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Dr. Terrie Williams : Taking Plastic Out of Our Oceans

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Imagine standing with a team of people and sticking your hand into a Sperm Whale’s stomach to investigate its cause of death to then pull out a plastic bag which was lodged in the whale’s intestines. That is what Dr. Terrie Williams did this summer in California.

Dr. Williams, Director of the Williams Lab at University of Santa Cruz, California is a Comparative Physiologist meaning she studies the behaviors and methods of animals in their environment that would most benefit humans. What she witnesses regarding ocean pollution is concerning her. While talking about the Sperm Whale death, she explained that animals are being killed in large numbers by plastic in the ocean and on land. She, like many other scientists, is alarmed about the rapid decline of animals on our planet. Dr. Williams said the value of one Sperm Whale is estimated at $1.2 million, and a plastic bag was cause of death. According to Meri (Maine Environmental Research Institute), “Each year, Americans use an average of 500 plastic bags, and each year, 100,000 seabirds and marine mammals die due to plastic debris.”

Dr. Williams has studied most of our largest animals from elephants, tigers, whales, dolphins, and manatees, but one of her particular favorites is seals. She is predominately concerned about the fate of a particular species: the Monk seal. Seals have died in such large numbers from ocean pollutants leaving Monk Seals on the Endangered Species list – there are approximately 1,100 left in the world. According to Dr. Williams, “There are more Starbucks in San Francisco than there are Monk Seals left.”

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To raise awareness of Monk Seals and to make the connection between our lifestyles and its effects on marine life, Dr. Williams introduces us to Ho’ailona, a rescued Hawaiian monk seal, in her website. Through Ho’ailona, one adorable seal, we come to know a Monk Seal up close. We watch his rescue and recovery and leave with a better understanding of this amazing creature. She has created a YouTube video outlining the story of how one seal, Ho’ailona, has inspired children across the country to do plastic clean-ups. Ho’ailona also has over 450 fans on Facebook.

Dr. Williams feels strongly about our use and overuse of plastic. “If we could do one thing in our country regarding plastic – we must eliminate plastic bags – it is killing our animals. “E tanglement in old fishing lines, nets, plastic bags, broken plastic bottles and other debris injure or kill Hawaiian monk seals as well as dolphins and whales around the world every day.” Dr. Williams states prevention of injuries and death from plastic pollution is fairly simple. “It requires education and awareness to the issue and a change of habits.”

For information, please visit her website at:

“There are more giant panda bears in the wild than there are Hawaiian monk seals and there are more Starbucks coffee shops in the San Francisco area than there are Hawaiian monk seals.”

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