Rehabilitation and release are not always options, according to foundation president Patrick Wardell , due to critical injuries or other environmental factors. KP2, or Ho‘ailona is one example — the pup seal who became too friendly with the folks on Molokai bounced around several isles and was nursed by humans, but ultimately could not be returned to the wild due to poor eyesight. He eventually ended up in the care of scientist Terrie Williams at a marine mammal lab in Santa Cruz before finding his way back home, where he has since taken up residence at the Waikiki Aquarium.
The Monk Seal Foundation, a non-profit based in Lahaina, Maui, joined forces in March with the Hawaiian Monk Seal Response Team Oahu, united by their same mission of preserving the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal for future generations.
Kaimalino is another recent example of a non-releasable seal. Wildlife officials removed him from Kure and Midway atolls in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands because he was unnaturally aggressive towards several females and their pups. He was temporarily held at Waikiki Aquarium and now lives in California.
KP2, now known as Ho‘ailona, bounced around several locations in Hawaii before taking up residence at a Santa Cruz lab in California for two years. He is now a resident at the Waikiki Aquarium, where he serves as an ambassador for his species. Photo from marinemammalcenter.org.
It's great to see a vision become reality — and maybe the tide is turning for our endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
The center, which has been rescuing marine mammals since 1975, including mostly harbor seals, elephant seals and sea lions from the California coast, has taken a keen interest in helping the endangered Hawaiian monk seals across the Pacific.
"We believe it's the right thing to do to help animals in need," said Jeff Boehm, the center's executive director.
With a population below 1,100 in the Hawaiian isles, the monk seal population is declining at a rate of about 4 percent per year. In the Northwestern Hawaiian islands, juveniles are prone to starvation, marine debris entanglement and shark predators. In the main Hawaiian islands, where more monk seals are being sighted, they have become victim to human-created hazards including fish hooks, nets and motor boats.
This Hawaiian monk seal ingested a fishing hook last year. NOAA Permit 932-1905233319.
In 2011 and 2012, several Hawaiian monk seals on Molokai and Kauai were killed intentionally by humans, considered both a state and federal offense due to its endangered status.
The facility, to be called "Ke Kai Ola" (The Healing Sea), broke ground in September of last year and should have four pools to accommodate injured monk seals. The pools have already been filled with water, according to Boehm, and could take an injured adult or orphaned pup.
The center needs another $700,000 to complete the second phase, which would include the buildout of a fish kitchen and lab, plus offices and an open-air visitor pavilion. Plans also call for solar photovoltaic panels, seawater air conditioning and seawater filtration infrastructure for the pools.
To help run operations, the center recently received a $25,000 grant from the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund. Donations have come from throughout the globe, according to Boehm, with the Hawaiian monk seal capturing the heart of Bay Area philanthropists as well as schoolkids raising funds in their classrooms.
The Marine Mammal Center's mission is "to expand knowledge about marine mammals — their health and that of their ocean environment — and to inspire their global conservation."
Another component of the center's mission is expanding knowledge, which means partnering with scientists to help expand and advance scientific knowledge, as well as to educate the general public about marine mammals. In California, the center works with more than 1,000 volunteers and has successfully rehabilitated and released hundreds of animals back to the wild.
"We go down to the beaches and watch them move back into the Pacific Ocean," he said. "To be frank, there are tears, sometimes. It's a celebratory feeling."
Boehm says the center is looking forward to working with other non-profits, the community and schools in Hawaii.
"There are great partners in Hawaii doing work around the observations, monitoring and response to animals on the beach," said Boehm. "What there hasn't been is a dedicated place to take these animals."
Someone littered this cigarette butt, with fresh pink lipstick, on the sand at Kaimana Beach earlier this month, shortly after "Smoking is Prohibited" signs went up. Kaimana Beach is now a smoke-free beach. All city beaches and parks will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1, 2014. Photo by Nina Wu. Oct. 5, 2013.
One of my earliest tweets ever was that cigarette butts on the beach are my pet peeve. I tweeted it again on Earth Day this year.
They are also a pain to pick up because they are small and filthy (they've been in someone's mouth, plus they're made of plastic, which never breaks down, in addition to nasty chemicals) and can get buried in the sand. Besides plastic debris (which you need a sifter to get out), they are the most annoying piece of litter to clean from the beach.
So it's about time that Honolulu passed a law prohibiting smoking at our beaches. Smoking is already prohibited at pretty much the entire sweep of Waikiki beaches, including Kaimana Beach, Kapahulu Groin, Kuhio Beach as well as Sandy Beach Park. Smoking is also prohibited on the grass and picnic areas of all of Kapiolani Regional Park. At Ala Moana Beach Park, smoking is only prohibited on the sandy area, but the entire park will be smoke-free starting Jan. 1. Hanauma Bay has prohibited smoking within the nature preserve since 1993.
I understand that people have the right to smoke, if they want to, even though it's harmful for their health, in the name of freedom of choice. I do believe that there are many responsible smokers who take the care to put out their butts in the trash can or an ashtray, and that not all are littering the beach. But time and time again, smokers clearly are littering our beaches. The evidence is right there in the sand, by the hundreds and thousands over the past few decades, polluting our oceans and marine life.
That's where smokers' rights stop — when they are causing harm to others and to the environment. Furthermore, Oahu's beautiful beaches should not serve as a giant ashtray for locals as well as visitors from around the world. If we keep letting it happen, our beaches won't be beautiful, but blighted — with butts. The damage extends to the coral reef and all the life that it supports.
Starting Jan. 1, all city beaches, parks, swimming pools, playgrounds, athletic fields, tennis courts and bus stops will be smoke-free, as well. To see where all of Honolulu's parks are, visit this link. The fine is $100 for the first offense, up to $500 for the third. Honolulu Police Department will enforce the law, but let's hope people use common courtesy and take their smoking elsewhere.
"Plastic is the most common type of marine litter worldwide, comprising up to 90 percent of floating marine debris," says Laura Lee, Surfrider's director of marketing and communications.
Once again, Surfrider and Teva are offering the third annual "One Foot at a Time" plastic cleanup and art contest. To participate, artists collect one square foot of trash from their beach or community, then use the material to create a mosaic sculpture using one of the "Rise Above Plastics" templates.
This year, the templates are Halloween-themed, and include a bat, pumpkin, ghost, spider, skull or the Teva logo.
Snap a photo and email to OneFoot@surfrider.org. Prizes for winners include gear from Teva, Firewire Surfboards and the Surfrider Foundation. Also, anyone who renews their Surfrider Foundation membership or donates $35 this month receives two Halloween-themed, reusable ChicoBags.
Here's a look at the single-use plastics we use on a daily basis in Honolulu (and simple ways to change this):
>> Plastic forks, spoons and knives. I admit to being guilty on this one, even though I know better, often when getting takeout lunch during the work week. The solution is simple — just bring your own fork from home or buy one of those bamboo utensil sets that you can carry with you (which I have, but often forget). At the very least, if you forget, you can always reuse plastic forks, turning them from single-use to multiple-use.
>> Plastic cups and straws. If you're a daily iced coffee or espresso drinker like me, then you probably get a single-use plastic cup and straw which you throw away after you're done drinking your beverage. The solution is to bring your own cup and reusable straw. Starbucks and many other cafes sell them. Starbucks even gives you a 10-cent discount for bringing a personal cup, which adds up after awhile.
>> Plastic grocery bags. Sure, we all reuse them to line our trash cans or to pick up dog poop, but there are so many times when the bags are unnecessary. If you bring your own bags to the grocery store, kudos to you! I've been pretty good about this one for the past few years. You can reduce plastic bags further by also bringing your own bag to retail stores, which I've been trying to do more often. Also, sometimes you can just say, "No thanks!" if you really don't have that much stuff. If you are just buying a handful of apples at the store, you don't always need to bag them. Just let the cashier ring them up loose, then throw in your reusable bag.
>> Plastic bottles. Most of us are aware that those plastic bottles for water, soda and juices are worth 5-cents apiece if you redeem them at Reynold's Recvycling. If you don't have the time to do so, then you can donate them or throw them into your blue bin for curbside pickup. So there's no excuse for NOT recycling plastic beverage bottles. On the other hand, it would be better to REDUCE the plethora of single-use plastic bottles by bringing a reusable bottle to fill up with water from the cooler, tap or fountain.
>> Plastic ziplock bags: I confess to being guilty on this one, too. I often use ziplocks to pack snacks for my son, but what we can do to reduce the use of plastic is to simply wrap sandwiches in a napkin, wax paper or how about aluminum foil? You can also buy a reusable sandwich or snack bag from ChicoBag or LunchSkins.
>> Halloween Trick-or-Treat bags: Instead of plastic, go for felt buckets or good-quality, reusable bags that you can reuse year after year. I found an adorable, felt bucket shaped like a pumpkin for my son to use at Halloween last year. We'll be bringing it out and using it again this year.
The whole mission of Rise Above Plastics is to just be more aware. RAP is also a good reminder for those of us who already know, to remember, and to do better.
Most plastic pollution at sea starts out as litter on land, including beaches, streets and sidewalks, according to Surfrider. After plastics enter the marine environment, they slowly photodegrade and break down into smaller pieces that fish and turtles mistake for food. Our ocean is turning into plastic soup.
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.
Damien "Nakoa" Farrant of Haleiwa was one of 15 U.S. students selected to participate in NOAA's Ocean for Life program at Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary this summer. Nakoa with Jean-Michel Cousteau of the Ocean Futures Society. Courtesy photo.
NOAA selected Nakoa, 17, to participate based on his submission of a series of essays on ocean conservation and cultural understanding. NOAA was also impressed with his research project on the effects of ocean acidification on the growth of a marine bacterium at the Hawaii State Science and Engineering Fair earlier this year.
Ocean for Life, a partnership between NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, The GLOBE and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation is an educational field study program enhancing cultural understanding among high school students through ocean science.
The students learned about a wide range of topics at Channel Islands — climate change, ocean acidification, kelp forest ecosystems, marine life of the Santa Barbara Channel and the different cultures and backgrounds of their fellow participants. Their experiences were documents with photos and video. And they got to meat with Jean-Michel Cousteau of Ocean Futures Society.
"Ocean for Life taught me many lessons and truly changed my life," said Farrant. "The ocean connects the world and the actions taken by humanity continuously influence the health of the ocean. By finding interconnectedness with people from around the world, we can make significant change through simple actions like recycling. I plan to start by raising awareness and getting people to take action in my home community on the island of Oahu."
There you have it — a simple action in everyday life: recycling.
Ocean for Life more specifically brings 15 Middle Eastern and 15 Northern American high school students together to study marine science. Its premise is simple: "We are all connected by the oean and by studying the ocean, we can learn about improving stewardship of the planet and our ourselves: one world, one ocean."
The program was born in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy. Three Washington DC public school students, their three teachers and two National Geographic Society staff who were on the way to the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary were victims of the tragedy that day. They were on American Airlines, Flight 77.
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.
Tonight, Amarisa Marie, wildlie biologist in charge of Kailua's offshore islands (Mokulua and Popoi‘a) will be the guest speaker, along with Matthew Saunder, field manager from Kure Atoll. The Hawaii Ecotourism Association will present its award for 2013 Ecotour Guide of the Year.
For more info, contact email@example.com.