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Hardcore Natural History Series — Why Animals Eat Plastic and the Curious Case of the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale with Dr. Matt Savoca

Since 1975, worldwide plastic production has increased by over 600%, to nearly 300 million tonnes annually. It has been estimated that up to twelve million tons of plastic wash out to sea from land each year and that there are more than five trillion pieces of plastic afloat in the world’s oceans today. Plastic debris is ingested by hundreds of species of organisms, from zooplankton to baleen whales, but how such a diversity of consumers can mistake plastic for their natural prey is largely unknown. Matt's research has shown that the odor associated with plastic after it has been left in the ocean may explain why marine animals confuse plastic for prey so frequently; however, many mysteries remain. One such mystery is why are toothed whales, such as the Cuvier's Beaked Whale (Ziphius cavirostris) that hunt in the pitch-black of the deep sea, washing up with plastic bags in their stomachs? We will explore this mystery and discuss the possible sensory mechanisms that may be misleading these giant deep sea predators. 

Matthew Savoca grew up in New York City where he became fascinated with the natural world, spurred by an interest in birds. He fostered that passion as an undergraduate working at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. His interest in marine conservation grew while completing a PhD in Ecology at the University of California, Davis. Matthew worked at the intersection of animal behavior, sensory processing, and analytical chemistry, to assess why marine animals confuse plastic for prey. Currently, Matthew is at the Hopkins Marine Station. He is studying baleen whale physiology, behavior, and their possible interactions with microplastics. Matthew is also passionate about science communication; his popular science writing has appeared in Science Magazine, Scientific American, and the Washington Post. 

For more information about his work, visit his website at: MatthewSavocaEcology.weebly.com

Tickets available soon

Enjoy dinner before or after the event and receive a complimentary appetizer with the order of an entrée.

BEACH HOUSE AT LOVERS POINT
Available before, beginning at 4:30p

WHALING STATION STEAKHOUSE
Available after, beginning at 7:30p

Earlier Event: May 17
Member Appreciation Night
Later Event: May 25
Water Wild — Science Saturday