As I write, there are a couple dozen or more Harbor Porpoise swimming offshore. I got this report from a Washington State Department of Transportation biologist. She is monitoring marine mammals off Marrowstone Point while a colleague rides back and forth on the Port Townsent-Keystone Ferry. They watch for whales, then alert construction crews if whales are in a certain area. The ideas, apparently, is to shut down construction so that noise from the pile driving and other activities doesn't impact marine mammal movements through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet.
The ferry boat monitoring reported several small pods of porpoises, not surprising since forage fish, squid, and swarms of bioluminescent lantern fish ---- all prey of harbor porpoises --- are out there in good numbers. So, I wonder...........how many pieces of shotgun shell are they consuming? How many of the other, pieces of hunting and fishing related plastic are they downing as they mistake shiny plastics for natural food? It is common, in the marine mammal literature to read a cautionary line about our not knowing much about whale deaths because they sink before we find most of the dead.
As I picked trash from the shore last night, I kept finding the usual containers I use to haul "micro" bits of plastic from the beach. Plastic bottles are perfect. I simply unscrew the cap if one is still on the coke, energy drink, or water bottle. These containers have become a new way for me to place trash in a receptacle that will be attached to my educational string ball (see earlier post). So far, I haven't had to walk far before a ballon and its ribbon shows up in a tangle of kelp. I stuff these into the filled bottles, screw the cap back on, and carry the lot back to the Subaru. Dozens of bottles now dangle from blue, red, and green ribbons once used by cruise ship passengers to celebrate as they leave Seattle for their Alaskan vacation.
Fishing trash of late includes some dazzling lures now used by saltwater anglers as much as those who fish mostly in freshwater for bass. Hundreds of designs may attract fishermen more than fish, but once broken free of the leader, these lures can float hundreds or thousands of miles before washing onto a beach or being swallowed by an albatross, frigate, seal, or harbor porpoise. Sea run cutthroat flies are another common piece of beach litter and none I have found lately are made of anything other than plastic.
I also find many tiny, bright orange lures and strike indicators. If you are not familiar with the latter, they are an invention now so popular that my most recent fly fishing magazines and fly fishing supply catalogs make these dangerous items seem like mandatory gear. Fishermen hook them onto their lines while fishing a sinking fly much like a worm fisherman attaches a bobber above the wiggling lure. As the indicator floats along, it is visible due to its neon brightness. If it bobs, chances are good a fish has grabbed the fly, indicating time to raise the rod tip and hook the prey. Problem is, they float downstream and into the ocean........by the millions now that they have become so popular.
Add to this ever present source of trash from a sport I love, the splashy, sparkly, plastic tinsel tied onto virtually every form of fishing fly from imitations of mayflies to the gaudy creations used to attract steelhead and their fishers.
I remember so well, a day maybe 25 years ago in West Yellowstone, Montana. I walked into Madison River Fishing Company after a good day on the Firehole River. Like any flyshop, they have a great selection of flies, spread out to catch your eye. I tie most of my own flies, but that day, a sparkling bit of shimmering green caught my eye and I picked up what the guy behind the desk told me was the new and very hot mayfly imitation. At the time, I was both skeptical and a bit turned off by the addition of this artificial stuff on a fly meant to be, for all of us old timers, made of feather and fur........
Long story short, I was soon converted to tying my own sparkle duns and other flies that incorporate plastics. My fly boxes are filled with trash, so to speak, and I even tie flies while inside Yellowstone with plastic I find along park rivers and streams ---- sometimes going so far as to bring only hooks and thread, then tying flies for the trip using only found objects for the materials. Plastic has become so much a part of our environment that I can pick it up anywhere, any time, and make use of it.......Trouble is, I do believe I am picking up such a small percentage, even here on Marrowstone Island, that it makes little or no difference in the lives of ocean life, especially those Harbor Porpoises now swimming off the island where I live.
If you would like to read more about this threat, see, for example:
Jacobsen, Massey, and Gulland. 2010. Fatal Ingestion of floating net debris by two sperm whales. marine pollution bulletin 60 (2010) 765-767
Baird and Hooker. (Not sure if published yet, but an in press copy available online) Ingestion of Plastic and unusual prey by a juvenile Harbour Porpoise. Marine Pollution Bulletin.
The SIMON report: Special Status Species: Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). A report of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network.