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water pollution

Parents everywhere are empathizing with this orca mom grieving the loss of its newborn.

The orca's baby died about 30 minutes after it was born in Puget Sound, off the coast of Washington state, but the mother had a hard time letting go. For three days, whale researchers observed her carrying the calf's body, carefully balancing it on her head as she swam. Even through rough waters, when the baby slipped and started to fall, the grieving mama, known to researchers as J35, dived deep to lift it back up again.

“It is horrible. This is an animal that is a sentient being. It understands the social bonds that it has with the rest...


Posted by Orca Conservancy on Wednesday, July 25, 2018

This behavior is a well-documented expression of grief among whales and dolphins, but that doesn't make it less devastating. "It is just absolutely gut-wrenching to watch," said Taylor Shedd of Soundwatch — a program that monitors whale-watching vessels and educates boaters to reduce disturbance to marine life — in The Seattle Times.

To see such grief in any species grabs us right in the heart; many people can understand the unwillingness of a parent to let go of a child they have lost.

But what was most touching was the beautiful way the orca mom's pod responded to the baby's death.

Orcas live in pods of up to 40 members who help one another hunt and care for young. Lodie Budwill of the Center for Whale Research observed J35 and her pod the day her baby died. She said a group of female orcas gathered in a tight circle with J35 and remained in that formation for at least two hours. She described the scene for the Times:

"It was beautiful to observe, yet very sad knowing what had taken place earlier in the day. The sun set, the moon rose and they remained centered in the moonbeam, continuing their circular surfacing. I perceived this to be a ceremony or ritual of some sort. It was no doubt a circle of family love and devotion. After observing for hours, it was hard to hold my binoculars up any longer."

That stunning display is strikingly similar to the way loved ones often react when a human parent loses a child — encircling them with shared grief, solidarity, and support.

Our empathy for these creatures should push us to help save them.

People's strong emotional reactions to J35's grief shows how connected we are, even with animals who are physically different from us in almost every way. Despite our vastly different existences, we can see ourselves or people we know reflected in this orca mom's story. But it's not just J35 who needs our help.

Southern resident orcas in the Puget Sound are critically endangered. While orca pods traditionally see four or five births per year, this baby was the first born in three years to this particular pod. Not only was it a loss for J35, it was a loss for the entire orca species in this area.

It's almost as though J35 held her baby up for days as a warning, saying, "Look at what is happening to us. Do something, please."

Here's how we can help.

Orcas are one of the most contaminated marine mammals because they consume the pollutants built up in animals and organisms below them in the food chain. Pushing for legislation that limits chemicals, pesticides, and other contaminants from flowing into the ocean is one actionable step, along with reducing physical pollutants such as plastics.

Puget Sound whales are also suffering from dwindling numbers of their main food, big Chinook salmon, which are also endangered. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order in May 2018 to come up with solutions for both species.

But the task is daunting and more research is needed. There are multiple organizations dedicated to orca research and conservation. Financially supporting those organizations, such as the Center for Whale Research and the Orca Conservancy, can be an effective way for ordinary people to make a real difference for these majestic creatures.

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Don't eat these popsicles.

Just, just don't. All images via Hung I-chen, used with permission.

Hung I-chen, Guo Yi-hui, and Cheng Yu-ti, three students from the National Taiwan University of Arts, have created a stunning and frankly icky art project — 100 popsicles, filled to the brim with dirt, trash, and muck.


Pictured: muck.

Water weeds, bottle caps, and slime float in place, frozen like bugs in amber.

There are probably bugs in there too, by the way.

The water for each popsicle was collected from polluted sites right on the island.

Not grape-flavored.

The samples came from a hundred different lakes, rivers, and beaches, lending each creation a unique flavor, like "New Huwei Creek" or "Large Ditch in Tianwei." The water samples were first frozen, then recreated in polyester resin. Each was given a custom wrapper.

Ah yes, "Ditch" — my favorite.

The project, simply titled "Polluted Water Popsicles," was made in response to a rise in water pollution throughout Taiwan.

Taiwan's rapid economic growth and urbanization has revolutionized the country, but it also has led to a rise in pollution and trash as well. A lot of that ends up in lakes and streams. The students told Quartz they hope this will raise people's awareness of the problem.

Since its debut, the project's gone viral. They've even made it into an art exhibition in Taipei.

Water pollution is a serious problem, and it's important to take action.

It looks like someone dumped a lint trap in there.

Remember to watch where your garbage goes, support environmental organizations, and, if you're looking for the perfect summer field trip, maybe check out a local river or beach cleanup event.

When you're done, you can reward yourself with a popsicle. A real one. Just make sure that wrapper gets where it needs to go — a recycling or garbage can.

Heroes

A very low-tech approach to cleaning the ocean could have big results.

'It's a big mission, but it can be done. In fact, we're doing it right now.'

Two Australian surfers just came up with a really neat way to help clean the ocean.

It's called the Seabin, and it's the brainchild of Andrew Turton and Pete Ceglinski. They call it "a simple solution to our oceans' pollution."



It lives up to its name, looking like a bin in the sea.

Here's how it works.

Water and trash flow through the bin. The trash gets caught in the bin, while the water gets pulled up through a pump on the dock. Then a water pump separates oil from the water, and the water flows back down where it started, sans trash.

Image from The Seabin Project, used with permission.

The trash is collected by simply pulling the Seabin out of the water and dumping it out.

Ewwww ... you might have been swimming in that.

While other ocean-cleaning ideas are being put into place right now, the Seabin is a bit different.

Take, for example, The Ocean Cleanup, a 1.2-mile-long system slated for launch in 2016. The Ocean Cleanup collects plastic as it washes through the structure. The Seabin, as you can see, is a tiiiiiiiny bit smaller than that.


OK, a LOT smaller.

And while The Ocean Cleanup will handle plastic in the deeper ocean, the Seabin is made primarily for docks, marinas, and yacht clubs. And unlike The Ocean Cleanup, the Seabin can also capture and separate oil from the water, too, which is a big deal.

Plus, a single Seabin can collect more than a half ton of trash per year.

That's a little over 1,200 pounds, to be more specific. The creators plan to make future Seabins out of recycled plastic, too.

“One of the goals is to make the Seabin from our own plastics to create another Seabin to capture more; it’s a domino effect,” the creators explained in a video. “The second goal is to create a world where we don’t need the Seabin.”

For now, we need all the help we can get when it comes to our oceans.

Every year, 8 million tons of plastic wind up in the ocean, and it's estimated that the ocean is currently home to around 5.25 trillion (with a "t") pieces of plastic.

A man removes plastic bags and other rubbish from Manila Bay. Photo by Jay Directo/AFP/Getty Images.

"It's a big mission, but it can be done. In fact, we're doing it right now."

That's the message Seabin creators have for the world. It's easy to feel hopeless and throw your hands up in defeat, but if we all work together to find the right combination of antipollution tactics, we can reclaim clean, beautiful oceans.