A Gray ‘Whale of a Problem’: Re-Mediating Dead Wildlife at Trestles

Keywords: whales, landfills, necropolitics, anthropogenic climate change, Trestles

In January 2021, the World Cetacean Alliance named Dana Point in Orange County, California, the first Whale Heritage Site in the United States for meeting criteria that support cetaceans’ cultural, economic, educational, and ecological importance. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) as “sentinels of ecosystem change” are dialed into Orange County’s ecology and co-exist with humans. Sustainable wildlife viewing within the context of tourism means humans are encouraged to watch whales in their “natural” habitat and manage the ocean for future generations. A bleaker image shows unmanageable whale die-offs. During El Niño 2016, seven miles south of Dana Point, the carcass of a gray whale rolled ashore at Trestles, a popular surf spot in San Onofre State Beach. Two questions persist. Is a landfill an ecologically sustainable space to dump dead whales when they disrupt daily flows of beach tourism? And what role might indigenous ecological knowledge play in future dead wildlife re-mediation efforts in coastal communities that value whales economically and culturally? This paper argues that dumping a dead whale into a landfill happens because there are no transparent environmental policies in place that clearly communicate best practices for cities to reduce landfill-bound marine sentinel waste. Eco-ethnography as method is used to locate incoherent logics within sustainability discourse. The analysis reveals an anthropocentric erasure of marine sentinels’ existence and, in effect, indigenous connections to the Acjachemen. The case study underscores an unsettling vision of Trestles’ ecological future and ecosystem functionality, particularly given its proximity to the first U.S. Whale Heritage Site.

Eco-Ethnography and Citizen Science: Lessons From Within

Key words: Coastal management, citizen science, eco-ethnography, increasing diversity in science, public engagement

Citizen science is the participation of non-scientists in the collection of scientific data and other aspects of the scientific process. In this manuscript, we explore what it means to participate in citizen science from two perspectives—that of a researcher designing and facilitating a citizen science project, and that of a citizen scientist volunteering the time and energy required for participation. We examine the methods and goals of the projects, describing the challenges faced by researchers and science volunteers alike as they participate in research processes aimed to increase community involvement in science and, by extension, environmental management issues. We describe how the constraints of citizen science models and methods underscore the importance of incorporating alternative anthropological and ethnographic approaches in coastal research, and offer eco-ethnography as a way for scientists to extend their citizen science projects to better reflect the needs and concerns of local communities impacted by climate change and sea-level rise.
Please contact the author for a full copy of the article.

Urban Tides Gives Rise to Community Resilience

LA JOLLA — At its peak, the king tide swallowed the entire beach, pushed past a low seawall, spilled across the bike path, and flooded the parking lot. Just past sunrise, heavy mist still lingers in the air as a group of volunteers walk along this stretch of beach in San Diego, CA. About 20 people – mostly coastal residents along with a handful of scientists and graduate students – have gathered to photograph evidence of flooding and erosion due to the extreme high tide.
See U.S. Southern California Sea Grant’s 2016 report “Urban Tides Gives Rise to Community Resilience” for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Citizen Scientists Learn to Document El Niño’s Impacts

SAN DIEGO — On a morning this week at La Jolla Shores, the tide was high and so was the enthusiasm of 20 citizen scientists who were training to help document the impact of El Niño along the coast. The group of volunteers was learning to capture images of beach erosion and coastal flooding in a way that would be useful to researchers. It’s part of what the real scientists are calling the Urban Tides Community Science Initiative.
“If we actually get folks taking pictures from the same locations, pointed in the same direction, repeatedly — so say, every day or every week — that’s actually the most valuable data for us,” said Sarah Giddings, a researcher and professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
See Susan Murphy’s Citizen Scientists Learn to Document El Niño