Whale watching holidays are among the most popular of all nature-based tourism activities. Specialised operators offer dedicated whale watching holidays to destinations as diverse as the Azores, Norway's Lofoten Islands and California, providing the opportunity to see cetaceans in their wild, natural habitat – a true privilege. Like so much of the world's wildlife, however, the very survival of these magnificent creatures is in jeopardy due to human actions.
One of the most high profile conservation issues of contemporary times is that of plastic pollution in our oceans. The problem affects all our marine life, but it's what it's doing to whales in particular that is galvanizing conservationists to focus more attention on this entirely man-made problem.
Attenborough Shines a Light
The BBC's acclaimed documentary series, Blue Planet II, has thrilled viewers all over the world, providing a fascinating lens into life in the most mysterious and unexplored parts of the planet – our oceans. Presented and narrated by Sir David Attenborough, this compelling natural history series is a culmination of over four years of filming. Attenborough has taken the opportunity to use the final episode of the series as a platform to shine a light on plastic pollution in our oceans, and has called on every one of us as individuals to step up and take responsibility to combat the issue.
The Peril of Plastic Pollution
With so much plastic waste being dumped in our oceans (an estimated 12 million tonnes annually), whales are ingesting vast amounts of toxins as they feed. Levels of toxicity accumulate in their bodies over time and are passed on through the mothers' milk to the calves. In heart-wrenching footage in the Atlantic Ocean, Attenborough captured a mother pilot whale supporting a dead new born calf, surrounded by other adults refusing to feed – in apparent sympathy. The footage resonated with viewers as powerful proof of how devastating and far reaching the problem really is.
Household rubbish is polluting all the world's oceans, without exception, and has infiltrated even the most remote regions. Scientists have discovered plastics in the stomachs of marine animals in the Mariana Trench – the deepest ocean on the planet. During the filming of Blue Planet II levels of plastic waste were recorded by Attenborough's team, with the highest volume found in the most remote regions. This is due to the effect of swirling currents called gyres, which gather the waste into massive "garbage patches" in the centre of the oceans, illuminating the problem as a truly global one.
A Call for Action
In his narration of the final episode of Blue Planet II, Attenborough calls for responsibility at an individual level, saying, "We're at a unique place in history. Never before have we had such an awareness of what we're doing to the planet, and never before have we had the power to do something about it." As consumers, committing to the reduction of our personal plastic use may appear to be a drop in the ocean, but on a global scale has the ability to enact a massive effect.
Experience the Magic of Whale Watching Holidays
Responsible eco-tourism is another way in which awareness is being raised about the pressing issue of plastic pollutants. Anyone who experiences an encounter with the diverse and fascinating marine life of our oceans can't help but gain a deeper understanding of how our actions are affecting its survival. As Sir David Attenborough so simply and eloquently puts it: "The future of all life on Earth depends on us."
Marissa Ellis-Snow is a freelance nature writer with a special interest in whale watching. As a passionate lover of marine wildlife, Marissa chooses the expert-led whale watching holidays organised by Naturetrek, which have brought her unforgettable sightings of a wide range of wildlife in some of the most spectacular regions on Earth.