Conservation & Science

Designing an animal-friendly fin tag

For over two decades, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Stanford University have partnered to study some of the world’s most mysterious ocean predators at the Tuna Research and Conservation Center (TRCC). Some of the latest work to come from the TRCC include an innovative tuna tag design, and a paper recently published in the journal Science detailing the discovery of a hydraulic mechanism in tuna dorsal fins, which helps them swim with speed and precision.


In his office at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California, Dr. Vadim Pavlov holds a pale, sleeve-like device. Its smooth lines and soft edges make it seem more like a child’s toy than a high-tech scientific product. He slips the device over a model of a dolphin dorsal fin and “swims” it around his office, mimicking a dolphin’s movements as it leaps and twists out of the water.

The device is a prototype of a new tag design intended to track top ocean predators, such as sharks and tunas, without using pins and bolts that penetrate the fin.

“Even when the dolphin leaps, the tag stays on,” Vadim says. “But, how did we do it?”

Form and function

Vadim is one of the world’s top experts in biomimetics: the science of translating natural phenomena, such as the flow of water over a dolphin’s dorsal fin, into useful technology.

For years, he’s been tackling the challenge of tagging and tracking wildlife in the open ocean. He wanted to provide “animal-friendly” tags as an alternative to the invasive bolt tags anchored into the fins of apex marine predators such as sharks, dolphins and tunas. For Vadim, that’s not just a scientific goal; it’s personal, inspired by his experience as a free diver. “I don’t like swimming with lots of gear, so I don’t think [animals] do either,” he says. “They are very sensitive to anything on their bodies.”

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A traditional tag can cause drag on an animal as it swims through the water.

Traditional bolt tags, a key tool in marine animal field studies for the last half century, are kind of like an ear piercing. Researchers punch through the cartilage and collagen in the dorsal fin and attach tags that can help track the animals, or collect environmental data such as salinity, temperature, and depth.

“But over time, these bolt tags do not move with the animals,” Vadim explains. “They can alter the flow of water around the animal’s bodies, and can even cause animals to turn more in one direction over time,” he says. “The faster the animal swims, the greater the energy needed to override the drag.”

Smaller animals, such as harbor porpoises and juvenile dolphins and sharks, are especially susceptible to the pitfalls of traditional bolt tags. “There’s a conflict between the animal’s biology and the technological requirements of the tag,” says Vadim. “So my job became how to reconcile that disconnect.” Read more…

Aquariums join forces to combat plastic pollution

Nineteen aquariums across the United States have joined forces in a new Aquarium Conservation Partnership to address one of the gravest threats facing ocean and freshwater animals: plastic pollution.

The partners just launched a nationwide consumer campaign, “In Our Hands,” and made their own business commitment to drive a shift away from single-use plastic among aquarium visitors, in their communities and beyond.

Julie Packard sports a reusable shopping bag.

“The public trusts aquariums to do what’s right for the health of the ocean and for ocean wildlife,” said Julie Packard, executive director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “We’re just beginning to understand the full impacts of ocean plastic pollution on ecosystems, marine life and human health. But we already know enough to say that now is the time to act.”

Aquariums have replaced plastic straws with paper straws. Many also sell reusable glass and metal straws in their gift stores.

Through the “In Our Hands” campaign, the aquariums hope to empower their 20 million visitors, along with millions more people in their communities. The campaign focuses on innovative alternatives, and includes a website that encourages viewers learn more about the growing plastic pollution problem and be a part of the solution.

All 19 partner aquariums are shifting away from single-use plastic in their own operations. As the campaign launches, they’ve already cut out all plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. They have also committed to significantly reduce or eliminate plastic beverage bottles by December 2020, and showcase innovative alternatives to single-use plastic in their facilities. Read more…

Action alert: Help protect our national marine sanctuaries  

Our blue parks are a source of pride for Californians, and all Americans. They are living proof that the sustainable use of our ocean goes hand in hand with robust coastal economies, valuable fisheries and thriving marine habitats.

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A white shark swims in the nutrient-rich waters of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Photo by Steven K. Webster/Monterey Bay Aquarium

But millions of acres of protected U.S. waters could be opened up for offshore oil and gas drilling, following an executive order issued in April, titled “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.”

Now is the time to speak up in defense of our national marine sanctuaries and monuments. A 30-day public comment period, which opened up in late June, is part of a federal review called for by the executive order.

UPDATE: The deadline for public comments has been extended. We now have until August 14 to make our voices heard. 

1. Add your comment to the Federal Register.

2. Check out our suggested talking points below.

The federal review targets parts of four national marine sanctuaries in California— Monterey Bay, Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones and Channel Islands—along with seven other sanctuaries and monuments in U.S. waters.

American national marine sanctuaries were created with bipartisan support, extensive scientific input and broad community participation. They generate billions of dollars each year, driving coastal tourism and supporting healthy fisheries.

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Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey is one example of the economic benefits of our national marine sanctuaries. Photo ©Steve Kepple

“Monterey Bay Aquarium will do all we can to support our national marine sanctuaries, and to work for policies that protect vulnerable coastal communities from the threats that accompany offshore oil and gas development,” Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard said.

The public comment period is open through August 14. Please lend your voice! Visit the Federal Register Comment Page and tell the White House why the U.S. must continue to protect our precious national marine sanctuaries and monuments.

Here are some suggested points for your public comment: Read more…

Teens tackle an unlikely source of plastic pollution: wayward golf balls

In the chilly Pacific waters off Carmel Beach, Alex Weber was practicing holding her breath and diving in search of jade in May 2016. Swimming down to the seafloor, she instead made a surprising discovery: a trove of lost golf balls. Some were practically new; others might have dated back decades.

Alex Weber and Jack Johnston hold a few of the thousands of errant golf balls they’ve recovered from Carmel Bay.

Alex, a lifelong Californian who is now 17, had volunteered in the past for beach cleanups, scouring the shore with a particular eye for plastic pellets.

“I’d been spending so much time in the sand picking up tiny micro-plastics. I thought these golf balls would make such a big difference,” she says.

She decided to make a practice of kayaking and swimming out to collect them in mesh “goodie bags”—the kind she’s since found can hold some 30 pounds of balls each.

Her efforts drew the attention of her 16-year-old high school classmate Jack Johnston.

Alex Weber and Jack Johnston inspired a coalition to carry on the clean-up effort.

“I was at the beach the same day Alex pulled out that first load, and thought, ‘What is happening? Are those just in our ocean?’ I immediately wanted to get involved,” he says.

The two have since collected close to 10,000 golf balls from Carmel Bay. Jack, a Canadian transplant who took to the frigid waters around the Monterey Peninsula long before he acquired his first wetsuit, says—depending on the weather —a day’s haul might range from several hundred to well over a thousand balls.

The Weber family’s garage is now stacked with baskets full of golf balls, which Alex and Jack plan to recycle or transform into an art project. In a testament to how much two determined teens can accomplish, their labors have also rippled into a collaborative undertaking that has drawn together federal officials, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and nearby Pebble Beach Golf Links. Read more…

A global breakthrough for ocean health

Monterey Bay Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard was in New York City from June 5-9 to attend the United Nations’ first-ever Ocean Conference. Aquarium staff members presented at several key sessions, on issues ranging from ocean acidification and plastic pollution to sustainable fisheries and aquaculture. Here, Julie reports on the conference’s significant progress toward ocean health.

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Julie Packard and Prince Albert of Monaco at the UN Ocean Conference in New York City.

Last week, the United Nations Headquarters in New York City was especially blue, and the ocean was on everyone’s mind. Inside and out, the building was adorned with ocean-themed sculptures and stunning marine-life photographs. The halls were filled with noted ocean conservation leaders including Sylvia Earle, Sir Richard Branson and Prince Albert of Monaco.

They joined representatives from governments, organizations and businesses around the world, who had gathered for the first-ever UN Ocean Conference with one goal in mind: to protect the sea that supports all life on our planet.

I attended as part of our Monterey Bay Aquarium team, to listen, meet with delegates and call for action on three critical fronts: environmental and social sustainability of global fisheries and aquaculture; steps to address the causes and impacts of climate change and ocean acidification; and new commitments to reduce the flow of plastic pollution from land to sea.

Exhibitions during The Ocean Conference. Photo ©OPGAArianaLindquist
Exhibitions during The Ocean Conference. Photo ©OPGA Ariana Lindquist

It was gratifying to see the tangible results of our team’s participation in the growing collaborations among NGOs, governments and business leaders. We heard from many attendees that the Aquarium’s presence—and our ideas—have had a real impact.

On June 9, the final day of the conference, the UN’s 193 member nations unanimously approved a global call to action that mirrors the Aquarium’s own ocean conservation goals. They agreed “to act decisively and urgently [for ocean health], convinced that our collective action will make a meaningful difference to our people, to our planet and to our prosperity.”

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Jenn Kemmerly speaks at the UN Ocean Conference Partnership Dialogue, “Making Fisheries Sustainable.”

Countries resolved to improve fisheries management and restore fish stocks to sustainable levels, end harmful fisheries subsidies and crack down on illegal fishing. They agreed to pursue solutions for ocean acidification, rising sea levels and ocean warming—with most nations reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change as an important roadmap toward a more stable planet. And they pledged to adopt new strategies to reduce the flow of single-use plastics, like disposable bags and cutlery, that ultimately make their way to the ocean.

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Josh Madeira, the Aquarium’s federal policy manager, delivers remarks at the UN Ocean Conference plenary session.

“The Ocean Conference has changed our relationship with the ocean,” Peter Thomson, president of the UN General Assembly, told the delegates. “Henceforth none can say they were not aware of the harm humanity has done to the ocean’s health. We are now working around the world to restore a relationship of balance and respect towards the ocean.”

The first Ocean Conference was convened in support of the updated sustainable development goals adopted by the UN in 2015, which included a new Goal 14: “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources” by 2030.

The global community is joining together for the ocean, the heart of Earth’s climate system. The Aquarium will continue to be part of the conversation, working with a growing network of government, NGO and business partners to make a difference for the future of our ocean.

Learn more about Conservation and Science at Monterey Bay Aquarium.


Featured photo: Grey reef sharks and colorful schools of​ ​​anthias in the waters of Jarvis Island, Pacific Remote Island Areas Marine National Monument. Photo by Kelvin Gorospe  via CC BY 2.0.

World leaders commit to conservation at first U.N. Ocean Conference

Today, June 8, is World Oceans Day. And there may be nowhere on Earth that offers more hope for the global ocean than at the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York City.

Amina Mohammed, Deputy-Secretary-General of the United Nations (left) and Catherine Pollard, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly explore Monterey Bay Aquarium exhibits via virtual reality in the Seafood Watch tent at the Ocean Festival in New York City. Photo by © OPGA/Ariana Lindquist

This morning at U.N. Headquarters, actor and ocean activist Leonardo DiCaprio called on the world’s nations to take action for our ocean. Director James Cameron presented a powerful short film by his Avatar Alliance Foundation, “What Would the Ocean Say?” And Adidas executive Eric Liedtke said his company aims to eliminate virgin plastic fiber from its supply chain.

In other words, people from across all sectors of society are coming together to address the most pressing challenges facing our global ocean. Pioneering chemist and astronaut Cady Coleman put the challenge this way: “We are, all of us, the crew of Spaceship Earth. This is our charter, and we must do the work.”

The power of partnership

A delegation from Monterey Bay Aquarium is in New York City this week to help do that work. We’re partnering with organizations, governments and businesses to reduce plastic pollution, address ocean acidification and improve the sustainability of global fisheries and aquaculture.

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Boats cruise along New York City’s East River in Lower Manhattan as part of the Ocean March on June 4, 2017.

That spirit of partnership is the heart and the promise of the U.N. Ocean Conference. “I’m sure that you’re aware that the ocean is in deep trouble,” said Peter Thomson, president of the U.N. General Assembly. “The good news is that we’re working on solutions.”

Building up to the conference, the UN invited organizations, communities, agencies and businesses to register their ocean action pledges. The Aquarium is involved with nearly a dozen of these voluntary commitments, working with partners worldwide to support conservation efforts at the core of our mission. Among them: Read more…

We’re a voice for the sea at the first-ever United Nations Ocean Conference

The ocean produces half the oxygen we breathe, regulates climate by absorbing atmospheric carbon, and is the primary source of protein for 3.5 billion people. More than 80 percent of the Earth’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast. But these and other critical benefits are fast eroding as growing human needs strain the ocean’s living systems.

The_Oceans_Conference_Logo_Horiz_ENFrom June 5-9, the United Nations will take on the challenge when it hosts its first Ocean Conference at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City—a global gathering focused on protecting the ocean resources so vital to human survival.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium will play a significant role in the conference, advocating for policies to reduce single-use plastic, new commitments that promote sustainable international fisheries, and concerted action to tackle ocean acidification and other impacts of climate change.

“The ocean plays a vital role in enabling life on Earth to exist, yet ocean health has been ignored for too long by international decision-makers,” says Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “The U.N. Ocean Conference is a signal that things are changing. We’ll be there as a voice for the living ocean on which our future depends.”

Julie notes that the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goal for the ocean mirrors the priorities that Monterey Bay Aquarium works to advance, in the United States and around the world. Key staff will contribute to Ocean Conference forums on critical issues, including:

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A Monterey Bay fishing boat brings in its catch. Photo ©Steve Kepple

Improving the sustainability of global fisheries

Through our Seafood Watch program and extensive international policy work, the aquarium plays a respected and influential role – among governments, major businesses, producers and consumers – in shifting global seafood production in more sustainable directions.

As the conference begins, Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard will be part of a World Economic Forum announcement and discussion about new commitments from major seafood businesses, governments and nonprofit organizations to end illegal, unregulated and unreported tuna fishing around the world.

On Wednesday, June 7, Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of global fisheries and aquaculture for the Aquarium, will speak on a panel focused on making fisheries sustainable.

Taking action to combat ocean acidification

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Oyster farmers along the U.S. West Coast have already begun to see the impacts of ocean acidification.

Ocean acidification, a result of fossil fuel burning, is making it difficult for marine animals to build their shells. That includes some species of plankton, the base of the ocean food web.

The Aquarium was an early supporter of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, and will represent the founding partners – British Columbia, and the U.S. states of California, Oregon and Washington – on Thursday, June 8.

Margaret Spring, our vice president of conservation and science and chief conservation officer, will speak on a panel addressing ocean acidification action plans to protect vulnerable resources.

Reducing the sources of plastic pollution

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The passage of California’s Proposition 67 will prevent the use of billions of plastic carryout bags each year.

Last year, we championed California’s first-in-the-nation statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. This summer, we’ll launch a collaborative campaign involving 20 leading North American aquariums to reduce consumer demand for single-use plastic products – from drinking straws to shopping bags.

On Monday, June 5, Aimee David, Aquarium Director of Ocean Conservation Policy Strategies, will address efforts to tackle marine debris: internationally, nationally and at United Nations Headquarters. The panel, hosted by Costa Rica, features speakers from the United Nations Environment Programme, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Zoological Society of London.

Celebrating the ocean – in New York and beyond

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Working together, we can protect the health of the ocean for future generations. Photo by ©Jim Capwell / http://www.divecentral.com

On Sunday, June 4, our Seafood Watch team will be part of a day-long World Ocean Festival, a free event on Governors Island in New York Harbor that precedes Monday’s opening of the U.N. Ocean Conference. We’ll host a public exhibit space about sustainable fisheries and aquaculture opportunities, and a Seafood Watch expert will be part of a sustainable seafood presentation during the festival.

And in partnership with the U.N. Environment Program, the International Program on the State of the Ocean, Ocean Conservancy and the Zoological Society of London, we will promote the #OneLess initiative, aimed at inspiring Ocean Conference delegates and the public to reduce single-use plastic products like water bottles. The campaign will distribute reusable water bottles to conference attendees, and will encourage delegates to promote policies that reduce our reliance on single-use plastic products.

World leaders are coming together this week to address the biggest threats to our shared global ocean, but we all have a role to play. You can make a difference through small changes, such as driving less, switching to reusable water bottles and following Seafood Watch recommendations.

We hope you’ll join us in protecting our living ocean, on which all life depends.


Featured image: “United Nations New York City” by Anthony Quintano is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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