With GREAT thanks to Dawn Dudek for her support in reworking this slide show and to Hunter Molnar Stanton for her help with the first version.
With GREAT thanks to Dawn Dudek for her support in reworking this slide show and to Hunter Molnar Stanton for her help with the first version.
Yesterday, I had reason to stand beside the Ocean with tears in my eyes.
I again stood exactly where Moby Doll was harpooned and brought into captivity in 1964 at East Point, Saturna Island.
Unthinkable now, but back then, who we were and what we believed is that there were too many Orca.
We vilified them, shot at them, and thereby there was social license for the plan to have an artist harpoon an Orca and then make a sculpture of it for the Vancouver Aquarium. The artist / harpoonist, Sam Burich, sat at this very spot from May 22 to July 16, 1964. A young Orca was then harpooned and the artist could not bring himself to kill him. The whale was brought into Vancouver Harbour at the end of the harpoon and only lived for 87 days.
He was nicknamed “Moby Doll” because we did not even have enough knowledge to discern juvenile male and female Orca. He was to be “The whale that changed the world” helping us know how wrong we can be but how quickly we can change when knowledge replaces fear and . . . when our values change.
On that point, my reason for being on Saturna Island was another source of emotion. There was so much evidence of change.
In my role with our Marine Education & Research Society I was there to help launch the #ForTheWhales movement with Saturna Island Marine Research & Education Society.
The intent is that this hashtag be used to increase awareness of the multitude of actions we can undertake to reduce impacts to whales – as consumers, energy-users, voters, neighbours, educators and boaters. This is with emphasis on the plight of the endangered Southern Residents, Moby Doll’s lineage who now number only 73 whales.
It is essential to realize there are still many ways to kill a whale through disconnect; entitlement; absence of precaution; perceiving societal / environmental health in only election cycles of 4 years; associating using less as being about loss rather than gain (less disposables, fossil fuels and dangerous chemicals); and the overwhelm that comes from not realizing the common solutions to socio-environmental problems.
How will we look back in another 55 years? Will we reflect on how the whales again moved us forward with values that better serve our own futures as well? Or, will we acknowledge that we had a critical window in which we could act, and did not.
The whales – indicators of environmental health and barometers of human values.
Care more. Use less.
DO MORE . . . #ForTheWhales.
Sources and additional information about Moby Doll:
CBC The Current, December 27, 2016, How Moby Doll changed the worldview of ‘monster’ orca (includes audio and video)
Colby, Jason M., and Paul Heitsch. 2019. Orca: how we came to know and love the ocean’s greatest predator.
Francis, Daniel, and Gil Hewlett. 2007. Operation Orca: Springer, Luna and the struggle to save West Coast killer whales. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Pub.
Leiren-Young, Mark. 2016. Moby doll: the killer whale that changed the world. Greystone Books.
The Tyee, May 13, 2008, They Shoot Orcas, Don’t They?
Werner, M. T. (2010). What the whale was : orca cultural histories in British Columbia since 1964 (T). University of British Columbia. Retrieved from https://open.library.ubc.ca/collections/ubctheses/24/items/1.0071537
I learn a lot from social media.
The reactions to recent posts I’ve made have given me much to think about.
These include two horrifically compelling videos: (1) a fish full of ingested plastic; and (2) an emaciated Polar Bear.
These videos are included at the end of this blog. I hesitated to share them on social media because I know that at the heart of my “The Marine Detective” community, there are people as aware and motivated as I am. It’s not educating you really need.
You need confirmation of solutions and protection from despondency.
But I did share the videos and you’ll notice in my text on the posts (also below) that my decision to do so was because I believed they were powerful resources for others who may not yet fully “get it”.
I am very aware that it’s a delicate dance. To engage, connect, inspire and educate for the sake of more people undertaking positive action. Graphic imagery can help motivate but it can also lead people to disengage, succumb to eco-paralysis and eco-phobia; and/or disappear into the pit of despair.
It’s about fight or flight.
When faced with a threat that’s what we do*.
And climate change, plastics pollution, lack of security – these are threats.
There are many who flee (or freeze). It’s too much. They deny. They try for alternative explanations. They turn away. They shut down. They need to believe there is somewhere to flee to.
Then there are those who fight. Who become further motivated. Who become even more resolute in their actions and intentions.
What makes the difference? In the work I am compelled to do, I need to understand as best as I can.
What do the fighters need to keep fighting?
And what could motivate those who flee to turn around? To see the way forward?
Of course there are many variables at play but what has been further solidified for me as a result of these recent social media posts is that the difference between flight and fight can be . . . knowing its worth the fight.
We run from what is overwhelming, terrifying and what is perceived to diminish our quality of life.
We fight for what we know is right and are more inclined to do so when we know how to fight and who and what we are fighting.
Who and what are we fighting?
We are being manipulated by the consumer / disposable / fossil fuel paradigm to be fearful and to continue in the way that will ensure their continued power. We are to value acquisition above time and relationships. We are to equate success with stuff. We are meant to feel discontent and that with further purchasing, life will be enhanced. Not only does this paradigm thrive on fear, it grows fat on inequality (sexism, racism, etc).
How to fight?
Realize there’s so much potential for positive change when we remove fear and recognize there are common solutions to socio-environmental problems.
It’s not climate change vs. plastic pollution vs. poverty, etc.
It’s not life depreciating.
There is great gain in:
Really, it’s no surprise that empowered people are happier people.
To you, the fighters who have read this, I hope it has been of use to you.
To those who are inclined to flee, my understanding to you and respect that you have read this far. May this have a roll in your choosing to reject fear and embrace action that leads to greater happiness and purpose. We need you.
For me, the exercise of writing this has been affirming of the path forward.
Because we are even more inclined to fight when we better know how to win.
Text I posted with the following video: “I expect very few people here need further motivation to reduce plastic use but – maybe of use in your circles? Mahi mahi (fish) in Puerto Rico full of plastic. Of course, what we can’t see is the micro-particles of plastic that enter our food chain. Don’t be despondent. Be deliberate.”
Text I posted on Facebook regarding the following:
“I have waited with sharing this. Again, because I believe so many of us here “get it” and I do not want to contribute to eco-phobia and eco-paralysis. But also again, this is so compelling and powerful to be shared with those who do not YET get it. This is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Is it a certainty that THIS Polar Bear is starving because of climate change? No. Is it a certainty that reduced sea ice makes it far more difficult for Polar Bears to hunt and that they will starve? Yes. And THIS is what a starving Polar Bear looks like. Gutting to watch.
Adds to my motivation to reduce carbon through my consumer and voter behaviour.
Don’t be despondent. Don’t turn away. Mobilize your sorrow and outrage. Reduce carbon footprints.”
For more detail please see CBC “As It Happens” information by clicking here. The article also addresses concerns about why the bear was not fed.
* What further catalyzed this blog is the podcast by Ashley Ahearn in which fight and flight are discussed as reactions to climate changes.
See “You probably have eco anxiety. You just don’t know it.”
For you: photos and a two-minute slide show from my recent days aboard Maple Leaf Adventures‘ MV Swell in my own backyard – the Broughton Archipelago on NE Vancouver Island.
The work while aboard? Striving to be a conduit of understanding for the life around us: Freckles the Humpback who was acrobatic for over an hour; the Black Bear cub in a rain-soaked, moss-covered Cedar with lichen draped over his/her ear; the Pacific White-Sided Dolphins leaping over a Humpback and then surfing in a ship’s wake; the giant Steller Sea Lions growling at a frequency the resounds far and deep; the Bald Eagles tearing apart the salmon that feeds this coast; and . . . so much more.
With the recent diesel spill further to the north on BC’s Central Coast, it all felt even more fragile. I feel even greater urgency and importance to try to capture the excruciating beauty and balance here so that it might enter more human lives and increase true awareness and true action.
Know and celebrate your connection no matter how many kilometres you are from the life in these images.
See the common life-enhancing solutions: reducing demand for fossil fuels; reducing use of dangerous chemicals; increasing values based on the longterm health of the environment our lives depend on . . . that’s where happiness, health and empowerment lie.
Don’t be despondent because tipping into the pit of despair will truly bring darkness.
Do it . . . . come away with me.
Two-minute slide show with more images.
And -the faces and voices of the people most directly impacted by the fuel spill on BC’s Central Coast. The impacts of this, of “only” a tug sinking, it makes so very clear that there has to be a ban on tanker traffic and that we all have to reduce the demand for fossil fuels for so many reasons including that it literally fuels the demand for tankers on our coast.
The 1.5 minute video below is my attempt to bring the astounding biodiversity of the cold, rich waters of the NE Pacific Ocean to the surface.
If there is one thing I hope to achieve with my photography, it is to shatter the perception that — because you can’t see to the bottom — there must not be much life in these waters.
The opposite it true.
The reason you can’t see to the bottom is because there is SO much life.
Please feel free to share the video widely. Hopefully it will enhance people feeling a connection to the ocean, wanting to undertake further conservation, and understanding what is at stake with high risk projects that worship short term-economic gain at the cost of long-term environmental devastation — like increasing tanker traffic along British Columbia’s precious coast.
Infinite thanks to Hunter Molnar Stanton for her expertise in refining this video (and yes, there is a big typo 😉 ).
Indeed, a decomposing whale is THIS beautiful and THIS important to the environment.
The clip above, “Whale Fall (after life of a whale)” from Sharon Shattuck, will be of particular interest to environmental educators and those of you, who like me, have “handled” dead whales for the purposes of science and education.
Thank you so much Lisa Spaven for bringing this to my attention and a special “shout out” to those who have worked at Telegraph Cove’s Whale Interpretive Centre dedicating themselves to preserving marine mammal skeletons.
Information about the clip from Andrew Liszewski’s “Who Knew a Decomposing Whale Could Be So Beautiful”: “Whales can live for 50 to 75 years. But did you know that after they die, their decomposing bodies can support a whole community of organisms and other sea life for an additional 50 to 75 years?
Whale Fall is a short documentary on what happens to the largest mammal on the planet after it dies and sinks to Davy Jones’ locker. Created by Sweet Fern Productions for Radiolab, it’s not only fascinating on an educational level, but it’s also a feast for the eyes through the use of animation, paper cutouts and puppetry. I loved science growing up, but had the educational videos in biology class looked like this, I may have actually paid attention.”
Article on the importance of whale carcasses (includes link to science papers) – “Decades of Dinner – Underwater community begins with the remains of a whale; Science News Online; 2005.
June 8th is World Oceans Day (originating from the 1992 Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit and recognized by the United Nations since 2008).
In reflecting on what I can best share with you to honour Oceans Day and make clear the human dependence and impact on the oceans, I have decided that no one has made these points more solidly and eloquently than fellow Canadian, James Cameron. He is a lifelong activist for marine conservation who, among many other achievements, is the award-winning director of “Titanic” and “Avatar”.
Below, please read, and heed, the text from his 1998 acceptance speech for the SeaKeeper Award.
The message is more important and urgent – than ever.
“Every living soul on earth, no matter how far inland they live or how much they may hate eating fish, is utterly dependent on the divine saltwater soup of the ocean. The ocean is the engine that drives our weather and moderates our climate. The phytoplankton in the seas create the majority of the oxygen we breathe. These microscopic plants also form the bottom of a vast food chain from which we harvest a large portion of our food.
As our population increases, and arable land remains finite, we will look to the oceans more and more for our survival. Thus, our destiny as a species is interlocked with the destiny of the sea. If the seas become sick, we become sick. If they die, we die. Subconsciously we think the sea will always be there for us.
Right now, all over the world, coral reefs are threatened, and 40-mile-long drift nets cut huge, sterile swaths through the open ocean. Biologists estimate that over one hundred million undiscovered species remain to be identified in the oceans. We will kill half of these before, we have even had a chance to give them names.
Life began in the sea over three billion years ago. Our first upright walking ancestors appeared a mere four million years ago, and human civilization is less than ten thousand years old. If the natural history of life on earth could be viewed as a single Great Year, all of human recorded history inhabits the last couple of seconds of the last minute before midnight at the end of that year. And yet, in those last seconds, that eyeblink, we have multiplied exponentially, and our impact on the natural world has increased logarithmically.
It took the entire history of humankind to produce a global population of a billion people by the year 1800. By 1930, in just over a century, it had doubled to two billion. In another fifty years, it had doubled again to four. Now, at close to 6 billion, we are likely to double again in less than thirty years. picture it, 12 billion human souls, human mouths, crying out for food, struggling to survive, competing for resources, choking in a poisoned and depleted world, and all within the lifetime of our children.
We are alive now, and doing those works for which we will be remembered, at the most critical instant in the history of the Earth. Millions of years of natural evolution are focusing down to a few decades during which the game will be won or lost. And like it or not, we are the players in that game.
This is both a great honor, and a terrifying responsibility- As leaders, as decision-makers, as influencer’s of public opinion, we must do our best to preserve and restore the oceans. Humankind has, unwittingly, assumed the role of executioner of our own planet’s life force. But we can also be saviors, if we choose, and if we are willing to make the sacrifices necessary . . .
There is no one here who would not do the very best for their children – the best schools, the best food, the best doctors. Think of the ocean as the ultimate trust fund for your children, a living and life-giving fund. A healthy ocean is the best gift you can give them . . . l ask everyone. . . to assume a leadership role in guarding and restoring the oceans in all ways, and as a life philosophy.”
Please see my 2020 blog “How to Love the Ocean – Daily Actions for Future Generations”
Added January 2022:
The Economist: January 6, 2022 Dead zones: how chemical pollution is suffocating the sea
Update December 2019 – See the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) report “Ocean deoxygenation: everyone’s problem“. If the Ocean is warmer – there is less oxygen dissolved in it. If there is more runoff (sewage, fertilizers, fossil fuels), there are more algae using up the oxygen (eutrophication). Warmer surface layers mean less circulation of nutrients as well and less oxygen exchange with the atmosphere.
Original post from October 2010:
There is currently an area of ocean in Hood Canal, Washington with very little oxygen (“hypoxic” = very low levels of oxygen; “anoxic” = no oxygen). Too little oxygen means that marine life cannot breathe.
These ocean “dead zones” appear to becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest. As I type there are fish and other marine life that have suffocated in Hood Canal.
The lack of oxygen in the ocean water is the result of increased winds and/or too much nitrogen.
The specific event now in Hood Canal is most likely caused by the accumulation of nutrients like nitrogen (from agricultural run-off and human sewage) “fertilizing” phytoplankton (plant-like plankton / algae). The phytoplankton thrive, increase in number, causing a “bloom” and using up the oxygen. This is called eutrophication. In this case, wind could alleviate the situation as it would cause mixing and oxygenation of the water.
However, increased winds due to climate change can also cause “dead zones”. If the winds bring oxygen-poor and nutrient rich water from the ocean’s depths to the surface, this fertilizes phytoplankton at the surface, creating a bloom. The phytoplankton use up what little oxygen there is and when they die and decay at the ocean bottom, more oxygen is used up. The dynamic is very well illustrated in the Oregon State University image above.
The situation in Hood Canal was painfully captured in images by diver Janna Nichols at Sund Rock (Southern Hood Canal) on September 27th, 2010.
From Janna: “While some of this may appear normal to non-Pacific NW divers, it is most certainly NOT normal. Fish are out of their usual depth ranges (usually found deeper) and all clustered within 15 feet of the surface of the water. They are up so high in the water column because this is the only area that contains oxygen. There are also freakishly huge schools – we don’t usually see that many at once. Fish that normally hide were found out in the open, lethargic and “panting”.
Caption: “The top three feet under the surface are occupied by hundreds of small silvery Shiner Perch. Under them are hundreds of schooling Black and Copper Rockfish – densely packed and hardly moving. (to conserve energy). It is very unusual to see SO MANY of these fish together. All of this is in 9 feet of water or less. (The top number you see on my dive computer is the depth).”
She watched a Giant Pacific Octopus die; finds 4 Wolf-Eels and multiple Decorator Warbonnets out in the open, panting (these are cryptic species that are usually not out in the open and do not “breathe” like this); and she films dense schools of fish attempting to conserve energy to lower their oxygen demands. [I think these images may be all the more painful for fellow divers as you will fully know how aberrant these behaviours are.]
How to solve the problem? Don’t become despondent. Take this for what it is, an additional symptom of the same disease and therefore the solutions are the same – less fossil fuel use, less disposables, less consumerism.
Care more. Consume less.
Help empower change.
Nature gave us sockeye salmon this year. A red-scaled, bounding life source, some 34 million fish strong.
This has led to human voices shouting out in all from gratitude to greed; from delight to denial.
Predictably, sadly, there have been far too many who have been at the “greedy denial” end of the spectrum. I will not tire you with that here though.
I want to fish out two voices of sanity from the ocean of opinions. One voice is that of reporter Stephen Hume from the Vancouver Sun. The other is nine-year-old Avery Walker who I am privileged to have as a member of my Northern Vancouver Island Young Naturalists’ Club.
Stephen Hume, award-winning author, in The Vancouver Sun: “Columnists who apparently wouldn’t know the difference between a sockeye and a sculpin cluck and scold in a Toronto newspaper. One enthusiastically advances the argument that we should whack 30 million of the 34 million returning salmon . . . . . Instead of permitting a lust for instant gratification to derail a natural process for rebuilding small stocks, now is the time for restraint, for harvest restraint is a critical investment in future abundance. So enjoy your sockeye. Be grateful for this gift from nature. But don’t let the gong show of greed sway us from good stewardship.”
Avery Walker, 9-year-old Young Naturalist, with his prize-winning submission to the Wild Salmon Circle’s “Spawning Ideas” contest: “I fish only with barbless hooks, I’ve taken all the treble hooks from the all the buzzbombs I have and replaced them with single barbless hooks. I don’t jig the fish, I fish the ones who bite. Sometimes this is really hard to do, because not all of my friends fish like this, and so they sometimes take home more fish than I do. I abide by the regulations about which salmon I can keep and which ones I can’t. I never go over my limit. Or keep undersized fish. Most of the time, I catch and release. I love to fish, and I want to be able to do it forever.”
Thank you Avery. Thank you Stephen. Thank you all who make choices that may allow us to have . . . fish forever.
For insights into the need for precaution in managing the harvesting and threats to the Fraser River sockeye, please click here for information from “Save Our Salmon”.