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Celebrating 10-Years

Marine Life Studies Celebrates 10-Years


Marine Life Studies is celebrating 10-years of teaching children and adults how to protect marine life. The organization’s specialty is teaching others how to become better stewards of our oceans through inspirational education and real-life experiences on the water.


Executive Director Peggy Stap saw whales for the first time on a visit to Maui more than two decades ago. “It was a life-changing experience,” says Stap. The Midwesterner from Michigan knew she had found her life’s calling. Stap founded Marine Life Studies in 2006 to “help the world understand and protect the amazing creatures she first observed in Hawaii.”  She realized a younger generation had the chance to better understand the importance of ocean ecology.  “If children are taught early on how to become good stewards of our oceans then the animals and environment entrusted to us will survive,” says Stap.


An Inspiring Research Scientist Program

Marine Life Studies’ Research Scientist Program inspires young adults to pursue an education in marine science. Victoria Wade, a student in the Research Scientist Program started in 2007, while facing challenging financial circumstances that forced her to stop her college education. After volunteering for Marine Life Studies and experiencing Program fieldwork, she was inspired to pursue her dream of becoming a marine biologist. At 36 years old, Victoria returned to school, graduated with honors and is applying to grad school for a masters in marine biology.

Student interns from around the world have participated in the Research Scientist Program. Maya Hoffman, a high school student from Denver said, “It was one of the best experiences of my life. Never before have I ever met a group more dedicated to the conservation of marine life. This nonprofit is one of the good ones. The work that they do is truly unique and I’m so glad I could be a part of it.”


Ocean Literacy Series is a Hit Boys and Girls Club of Monterey County


The Ocean Literacy Series sponsored by Marine Life Studies provides free, hands-on educational programs for children at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Monterey County (BGC) of Salinas and Seaside. It has been a community partner with the BGC since 2010. “The Ocean Literacy programs are always a huge hit with the kids,” says Stap.  The Whale and Marine Wildlife Adventure Program and the Plastic Police Initiative Take it to the Streets™ are offered at no charge to the BGC.

The moment the Whale and Marine Wildlife Adventure Program begins the children are eager to learn about the variety of whales, dolphins and marine wildlife in their aquatic backyard. Many children have never seen the abundance of wildlife in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary or even been to the ocean! The children really enjoy learning with hands-on activities like looking into the little black eyes of krill, feeling the baleen of a blue whale, or holding on to the rib bone of a gray whale. There’s always lots of giggling when they listen to the funny sounds of whales and dolphins vocalizing.




The whale watch is the highlight of the program and can be a life-changing experience, like it was for the Marine Life Studies Director. “It shows children the importance of becoming active stewards for our planet and Monterey County,” says Stap. One eight-year-old remarked, “It was my first time on a boat and it was so exciting to see the whales and dolphins.”

Joe Garcia, the Science Impact Leader for the BGC said, “This program that Marine Life Studies offers our Club Members has been and continues to be a highlight of the summer. The Members not only enjoy the field trip, but also have a great time learning about the marine mammals during the hands-on class portion of the program.”

Take It To The Streets is introduced in a classroom setting for the children at the BGC. The classroom offers children an understanding of the dangers of litter to wildlife and our community watersheds. Over 80% of marine debris is land-based. The classroom encourages critical thinking and is an important first step ahead of the field trip to pick up trash in their own community. One young boy said, “We’re doing good. We’re helping animals and saving the world. It feels great to be adding more years to the planet!”

The Whale Entanglement Team (WET)® Help for Entangled Whales
The Whale Entanglement Team (WET)® may be Marine Life Studies’ greatest achievement.
At Marine Life Studies’ first garage sale fundraiser in 2006, Stap received a call from a fisherman reporting an entangled humpback whale in Carmel Bay. Mary Whitney, founder of Fluke Foundation and a member of Marine Studies’ Board of Directors, was helping with the fundraiser. Stap and Whitney had both volunteered in Maui for different research teams and were part of the whale disentanglement network headed by Ed Lyman, the Marine Mammal Response Manager for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary.


After receiving the entangled whale report and making some phone calls, Stap was surprised to learn there was no disentanglement network in central and northern California. After exhausting all of her resources, Whitney suggested Stap call Ed Lyman. Together with NOAA Enforcement and Lyman’s guidance, Stap and Whitney put together a team that responded and disentangled the humpback whale. Afterwards, the two whale lovers started their quest for a formalized regional network. It was an uphill battle and the first year and a half was the hardest.

WET® accomplishments include: Septmeber 2006 - began quest to form organized disentanglement team for Central and Northern California; January 2008 – purchased initial set of tools; May 2008 – organized first formalized training; Spring 2009 – 24-hour toll free hotline 877 – SOS – WHALE implemented; Summer 2009 - printed waterproof Reporting & Response Card; Summer 2011 – acquired grant for $30,000 from the International Fund of Animal Welfare (IFAW) to purchase full cache of tools, boat, motor, GPS/Argos telemetry buoy, and trailer for WET® on Wheels; Summer 2011 – printed 1st edition of waterproof Marine Mammal Guide (MMG); Fall 2012 – printed 2nd edition of MMG; Spring 2013 – WET® on Wheels is fully operational and stationed in Moss Landing; January 2014 - printed 3rd edition of MMG; June 2015 – purchased 40-foot Albin to house all of the tools for a full response – their Whale Rescue Research Vessel WET® rapid response boat; December 2015 - became member of newly formed CWR network; and January 2016 – printed 4th edition of MMG.


A Research Vessel Comes to the Rescue


The Whale Rescue Research Vessel WET® rapid response boat is a 40-foot Albin used for Marine Life Studies’ Research Scientist Program and to train interns for the WET®.

Several interns from the program are now part of the WET® science, rapid response team. All work is directed under the authority of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program.

The Albin arrived at the Moss Landing Harbor on June 12, 2015. By noon on June 14th, WET® was called to mount a response to an entangled whale that was reported in the Monterey Bay NationalMarine Sanctuary. Stap is proud that two more whales were successfully disentangled in July because the Albin, Marine Life Studies' Whale Rescue Research Vessel, was first on scene.


It’s been a busy season of entangled whale reports in the Monterey Bay. In April 2016, Marine Life Studies was out on a research boat survey when they witnessed a male orca dive into crab pot buoys and became entangled. Fortunately, the orca was able to free himself from the entanglement, and no further response from the WET® was necessary.


There have been two successful disentanglements this season in the Monterey Bay. In April 2016, a humpback whale was disentangled near the Big Sur coastline in a two-day rescue period. In May 2016, another entangled humpback whale was reported from a fisherman and his five-year old son, who stood by until the rescuers arrived. This animal was disentangled near Point Lobos the same day it was reported.


In both disentanglements, The Whale Rescue Research Vessel was used as a support boat and a research vessel to take detailed observations on the behavior of the animal. It also served as a platform to observe and review the underwater assessment of the entanglement for primary responders and NOAA personnel. Another important role of the Whale Rescue Research Vessel was to transport rescue toolkits, cameras for assessment, and other necessary materials. These successful whale disentanglements happened because of a great effort from many people from many different organizations. Read more at:

– By Leslie Miller, Marine Life Studies’ Volunteer, June 2016