As we look to the New Year, we’re taking time to think about ocean critters that inspire us to be hopeful. From the thousands of sharks that have been spared from finning due to recent bans in Asia to coral species that may be able to withstand ocean acidification, sea creatures big and small give us pause and merit our attention. Here’s a list of five animals that especially deserve our hope in the coming year:
As the largest animal on Earth, the blue whale is one impressive cetacean! This long, slender marine mammal goes by the Latin name of Balaenoptera musculus, and has a heart that weighs 600 kilograms. Whalers hunted the endangered blue whale to near extinction for over a century until this practice was banned in 1966. The blue whale’s vast habitat – the High Seas, which makes up nearly half of the world’s ocean – remains largely unprotected. Open your big blue heart and sign our PETITION to the United Nations to protect the High Seas.
This rare species of porpoise is critically endangered with fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild. The Vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California – a Mission Blue Hope Spot. Mexican President Peña Nieto has the power to protect this extraordinary species and its habitat, but time is running out. You can send an urgent message to him now and ask him to act HERE.
The brilliant bluefin is certainly a cause for hope this year. Although threatened by intensive overfishing, these lean mean swimming machines are finding solace in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (PRIMNM), which President Obama expanded to a whopping 490,000 square miles in September. This protected region prohibits all commercial fishing and other resource extraction activities, such as deep-sea mining. All four species of bluefin are still at risk, however, and the critically endangered southern bluefin that roams the waters south of the PRIMNM are especially threatened.
Seven species of sea turtle inhabit the world’s ocean, migrating vast distances and nesting on beaches from Costa Rica to Madagascar. Six of these species inhabit the waters of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef – the world’s largest living thing. Green and loggerhead sea turtles are common around the reef, while others like the enormous and endangered leatherback are scarcer. The Abbot Administration has neglected to prioritize protection of these charismatic critters in Australian waters, and has instead acted in favor of harmful practices like dredging and mining that damage fragile habitats, and halted progress on popular marine protection policies. You can help show Abbot what we’re made of and raise your voice alongside our partners at Save Our Marine Life!
Luckily, many other governments (including some with far fewer resources than Australia) have promised to protect their sea turtles and other marine wildlife through marine protected areas (MPAs). At the World Parks Congress in Sydney, Australia in November, President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon announced that he would create a network of MPAs covering over 23% of the waters within Gabon’s national jurisdiction. As part of the Promise of Sydney – the outcome agreements resulting from meetings at the World Parks Congress – Bangladesh also committed to creating its first MPA to protect whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other wildlife.
Last but certainly not least, the Maui’s dolphin (also called “popoto”) is the world’s smallest and most rare dolphin subspecies. Related to the Hector’s dolphin, Maui’s dolphins don’t live in Hawaii but are instead endemic to the west coast of New Zealand’s North Island. Only around 55 of these social cetaceans remain today, and can be found in pods close to shore. It is estimated that around five Maui’s dolphins are killed each year in fishing gear. To make things much worse, in June 2014 the New Zealand government opened 3000 km2 (one quarter) of the West Coast North Island Marine Mammal Sanctuary – key Maui’s dolphin habitat – to oil drilling. World Wildlife Fund (WWF) New Zealand has launched “The Last 55” campaign to call for a fishing ban across the full range of the Maui’s dolphin’s known habitat. You can help WWF petition the NZ government to stop oil drilling HERE.