If we Save the Whales we Can Bring Back the Ocean

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Though many people may have told you to save the whales, but has any one told you to save the whales because they are hard workers? Whales are the biggest living animals on the planet, and there’s a reason for it. It isn’t just because they eat tonnes of food, nor that they’ve been around so long. Whales are big because they carry a huge responsibility. The health of the oceans rests heavily upon their backs.

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What responsibility could whales possibly have?

Being a whale probably sounds pretty easy, you are a huge animal with little to no predators who swims around the world and eats all day. While traveling and eating lots of food is a dream most of us strive to achieve, we also know that we have to work for it. So how do they pull it off? Whales are giant fertilizing machines.

If whales are removed from the ocean, the waters would become more stagnant and eventually little to nothing would be able to grow. Sea plant life is heavily dependent on nutrients that, in surface waters, tend to be scarce. But don’t worry, whales are able to propagate and share these with the rest of the seas.

How do whales fertilize the ocean?

Just like on land, when plants and animals die they go back into the earth, are decomposed, and become nutrients to be consumed by plants. Except for the ocean is really deep… Where it’s deep it is dark, and as we all learnt in 2nd grade science class, plants need light to do photosynthesis. Put simply, the bottom of the ocean is a treasure trove of untouched nutrients that aren’t being harvested.

This is where the whales come in. These peaceful giants swoop down in to the deep ocean and feed on deep dwelling organisms. On their way back up their large powerful bodies stir up the waters bringing nutrients up to the shallows. Not only do they stir up the water they share the goodies that they’ve eaten. How might you ask? The answer is by poopin’ and peein’ all over the place.

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Whale tail spotted in Catalina islands in Costa Rica on a beautiful March

Image Credit goes to my friend/student Nathan Mobach author of Sir Handsome Hank a DiveMaster Blog. 

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You’ve got to be Shitting me….

Nope, a whales job is to eat lots of food and create giant messy clouds of feces. Ocean plants find it most difficult to acquire two things: iron and nitrogen. Animals such as krill (a favorite among many whales) are high in Iron. Especially when you consume up to 2 tonnes of them a day. Whales, though very large, do not require all of the iron they consume and therefore share the excess by passing it through the other  end.

Despite passing the whales rear the plants still enjoy the iron. They are  able to absorb this iron which in turn allows them to grow providing more food for the krill. If you think back and remember how the predator prey cycle works, you will know that more krill means that the  whale population can increase. What’s odd, is that this nutrient cycle is a positive feedback loop which benefits all parties involved. This means that krill populations will not decrease with more whales, rather it will increase.

And what about that nitrogen?

Whale pee. These big fellas whizz out lots and lots of nitrogen another plant favourite. The reason for that is again due to deep dwelling animals. At the bottom of the ocean there’s lots of nitrogen which is absorbed by the local inhabitants. Those locals get gobbled up by whales and taken to the surface to be excreted and used as plant fertilizer.

That’s so cool! Good thing there is a lot of krill!

Wrong. The oceans krill are dying. First there was a huge decrease in whale populations which also decreased krill populations. Then to follow that up there had been a rapid change in ocean climate due to the melting of the polar ice caps. The increase of fresh water has made the ocean less salty while changing water temperatures everywhere. In warmer climates the water is becoming colder and the coldest parts of the ocean are warming up. Then you add a drop in the purity of the water due to oils, detergents, and chemicals, add a few million tonnes of plastic pollution every year ad you’ve got a big problem.

Some super cool scientists decided to research the krill and found out that the more polluted the water became, and the more the temperatures changed, the harder it became for the krill to adapt. It was also found that surviving krill had to eat more, and their bodies had to work harder to survive. This cause the krill to become less nutritious, meaning less nitrogen and iron for the whales and the plants the krill feed upon. This could lead to a very vicious cycle of

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Whale surfacing for a breath of fresh air, and exercising that blowhole. This while came very close to our boat along with another adult whale and calf. Talk about a lucky day!

Photo taken by Ranelle Ivens author of SeaReina’s Call

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SAVE THE WHALES!

Yes, save the whales indeed. Luckily, we have made some big improvements to protect these magnificent giants. In fact, there are even some populations on the rise such as the blue whale, bowhead whale, and humpbacks. So, at the very least, we are doing something right! However, in many countries including the USA and Canada Whaling is still legal, and whales still face many threats. These include climate change, plastic waste, and water pollution.

How to help

  • Avoid products containing whale (lamp oil, some soaps and cosmentics, tennis rackets, cooking oils etc.)
  • Stop using single use plastics
  • Recycle more
  • Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaners in your home
  • Tell your local government/politicians to make whaling illegal you can also ask them to take further steps to help save the whales such as banning whale products
  • Educate yourself and others on whales
  • Donate to organizations that will help save the whales and the ocean!

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Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology.

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stingray

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Ranelle Ivens

SITE AUTHOR

Ranelle’s addiction to SCUBA started in 2004. From a young age she has been fascinated by the ocean and the creatures living within it. Her Ultimate dive dream is to swim with Orcas and to dive the world. Ranelle is a certified PADI Specialty Instructor and spent 3 years in university studying Science and Biology. [supsystic-social-sharing id=’2′] [/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][et_pb_column type=”2_3″][et_pb_text admin_label=”Text (main post content)” module_class=”dd-post-content” _builder_version=”3.0.92″ text_font=”Lato||||” text_font_size=”15″ text_text_color=”#04493e” text_line_height=”1.4em” background_layout=”light”]

Typically when I initially tell people that i can communicate with Stingrays, they give me the ‘yep, this one’s a nutter’ look. However, after listening a little longer people usually start to come around.

If like me, you love animals, you know that they can think and feel and have moods and personalities just as we do. You understand that to understand them you need to listen to them. Not just the yips and yelps but their body language. Once you start to understand the looks they give, the tail position, and posture you can start to decipher what they are saying to you.

With stingrays it’s exactly this. It’s only a little trickier because they can’t make noises at you, nor you to them, at least not ones they would likely understand. But, lets not get to ahead of ourselves, first lets talk about their typical personalities.

Stingrays tend to have a certain demeanour

They are very relaxed animal. Most of the time you will see them lounging in the sand, or lazily gliding about. They have this energy that exhumes a calm and cool collectedness. Just being around them I start to feel myself loosen up and relax a little more. In fact, the only time I’ve seen them move quickly seems to be to escape the proximity of an excited diver.

This ‘chillness’, in my experience, is especially typical of southern stingrays, round rays, butterfly rays, and long tail stingrays. Other species such as the electric bullseye ray, guitar rays, and spotted eagle rays, tend to be more active as well as shy.

If they are so chill, why do they always swim away?!

Much like sharks and other underwater animals you’ve encountered they like their space. In addition to this they are weary of humans. Imagine if some weird and scaley sea creature walked up out of the sea with a bucket of water over its head. We humans are ditzy enough to stand there and gape at it with cameras rolling, but the more natural reaction is fear.

In addition to us being weird looking aliens carrying tanks and making bubbles, stingrays have highly attuned senses. Much like sharks, stingrays have electroperception, meaning they can sense electromagnetic frequencies in the water. Or, in other words, your heartbeat.

It’s this frequency that usually scares them off

In the world of a stingray, where everything is calm and serene most of the time, hearing the excited rapid percussion beat of an excited diver’s heart is very startling. In their experience, the only time that it hears elevated heart rates is when a predetor is anticipating a fun chase, or someones prey is frantically trying to escape another’s jaws.

Hence, when a diver encounters a ray and becomes excited, their heart rate goes up. This simulates the predetor and prey relationship. When that large strange looking animal then starts barelling towards the ray it is no wonder the stingrays swim off in fright.

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So then What’s the trick?

If you want to talk to a stingray, typically you need to get close to it first. Which means that your heart can’t be pounding out of your chest with anticipation. This is not to say you can’t get excited, its pretty hard not to be excited when you see such a beautiful animal in the wild. However what it does mean is that you need to stop and calm down.

While guiding dives I see people time, and time again chasing after animals and then being disappointed when they swim away. The Trick to getting closer is to stop, breathe, calm down, and the proceed very slowly.

Once you master this you will find yourself able to get much closer to many other types of animals as well.

How Close is close?

After you start employing these methods you might notice that you can get pretty close, but they still swim away. If you can grasp the ‘talking part’ you will be able to get close enough to put your nose on their fin tips.

Story Time!

The closest encounter I’ve ever had was in Drake Bay Costa Rica. I was diving with Pirate Cove and I had sideled up to a cute couple of stingrays. They, as usual, were quite gorgeous, and they didn’t even seem to mind my company. I then looked over my shoulder to see a third ray gliding on over. I looked at the ray and I thought ‘come on over I would love to hang out with you too!’ 

To my delight the ray came closer, and closer, and closer  until it was nearly right on top of me. I watched in a slight panic as he began to position himself to settle right on top of me. As lovely as this may have been I didn’t want to startle the poor thing when I decided to leave before him.

So quick as I could I told him ‘please don’t land on top of me!’ immediately after I sent him this thought, the ray jerked hard startling the other two rays next to me, both of which quickly swam off. the incoming ray then settled in right beside me.

Despite my experience with getting close to rays I was still floored

This ray just sat on the bottom and hung out with me, the moment was awesomely magical. I could feel this happy tingling feeling in my heart, and from the ray the sense of peace and calming that just washes over you. I wanted for than anything to just curl up and nap there with him,but alas there were other dives itching to see the rest of the site.  So instead, I blew him a kiss and thanked him for a lovely visit.

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Finally; the talking part

If you read the whole article you for sure know the rays can sense electromagnetic frequencies. You also know that your heart emits one of these frequencies. What you may not know, is that your brain also emits an electromagnetic frequency, one that changes with your thoughts and feelings.

Now if we take this two facts and combine them you can probably start to see the picture. If you begin to think what you want to say, and feel the emotions you want to portray deep in your heart, you can communicate with the rays.

My Experimental Proof

During my diving I have practiced time and time again these methods. Typically, once I get within a few feet of the ray, they instinctually want to retreat. This can be observed by watching their fin tips. Usually the ray will raise them in preparation to jolt away.  At this point I stop and think about feelings of calm and peace, think of observing the ray, and just how amazingly lovely I believe them to be. I look into the rays eyes and do my best to communicate this. At this point the ray usually relaxs back down, setteling into the sand. It then almost always allows me to proceed even closer, and very rarely swims away after this point.

A Word of Caution

Even though stingrays are quite harmless, they are still equiped with a poisonous barb and a long whiplike tail. Like any animal they should be respected and you should remain cautious when approaching them. Try not to approach them from the front and come down on top of them. This makes them feel trapped and can be dangerous if the ray is in a bad mood.

Finally, try not to touch them. Some rays, including manta rays, have a protective coating over their bodies, and touching them rubs this away and can actually harm them. Others can emit an eletric shock.

Also, in someone who firmly believes that clothing is not consent, I cannot support anyone touching a stingray without their verbal consent. So please, don’t harrass the rays!

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Describe SCUBA Diving

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“Describe SCUBA Diving, what is it like?” Is a question that non divers often ask me… Its one of those tricky questions to answer  because every diver will describe SCUBA diving differently. I cannot tell  you what you will experience if you decide to try it, but I will do my best to help you understand what I feel.

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First is the predive excitement

To me diving starts when I wake up at 6am and I remember ‘I am going diving today!‘ At first there is excitement, that giddy flutter of happiness as your heart smiles. followed by my brains incessant and logical worries, such as do I have everything I need? Is the weather okay?‘ In response I begin to methodically check and go over the lists in my head, and once I’ve made sure that the weather is clear, I have my camera and my dive computer, and the rest of my gear, I can never get to the beach fast enough.

Next is the Heavy Part

Then I’m lifting heavy tanks and duffel bags of gear telling myself, ‘this is worth it, I’m almost in the water, just a couple tanks more‘. Then I am climbing into the boat and setting up my gear,  still hoping I haven’t forgotten anything, making sure all of my gadgets are fastened tightly to my vest, double and triple checking everything. Next I’m putting on the gear. You cannot describe SCUBA diving without mentioning gearing up. Here I am, strapping a 30 pound tank of compressed air to my back, sticking lead in my pockets, slipping some fins on my feet and jumping in the ocean.

Yet, it is the moment that I slip that tank onto my back that I stop worrying about everything else in the world. The weight of it seems to ground me. Then I’m jumping into the water and I’m so excited that I can hardly wait to deflate my vest. Once everyone is ready to go, we start our descent.

Finally, I’m in the water

My head goes under  and the silence takes over. The only noises down here are subtle. It is just the sound of my own breathing, sand skittering against the rocks, and the chorus nearly silent chorus of fishes. Yet even these sounds fade into the background; all the commotion of the world above just disappears. I feel calm and peaceful as I slowly sink down to the bottom. I no longer feel the weight of my gear, and the aches and pains in my muscles and joints dissipate as I reach the bottom.

Next, I take a few breaths to make sure  I am  neutrally buoyant. I feel how my breath lifts me up and my body sinking as I exhale once more. There is such delight in that weightlessness. Even though 1-4 atmospheres of extra pressure are being exerted on my body I don’t feel it. In fact I feel light as a feather.

Then My Heart Swells like the ocean

Finally, I begin to look around, I can see colorful fish in reds, yellows blues, and silver swimming about in groups. Little puffer fish nestle into the rocks taking a mid day nap. Everything moves slowly, calmly, there is no rush to do anything. Down here I can’t see as far, only the distance the visibility allows. This does not make me nervous instead it makes me more curious, ‘what’s beyond that rock? Is there a reef just beyond that bed of sand?‘ By nature I love adventure and SCUBA diving satiates that craving to explore and discover. You never know what strange creature you are going to find, and everywhere you look there are all kinds of nooks and crannies where some little ocean treasure could be hiding.

There’s all the little stuff

I remember the first time I found a nudibranch (a teeny tiny colorful sea slug). I felt so proud that I had spotted something so tiny in an ocean so big, and to this day I still feel a sense of immense accomplishment when I find small or well camouflaged creatures. Or when you are able to approach a stingray for the first time, and he doesn’t swim away. When you can get so close that you can see the reflections in his eyes. There is a sense of knowing, in the way they look at you. They seem to understand you are there only to observe and admire.

And then the big stuff

Even more indescribable is the feeling of seeing your first extra large marine animal. whether it be a manta, a whale, or a giant shark, there is no way to explain how amazing they are to behold. One thing is for sure, they have a unique own energy around them. It is as if you can feel them nearby, and once you actually see them there is this intense majesty in the way they move through the water. In these moments time slows to a crawl and you can only gape in awe.

But it all happens too fast.

Then, before you know it the dive is over. It’s the last thing you want to do right now, but you need to return to the surface; to your own world. It has been almost an hour yet the whole thing seemed to pass by in the blink of an eye. I Climb up onto the boat and the weight of my gear returns, reminding me that I am exploring a world that, biologically I shouldn’t be able to endure. It makes the whole experience seem even more surreal.

Then there’s that amazing sense of connection and community

Once my dive companions make it on the boat we begin excitedly chattering on about all of the amazing things we saw and experienced in that short hour below the surface. You feel a connection, not just to the people around you but the earth and ocean themselves.  It is a craving that, to me, is insatiable. Despite this need, after diving I always feel whole and happy and content… Not even those after dive munchies could change that.

Eventually I’m home and every night as I lie in bed, I’m hoping that tomorrow I get to dive again.

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