Archive for June, 2008

June 11th 2008
Book Review: The Whale Warriors

Posted under books/reading

Have just finished reading The Whale Warriors: The Battle at the Bottom of the World to Save the Planet’s Largest Mammals by Peter Heller. And for anyone who is interested in what really goes on in Antarctica with Japan’s whaling, this is a must read.

Heller goes out with the Sea Shepherd, led by Captain Paul Watson and with a largely volunteer international crew, to pursue the Japanese whaling fleet and interfere with their mission of “scientific” whaling. (The only people who actually seem to think it is scientific are the Japanese involved with the mission. But I digress… a little). The book maintains a fast pace and flows very well. The descriptions, especially, of the conditions at sea with 30 plus foot swells are vivid. You’ll just about feel the cold spray as it crashed over the bow of the ship, the Farley Mowat.

Paul Watson was one of the founders of Greenpeace, but broke away to form Sea Shepherd in the late 1970s. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is an organization surrounded by controversy but possessing more chutzpah than anyone else in conservation on the high seas. Heller has his eyes wide open with an outsider’s perspective, seeking to determine both the reality and philosophy of the Sea Shepherd’s approach, and wonders more than once what he has gotten himself into by undertaking the voyage. He draws all aspects of the situation: the accusations of piracy against Sea Shepherd due to its willingness to use its ships to physically interfere with whaling ships (and, historically, other fishing vessels), the determination of the entire Farley Mowat crew from seasoned veterans to first timers, the viciousness that is comprised of the hunt for whales, and the lack of temerity of governments to directly confront the Japanese whaling fleet to end the slaughter. In the season when Heller was aboard, they engaged the Japanese whalers twice, and the drama of each encounter is captured vividly.

I had known of Sea Shepherd before reading this book, on the fence as to how I felt about their very direct form of action. Reading this book brings you right into the midst of the Sea Shepherd mindset, and I come away with enormous respect for the dedication and amount of risk involved. I am not sure I could do it, and yet it is so incredibly critical that someone does, since Japan continues to kill whales undeterred by increasing worldwide criticism. Heller does not go into enormous detail about what the whalers do, but the descriptions he does include of just what it takes to kill a whale should make anyone even remotely interested in whale conservation sit up and take notice. Suffice it to say here that there is nothing humane in how it takes 15-30 minutes or more of violent attack against a whale before it dies brutally and painfully. If any other animal taken for its meat was killed this barbarically, there would be mountains of uproar. Because these whale killings happen so far away from the public eye (though Iceland and Norway also undertake whaling), the chilling details of the kill are largely unknown. The Sea Shepherd may employ unorthodox methods in its direct means of intervention, but without them, many more whales would be lost. And since global whale populations after massive commercial whaling have left large whale populations at 5% or less of their original numbers (depending on the species), any whale lost is a blow to their overall survival.

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

Posted under news

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 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

Posted under news

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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June 1st 2008
Memorial Day Weekend 2008

Posted under whale watches

I have been going to Provincetown, MA over Memorial Day weekend for something like 15 years now.  When I started my regular visit, it was for the LGBT scene.  Now, that scene is secondary and I go for the whales.    I’ll compress the 4 whale watches I did over this weekend into one post because, while it was a good weekend, it was not as good as some Memorial Days past.

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