Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. IX No. 1 - January 2000


A Change of Perspective

By William Rossiter, CSI President


We choose to begin this year with a very positive perspective. In spite of all the issues facing whales, dolphins, porpoises and their environment, we know that even as humans are the problem, humans are also the solution. There are solutions, and as a member of CSI you are part of the solution. October's Whales Alive! was crammed with problems and issues, enough to make anyone feel hopeless, including us. Perhaps we had begun to feel despair from the overload. It's time for a change of perspective. We are making a difference!

CSI is about celebrating cetaceans. We've had many reasons to celebrate this past year. More people seem to care about cetaceans and the marine environment. Many children asked wonderful questions. More CSI members want to become involved. We won some battles, others are progressing. Many of the scientists that CSI has supported are accelerating into positions of influence. We are finding many more talented people in developing nations with superb potential, more than we can afford to support. Many members enjoyed incredible whale watches ("our" Cape Cod whales were especially friendly and plentiful this past year) or told us of memorable personal experiences. Many more used the awesome Internet to learn and understand at their leisure. One family in particular exemplified why we feel so good about the future. Each child was made responsible for surveying environmental organizations dealing with subjects of interest. The family judged the merits of each, selected diverse groups to join, and made a substantial contribution to each. What a lesson! What a gift! Of course CSI is grateful for the donation and support, and proud that we were selected as the representative "whale group"; the competition is excellent. The point is that this family found an innovative and extraordinary way to teach responsibility and philanthropy, involve their children in environmental issues, and make a significant difference.

CSI is about winning the fight for cetaceans. We've had some significant successes this past year, but even after 26 years of fighting for whales and their kin new battles just keep starting up. They absorb all our resources, but that's why we're here; that's why you support us. You joined CSI to celebrate and help cetaceans. Your support is well and carefully spent.

CSI is about creating awareness. All over the world many more people are becoming aware of the oceans' environment, including its vulnerabilities. Good science gives us the facts, and this past year has flooded us with revelations, some magical and enthralling, other showing how our excesses cause problems. But again, if we humans are the problem we are also the solution. Human nature hasn't changed; we all act on our own perceived self interest. CSI is positive that enough people will care when they are aware of the facts and relate them to their long term self interest. We're positive that solutions will result whenever enough people care about cetaceans and our shared world. More of us are recognizing that our relationship with the nurturing Earth includes the future we leave to our children. "We lived in the best of times" should not become the epitaph for our generation, an invective accusation from our grandchildren because we left them with fewer resources, more problems, and a suffering world.

CSI is about facilitating solutions. We put much of our time and your money into establishing facts, supporting education to communicate those facts, and facilitating conservation coalitions based on the facts. Solutions are empowered by "People Power", the coordinated efforts of the many people working in concert, a very real and potent influence on the state of the world. We often work on issues with coalitions of organizations and specialists. This is why as part of CSI you're part of the solution. The Internet has become a major weapon for us. Time and again in 1999 environmental excesses caused by exploitive humans were caught in the Internet spotlight. Exploitive, destructive, irresponsible, or ignorant people that used to rely on time, anonymity and secrecy to succeed instead found news of their travesty reaching thousands of concerned people within minutes. People responded to these travesties very quickly. One excellent example was the international reaction to a hunt of beluga whales in Russia for sale as meat to Japan. Within days people at every level were acting to stop the hunt and trade, illuminating not just the problem and people involved, but the power of diverse people coming together to accomplish a critical task.

CSI is about celebrating the future children may give to us all. Given knowledge, resources and reason today's children may well meet any challenge our excesses leave them. They are certainly well ahead of our learning pace. CSI wants to give them the resources to understand problems and empower solutions. Children are absorbing an unbelievable array of truths from the information explosion, leaving many adults behind, perhaps envious and frustrated. Most of us don't have the time to unlearn the junk we had to learn years ago, and don't know where to start to catch up. You may have found much erroneous information on the Internet, and even in many books. How can you be selective and critical, and not waste your time? CSI's web site has very carefully selected links to the best information. Try us. No computer? Try a library. Can't use a computer? Ask a child for help.

Child in Peru

Only a very few children have modern educational resources, including the freedom to explore the world through the Internet. But children make do. This boy is reading a whale book sent by CSI to Dr. Marie Van Bressem's educational center in coastal Pucusana, Peru. Books illuminate young minds, developing expectations as well as truths. Modern resources can make a significant difference but they are most often unavailable where they are most needed. As we announced in past newsletters, if you send us your good educational resources we will guarantee to get them to young, eager and needy minds. Spanish versions are particularly needed. One outstanding example of superb resources developed for eager young minds is Nathalie Ward's work in the Caribbean. She tunes the best science and conservation information to a culturally astute presentation expressed through local perspectives. Colorful and bouncy, Nathalie's educational tools deserve to be everywhere.

CSI is about supporting and using good science. CSI helped to support twenty-two research or education projects in 1999, and in November enabled eight young scientists from Brazil, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico to attend the Society for Marine Mammalogy's conference in Maui, Hawaii. The conference allowed these young scientists to present their own research, meet their peers, and learn the frontiers of their field. Sadly, it was a very expensive venue. Many scientists couldn't afford to go and we didn't have enough to help all who needed it. CSI has been supporting scientific research since 1980. We have been fortunate to find so many young people with extraordinary potential at an early stage, when a small grant and useful help often meant the difference between success and failure. Many established scientists at the conference reminded me that CSI was the first organization to help support their research, or assist them at a critical time. Some are now professors with students of their own. Many are influential in their government's conservation positions, or involved with significant and seminal research. I was proud and pleased to follow the research and careers of scientists that CSI has helped from so many nations. As these people accelerated into their careers they gained experience, prestige and influence, and never forgot our early help. Today, as friends, they help us understand the science behind the issues, and often join us in solutions. Much research was presented at the conference on the effects of human pollution, buoying CSI's concerns over the insidious and terrible impacts we are inflicting on the environment. As top predators marine mammals are effective indicators of the health of the oceans. Innovative technologies are enabling us to understand what's happening, perhaps in time to make a difference. CSI's role is to ensure that the decision makers and politicians understand and act on the facts found by these frontier research projects.

CSI is about helping the plight of captive cetaceans. During 1999 we have been involved with several captivity issues, and several successes. New facilities or captures planned for Aruba, Chile, Curaçao, Cyprus and several other nations were prevented. Mortalities during a secretive, illegal shipment of dolphins from Russia to Mar del Plata Aquarium in Argentina during December resulted in better national policies and a move by some airlines to not transport cetaceans for captive display. Brazil has taken firm measures to prohibit the importation of portable displays, and is debating whether or not to again allow captive display of cetaceans at all. The Mexican captivity industry has proven to be both horrible and huge, supplying dolphins for display all over Latin America. That industry, and its Cuban connection, are the subject of an exhaustive report by Lic. Hugo Castello, Chief of the Marine Mammal Laboratory of the Natural Science Museum of Argentina, in Buenos Aires, along with courageous associates and financial support from several organizations, including CSI. We plan to have this Mexican captivity report on our web site as soon as possible, although our priority is to help to distribute a Spanish version within Mexico and Latin America as a vehicle for positive changes.

CSI is about providing resources. At last we can invite you to try CSI's unique new online Photo Gallery. Pictures can tell so many stories and are meant to be shared. We've put 93 free images of marine mammals on our website. The captions are designed for all audiences and purposely meant to provoke questions. We want people to use these images for school reports, letters to politicians or friends, screen savers, and whatever noncommercial applications can be thought of. CSI's Photo Gallery seems to be a new but overdue idea; there aren't many sources for good free photos. All we ask is that anyone using the images join CSI, using the membership form on the web site. Of course there's no way to tell if people will join us this way or just use the pictures. But it's not about compensating us for the photos. It's about helping CSI to help whales and dolphins. Members give us strength. Commercial applications for the images are possible, but we would have to negotiate fees for publishable images (the images are available as files made from slides scanned at 1920 dots per inch). We also know that there are many better photographs out there. Perhaps you can help us with your own images?

Pieter Folkiens is an award winning artist who is always looking for ways to help cetaceans. He recently donated two autographed posters to CSI as fund raisers. One is his very popular "Pinnipedia", with all the world's seals and seal lions true to life. There are only 20 still available before the poster is sold out and its value climbs among collectors. The second poster is "Cetacea", with all the world's cetacean species just as they are in life. Any contribution beyond their cost basis (US$25) is tax deductible and will be significant to CSI's efforts. We also offer the Nantucket Historical Society note cards and a popular screen saver. We're not into sales as such, we're just trying to raise money.

Where do we spend our money; your money? You should ask that of any non-profit organization you support. It will be difficult to find an organization with a lower operating expense than CSI. We are all volunteers; most expenses are absorbed as donations. CSI mails reminder notices to expiring members, and direct appeals to ask for support of our IWC and CITES representative. We publish this newsletter. We fund one representative each to the International Whaling Commission and CITES meetings. Combined these are our largest expenses. But perhaps our most significant expense is CSI's almost unique effort to support entry-level scientists and educators, generally from developing nations. That's it. Honest. No chandeliers, office staff, helicopters, or even pencils. CSI is bare bones. If you agree that this is a good way to work for whales, and that we are efficient and productive, then we hope you will agree that we always need financial support. If you are looking for one act to help an environmental organization in this new year please help us to find just one new member.


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