Did you know the seals and sea lions at the New England Aquarium are helping reduce plastic marine debris?

Here at the Aquarium, we take the issue of plastic in the ocean to heart. Why? Because plastic never really goes away. Instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that are making their way into the oceans and even our food chain.

We have begun to evaluate our use of plastic items and made some big institution-wide switches to reusable and sustainable alternatives. Even the seals are doing it!

Here’s a simple switch that our seals have made that you can try too: Bamboo Toothbrushes.

Chacoda, a 24-year-old harbor seal participates in daily toothbrushing.


Chacoda, a 24-year-old harbor seal, participates in daily toothbrushing.

The harbor seals’ bamboo toothbrushes.


The harbor seals’ bamboo toothbrushes.

Why Bamboo?

It’s a sustainable resource; bamboo is a fast-growing plant that does not need fertilizers or pesticides to cultivate and can be continuously re-harvested every few years.  Because it’s made from plant material it decomposes on its own, and it’s thought that bamboo may even have antimicrobial properties!

Though toothbrushes can be used more than once, they are not easily recycled which means many of them end up in our oceans.

Marine mammal trainer counts marine debris.

Marine mammal trainer Sean Rothwell counts toothbrushes and other plastic items collected during a marine debris survey at Clipperton Atoll, one of the most remote tropical islands on Earth. Despite a lack of human habitation, the island is still polluted by plastic trash.

I know what you’re thinking … seals brush their teeth? They do with a little help from the animal care professionals here at the Aquarium! A very important part of the training program for the Aquarium’s marine mammals is teaching them to participate in their own healthcare behaviors.

Harbor Seal Participates in Toothbrushing

Watch as Chacoda, an Atlantic harbor seal, cooperates in daily toothbrushing, one of many behaviors the seals learn in their healthcare training.

Our marine mammal friends are taking action, and you can too!

If you would like to learn more about how you can help make lasting changes for the ocean, visit us at the Aquarium or join our Protectors of the Blue – NEAq Community team in the Plastic Free July EcoChallenge for more great tips!

You can also learn some helpful tips on protecting our blue planet with Blue Planet Bingo! Return your card to the Aquarium to get a special prize!