SOAR has a serious side in its missions to help kids find ways of helping the ocean and watersheds throughout the world. I started on having seen hundreds of albatrosses killed by plastic debris at Pihemanu (Midway Atoll). I was inspired by the questions of young people in Ohio and by USFWS biologists working hard to protect endangered species and damaged habitats.

SOAR has a very fun and tough to define side.....thanks to FRED AND FRIENDS, Project SOAR helps with watershed and ocean workshops throughout the world, and generally makes people smile while they learn some tough stuff about how we treat our rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and the one ocean on planet earth..........


SOAR introduces young people to ways they can make a difference in their local community and the wider world.

Take advantage by:

1) Invite a SOAR learning kit or bring Ron Hirschi to your school as a guest author or speaker for your organization. Ron has many years experience as an author and as a biologist. SOAR adds another dimension to his list of hands on projects he shares in writing, art, and ecology workshops.

Many schools invite Ron for his work as author of more than 50 nonfiction books, including many with ocean themes. Others bring him to school as a scientist or artist, but the best fit is always when schools use Ron to help them integrate curriculum.

Tom Bates, Principal at Tremont Elementary in Ohio recently said in an interview following Ron's visit, "What stood out to me was how Ron was able to gear his activities and discussion and information so it was meaningful to the students, whether they were in kindergarten or fifth grade."

Be in touch at whalemail@waypoint.com for visit information.

2) SOAR now has a new kit circling the globe along with a Laysan Albatross "Friend of Fred". This duo is packaged with a box full of ideas, activities, information about Papahanaumokuakea, ocean debris, and other materials aimed at sparking new projects related to the sea. Also included is a journal chronicling Fred's adventures, all of which began when kids at Columbus School for Girls (CSG) learned how they could take action to help the ocean.

Currently, this treasured package is in the hands of The Bush School in Seattle.

NOTE: You might also be lucky to receive one of the earlier packages with a FRED and Friend, already traveling. To date, Fred has visited Australia, Switzerland, Israel, England, The Dominican Republic, and many corners of the United States.

27 January 2011


Last night the beaches of Marrowstone Island were littered with an unusually high number of fishing and hunting related "pieces" of plastic trash. Many were small, but the shotgun shells and shot sleeves are washing up in greater numbers than bottle caps. The shot sleeves are probably devastating since they look a lot like a squid with their cupped end and fanned out wings. You could affix these translucent plastic pieces to a hook and catch a salmon or even a harbor porpoise.

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.       

24 January 2011

DEATH BY PLASTIC (as in near or....well, who knows)

SEA LION. Found on beach, southwestern end of Indian Island, Jefferson County, Washington State.

Dropped by high tide this morning, 24 January 2011. Water depth stick alongside is two meters long. Total length, approximately 250cm, snout to tip of tail. Scars mostly skin deep. Skull still with fresh flesh, but jaws as if cleaned by beetles in a museum.........Some teeth missing in a jaw exposed. Strange to find a plastic fork there at its tongue........probably also dropped on the morning tide change. Who knows?

Not long ago, I found a freshly dead harbor seal a few miles from this site. It had a heavy black mesh plastic stuffed well into its throat and wrapped around its teeth so that the seal could not eat. To my way of thinking, it had died of plastic.

This sea lion will likely not be necropsied since no one seems to bother with small marine mammals. I have no way of knowing if the plastic fork came from the sea lion or just happened to drop with the falling tide.

If you read my post from this morning, you will know that a lot of trash arrived on Marrowstone Island over night. Marrowstone rests alongside Indian Island. In fact, they are artificially joined on their southern ends. Where I photographed but did not touch this sea lion, the US Army Corps of Engineers dug a channel, removing an ancient Indian Village and burials to do so. This excavation created a ship canal between Indian Island and the mainland, allowing safe passage for small boats that would otherwise have to round the stormy waters off the east shore of Marrowstone.

The Indian Village(s) had been occupied for centuries and remain places of importance within the Usual and Accustomed living, hunting, and fishing areas of the S'Klallam. I bring tribal youth here to share with them what I know of their ancestral homeland and waterways. Lucky for me, I learned by listening to tribal elders as a child and when I worked for the S'Klallam as their first fisheries biologist and cultural resource specialist. It seemed a bit interesting to find this sea lion today..........about ten feet from where I once found two stone tools........and then, as I looked up from the sea lion's body, a river otter ran down the beach and slipped into the ocean. The otter swam only five or six feet from shore and turned into the current and watched me for a long time. The pair of eagles, always present here, shouted out something. I suppose they hope to complete the job of reducing the sea lion to bones. But where this huge marine mammal rests for now makes me think it will simply wash out to the more distant seas to the west.


22 January 2011


I remember so well, a day in 2009. Out on Eastern Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Matt Brown walked a small group of us to a most unlikely spot. Birds hovered around our heads, screaming as loud as they did when Alfred Hitchcock chose this very place to record the audio for THE BIRDS..........We had to watch our step as we made our way through thousands of nesting terns, noddies, Laysan Albatross. We passed a small wetland Matt created to encourage, successfully, the nesting of rare Laysan Ducks.......Then, in the distance, we could see oh so silent and still, magnificent birds taller than the rest with golden heads and gleaming white bodies...........but on closer approach, we could see they were decoys, meant to attract one of the rarest large birds of the ocean, Short Tailed Albatross.

Matt (USFWS Refuge Manager) told us that one pair had visited the decoys early in the year and he had high hopes they would return one day.............Well, you are in for a treat to witness their return. Return they did this winter! One pair found the island and have successfully hatched one chick.

Here's a photo I took on Eastern Island  in 2009 of the decoys that helped attract the pair now raising a chick. This photo also includes young Laysan and Black Footed Albatross about to fledge..........

You can see a photo of the 2011 Short Tails by visiting Barb Mayer's great site, Friend of Albatross Midway (FOAM) at:


Note that the photo was taken in January, so the surrounding area is filled with nesting Laysan Albatross tucked atop their eggs. Keep in mind that it will be more than six months before the young birds of any of the albatross parents are ready to fly on their own. Remember too, that hundreds of these young birds will not survive unless we rid the sea of lighters, bottle caps, plastic shovels.........

Keep watching the FOAM site and I will also try to get updates from Matt and others out on Midway within Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Sanctuary..........Watch also for a Short Tail Albatross Friend of Fred coming soon for someone with interest in learning more about these incredible birds. And, oh, did I mention this hatching is the FIRST known on Midway?????? Much like the birth of a Blue Whale or successful rearing of a Polar Bear Cub in American icescape within Alaska to be sure.......Cause for celebration in these times of change for all creatures of planet earth.  

17 January 2011


Why? Okay, I admit it.......it's kind of fun to see what I can add to

It's getting too big for the Subaru....so where, oh where
can I put my ball of flip flops, buoys, toys, rope, stuff....???

I was thinking I might hoist it up Carl Johnson's flagpole?
Or maybe shape it a bit with a torch and pressure to create a
Whale? Fish? Giant Talking Rain Water Bottle?

Got ideas, let me know.......Want it, it's yours....... 

12 January 2011


Well, okay, the Arc is always changing its passenger list, but imagine loading up planet earth with each species, two be two. Like a good teacher and principal, greeting students at the door on a Monday morning, the greetings for each plant or animal would need to take the shape of a proper hello ------- all words carefully chosen to let each arrival believe he or she is the most important at that moment.

"Hey Slime Mold! Welcome aboard!........Bacteria, please line up for a lunch count with Mr. Smith. Single Cell ------I mean all of you, no indoor recess today!"

If you look at any depiction of the Arc painted right up to last week, you might notice a lot of fur and feather. Where are the scales, smooth skin, slimy one celled pockets of life? Could it be the Arc only has room for those creatures fitting into our favorites in zoos, aquariums, farms, or fields? What species really matter?

That latter question hit home today when I was talking story with Michael Lombardi. His work is so great, I hope all teachers, students, and parents take a look at http://www.oceanopportunity.com/ to see what he is up to.

Here is the story he told me today:

".....the most pivotally inspirational moment of my life (true story) was on May 28th, 2002. The prior two weeks I was under contract with NOAA's Caribbean Marine Research Center to orchestrate what would be their first scientific diving program involving the use of mixed-gas (varying mixtures of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen) to venture beyond the routinely studied depths of benthic marine science and conduct investigations at depths of 300 feet (90msw). In just 8 brief minutes at depth, a time restricted by the technologies available at the time, more than a dozen new, never before described species were discovered. Later, labratory investigations unveiled that half of these species produced chemicals of interest in fighting cancer and other human conditions. Imagine the potential of 'the 9th minute'.

He went on to let all of us know that his quest for that 9th minute has fueled his fire ever since............Michael was kind enough to allow me to share this and it is my hope to place his story and images from his ocean work in FILLING THE ARC, a book that explores biodiversity in all its wonders.

Here is a challenge to kids out there:   Visit http://www.oceanopportunity.com/ and create some images of new species you find there and at other ocean sites. I will include YOUR drawings of species new to science on this site and in my future publications and, of course, will send you and your class some cool stuff......maybe a penguin or porpoise for your classroom?

Ron Hirschi
Marrowstone Island
January 2011.....1/12/11

07 January 2011


Like many others, you may have looked up at the night sky in wonder, imagining life beyond our planet. Space remains a vast mystery and yet, there remain many mysteries to be discovered here on earth. Many. Not just hundreds, but millions of plants and animals new to science await discovery. Many others, certainly need our care. Right now.

I began this journey many moons ago as a child collecting seashells for my cousin's museum. Later, I studied at the University of Washington, worked for agencies, Tribes, and nonprofits. I write and teach and try to work with gifted schools and communities who understand the need to take kids outside to learn and add to the understanding of biodiversity...........the mix of life we so often either take for granted or fumble upon in school, at work, or in the news. Life. No matter how you slice it, we are all connected and need to understand, completely, how that connection works.

To date, science has named and described about two million species. This seems like a large number. I only recently understood one million on arriving on Midway Atoll where a million seabirds danced, flew, and attempted to reproduce - all in small enough space to allow me to comprehend ONE MILLION........a million albatrosses, some of which are pecking at your shirt or landing as you walk or bike through their tiny island world..........Let me just say, it is mind boggling to realize we are just now getting to the point of understanding how many more species, or kinds, of plants and animals exist on earth.

Many researchers believe there are as many as 20 or even 30 million species on earth. Imagine if there were 20 million flavors of ice cream or 30 million latte combos..........Starbuck stocks might soar?

Every year, new species are added to the list and friends and relative Tom, add new species due to their little valued work in describing species. A new stingray was added recently. A fruit bat was just discovered in the Philippines. Australians added a new box jellyfish in 2007, naming it after a man killed by this jelly's lethal sting. The listing goes on.

Hawaii tops the list in the United States with the largest number of species. It likely has the largest number of species yet to be described. There are far more endangeredc species in the islands due to their isolation and incredible land and water alterations after initial human settlement.

We lose species daily. We add species too..........and in the years ahead, this project, with help from Fred the Monkey will spread news and share projects to help in understanding and protecting as well as doing initial research into learning more about ways of working with cutting edge science. Together, we will help restore planet earth, one species at a time.

X310 Plastic Ocean Activity

It's me, Fred, the Monkey.

If you look closely, you can see I wear X310's leg band around my neck. It's to remind me of her. She was a Laysan Albatross. She was born in March 2008 and lived on Pihemanu, one of the most remote atolls on earth, now part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

You can wonder about Pihemanu and about X310. She didn't live very long, dying in June 2008. Her parents flew thousands and thousands of miles finding food for her. But x310, like lots of baby albatrosses died before she got to soar the seas. Some albatrosses fly three million miles during their life. Like X310's parents, their sea is a new challenge in food finding because of our actions on land.

Adult albatrosses fly more than a thousand miles just to get a single meal for their babies. But the ocean is full of plastic. And if you read my buddy, Ron's blog and website, you learn about plastic in the sea. It is everywhere and babies like X310 die because they eat so much plastic, they can not get it out of their stomachs.

Where's all this plastic come from?
Where does it go?

Here is a simple activity:

Get up from your chair and walk around the classroom or wherever you are sitting.

Write down each thing around you that is made of plastic.

Everybody compare lists and make a total of the plastic products.

Now, the hard part of this activity:

Can you find alternatives for the things you use, alternatives not made of plastic?
Maybe start with drinking water from a fountain or glass or reuseable container?
Maybe start a really good recycling project?
Maybe make some art from recycled plastic?
Learn more on links here on this site and others.
Talk about times with no plastic.
X310 would have appreciated if people, just a few years ago had decided to make a plastic-free world for you....
You and X310.

Learn how you can SOAR with FRED by arranging a visit with Fred and his ocean teaching kit by emailing his banana provider at whalemail@waypoint.com


What you need:

Pint size plastic beverage container with wide mouth (about 1.5 inches) ---This approximates the size of a baby albatross stomach and esophagus.

Important to have the lid too.

Enough plastic items (bottle caps, toothbrush, legos, fishing line, small chunks of nylon rope, markers, pens, more bottle caps and even a few more bottle caps since they are pretty much the most common marine debris.

Talk with your audience of kids of any age about ocean debris and the way adult albatrosses fly out a few hundred or even a thousand miles to find flying fish eggs and squid for the little ones. They return to Pihe Manu or up on the Northeast shore of Kauai, find their young one among thousands of others and begin to feed by regurgitating "food".......

As you talk about this, have the kids place one or two pieces of the plastic into the bottle.

Replace cap with each addition of plastic. Shake gently to mimic bird moving around the nesting area a bit.

Remove cap. Shake gently to mimic the bird trying to dislodge "food" that can not be digested. In a perfect ocean, this would be squid beaks, fish bones, or other natural pieces of food.

Add more plastic, repeating above until no plastic falls out of the bottle when cap is removed (bill is opened) and the bird tries and tries, but can not toss up the mass of debris. See how much and how many different kinds of plastic can be added. Does the rope tangle with the legos and bottle caps. Do five bottle caps cause a blockage in the esophagus???

In nature, the upchucked mass is like an owl pellet and is known as a bolus. Natural foods slip freely through the esophagus and more feeding can continue. Most times, a baby albatross will toss up one bolus before leaving the nesting island. Unfortunately, thousands die because plastic blocks the stomach completely.

Your feeding the baby albatross activity can lead to a lot of discussion of plastics we use, discard, then find their way into the ocean and into the mouth of a baby albatross.

If you want to have a Baby Albatross Feeding Kit, complete with some plastic items that actually came from once living albatross at Pihe Manu, Papahanaumokuakea, be in touch.