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For Marsha Green, Ph.D. ’63, it wasn’t always about whales. In fact, it started with ducks.

The Albright College psychology professor began her professional career researching whether ducks’ fear of hawks is innate or learned.

But a vacation to Hawaii in 1985 caused her to dramatically change course.

“I was mesmerized by the whales. I had to study them,” said Green. “I immediately made plans to go back to Hawaii.”

For the last 30 years, Green has been a tireless advocate for endangered humpback whales, working to protect them from dangerous human-generated ocean noise pollution. Unafraid to take on states, the federal government, or the U.S. Navy, Green has also been instrumental in changing international policy regarding marine mammals at the European Union, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
(NATO) and the United Nations.

A petite woman, Green certainly looks like the David in this David v. Goliath story. But don’t be fooled by her appearance. She is fiery, focused and undeterred by fumbles. And at age 72, Green has no plans to slow down.

“I like inspiring students,” said Green, who co-chairs Albright’s psychology department. “[My actions] look gutsy and, in a way, I guess they are. But if it wakes [students] up…”

Green has solicited the help of Albright students in her crusade. Each January Interim since 1986, she has led undergraduates to Hawaii to research the impact that boats, sonar and other noise producers have on whales. Students describe the experience as eye-opening and life-changing.

“I’ll probably never go on a cruise again,” joked April Maschke ’14, who participated in the January 2013 Interim and returned in 2014 as a team leader. “And if I went to Sea World, [Green] would probably hunt me down.”

This January, 13 Albright students spent three weeks on the island of Maui studying with Green. Representing a cross-section of majors, the students worked seven days a week, with several hours each day devoted to research and data collection, and two hours each night in class. The Interim course counts as a general laboratory class, and participants write a culminating research paper.

“You realize this is not a vacation,” said Maschke, an accounting major.

Perched atop volcanic rock cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the students used binoculars and other scientific instruments to observe pods of whales and record their behaviors and movements, plotting the proximity of boats and determining the effects of engine noise on the pods.

Whales are acoustic animals. Their auditory sense serves as their eyes and ears, helping them to navigate, avoid predators and find food. Distracting noise from a boat can cause serious harm or force a whale to stay underwater longer to evade the sounds. This places undue stress on the whales, particularly the calves, which do not have fully-developed lung capacities.

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More intense sounds, such as active sonar, can cause whales to sustain temporary and/or permanent hearing damage and internal bleeding, and can even lead to stranding, also known as beaching, which can be fatal.

In 1991, using data collected by Albright students, Green testified about the dangers parasail boats posed to humpbacks. The Hawaii legislature responded by passing a ban on the watercraft from mid-December through mid-May annually, a time when whales are breeding and calving in the area.

“I want to show my students that you can use science to protect nature,” said Green, who, in the 1990s, founded the Ocean Mammal Institute to promote this understanding.

Green speaks nationally and internationally on protecting whales. Through her work at the UN, she has increased international awareness of the dangers of human-generated noise pollution. She was instrumental in organizing 140 non-government organizations worldwide to call for international regulation of ocean noise. And she initiated legal action four times to try to get the Navy to mitigate its plans for training exercises, which would affect millions of ocean mammals, she said.

The initial action, filed in 1998 against the U.S. departments of Defense and Commerce, aimed to secure a temporary restraining order to prevent the Navy from testing Low Frequency Active Sonar (LFAS), which can reach 240 decibels. That’s equivalent to standing next to a NASA rocket at take-off, said Green. “It can kill a whale.”

The suit was ultimately unsuccessful, as was the appeal. But Green has continued her fight.

“I’ve never seen anyone that passionate about one thing. She has a lot of fire in her belly,” said Vincent Morgan ’13, who participated in the January 2013 Interim.

Green’s most recent legal action, initiated by Earthjustice lawyers regarding testing and training activities off the Hawaiian and Californian coasts, claims “the Navy and National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act when they relied on a legally defective environmental impact statement to give the green light to the Navy’s plan, which the agencies admit will cause nearly 9.6 million instances of harm to whales, dolphins and other marine mammals.”

In an Associated Press article about the lawsuit, Green stated, “The science is clear: sonar and live-fire training in the ocean harms marine mammals. There are safer ways to conduct Navy exercises that include time and place restrictions to avoid areas known to be vital for marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and resting.”

Green believes by working together, the Navy and environmentalists can develop solutions that are safe and still effective for military goals.

“You’re never going to stop the Navy. Trying to stop the military industrial complex is like trying to stop the Earth from rotating,” she said. “But you can get them to engage in mitigation.”

Green also believes in the power of grassroots movements. Small groups of people can accomplish a lot, she said, and tries to instill this idea in her students, encouraging them to take a stand for what they believe in.

“It doesn’t have to be an environmental issue. The goal is to get students to realize it’s important to care enough about something and know that you can do something about it. And if you’re fully passionate in what you’re doing, the universe will support you,” said Green, who counts Albright among her stalwart supporters.

Green’s students have certainly heeded these lessons. Morgan, a criminology and psychology major, said the Hawaii Interim gave him a new outlook on life, a greater appreciation for nature, and the understanding that “there are more things than us in the world.”

“And I realized I can make a change in the world with my passion, whether it’s helping out with whale research or my passion to be a state trooper or federal law enforcement officer,” said Morgan.

Green has taught at Albright since 1969 and developed the College’s psychobiology program, believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country. Ultimately for her, the fight to save humpback whales is about reconnecting our hearts and minds, realizing that the goal is not to control nature, but to live in harmony with the world around us.

“We can’t live without healthy oceans. And our oceans are in crisis from overfishing, chemical pollution, noise pollution and global warming.” she said. “What is it in the human psyche that allows us to ignore an environmental crisis today?

This is a topic psychologists must explore.”

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