Arctic Whale – An Expedition to Investigate the threat of Ocean Plastic

posted on October 01, 2019

In May this year, the Arctic Whale team set sail aboard the expedition yacht Barba to undertake valuable research into the effect that plastic is having on our oceans, whale populations and wider marine life. Photo: Conor McDonnell / Barba.no

In May this year, the Arctic Whale team set sail aboard the expedition yacht Barba to undertake valuable research into the effect that plastic is having on our oceans, whale populations and wider marine life. Departing from Stavanger, Norway, they sailed to Húsavík, Iceland, via both the Shetland Islands and the Faroe Islands on the 2-month expedition. “The Arctic Whale project is about using whales as marine ambassadors, and we have a special focus on marine plastic pollution,” notes co-founder and captain Andreas B. Heide. “Whales are the superstars of the oceans, and by using them to help raise awareness around the misuse of plastic, we can help reduce the consumption of it.”

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Diane Seda, onboard scientist, using the manta trawl to sample the north atlantic ocean for microplastic. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

Today, it is estimated that 8-million tons of plastic accumulates in our oceans each year, of which almost 240,000 tons are microplastics. On a macro-level, which includes plastic bags, disused fishing nets and single-use bottles, approximately 100,000 marine mammals and turtles, alongside 1-million seabirds die each year as a direct effect of ocean plastics. Microplastics, those categorised as particles smaller than 5mm in diameter, have been documented thus far in 100 species and impact organisms at numerous levels of biological organisation related to changes in gene expression, tumour promotion and death. And it is the microplastic epidemic that the Arctic Whale’s dedicated team of scientists focussed on. Using ground-breaking scientific techniques, they documented the microplastic levels in the waters and whales of the North Atlantic. Drones were utilised for sampling whale breath, whale blubber samples were taken to study under an electron microscope, and a manta trawl was used to test the water itself for microplastic particles. Alongside the scientific research undertaken, world-class storytellers documented the research to further spread the message of conservation to a global audience. As Heide notes, “The ocean has become a soup of plastic, and no one truly knows how these microplastics affect the marine environment. How can we continue to take these risks?”

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A drone with a cage holding a petri dish is flown over a breaching whale so that samples of its blow can be collected and tested for pollutants. Photo: Andreas B.Heide / Barba.no

Arctic Whale is currently processing the findings from its expedition and expect preliminary results in Q1 2020. Until this moment, they will continue to spread the message for the promotion of healthier oceans through storytelling via the use of photography, videography and the written word. They would like to express their gratitude to all contributors, sponsors, partners and volunteers, without whom the expedition would not have been possible. As co-founder and Impact Manager Sandra C. Ness attests, “We really believe in the shift of mindset within the global community and hope our message can raise awareness and make an impact.”

ABOUT ARCTIC WHALE

Arctic Whale was founded in 2018 by Norwegians Andreas B. Heide & Sandra C. Ness. Together with a team of passionate conservationists, scientists and storytellers, their mission is to highlight the threat of plastic pollution and human impact on our oceans and inspire action for change.

NOTES TO EDITORS

For more information on the Arctic Whale expedition, the individuals involved and to view a selection of assets, please click here and visit arcticwhale.no

To contact Andreas B. Heide, please email him at [email protected]

To contact Sandra C. Ness, please email her at [email protected]

Photo: Conor McDonnell

Text: Hugh Francis Anderson