Marcus W. is a founding member of the Porpoise Conservation Society and spends every free minute advocating for the conservation of porpoises and their habitats. He is also a field volunteer for the society and has contributed 500 hours observing Harbour Porpoise in Howe Sound, British Columbia.
Where did your whale love start?
There used to be a time when as a kid I was somewhat fascinated with whales and dolphins. I read everything about them, watched documentaries and things like that, but never actually got to see one for real. I lived far away from the next ocean, which would have been Germany’s Baltic Sea, but even had I lived right by the beach, I would have never encountered wild whales or dolphins there, and the next Zoo where I could have seen one was even further away. So as time passed, I moved on to other things. And it wasn’t until I came to Vancouver as a young adult and saw dolphins at the Vancouver Aquarium that the whale fever caught up with me again. I really began to develop an interest in whales and dolphins again though only after I met “Daisy”, a rescued and rehabilitated harbour porpoise that had been brought to the Vancouver Aquarium as a non-releasable animal in 2008. Up until that moment I had never seen a harbour porpoise. I vaguely remembered them from the books I had read as a kid, they had that funny name, roughly translated with “pig whales” in English, and they were tiny compared to all those big whales I found fascinating back then. But this dark grey and rather boring looking mini whale really got to me. I was in my 20s and felt like a kid again! I became obsessed with porpoises, read books and scientific papers, I wanted to know as much about them as I could. And at the same time I began what you could call a friendship with Daisy, and later with Jack, another harbour porpoise rescued as a baby. Unlike all the other animals at the Aquarium, these two seemed more aware, more intelligent. They had my full attention, and I really wanted spend as much time with them as possible. Daisy and Jack changed my life, they turned me, over night, into a porpoise enthusiast but even more so I became a conservationist after learning of the plight of some of their wild cousins. If it hadn’t been for these two animals that I got to know as individuals, I would have never developed that level of appreciation that I now have for whales and dolphins, but also for our oceans.
What current ocean conservation issue do you feel most strongly about?
Incidental by-catch. Fishing nets kill more than 300,000 whales, porpoises and dolphins every year and are responsible for many populations approaching the brink of extinction. Particularly the smaller cetaceans, like porpoises, are vulnerable to that threat as they are not strong enough to break free of those nets. The vaquita porpoise is nearly extinct, the baiji river dolphin is gone, Maui dolphins could be next. There are so many species suffering from this single threat alone. The problem is much, much worse than directed hunts as we see them in Taiji, Japan. But it’s one that few people are aware of.
What have you changed in your life to help save whales?
I strictly only touch seafood that I know has been caught with fishing methods that avoid accidental by-catch and habitat destruction.
What advice would you give to others to take steps in their lives to help whales?
Help reduce by-catch in fisheries. Make sustainable choices when buying seafood. As a consumer, your decisions make a difference; this really works. Look for MSC, Ocean Wise, SeaChoice and comparable certification programs. When you eat at a restaurant that serves seafood which hasn’t been certified, ask how and where fish was caught and compare that with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program’s website or app to find out whether it is likely that what you are about to order may have been sourced from an unsustainable source. When shopping, never buy seafood with vague or no labels. You don’t want to know what’s in “white fish” (serious, not even a species?) or what “wild caught” really means sometimes. Be aware of those everyday decisions that you make.
And one more thing: If you are vegan or vegetarian, make sure you don’t alienate your friends and family by forcing your lifestyle choices on them. If you want fewer animals to become the victim of by-catch, just accept that the entire human population won’t give up seafood overnight. It’s much more realistic to assume that people would be willing to look more carefully at the choices they make when buying seafood than it is to expect them to give it all up at once. These are only small changes that won’t impact what they eat, they only make them aware of where that food is coming from. The less they have to change, the more likely they will make that change. It’s simple.
Any whale tales to share? (what’s your favourite one you’ve already shared?)
I shared the story of my first encounter with wild harbour porpoise in Howe Sound, British Columbia. That’s still a magical moment for me.