Kadena students attend sea mammal symposium
NAGO, Okinawa — Fifteen Kadena High School students from an advanced marine biology class attended an international symposium Sunday at the Bankoku Shinryokan, a scenic conference hall on Cape Busena in Nago.
About 20 marine biologists from around the world participated in the two-day symposium to discuss their latest findings about the earth’s endangered sea mammals.
On Sunday, three biologists gave lectures open to the public about sea mammals, such as whales, dolphin, dugongs and manatees.
Two of Sunday’s lectures were given by Japanese researchers, with simultaneous translations provided to the non-Japanese-speaking audience members.
“It was a wonderful experience for our students to come to hear world-renowned scientists speak,” said Jayne Schilke, a Kadena marine biology teacher escorting the students.
“It was really interesting to learn how whaling was introduced in Japan,” student Amanda Garcia said during a break from a lecture on the subject.
Senzo Uchida, director of the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in Ocean Expo Park, sponsor of the symposium, gave a lecture on sea mammals found in Okinawan waters.
Of 76 kinds of whales and dolphins known in the world, 38 have been seen in Japanese waters and 23 have been spotted near Okinawa, Uchida said.
Although sea creatures live in the water, their lives are constantly affected by the activities of human beings, he said.
Several years ago, his aquarium staff found a dead dugong on a beach in Ginoza, in northeast Okinawa, he said. The cause of the death was intestinal damage from fishing lines it had swallowed.
“When they eat sea grass, they also eat discarded fishing lines that are tangled in the grass,” he said.
Uchida urged concerted efforts from both the public and private sectors to protect sea creatures, especially dugongs.
Okinawan waters are the northern habitat for dugongs.
“If they become extinct, it would be the shame of Japan,” he said.
Jarred Sanders, a Kadena High School senior, said he hadn’t realized how trash endangers sea mammals.
“The plastic bags dolphins and whales swallow kill them,” he said. “I learned the importance of educating people.”
Attending the lecture had more impact than reading any book, he said.