Archive for the ‘Marine Life’ Category

Monk seal hospital: grand opening

September 6th, 2014
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Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The young seals were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles, malnourished,  to the hospital, then fed, and released back home at the end of August. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.

Hawaiian monk seals Kulia and Ikaika in the pool at Ke Kai Ola. The malnourished seal pups were transported from the Northwestern Hawaiian Isles to the hospital in Kona. The seals were able to gain weight, and were released back in the NWHI Aug. 31. Photo by Sarah van Schagen, NMFS permit 16632-00.

 

Ke Kai Ola, the new Hawaiian monk seal hospital in Kona, held its grand opening and blessing on Sept. 2.

The Marine Mammal Center's new, $3.2 million facility, which means the healing sea in Hawaiian, is dedicated to giving sick and injured Hawaiian monk seals a second chance.

Four young, malnourished monk seals — Kulia, Ikaika, Hala‘i and Maka‘alawere admitted to Ke Kai Ola on July 9 after being rescued from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The center's vet experts and trained volunteers cared for the seals until they were healthy enough to return to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Aug. 31.

Previously, malnourished pups like the four were left behind to fend for themselves by scientists, who had no place to take them.

"We built this hospital to save a species," said Jeff Boehm, executive director of The Marine Mammal; Center. "Thenks to funding from the Firedoll Foundation as well as a generous family foundation and hundreds of donors throughout the world, this hospital can now provide life-saving medical care."

The Hawaiian monk seal population hovers at about 1,100, with fewer than one in five pups surviving their first year in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands due to threats like marine debris entanglement, changes in the food chain and predators.

The center has partnered with the  NOAA's National  Marine Fisheries Service to help save the monk seals. It will also offer public outreach programs with the help of community volunteers. Visit www.marinemammalcenter.org to learn more.

Expanding a monument

August 21st, 2014
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Should the boundaries of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument be expanded?

President Barack Obama announced at an ocean conference in June his intention to expand the monument's boundaries from 50 to 200 miles from shore, using his executive authority, as reported in the Washington Post.

The total area covered would more than double the monument from about 83,000 square miles to more than 755,000 square miles, west and south of Hawaii, making it the largest network of protected areas on Earth.

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President Obama is expected to make a decision after public input, though there is no specified timeline or date in which he will do so yet.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, on behalf of NOAA and FWS, invited the public to a town hall meeting Aug. 11 at Ala Moana Hotel. Comments were also accepted via email until Aug. 15.

There was overwhelming support from Hawaii, according to environmental activists.

More than 200 attended, and roughly 50 commented publicly, including individuals from Maui, Molokai, Kauai and Miloli‘i on the Big Island, the last traditional fishing village in Hawaii. The large majority were in favor of expanding the monument to protect the ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea as well as to create a refuge for endangered species. Also, to keep the area safe from drilling and mining.

More than 135,000 U.S. citizens submitted letters, 1,500 from Hawaii residents. More than 30 non-profits including the Sierra Club Hawai‘i, Conservation Council for Hawaii, KAHEA, Surfrider Hawaii and others sent a group letter in support.

Some opposition came from the Western Pacific Regional Fishery  Management because of concerns from commercial fishermen.

The monument was established by George W. Bush in 2009, covering roughly 83,000 square miles, which extend 50 nautical miles from the shores of  seven islands and atolls: Howland, Baker, Jarvis islands and Johnson, Wake and Palmyra Atolls and Kingman Reef.

Collectively, the Pacific Remote Islands are home to 14 million seabirds of 19 species, 22 species of marine mammals, seven of which are endangered, including the blue whale, m ore than 240 seamounds and some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

It is also home to some of the healthiest populations of green and hawksbill sea turtles.

"By protecting the entire ecosystem from the shore to the deep sea, we ensure that all the links in the food web remain intact," said Alan Friedlander, director for the Fisheries Ecology Research Lab at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

 

A monk seal film

August 11th, 2014
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A documentary film about Hawaiian monk seals is in the works, but only has four more days to go to reach its $30,000 fundraising goal on indiegogo.

The film is the subject of today's Green Leaf column.

Robin and Andrew Eitelberg of Monterey, Calif. discovered the plight of the critically endangered Hawaiian monk seal a little over two years ago. Since last fall, they've been in the isles, dedicated to their goal of making a documentary film to help save the species.

They hope that the film, "One by One: The Struggle to Save the Hawaiian Monk Seal," will help educate the public about Hawaiian monk seals.

“When you talk to people  about monk seal outside of Hawaii, no one’s heard of them, so we’re starting with a completely blank slate," said Andrew. "We’re trying to get people aware of the species and what’s happening here.”

Making the Hawaiian monk seal, Hawaii's official state mammal, more visible and prominent, is one of their goals. Raising awareness of how hooked monk seals should be reported immediately is another.

The film will highlight the work of numerous conservation groups like the Monk Seal Foundation and The Marine Mammal Center, the passion of the scientists and volunteers who are working together to save the species, as well as the volunteers who are dedicated to protecting the seals as they haul ashore to get some rest in Hawaii.

Filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg. Courtesy image.

Filmmakers Robin and Andrew Eitelberg. Courtesy image.

The Eitelbergs, graduates from film studies at the University of California at Berkeley, believe documentaries have the power to tell a story and reach a worldwide audience. Both were impressed by "Blackfish."

They've been filming in the isles since last fall with the help of NOAA's Monk Seal Research Program. Challenges include capturing footage of seals that are spread out over thousands of miles, sometimes on remote isles like Papahanaumokuakea. They've respected the 150-foot distance from the seals, and are also careful to be quiet while shadowing NOAA scientists so as not to disturb the seals.

There have been many inspiring moments, according to Robin, including when a vet was able to successfully extricate a hook from monk seal pup Luana's mouth in June. A collective sigh of relief came from the team that rescued her, along with high-fives all around.

Funding will help the pair recoup out-of-pocket expenses already invested into travel and equipment, as well as editing, graphics and film festival submission fees. Robin says editing will take place in the fall, with a screening hopefully, by next spring.

They hope to offer screenings and discussions here as well as on the mainland.

With more funding and time, Andrew says it would be interesting to explore the unique challenges of monk seal populations for each isle.

"We want to have children, and grandchildren one day, and I am fearful my grandchildren will not get to see these monk seals and share the experience of knowing what they have to offer to all of us," said Andrew. "We have to all come together right now...build this movement to save a species and we hope this documentary can be a spark."

A Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Photo courtesy "One by One."

A Hawaiian monk seal snoozing. Photo courtesy "One by One."

Conservation commitments

July 18th, 2014
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Kai ceremony celebrating commitments to the environment by Maui Nui Makai Network. Photo by Sean Marrs.

Kai ceremony combining ocean waters celebrating commitments to the environment by Maui Nui Makai Network. Photo by Sean Marrs.

The Hokule‘a Malama Honua Worldwide Voyage received new commitments by members of the Maui Nui Makai Network on Wednesday, July 16.

In a kai ceremony at noon, six communities of the newly formed Maui Nui Makai Network pledged new commitments to members of the voyage at the Hawai‘i Convention Center. The ceremony followed an hour-long presentation by members at the 2014 annual Hawai‘i Conservation Conference.

Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III combined ocean waters from each site as a symbol of shared commitments to community-based management of the six communities that make up an ahupua‘a on Maui. These commitments were recorded in a book that will be carried on board the Hokule‘a, which are to be completed by the voyage's conclusion in 2017.

Among the Network's commitments to one another:

>> Protect and restore healthy ecosystems

>> Share and learn from their diverse experiences

>> Help one another malama (care for) their areas

>> Perpetuate Hawaiian values, including kuleana

"We are a group of like-minded people who have shared aspirations to care for our marine resources," said Ekolu Lindsey of Palanui Hiu, current chair for the network. "The ocean is the foundation of our island culture and we need it to be healthy and sustainable. We are working toward sustainable reefs and fish for our future."

Members of the Network currently include: Kipahulu ‘Ohana and Na Mamo O Mu‘olea in east Maui; Wailuku Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in central Maui; Palanui Hiu in Lahaina; Hui Maalalama O Mo‘omomomi in Molokai; and Maunalei Ahupua‘a Community Managed Makai Area in Lanai.

Members of the Maui Nui Makai Network with Polynesian Voyaging Society president Nainoa Thompson. Photo by Sean Marrs.

Members of the Maui Nui Makai Network with Polynesian Voyaging Society president Nainoa Thompson, fourth from left, and Kahu Sam Ohu Gon III, right. Photo by Sean Marrs.

‘Opihi discoveries

July 5th, 2014
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Scientists are mapping and monitoring the ‘opihi population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island and believe hybridization is occurring between the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Scientists are mapping and monitoring the ‘opihi population in the Northwestern Hawaiian Island and believe hybridization is occurring between the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Scientists on a recent expedition to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument have discovered a mingling of the yellowfoot and blackfoot ‘opihi on Mokumanamana. The good news is that the hybridization means ‘opihi, a prized delicacy in Hawaii, may be more resilient against the effects of climate change and other disturbances.

For the sixth consecutive year, members of the intertidal monitoring expedition examined the rocky shorelines of Nihoa, Mokumanamana and French Frigate Shoals. It involved walking, crawling, swimming and clinging to rocks to count, size and record all ‘opihi around the islands.

The data collected will provide good baseline information to compare with data being collected in the more populated main Hawaiian islands, according to NOAA acting deputy superintendent Hoku Johnson, who led the expedition. It will also be turned into spatial "heat maps" depicting ‘opihi abundance, size and species on each island.

In the main Hawaiian islands, ‘opihi is is serious decline.

Scientists are trying to better understand their spawning patterns, gene flow and the rate of evolution of the three species endemic to Hawaii to better manage shorelines near populated areas.

 

World Oceans Day at Honolulu Museum

June 3rd, 2014
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med_logoWorld Oceans Day is Sunday, June 8.

World Oceans Day was conceived in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and born following the passage of a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 2008. For those of us who live in Hawaii, surrounded by ocean, the day should have more than a passing significance.

This year, the Honolulu Museum of Art is teaming up with PangeaSeed to present World Oceans Day Hawai‘i — a multimedia event from June 6 to 12 connecting local marine conservationists with filmmakers, scientists and ocean enthusiasts. The Conservation Council for Hawai‘i presents the sea keiki fun zone 9:30 a.m. June 8 at Doris Duke Theatre for kids ages 7 to 11.

There will  be art exhibits, Sleep with the Fishes: Kozyndan and Olek (June 6 to 12, Honolulu Museum of Art School), as well as a film festival exploring the ocean depths, conservation issues and all the life in it, followed by panel discussions.

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Check out "Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe a la Hache," "Sushi: The Global Catch," "Revolution" (see trailer above), "Shadow Reef," "Sustainable by Design: Volcom Pipe Pro 2013+2014," "Malama Maunalua, "Mantas Last Dance," "Plastic Paradise" and  "Extinction Soup," among many others.

For updates, visit World Oceans Day Hawaii on Facebook.

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Empty the Tanks protest at Sea Life Park

May 27th, 2014
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Eight-year-old protestors hold up signs Saturday (May 24) across from Sea Life Park for the international Empty the Tanks movement. Courtesy Empty the Tanks FB page.

Eight-year-old twins Tristan and Aidan Smith hold up signs Saturday (May 24) across from Sea Life Park for the international Empty the Tanks movement. Courtesy Empty the Tanks FB page.

Local protestors took part in an international Empty the Tanks event on Saturday, May 24, across the street from Sea Life Park to raise awareness over marine animals in captivity.

It was the second annual Empty the Tanks event, with this year's protest represented by organizations including the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, PETA, Ocean Defender Hawaii, Pangea Seed and Deep Ecology Dive Center.

EmptytheTanksThe movement is gaining momentum after the release of the documentary, "Blackfish," by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, which screened at Kahala Theatres last August and on CNN. It's amazing how this low-budget documentary has made an impact on people, prompting lawmakers in California to consider a bill banning Seaworld orca shows.

My first thought upon seeing the documentary, was, "Well, we don't have orcas in captivity in Hawaii." We have a multi-million-dollar tourism industry centered around observing Hawaiian humpback whales in the wild, with federal regulations in place to protect them. But we do have dolphins and pilot whales in captivity at Sea Life Park on Oahu. And dolphins at resorts for the popular DolphinQuest swim-with-dolphins programs that I've had friends and family rave about.

What makes that any different? I'm not so sure, really.

Before "Blackfish," another documentary (Academy Award winning) called "The Cove" came out in 2009, detailing the annual, bloody slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, where some are captured and sold to amusement parks. Former Flipper dolphin trainer Ric O'Barry is a convert, telling people not to support any of these programs. I think before "Blackfish," people tended to say, "Oh, it's those animal rights people" again. But now it's more mainstream. If anything, there's more awareness.

The thing is that people go to see dolphins and whales because they're curious about them, and from a distance, also, because they love animals. If these marine mammals can't go back into the wild and survive, though, where could they stay and how would that be funded? Philanthropical foundations?

Sea Shepherd crew member Deborah Bassett said in a press release: "I have been to the infamous killing cove in Taiji, Japan to oppose the brutal slaughter of dolphins that take place there annually. People need to make the connection between dolphin captivity and the slaughter, an issue that was highlighted in the Academy Award winning film 'The Cove.' The message we want to get across to both locals and tourists here in Hawaii is do not buy a ticket to these shows or support any establishments with captive whales or dolphins, including Sea Life Park. After all, nature has given us the great fortune of seeing these amazingly intelligent animals across our island chain; there is simply no justification for this type of enslavement here or anywhere on the planet in 2014."

Sea Life Park issued the following statement through their public relations firm:

"As a member of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, we are dedicated to the highest standards of care for marine mammals in order to provide an enriching educational experience for our park guests. Our animals receive constant attention and affection, and the best food, shelter and veterinary care, including on-site professionals and world-renowned experts who are on retainer to the Park. None of our dolphins on display at Sea Life Park have been acquired through drive hunts. The majority of our dolphins were born in captivity through a responsible breeding program."

True, Sea Life Park, which has been around 50 years, does a lot of educational programs and has a green sea turtle breeding program which regularly releases baby turtles into the wild. I wrote about it once.  And once, a few years ago, I went to Sea Life Park as part of an Earth Day event after a beach cleanup.

But I think twice about it now.  What do you think about dolphins and whales in captivity?

Thanks, Kermit

March 9th, 2014
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Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back at White Plain Beach in February 2014. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

Kermit the monk seal with National Geographic crittercam mounted on his back. Photo courtesy Barbara Billand, Monk Seal Foundation volunteer.

First of all, let's say thanks to Kermit the monk seal for giving us a peek into his under-ocean life.

Kermit, an approximately 20-year-old male monk seal who hangs out on the leeward side of Oahu, is part of a three-year National Geographic crittercam project conducted by NOAA Fisheries. The camera was mounted on his back between Feb. 7 and 14.

Students in Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla's marine science class got to get the first peek at footage gathered from Kermit's crittercam in February. You can get a peek, too, via this link courtesy National Geographic and NOAA Fisheries.

While five groups (of about four students each) watched 30-minute video clips, the project will gather more than 200 hours of footage to pore through (swimming, sleeping, playing, eating). The students are enlisted to help scientists put together a short video to present to the community as well as to be the future voice of monk seals.

It's a great idea — taking science out of its "scientific research bubble" and out into the community.

"I think the main takeaway for my students was the first hand experience watching un-touched footage," wrote teacher Dani Padilla in an e-mail. "They got to DO rather than be told. They were not just having the 'facts' fed to them through the grapevine. Instead, they were the ones collecting the data and watching a monk seal pass up hundreds of fish before he decided to eat anything...."

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Castle High School teacher Dani Padilla with students as they examine footage taken from the National Geographic crittercam mounted on Kermit the monk seal's back. Photo by Craig Kojima.

Only about 1,100 Hawaiian monk seals, known as ilioholoikauaua (dog running in the rough seas in Hawaiian) remain in the isles today, with their population in decline. They are a native species found only in Hawaii, and protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act. The state of Hawaii considers the intentional harm or killing of a seal a third-degree felony.

Now, back to Kermit. You can't help loving Kermit when you see him. Monk Seal Foundation volunteer Barbara Billand, who provided the courtesy photo above, admits he's her favorite of the many monk seals she keeps tabs on. He's often found at White Plains Beach, snoozing in the sun.

"He's a very cool seal," she said. "Very laid  back, a gentleman."

Monk seals can live between 25 to 30 years, dive for an average of 6 minutes when feeding and eat a varied diet of fish, octopus, crabs, shrimp and lobster. They grow up to seven feet long and weigh 400 to 600 pounds. They can also travel long distances.

While the monk seals may not be keen about having these crittercams attached (who knows what they would say if they could?), NOAA scientist Charles Littnan said in a Feb. 12 FB post that the new technology will provide valuable data about their foraging behavior (more than satellite tags and scat analysis can offer) as well as their habitat. It also offers potential solutions for fisheries.

It can also help dispel myths about the critically endangered monk seals, one of them being that they consume a lot. First-hand footage can show, rather than just tell the community these facts. "I'm not trying to create love for the seals," said Littnan, "Just knowledge, with the facts."

Here's a great link to Hawaiian monk seal myths vs. facts.

If you're interested in learning more about Hawaii's monk seals or volunteering, check out the Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program's Facebook Page. If you see a monk seal sleeping on shore, do not approach, touch or feed it. If you see one in distress, call 888-256-9840.

Mother and baby whale

March 3rd, 2014
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Capt. Dave Anderson of Dana Point, Calif., captured this beautiful footage of a mother and baby Hawaiian humpback whale off the waters of Maui during a recent trip in February. Stay tuned to the second half of this five-minute video, which starts with a dolphin stampede in Dana Point.

He captured the footage by drone – or quadcopter — during a vacation on Maui. The mother and baby approached his boat off Maui, says Capt. Dave, and he made sure to maintain a respectful distance while capturing the footage.

"Putting it together the way I did will, I hope, raise awareness of these animals in a way that hasn't been done before," said Anderson, owner of Capt. Dave's Dolphins & Whale Watching Safari.

Anderson, who produced the documentary "Wild Dolphins & Whales of Southern California," also says it shows the great potential drones can have for wildlife filmmakers. He's excited about the possibilities the new technology can offer.

"I have not been this excited about a new technology since we built our underwater viewing pods on our whale watching boat," he said.

Three days after getting a quadcopter, Anderson said he was filming the dolphin stampede off Dana Point, Calif. He also captured some beautiful footage of a gray whale, but had a mishap in which he lost the quadcopter after it nicked an antennae and dropped in the water. Now he makes sure to put a flotation device on his quad.

There is also footage of three gray whales migrating down the coast off San Clemente, Calif.

On Maui, he said he parked his boat a distance from the mother and calf to watch them, spending pretty about a half day out there. A male escort whale was also out there, watching after the pair. He deployed his quadcopter (a DJI Phantom 2 with a small GoPro) four times — at 15-minute intervals each.

From the surface, it looked as if the mother was diving down and leaving her calf behind. From the drone, Anderson saw that the mother whale was just resting right under the surface of the water, with the calf hovering nearby.

"They were just interacting with each other in such an intimate way," he said. "I think the most beautiful part of that film is what I shot in Hawaii."

Anderson, a whale watch captain with nearly 20 years of experience, also warns others to only attempt filming by drone if familiar with whale behavior and laws. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  is currently reviewing drones and their use around whales.

Learn more at dolphinsafari.com.

Saving Waikiki

February 12th, 2014
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Volunteers are welcome to help remove three types of invasive algae from the reef behind Waikiki aquarium during public beach cleanups scheduled from February through October.

The Waikiki Aquarium recently received a $43,951 Community Restoration Partnership grant to continue its Waikiki Coastal Restoration efforts and research. The alien algae — Acanthophora spicifera, Gracilaria salicornia and Avrainvillea amadelpha — choke the reefs and crowd out native limu. They're considered a marine menace and threat to the beauty of Waikiki.

Beach cleanups will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, as well as on Saturdays, March 29, May 3, June 28 and Oct. 25.

"This grant allows us to further engage the public in our conservation efforts, which is a very important goal for us in 2014," said Aquarium director Andrew Rossiter. "We encourage everyone who has an interest in the ocean to join us for a rewarding Saturday morning out on the reef."

Volunteers will first  be trained on how to differentiate between invasive and native algae plants followed by hands-on removal experience on the reef using snorkels, paddleboards and buckets. Dr. Celia Smith and her team from the University of Hawaii Botany Department will provide the training. Starbucks and Diamond Bakery are providing coffee and snacks for volunteers.

Waikiki Aquarium's volunteers have removed thousands of pounds of invasive algae from the reef behind the aquarium over the decade in an effort to protect the native marine plants.

Other organizations, including Malama Maunalua, have also worked hard to remove invasive algae from Maunalua Bay (which stretches from Diamond Head to Koko Head) in East Oahu, with hopeful signs that the bay is being restored. Malama Maunalua also offers volunteer opportunities. On the windward side, a Super Sucker, a mobile underwater pump-vacuum, is used to remove invasive algae from Kaneohe Bay.

To voluteer for the Waikiki Coastal Restoration program, call the aquarium's volunteer office at 440-9020 or visit www.waikikiaquarium.org.