Oceans Initiative advances ocean conservation by conducting trustworthy, use inspired science to support evidence-based environmental policy-making. We are proud that our cutting edge science is guiding real world conservation decisions.
1. Preventing extinction of endangered southern resident killer whales:
In 2018, our scientists offered technical expertise to Washington State Governor Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) Task Force. Our science was used to guide key recommendations: 1) to increase Chinook salmon availability by 15%, and 2) to reduce noise and disturbance by 50% to make it easier for the whales to hunt for Chinook salmon using sound. This led to five crucial orca recovery bills being signed into law in 2019 that focus on protecting orcas from vessel noise and traffic, improving the safety of oil transportation through the Salish Sea, and increasing habitat for forage fish as well as Chinook salmon, the primary source of food for SRKWs. Our science has been sought again in the U.S and Canada to further inform specific recovery requirements, fill in data gaps, and measure progress of recovery efforts.
2. Proactive conservation of data-deficient Pacific white-sided dolphins
In its 11th year, Oceans Initiative's dolphin research in the Pacific Northwest gives us the opportunity to gain new insights into the biology and conservation status of a poorly studied species—Pacific white-sided dolphins. In 2019, we coordinated a reclassification of the genus, which resulted in five species being renamed. We are pioneering non-invasive ways to understand environmental, animal, and population health, using drones, photo-identification, and breath sampling to test for bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the exhaled breath of dolphins. Last year, we conducted a rapid assessment study to learn if dolphins avoid, approach, or ignore pingers (warning devices that emit relatively quiet sounds to alert dolphins to the presence of fishing gear). This is a necessary step toward developing tools to reduce bycatch of dolphins in poorly monitored fisheries, and to reduce the number of dolphins killed each year by fishing gear.
3. Improving sustainability of global fisheries
Legislation aimed at reducing bycatch will soon affect the $20 billion trade of seafood imports to the United States. With mandates for safer fishing practices slated to go into effect in 2022, commercial fishers worldwide need more tools to reduce bycatch and demonstrate population health. Oceans Initiative partnered with scientists at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Animal Counting Toolkit, a low-cost system for rapidly assessing populations of marine mammals. We then worked with fisheries scientists at the University of Washington on a two-year working group to build statistical tools to assess sustainability of marine mammal bycatch in data-poor fisheries. This will help low-income countries comply with the new United States seafood trade rule that will ban seafood exports to the U.S. unless countries can demonstrate that marine mammal bycatch in their commercial export fisheries meets standards comparable in effectiveness to those in the U.S.