Posts Tagged ‘marine sanctuaries’
By Julianna Calcagno
Marine Sanctuaries Program Intern – Summer, 2010
When was the last time you wanted a noisy leaf blower or a honking car alarm to stop blaring? Imagine thousands of similar sounds intruding into your daily life from breakfast through dinner time, and all through the night. This is what it’s like to be a whale in today’s noisy oceans. It’s called noise pollution. You and I may not notice it up here on land, but it is really bad for you if you are one of the animals that live in the vicinity of all the noise produced by humans on a daily basis in our oceans. The blue, grey, and humpback whales that swim and feed in the krill-rich waters of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary are subject to dramatically increased background noise because of all the shipping traffic that drives through those waters on the way to the busy Port of Oakland, the 4th busiest port in the nation.
Now picture being at a concert and trying to hear something important that the person right next you is saying. Unless you have a hearing super power you would barely hear what the other person is saying. That is what the whales have to endure all the time. The noise that the ships make – mostly from their propellers – is at the same level, or frequency, that whales use to communicate with each other. In their darkened ocean world they can’t rely on sight, like humans can. Whales depend on sound to communicate through vast amounts of water, to find food, to mate, to survive, and protect themselves from predators.
Scientists recently discovered that some whales are changing their vocalizations – essentially screaming – so that they can be heard over the racket all the boats are making. But doing this is likely straining the whales and at some point they won’t be able to call loud enough to be heard in our industrialized ocean, leaving them silenced and alone.
If ships slowed down, though, they wouldn’t be spreading as much noise pollution, and they would save innocent whales that die each year after being struck and killed by fast-moving vessels.
Maersk, the world’s largest shipping line, is doing it! If they can slow their speed to 12 knots (about 14mph) – instead of the much noisier and dangerous 20 – 24 knots – then so should the rest of the shipping companies.
Try to picture having no way to communicate, protect yourself, or even be able to eat because of some body else who wants to be able to move faster to a destination. For whales’ sake, and cleaner air and less climate change, ships should give whales a brake!
As the world watches the urgency of oil spill response operations in the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Environment and SF Estuary Partnership hosted a local forum last week that brought this national tragedy a bit closer to home here in the Bay Area. The forum, “Oil Spills in San Francisco Bay: Preparing a Better Response,” for the first time brought together stakeholders of the Bay area community including natural resource managers, local and state agencies, environmental groups, fishing groups and the public to discuss the lessons learned from two recent oil spills in the Bay – the Cosco Busan in 2007 and the smaller Dubai Star spill in 2009 – and how to better prevent and respond in the future.
Among the speakers were Pacific Environment’s very own Jackie Dragon, Marine Sanctuaries Program Director; Mike Lynes, Conservation Director, Golden Gate Audubon Society; Scott Schaefer, Deputy Director for the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR); Zeke Grader, Executive Director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations; and Captain Gugg and Lt. Cmdr. Gus Bannan of the U.S. Coast Guard. (more…)
Posted by Cheng Shuling, Program Officer for Dalian Environmental Resources Center (DERC)
Before my trip to Hainan, the most southern province of China, where I was assigned to investigate the shark fin trade, I knew very little about the meaning behind the words “shark fin” and “shark”. I had never seen a shark fin before, let alone a shark. I had learned from books and films that shark fins are used for culinary delicacies. After I completed this investigation, I learned that behind these dishes there was a shocking and tragic truth.
The South China Sea is rich in shark. Fishermen have fishing operations all year round in the Nansha, Xisha and Zhongsha Islands. And sharks are an important species to this region. I did not go to the islands for this particular research project, but I did get to know where shark fins are sold and consumed in Haikou.
In Haikou, the most concentrated places for selling shark fins are in supermarkets and street markets. In these areas, various styles of shark fins are sold at different prices and in various types of baskets or bags. The average consumer often thinks shark fins are highly nutritious. Sellers will also persuade customers that shark fins are high in protein and worth buying. The seller will also seek to explain to customers the various ways to cook with shark fin. If you buy it, they will even prepare a beautiful gift box so that you can send it to your friends in a nice package. Generally speaking, shark fins are exotic and in demand everywhere, often grabbing the attention of visitors.
In the East Gate market, after talking to sellers about other topics, one seller eventually told me that she sold three shark fin gift boxes immediately before our conversation: each at the price of about 70 dollars and at a weight of 37.8 grams.
Posted by Zhang Yadong, Executive Director of Green Longjiang
I am almost done with the research survey that I was assigned to do on the shark trade in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, China. Except to update some photographs, I would not normally walk into a shop full of shark fins, open the menu of an Abalones and Fins Restaurant or even have a look at the body of a shark in a commodities market.
I still remember my initial doubt on conducting this shark trade research survey in Harbin when Wen Bo told me to do so: Isn’t it (shark fins) a traditional custom for southern China? Is it even a good idea to do such survey in Harbin, a place thousands of miles away from the ocean and without a traditional consumption custom? However, today, I know the answer.
Posted by Alex Felsinger
Last week, a California Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon panel approved several Southern California marine protected areas after 14 months of negotiation between scientists, environmentalists and fishermen. Conservationists were disappointed a few requested areas were omitted from the plan, but generally considered the decision a victory for many exhausted fish populations. The local catch of rockfish and cod has rapidly dropped up to 95%, along with severe drops in the population of many other species.
Last week I spent three days in cool rooms at the Sustainable Shipping Conference in San Francisco with an incredible array of experienced people, from Port directors and shipping company executives to air pollution specialists and NOAA scientists – all focused on how to make shipping cleaner.
After endless Power Point charts of daunting statistics about NOX, SOX, Particulate Matter (PM), and Carbon Dioxide (CO2), everyone seemed to be in agreement that shipping is a dirty and dangerous business, year round.
- Shipping burns some 350 million tons of heavy bunker fuel
- Ships emit about a billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2)
- Ships contribute 17% to the U.S. PM inventory, and 18% in California
- 100,000 cancer deaths worldwide are attributable to shipping
The others were out on deck craning their necks at the red underbelly of the Golden Gate Bridge, gazing at seals and sea lions draped over the rocks around Point Bonita, and dreaming of a day full of whales at Farallon Islands. I spent the first full hour of my prep trip for our upcoming Vessel Watch Project wrestling with my computer. Actually, I was doing the very thing one should not do, unless you are trying to get seasick – staring closely and long at a stationary object while our boat rocked and then picked up speed, riding softly bucking waves out to the islands. No worries though; I kept my stomach in place.
The whole point of this trip was to get all the technology glitches worked out before our first trip on August 15. I was trying to get our Automatic Information System (AIS) antenna and receiver to pour real-time data from any near-by ships onto our computer screen. Then, when we encounter any of the thousands of giant ships that drive through the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary to our busy ports we can get the skinny on it, so to speak. The AIS can tell us the ship’s name, destination, ship type, as in cargo or oil tanker, and how fast that ship is traveling through these rich and biodiverse waters. The faster a large ship goes, the noisier it is in the water. Most of the noise is caused by cavitation, created when thousands of tiny bubbles form and burst as the propeller turns. Captain Joe, quite a technology buff himself, turned the wheel over to his deck hand, Steve, and joined me to try his hand at the stubborn computer. Finally, we surrendered to defeat…but just for today. We’ll get this system humming.
Never fear, I had more mechanical toys to test, and unpacked the hydrophone, digital recorder and mini amplifier. I asked Captain Joe if he thought there would be a good time to stop the boat today, as I wanted to lower the hydrophone and see what we could hear. He replied affirmatively in his usual bright tone. Joe is a fisherman transformed by the changes in our oceans, and our depleted fisheries. Now he turns his boat and expertise towards ecotourism and research. Captain Joe and S.F. Bay Whale Watching go beyond ferrying ocean enthusiasts out to find whales. They partner with anyone who needs to get out on a boat to make a positive difference in these waters. Joe conducts water quality sampling for the state, releases rehabilitated seals and sea lions for The Marine Mammal Center, and even turns off the boat so our Marine Sanctuaries Campaign can bring the underwater world of sound up on deck. Our goal is to open ears to the threats of ocean noise pollution facing whales and marine life in the sanctuary.
A wave of questions, “Are we getting close?” and “How much further to the islands?” washed over the boat. A few minutes later Capt. Joe’s voice came overhead reminding passengers that a free t-shirt was the prize for spotting the first whale. We were about five miles out from the islands and in prime whale territory. Seconds later Steve, called out “There she blows!” I caught the faint remnant of a short heart-shaped misty blow. A minute later, directly in front of our boat’s bow, we watched the knuckled back of a grey whale roll into a graceful dive, finished with flukes slipping below the surface.
And then, we saw a lot of nothing. That first-whale excitement gave way to concern as 46 pair of eyes scanned the water in vain. Capt. Joe wondered what kind of activity was happening on a large retrofitted crabbing vessel trolling nearby. Might they be driving the whales away? An older gentleman on his ninth trip out to the islands, the last time six years ago, told me he had never seen it “so dead.” Finally, we turned and drove in for a closer look at the wild Farallon Islands. Trish Mirabelle, our naturalist for the day, captured our attention with stories of egg wars on the islands in centuries past, and the research on birds and white sharks and pinnipeds that has followed for the past 40-some years.
And then, more whales. Humpbacks this time. Three swimming together, flukes over one at a time. We hung around them at a safe distance ooohhing and aahhhing just to see them. Another humpback breached off in the distance. The whales were here, after all! Just as I was getting antsy wondering if we might get the chance to hear these magnificent creatures, as well as see them, I heard the sound I was waiting for – quiet! Joe had cut motor.
I was already lowering the hydrophone over the side when Trish came to tell me we were stopped for a listen. I turned on the little amplifier and hit the red record button. The relative quiet on board was replaced by sound pouring out of the little box. Passengers gathered around. We could hear the water slap, slap, slapping against the metal hull, and lots of crackling in the background – the tell tail sounds of snapping shrimp. And then, we heard them. Whoop, whoop, whoop… Nobody spoke. We just turned wide-eyed at each other and mouthed the word WOW! For thirteen minutes we floated while whales swam, dove, and fed all around us. Intermittently we heard squeaks, moans and gulping sounds. Three whales turned into seven or eight and they seemed content to swim around our floating boat, sometimes quite close. I couldn’t help wondering if turning off our own noisy motor gave the whales a chance for a closer look at us. Our nine-trip veteran said he had never seen so many whales ever before.