The coastline of La Higuera and Isla Chañaral in Northern Chile is different from any other coastline I have ever experienced. I grew up in New York, next to the East River, with the Atlantic Ocean right around the corner. I have travelled along many different coastlines, from Italy´s Amalfi Coast, to British Columbia´s Queen Charlotte Islands. I am in Chile for the first time, interning at Oceana in Santiago for two months.
The difference between Chile and other countries is that Chile surprises you at every turn. The landscape and weather undergo dramatic changes kilometer to kilometer, minute to minute. We are in Northern Chile in order to further Oceana´s plan to create a Marine Protected Area (MPA). Alex Muñoz, Executive Director of Oceana Chile, and his team have been working with the local communities to achieve that goal since 2009.
Exploring the oceans from one of these animals points of view would be an exciting (and eye opening) experience.
So what marine animal would you be if you had the chance to be any creature in the ocean? We posed this question to our Ocean Heroes finalists, and here’s what they had to say. See if you can match their responses to the pictures above (answers at the bottom of this post)!
Michele Hunter – Harbor seal
Hardy Jones – Sperm whale
Kristofor Lofgren – Mako shark
Dave Rauschkolb – Porpoise
Richard Steiner – Polar bear (I like the odds and the challenge they face)
Donald Voss – Humpback whale
Sara Brenes – Tiger Shark
Calvineers – Blue whale
Sam Harris – Tiger Shark
James Hemphill – Hawksbill Sea Turtle (I have always been amazed at all the colors on its shell and how gracefully and peacefully it swims)
Teakahla WhiteCloud – Dolphin
Make sure to vote for your favorite Ocean Heroes, open from now until July 11th. Stay tuned to learn more about our finalists!
Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Sperm Whale: Oceana/Juan Cuentos, Tiger Shark: Albert Kok, Harbor Seal: NOAA, Hawksbill Turtle: NOAA/Caroline Rogers, Porpoise: NOAA, Tiger Shark: Austin Gallagher, Humpback Whale: NOAA, Dolphin: Oceana/Eduardo Sorenson, Mako Shark: NOAA, Polar bear: NOAA, Blue Whale: NOAA (middle)
Last month Chile’s government approved a controversial coal mine project in southern Patagonia’s Riesco Island, despite opposition from local residents and environmental groups, including Oceana.
Oceana presented a report to Chile’s environmental ministry outlining the threats facing mammals and birds in the region, including the area’s most emblematic seabird, the Magellanic penguin. The threats from the mine include heavy metal pollution (such as mercury), oil spills, and boat collisions with marine mammals.
Riesco Island is part of Chile’s Alacalufes National Reserve, which is home to an important colony of Magellanic penguins – around 10,000 of the seabirds live around the island. The island and its surroundings are also home to at least 27 species of bird and 7 marine mammal species, including humpback whales. One of the region’s waterways, Otway sound, is one of the only places on the Chilean coast where the Chilean dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and southern dolphin can all be found.
The heavy metals released by coal mining would affect seabirds’ reproduction, especially the penguins. Oil spills can contaminate the eggs, cause death by inhalation and ingestion, and loss of feather waterproofing, which can lead to hypothermia.
Plus, Chile does not have a contingency plan to treat animals affected by oil spills. According to our report, of 76 penguins treated for oil contamination in 2006 in Patagonia’s Madalena Island, 22 died. And in 2004, an oil spill in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego led to the loss of 88% of the adults in a colony of rock cormorants.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlight: prehistoric hagfish.
Oregon Leg, Day 4
Today we ran the R/V Miss Linda twenty miles west of Bandon, Oregon to Coquille Bank. This offshore bank, also known as the Bandon High Spot, rises up off the continental shelf break to a relatively shallow 300 feet in depth. Oceana worked to protect this area from bottom trawling in 2005. The regulations went into place in 2006 and now five years after the area was protected, we had the chance to dive there with the ROV.
In 2007, Drs. Mark Hixon and Brian Tissot published a scientific paper on the effects of bottom trawling at Coquille Bank. They found striking differences in the seafloor communities between heavily trawled and untrawled areas including more fish abundance and more diversity in the untrawled areas. They also found that bottom trawling affects marine life living in soft sediments and not just rocky seafloor habitats.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: humpback whales and orcas!
California Leg, Day 3
Yesterday was a spectacular day as we saw some of the most colorful and rich habitats we’ve seen yet! The objective was to gather footage from some of the more spectacular areas of pinnacles and rocky reefs that we started to explore last year.
At the outer edge of the Monterey Peninsula, just off Pebble Beach, is a spectacular reef that we explored last year. While golfers marveled at the sites from the world famous course on shore, we marveled at the wildlife above and below the ocean offshore.
We brought several guests with us including a representative from Mission Blue, another organization focusing on ocean exploration and conservation. The weather was sunny and warm, however a medium-sized southerly swell made the ride a bit bumpy and our cable operators got soaked.
The Carmel Pinnacles were protected as a marine reserve in 2008. This combination of rocky reef at the edge of a steep canyon wall that drops thousands of feet provides a rich feeding ground, as nutrient-rich water is pulled up from the deep through a process called upwelling.
As we set our ROV equipment up for the first dive, we saw two large humpback whales swimming right by our boat. We explored a depth range of 90-150 feet. The habitat was composed of large pinnacles and boulders, jutting out of a sandy seabed. Nestled in the cracks and crevices were china rockfish, gopher rockfish, and treefish, while we encountered several schools of black rockfish hovering at the tops of the reefs.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition.
California Leg, Day 2
This morning after we passed the barking sea lions on the breakwater at the end of the harbor, we traversed through fog so thick there were no signs of land anywhere to be seen. We pushed trough swells upwards of 6 feet to get to our fist dive site of the day. A mola mola (aka ocean sunfish) we passed along the way didn’t seem to mind the intense swells as it basked on the ocean surface.
After motoring out 20 miles across Monterey Bay (north of the Monterey Canyon), we deployed the ROV at the former California halibut trawl grounds. As a direct result of the work of Oceana, this area has been closed to bottom trawling since 2006.
The seafloor here is primarily soft sediment and ranges in depth from 50-250 feet. The areas were teeming with signs of life, including burrows, tracks, and holes. Some places had a lot of juvenile fish and crabs suggesting these areas may be a nursery ground for fishery species. Overall, we were surprised by the diversity of habitat formations and creatures.
Happy hump day, everyone. A15-year study of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere is providing scientists with new insight into the slow giants' mating habits. Researchers analyzed DNA skin samples from more than 1,500 humpbacks in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. They found that the highest rate of "gene flow" occurred with whales breeding on either side of Africa, with one or two whales swimming between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans each year to mate. It was the first time a humpback had been recorded travelling between the two oceans. (Now that's what you call a long-distance relationship.) Another interesting conclusion from the study was that the small humpback population of less than 200 in the Indian Ocean, off the Arabian Peninsula, was distinct genetically and unlike other populations did not migrate and therefore was a "conservation priority."
Pinky isn’t the only albino marine mammal to make the news. Migaloo, an all white humpback whale whose Aboriginal name means white man, has recently been sighted off the eastern Australian coast. First spotted in 1991, Migaloo, like other humpback whales, migrates each year to warm tropical waters in the winter to breed and back to Antarctic feeding waters in the spring. Southern Cross University whale researcher Wally Franklin credits an increase in whale watchers to Migaloo because "he is an amazing sight and easy to track… he has become the ambassador of his kind.'' As an ambassador, Queensland has declared him a special interest whale, with hefty fines levied on those who venture too close, whether by sea or air. All whales are protected by restrictions and fines for the sake of the animals and humans alike; full grown humpback whales can weigh more than a tractor trailer. With his special status, Migaloo is given a wider berth than his typically pigmented friends on his yearly track.
If you are looking for a good summer beach read, Eye of the Whale may be just the ticket. Billed as an ecological thriller, Douglas Carlton Abrams manages to successfully weave science into engaging storylines, providing a rich fictional entree into many of the issues Oceana works on. Abrams succeeds in giving threats such as ocean pollution, destructive fishing techniques, and the effects of climate change human (and cetacean) faces and with any luck, inspires his readers to action fueled by hope.