With 2010 winding down, many of us have started to think of those New Year’s resolutions we will pledge come January 1.  This year, beyond promising yourself to better health and self improvement, why not vow to help out cetaceans and sea turtles?  Simple actions can have a profound effect on these threatened species, and it’s easier to accomplish than the quickly-abandoned pledge to hit the gym! Here are a few suggestions:

Ban the bag: Leatherback sea turtles are critically endangered around the world, including the dangerously depleted population that travels into BC waters.  Leatherback sea turtles feed on jellies almost exclusively, but unfortunately, floating plastic bags resemble a jelly quite closely.  Leatherbacks mistakenly ingest the bag while foraging and it can then become lodged in the turtle’s digestive system, causing blockages and obstructing the passage of food. A study published in 2009 by Mrosovsky and colleagues concluded that about one in three adult or large leatherback turtles have eaten plastic!  In 2011, resolve to avoid adding any more plastic bags to our oceans by refusing them each time you shop and bring reusable cloth bags instead! Make sure to stash a few in your car, purse, or backpack, so you always have an alternative to plastic on hand.   How many plastic bags can you avoid using in 2011?

Choose PBDE-free: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are chemical flame retardants used in a multitude of household items, including furniture, mattresses and electronics.  They are also a big problem for killer whales and other marine mammals.  PBDES are persistent chemicals, meaning they break down extremely slowly in the environment or in the bodies of animals that ingest them. Predators acquire the lifetime accumulation of these persistent chemicals of the animals they eat. This leads to biomagnification, whereby the concentration of PBDE’s increases greatly at every step in the food chain, and top predators like transient killer whales end up with extremely high levels.  They are known to affect the endocrine system in marine mammals and this may cause reproductive, developmental, and immune system impairment.  Sadly, the result is that these animals become more susceptible to infectious disease and cancers.  While Washington State is banning deca-PBDEs in mattresses, electronics and furniture come 2011, they are still used in Canada.  This year, refuse to support the use of PBDEs.  Do you have a big purchase to make of furniture or electronics in the coming year?  Make sure you ask if the product you are purchasing is PBDE-free.  Many companies are choosing to avoid these toxins, show your support with your consumer dollars.  Learn more here.

Be sustainable seafood savvy: Whales, dolphins, and porpoises rely on healthy fish populations in order to survive.  Some species, like resident killer whales, have incredibly restricted diets.  Over 96% of the diet of resident killer whales is made up of salmonids, and 72% of the salmonids eaten are specifically Chinook salmon!  With very specific food needs, it’s imperative to keep those prey species strong! Choosing sustainable seafood, that is seafood caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species and the greater marine ecosystem, can help ensure that there are healthy populations to support whales and humans!  An added bonus:  many sustainable seafood lists also consider the method by which the seafood is caught, ensuring limited bycatch on non-target and endangered species, including marine mammals.  Choosing sustainable seafood is easy thanks to several handy consumer programs. Learn more about restaurants and suppliers offering sustainable seafood at www.oceanwisecanada.org and download your own copy of ‘Canada’s Seafood Guide’ www.seachoice.org.

Support cetacean research and conservation: Looking for a good cause to donate to in 2011? Why not support wild whale research through the Wild Killer Whale Adoption Program.  Funds raised through the program support research on wild killer whales and other marine mammals that killer whales interact with – and sometimes prey on – in their marine environment.   On top of the good karma, by symbolically adopting a whale, you will receive a great package with information on ‘your whale’, including a biography and ID photo, a cd of killer whale sounds, and a yearly newsletter.    Still looking for a last minute holiday gift?  Skip the socks and give someone a killer whale!  Learn more at www.killerwhale.org.

Promise to report what you see: Learning about the occurrence and distribution of cetaceans and sea turtles in BC is crucial to understanding how to best protect them.  The BC Cetacean Sightings Network relies on coastal citizens and mariners to help compile this information, so get involved!  Report your sightings online, via email (sightings@vanaqua.org), or by phone (1 866 I SAW ONE).  Logbooks are also available free of charge.

Let’s all work together to better understand and protect BC’s cetaceans and sea turtles in 2011.  Happy Holidays!