Features: Oceans in Peril

by Catherine Trifiletti


Actor and environmentalist Adrian Grenier on why the oceans need our help

Fear mongering, finger pointing and shaming have been proven not to work when it comes to communicating the dangers facing our environment. Although experts agree that the planet and the ocean are suffering severe effects from global warming, a common misconception persists that change is out of reach. Actor and activist Adrian Grenier, best known as Vince Chase in the HBO hit series “Entourage,” wants to do something about that. He is using his platform to give a voice to the ocean and educate the average person about conservation in a digestible way, free of scientific jargon. Grenier believes it will take a collective change in consciousness to achieve progress for future generations.>>


Frightening statistics show that the next generation may not be able to experience the ocean in the same way as we do today. With increased consumption and waste pollution, scientists predict there may be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. There is also reason to believe that unchecked carbon emissions will continue to overwhelm the sea, melt glaciers, raise sea levels and encourage acidification (a reaction caused by enhanced levels of carbon dioxide mixing with sea water). Reckless human activity also plays a factor as unsustainable fishing practices have depleted fish stocks and threatened to collapse entire marine ecosystems.

The enormity of the problem was apparent at the Our Ocean conference hosted by the U.S. Department of State on Sept. 15 -16. Dignitaries, scientists and change makers from across the world gathered in Washington to chip away at dangers facing the sea and open a dialogue about solutions.

Secretary of State John Kerry pleaded with the group to treat ocean threats with a sense of urgency. “This is life and death. This is national security. It is international security,” he said. “And if we’re going to respond to the challenges globally, we have to care about the oceans and we have to understand the linkage to science and the linkage to climate change. It’s that simple.”





In 1989, while sifting through old declassified Naval tapes recorded to track Russian submarines, scientists happened upon an unidentifiable sound. They established it as the call of a whale that, at a frequency of 52 hertz, was drastically higher than the octave of any other known whale species. Year after year scientists listened as the whale’s cries went unanswered. Being highly social creatures, whales travel in pods, communicating among one another through their own specific language. The idea that this whale’s voice could not be heard symbolized the greater struggle of the ocean, and resonated with Grenier.

Having worked on several other environmental efforts previously, he set out to tell its story through a documentary called “52: The Search for the Loneliest Whale.” With funding from a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign, Grenier and a host of scientists embarked on a maiden voyage to search for the wandering sea creature. The documentary is slated for release in early 2017, but in the meantime Grenier is highly active in his foundation that sprouted from the film’s buzz in 2015.

“So often you go see a film that has a message or a social cause and the call to action is an afterthought,” Grenier says. “Having experienced that with past films that I’ve worked on, I wanted to make sure there was a robust community and something very tangible that the audience could gravitate toward once the film came out.”

Adrian Grenier, Sec. John Kerry. Photo by Tony Powell. 2016 Our Ocean Conference. GU. September 16, 2016

Adrian Grenier, Sec. John Kerry. Photo by Tony Powell. 2016 Our Ocean Conference. GU. September 16, 2016


Grenier and his Lonely Whale Foundation team are working in tandem with a host of other ocean-driven organizations to address a laundry list of marine issues. The group’s goal is to create a global discourse about the oceans, which Grenier describes as an “underserved” part of the world.

Using the story of 52 Hz as a hook, the foundation has built branding campaigns and education initiatives around the engaging narrative. The foundation has also partnered with the Academy of Global Citizenship to create a curriculum about the oceans for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Lonely Whale executive director Dune Ives says there is a prolific void of marine-based education programs at the elementary level.

Lonely Whale piloted its material at a school in the southside of Chicago where most kids have never seen or experienced the ocean beyond television or film. Ives explains the bottom up approach: “If we really want to create the next generation of environmental stewards, this program is the way to do it because we’re going to pass the baton on to them.” Ives and Grenier were excited to report that one of the classes was so passionate about the ocean that they adopted a sea otter.

Additionally, Grenier and his team are striving to lighten dense scientific terminology for the common person. Engaging with an audience through social media and a variety of campaigns, the foundation hopes to use empathy for the lonely whale’s plight to connect with people about the complex problems facing the environment without scaring them off. Ives explains it as “amplifying the work of other organizations” that are working on legislation, scientific-based solutions and technological advancements.

“We want to boil it down and be able to translate the call of the lonely whale and let the world know that he’s asking for our participation and our commitment to the oceans,” Grenier says.

A prime example is Lonely Whale’s #MakeASplash social initiative where individuals were asked to tag pictures of themselves in the water. Simple engagement comes first Ives says, then later the foundation can lean on an established rapport when opportunities arise for people to make a more direct impact.


The U.S. government and leaders from across the globe are doing their part in protecting the oceans and they say we must do ours. At the Our Ocean conference, President Obama announced the first marine national monument off the coast of Massachusetts. His administration has protected more marine areas than any other in history.

“It’s been said that we don’t inherit the Earth from our parents so much as we borrow it from our children,” Obama said. “Their right to inherit a healthy planet is a sacred responsibility for all of us. And how we treat our oceans is a big part of that burden.”

Grenier thinks making a commitment to the ocean is a good place to start. Although a seemingly simple mental task, he believes that consciousness is a powerful step toward greater influence down the line.

On a panel with Kerry at Georgetown University during the Our Ocean Conference, Grenier discussed his role in “Entourage” as one that glorified “conspicuous consumption.” He urged students in the audience to move away from a culture of excess and toward

a collective consciousness that puts the environment on a pedestal above frivolous indulgence.

More tangible action items include going strawless. Grenier says that many of the 500 million plastic straws used daily in the U.S. end up in the ocean. The Plastic Pollution Coalition asks consumers to “Refuse Single- Use Plastic.” He also stresses the importance of becoming educated about the sourcing of fish we purchase and recommends using Monterey Bay Aquarium’s site/ app, seafoodwatch.org.

A strong ocean community can serve as 52 Hz’s virtual pod, Ives says. Though the lonely whale may never find its family, Grenier and his foundation are using all of their resources to ensure that it doesn’t go unheard.

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