Our Whale Tale: Plastic Pollution in the Ocean
Our ocean is teeming with marine life...and, sadly, tons (and tons) of plastic. With our latest installation, we're trying to change that in a big way.
So, What's with the Plastic Whale?
Plastic waste in the ocean isn't a run-of-the-mill, small problem. It's an enormous one, almost impossible to visualize. Which is why we built an 82-foot-long blue whale made entirely out of plastic waste. As a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the ocean, we wanted to talk about one of the most important issues we're currently facing—plastic trash in the ocean. Consider this: Every nine minutes, plastic weighing as much as a blue whale (about 300,000 pounds) ends up in the ocean. We want to change that, and we hope you'll come to Crissy Field October 13 through January 13 to see the whale and join the fight to save the ocean.
Our Ocean-Loving Partners: No one builds a giant, plastic trash whale alone. We got a lot of support from: the National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, Hub Strategy & Communication, Building 180 and Bay Area artists Joel Dean Stockdill and Yustina Salnikova.
Plastic Allies: We're also very grateful to all of the organizations who donated plastic trash and offered their expertise to make this possible. Thanks to: El Cerrito Recycling Center, GreenWaste, Berkeley Waste Management Center, Warehouse Plastics, Fineline Metals Inc., Rhbu Engineering, Questa Engineering Corporation and our many volunteers.
Beyond the Whale: Our Plastic Pollution Problem
While our plastic whale is enormous, the world's plastic pollution problem is even bigger. That's because plastic is everywhere. We eat and drink from it, the products we buy are packaged in it and sometimes our clothes are made from it. The thing is, most of these items end up in the trash. Poof. Gone. Just like that. Except the truth is, plastic doesn't just disappear.
While plastic breaks into smaller and smaller pieces over time, it never biodegrades. As in never-never. That means something used once or twice can pollute the ocean for hundreds to thousands of years. And with so much plastic waste being discarded, scientists are starting to find plastic in all sorts of strange places—in polar sea ice, in gyres, submerged in ocean trenches and, of course, floating in the waves (which bring some of it right back to shore).
Eating plastic isn't just a little unhealthy. It's actually toxic since plastic is made of chemicals like bisphenol-A (to name one). Even worse, plastic actually becomes more toxic in the ocean.
How? Plastic acts like a sponge, soaking up pollutants and pesticides from the surrounding sea water. Those concentrated toxins get passed up the food chain as big animals eat smaller ones, paying it forward in the worst possible way. Monterey Bay Aquarium researchers and other scientists are only beginning to explore the impact this has on ocean wildlife and its ecosystems.
What You Can Do
Now for the good news: There are actually a lot of things you can do (some small, some a little bit bigger) to help protect the ocean.
#1 Talk to local and national decision-makers
#2 Drive the market
#3 BYOC (Bring your own container)
#4 Be social
#5 Remember the 5 Rs
Saving the ocean is also about your mindset:
What We're Doing
At the Aquarium, we're walking the talk. Here's some of what we're working on:
- We're partnering with 21 leading aquariums nationwide for collective action to reduce the sources of ocean plastic pollution.
- We supported California's successful Straws On Request bill. Beginning January 1, dine-in, full-service restaurants will be required to provide a straw only upon request by the customer.
- In 2016, we urged Californians to vote yes on Proposition 67, which passed with 53 percent approval—making California the first state in the nation to ban single-use carryout bags.
- We're reducing the use of plastic in Aquarium operations, including our cafe and retail shops, and stepping up our recycling efforts.
- Our exhibits, programs and volunteer guides help educate the Aquarium's 2 million annual visitors about the impacts of ocean plastic pollution, and what each of us can do to help solve the problem.
- We spark conversations about plastic pollution among our 3 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and our Future of the Ocean blog.
- We engage with elected officials, advocating for science-based policy action to address the problem of ocean plastic pollution.
- Our annual Ocean Plastic Pollution Summit prepares teachers to dive into the issue of plastic pollution, and its solutions, with their students, schools and surrounding communities.