The Beacon: Justine Sullivan's blog
Earlier this week, Washington State Governor Jay Inslee signed into law House Bill 1200 (HB 1200), which will begin to tackle seafood fraud throughout the state. Seafood fraud switches out the fish consumers intend to purchase with fish that is cheaper, less sustainable, or even dangerous. Oceana’s recent seafood fraud report found that 18 percent of fish sampled and sold in Seattle, WA, was mislabeled. And Washington’s results were better than most – our testing showed that fully one-third of seafood in restaurants and grocery stores throughout the country is mislabeled. Among specific cities and regions of the country, the numbers get even worse: 38 percent of Miami samples were mislabeled, 39 percent of New York City samples were mislabeled, and an incredible 52 percent of samples we tested in Southern California were not what they were labeled.
Happy World Turtle Day! While World Turtle Day celebrates turtles that roam both the land and the sea, as well as tortoises, we at Oceana would especially like to recognize the magnificent species of sea turtles that roam throughout the world’s oceans. The seven species classified as sea turtles around the world are truly incredible: most undergo incredible long migrations – some as far as 1,400 miles –between their feeding grounds and the beaches where they nest. Some loggerhead sea turtles nest in Japan and migrate to Baja del Sur, Mexico, to forage before swimming across the Pacific Ocean again to return home! Amazingly, female sea turtles even return to the exact beach where they hatched as babies to nest and lay their eggs.
In one of those incredible-but-true stories that makes you want to give the oceans a giant hug, a disabled killer whale missing two of its fins and unable to hunt to feed itself is able to survive through the help of its family. The young male killer whale, or orca, has no dorsal fin or right-side pectoral fin, leaving it unable to hunt and capture prey for itself. Instead of being abandoned or rejected by its pod and left to die, however, the killer whale appears to have been cared for and supported by the members of its pod, which share food with the young whale.
Yesterday, the Delaware House of Representatives took a huge step forward for shark conservation efforts worldwide when they passed a bill that would prohibit the trade of shark fins within their state borders. House Bill 41 bans the sale, possession, and distribution of shark fins, which are commonly used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. Demand for these products drives the harmful and wasteful practice of shark finning, which is responsible for the deaths of millions of sharks every year and the depletion of populations worldwide.
Every spring, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon gives us reason to smile. There’s the energetic crowds, the celebrity entrants, and the warm-but-not-too-brutally-hot April weather on Miami Beach. This year, however, in Oceana’s 5th year participating through our partnership with Nautica, our grins got even bigger as we set a pair of performance records where it matters most: raising funds for our conservation work.
Team Oceana, comprised of seven passionate ocean advocates, nearly doubled its previous fundraising record at the race, raising $7,171, while our partners at Nautica raised another $20,000 for Oceana by donating 100% of proceeds generated from their beachside shop. That’s $27,000 raised in one weekend, which will go a long way toward improving the condition of the oceans around South Florida, the country, and the world
American photographer Doug Perrine, 60, captured this priceless image of a false killer whale mid-grin off the coast of Kona, Hawaii.
Less commonly known than the killer whale (or orca), the false killer whale is the third largest member of the oceanic dolphin family. Growing to 1,500 pounds and up to 20 feet long, the false killer whale looks like no dolphin you’ve seen before. Its small conical head lacks the “beak” we expect in common dolphins, and its flippers have a distinctive hump along the front edge.
False killer whales were first discovered by their fossils in 1843, and were assumed to be extinct. In fact, the species wasn’t discovered alive until fifteen years after the discovery of their fossils. Like the gregarious-looking fellow captured in the photo, false killer whales are intensely social, forming strong social bonds in groups of ten to twenty that belong to larger groups of up to 40 individuals in Hawaii or as many as 100 elsewhere. False killer whales travel and hunt together in broad bands that can be up to several miles wide, and they even share their food with other group members.
Unfortunately, the false killer whale’s population numbers in Hawaii are nothing to smile at – these social creatures have suffered major decline in the last 25 years. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, aerial surveys showed about 400 false killer whales in 1989. More recent studies suggest the number today is closer to 150. As of November 2012, false killer whales were listed as endangered in Hawaii, due in large part to the creature’s vulnerability to be caught as bycatch by tuna and swordfish fisheries. The false killer whales become hooked or entangled in longlines when they take bait off of longline fishing hooks set for Hawaiian swordfish and tuna, a dangerous mistake that often turns deadly.
The future for false killer whales is in danger, but with education, advocacy, and increased respect and protections for these social and gregarious sea creatures, we can give the false killer whale something to smile about.
In an apparent guerilla stunt, a wildlife sculpture in downtown Vancouver has been "caught" in a giant plastic 6-pack ring. The sculpture, located at the corner of Georgia and Thurlow Streets, depicts two dolphins, whose necks are now caught in the giant plastic rings marked with the "PlasticPollutionCoalition.org" web address.
This stunt is a large-scale reminder of the dangers of litter, particularly plastics, in our ocean. Approximately 75-80 million tons of plastics are used every year to produce the world's food packaging alone, and a large proportion of these plastics inevitably end up in our oceans. Almost 80% of the garbage found in the ocean comes from land-based sources, with the majority being packaging and food containers like the ubiquitous 6-pack ring featured in this guerilla demonstration. This garbage kills sea creatures by strangling them, drowning them through entanglement, or even starving them through malnutrition when ingested debris in the creatures' stomachs prevents them from getting the food and nutrients that they require.
While we’re going to file this under the “don’t try this at home” category, a promotional video for the GoPro underwater camera showing a free diver from Hawaii swimming with a great white shark is bringing immense amounts of attention to this majestic predator, and encouraging many to rethink the great white’s fearsome “Jaws” reputation.
The video, entitled “A Blonde and a Great White Shark” shows diver Ocean Ramsey (yes, you read that right) approaching a great white shark and stroking the shark’s back before gently holding its dorsal fin while it swims through clear azure waters. With more than half a million views, the video, appropriately released on Valentine’s Day, shows that the great white shark as a magnificent ocean creature to be respected, loved, and protected, rather than a deadly man-eater to be feared. Ramsey’s website, www.waterinspired.com, quotes the Senegalese environmentalist Baba Dioum: “ ‘In the end people will only protect what they love, and only love what they understand . . .’ I hope that by sharing my experiences with sharks I might inspire others to take action and help protect these amazing creatures before it's too late,” Ramsey writes.
We are thrilled to announce another ocean victory this week! In an ambitious step for ocean protection, Portugal has decided to nominate the rich ecosystem of the Gorringe Bank as a new Marine Protected Area.
The Gorringe seamounts, located 300 kilometers off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, are a marvel to behold: at 5000 meters high, they boast a veritable kaleidoscope of colorful flora and fauna. Since 2005, Oceana has worked to draw attention and recognition to this bank, and to bring its spectacular seamount ranges into the network of marine protected areas.
An Oceana expedition by our catamaran, the Ranger, to the Gorringe area in October 2012 documented species never before seen in these seamounts, including branching black coral, roughskin dogfish, hydrocoral, bird’s nest sponge, and various gorgonia. Dozens of the species observed on this expedition have not yet been identified. Unfortunately, among these unique wonders, the expedition also documented the invasive presence of litter, debris, and fishing gear, particularly in the rocky seabeds of the banks.
The nomination of the Gorringe as a protected area in the Atlantic brings hope for a halt and even a reversal of the destruction of this complex and diverse ecosystem that hosts corals, sharks, seabirds, whales, and more. Currently, Portugal maintains the least marine protected surface in all of Europe. With this ambitious project, however, the Portuguese government looks to soar from the bottom of the list to the top. Boasting more than 1.7 square kilometers in its Exclusive Economic Zone and nearly 4 million square kilometers claimed as an expansion of its continental shelf, Portugal’s bold step for the oceans is an admirable example for the EU, and for all coastal countries of the world.
We are excited about two big wins this week for the future of fish in New England.
The first is a major legal victory that establishes the first full count, cap, and control fishery in the Northeast. This lawsuit settlement means that the New England groundfish fishery, which catches Atlantic cod, haddock and flounder, among others, must strictly account for how much fish it’s catching and discarding. Groundfish have been severely overfished, and this new ruling is an important step in establishing more sustainable fishing practices in the region.
Oceana has been campaigning for years to establish science-based monitoring of this historically overfished region of the U.S. Oceana won a legal victory in 2010 when a federal court ruled that the fishery must demonstrate that discards would be accurately counted, but when it soon became clear that discards would not be adequately monitored, Oceana brought a new lawsuit in 2012.
Secondly, we’re applauding a new set of significantly reduced annual catch limits for two stocks of Atlantic cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank.
While all stocks of Atlantic cod have been overfished to alarming levels, the cod populations in these two areas have dropped to dire levels – an assessment earlier this year showed that after 15 years of trying to rebuild these two cod populations, virtually zero progress had been made.
The Gulf of Maine cod population is currently at less than 19 percent of its target level, while the Georges Bank cod population is at 7 percent. The new limits will reduce catches in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank by 77 percent and 55 percent, respectively, in a last-ditch effort to save these populations.
The fishing of groundfish like Atlantic cod is historic, older even than America itself. Atlantic cod has been harvested by U.S. fishermen since the 17th century, and the ocean was believed to be so teeming with cod that one could almost walk across the ocean on their backs.
As is often the case, however, fishing turned into overfishing, with U.S. stocks of Atlantic cod coming dangerously near to commercial collapse in the mid-1990s. Concerted efforts to replenish cod stocks began, but to little avail – a 2011 assessment of Gulf of Maine cod showed that the fish was still being seriously overfished, and was not recovering at an adequate rate.
Unfortunately, this disappointing story is not unique to Atlantic cod; today, 14 of 20 groundfish populations in New England are overfished or experiencing overfishing, making these victories that much more critical for the future of these populations.