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Save the whales

11 Dec

Commercial whaling nearly wiped out every species of large whales in the 20th century. International whaling regulations were ignored or ineffective. As a result, many species remain endangered today.

In 1986 the International Whaling Commission established a moratorium on commercial whaling. Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to defy the whaling ban. Since the moratorium began, these nations have killed over 25,000 more whales, including endangered species.

You can help to stop them. Save the Whales!

Dolphin activists to meet Japan’s ‘Cove’ mayor

27 Oct

By Frank Zeller (AFP)

TOKYO — Japan’s dolphin-hunting town of Taiji, put under the spotlight in the Oscar-winning eco-documentary “The Cove”, will host a meeting with environmental activists next week.

Every year fishermen in Taiji herd about 2,000 dolphins into a secluded bay, select several dozen for sale to aquariums and marine parks and slaughter the rest for meat, a practice long deplored by animal rights campaigners.

Dolphin activist Ric O?Barry, the central character in “The Cove”, said Wednesday he had accepted an invitation to join a public discussion on the issue with Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen and the local fisheries union.

Japanese fishermen, who also hunt whales, have defended killing the sea mammals as part of a centuries-old tradition in the island-nation.

“It is obvious that a large gap exists between the town officials and the fishermen of Taiji, Wakayama prefecture, and anti-whaling groups now,” said the organiser, called the Association to Contemplate Taiji’s Dolphin Hunt.

“We recognise that there are various cultures, religions and beliefs on Planet Earth, and we would like to begin slowly, by acknowledging each other?s stance,” the group said in a statement announcing the November 2 event.

The group added: “A debate on dolphin hunting will likely be unproductive at this juncture, so we have decided that this meeting will be a forum to exchange relevant particulars in the first instance.”

The meeting, which will be open to the media but not the wider public for security reasons, will also be joined by representatives of environmental groups Sea Shepherd, the Whaleman Foundation and the World Ocean Fund.

The talk comes during the annual September-April hunting season, for which Taiji town has been allowed a catch quota of 2,241 small whales and dolphins.

O’Barry, an activist with the Earth Island Institute, who has suggested Taiji promote ecotourism instead of dolphin hunting, said in a statement: “There is a bright future for Taiji without the killing of dolphins.”

“We hope Mayor Sangen has an open mind during this meeting and will see that we can work together for a better future for the dolphins and the people of Taiji,” said O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer for 1960s TV show “Flipper”.

“The Cove”, directed by Louie Psihoyos, won the Academy Award for best documentary this year, and has been followed up by a series on cable channel Animal Planet called “Blood Dolphins”.

The team that shot “The Cove” over several years often worked clandestinely and at night to elude local authorities and angry fishermen, setting up disguised cameras underwater and in forested hills around the rocky cove.

Right-wing nationalist groups in Japan — known for their ear-splitting street demonstrations using megaphones — have attacked “The Cove” as anti-Japanese and tried to stop its screenings by harassing movie theatres.

This forced the film’s distributor to scrap screenings in June, but it managed the first commercial showing at a police-guarded Tokyo theatre in July, despite a brief skirmish between right-wingers and supporters.

The association that is setting up the dialogue added in its statement: “We do not know how many years it will take, but we sincerely hope that this meeting is a positive first step for both sides”.

“In order to foster communication among the concerned parties, we are considering having regularly scheduled meetings.”

Island nation announces Mongolia-sized sanctuary for whales and dolphins

25 Oct

Dolphins, whales, and dugongs will be safe from hunting in the waters surrounding the Pacific nation of Palau. At the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Nagoya, Japan, Palau’s Minister of the Environment, Natural Resources and Tourism, Harry Fritz, announced the establishment of a marine mammal sanctuary covering over 230,000 square miles (60,000 square kilometers) of the nation’s waters, an area the size of Mongolia.


The dugong is listed as Vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN Red List. Photo by: Julien Willem.

“Palau’s dugongs are the most isolated and endangered population in the world. We also have at least 11 species of cetaceans in our waters, including a breeding population of Sperm Whales and possibly as many as 30 other species of whales and dolphins that utilize our EEZ. This sanctuary will promote sustainable whale-watching tourism, already a growing multi-million dollar global industry, as an economic opportunity for the people of Palau,” Fritz said in Nagoya.

Already, last year Palau declared its waters a sanctuary for sharks. Sharks have been decimated worldwide, with some species’ population plunging by 99 percent, due to bycatch, overconsumption, and the shark-fin trade, whereby caught sharks’ fins are cut off and the animals are thrown back into the water to die.

Although many populations of whales are rebounding after centuries of commercial whaling, some are still threatened by whaling by Iceland, Japan, and Norway, as well as pollution. Dolphins are often killed as bycatch and suffer from widespread marine pollution.

“Palau, which once supported the Japanese position on commercial whaling, now supports conserving marine mammals, along with sharks and other species. By aiding economic development through ecotourism, Palau recognizes the importance of keeping these species alive and thriving,” Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said in a statement, adding that “we call on other countries large and small to follow Palau’s example.”

Palau made its announcement on the Convention’s Ocean Day where protective measures for the ocean were discussed by representatives. Under the convention nations have pledged to protect 10 percent of ocean waters by 2012, but according to a recent report by the Nature Conservancy only 1.17 percent of marine waters are protected.

Whale Poop Pumps Up Ocean Health

17 Oct

ScienceDaily (Oct. 12, 2010) — Whale feces — should you be forced to consider such matters — probably conjures images of, well, whale-scale hunks of crud, heavy lumps that sink to the bottom. But most whales actually deposit waste that floats at the surface of the ocean, “very liquidy, a flocculent plume,” says University of Vermont whale biologist, Joe Roman.

A conceptual model of the whale pump. In the common concept of the biological pump, zooplankton feed in the euphotic zone and export nutrients via sinking fecal pellets, and vertical migration. Fish typically release nutrients at the same depth at which they feed. Excretion for marine mammals, tethered to the surface for respiration, is expected to be shallower in the water column than where they feed. (Credit: Peter Roopnarine, Joe Roman, James J. McCarthy. The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity in a Coastal Basin. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (10): e13255 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0013255)

And this liquid fecal matter, rich in nutrients, has a huge positive influence on the productivity of ocean fisheries, Roman and his colleague, James McCarthy from Harvard University, have discovered.

Their discovery, published Oct. 11 in the journal PLoS ONE, is what Roman calls a “whale pump.”

Whales, they found, carry nutrients such as nitrogen from the depths where they feed back to the surface via their feces. This functions as an upward biological pump, reversing the assumption of some scientists that whales accelerate the loss of nutrients to the bottom.

And this nitrogen input in the Gulf of Maine is “more than the input of all rivers combined,” they write, some 23,000 metric tons each year.

Nitrogen limits

It is well known that microbes, plankton, and fish recycle nutrients in ocean waters, but whales and other marine mammals have largely been ignored in this cycle. Yet this study shows that whales historically played a central role in the productivity of ocean ecosystems — and continue to do so despite diminished populations.

Despite the problems of coastal eutrophication — like the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico caused by excess nitrogen washing down the Mississippi River — many places in the ocean of the Northern Hemisphere have a limited nitrogen supply.

Including where Roman and McCarthy completed their study: the once fish-rich Gulf of Maine in the western North Atlantic. There, phytoplankton, the base of the food chain, has a brake on its productivity when nitrogen is used up in the otherwise productive summer months. (In other parts of the ocean, other elements are limiting, like iron in some regions of the Southern oceans.)

“We think whales form a really important direct influence on the production of plants at the base of this food web,” says McCarthy.

“We found that whales increase primary productivity,” Roman says, allowing more phytoplankton to grow, which then “pushes up the secondary productivity,” he says, of the critters that rely on the plankton. The result: “bigger fisheries and higher abundances throughout regions where whales occur in high densities,” Roman says.

“In areas where whales were once more numerous than they are today, we suggest that they were more productive,” say McCarthy.

The numbers of whales that swam the oceans before human harvests began is a question of some controversy. “Conservative estimates are that large whales have been cut to 25 percent,” says Roman, “though the work done on whale genetics shows that we’re probably closer to 10 percent,” of historical levels. To cover the range of possibilities, Roman and McCarthy’s study considered several scenarios, estimating current whale stocks as 10, 25, or 50 percent of historical levels.

“Anyway you look at it, whales played a much bigger role in ecosystems in the past than they do now,” says Roman, a conservation biologist in the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and the author of a book on whales.

“And everything that we do to enhance recovery and restoration of the great whales to something like pre-harvest levels works against other deleterious effects that humans are causing in the oceans,” says McCarthy, like the decline of overall ocean productivity as climate change drives up water temperatures, which, in turn, causes a decline in nutrients for phytoplankton.

Save the whales, save the fishermen

A further implication of the new study is that ongoing calls by some governments to relax international whaling restrictions are ill-considered. Culls and bounty programs would reduce nitrogen and “decrease overall productivity,” Roman and McCarthy note.

“For a long time, and still today, Japan and other countries have policies to justify the harvest of marine mammals,” says Roman. These countries argue that whales compete with their commercial fisheries.

“Our study flips that idea on its head,” Roman says, “Not only is that competition small or non-existent, but actually the whales present can increase nutrients and help fisheries and the health of systems wherever they are found. By restoring populations we have a chance to glimpse how amazingly productive these ecosystems were in the past.”

Science Daily

Tens Of Thousands Of Walruses Crowd Ashore In Alaska Due To Melting Sea Ice (VIDEO)

2 Oct
The AP recently reported on tens of thousands of walruses that have been forced ashore in northwest Alaska because their usual habitat, sea ice, has melted.

This footage from the USGS, via National Geographic, shows an astonishing aerial perspective of the walruses, crowded together on the beach. The situation is especially dangerous because walruses are easily spooked, and the younger ones can be trampled to death in a resulting stampede. Because of this, the area has been declared as a no-fly zone.

According to National Geographic, this is the first time this many walruses have taken to the beach in this particular area, though similar incidents have occurred in other parts of Alaska and Russia in years past.

The Black Fish cuts nets to free dolphins in Taiji, Japan

29 Sep

The Black Fish is a young organization in Germany, The Netherlands en Sweden. Former Sea Shepherd crew-members decided to join hands and work together in fighting whaling, captivity and industrial fishing. The Black Fish we will be focusing on investigation and intervention. I think we going to here a lot of these guys and girls the coming years, starting with this awesome and brave action:

press-release: The Black Fish cuts nets to free dolphins in Taiji, Japan

Divers from the European conservation organisation The Black Fish have last night cut the nets of six holding pens in Taiji, Japan, that were holding dolphins caught during a dolphin drive hunt a few days earlier. During this hunt a number of dolphins were selected for the international dolphinarium trade and transferred to these holding pens. In rough weather conditions the divers swam out and cut the nets of six of these holding pens, allowing a number of dolphins to swim back out to sea. No arrests were made.

Fishermen transfer selected=

Fishermen transfer selected dolphins caught at the drive hunt to sea pen for the dolfinarium trade

by The Black Fish

Every year, between September and April, the sea around the fishing village of Taiji on the east coast of Japan turns red as it becomes the scene of one of the biggest mass slaughters of marine wildlife in the world. The dolphin drive hunt, which recently made global headlines through the Oscar winning documentary ‘The Cove’, is responsible for capturing and killing over 2,000 dolphins of Japan’s annual quota of 20,000. Fishermen drive the dolphins from sea into a cove, where some animals are selected for dolphinariums while the others are killed for their meat.

The Black Fish and other marine conservation and animal welfare organisations run ongoing campaigns to push for the closure of the remaining dolphinariums in Europe, where some of the dolphins caught at Taiji inevitably end up. Dolphinariums are already banned in United Kingdom. The Black Fish believes that it is unacceptable to keep dolphins, orca’s and other marine wildlife in captivity, given the vast areas which these animals normally inhabit, the miserable and squalid conditions under which they are often kept and the stress that public performances put on them.

Co-founder of The Black Fish, Wietse van der Werf, explains about their decision to intervene: “The connection between the dolphin entertainment industry and this annual drive hunt can no longer be denied. To be successful in our campaigns in Europe we need to get to the root of this illegal trade, which is right at Taiji.”

The Black Fish is aware of the sensitivity surrounding the hunt at Taiji this year. With an international media spotlight on the Japanese dolphin hunts, tensions within the country have heated up and Japanese nationalists have seized the opportunity to defend this ‘traditional’ activity. While we acknowledge that change also needs to come from within Japanese society, we vow to continue to work for the protection of these defenceless dolphins and push to make dolphinariums and the drive hunts which supply them history.

More info about this great new group:

The Black Fish official webpage (dutch page, English language)

Paul Watson / Sea Shepherd about The Black Fish

The future for humpback whales

12 Sep

The Planet Earth group take a closer look at the worrying impact of whaling for the dwindelling Humpback Whale population. Contains disturbing images of whale hunting.The Planet Earth group take a closer look at the worrying impact of whaling for the dwindelling Humpback Whale population. Contains disturbing images of whale hunting.