Archive for the 'news' Category

June 30th 2009
Whale Watching Vs. Whaling, and the IWC

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The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission has recently concluded in Portugal and, as in previous years, not a lot seems to have been accomplished. Japan and other countries are still pushing for “legitimate” whaling quotas, and there’s a new contingent – Inuits in Greenland – who are seeking leave to hunt 50 humpback whales over the 5 years. The Danish government is helping them to get this through. All talk about whaling and quotas was tabled until next year because of the controversy and heated opinions on all sides. There are some terrific daily summaries of the meeting at this blog run by the American Cetacean Society.

While there are few actual results being reported from this year’s meeting, a lot happened during the week. Most encouraging to me was the report that whale WATCHING is actually more profitable than whale KILLING! Imagine that. What gets me is that the IWC delegate to Iceland actually made the comment that whaling and whale watching were industries that could co-exist and “grow together”. Um, what? How does one expect to see more whales if one is also killing more whales? Total lack of sensibility. And sentimentally speaking (on top of conservation concerns), I really hope that Greenland does not start killing humpbacks since the whales up there are part of the same overall population seen here off New England. Continue Reading »

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June 16th 2009
Fishing Dangers for Whales

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On most whale watches from the Northeast US, one of the many things that the naturalists will talk about is the danger to whales posed by fishing gear. Entanglement is a huge issue for whales and it is estimated that in the Stellwagen Bank area, 70% or more of the humpback whales bear scars from encounters with fishing gear. Efforts are ongoing to reduce the impact that fishing gear has on whales (like replacing floating line with sinking line), but the perfect solution has not yet been found.

Because minke whales are so fast moving and not as active at the surface as humpbacks, they are discussed less up in these parts. That made this story out of Canada about an entanglement injury on a minke whale very interesting to me. Take a look at the photos with the story to see the scar cutting right across the whale’s rorqual pleats. It is remarkable that this whale survives and has adapted to be able to feed despite the injury.

I’ve not had the misfortune of coming across an entangled whale while out on a whale watch. In this part of the world, whale watch boats that come across entangled whales are asked to both report them to the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies and wait with the whale until help arrives. Hopefully, as fishing gear adapts and is replaced, as ghost gear is removed from the ocean, injuries such as what happened to this minke, and has happened to hundreds of other whales, can become much less common.

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June 8th 2009
World Oceans Day

Posted under misc & news

Today is the first annual UN World Oceans Day. What does this mean? It’s an effort to shine a spotlight on the state of our oceans. It’s easy to stand on most shores, look out at the horizon, and feel a lot of peace about how beautiful the oceans are. But unfortunately, our oceans are in trouble. Very serious trouble, actually. Trash getting into the water is a major one, leading to things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There are other places around the world where trash is collecting, but this is the largest. A comprehensive report on marine litter was just released today.

What can we do? Well, a lot, but here’s a start:

If you smoke, dispose of your butts in a container. Stamping them on the ground just means they will get washed into some waterway and it has been shown that the filters contain plastics that make water toxic to fish. And the butts are eaten by fish, turtles and other marine life, which also kills them. Butts are trash. They shouldn’t just be tossed around and beaches are not giant ashtrays.

If you like seafood, make sure you are choosing something that is sustainable. Aquariums like the Monterey Bay Aquarium keep a close eye on this issue. Here’s a list of “good” fish to eat in a relative list. Overfishing is a massively important issue, and really greatly ignored. Some people are starting to make a stand, including against high end restaurants serving highly endangered bluefin tuna. Don’t eat at restaurants that serve shark fin soup. Sharks are disappearing at alarming rates because of being finned for a soup, where the fins add no taste and it’s simply “fashionable” to eat. Now, sharks are disappearing so fast that manta rays are being caught in increasing numbers for the soup. Human greed and consumption is vastly outpacing the oceans.

Go on a whale watch. See the ocean at work with your own eyes. What people know about, they tend to better protect. Not near the ocean? There are a bunch of great IMAX films available on DVD which is like being right there. I rather like Deep Sea 3D, myself, and am looking forward to one day getting “Dolphins and Whales 3D” on DVD.

I am still learning about the oceans and the myriad wonders, mysteries and problems. A lot of people out there have posted hints as well, so Google it and see what you can do. We must all make the effort, or there will be no more fish, no more whales, no more coral reefs, etc etc. As the oceans go, so will go our entire planet. Just because we can’t see the bottom of the ocean from the surface, doesn’t mean there is no bottom. And as Lucy Lawless said in a PSA, “there is no Planet B”. (Yes the PSA is primarily about climate change, but the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide is key to our climate.) Taking care of the oceans means taking care of us and all of this planet’s residents.

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February 19th 2009
Tracking Endangered Whales

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I was very encouraged to see a story on CNN.com today titled “Volunteers, Scientists Guard Endangered Whales“.  The subject is still sobering – preventing fatal ship strikes from happening to the critically endangered North Atlanta right whale – but being on a popular news site means this is not just an issue of interest to those in the field.  Public awareness is growing, and that can only be a good thing.  The article also provide concrete examples of how non-scientists can play a key role in protecting these animals.  The more the merrier!  There’s no question that if I lived closer to any whale-traveled coast, I would be one of those on a high point with binoculars (and probably a camera) in hand to do whatever I could.  Hopefully, the more people know about where whales are found and how to spot them, the more other ship strikes, like this one involving a cruise ship, can be avoided.  CNN.com also has a story about spotting the whales from a plane – very interesting!  It includes a real world example of how close a boat can come to hitting a whale and how important the spotting is for preventing the collisions.

The story also talks about the persistent problem of fishing gear entanglement.  I don’t understand why there is not more effort on the part of the fishing industry to reduce the entanglement risk. I would think that the people who most rely upon the health of the oceans for the health of their income would want to do whatever is possible to ensure an overall robust ecosystem.  There are very interesting research projects happening to better track entanglement as it occurs so it can be prevented in the future.  I realize that fishing gear isn’t cheap, but losing it altogether to become endlessly dangerous ghost gear, can’t be cheap either so wouldn’t a solid investment now reap longer rewards?  I’ve heard on whale watches how there is a push to develop gear that would still be effective but less dangerous to whales and sea turtles. Hopefully that means more and more breakthroughs and innovation sooner than later.

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February 17th 2009
Sea Shepherd Breaks Off Their Pursuit… This Year.

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Anyone who follows the welfare of whales around the world knows about the Sea Shepherd and their efforts to prevent Japan from whaling in the Southern Oceans.  There’s a book about one of their annual campaigns (The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller), and now even a TV series, Whale Wars on the Animal Planet.  Theirs is a hard campaign – take a old ship, an earnest (though not always sea-experienced) crew and sail into the Southern Oceans to find a fleet of Japanese ships.  Each year is different in how long it takes to find the ships, as well as the Japanese response.

This year, the Sea Shepherd found the Japanese fleet quickly, not once but twice, and managed to prevent whaling for significant stretches of time. And now, Japan has shown it is unafraid to take the fight to the most extreme.  While the Sea Shepherd crew is willing to sacrifice their own lives, their actions are not designed to endanger any human lives.  Japan’s response has been one of being a bully – amassing several of their ships to attack at once.  Since this created an exceptionally dangerous environment, the Sea Shepherd left the area, with word that a Japanese military team was en route to board them and confiscate the many hours of video footage accumulated by Sea Shepherd.

It says a lot that Japan is so worried about the footage that they would rather take the extreme measure of trying to confiscate it than let it be seen.  I will be very anxious to see what makes the edit for Whale Wars when it airs again.  I am a little skeptical about some Sea Shepherd’s claims – Like Captain Paul Watson’s assertion that he was shot at the end of the previous year’s campaign (the video footage aired on TV showed none of the recoil you would expect from a bullet impact, and no reaction from anyone standing near him, which would seemingly happen had he been struck).  Still, no doubt about it, this is a war.  I deeply respect the crew of Sea Shepherd for taking on this front-line battle; I am not sure I could do it. But it’s also a challenge to separate truth from spin sometimes.

Japan does not even try to hide that it’s “scientifically justified” whale killing winds up as meat in the stores.  They claim it is important for their heritage.  Maybe once it was.  But I have yet to see anything that shows that anyone in Japan is going hungry for lack of whale meat to eat.  They actually have much unconsumed whale meat that sits in freezers.  And younger Japanese are showing a lot less interest in whale meat than their elders. The Japanese claim of scientific research is not backed by any concrete, scientifically accepted reports.  On the contrary, several whale research oganizations have refuted bogus arguments for whaling and demonstrated effective non-lethal ways of learning the same information that the Japanese claim can only be gleened from killing whales.

This is definitely an ongoing issue.  Once when I met Bill Clinton during Hillary’s presidential campaign, I commented to him: “Please tell the Senator, when she is elected, to pressure Japan to stop whaling.” His response was very interesting, “Yeah that’s the one topic they get really defensive about.”  It’s time for reality to reach Japan – whaling is not necessary, the methods are cruel and inhumane, and killing whales to find out how many there are and if we need to save them is a massive contradiction in terms.

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October 16th 2008
Blaming Whales for Mankind’s Overfishing

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There are ongoing efforts to reduce whaling around the world, which is terrific. What’s bizarre about the nations who still whale are some of the arguments being used to justify whaling.

Yeah, because whales eat all of the fish. *rolling my eyes* Say what? In a recent meeting of nations at the World Conservation Congress, this argument came up again, that “controlling” whale “stocks” is meant to increase fish available for human consumption. (I can’t stand the word stocks as applied to whale populations. But maybe that’s just me.) The large baleen whales that have been/are hunted – blues, humpbacks, minkes, fins – eat copepods, krill, sand lance. These are not fish consumed by humans. Sure, toothed whales eat fish, like some orcas that eat salmon, sperm whales, dolphins, etc.

But I feel that the contention that this interferes with human fish consumption is specious. In the early 20th century when whaling was at its vicious, steam and gas powered peak, fisheries for humans were also at a peak. Cape Cod, for example, was amass with fish stocks. Commercial boats worldwide pulled tons and tons of fish out of the oceans on a regular basis (yes, they still do, but there aren’t as many and they aren’t as big). And guess what? Those fish stocks lived in same oceans, side by side, with the world’s cetaceans for millions of years. If whales were such a threat to fish stocks, I’d posit there would not have been any fish to harvest for humans, certainly not at the vast numbers that they were caught. Carl Safina’s book “Song for the Blue Planet” talks about the bluefin tuna fishery collapse as one example of abundance turned scarce by human fishing.

Australia, being one of the largest anti-whaling nations on the front lines of Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, deserves a lot of credit for fighting so hard to eliminate so-called scientific whaling. They are being blamed for wanting stronger language condemning whaling as a way to increase fish stocks for humans. So the whaling nations are walking away from the table, rather than concede the fallacy of the fisheries argument. Google “impact of whales on fisheries” and find a bounty of PDFs and pages dedicated to disproving this argument. Rather, the continued depletion of the oceans by humans has far more implications on the availability of food for the whales as ocean ecosystems collapse from the absence of big pieces of the food chain. Not to mention the general condition of the oceans themselves thanks to pollution and acoustic noise.

The time is past for tiptoeing around the egos of the whaling nations. Their arguments get weaker as public awareness increases. Let’s hope that continues and we can finally end whaling for real.

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October 11th 2008
How to Kill a Whale – why would one try?

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It isn’t easy. Recently in Australia, officials decided to “euthanize” a sick whale that had stranded. Despite the fact that mother nature has been taking care of whales in all respects for millions of years, despite loads of empirical evidence that there is no humane way to kill a whale (eyewitness reports from those observing whalers, some stories here), the officials decided they could trump mother nature and “humanely” kill this whale.

They were wrong. The dynamite blast only caused pain and thrashing. They then had to shoot this whale. It took another 15 minutes for the animal to die.

I can believe that the animal was in discomfort before hand, but this account indicates it was “simply” lying on the beach. We can’t really know what it was physically feeling. So where do these Australian officials come off trying to step in? Australia is one of the leaders in combating whaling operations by Japan, especially since Japan routinely flouts the established marine sanctuaries established by Australia in the Southern Ocean. They are closer than anyone (besides Sea Shepherd, perhaps) to know what happens to the harpooned whales. Does it really make sense they would use untried, guesstimate methods to attempt to save this whale from suffering?

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July 9th 2008
Save the Whales

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There’s actually a very simple yet critical way to save the whales. The Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies is the only east coast U.S. organization that is federally permitted to disentangle whales from fishing gear. Yet next year, their funding will be so drastically cut as to jeopardize the whole program. Congress’ inability to get a budget passed is at the root of this, though the belief is that funding will be included in a final budget.

Meanwhile, PCCS continues to go out and disentangle whales on a scarily frequent basis, reinforcing just how critical this program is. A recent disentanglement press release talks about this loss of funding. There is also a story on boston.com about this topic.

Donate to PCCS and help keep the disentanglement team able to keep saving whales. It’s easy, it’s tangible, and it’s critically necessary.

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June 6th 2008
Right Whales’ other nemesis: Dick Cheney

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It is not a secret that the current US administration is no friend to the environment, and here’s just one more example. I had heard about this in May on the Earth Day whale watch, but there is now a story on CNN.com as well: Plan to save whales strangling in red tape. As if they don’t have enough trouble with fishing gear!

Basically, a plan was submitted to the OMB about regulating speed of ships through right whale habitats. OMB is supposed to rule these things in 90 days, but in this case they have sat on it for over a year and a half. Why? Because Dick Cheney wants to kowtow to industry and not have any concern whatsoever on the critically endangered whales. Apparently, a potential 1% increase in fuel is worth more than our natural heritage, especially when humans are the reason that natural heritage is in the brink of extinction in the first place.

This is just one more pathetic example of profit overruling science. This administration’s term cannot end soon enough. Call his office, 202-456-1111, or send an email and let him know it is time to stop this ridiculousness. And don’t forget to contact your own Congresspeople and Senators as well to ask them to speak up on this.

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June 3rd 2008
Right Whales and their nemesis, The Ship

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My attention was brought today to this story about the impact of proposed legislation which is intended to protect right whales but is being challenged by ferry lines running from the southern coast of Massachusetts to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

The story is really an interesting example of how to balance commerce/business with conservation and protection of endangered animals.  In this case the endangered animal is the North Atlantic right whale, numbering 350-400 (estimates vary) and extremely vulnerable to death by ship strike.  The reporter seems to favor the ferries, who are concerned about the impact that an ongoing reduction speed would have on their schedules.  This is certainly a legitimate concern.  Published timetables would be compromised by speed restrictions.  But, as is also pointed out in the story, there is no history of right whales ever being found in Nantucket Sound, so it seems a specious argument to make until there has been a real impact.

I want to do some more digging on this story.  Senator John Kerry introduce a Senate bill, S.2657, with Senator Olympia Snowe, and it seems to have been submitted on February 15, 2008.  What’s new since then? This year for the first time, Cape Cod Bay has been populated with a series of acoustic buoys designed to listen for and detect the presence of right whales in real time.  This allows fast dispatch of information to vessels so they can be on the alert.  I wonder, as data from this project accumulates, if it will also make unnecessary a codified, and potentially arbitrary since whales are always on the move, period of time where speeds must be adjusted.  And if successful, and funding permits, buoys could then be deployed in other “hot spots” for right whales.

But really in the end, do the ferry lines really warrant the fuss they are making when the rules only when right whales are in the area, and they are not known to be in that area?

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