GASP! Gulf Area Sea Paddlers

Killer Balloons

Have you ever seen the sky filled with hundreds of party balloons, multi-colors dotting the sky as they rise upwards disappearing into the clouds? How many times have we seen this act of celebration... How many balloons can we float off across the horizon? Wonder where they will land? To what foreign place will they travel? Who will be visited by my party balloons?

On a recent whale watching tour off the coast of Santa Barbara where we were delighted with the visit of several blue whales and a pod of hundreds of dolphins, we found out where, oh so many of these balloons decide to land. So often they are blown out to sea where they finally rest on its surface, and from below, to the marine life, these party balloons resemble a major food type... jellyfish. It is here where these symbols of celebration turn deadly. I never really thought about where those balloons go, but I've seen many released and floating by. I never suspected they could kill whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. After exiting childhood, I viewed the floating balloons as thoughtless litter, not much more. Now I know that they are killers. I had no idea.

The Captain of our tour boat, the Condor, one of two boats operated by Sea Landing out of Santa Barbara, halted the tour each time these balloons were spotted (on one occasion a cluster of about 80 balloons tied together) to retrieve them from the sea. I was impressed, not only by the concerned act of the Captain but also by what these floating objects were doing to the sea-life once the party was over. Much of the marine life affected is on the endagered species lists... sea turtles, some whale species, etc.

I am forwarding information on the subject that I found on the web. This information comes from "Whales on the Net" at

Please feel free to forward and inform.

Thanks and happy paddling.



Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996
From: Frederick L. Bach

The Alliance for a Living Ocean (ALO), an ocean conservation group located at Beach Haven on Long Beach Island, NJ, is waging a vigorous campaign against the release of helium-filled ballons near shore areas.

When these balloons deflate and fall into the ocean, they are mistaken by sea creatures like turtles, dolphins, and whales for jellyfish. Balloons swallowed by these animals cause an intestinal blockage and result in certain death.

The next time you are celebrating with a helium-filled balloon, DON'T LET IT GO.

We are particularly interested in cautioning grade school teachers against encouraging their classes to release balloons with messages attached near shore areas.

Any help you can give ALO in waging this campaign will be appreciated. If you have any ideas for helping to stop the release of helium-filled balloons near sea shore areas, please send your ideas to :

Date: Mon, Jan 22, 1996
From Robert B. Griffin

As a doctoral student at the University of Rhode Island Grad. School of Oceanography, I have spent approx. 160 days at sea, censusing marine mammal populations. Now I know where the balloons go. I have seen balloons as far out to sea as 200 miles, generally singly but once in a large cluster. Once the balloons fall into the ocean, they are transported by coastal currents, warm core rings, and the Gulf Stream to points unknown.

Last July, sensing a period of celebration arriving (the 4th of July) I wrote an editorial to my small newspaper alerting them to the potential danger and asking them not to release balloons. I was surprised at the number of people I met on the street commenting on my article. It had never entered their minds that balloon release posed a potential problem.

I do not believe people intentionally want to trash the ocean endangering wildlife. I think a nation-wide letter to the editor campaign might significantly reduce the problem.

Date: Fri, 26 Jan 1996
From: Robert Kummerer KUMMERER@EOS.HITC.COM
National Aquarium in Baltimore

For the past three years I have volunteered with the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP) sponsored by the National Aquarium in Baltimore. MARP's goal is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release sick and injured marine animals. We respond to roughly 25 strandings per year of ceteceans, pinnipeds, sea turtles,and even a wayward manatee. The human impact on the animals to which we respond is sometimes all too obvious.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1993 MARP received a pygmy sperm whale that stranded in New Jersey. This whale, named "Inky" by the Baltimore media, was severely emaciated. After two months of little success in getting Inky to regain her appetite and weight, an endoscopic procedure was performed so the medical staff could look at her GI tract. What was discovered was totally unexpected. Several pieces of plastic were discovered, among which was a complete Mylar party balloon, the cellophane off a box of cigarettes, and pieces of a garbage bag. After a total of five endoscopic procedures, all of the plastic was removed from Inky. Roughly six months after first arriving at the aquarium Inky was completely rehabilitated and released in the Gulf Stream off Florida.

This story fortunately had a happy ending, but we can't help but wonder how many ocean animals will suffer a different fate.

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