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Nanomedicine Lab scientists volunteer to Stop the Plastics and #HugTheWhale

  • £11,031

    pledged of £26,400

    • 125


    • 0


This project received pledges on Sat 20 Jul 2019


We are raising £26,400 to volunteer in a three week scientific expedition which will research and preserve Mediterranean Sperm Whales and send a strong message to Stop the Plastic that is poisoning our oceans, ending up in your meals and killing our gentle sea giants!

Who we are?

We are The Nanomedicine Lab at The University of Manchester. We are a group of over 30 scientists, engineers and research support staff, who are studying how nano-sized technologies made of different materials, such as gold, carbon and lipids can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of human debilitating diseases of the brain, such as cancer, neurodegeneration (Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s), stroke and epilepsy.

We (Luis, Jess, Michelle, Thembi and Kostas) will sacrifice our summer holidays this year to volunteer for the NanoWhale expedition run by The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute. We’ll act as the assistants of our marine biology colleagues in researching and conserving endangered Mediterranean Sperm Whales.

To do this, we need your support! Let us involve you before, during and after our expedition!

Our NanoWhale story


What are we doing and why? 

The serious implications from the accumulation of plastics in our oceans is gradually becoming recognised more widely. Almost daily, mass media feature different angles of the problem. Even the deepest vessel dive ever recorded in the Mariana Trench in the Pacific recently found… plastic bags!

Our oceans are becoming the wasteland of our plastic-based consumerism with tremendous implications. The Mediterranean Sea is particularly vulnerable to turn into a toxic wasteland, since it is the most heavily populated and vessel-trafficked closed sea basin in the world.

One of the most acute catastrophic consequences of the human-caused ocean plastics accumulation is the health impact on the species inhabiting our oceans. The largest, most intelligent, communicable, socially complex and long-living such species are cetaceans, and of those, sperm whales sit at the top of the pyramid. It is not widely known, but there are genetically distinct sperm whales slightly smaller than the oceanic ones (reaching in size 16 meters long and some 35 tons in weight) permanently inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea and isolated from their genetic cousins in the Atlantic Ocean.

Numerous and increasing numbers of strandings of those sea giants indicate that even small micro plastics in the ocean accumulate in their gastric system leading to a slow and undeserved death from starvation and dehydration.

To highlight the problem further, here is an aerial photograph showing the total amount of plastic debris found in the stomach content of just one young sperm whale laid on a tennis court. Two scientists of the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute (171 cm tall each) are used as scale bars.

We, the nano-scientists and nano-engineers designing technologies to improve human health at the smallest of scale at the Nanomedicine Lab of The University of Manchester, want to make an effort and contribute to a call for action for our sea creatures of the largest of scales! In doing so, we want to raise awareness of the broader problem of our oceans being filled with plastics.

This summer, we will support and volunteer with The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute for the study and conservation of these endangered Mediterranean sperm whales. The NanoWhale project is a scientific expedition with the aims of whale conservation and ocean environmental protection. During this expedition we will localise, eco-locate and photo-identify whales across the Hellenic Trench, the deepest area of the Mediterranean Sea, to understand the threats they face, and help shape the laws which can protect these animals. We believe that small (Nano) actions can have huge impact and now is the time to act!

The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute is a scientific, non-profit organisation active during the last two decades, whose goal is the study and conservation of cetaceans. Pelagos conducts scientific research and coordinates initiatives to protect whales, dolphins, and porpoises and their habitats from all sources of disturbance: chemical pollution, noise pollution, ship-strikes, accidental capture and injury, overfishing and, of course, plastic pollution in the Mediterranean Sea and further afield. Some of their scientific findings have travelled across the world through renowned media outlets, such as the BBC, CNN, TIME, The Times, Guardian, Economist, National Geographic and many others.

In practical terms, we, the Nanomedicine Lab volunteers along with The Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute researchers and one skipper will run the project for three weeks, with two volunteering teams changing over for two expeditions of ten days each. This will give you a flavour of what we’ll be going on board:

  • boarding a specially commissioned and equipped sailboat from the west coast of mainland Greece, into the Ionian Sea and down south across the trench towards the south coast of Crete;
  • searching visually and acoustically (using hydrophones) to locate the sperm whales;
  • logging all the research effort and activity as well as the presence and behaviour of all species of whales and dolphins encountered;
  • once sperm whales are localised acoustically the crew will be taking shifts around the clock, to track and photo-identify each individual whale before and after their deep feeding dives;
  • recording audio data collected with the hydrophone;
  • collecting skin samples that the whales shed behind during their breathing periods at the sea surface;
  • living and boarding on the boat;
  • maintaining the boat in good order;
  • discussing solutions and mass communication efforts of the problem of plastic deposition/degradation;
  • having fun swimming in the open sea above sea bottoms exceeding 100 m, or close to observed dolphins, contributing to a scientific project with sea mammal and ocean conservation endpoints.

Why is this important to us?

This action is very important to us, particularly as scientists.

  • We wish to encourage proactive action in protecting our oceans from man-made waste.
  • We wish to help understand and, in this way, protect unique species (such as Mediterranean Sperm Whales) that are in danger of extinction.
  • We wish to show that scientific knowledge and understanding can be used as a tool to convince politicians and decision makers of measures to prevent the gradual destruction of our seas.
  • We are prepared to sacrifice our summer vacation for the service of our fellow scientists in order to obtain valuable data.
  • We are for a cleaner ocean, healthier mammals inhabiting them and less plastic waste in our world!

Help us #HugTheWhale!

Why should it be important to you? What impact will you have by giving your money?

This is NOT just about the protection of a small and obscure number of whales in the Mediterranean. It is NOT about some extreme environmental activist group’s actions. It is NOT about some of us having a holiday on a sailboat. It is NOT about some fringe experiment.

This is really about:

  • The fish we all eat every week containing microplastics;
  • The water all of us swim in and drink being turned into a rubbish landfill;
  • The balance and richness of our seas being turned into a wasteland;
  • The undeserved death of the largest, most intelligent and socially complex creatures remaining on Earth.

Your money will allow us, the Nanomedicine Lab scientists, to volunteer to protect our largest species and our oceans, and to produce scientific data to lobby our politicians with.

Where will your donation go?

Your donation will be used to cover the costs of the three-week scientific expedition that will see us sailing across the deepest waters of the Mediterranean trench. 

The minimum fundraising amount (£10,300) has been set to allow the funding of at least a ten day expedition. The costs to be covered include:

  • Renting the sailboat for ten days: £5,500
  • Fuel: £2,000
  • Skipper fees: £1,000
  • Scientific equipment: £300
  • On-board living costs: £1,000
  • Levies and docking costs: £500

If the full target (£24,600) is reached, the expedition will be extended to three weeks (20 days) and the Nanomedicine Lab volunteers will participate in two teams changing over after the first ten days of studies in the sea. As such, the above costs will be doubled. The travel costs and insurance of the volunteers will also be covered:

  • Travel costs per person: £600
  • Travel insurance per person: £200

In the event that we will raise more than our target, we will use the funds to create props, flyers and banners with which to organise outreach activities to secondary schools around Manchester communicating our experience from the expedition, it's outcomes and the importance to Stop the Plastics and Save our Oceans.

We will be providing daily updates throughout the campaign on the this page and also on our Twitter


Hey, we have some fab rewards to thank everyone who donates, whatever the amount you might give. Check them out.

Follow us here  

Follow us to find out how we're doing!





Help us succeed!

You don't need to give money to help us succeed! Please share this project with anyone you think would support us – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, by email, telephone, in a chat over the fence or on your blog.

In fact, share it with everyone you know as we think it's a great idea, and the more people who know about it, the more likely we are to make this work out brilliantly.

And we know we said you don't need to give money to help us, but we'd love it if you did! We're asking you to make a donation, no matter how small (nano) or mega (whale-size), to help us fund this scientific expedition to perform research into the dangers faced by the remaining Mediterranean Sperm Whales.

Please sponsor us and help make this happen! 

Choose reward

Pledge £1 or more

Select this reward if you just want to donate to the project without receiving a reward.

87 claimed

Pledge £5 or more

We will email you a photograph of the whales from the expedition as we track their dives! #HugTheWhale

18 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 September 2019

Pledge £20 or more

We will email you a video of the sea mammals we meet and study from the expedition! #HugTheWhale

13 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 September 2019

Pledge £50 or more

We will create a personalised video for you with a video-dairy from some of our volunteers and send you (by email or shared link) on completion of the expedition! #HugTheWhale

6 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 September 2019

Pledge £100 or more

We will run an Open Day @ the Nanomedicine Lab in Manchester so that you get to meet the volunteers from the expedition - date TBC. We will tour you around the facilities, show you how we live and do research every day and explain what it means to be a nano-scientist, exploring the nanoscale! Travel and/or accommodation costs will not be covered. #HugTheWhale

1 claimed of 20

Estimated delivery: 1 October 2019

Pledge £1000 or more

Any person, company, institution or corporation that donates towards the NanoWhale project this amount, will have their name or logo printed on the T-shirts that we will wear during the expedition, and a banner with all the sponsors will be carried on the expedition boat at all times. We will email you photos and videos featuring your logo during the expedition. #HugTheWhale

0 claimed

Estimated delivery: 1 September 2019