Michelle W. is a well traveled avian virologist currently living in Melbourne-she has been to all 7 continents so fully understands the need for ocean protection!
Where did your whale love start?
I grew up far from the ocean, but at the age of 12 started to scuba dive, and decided that I would be a marine biologist when I grew up! Shortly thereafter, I did a PADI “Dolphin Discovery” specialty, and in Mozambique had the privilege to be in the water with wild bottlenose dolphins. This is an amazing experience, because the dolphins can leave if they are not interested in interacting with you, a snorkeler. One of my fondest memories, is being in the water, slightly apart from the other snorkelers, and being surrounded by dolphins. One of the most profound experiences, and it has stayed with me ever since.
What current ocean conservation issue do you feel most strongly about?
Choosing only one is challenging, but I think it is plastic pollution. Plastic is ubiquitous, we use it for everything. It is designed to last forever, yet it is what our “single-use” products are made of. The ocean is covered in giant “garbage patches”. Seabirds are filled with plastic, feed their chicks plastic and their carcasses decompose leaving a neat little pile of bottle caps, pen lids and other colourful microplastics. Whales die and their stomachs are filled with plastic. Organisms in the Mariana Trench are filled with plastic too. Soon there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Its something we need to change. Plastic made to be disposable must be recycled! Items made to be disposable need to be make of biodegradable materials! And grocery stores need to STOP packaging in excessive plastic, and veg needs to be free of plastic packaging entirely!
We can all contribute! My coffee keep cup is made of bamboo – I don’t use single use coffee cups (the cup is lined with plastic so not recyclable, and there is a plastic lid too), and the cup itself will degrade.
What have you changed in your life to help save whales?
I rather literally helped save marine mammals – for a number of years I volunteered at the Vancovuer Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, and was an intern and employee at the Alaska SeaLife Centre Marine Animal Rescue Centre. While I mostly saved seals, seaotters and seabirds, I was involved in assisting with a necropsy on a whale that had been struck by a ship, which I (perhaps naively) believe may have contributed in some way to helping limit the number of ship strikes in the area.
Beyond that, I do my best to limit my disposable plastic use. I use cloth bags for my groceries. In fact, even when taking a bunch of tomatoes, I’ll put them loose in my bag rather than in a plastic bag. I decline straws and disposable cutlery, don’t ever buy waterbottles, rather I carry around a reusable waterbottle. I have a bamboo-made coffee keep cup. I’m a big advocate for recycling, though sadly, Australia has a terrible recycling programs despite the enormous amount of plastic packaging used.
What advice would you give to others to take steps in their lives to help whales?
It isn’t just about whales, it’s about the entire marine ecosystem. And you can make an impact. Three things come to mind:
(1) There are alternatives to plastics – more and more plant based products that actually are biodegradable. The biggest one is single use plastic items – ditch the disposable coffee cups, water bottles, cutlery straws, and plastic bags.
(2) Not mentioned above is over fishing, illegal fishing, and environmentally destructible fishing. If you don’t want to give up fish, at least make better choices about the fish you do purchase – some are harvested in more sustainable ways!
(3) We have purchasing power – if everyone stopped purchasing at stores that use too much plastic we would affect the revenue, and driving change.
Every person and action makes a difference!
Any whale tales to share?
Aside from the story above, I had the privilege to see Orcas from a ferry in the Gulf Islands in British Colombia , and recently got to spend a few days in awe of Southern Right Whales at their nursing grounds in Australia.