t be taking on other sports or events because we are very focused on the community of boating and sailing,” says Davis. Sailor for the Sea, headquartered near the harbor in Newport Rhode Island, is creating useful tools and delivering a global healthy ocean message to all sailors and boaters across the U.S., Europe and Asia. With the support of Sailors, enlisted volunteers follow “best practices” which begins with assembling a “green team.” With their programs for clean regattas next generation educational lessons through KELP and a new Clean Boating Guide, their mission is to make boaters “catalysts for change.” Good for you, Good for our oceans!

An Unexpected Encounter With a Beaked Whale

By | Action today, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Guest blogger Nigella Hillgarth is President and CEO of the New England Aquarium and a W2O board member

Several hundred years ago there was said to be a strange and fierce sea creature that attacked ships.  The Water-Owl or Ziphius had the body of a fish and a head of an owl with huge eyes and a beak-like a sword. Today we think the animal behind these stories is Cuvier’s beaked whale or Goose-beaked whale. This deep water whale is the most widely distributed beaked whale species.

In early February I was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean passing through the channel between St Lucia and Martinique.  It is deep in that area –  several thousand feet and suitable for beaked whales. I was not thinking about whales at the time because I was busy photographing the brown boobies that were following the ship. Suddenly a robust, chocolate brown animal appeared next to the ship below me. I took as many photographs as I could before it disappeared into the deep. I was pretty certain I had seen a beaked whale but I had no idea what species.  It was not large – about 10 to 12 feet long but had the typical curved dorsal fin towards the back of the body and a strange elongated and slightly bulbous head. When I returned one of our marine mammal scientists at the New England Aquarium identified it as a young Cuvier’s beaked whale. I feel so lucky to have seen one of these elusive animals.

Cuvier’s beaked whales can dive deeper than any other marine mammal. A recent study shows that at least one individual went down as far as 9,816 feet!  Not much is known about these elusive and extreme divers, but there is concern that noise in the ocean from sonar and seismic testing may cause these whales to strand.  There is evidence to suggest that some of these stranded animals have surfaced too quickly and developed damage similar to that of the bends in humans.

Noise in the ocean is a serious threat to marine mammals and other marine life.  Commercial shipping noise, sonar testing and seismic surveys can clearly have significant, long-lasting, and widespread impacts on marine mammal and fish populations. Normally, when we think about pollution in the seas we don’t think about noise. We think about plastics and chemicals and ghost fishing nets.  Noise in its various forms is just as big a problem for life in the ocean.  If we care about the future of strange and elusive mammals such as the ‘Water-owl’ we need to understand and mitigate noise impacts in the ocean far more than at present.

Photo: Nigella Hillgarth

Learn more about seismic testing and how you can help stop ocean noise HERE

 

Can You Hear Me Now? 6 Amazing Things About Sound and Marine Life

By | Events, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized

Sink a hydrophone in the ocean and discover a marine jungle of animal noises from the tiniest shrimp to the largest blue whale. Marine life depends on this soundscape for mating, finding food, navigation and avoiding predation.

This ocean cacophony was all natural until the advent of the industrial revolution when human-made sounds from blasting, drilling, military, and shipping began drowning out these important biological cues. Imagine, if you will, not Rachel Carson’s famous silent spring, but the opposite. Imagine if there was so much human-made noise in the spring that it drowned out all of the birds’ calls. What would happen to those birds? For marine life, the intrusion of these sounds in the mix is the equivalent of being asked to wear a blindfold.

Photo courtesy of Ocean Matters

So what’s at stake for our world’s oceans and for us? Here are six amazing things about sound and marine life:

  1. About half of all fish species are estimated to emit sounds. These sounds help fish find spawning grounds and function like the call of a bird does, as specie specific signatures. By understanding and tracking these sounds, scientists can also identify important spawning grounds in the oceans, track numbers of individuals in a species, and by doing so more strategically protect these important spawning areas.
  1. Scientists have discovered that each whale population has its own “language,” which is understood only by individuals of the same population. For a population that migrates hundreds of miles of ocean basin from feeding to mating grounds, most whales depend on hearing these songs to find other individuals to accurately navigate.

Impeding this important whale communication by drowning in human-made sound has implications for fisheries. Recent science has found (perhaps counter-intuitively) that increasing the population of large whales might help to increase the number fish in the ocean.

  1. As the largest creature on Earth, blue whales can also boast of being the loudest. At 188 decibels, their loudest vocalizations can be heard a thousand miles away and is louder than a jet, which peaks at only 140 decibels. Humans can’t hear most of the blue whale’s song, however—it’s too low. They sing at frequencies between 10 and 40 Hz (the unit measurement of sound frequency) and infrasound under 20 Hz cannot be heard by humans. While other large whales are rebounding, blue whales do not appear to be. Blue whales number in only 1% of their historic population. Scientists speculate their lack of comeback is due to the wide scale disruption of the marine ecosystem in the Southern Hemisphere by the blue whales population’s decimation. Without blue whales, there had been a cascade of other marine life losses that has made for a severely altered environment, one that continues to be difficult for other marine life to survive and rebound
  1. Dolphins are thought to have an individual signature whistle, invented as a calf and kept throughout its life. They use these whistles to call to one another and seem to be able to remember the calls of other individuals for decades. No other species other than humans and dolphins has been shown to have this capacity.
  1. Noise has always been a driver of evolution and adaptation in the sea, providing “acoustical niches” inhabited by different species. Scientists speculate that the ocean was actually noisier in pre-whaling 1800, before the addition of human generated noise. This speaks volumes about the biomass of a “healthy” ocean pre-1800 as compared to now.
  1. There is no place to escape from the intrusion of human-made sounds in the ocean. Sounds from shipping were recently recorded at the very deepest part of the ocean: the Mariana Trench, at 10,000 meters under the sea.

Join us at Beeps, Rumbles, and Blasts: How Human-Generated Noise Threatens Marine Life on April 7th featuring Dr. Christopher Clark of Cornell University and Dr. Scott Kraus from the New England Aquarium. For a sneak preview hear Dr. Clark speak briefly about the importance of this topic in this beautiful and short NPR production

 

“[If] I’m a blue whale my heart beats once a minute. My ‘metronome’ is completely different from yours. And yet I, as human observer, am expecting their communication to be somehow synchronized with mine? Whales have their own listening culture. It will take a long time to begin to understand it.” – Dr. Christopher Clark

 

Blog contributor Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director of Ocean Matters and is on the board of Women Working for Oceans.

 

Get Ready for W2O’s Event on Ocean Noise April 7th

By | Events, Featured Post, Uncategorized

On April 7th, W2O, along with the New England Aquarium will present Beeps, Rumbles, and Blasts: How Human -Generated Noise Threaten Marine Life. Scientists Chris Clark and Scott Krauss will educate us about how shipping, seismic testing and other human generated noise create a cacophony of sound drowning out the voice of whales, dolphins and all marine life communicating to each other during feeding, migration, breeding, and while detecting predators.