Conservation & Science

Our best Conservation & Science stories of 2016

It’s been an exciting year for ocean conservation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

We’ve shared how our care for the animals in our living collections—including snowy ploverscomb jellies, ocean sunfish and Pacific seahorses—contibutes to the conservation of their wild kin.

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The Aquarium helps rehabilitate threatened Western snowy plovers.

We’ve visited the Canadian cousins of Monterey Bay’s sea otters, explored how sea otters use tools, and assisted scientists working to decode the sea otter genome.

We’ve collaborated with our colleagues in Baja, Mexico on a number of conservation missions—one of them involving ancient shark mummies. And we joined forces with U.S. aquariums and zoos to call for stronger protections for the endangered vaquita porpoises of the Gulf of California.

As 2016 comes to a close, let’s look back at the top 10 highlights from this blog:

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A white shark approaches schooling sardines.

10. Camera to Crack a White Shark MysteryOur senior reseach scientist teamed up with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute for a high-tech mission: to capture video footage of great white sharks in their most mysterious habitat.

“Some of the engineering team said it was an impossible job,” MBARI Engineer Thom Maughan recalled. “But I’m attracted to those opportunities.”

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A blue tang and clown anemonefish on exhibit at the Aquarium.

9. Protecting Dory: We revealed how the fictional aquarium in Finding Dory,  an aquarium and ocean conservation center called the Marine Life Institute, was inspired, in part, by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Disney•Pixar animators worked with Aquarium staff for several years, researching details that would help bring the film’s settings and characters—like Hank, the friendly “septipus”—to life.

“The Monterey Bay Aquarium is dedicated to helping the ocean and all the animals in it,” said Jenna Ortega of of Disney Channel’s Stuck in the Middle. “If I were a fish, I would love to live here.”

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Jennifer Kemmerly speaks at Our Ocean 2016.

8. A Global Spotlight on Sustainable Seafood: At the international Our Ocean Conference in Washington, D.C., our director of global fisheries and aquaculture presented on the Aquarium’s leadership in the global sustainable seafood movement.

For 16 years, the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has been working in the United States and internationally, building market demand for sustainably produced seafood—and building a global reputation as one of the most effective forces for positive change.

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Tuna researchers haul in a bluefin to be tagged and released.

7. Dispatch from the Sea of Japan: In this four-part series, our tuna research technician reflected on the value of tuna teamwork, offered a primer in electronic tracking, played the bluefin waiting game, and enjoyed some epic karaoke.

“To sustainably manage bluefin stocks, you need to know how many tuna are out there, a challenging prospect for animals that call the entire North Pacific home,” technician Ethan Estess reported. “The best way to solve the puzzle is to use electronic tagging technologies to reveal migration routes, exchange rates, and catch rates between the Eastern and Western Pacific.”

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California leaders look on as Gov. Jerry Brown, center, signs SB 32.

6. A Landmark Year for California’s Climate LeadershipDuring the 2016 legislative session, we supported three successful California bills addressing climate change and ocean acidification. These bills continue to position our state as a global leader in climate action.

One of them, SB 32,  strengthens California’s climate leadership by setting a statewide emissions limit at 40 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. This aggressive, but achievable, target will help California meet its long-term climate goals—and combat the growing impacts of climate change on our ocean and coast.

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Berber musicians perform during the COP22 climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco.

5. The World is Moving Forward on Climate: Our science director reported back from Marrakech, Morocco, where he attended the 2016 U.N. Climate Change Conference. Nations around the world, along with businesses and scientists, committed to reduce their emissions of heat-trapping gases and slow the rate of global warming under the Paris Agreement forged at the 2015 U.N. climate talks.

“Marrakech was always intended to be a pivot point from Paris,” wrote Science Director Kyle Van Houtan. “Now that the global climate agreement is in place, the progress to be made from here involves substantive commitments from corporations and universities, financial investments, and actions by state and local governments. Now more than ever, these commitments are critical.”

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An Aquarium worker feeds Otter 501 after her rescue from a beach in Morro Bay. Photo © Sea Studios Foundation.

4. Our Surrogate-Raised Sea Otters Help Restore a Wetland: For the past 15 years, our Sea Otter Program has paired non-releasable female sea otters with rescued pups to teach them the skills they need to survive in the wild. New research confirmed that this program has built up the wild otter population in Elkhorn Slough, and improved the overall health of the wetland.

“These young animals survive as well as wild-reared otters, and they retain their wariness of people,” said Animal Care Coordinator Karl Mayer. “Even better, the females mature, give birth and raise pups [in the wild].”

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Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by NOAA

3. Marine Protected Areas: A Smart Approach: The ocean is facing unprecedented threats, from overfishing to climate change. In a new paper, our science director discussed how we can help the most vulnerable sea life by protecting key areas of the ocean.

“The task in front of us—to protect the ocean and its biodiversity—is daunting,” Kyle said. “With this analysis, we wanted to show that we do have tools, we do have data, and we do have some ideas about where we should focus marine conservation.”

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A white shark dubbed “Middle-Notch” swims near our researchers in the Farallones.

2. Dispatch from the Farallones: White Shark Family PortraitsOur shark research team made its annual trip to the Farallon Islands to monitor a genetically distinct population of adult white sharks, which gathers at the islands each fall to gorge on seals and sea lions.

“Each shark fin is like a fingerprint. It has a unique series of notches and ridges along the trailing edge that allows us to distinguish one shark from the other,” Senior Research Scientist Sal Jorgensen explained. “We’ve been able to show that the fins remain unchanged over decades. So, if you get a good fin ID of a shark, you will be able to identify that shark 10 or 20 years later.”

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Thanks to the passage of Proposition 67, single-use, carryout plastic bags are now a thing of California’s past.

1. California Votes YES on Prop 67 for a Plastic-Free OceanCalifornia voters passed Proposition 67, upholding the first-in-the-nation law to ban single-use carryout plastic bags statewide. The Aquarium, along with our partners, campaigned in support of the proposition—and will keep working to reduce the sources of plastic pollution in 2017 and beyond.

“This is a tremendous victory,” said Aquarium Executive Director Julie Packard. “Now, California can finally implement its first-in-the-nation law to reduce a source of plastic pollution—and protect our ocean, coast and marine wildlife.”


Featured photo: Black oystercatchers perch on the rocks of the Aquarium’s Great Tide Pool.

Learn more about Conservation & Science at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

 

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