As some as you may know, I was offered a Junior Fellowship from the Safina Center at Stonybrook University. They are supporting me with some funding, mentorship, and promotion of the science communication projects that I am working on, Whalenerds being one of them. You can check out my fellow profile on their site and checkout the Safina Center online here: https://www.safinacenter.org/about-katlyn
I was connected to John Bowermaster by folks at the Safina Center as a new Junior Fellow in their program. John hosts a show on Radio Kingston in New York. We chatted about whales, whalenerds, the oceans, and more for about 20 minutes. The episode is available on the station website here: https://radiokingston.org/en/broadcast/green-radio-hour-w-jon-bowermaster/episodes/mayor-steve-noble-whalenerd-katlyn-taylor
The mayor of Kingston, NY was on before me, my portion starts about 35 minutes in.
As I reflect on our conversation, I couldn’t help but think I that could have answered my parting question a little better. It was about changes to our oceans and fish populations over time. What I really wanted to elaborate on is, that it’s hard to see the declines or changes in fish stocks and marine food webs if you are not in the same place for very long. You need a baseline, a reference point, for your observations. Unfortunately, some changes are happening so fast that you don’t really need to be in a place for decades anymore to see it changing, you just need a reference to compare to. For me, the place I have spent the most consecutive years is Monterey Bay, but I was there during a time where there was a major disturbance in the marine environment. I never had the chance to see it before the warm water blob, I have just been told stories and read about how the ecosystem used to be. I know that large groups of humpback whales and blue whales shifting and concentrating toward shore was very unusual, but how different did their distribution look just a few years before? I can’t say firsthand. It is thought that fish stocks were being concentrated in shore due to the warm water, and that quite possibly those were some of the last prey fish left in the California current. There were some conflicts seen between fishing effort and whale distribution during the fall of 2015 to add evidence to the case that there may not be enough resources for everyone under the current management scheme. This caused an upheaval between conservationists, fisherman, ecotourism, and management about the future of fisheries for anchovies and sardines. This is a situation that is still unresolved. The ecosystem is still settling in to a new stable state, and management is still deliberating on where to go from here.
The northbound gray whale migrations in 2019 and 2020 were very tough, a lot of whales died. That was likely the result of warming waters and less prey available in the summertime as well. While the gray whales were not directly influenced by overfishing, it is still a reference to a changing marine food web in our oceans.
But one of the best examples of a clear relationship between declining fish stocks and whales suffering as a direct result is one close to where I grew up. The Southern residents. The recovery of Southern resident killer whales has been largely hindered by the decline of salmon stocks in the Pacific Northwest. The story of these whales and fish is complex, but it is clear, that if we do not get serious about major efforts to recover wild salmon, we could lose these iconic whales in my lifetime. I think Jason Colby’s book Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean's Greatest Predator does a great job explaining the history of these whales and the salmon stocks as well as reflects on what the future might hold.
The challenges facing our oceans are very complex, and so is the path to finding and enacting solutions. As our oceans change rapidly, we must be guided with a sense of serious urgency to act on solutions in as many ways as we can.