5 Ways to Reduce Your Plastic Footprint at Your Favourite Fast Food Joint

Plastic is everywhere. Some of it is important – think medical equipment, but others are just wasteful.

Every day, Canadians waste about half a kilogram of plastic packaging. Plenty of that packaging comes in the form of single use plastics when you’re out and about during your day – at the coffee shop, grabbing a quick lunch before heading back to work and more. The worst culprits of the lot are plastic pieces you use once and throw away. Here are five of the worst culprits. It’s time to say no to:

plastic straws1. Plastic Straws

When you pop in to your favourite fast food restaurant, tell them you don’t need a straw. Everyday Canadians discard 57 million straws. Switching to a glass or stainless steel straw that you can reuse can make a big impact!

plastic bottles

2. Plastic Bottles

If you need to have water in tow for your son’s football games, for instance, use refillable stainless steel bottles instead. As it stands, there are 4,000 plastic bottles used every second! Yowza. Just making this simple swap will make a huge difference.

plastic bag3. Plastic Bags

When you’re picking up a sandwich to go, say no to the bag that almost always comes with it. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture all the bags our American neighbours use in a single year. You really shouldn’t need a whole bag to tote your lunch back to the office anyway.

4. Plastic Utensils

Instead of grabbing plastic forks and knives for your fast food, bring your own reusable utensils. Just pop them in your bag and you’ll never have to resort to using disposable utensils to eat your salad.

coffee cup

5. Plastic Coffee Cups, Lids and Stirrers

Get your coffee fix without wasting disposable cups, lids and stirrers. It’s as simple as swapping these for a reusable mug! Buy a couple to keep in your car and at school or work so you’ll never be without one.

Rethink your plastic footprint when you’re out and about by taking our quiz this Rivers to Oceans Week. Learn more at RiversToOceans.ca

All Caught Up — Disentangling Whales in Newfoundland and Labrador

The fact is whales get tangled in fishing gear.

helping whale
© Whale Release and Strandings

Whether whales are in search of food, migrating or are just curious, these animals can become entangled. The rope or net of the gear can get wrapped around their head, flippers or tail. When they become entangled they can also end up dragging along a trap or pot or worse, become anchored to the ocean bottom.

Entanglements can cause injury, drowning or a slow painful death. This is one of the leading threats to whales around the world. Even though it is far from what fish harvesters intend, it is also a frequent occurrence in Newfoundland and Labrador waters.

In response to this problem — for whales and fishers alike — are whale disentanglers, such as Julie Huntington. Both Julie and her husband were presented with the Tuck Walters Environmental Award earlier this year for their dedication to wildlife conservation through their work with the Whale Release and Strandings Group.

Julie Huntington Wayne Edwell
© Whale Release and Strandings

The Canadian Wildlife Federation sat down with Julie to get her take on disentangling whales in Newfoundland and Labrador.

CWF: How did whale disentanglement start in Newfoundland and Labrador?

Julie: It started with Dr. Jon Lien. Dr. Lien was an animal behaviouralist at Memorial University working on whales in Newfoundland in the late 1970s.

He had been called up by a few local fishermen because a whale was entangled in their cod trap.

People associated Dr. Lien with all things whale. These fishermen hoped Dr. Lien could help them with this entangled whale incident.

Dr. Lien had never disentangled whales from fishing gear before. But he did recognize the need to address the animal’s welfare and the impact on fishers. This was the start of whale disentanglement in Newfoundland. It was also the first of its kind in the world!

CWF: When did you get started?

I started in the late ’80s. Dr. Lien called me up asking if I wanted a job disentangling whales. Previous to moving to Newfoundland, I had fished in Northern Australia, made prawn trawling gear, and sold fishing boats and licenses. I was comfortable working on boats and familiar with fishing gear.

CWF: How does your organization fit in?

Julie: A marine animal release program has operated in Newfoundland since 1979. In the early days of the disentanglement work, the program was led by Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Whale Research Group. Since 2001, the Whale Release and Strandings Group has run the program ever since; responding to whales, Leatherback sea turtles and basking sharks entrapped in fishing gear, ice entrapped or stranded on the shoreline. It is a marine animal release and fishers’ assistance program.

Dr. Lien started this program almost 40 years ago. We’ve pioneered the disentanglement techniques, tools and practices that have been copied and implemented all over the world. I manage WRS with my husband, Wayne Ledwell, who operates in a team to release entangled whales from fishing gear.

CWF: What is the most important thing to remember about disentanglement practices?

Julie: A disentanglement release can be done safely but it takes a community. It’s not just the WRS disentanglement team releasing the animal. It also includes the fishermen and their knowledge of the gear, the disentanglers’ experience as well as the community where the incident occurs. It’s a collaborative effort. You can’t be a cowboy — don’t do it alone.

netting on head
© Wayne Ledwell, Whale Release and Strandings

CWF: What should the public be aware of regarding whale disentanglement?

Julie: Disentangling a distressed animal of that size is dangerous. It is a skilled and specialized job. The public should be aware that they shouldn’t attempt to do it. It takes hands-on experience. They may not know the gear and won’t realize how much of the gear is not seen from the surface of the water.

For the concern of human and animal safety, make sure to call your local marine animal response agency or DFO to alert them to these incidents.

Disentanglements can be dangerous, and improperly executed responses can endanger humans and cause more harm to the animal, due to increased distress or worsened entanglement.

CWF: What is the greatest limiting factor for successful disentanglements in NL?

The weather is always a challenge. If you don’t have the weather, you can’t do it. Also taken into account are sea state, daylight and the distance from shore.

CWF: What is the most significant or difficult disentanglement you’ve ever done?

They all are! Every single one. Each incident is equally important and each disentanglement is unique. The weather conditions, whale behaviour, location and entanglement configuration make disentanglement incidents challenging, but rewarding.

Since 1979, over 1,350 whales have been reported to WRS as entangled or entrapped in fishing gear off the NL coast. I’ve been involved in hundreds of them.


Disentanglement is an ongoing problem in Canadian waters.

disentangling marine animal wrs cmara
© Whale Release and Strandings

It is the dedicated people like Julie Huntington that contribute to resolving this issue: the animals released, decreasing the downtime and damage to fisher’s gear, and the contribution to science about these incidents and marine animals that can help prevent future entanglements from occurring.

Julie concluded the interview with this:

“Education is important. It will take all of us to figure out this problem. But for now, it takes a few dedicated people to go out and do it. Any day of the week, on their weekends or holidays they go out and get the whale out as soon and as safely as possible and get the fishermen fishing again.”

Become a Part of The Watch! Join hundreds of coastal Canadians who live alongside some of our most endangered species — animals that face many dangers in our coastal oceans. Learn what to do if you come across a marine animal emergency by becoming a part of The Watch.

#StopSingleUse Plastic Starting This Earth Day

Have you ever stopped think about how much single-use plastic you use every day?

From the time you wake up to the time you go to bed, there are probably dozens of plastic items that you encounter:  sandwiches covered in plastic wrap, coffee lids from our favourite coffee shops, plastic bags from the errands we do over our lunch hour, straws from our favourite fast food restaurant, and plastic water bottles. Most of these things are used once and then tossed away. This is called “single-use plastic.”

Single-use plastics make up 50% of the plastic litter in our oceans. The problem is, once plastic enters the ocean it becomes almost impossible to get rid of and animals end up eating or getting entangled in plastic. They may also be affected by harmful chemicals that come off of the plastics. And these impacts aren’t limited to just one type of animal. Whales, turtles, fish, birds, sea lions and the tiniest plankton are affected. Even humans! A recent study showed that most sea salt contains microscopic pieces of plastic.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Here are five easy ways that you and your family can reduce plastic pollution and help protect ocean animals.


Bring a reusable grocery bag.

Cloth grocery bag

In Canada, people take home 55 million plastic bags each week, or 2.86 billion plastic bags every year. Now that is shocking! Sea turtles are known to eat plastic bags because, to turtles, bags look just like jellyfish. The alternative couldn’t be easier – keep reusable bags in the trunk of your car. That way you always have them when they’re needed!

Avoid plastic water bottles.

There are 4,000 plastic bottles used every second. Why is this such a bad thing? Because plastic never really disappears. It just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. It takes 450 years for one plastic bottle to break apart in the ocean or a landfill. Using a reusable water bottle is a simple change with big impact!

Host an eco-friendly birthday party.

paper party decorations

Balloons might be fun for children’s parties, but did you know that some marine animals mistake balloons for food? Switch to more eco-friendly and reusable decorations at your next birthday party and start a trend! Encourage your guests to use recycled paper as gift wrap. Avoid putting plastic trinkets into your loot bags. And try using jars instead of plastic cups and plastic bottles.

Skip the plastic straw.

In Canada alone, 57 million straws are used and tossed every day. In the U.S., 500 million straws are used every day. That’s a lot of straws! The best thing to do is avoid straws completely. If you need one, use a paper straw or a re-usable steel straw. Remember: it’s okay to say “no straw please” at a restaurant.

Pack a litter-free lunch.

litterless lunch

Instead of using plastic wrap and plastic bags to store your lunch, choose a glass container that you can use over and over again. Try wrapping your sandwich in pieces of fabric (or a bandanna) and packing your lunch in glass containers.

There’s no doubt that plastic has provided amazing contributions and benefits to society. For instance, plastic car parts make cars lighter and more fuel efficient, plastic insulation can make our homes more energy efficient and thanks to plastics, advances are being made in space exploration.

But…pieces of plastic are everywhere in our oceans. Around 8 million metric tons flows into the ocean every year. If things continue, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050! Recycling helps, but not all plastics are recyclable. If we want to make the world a healthier place for all of us, the best thing to do is reduce how much plastic we use every day.

Learn more about plastics in our waters and what you can do about it!

A Resolution We Must Keep

Our thanks to the Toronto Star for its January 2nd editorial calling on the federal government to make a New Year’s resolution to save the critically endangered North Atlantic Right Whale.

The Canadian Wildlife Federation has been leading the charge for national support of Canada’s whale species; the need for long-term funding, conservation policies, and scientific research to support marine conservation. This has include three priority recommendations:

  • Support for the regional non-governmental organizations who respond to marine animal incidents along our coasts, and are a part of the Canadian Marine Animal Response Alliance (CMARA).
  • Funding for new technologies that will allow us to detect whales (such as underwater sound-activated drones).
  • Changing fishing (e.g. temporary closures) and shipping practices (e.g. speed restrictions) in those places and times where whales are common.

© Marine Animal Response Society

On December 27, the Toronto Star published a comprehensive feature story about the 12 Right Whales that died in Canadian waters in 2017. Almost all of the whales were conclusively killed as a result of human actions – strikes from ships and entanglements in fishing gear. In plain language: these deaths were preventable.

There are only about 450 Right Whales left in the world and only 100 are breeding females. Mark Baumgartner, chair of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium (NARWC) summarized the situation this way:

“We don’t have decades to fix this problem…we only have a couple years. And the longer we wait, the harder the problem will be to fix.”

While the Right Whale story is shocking, it is not the only whale population in need of our attention. Many other whale populations are also endangered, including Blue, Fin, Sei, Beluga and Killer whales. In fact, if we don’t commit to preventing careless harm to marine wildlife by our activities in the oceans, it is likely we will lose other species as well.

The media are not alone in recognizing this increasingly grim situation. Many Canadians are also aware of this, and they want to see things change. The New Year brought us the dramatic rescue of a pilot whale stranded on a beach in Nova Scotia. Although this rescue was led by the very capable members of the Marine Animal Response Society, what was notable was the incredible response from the community! Thanks to the help of over 100 volunteers, the whale was helped back into the water and swam away hopefully to be reunited with its pod.

This story reminds us that Canadians have a deep connection to their wildlife; even marine species that we see so rarely, like pilot whales! Our wildlife define a part of who we are, and Canadians want to do the right thing to protect these living treasures.

Thank you to the Toronto Star and the other media for adding to the awareness of these issues.

Thank you to the Canadian government for its unprecedented, and preliminary, actions to reduce the harm to these species.

A heartfelt thank you to the members of Canada’s marine animal response organizations for their tireless work to investigate and to help Canada’s marine wildlife.

Finally, thank you to CWF supporters who give us the ability to work for better wildlife conservation in our oceans. I believe that we all want the best for these animals. It’s just time to prove it.

To learn more about Right Whales, please watch our Hinterland Who’s Who video.

To find out more about whales in general, check out our educational resources.

You can also support marine conservation by adopting a beluga whale.

Season Wrap-Up: Lessons from a Conservation Crisis

As the shock of the terrible events of this year begins to wear off, a series of meetings are underway to begin preparing for the future. These meetings are motivated by one question: how do we save the Right Whale?

© Marine Animal Response Society
The 12th North Atlantic Right Whale found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Photo: Marine Animal Response Society

Taking a History Lesson

The first step is to understand what happened and how. In 2015 and 2016, aerial, vessel and glider surveys conducted in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence identified a feeding area for the North Atlantic Right Whale. Four Right Whale deaths occurred within this area during these two years, as far as we know.

May 2017: Two cohorts of snow crab in the southern Gulf fishery came into commercial age at the same time, which resulted in a doubling of snow crab quota for the fishery, and therefore increased fishing effort. We hadn’t expected Right Whales to be in the Gulf as early as May (the beginning of the snow crab season), but acoustic data from the Cabot Strait area later showed the animals entering the Gulf in the first week of May. This increased the chances of Right Whales getting entangled in fishing gear and introduced more obstacles for Right whales in the water.

June 2017: At the beginning of the summer, whales began dying, due to blunt force trauma from ship strike and snow crab gear entanglement.

July – September 2017: By mid-September, 12 animals had been found, as well as a number of live entangled animals. More than a quarter of the population was present in the Gulf this summer, while our glider in Roseway Basin was mostly silent (that is, very few Right Whale were detected there). As the snow crab fishery closure and vessel speed restrictions were imposed in the region, glider, aerial and vessel survey effort ramped up in the Gulf this year and expanded the known habitat area in the Gulf substantially. Right Whales remain in the Gulf to this day.

Where Do We Go From Here?

As there are only 100 breeding females left in the entire population, Right Whales are in serious trouble. However, the mortality event of this year has increased our motivation even further to find solutions to conserve this species. Three issues need to be addressed moving forward: how to reduce fishing gear entanglements, how to reduce ship strike risk, and how to continue monitoring for these animals.

Notice the vertical lines anchoring the gillnet from the surface to the ocean bottom. These vertical ropes are an entanglement risk to whales. Photo: NOAA.

Changing Fishing Gear

On the fishing gear side, ropeless gear seems to be a long-term solution, and a solution advocated by the Right Whale conservation community. Ropeless gear eliminates vertical lines in the water that Right Whales and other animals become entangled in. There are experimental technologies that have been prototyped, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada was supportive of developing these technologies in his recent roundtable meeting on November 9th.

Reducing Ship Strikes

On the ship strike side, speed restrictions and rerouting have successfully reduced ship strike risk to these animals in other parts of the Right Whale range, and these are the only solutions available. We are working with our industry and government partners to examine options for future years. This is complicated by the fact that the area occupied by Right Whales in the southern Gulf is very large, and the shipping channel very narrow. To help with this, the WHaLE project is developing a real-time alerting system for vessels transiting Canadian waters to give vessel operators the opportunity to respond to unexpected presence of Right Whales, as occurred in 2015.

Kim Davies

Keeping Our Ears on the Situation

Finally, on the monitoring side, we are ramping up the glider operations for spring and summer of 2018, in collaboration with our many colleagues in the air and on the water, and we will be back next year!

To learn more about the WHaLE project, visit our website: CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.

Understanding the Incident Report for the 2017 North Atlantic Right Whale Mortality Event in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

During the summer of 2017, we seemed to be discovering dead or entangled North Atlantic Right Whales every week in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Throughout this catastrophe, teams of specialists volunteered to do detailed examinations of the dead bodies. These are called necropsies.

With help from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), seven carcasses were ultimately towed to shore so that these necropsies could be performed. They didn’t wait until the animals were towed ashore before these dedicated specialists set to work going out to sea and climbing on the bodies of the dead animals so they could take samples.

On October 5, a detailed report was released to present the findings of the necropsies. The Incident Report was compiled by members of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative (Atlantic region, and Québec region), as well as the Marine Animal Response Society, with contributions by numerous partners.

Below are the main findings of the report:

In total, 12 Right Whales were found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

  • Necropsies were done on seven of the dead whales.
  • Four of the whales were killed by a violent strike by something very large.
  • Two of the whales died as a result of being entangled in ropes.
  • The cause of death of one whale could not be determined because it was too decomposed (although there was evidence this whale was also hit by something large, but this couldn’t be confirmed as the cause of death).
  • They have also determined that neither biotoxins (such as a red tide), disease, nor starvation had any role in the deaths of these whales.
© Marine Animal Response Society
Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative collects samples from a female North Atlantic Right Whale carcass. Photo: Marine Animal Response Society.

Five other Right Whales were also observed entangled during the summer.

  • Two of these animals were freed because of the successful disentanglement attempts by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team with support from DFO.
  • One whale freed itself because it was seen at a later date with no gear attached to it.
  • The remaining two whales have not been re-sighted so they may still be entangled.
  • Six of the seven entangled animals (two of the dead animals and the five of the live animals), were entangled by snow crab gear.

The Incident Report was dedicated to Joe Howlett, the specialist with the Campobello Whale Rescue Team who disentangled two of the entangled Right Whales, but died as he freed the last animal.

The effect of human activity on North Atlantic Right Whales is real and serious to their existence. Although many scientists and conservation organizations have been identifying these threats for many years, the events of the summer of 2017 showed this very clearly.

We need to act, or North Atlantic Right Whales will be gone forever.

Your Right Whale Questions Answered

With the 11th North Atlantic Right Whale found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, totaling 14 mortalities in the Atlantic since June, there are many questions surrounding the largest mortality event for this endangered species since right whales were hunted.

Although the investigation into this mortality event has not concluded, it has sparked many question from the public about Right Whales, from why do whales get entangled in fishing gear to why don’t we tag whales?

We’ve gathered together researchers to discuss what threatens Right Whales and why, and we’ve also come up with potential solutions to these threats and how we can learn more about this species. Answering your most burning questions are two researchers from the Whale Habitat and Listening Experiment (WHaLE): Dr. Chris Taggart, the WHaLE principal investigator and Professor of Oceanography at Dalhousie University, and Dr. Kim Davies, a postdoctoral oceanographer and author of many of the WHaLE blog posts you’ve been following this summer; as well as Dr. Sean Brillant, the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s own senior conservation biologist.

Programs like WHaLE help us answer these questions and learn more about right whales and other species. This information can assist to better protect them and the oceans we all use.

Share this video to help others answer their questions about the North Atlantic right whale. To follow along with us as we search for Canada’s great whales, check out our website CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.

Eight Ways To Reduce Your Plastic Footprint

There are an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean worldwide, with 8 million metric tons added to the ocean every year. Wildlife are dying at a rapid pace because they end up entangled in plastic or eating plastic that is tossed away.

It’s time to rethink plastic and take a hard look at how we use plastics every day. By swapping a few everyday plastic items for  more sustainable alternatives, we can help reduce plastic pollution and save our oceans and wildlife.

Reduce Your Single-Use Plastics

For more tips on reducing plastic at home, please visit our website: http://bit.ly/PlasticFootprint101

Have you signed the plastics reduction petition?

The 30 seconds that it takes you to sign this petition will help create a wave  of change. Join thousands of Canadians across the country in encouraging our federal government to make Canada an international leader yet again in reducing plastic waste in our rivers, lakes, and oceans by recommitting to and advancing the national Sustainable Packaging initiative set out in 2012 to further move Canada away from single-use plastics.

Let’s turn the tide on single-use plastic pollution and save our ocean. Visit CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca to sign the petition.

Why I care so much about plastic pollution

When I learned that more plastic has been produced in the last 10 years than in the previous century,  I asked myself  “When did we become the ‘plastic’ generation?”

Plastic waste is collecting in our oceans and it is increasing at an alarming rate, and sadly there are no signs of it stopping! We are now producing nearly 330 million metric tons of new plastic every year and half of this is only designed for single-use.

As my eyes were opened to the issues of plastic waste and as I began to rethink my own plastic lifestyle, it became shockingly apparent to me how pervasive plastic is and how we have become blind to its over use. From bags to cups, straws and lids, our use of plastic is endless and often unnecessary.

Pre-peeled garlic and orange segments in plastic tubs line the shelves of my local supermarket. The most shocking thing I have seen at the store was a plastic wrapped coconut. Nature provides a shell or a skin, yet we take it off and wrap it in a petroleum based, man-made, indestructible material. All in the name of “sanitation” and “convenience”.

Plastic Oceans Foundation Facts


It is estimated that over 2.86-billion bags are used annually in Canada – 200 for every one of us! It takes 250 milliliters of petroleum oil and three litres of water to make a one litre plastic water bottle.  And 4,000 plastic water bottles are used every second! Single use plastics have an average use span of only 12 minutes.

I truly believe that we need to rethink our use of plastic. We need to consider whether the plastic we accept daily is destined for “single use” and most importantly, is it “essential” that we accept it? I have made it my mission to help by inspiring Canadians to “rethink plastic” and help end our acceptance of plastic as a risk-free, ‘disposable’ material of convenience and in turn, increase demand for alternatives to single-use plastics.

Canada is the world’s second largest country at around 10 million square kilometres in size so Plastic Oceans Foundation Canada was incorporated as a Federal Not for Profit in November 2016, to connect Canadians to a global problem by offering local solutions. We are educating and inspiring through the power of film and other media, as a central HUB, that connects Canadians to groups working across the country on solutions, whether that be alternatives to plastic or its recovery and recycling. It is only through awareness of the issue that people will begin to care and through easy access to the alternatives, that behaviour will begin to change.

Working together, we can tell the story of the issues of plastic pollution and celebrate all the solutions across different geographical locations and demographics in Canada, whilst continuously activating people to make changes in their own lives.

Watch this:

The Canadian Wildlife Federation “Stop Single Use Plastic” petition and our ongoing collaborative awareness campaign will trigger real social change toward how we think about plastic and the steps we can all take to safeguard the oceans, animal life, and our own health.

Saving the North Atlantic Right Whale

There are only about 500 North Atlantic Right Whales left in the world. Based on scarring patterns, it is estimated that more than 100 of these whales get entangled in fishing gear every year.

Between two and six North Atlantic Right Whales die every year as a result.

Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin
Map of Atlantic Canada showing the two Canadian Species at Risk Act Critical Habitats recommended for seasonal closure: Grand Manan Basin and Roseway Basin.

We have been working to discover where exactly North Atlantic Right Whales are most in danger on the Atlantic coast. They are known to aggregate in two areas – the Grand Manan Basin, Bay of Fundy and the Roseway Basin, Scotian Shelf. By closing these fishing areas in July and August, we could reduce the risk of entanglement by 30 per cent! It’s the difference between extinction and survival for this species.

Now that we know where North Atlantic Right Whales face the most at risk, our next step is to convince the  government to block fishing in these two areas over the summer.

Help spread the word about the risk to North Atlantic Right Whales by sharing this video. To follow along as we discover whales across the Atlantic, check out our website: CanadianWildlifeFederation.ca/Whales.