Marine Conservation Biology in Hawaii

Day Eight (Jan. 25) – Seize the Day (or at least try to)
by -- January 25th, 2011

An interesting day, no snorkeling or spinner dolphins but great discussions on spinner dolphins and plastic.

I want to give a quick shout out to Pete Leary who works for the US Fish and Wildlife Service out here on Midway and has been a great resource and wonderful tour guide since we got here! He featured us on his blog so I invite you all to check it out! There’s a great picture of Andy Read playing shuffleboard and all of us on Eastern Island looking at a WWII memorial. http://peteatmidway.blogspot.com/

After our usual breakfast time we gathered in the lobby and discussed the plan for the day, we would snorkel in the morning, grab some lunch then go see some spinner dolphins or at least that was the plan.  So we all got ready, put our bathing suits on, had our underwater cameras ready (at least the ones that didn’t die after our first snorkel trip, they are still living in bags of rice to try and recover) and had the housing for the flip video cameras ready so we could take some video under water.  We grabbed our wetsuits, fins, masks and PFD’s (Personal Floatation Devices a.k.a. lifejackets). Some struggled a bit more than others with the wetsuits; Leela actually had hers on inside out! Oops!

Katie and I pose as superhero snorkelers! What would be your superhero snorkel power?

Katie and I pose as superhero snorkelers! What would be your superhero snorkel power?

We also had some time for some pre-snorkel photos. Here Katie and I are pretending to be snorkel superheroes. I started thinking about these superheroes, who knows maybe they would be able to rid the ocean of marine debris with their magic snorkels. Or maybe they would monitor the coral reefs and tell people not to step on the coral and fix the broken coral with their magic fins.  Of course none of us have a magic snorkel or magic fins but I think maybe all of us have a little bit of superhero in us!

We got on the boat, dropped Amy and Brianne and Tracy off at Eastern Island for a monk seal survey and headed off.  All of us noticed that it was quite choppy and some wished they too had some SeaBands (you can buy them at your local drug store and they really work!).  We went to a few potential spots but it just wasn’t snorkeling weather.  So we went back to the dock and were left to our own devices. Many went exploring while others worked on their video projects. Some of us tried the cargo pier again but it was quite rough and the visibility was awful so we took a little dip in the water and enjoyed just sitting in the surf instead.  As we left the beach we said good bye to the sleeping monk seal on the other side of the pier and saw another one frolicking in the ocean behind it. Carey and I stopped at the orchard and had a quick snack of mandarin oranges (delicious!!!).

Delicious oranges from the Midway orchard! I love stopping by to pick up a few to eat and share!

Delicious oranges from the Midway orchard! I love stopping by to pick up a few to eat and share!

So all was not lost for the morning.  I think everyone tried to seize the day, enjoy and explore.

After our delicious turkey lunch (just like Thanksgiving complete with cranberry sauce) we gathered again for spinner adventures.  Our classroom for the afternoon was the end of the pier where Andy and I led a talk about the spinner dolphins and talked about their story.  The spinner dolphins, Stenella longirostris, are island associated meaning they spend their evenings offshore feeding and then move to shallower water to rest during the day.  One of these resting spots happens to be out at the end of the pier. Unfortunately the spinner dolphins didn’t appear… So no snorkeling and no spinners today. We all were reminded of the fact that we can’t control nature. And the spinner dolphins would be there or they wouldn’t, the weather would be nice or it wouldn’t, that’s just the way the cookie crumbles! But we were lucky enough to see them the other day.

We talked about what resting meant for the spinner dolphins. Do they sleep like we do? The answer is no, they synchronously swim, take longer dives and rest half of their brains so they’re alert enough if they need to be (say a shark comes to say hello or a boat passes by).  My classmates asked questions about their behavior, their feeding, how they differ between the main Hawaiian Islands and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It was fun to just sit out on the pier looking out at the water chatting about the dolphins.

Spinner Dolphins on our way to Eastern Island and the subject for discussion today!

Spinner Dolphins on our way to Eastern Island and the subject for discussion today!

Another topic of conversation was swim with dolphin programs. Swim with spinner dolphin programs are popular on other islands. In fact my master’s project is about human interactions with spinner dolphins on the Island of Hawaii. There, humans interact with the dolphins in their resting bays every single day.  What effect does this interaction have on the dolphins? Can we prove a population level effect? We discussed ways to investigate that, maybe we could use natural variation in resting bays to compare and contrast between bays with lots of human activity versus those with less .  Could we look at foraging success after resting (or not)?  Maybe the animals that don’t get to rest are less successful finding food? It’s quite a complex issue…

After our chat we went to pick up Tracy, Amy and Brianne.  There will be another blog entry about their day but I was very excited to hear that they saw a monk seal that is very special to me! I was able to go out with Tracy Wurth, our fearless monk seal biologist on Saturday night.

This is the monk seal Heather bleached and the one that Brianne, Tracy and Amy re-spotted today!

This is the monk seal Heather bleached and the one that Brianne, Tracy and Amy re-spotted today!

Gabbi, Tracy and I saw 6 different seals and I had the opportunity to bleach a seal. They use the bleach for extra identification although it only lasts until the animal molts. And if you’re wondering what kind of bleach we used, just Clairol!  So I bleached Y07 and the three surveyors spotted my seal again today!!! I was very excited to hear that, I actually kind of screamed on the boatin Tracy’s ear, oops!  Y07 was born on Kure Atoll and tagged as a pup in 2005.

We toured around quickly to look for spinners but no luck so back to the pier we went and finished our day with a rather sad task. We broke up into groups to go look for an albatross chick that had died last year.  The goal was to find the remains of an albatross and gather all the plastic we could find.

Cassie took this picture of the remains they chose for our plastic discussion. Look at all of the plastic that this chick ate and think about what you can do to help prevent that.

Cassie took this picture of the remains they chose for our plastic discussion. Look at all of the plastic that this chick ate and think about what you can do to help prevent that.

So we all went our separate ways and came back with bags full of plastic.  We spread the plastic out on the table and discussed marine debris, plastic in the ocean and albatross. The parent albatross goes out foraging and collects food but also plastic. It comes back to the chick regurgitates the plastic and food to feed the chick and the chick ends up collecting all of this plastic in its stomach.

You can imagine eating plastic probably doesn’t feel very good and probably makes the little birds feel full all the time.  How can we study the effects of plastic on the albatross though? We were all appalled by the amount of plastic we collected but is the plastic ingestion the immediate cause of their death? How would we go about proving that if it were true? And again for management’s sake, how do we prove a population level effect?

This is a family photo of Black-Footed Albatross. The parents were actually feeding the chick while we were nearby. Hopefully none of the 'food' being fed to the chick was plastic...

This is a family photo of Black-Footed Albatross. The parents were actually feeding the chick while we were nearby. Hopefully none of the ‘food’ being fed to the chick was plastic…

Of course you can do your part to prevent plastic from entering the ocean and ending up in an albatross. Recycle as much as you can, make sure what goes to the beach with you comes home with you and try to reduce your plastic use. Just look around wherever you are sitting right now, chances are you are looking at a whole lot of plastic. I invite anyone who has ideas on how to reduce the amount of plastic entering the oceans to post a comment below so others can piggyback on your ideas and hopefully we all can make a pledge to ourselves  and to the albatross to try our best to reduce our plastic use and to prevent plastic from entering the ocean.  It looks like Whole Foods, Nestle and Waste Management are trying to do their part with this water bottle! Check it out! And Electrolux has this Vac from the Sea, also very interesting.

Round out the day with some fro-yo and Maui Onion chips! Life is good 🙂

1 Comment

  1. Stephany Crane
    Jan 28, 2011

    Hurray for all the Nicholas School superhero snorkelers! You give me hope – much needed after seeing the graphic ‘chick remains and plastic’ photo. Everyone should see this, and think twice about picking up another plastic water bottle, etc. – Awareness is key. – Keep up the good work, everyone – the earth needs you. – Katie’s mom.

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