Cetacean Society International

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


News Notes


The WTO Millennium Round Is Turtled

The media told us all what we witnessed in Seattle last month as the World Trade Organization attempted to hold its "Millennium Round", or Third Ministerial Conference of Negotiated Trade Agreements. But what did you really see? While the media concentrated on the ministerial pomp, the fringe anarchists, and the humiliating images of Seattle's police resorting to excessive force in the absence of logic and humanity, did you notice the over 450 people dressed as turtles? Those peaceful souls merely stood in silence, enduring early taunts and a few blows, but gathering growing applause as their tactics effectively shut down the WTO. Many people deserve credit but CSI especially salutes the turtle volunteers, particularly the always-brilliant originator of the turtle idea, Ben White of the Animal Welfare Institute. As someone told Ben, hang on to that turtle costume. The peaceful, enduring turtles will be seen again, and the Smithsonian will want a turtle outfit for its archives. Meanwhile, in spite of the media and misconceptions, what did you learn about the WTO? Do you agree that it is simply about minimizing the costs of producing and selling goods, and empowered to negate national laws or policies that stand in the way? CSI's primary concern with the WTO is that no consideration is given to environmental effects. None.


European Whale and Dolphin Sanctuary Created

The Parliament of the North German state of Schleswig Holstein voted on 15 October for the creation of a small cetacean sanctuary off the Islands of Sylt and Amrum, in the already existing "Wadden Sea of Schleswig-Holstein" National Park. This is the first cetacean sanctuary in Europe. A three year battle for the sanctuary ended when research demonstrated that the waters off these two islands are a breeding area for harbor porpoises, whose European populations are impacted by net entanglements and pollution. Scientists supported by the IUCN cetacean specialist group and environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, Schutzstation Wattenmeer and WWF had fought for the sanctuary to protect this breeding ground from impacts from fast boats, jet skis, commercial fisheries and other disturbing human activities.


Northern Mediterranean Whale Sanctuary Created

France, Italy and Monaco signed an agreement in Rome on 25 November, establishing a marine sanctuary to increase protection for the twelve whale and dolphin species in the Mediterranean Sea. The sanctuary covers 84,000 square kilometers, twice the size of Switzerland, between the Giens peninsula in France, the north of Sardinia and the south Tuscany coast. More than 1,000 whales and 25,000 dolphins summer in the area, one of the richest cetacean habitats in the western Mediterranean. Italian Environment Minister Edo Ronchi said the accord would "allow for an increase in the large number of these extraordinary mammals in the northern Mediterranean". The sanctuary is ringed by some of Europe's busiest summer seaside resorts. Europe Conservation and the Italian Tethys Research Institute initiated this Mediterranean sanctuary concept, supported by World Wide Fund for Nature, Greenpeace, and other organizations. The agreement took ten years to negotiate, and commits the three countries to ban whaling, monitor or outlaw offshore competitions and uncontrolled commercial whale watching activities, and fight pollution such as heavy metals from land-based sources. Fishing and shipping in the area will be strictly monitored to ensure compliance with the accord, which recognizes that severe over-fishing and use of illegal nets by some fleets have depleted resources, impacted habitats, and reduced populations.


New Zealand Lists Hector's Dolphin As Threatened

On 16 December the Hector's dolphin, New Zealand's only endemic cetacean, was gazetted by the Minister of Conservation as a threatened species under the provisions of the Marine Mammals Protection Act. The action coincided with a petition by New Zealand scientists and activists to provide greater efforts to protect the species, particularly around the North Island. Banks Peninsula, a major breeding area for Hector's dolphin, was established as the country's first marine mammal sanctuary ten years ago. This population appears to be in a healthy state, and is the focus of a growing tourist industry. However the North Island Hector's dolphin population decline continues. Commercial or recreational fisheries have been blamed, but research may find additional factors. The Department of Conservation is committed to further research efforts that will identify appropriate management responses based on sound scientific advice.


Makah Whaling Legal Appeal

The long-awaited Appeal brought by Australians for Animals against the decision on the "Metcalf v. Daley" lawsuit, regarding the legality of Makah whaling and the actions of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on February 8, 2000. The Appeal will allow facts and legalities to be considered that were not heard before the initial lawsuit was dismissed. The facts document an astonishing array of inappropriate actions and statements by various U.S. government agencies, and should correct many misconceptions about the validity of the Makah Tribe's position. The government's deception continues; regarding the whale killed last May a NMFS spokesman asserted that the whale was part of the larger, migratory population and "unlikely in the extreme" to have been a resident because "it was taken several miles off shore, traveling north". The Makah tribe is not supposed to hunt "resident" whales. According to the official "Report of the NMFS Observer Monitoring the Makah Gray Whale Spring Hunt in 1999," the whale was moving south-southwest and was never more that a mile and a half offshore. Three days after the hunt, marine biologists with Cascadia Research identified six resident whales in the immediate area where the whale was shot.


Greenpeace Confronts Japanese Whaling

Activists in inflatable boats from Greenpeace's "Arctic Sunrise" confronted Japanese whalers hunting Minke whales near Antarctica on 20 December. One activist jumped into the waters in front of the huge factory ship "Nisshin Maru" forcing it to change course and stop the day's hunt. He also jumped onto a harpooned whale as it was being hauled up a ramp onto the ship. Minke whales are protected under a moratorium on whaling established by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. A 1994 international treaty created a whale sanctuary to ban hunting around Antarctica. Japanese ships have hunted in the sanctuary under a loophole in the IWC treaty that allows small-scale whaling for "scientific" purposes. In 1998 Japanese ships killed 440 Minke whales in the protected Antarctic waters, selling the meat in supermarkets as they have done for years.


Another Shedd Aquarium Death

Immiayuk, a 14 year old beluga whale kept at Chicago's John G. Shedd Aquarium since 1989, died on 26 December of unknown causes. Immiayuk's late November physical exam had shown no problems. Her first calf, Kayavak, was born this past summer and was still nursing. A male calf died at the Shedd in August, and another male calf died in June 1998. In 1992, two adult whales died after being medicated. Four pacific white-sided dolphins have also died in the decade Shedd has kept dolphins. Of the six adult deaths, three died within their first two months of captivity. Three of four newborn calves died shortly after birth. Shedd officials recently announced that another beluga is pregnant again. She has already lost three calves. The Shedd Aquarium's high mortality rate is in spite of an environment free of hazards such as human hunting and pollution, natural predation, and poor maternal condition. The Chicago city council has been asked to support a resolution to ban the breeding and importation of whales and dolphins. Please contact Mayor Richard M. Daley, City of Chicago, 121 N. LaSalle St., Room 507, Chicago, IL 60602. Tel: 312-744-3300, Fax: 312-744-2324, Email: MayorDaley@CityofChicago.org, to request that he support this resolution.


Iceland: Whaling and the IWC

Dr. Ole Lindquist reported in mid-November that, after a ten year public defamation campaign to the Icelandic public against the IWC and conservationist-minded member countries, Iceland may be preparing to join CITES and the IWC. On 18 November 1999, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ásgrímsson stated that it is increasingly likely that Iceland would rejoin the IWC. Membership in the IWC is a prerequisite for Icelandic export of whale products. Japan and Norway have pushed Iceland to rejoin and the IWC is now different from when Iceland left the Commission in 1992. Minister Ásgrímsson stressed that rejoining the IWC should serve to promote utilization of whale stocks around Iceland, cooperation with other nations for the renewed sustainable utilization of marine mammals, and to increase the understanding of these policies throughout the world. Ásgrímsson explained that Iceland left the IWC with the expectation that Norway and others would follow. The North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO), comprised of Iceland, Norway, Greenland and the Faeroe Islands, has not proved to be as useful as expected. This is the first Icelandic government acknowledgment that NAMMCO is weak. A draft motion had been tabled in the Althing (Parliament) about Iceland joining CITES so as to downlist certain whale species and enable commercial sales. During this debate the Icelandic media also carried an interview with Professor John Norton Moore, of the Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the University of Virginia, who was lecturing at the University of Iceland on the Law of the Sea. In an exceptionally influential speech Professor Moore explained that resuming whaling was contrary to international trends and would be very harmful to the Icelandic image abroad. Professor Moore had been very influential in establishing the language protecting cetaceans in the Law of the Sea.


Icelandic Whale Watching

Ásbjörn Björgvinsson, Director of the Husavik Whale Centre, reported that almost 34,000 people went whale watching in Iceland this season, up from 30,300 in 1998. Visitors to the Centre doubled, and Husavik is still the industry's core, but Olafsvik's `Eyjaferdir' company's nearly 100% sighting rate for blue whales caused their tourist numbers to double over last year. CSI has nominated Björgvinsson for the United Nations Environmental Program's Global 500 Award, and we congratulate him on his receipt in November of the "Knight of the Golden Ark" Award from H.R.H. Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands for his work to promote whale watching and to fight whaling.

H.R.H. Prince Bernhard with Ásbjörn Björgvinsson

H.R.H. Prince Bernhard (left) with Ásbjörn Björgvinsson


Two Stranded Right Whales Saved in Argentina

30 volunteers, among them artisanal fishermen, saved the lives of an adult right whale and her calf that were stranded in a rocky area in Peninsula Valdes, Argentina, on 27 December. Chubut's Province's Director of Tourism and Conservation, Nestor Garcia, reported that the volunteers managed to keep the bodies of the two whales wet with buckets of water until 3 am, when an unusually high tide enabled the whales to swim to sea. They were the last two whales left at Peninsula Valdes, as the others had migrated towards Antarctic waters by the middle of December. The southern right whale is a protected species in danger of extinction, although their population is much larger than the northern right whale's. Peninsula Valdes becomes their birthing area between the middle of May and early December. Each year, some 100,000 tourists enjoy authorized whale watching from Puerto Pirmaides, a small town in Peninsula Valdes. About 30 percent are foreigners.


Two Stranded Pilot Whales Rehabilitated and Released by Mystic Aquarium

CSI congratulates Mystic Aquarium of Connecticut, U.S.A., for their hard won rehabilitation and release of two pilot whales stranded on a Cape Cod, Massachusetts, beach on 28 June 1999, rehabilitated at Mystic, and released at sea on 20 October 1999. We invite you to follow the progress of the whales on the Aquarium's web site, at http://www.mysticaquarium.org/. Following the whales was made possible by the use of sophisticated tags that transmit the whales' position and other parameters to a satellite.


Mexican Salt Project Report

On Nov. 30, 1999, the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO unanimously adopted a report by an August 1999 fact-finding mission to Mexico's Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site on whether the site might be threatened by a proposed solar salt evaporation facility. The mission's report was viewed as favoring the position of both proponents and opponents of the project, in that it concludes that the site and whales are not currently in danger, but recommends a thorough monitoring of the area so that any impacts of any significant changes, such as construction of the proposed facility, can be evaluated. The report noted that the salt project could result in significant changes to the ecology. A government source said there would be no decision on the new saltworks project until an environmental impact study, commissioned from a group of scientists, was finished.


Contaminants in Cetacean Products

In mid-October 1999, a joint study by scientists from Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences (Fukuoka, Japan), Harvard University, and the University of Greenwich (UK) concluded that whale and dolphin products on the market for human consumption in Japan are contaminated with high levels of mercury, dioxins, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). About 85% of samples from smaller cetaceans tested exceeded the Japanese provisional standard for mercury of 0.4 micrograms per gram, with levels in stewed dolphin livers about 500 times the standard. About half of the sampled minke whale and smaller cetaceans exceeded the provisional standard for PCBs of 0.5 micrograms per gram. The scientists plan to submit their findings to the Japanese Health and Welfare Ministry and the Japanese Fisheries Agency, requesting them to take action to alleviate the problem, as prolonged consumption of the whale meat may result in health problems.


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