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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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Traffic in Sri Lanka's waters threatens blue whales - New York Times article

When Erik Olsen from the New York Times first called me about doing an article on my work, I was slightly apprehensive. The limited funds I had for my field work meant that I needed to make sure when the weather was good I was doing science. Thankfully Erik was really adamant about documenting exactly that. The science. 

So here is the culmination of his patience and hours on the ocean, watching and capturing moments that would best represent the work being done. He survived the sun burn and the chilli peanuts and stuffed fish buns and put together this incredible little piece. The power of great reporting is hard to explain.

I am really happy at how this follows on so neatly from the amazing documentary put together by the Channel 7 team on my work and the blue whales back in 2011. 

Thank you to all of you who have expressed interest in supporting the work and for the encouragement I constantly receive. It fuels me and keeps me strong. 

For those of you who would like to support through funds, I am currently working on a PayPal link on this blog to make it easier. Please stay tuned, it should be up by the end of the week. 

Erik Olsen at work. Photo credit Matt Bowers.