Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Webinar: Ocean, Art, and Action with Skateboarding Icon and Environmentalist Peggy Oki

Webinar: Ocean, Art, and Action with Skateboarding Icon and Environmentalist Peggy Oki

June 8, 2022

Naimah Muhammad:

Thank you for joining us and welcome to today's conversation, "Ocean, Art, and Action with Skateboarding Icon and Environmentalist Peggy Oki." This program is presented by the National Museum of Natural History as part of our World Ocean Day events, which is today, June 8th. And my name is Naimah Muhammad, I am one of the public program coordinators at the Natural History Museum. I'm an African American woman with curly hair, wearing a white shirt in front of a pinkish background with a flower, a bouquet of flowers in the background as well. And it's my pleasure to welcome you today's event.

Before I introduce our main speaker and our moderator, I want to give you the lay of the land of what to expect today. We'll start with an opening presentation by Peggy Oki and then we'll move to a moderated conversation. And lastly, we'll have a chance to answer your questions in the audience. So this hour flies by, so you can help us get through as many questions as possible during the audience Q&A, by submitting your questions in the Q&A box, which is located at the bottom of the Zoom interface. And you can submit these questions at any point during the program as you have them, and we'll get through as many as possible. The Q&A box is also where we'll be submitting resource links for you that are related to topics in the conversation and resources that are mentioned by Peggy, and you can find them there.

All right, lastly, today's program does feature closed captioning, which you can turn on or off by hitting the CC button and the program will be recorded. And we'll share a link of that in the Q&A, and we'll follow up after the program as well. It usually takes about two weeks to get this program or all programs recorded and edited, so keep an eye out.

All right, so let's actually get started and I'd like to go ahead and introduce our main speaker, Peggy Oki, who we are thrilled to have today. Peggy Oki is an environmental artist who for nearly five decades has been inspired through surfing and profound encounters with cetaceans, which are whales and dolphins. After her time spent as a legendary member of the Z-Boys, she studied environmental biology and then went on to become a passionate advocate for giving back and protecting marine mammals. Based on a strong background in the visual arts, Oki has been working with schools and youth programs, empowering children of all ages and adults while raising awareness about the plight of whales and dolphins through visually powerful public environmental art projects and exhibits all over the world.

Since 2004, the Origami Whales Project has raised awareness concerning threats to cetaceans through its stunning and memorable curtain of 38,000 origami whales, which is the name of the project. Created by thousands of concerned citizens across the globe and exhibited throughout the world, this large scale public art project serves as a powerful visual statement and a memorial for the thousands of individual whales killed since 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Peggy will tell us more about this project and also her work and journey from influential skateboarder to influential ocean advocate today.

And before we turn things over, our moderator of the program is Adriel Luis. Adriel Luis is a community organizer, artist, writer, and curator who believes that collective liberation can happen in poetic ways. He has curated projects in a range of venues around the world, published his writing in publications such as Poetry Magazine and Smithsonian Magazine. And he's spoken and performed around the world. His life's work is focused on the mutual thriving of artistic integrity and social vigilance. He is part of the iLL-Literacy Collective, which creates music and media to strengthen Black and Asian coalitions, and is a creative director of Bombshelltoe, a collaborative of artists and leaders from frontline communities responding to nuclear histories. Adriel is curator of digital and emerging practice at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, where he advocates for equitable practices in museums and institutions.

I can't imagine a better suited moderator for today's conversation and I know we're all in for a very dynamic, thought provoking conversation. So with that, I will turn things over to Peggy Oki who I will invite here on the virtual stage with me. Hi Peggy.

Peggy Oki:

Hi. Hi Naimah, hello everyone. Thank you so much for inviting me to this World Ocean Day celebration.

Naimah Muhammad:

So thrilled to have you, and you can go ahead and take things away from here.

Peggy Oki:

Okay, here we go. This photo is from New Zealand where I also have done some Origami Whales Project work, and I will talk a bit further about that. But you can see an example of a small curtain, 1,111 origami dolphins. And then next, how about if I do that? Okay, there. Great.

I'd like to ask everybody and share, what is it about the ocean that you love? What does the ocean give to you? The ocean has given me so much joy through surfing for nearly 50 years. And not only the time of actually being on a wave and having fun, but also the time in between the waves when I'm sitting there. And it's almost a meditative state. So the encounters that I have with the sea life, including sometimes a seal popping its head up and watching me, to dolphins of course, and whales. And next slide, please.

And of course, as a surfer, when I have seen dolphins and whales surf, and I've never seen an orca surf, but I'd love to, and I'd love to be in the water with them. And I also paint cetaceans, dolphins and whales, on the bottom of my surfboard just in case. Because I actually did have an encounter with some dolphins, one time swimming directly underneath my surfboard. I go, well, I've got to let them know how much I appreciate them. Next, please.

And did you know that there are nearly a hundred species of cetaceans, dolphins and whales in the world? I'm wondering if anyone in the audience has a favorite that you can think of? Also I'm fascinated with the orcas and how we can see in this illustration, series of illustrations put together by a friend of mine, Uko Gorter, that these orcas have different body shapes. If you look closely, you'll see shapes, sizes, markings. The markings are not as obvious, but you can see that some are larger. Some are a bit narrower, thinner profile, and that is based on what part of the world they live and how they've evolved over centuries to hunt for certain types of food. And depending on where they are, some of them hunt for seals and sea lions, as you've seen in some of the nature documentaries, some only eat fish such as the Southern Resident orcas that eat only 90% Chinook or also known as king salmon. This is fascinating to think of how evolved they've become.

And look at this brain comparison here, the human brain next to the orca brain, super brain, mega brain orcas. They are five times the size of a human. And if you look, there's far more convolutions in the brain and the para limbic lobe of orcas is far more developed than of a human and the para limbic lobe in the brain is for dealing with social, emotional things. And so they're highly organized, social species that work together, and most of them stay together their entire lives, which is quite fascinating. And next slide, please.

What is your favorite ocean being? It doesn't have to be a dolphin or whale. I'm hoping there's a lot of ocean lovers and ocean sea being lovers in the audience at this time. I'm just wondering if you would just like to think for a few seconds of what your favorite is, and maybe to write it down. Doesn't have to be one, it could be a few species. One of my favorite fishes is the puffer fish, I think they're so cute. Okay. Next please.

I'd also like us to think about how our bodies, the human body, depending on the gender, age, size, is composed of about 60% water. Water is life, it's in our bodies. More than half of our bodies are made of water. And then through the UNESCO Ocean Literacy program, why the ocean is so important for life on earth. And then here are some bits of information. As we look down, it's the largest ecosystem on the earth. 94% of the entire planet is, the wildlife lives in the ocean. Over 70% of the Earth's surface is covered with the ocean. Phytoplankton, the tiniest little creatures, little beings in the ocean, provide approximately 50 to 80% of the oxygen that we breathe. Which is pretty wild to think of. And then of course, the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide CO2, which is a big part about our atmosphere. And then of course, the ocean regulates climate. So on to the next slide, please.

There's a National Geographic article, "Our oceans are under attack by climate change and overfishing". And when we look at ocean acidification, just to be sure everyone understands, CO2, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere gets absorbed into the oceans. And the ocean plays a very important role in that as far as greenhouse gases and all that. However, as the water is absorbing the carbon dioxide molecules, it becomes more and more acidic and when the ocean becomes more acidic, it's impacting sea beings that are calcareous in nature, which means that they have shells that are made of calcium and acid dissolves calcium.

So there's already been proof of shells weakening, deteriorating as a result of ocean acidification. So we're going back to this whole food chain and the cycle and the importance of phytoplankton and the things that feed on it, and all the shellfish including lobsters and crabs and anything with calcium for a shell is being impacted. And then there's also the ocean warming, because the ocean is a great regulator of temperatures. And when things are starting to go askew, then as we're seeing in the world, there are many more and more powerful weather events occurring. Next slide, please.

Climate change is affecting a large percentage, a large part of life on the planet, including cetaceans, dolphins and whales in various ways, including the way they find their food sources and things. And onto the next slide, please.

I recently saw this report in the news that, my whole world is whale and dolphin news. There was an orca found alive in the river in France, the Seine, I'm not sure if I pronounced it correctly, S-I-E-N-E. And it was not looking very well, it was in very poor conditions. You can see from the photos in the bottom. And scientists had determined that this orca actually had a skin disease that's found only in cetaceans in the Pacific ocean. And somehow this disease is now found on an orca that came through the Atlantic to this, up to this river. And sadly, this orca died. And so I was really curious about this thing about skin disease and cetaceans and I looked it up because I'm such an orca, such a cetacean nerd. And found this journal, this report from a couple years ago in Australia, coastal dolphin communities globally are exposed to sudden or unprecedented environmental change as a result of climactic change or perturbations and anthropogenic habitat degradation. Anthropogenic means human caused. And so we're going to move on to the next slide, please. Next slide, please.

Okay. So anthropogenic impacts such as seismic testing. There has been a lot of exploration for mineral resources, including fossil fuels. And there was a connection made with these areas where testing occurred with these strandings of sperm whales. And what happens is when there's seismic exploration, they have these ships out there sending down explosive sound down to the sea floor, and then they interpret the sound when it comes back up, when it reflects off of the ocean floor, it comes back up. It has to be extremely powerful sound in order to do that, and unfortunately it is causing the death of cetaceans through various ways, such as rupturing their organs, impacting their hearing abilities. Sometimes it can just be that it scares them and frightens them. And if we imagine us somewhere in a public building and someone shouting, "Fire." We're all going to run. Right? Well, that's what happens with any animal when they feel extremely threatened. Next slide, please.

So there's actually underwater seismic testing around a large part of the world. And it's very interesting to see because I've been trying to find out, whenever I see news reports about cetacean strandings, of which there are many off of New Zealand, like when and where is the seismic testing going? I have not been able to find out much information on that connection. And next slide, please.

So I'd like to share again, that cetaceans, dolphin and whales are highly auditory beings. Humans are very visual beings. Most of us depend on our site in order to find our food, drive a vehicle, walk, do our things that we live by. Whereas cetaceans, in the ocean the waters can be quite murky and they may not be able to see as far, but they do have vision. But it's their auditory ability, through their sound and sonar that allows them to basically analyze their world. They find their food, they find each other, they are alerted to dangers. They communicate through sound. And so when they are impacted through sound, also sound travels much farther in water than through air. And when the there's things such as military sonar testing going on, that can literally kill cetaceans. As I said before, that it can cause the rupture of organs and cause stampeding. Next slide, please.

Okay. So Naimah, do you hear a little sound when I do that? Okay, maybe.

Naimah Muhammad:

Yes. Yes I do.

Peggy Oki:

Okay. So I'll do that, and then that can prompt you, if you don't mind.

Naimah Muhammad:


Peggy Oki:

Okay, so a little bump bump. Anyways, so here is a map that I was able to pull up. It doesn't have the whole of the world's ocean, but I think you can all gather that this is what's going on in the world's ocean, including the Pacific, the Western Pacific as well. This is ship traffic, this map. Showing how many ships are at sea. There's a lot, there's a lot going on in the oceans. As I'd say that the oceans have become a very dangerous place for cetaceans. And ship strike is increasing. This photo down at the bottom center is of an endangered whale, a thin whale that got struck. And the thing that it's laying on is actually this massive bulbous form that's attached to the front of the bow of these massive ships. And apparently it helps to improve their, their fuel efficiency or something. But unfortunately that's what the whales are often landing on.

And the North Atlantic Right Whale, which was called the right whale because the whalers saw it as the right whale to kill because they had so much blubber. And when they would strike them, their bodies would float rather than sink. The North Atlantic Right Whale population was severely impacted by the whalers. And now there's only about 350 left, but whaling ended a long time ago. It's now the threat of ship strike and bycatch entanglement that I'll talk about. And so this article here is saying that slowing ships down might not be enough.

Over fishing. There's been more news about that, estimates coming out that are really pretty scary to think that the oceans without fish by 2048, if we do the math, we're in 2022, we're talking about 26 years from now. That's not very long. So that's definitely a concern. Bottom trawling, which is one of the worst forms of fishing. It's it is apparently being overlooked as an impact. And in this article, it's basically referred to as bulldozing a seabed. So these massive pieces of equipment, they drag along the bottom of the sea floor, taking everything with it. And so when we see things about that, I hope that people will act to prevent bottom trawling from happening.

So this is something relatively new as a threat, an anthropogenic impact. I've worked with the KASM, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, while I've been in New Zealand. They're great people. They've been on the forefront to try to stop seabed mining from happening off the shores of New Zealand. And as you can see from their diagram, it's basically like bottom trawling on steroids. And now the seabed mining industry is talking about projects throughout various parts of the Pacific. So I'm just wanting to give a little heads up of that. This is mining. This is on the topic of mining for more minerals, they call it pebble mine. It's not pebbles, it's minerals, like I think it's gold or something that they're after in the Cook Inlet area, and the Beluga, which is a unique group is threatened by this.

Next, of course. How could I not talk about ocean plastic pollution? And this little chart here shows how many years, various things, including cigarette butts, 10 years. If you see anybody throwing their cigarette butts on the ground, you give them heck, all right? Because 10 years. Also, they still have a lot of toxins in them. But we go all the way down to the bottom here, plastic bottle, 450 years, fishing lines, 600 years. That's gnarly. Sorry dude, that's gnarly. Also the there's more information coming out from many people researching the plastic content in the ocean, finding that nearly 50% of ocean plastic, it comes from fishing nets, not plastic straws. But I do want to applaud everybody who says, "No, thank you." To the plastic straws. People who are doing things like bringing your reusable containers. If you're going to go get takeout or something, if you can now, and just doing everything, being mindful about the plastics that we are using and doing everything we can to reduce, reuse, recycle. Because we can all do our part.

The next topic, the big one as far as that I talk often about is bycatch. We've seen things like whaling, which is still going on, and cetaceans being slaughtered, which I won't cover in this discussion, but I can answer some questions if it is necessary. The numbers are staggering. Staggering. And as I showed just fishing line can last 600 years, often fishing net can last for decades, possibly in like a hundred years.

So I was gathering some information to share here. That's pretty shocking. A quarter of a million sea turtles every year are caught as bycatch and 300,000 sea birds, 17 species of Albatross are getting caught up in nets. And with the sea turtles there's also this other issue, it's called entanglement. So I refer it to as by bycatch entanglement, because both of those are directly related to the fishing industries. And it was a real challenge to find data. I kept searching and searching and couldn't find anything like annual numbers on seals and sea lions being entangled in fishing gear bycatch entanglement. So either caught in these nets, not intentionally, but actually caught in these nets when these big trawlers go along and they catch all of these species that happen to be in the path of this net, as well as entanglement and fishing gear that's been discarded.

So what happens is the fishing nets and gear gets worn out, it gets damaged. And when you're out at sea, there's nobody to watch you and say, "Don't throw that overboard." There's a lot, unfortunately, like I said, nearly 50% of plastics in the ocean coming from fishing gear. And I was able to thankfully get some information from somebody at a marine mammal center rescue organization. Approximately 85,100 seals and sea lions is a conservative estimate per year, that are entangled in fishing gear.

And the numbers of the sharks between shark fishing, shark finning, and then entanglement is also very staggering. It says here, estimated 50 million sharks are killed as bycatch annually. And that worldwide oceanic shark and ray abundance has declined by 71% since 1970, more than half of the 31 species examined are now considered to be endangered or even critically endangered. And that is just through entanglement. And then above is a news article about how the New Zealand government has been not very nice about dealing with the shark bycatch issue.

Of course, that's true with pretty much most governments. Are fishing nets bad for the environment? Well, we're kind of seeing that already. And then the Blue Planet Society in the UK reported that in the UK waters alone, about 30 purposes, dolphins, seals and whales die in the fishing gear in the UK per week. And then we do the math with the Scientific Committee of The International Whaling Commission, which is top scientists in the world who have stated that over 300,000 whales and dolphins die every year from bycatch entanglement. So it's either being directly caught and thrown overboard or caught up in old fishing gear that's been floating around in the ocean.

And as far as bycatch, I wanted to find out about reporting because that was another point. As far as these numbers that I'm sharing here, unintentional capture is likely the single greatest threat to sea turtle survival. There are no global standards for reporting on bycatch. The statistics are difficult to interpret, sometimes fishing industries report bycatch voluntarily while some fishers prefer not to report it if not mandated to do so. So these are conservative numbers that I've been sharing with you.

One of my favorite cetaceans in the world is the sperm whale, the largest toothed mammal on the planet. And yet, this being died very likely from having plastics caught up in its digestive system. And those a mass of fishing net that was found in the necropsy when they looked at this sperm whale. And then the photo on the right is an orca, highly decomposed that had fishing rope and tangled around its fluke. And that washed up a couple weeks ago on the shore of Baja.

There's a short 16 second video that I think that it'll be in the resources, and it's talking about bycatch and you can see in the diagram, in the illustration, there's a massive fishing net and various sea beings caught up in it, and a whale that's about to be caught in this net. And this source reported five up to five times the amount of bycatch. In other words, for every pound of fish, apparently up to five pounds are thrown overboard because it's the non target species. So if they're after certain, I don't know, snapper or something. And then they get all these whales and sea lions and sea birds and sea turtles and other species of fish and crab, or whatever those all get thrown overboard.

There was also another recent bit of news, a humpback whale, it was a happy, hopeful report that some scuba divers were able to free a humpback whale from what's called a drift net. And that fishing method was banned 30 years ago off of European waters because it's also referred to as the wall of death. It's a very indiscriminate way of fishing. And you can see all the floats because the floats suspend the net and anything that gets caught in it is harvested up. I'd like to also point out when you look at the photo on the left of the whale, there's this orangy stuff on the rostrum, which is the nose of the whale. And then there was another report that from The Independent that said that this particular whale signals thank you to the rescuers and she knew we were there to help. And it's a very dangerous thing to try to rescue any animal that's panicked, but there have been many stories of whales just not fighting with, whoever's trying to save them and allowing them to good around and cut the net off.

Sadly, just a couple days ago, I saw this news item on that same whale, that same humpback whale washing up dead. It did not survive. And if you look closely again at this photo, it's kind of hard to see. But it's covered in this like crusty, brownish orange material. And what happens is we don't know when a sea being, a sea turtle, a whale, anything gets caught up in fishing gear. And if you think of yourself getting tangled with a ball and chain around your ankle, you're not going to be able to walk as fast. They're not able to swim very fast, so their motion is impeded. Sometimes they can't eat, they can't get away from predators as fast as they would in a normal condition, and their immune systems go down severely. And so it's hard to know how long this net was entangled around this whale, but it was very stressed. And the orangy, crusty stuff is whale lice that basically just parasitized on the being and it's covered in that. So yeah, that's a slow, miserable way to die.

And I know that's really sad news to see such an incredible being die that way, but there's hope, and there's hope through action. And I want to proceed on with that part of the presentation. There is a highly endangered, the most endangered cetacean in the world at this time is the Vaquita Porpoise, second smallest cetacean in the world and it's found in the Sea of Cortes. And the main cause of death for it is entanglement in fishing gear, gill nets that the poachers are using for catching a different species of fish. And a researcher stated that the recovery of the Vaquita ultimately depends on the keeping the waters where it lives free of fishing nets. And unfortunately the Mexican government has not been doing it the best job as the number has rapidly declined. But there's hope. They say that there is hope as long as action is being taken.

I've been working on a issue related to bycatch entanglement with the Maui and Hector's Dolphins of New Zealand. They're very closely related. The Hector's Dolphin, Cephalorhynchus hectori. And then the Maui dolphin, Cephalorhynchus hectori Maui. Say that fast three times though. And they are the smallest dolphin in the world, they're found only in New Zealand waters and the New Zealand government has basically failed to adequately protect these dolphins from being caught up in gill nets. And now there's only about 50 Maui dolphins left, and I had a campaign here, the photo at the left with it's called the Let's Face It Visual Petition Campaign, inviting everybody to get a photo, a selfie, or have someone take a photo of them with an image of a Maui's Dolphin, which is a very recognizable species. As you can see, if you look at the dorsal fin, it's very rounded. And then the pectoral fins, the ones on the side are very rounded. So it looks kind of like a little Mickey mouse sort of dolphin.

And we had people uploading to our website and we also had a celebrity and legends section, and I'm very happy to share this photo of me with one of my favorite humans on the planet, Jack Johnson for all the good work that he does. But we had thousands, thousands, and thousands, like over 5,000 visual petitions uploaded to our site. And then whenever the New Zealand government was open to public comment, I would email them and say, "Please do this, this, this, and this. And I'm representing 6,000," whatever... Each time as the numbers would grow, I would present the link and show that. So that was one of my campaigns. And as far as seabed mining, as I mentioned, Kiwis Against Seabed Mining, there are now many organizations on board. There's a coalition called The Oxygen Project, and there's at least 80 organizations, environmental organizations that are now all working to address these issues such as seabed mining.

Global citizens, rise up. We are all global citizens. Every one of us is a global citizen and we have power and we can create change. You can see here examples in the news of change that's been happening. Argentina becomes the first country in the world to ban salmon fishing. South Africa court blocks Shell oil exploration. That was a really major threat to a whale migration area. And then a mining project was blocked from expanding because it was going to threaten the narwhals in that area. We can make change by raising awareness and documentary films are often a really great way to do that. We have choices that we can make. And one thing is to vote, make sure that we're voting. We have this right to vote and to contact our representatives and say, "Hey, I'm your constituent. And would you please?"

And then there's the consumerism as I refer back to the issue of noise pollution in the oceans and ship strike. One point that I don't think I made as far as the noise pollution, because imagine ourselves in a rock concert with our friend and we're going, "Hey, you want me to get you a bottle of water?" Or no, "Let me refill your refillable water bottle." And your friend's like, "What? What?" Well, that's what it's like in the ocean now affecting the cetaceans and all sorts of species. And so thinking about consumerism, because all of these ships are crossing the oceans because of the demand for resources, products. So much of it is imported. And if we just think about what we need versus what we want. Do we really need the latest, this, or the newest that? Can we somehow repair? Can we reuse? Can we reduce our consumerism and recycle whenever possible? Then hopefully we'll have less ships in the sea.

And then last is there's this quote that I like, we are what we eat. And that's something that I didn't present here, but there's information if you do a search on it as far as the level of toxins that gone into the ocean, an anthropogenic impact. Heavy metals, mercury, various PCBs, things that are really toxic. And they are bio accumulating from the bottom of the food chain all the way up because these toxins are stored in the fatty cells of sea life, fish that humans eat. And also micro plastics are bio accumulating and all these toxic elements are going into seafood. I'm not trying to scare anybody, but you can look that up. And the other thing is our choice in hopefully reducing the amount of seafood that's consumed. Dr. Sylvia Earle says, she's not going to eat seafood. And I think it's because she's realizing that the oceans are becoming depleted. And so she's like a big ocean hero of mine.

So there's a lot of resources that you can find out there. And I highly recommend this search engine called Ecosia. In case anybody hasn't heard of them yet, they're really great. They're more than carbon neutral. They power the search engines with sustainable, renewable energy. They plant a tree, they have a counter and they plant a tree through various organizations that they work with for every search that somebody makes. So down here, this number 151,463,182 trees funded for planting through Ecosia. And then on the top right there's this little tiny green icon with the number 3,586. That's how many searches I've done and how many trees are planted because of my searches. So I feel good about it. And I'd like to recommend Center For Biological Diversity for their various programs to save wildlife, but also addressing the issue of food and our food choices and how they impact the environment.

There are very few organizations that are actually doing that, but they are. And so just check it out maybe there's also Veganuary, which is an organization that promotes trying for just one month, the month of January, will you try being plant based, also known as vegan for one month? And of course, people don't like to be told what to eat or what not to eat, but when we become more educated about the impacts of our diet, of plant-based versus omnivorous, it's really shocking. There's also a resource called The Vegan Calculator, which I didn't include here, but it's really pretty cool because you can type in the number of days or months or weeks that you have gone plant based and just see how much of a positive impact you're making on the environment. And if you're curious to try even a couple of meals at a vegetarian or a vegan restaurant, there's the Happy Cow app, which you can get on your phone and it'll help you find restaurants that have different options. And so that's just a resource I like to share.

And I'd like to also remind us, what are these sea beings? Who are these sea beings that I asked you to think are your favorites and stuff in the ocean and what can you do for them? And I'm going to close with a couple of quotes here. From Robert Swan, "The greatest danger to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it." And then of course, one of many favorites, Dr. Seuss's the Lorax. "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not." I've got one more. I strongly urge everyone to watch the documentary Seaspiracy. If you have any love for dolphins or whales or sea beings, I strongly urge watching Seaspiracy, it's available on Netflix. And thank you for listening and over to Adriel, please.

Adriel Luis:

Oh my goodness. Thank you so much Peggy. Thank you for this gift of your presence and all this, this knowledge, and I appreciate how actionable it is. So both you and I are tuning in from California, I'm out here in Los Angeles, you're in Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara. And you and I, we've been in conversation about this project that we're working on for over a year now. And I moved from DC to LA right before the pandemic. And to answer your question that you posed in the beginning, the pods of dolphins that swim along Venice Beach have definitely become some of my quarantine friends. I feel like I came to LA thinking I was going to see actors and screenwriters, and instead I see sea lions and dolphins, and which is probably for the best.

And I'm also thinking a lot about [inaudible 00:46:54], Tongva people, Chumash people who are native to this area and how deeply interwoven cetaceans are in their understanding of where humans come from, who we are in relationship with the rest of the world. And I think those conversations with you, with L. Frank Manriquez, who's also collaborating on this project with us, have really informed how I think about my proximity to the ocean. So just thank you for recommending Seaspiracy, for recommending Ecosia. Thinking about alternative ways of eating aside from relying on mass fishing. I think that these are all really actionable items, regardless of whether people tuning in are living along the coasts or along bodies of water or in more landlocked areas. I think, I was in Paris a couple weeks ago and they're having a poke craze right now, every corner there's poke everywhere. And I'm like, oh my God, where's all this fish coming from that's ending up in Paris?

And so yeah, I was wondering in thinking about diet, because that's something I'm thinking a lot about too, coming out here. I grew up on Whoppers and Big Macs and have crossed that bridge of really limiting red meat, for example. And I think oftentimes for those of us who try to limit red meat, for example, we end up kind of going more pescatarian and eating more seafood and sometimes it can get really confusing. Is it about eating wild caught? Is it about eating farmed? I think you spoke a lot about the dangers of wild caught seafood and what that does to the planet. Could you talk more about farming and do you see that as a viable option or alternative, or how does that contribute to your understanding of sea life and how it affects us?

Peggy Oki:

Okay. Can we go back to the share screen of the keynote Naimah? So, like I gradually became vegetarian and was a pescatarian. And I thought, oh, shrimp. But then I found out how shrimp is really one of the worst in the seafood industry, for the bycatch, also for the cultivated shrimp that they've destroyed many mangroves for. So there's some resources like the one on the left. And then there's this other one about how fish farms destroy the ecosystem and threaten your health. Those are resources that I've shared with our group here. And then there's this great documentary, because people think, well, what about hatcheries too? Because then we can make baby fish, then make bigger fish and all that. But this documentary by Patagonia called Artifishal, A-R-T-I-F-I-S-H-A-L is free online. And it covers what goes on with fish hatcheries.

So unfortunately there are a lot of threats to the environment from fish farming, including one of the threats is these fish farming facilities are basically like factory farming in the ocean. And the fish are kept in extremely tight quarters in these big net pens. And because of that as with any crowded situation that we've become more aware of through the pandemic, that as they're super crowded than the diseases spread and the stress, and they get parasites and disease. And it's really an unpleasant and sad thing. And then those diseases and parasites get onto the wild fish that. And there's a website called Fish that has over 80 plant-based sea foods on it. And you're like, plant-based seafood. What? You're going to make some kind of plant taste like fish? Well, they've got plant-based fish oil, plant based tuna and salmon. Next, please.

And so the alternatives are growing. I actually went vegan over 22 years ago and that's when it was kind of like tofu, but now there's so much. So I'm really just celebrating because I used to love, I used to be quite the omnivore. I grew up eating lots of meat. I loved all the worst meats you could eat and all that stuff, but there's just so much now. Excuse me, there's this salmon filet, plant based. Doesn't that look good? And then there's mini crab cakes and fish filets. And Gardein brand, I've had their breaded turkey roll with stuffing and gravy, and that's fake, and it's really good. And so I haven't had these because I've just kind of lost interest in eating fish. So I don't even eat things that taste like fish really.

But there's also vegan sushi's out there at vegan sushi restaurants like this one in LA called Shojin. Or Shojin, S-H-O-J-I-N. So if you look these up on Happy Cow, you'll be able to find vegan sushi, and then there's vegan sushi recipes. There's so many resources out there now. It's really incredible. So I'm really glad to see that. And I really want to celebrate these options.

Adriel Luis:

Beautiful. Yeah. I just, prior prepping this while we were doing our tech run up, I cleaned up an entire bowl of spaghetti with Beyond Meat. And I feel like I can...

Peggy Oki:

Oh, nice.

Adriel Luis:

And I'm like, I can do jumping jacks afterwards, which I normally can't do after eating a bunch. So yeah, thank you for all of that. I was wondering, just kind of staying with fishing, right? And the bycatch entanglement, one of the folks attending this program, Aiden is wondering if you could speak a bit more about larger species who are caught and then sometimes you'll see footage of them sort of like being cut from the net and then thrown back in. Does that suffice as a solution? Or can you share a bit more information on what happens when a being is caught in a net and then thrown back into the water?

Peggy Oki:

Yeah. So I guess the best way to that I can, I guess, equate that is when we think of ourselves just innocently being in a park or something, and then somebody throws a net or sack over us and throws us in the back of a van and then bumps us around and then throws us out. We can get pretty beat up and stressed out. And then when it's a sea being, being thrown back into the sea, after that, we're pretty, maybe even having a concussion, we're pretty weak, very likely injured from being in that net and dragged around for a while. And so then you're more open to predation and stress like I was saying about that whale that got entangled, it's not a nice thing. So I don't think of that as really being a solution to just saying, okay, well, we're just... Because they do, they do release all these whales and all the sea species that they are non targeting, but most of them don't make it.

Adriel Luis:

Yeah. I think that when we think about sort of dehumanization and humanization, one of the first indications of that is when we assume that someone else or something else has a higher threshold for pain, right? Like we hear these studies about how in hospitals, oftentimes patients of color are, there's a a subconscious bias that their threshold of pain is higher. And so oftentimes they're not believed as much when they're telling a doctor that something hurts.

Peggy Oki:

Oh, gosh.

Adriel Luis:

And then, so we think about animals and people just assume that maybe it was just growing up with that fake factoid that like fish don't have any memory. And so you just assume that they get caught up in a net, get cut out and then swim away and just like, don't remember it ever happening. Right? And I remember a recent study came out that cuttlefish can actually remember deep into the past meals that they've eaten. And I'm like, I can't remember what I had for lunch on Monday. Right? And so these beings have these brains and these biologies, I think we can't even oftentimes make an analogy with the way that we are as humans. Right? Like there's something that's very deep about them that it's important for us to remember that there is pain that's felt, there's trauma. And when we see these things happening to them, I was thinking about the way that you were talking about how we can relate to different ways. Like, how would you like to be treated? Right?

Like, I've been dealing with like a neighbor who is gone out of town and their fire alarm is like low on battery. So it's just beeping every 30 seconds.

Peggy Oki:

Oh, no.

Adriel Luis:

And it's driving me crazy. And it's like one beep. So like what you were saying about the ocean and sound. Like, imagine just like living in this environment for life. And there's just this constant noise that like that you cannot escape, it's just really devastating to think about. So I really appreciate you sharing this with us, bringing us closer to the experience.

I guess, as a quick plug for those of you based in DC or are planning on visiting DC, Peggy will be visiting for the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, which runs from June 23rd through July 4th. Peggy will be joined by L. Frank Manriquez, the Tongva scholar and artist that I mentioned as well as Jane Chung Me, who's an ocean engineer and an artist based out here in LA. And Soul In Pink, which is an artist collective in DC.

And we'll be building this installation that we're calling Wavelength, that's incorporating the origami whales and dolphins that Peggy has talked about, stamps and stickers and screen printing, and basically creating this installation that simulates a cove of sea creatures and the ways that human lives and relationships are entangled with them in the ocean. So if you're coming out to this Folk Life Festival, look for us in the earth optimism section. I guess before I do the closing remarks, I wanted to just acknowledge Graham Dodger's question, which I think is a great way to close this. If you could have one sentence broadcast across the world on these topics, what would you say?

Naimah Muhammad:

Realize your power as a global citizen and act. And, okay, so it's two sentences. Protect what you love. Protect what you love. And that's from Jacques Cousteau, another favorite ocean explorer. Protect what you love and rise up as a global citizen, making your own individual as well as collective choices.

Adriel Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. And I think that one of the themes that comes around with that is this idea of mutual flourishing, right? Just thinking about this pandemic period and how so many of us have suffered and had difficult moments and the ways that we've been able to adjust to these times. Oftentimes it's going out to the park, going out to the beach, going out and just getting a breath of fresh air. And these are ways that nature is taking care of us. And so I think the least that we can do is dedicate the way that we move about this world in a way that's conducive to all the living creatures around us.

So, yeah, I guess with that said, let me thank Peggy one more time and also make sure that I hit these closing remarks. Of course, thanking everybody. Thanking Aiden and Graham for your questions. There's a number of resources that Peggy shared. I know that a lot of information was shared. And so there will be notes and presentations and links that are shared with y'all afterwards. Special thanks to the National Museum of Natural History for hosting this event. Not just the staff, but the donors, the volunteers, the partners who just really help make the Smithsonian the wonderful place that it is to work. And one of the reasons why I love working at the Smithsonian is so much, it really feels like a deep community.

So if you want to keep up with the National Museum of Natural History and all their amazing programs, sign up for their weekly E-newsletter, check out their events on their website. And all those links are going to be in the chat. And you also see a link to the survey in the chat and we hope you take a moment to respond to that. They are being led by us. And it really does help us make these events better. Especially during this pandemic period where two, three years in, we're still experimenting, still figuring things out, still figuring out what's the best way to reach you all. And so we really benefit from all of that. So, thank you everybody. Thank you so much Peggy. And happy World Ocean's Day to everybody.

Peggy Oki:

Thank you, Adriel. And thank you again to everybody with the Smithsonian who brought this together and thank you everyone for putting up with the little beginning.

Archived Webinar

This Zoom webinar with Peggy Oki aired on World Ocean Day, June 8, 2022. Watch a recording in the player above.


This video is a World Ocean Day conversation with surfer, artist, and environmentalist Peggy Oki. Known around the world for her groundbreaking days skating and surfing as the only female member of the legendary Z-Boys, Peggy continues to inspire change in new ways today with her passion and commitment to protecting the ocean. A tireless advocate for cetaceans through her Origami Whales Project, Peggy combines her love of the waves with her experience studying environmental biology and art to raise awareness about the plight of whales and dolphins. Peggy shares more about her project and dedication to the ocean and joins Adriel Luis, an artist and curator at Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, for a moderated Q & A.

Naimah Muhammad, a public programs coordinator at the National Museum of Natural History, introduces the program.

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