The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito, Calif. (north of San Francisco, on the other side of Golden Gate Bridge), is in the midst of building a brand-new Hawaiian monk seal health care and education center in Kona. The facility will alo offer marine science training and an education and outreach program.
Construction started last year and is expected to be completed by the end of this year.
"With only 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals left in the world, and a population declining at a rate of 4 percent each year, we must do everything we can to save this species," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal Center in a press release. "Building a dedicated rehabilitation hospital in Hawaii and working closely with the local community to inspire monk seal conservation, is a vital part of that effort. The Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund provides essential funds at a critical tim and we are incredibly grateful for their generous support."
The Marine Mammal Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, in Sausalito since 1975, has rescued and treated more than 18,000 marine mammals including seals, sea lions and whales.
Debates continue to broil at home, meanwhile, over whether the monk seals should be transferred to the main Hawaiian islands. Many are migrating to the main isles on their own, but fishermen aren't thrilled about it because of competition for the same fish.
Will all these new attention and funding result in better survival rates for our Hawaiian monk seals? It remains to be seen.
While examining food, water and land issues (as well both sides of the GMO debate) critical to Hawaii, "Seeds of Hope" also gives us hope for the future of the Aloha State's future food security by profiling farmers who are getting creative, going organic and finding answers by returning to local and traditional methods of growing food. The film also finds educators who are cultivating the next generation of farmers.
Its message is that consumers also have power to sway the future.
"It's up to the consumer to say, yes, I'd rather buy produce from Hawaii." Jack Spruance, president, Molokai Livestock Coop.
Wow. I just saw "Blackfish," the documentary by director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite at Consolidated Theatres.
The film created a buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and opens at Kahala Theatres 8 in Honolulu Aug. 23. If you ever went to marine parks or have any love for marine animals, I highly recommend that you go see it. If you're a parent with young kids, I also recommend that you see it.
Cowperthwaite's documentary, which was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films, is eye-opening, exposing the dark underbelly of what really happens behind the scenes at a place like SeaWorld. Actually, the film takes SeaWorld on directly, interviewing several of its former (and now disillusioned) trainers about what went on.
The pivotal focus of the film is on the Feb. 24 2010 death of Dawn Brancheau, an experienced and well-respected trainer. During a routine performance, she was dragged underwater, thrashed and killed by Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull orca at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. in front of a horrified audience, resulting in a lawsuit by OSHA.
Tilikum in a scene from BLACKFISH. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures (Credit: Gabriela Cowperthwaite).
As a child, I went to Seaworld and have memories of being splashed when Shamu the whale crashed down in the water. Everyone did. We never thought twice about it. The amusement park is a place of sunshine, happy smiles and the trainers lead you to believe that the animals enjoy performing.
Until a tragedy like Brancheau's death happens, and you say, "Wait a minute. What happened?"
That's what started the whole project for film director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, herself a mother of 7-year-old twins who took them places like SeaWorld. Cowperthwaite, who in an interview said she never planned to make this documentary, nevertheless got drawn in by the need to put the truth out there.
It turns out Brancheau was not the first, but the second trainer (and third person) to be killed by Tilikum, 20 years apart. But none of the trainers interviewed knew anything about the previous incidents, and often when there is an accident, the well-oiled PR machine of SeaWorld would blame the tragedies on trainer error.
So we don't have a SeaWorld in Hawaii, nor any Orca whales in captivity here. But many of us have been to marine amusement parks on the U.S. mainland. The film may also cause you to start examining the larger picture of animals in captivity for the purpose of entertainment.
>> "There's no record of any Orca doing any harm in the wild," says Orca researcher Howard Garrett. But dozens of injuries (and several deaths) have been caused by Orcas in captivity, which have hurt one another and the trainers they work with. Tilikum, the whale that killed Dawn Brancheau, had previously killed two other people as well.
>> The film delves into Tilikum's history. He was plucked from the ocean near Iceland as a 2-year-old calf, separated from his mother (who grieved and would not leave even though she could have), then mistreated at Sealand of the Pacific in Canada. At night, Tilikum was held in a small module, pretty much a prison cell for a mammal meant to travel miles in the boundless ocean. Former diver and Orca hunter John Crowe, who remembers rounding up the whale calves in Puget Sound, says: "This is the worst thing I've ever done."
>> Natural life span. In the wild, marine biologists say there's evidence Orcas can live 60 to 70 years, but SeaWorld staff are trained to tell the public that they live an average of 25 to 35 years, and that they live longer in captivity because of vet care. Who do you believe?
Cowperthwaite skillfully weaves imagery and footage (including the 911 call placed for Brancheau) with heartfelt interviews, capturing some of the most powerful quotes and emotions from former trainers at SeaWorld.
You can see that the trainers loved the whales and the thrill of working with those magnificent creatures, but were naive and surprisingly, had very little scientific knowledge about Orcas.
Just like "The Cove," in 2009, I think "Blackfish" is going to make an impact. It's kind of a wake-up call that will make anyone think twice about going to a place like Seaworld again. "Free Willy" (1993) was a movie with a similar message, but this one isn't fiction — it's based on real life, which strikes a deeper chord.
Should these majestic creatures of the ocean deep be held in captivity and trained to do tricks for our entertainment? What are the consequences? More importantly, is it morally wrong to forcefully take a whale calf from its mother for the purpose of making money?
Needless to say, SeaWorld declined to be interviewed for the documentary.
To its credit, SeaWorld claims it plays a role in both conservation education. Go to its corporate website and you will actually see links to "education" and conservation." The link to conservation is cleverly branded as www.seaworldcares.com, and includes stories on how the SeaWorld Rescue Team returned Claire the Manatee to her natural environment, for instance. The team also responded to the BP Gulf oil spill, saving more than 100 endangered sea turtles.
Here are some rebuttals from SeaWorld and the film published on indiewire.
While watching the film uncovers an ugly truth, unveiling footage of accident after tragic accident, as well as confessionals from former trainers, it also makes us love and respect these Orcas even more. We discover they are marine mammals that stick together like family and display linguistic, cognitive and emotional abilities (as well as the smarts to try outsmarting their captors by having one group leading them away from the calfs and mothers).
In my generation, we may have accepted sea life amusement parks blindly but in the next generation, maybe this won't be the case and there will be some change.
The film opens and closes with images of the Orcas swimming in their natural environment. What it conveys is the beauty of that, and of the "blackfish" as "an animal that possesses great, spiritual power, not to be meddled with."
Orca whales in the wild, majestic and free. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures (from Christopher Towey).
To learn more about orcas, also known as killer whales, visit the following websites:
Find out through the actual eyes of a Hawaiian monk seal, thanks to National Geographic Crittercams — video cameras affixed to the seals' backs. The premiere of this monk seal footage will be showcased at 5:30 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 17) at Doris Duke Theatre.
The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the oldest species of seal on the planet, according to NOAA Fisheries scientist Charles Littnan, but "their tenure in paradise is perilously close to its end." Their population has declined dramatically over the last 75 years — today, only 1,100 monk seals remain in the wild.
Spinner dolphin leaping from the ocean. Photo credit: SAPPHIRE Project under NOAA Scientific Permit.
I've loved dolphins since I was a kid.
To me, they are magical, beautiful creatures with a fun and playful side. Intelligent, too. A recent study from the Dolphin Research Center in Grass Keys, Fla. indicates dolphins are smart enough to problem solve in much of the same way that humans do.
So I am in kind of a dilemma when it comes to swim-with-dolphin programs and marine amusement parks. While I want my 3-year-old son to experience the wonder of dolphins (all kids love dolphins), I hesitate to bring him to one after watching a documentary like "The Cove" (2009) and interviews with marine mammal activist Ric O'Barry.
O'Barry, who was the dolphin trainer for the popular TV show "Flipper" at the Miami Seaquarium, is now an activist calling attention to the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, from September to April. O'Barry became an activist after one of the dolphins playing Flipper died in his arms — ever since, he's spoken out against keeping dolphins in captivity or training them to do tricks for human entertainment. O'Barry urges people not to buy a ticket to a dolphin show.
As a kid, I went to a number of amusement parks — I still have a vivid memory of a bottlenose dolphin coming up to me when I was 6 or 7 years old at an underwater aquarium, and "greeting" me from behind the window. It was vertical, floating upright with both flippers out and what looked like a smile on its face.
Given what I know now, though, I'm refraining from taking my son to any marine amusement parks.
Here in Hawaii we have tours that offer you a chance to see dolphins in the wild. That might be a better option, as long as you give dolphins respect and space (if you happen to see one while surfing or paddling, then cherish such a special gift but give them the same respect and space). It's also disturbing to see really aggressive tour operators circling the dolphins and letting their guests swim up to dolphins while they are trying to get some rest.
That's where The Nai‘a Guide, an app created by Duke University graduate Demi Fox aiming to be the "ecological conscience for tourists seeking to experience Hawaiian spinner dolphins" comes in. The app was developed in partnership with NOAA's DolphinSMART program, which trains tour operators to voluntarily minimize harrassment to spinner dolphins and to encourage responsible viewing.
Dolphins are by nature, social and curious.
"Just as we are watching them, they are watching us," said Fox.
But they are also conscious breathers who must swim and move about while resting, which is what they are doing in sheltered bays and coastlines during the day when tourists are coming by in boats.
The DolphinSMART guidelines are spelled out in the word SMART. The "S" stands for staying back 50 yards from dolphins, "M" for move away cautiously if dolphins show signs of disturbance, "A" for always put your engine in neutral while dolphins are near, "R" for refrain from feeding, touching or swimming with wild dolphins and "T" for teach others to be dolphin smart.
If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Sarah Courbis, Research Associate at Portland State University, gives a lecture at the Pacific Whale Foundation's Discovery Center (oceanside lower level at Ma‘alaea Harbor Shops off Route 31, the Honoapiilani Highway) from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22. Her presentation, part of the foundations "Making Waves" lecture series, is titled "Hawaii's Dolphins: Human Impacts and Conservation Action." Free and open to the public.
The "Nai‘a Guide" (available free on iTunes for iPads) serves as an educational resource for the responsible viewing of wild spinner dolphins in Hawaii. Courtesy image.
Trust for Public Land Booth at the Hawai‘i Conservation Conference features a Laysan albatross.
The 21st annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference started on Tuesday and continues today at the Hawai‘i Convention Center with another full day of forums, sessions and an afternoon symposium on feral cats. Field trips take place on Friday.
Yesterday, the conference hosted the "Community Connections" event, which was open to the public. I often wonder, with issues of conservation, how you reach out to people to make them care or how you reach people who aren't already actively involved in academic research or conservation work.
I think the answer is — with food. With good grinds, that is.
And there were long lines for good conservation grinds using local meats and produce by a stellar lineup of chefs who support the "eat local" movement including Ed Kenney of Town, Mark Noguchi of Pili Group, John Memering of Cactus Bistro, and others.
They used beef from Kualoa Ranch and Molokai, fish from VJ's Butcher Block and vegetables from various farms across Hawaii.
Peter Foster of Memoirs Hawai‘i made a melt-in-your-mouth, salted chocolate crunch bar from Waialua Chocolate grown on Oahu's North Shore sprinkled with "Goat Island Salt."
Daniel Anthony of Hui Aloha ‘Aina Momoma served up fresh pa‘i‘ai.
Not long after the food was served up, the conference offered a free screening of "Seeds of Hope," telling the story of Hawaii's return to local and traditional methods of growing food.
It's all connected — food, land, culture and conservation of Hawaii's natural resources through the choices we make every day.
As people mingled in the marketplace, plates of prosciutto-wrapped papaya, golden and red beets, savory mushroom tarts, and rosemary spears of tomatoes, mozzarella and basil were served.
The conservation conference is a good time for people to reconnect, exchange ideas and reconfirm their commitment to conservation.
Conversations revolved around topics like Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Laysan albatross with bellies full of plastic and preserving farmlands.
It was neat to see that this is a crowd that brings their own bags and their own bottles to fill up at water stations.
It was a time to shop for native plants from Hui Ku Maoli Ola, the latest fashions by Kealopiko and artwork of Hawaii's beautiful landscapes and birds. The Hawaiian artisans of Aupuni Place were demonstrating everything from kapa pounding to lau hala weaving.
The title index shows a broad range of topics covered from a proposed protocol for surveying the Hawaiian hoary bat to sediment management techniques from Vanuatu which could have potential applications for Hawaiian coral reef protection.
This caught my eye: "A Tale of Two Invaders and Two Islands: Fountain Grass and Ivy Gourd on Maui and Lanai." Or how about "Cleaning Up with Kalo" and "The Ecology of the Pupukea tide pools and their value within a Marine Life Conservation District"?
At the Honolulu Zoo Society, Arne served as a wildlife educator and coordinated outreach programs for more than 7,000 children a year. A South Dakota native, Arne has conducted marine biology snorkeling tours in Australia as well as directed youth adventure camps in Japan. She's spent the past decade exploring the world to experience wildlife as well as to spread her conservation message.
She and fellow Zoo Society educator Charles Lee were among 12 finalists in the video contest back in May. Competition was pretty stiff as the finalists were whittled down to three. Besides Arne, the other finalists were Reggie Busse of Omaha, Neb. and Thiago Silva of El Paso, Texas. All three traveled to Omaha to participate in interviews with show producers, an on-camera screen test and other activities before the final selection was made.
"The Wild Kingdom Wild Guide process has been mind blowing," said Arne in a press release statement. "I've realized that so many of my life experiences have prepared me for the role of Wild Guide. I'm so grateful to everyone who helped me get to this point. I was made to teach people about wildlife and show how they can help protect the planet that we share. I'm ready!"
The webisodes will be a mini-episode version of the classic Wild Kingdom program, redefined for today's generation of viewers and broadcast online. A "My Wild Kingdom" app is also available. As a Wildlife Guide, Arne will interact with viewers through social media (@stephaniearne on Twitter) and personal appearances.
The state of Hawaii has increased funding to help preserve places like the Ewa Forest Reserve. Photo courtesy DLNR.
How about some good news for Hawaii's forests?
The state of Hawaii offers more funding for forest protection this year, with $3.5 million in general funds and $5 million in general obligation bond funding in fiscal year 2014 for watershed protection (and another $2.5 million in bonds for fiscal year 2015).
"The Department of Land and Natural Resources Watershed Initiative remains a top priority and will continue to move forward," said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who signed the state budget bill into law June 18. "Protecting our mauka forest areas, which contain native plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, is essential to the future of agriculture, industry and our environment in Hawaii. It is the most cost-effective and efficient way to absorb rainwater and replenish groundwater resources to prevent erosion that muddies our beaches and fisheries."
The moneys set aside will:
>> Protect Hawaii's largest remaining tract of dryland forest in Manuka, in the Kau district of Hawaii island.
>> Allow for additional hires of natural resource managers and planners for on-the-ground forest protection projects.
>> Give funding to the Hawaii Invasive Species Council to address invasive plants and animals that threaten native forests and their ability to provide water.
DLNR chair William Aila said: "We can now make substantial progress towards our goal of doubling the level of forest protection in a decade."
Endangered flower from Manuka Natural Area Reserve. Photo courtesy DLNR.
More than half of Hawaii's forests have been lost, while the rest are threatened by expanding populations of invasive species. Hawaii's forests play an essential role in providing Hawaii's drinking water. To learn more, catch "The Rain Follows The Forest," a documentary featuring Jason Scott Lee.
Some of the state's funded projects include:
>> Fences to protect more than 1,000 acres of forest from feral pigs in the Koolaus.
>> On the Big Island, a project to plant native mamane trees at a 5,200-acre restoration site on the northern slope of Mauna Kea. Nearly 50,000 trees have already been planted in the last three years.
>> Comprehensive management, invasive species control and protective barriers in the remote forests of Kohala and Kau on the Big Island.
>> Protect more than 9,000 acres on the north, east and south slopes of Haleakala on Maui.
>> Protect more than 3,000 acres of forest on Kauai, which are threatened by invasive ginger, Australian tree ferns, feral pigs and goats.
A Lobelia at Hono O Na Pali natural area reserve on Kauai. Photo courtesy DLNR.
Without protection, many of Hawaii's forests, which provide drinking water, would be lost. Hono O Na Pali natural area reserve on Kauai. Photo courtesy DLNR.
Papahana Kuaola is a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to create quality educational programs focused on environmental restoration and economic sustainability "fully integrated with Hawaiian knowledge in order to exemplify a lifestyle respectful of kanaka, aina and akua."
HECO volunteers spent the four-hour workday helping to plant banana trees, remove weeds, gather and debark guava wood for construction of building frames plus bundle pili grass for roof thatching. They also worked in the lo‘i, or taro patch.
"More importantly than what we are doing here physically on the land, is what all the people who participate get out of it," said Matt Schirman, program director for Papahana Kualoa. "Getting people outdoors in the environment in a place that makes them feel relaxed and welcome — it has a really good effect o people. It's a kind of feeling that I think more and more people need today especially with this fast-paced lifestyle that we have."
The newly constructed gardens by HECO volunteers will help extremely rare types of banana trees thrive, and the guava and pil grass bundles will become part of two "hale pili" where the community will be able to gather.
Researcher Rob Whitton in a school of Jacks at Johnston Atoll. Scientists just returned last week for an expedition to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and Johnston Atoll, where they are documenting the diversity of life in deeper coral reefs. This is important, according to chief scientist Randall Kosaki, due to the threats of climate change. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Members of a research expedition to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monumentcame back last week with specimens of new species of deep-water algae from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the first recorded specimens of black coral from Johnston Atoll.
After 26 days of research dives to deep coral reefs 200 feet, they came back with photos of over 20 species of fish never before recorded from the NWHI and 15 species of fishes never before recorded at Johnston Atoll.
"This represents a significant increase in the known biodiversity of Hawaiian coral reefs, and provides insights into how Johnston Atoll contributes to the diversity of our reefs in Hawaii," said Randall Kosaki, NOAA's Deputy Superintendent of Papahanaumokuakea and chief scientist of the expedition. "It also underscores how poorly explored the deeper portions of coral reefs are, and how much remains to be discovered. This documentation of diversity is timely and critical, because climate change threatens much of this diversity before we even know it exists."
The research team visited Nihoa, Mokumanamana, French Frigate Shoals and Laysan Island at Papahanaumokuakea and then Johnson Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (about 860 miles west of Honolulu). Johnston Atoll is often regarded as a key "stepping stone" for a number of central and south Pacific marine species to colonize the NWHI.
Old growth coral reef at Laysan Island. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
Scientists on this expedition:
>> Collected samples of fish, corals, other invertebrates and algae for population genetics analysis' surveys.
>> Surveyed deep coral reefs and associated fish communities
>> Searched for invasive alien species of coral and algae
>> Conducted archeological surveys of the Howland, an 1800s whaling ship that wrecked at Johnson Atoll.
Scientists from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biologyalso conducted surveys of coral disease on the research cruise. Fortunately, the coral reefs at NWHI and Johnston Atoll exhibited low levels of coral diseases, according to research John Burns, and represent healthy coral reef ecosystems — "an important baseline to have as we enter an era of accelerated climate change."
A Moorish idol at Laysan in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Photo courtesy of NOAA.