Pollution's Horrifying Effects on our Marine Life - Seaweek 2018
The New Zealand Association for Environmental Education (NZAEE) is a national, non-profit organisation that supports and encourages environmental sustainability in Aotearoa by hosting its annual flagship event, Seaweek. This year, Seaweek is taking place for Saturday 3rd – Sunday 11th March 2018, and Whale Watch Kaikoura are excited to get amongst this brilliant initiative!
The theme is “Toiora te Moana – Toiora te Tangata – Healthy Seas, Healthy People” highlighting our many connections with the sea and ways we can keep our coastline and seas healthy for all. A very real reality for those who dwell under the sea is that of pollution. Pollution comes in many different forms, with plastic and noise being forms of pollution that directly impacts the oceans inhabitants.
Noise pollution affects a range of animals across multiple habitats, to the point where marine mammals have altered their natural behaviours to avoid noisy areas. Noise that disturbs the marine life is created by humans, including commercial vessel traffic, oil and gas exploration, seismic surveys and military sonar. Whales and dolphins in particular heavily rely on sound, using it to hunt down their prey, communicate with each other, navigate their way around the ocean and also to identify potential threats.
Sperm whales, who are semi-residential to Kaikōura and seen here right throughout the year, use echolocation, a series of clicks that bounce off other objects and are then sent back to them. Imagine being in a dark room and the light quickly flickering off and on, this is what Sperm whales experience whilst echolocating – it provides them with brief ‘pictures’ of what’s around them.
As they descend on their dive the frequency of clicks increases to provide them with detailed information of as to what is around them, particularly where their next meal is. Clicking frequency continues to increase as the whales approach their prey, until the clicks are so close together that they sound like a continuous buzz. It is thought that this buzz is used to stun or disorientate the prey in order to make them easier to catch. Their clicks are also how we track the whales, via a one-way hydrophone that allows us to listen to their acoustics in order to determine how far away and in which direction the closest whale is from us.
Listening for whales is just as important as seeing is to humans and any serious disruption could be not only detrimental to their hunting capabilities, but could also cost them their lives. Beaked whales, such as the incredibly rare Shepherd’s beaked whales that were spotted in Kaikōura earlier this year, are perhaps the most sensitive to sound. Loud, high frequencies are known to impact their usually safe deep diving habits and cause them to dive recklessly, sometimes to the point where they suffer from decompression sickness.
Research also suggests that noise may play an important role in some of the mass stranding’s that we have seen around the world. Seismic survey activity has been a large concern for the Kaikōura community, with a number of fracking and deep sea oil protests being carried out in Kaikōura over the last few years.
Seismic surveying bounces sound waves off the ocean floor to map the underground terrain gas and oil pockets, these sound waves produced can block communication between pods or cause erratic behaviour. A mysterious stranding of 100 melon-headed whales in Madagascar was put down by scientists appointed by the International Whaling Commission as to being caused by a sonar emitted whilst mapping the ocean floor. There are also long term effects of noise pollution that concerns many marine scientists, where noise obstructions indirectly impacts their birthing and mortality rates.
Plastic Pollution is one of the greatest causes for concern today, we live in an increasingly throw-away society where single-use plastic is the norm. It is thought that between 5 - 13 million tonnes of plastic is leaked into the world’s oceans every year. This plastic epidemic was disturbingly highlighted when a thin, starved Sperm whale stranded on the coast of Spain was found to have ingested 8.1kg’s worth of plastic. His cause of death was put down to swallowing plastic debris. And it’s not just whales who suffer from plastic, dolphins, seals, small fish, seabirds and turtles all experience the consequences that come from the abundance of plastic in our oceans.
Even more disturbing is the fact that a large amount of plastic pollution isn’t even visible to the human eye. Micro-plastic floats in the ocean causing physical and toxicological harm to our marine life.
Seven ways you can take action and reduce your plastic waste:
- Bring your own shopping bags when getting your groceries. Major supermarkets across New Zealand are already in the process of phasing out their single-use plastic bags.
- Rather than buying multiple bottles of water, why not just buy a reusable stainless steel bottle? Bonus, they keep your water cool for 24 hours!
- Join The Last Straw movement. Over 500,000,000 plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone, and much of that is ending up in our oceans! Instead, opt for stainless steel straws that are super easy to just pop in your dishwasher and handy to use time and time again.
- Are you one of those people that can’t get through the day without your morning coffee? Then it’s time to invest in a reusable cup – some cafes even offer a small discount if you bring your own.
- Reuse glass jars. Instead of throwing these away or recycling them, simply wash them and reuse them to store food.
- Rather than buying juice in plastic bottles, you can make your own fresh-squeezed juice at home or better yet, simply eat fresh fruit! Not only are you reducing plastic waste, but it's also better for your health. During the process of making store-bought juices, they are heated up and boiled which effectively destroys all the good stuff that fruit has to offer. By eating whole foods or squeezing your own, you’ll be getting all those vitamins and antioxidants as well cutting down your plastic consumption.
- See a piece of plastic floating along the beach or lying in the gutter? It only takes 1 minute to pick it up and put it in the rubbish bin, only 1 minute to potentially save an animals life.
These are just a select few of many easy ways you can help care for our oceans and make sure its inhabitants aren’t swimming around in a sea full of pollution. Adopt these seven acts into your day-to-day life and we promise the whales will thank you for it.
After some more facts and figures on the extent of pollution's effects on our habitat? Then check out SLO Active, there's some more great information on beach pollution, single use plastic and it's health impact.