Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 3 July 1999


News Notes

Compiled by William Rossiter, CSI President


Fransiscana Research And More

Pablo Bordino of Fundación Cethus and the Ciudad Universitaria in Buenos Aires, Argentina, introduces his excellent Preliminary Report to CSI on the "Ecology and Behavior of the Fransiscana Dolphin Pontoporia blainvillei in Bahia Angegada, Argentina", with the words of a Kenyan Proverb, "Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children." Pablo Bordino's report on the fransiscana, also called the tohina or La Plata dolphin, is a fundamental study of one of the least known dolphins. Pablo's work speaks of the frontiers still available and necessary to science. He reports group sizes and behavior, mothers and calves, environmental conditions, and negative reactions to boats; his work improves our understanding of the species perhaps in time to prevent significant human impacts. The fransiscana is a small species found in coastal and estuarian habitats from 18ºS in Brazil to Rio Negro, Argentina, at 41ºS. Prior to Bordino and a handful of other studies almost all biological information came from dolphins caught in fishing nets. Incidental capture is the major threat to the species' survival; it is listed as a CITES Appendix II "endangered species if trade not regulated". No one really knows how much impact humans are causing. DNA work suggests two distinct populations, complicating fishery and regulatory implications. Population numbers are a mystery, as are much of the fransiscana's social system. Pablo Bordino represents one of the most positive aspects of CSI's concerns, a young scientist with superb potential and great hopes for the future of science and conservation in his country. Exactly the kind of project and person CSI tries to find and fund. CSI's basic premise for supporting such research is expressed in an anonymous, mantra-like quote: "learn-understand-love-conserve". It works.

Resources

Stranded! is a 32 page book about how New Zealanders respond to the many whales and dolphins that strand every year. It is an evocative success story expressed in simple terms and beautiful photos, perfectly designed for children or anyone with an interest, and certainly anyone who doubts the basic premise that with help, equipment, and proven techniques it is possible to rescue, rehabilitate and release far more stranded cetaceans to long term survival in the wild. Contact CSI if you have an interest and we'll help you order one from author Dawn McMillan.

Marine Mammals Of The Wider Caribbean Region: A Review of Their Conservation Status is an extremely valuable resource prepared as a UNEP white paper for presentation at the ISTAC meeting in Cuba, 3-6 August. Co-authored by Nathalie Ward of the Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Network and Boston University Marine Program, and Anna Moscrop, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the report details the complex problems and attempted solutions in the Caribbean. The report applies to many other areas of the world as well, and is critical to making changes happen. Copies may be available after the formal presentation through IFAW, Habitat for Animals Programme, 411 Main St., Yarmouthport, MA 02675 USA.

The quarterly MMPA Bulletin from the National Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/prot_res/PR2/MMPA_Bulletin/mmpabulletin.html. To obtain a hard copy of the MMPA Bulletin or to be added to the mailing list, please contact Nicole Le Boeuf at nicole.leboeuf@noaa.gov, call 301-713-2322, or write to NOAA/NMFS/F/PR2, Attn. MMPA Bulletin, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

The ever threatened Endangered Species Act can be researched and helped through the Endangered Species Coalition, to which CSI belongs, at http://www.stopextinction.org/.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in June released findings of a nationwide study representing the first comprehensive overview of how Americans view marine mammals. The study indicates that Americans: oppose commercial whaling (70%); support the protection of marine mammals over commercial fishing interests (90%) even if the prices go up; have serious concerns about captive display of marine mammals (90%) unless the animals are well cared for and demonstrate results in education and scientific benefits in zoos and aquariums; support the limitation of various economic activities in the ocean that harm marine mammals; and support the various goals of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act as well as the scientific and policy oversight responsibilities of the Marine Mammal Commission. 80% strongly support imposing trade penalties or denying access to resources in American waters of nations that violate American or international marine mammal protection laws and agreements. Almost 90% support government restrictions on exporting marine mammals to countries with captive facilities that do not meet American educational and/or treatment standards. Over 80% object to interfering with the behavior of whales for whale watching. Nearly 75% endorse whale watchers paying a small fee to help pay the costs of whale conservation and management. More details may be found at http://www.hsus.org/programs/wildlife/marine/perceptions_intro.html.

What Global Warming?

On May 1st the Associated Press reported comments by Gregory Bossart, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Miami, that scientists are concerned about the emergence of new diseases affecting dolphins, manatees and other marine mammals that could possibly infect people, including two virulent cancers attacking dolphins in Florida, a strain of flu infecting harbor seals in New England, a class of viruses that has killed thousands of dolphins and Arctic seals as it spread from the North Atlantic to the Pacific, and a fungal disease attacking dolphins in Biscayne Bay and the St. Lucie River. Bossart said the diseases had "implications for future (human) public health threats", and that until five years ago, increasingly common cancers were nearly unheard of. "Why they evolved, we don't know. The point is there is something happening in the marine ecosystem and it seems to be recent... This may be a red flag for us." Epidemiologist Lora Flemingany felt that the unexplained changes may be related to a changing global climate. CSI has recently helped to fund a study by Dr. Marie-Françoise Van Bressem of the epidemiology of cetacean morbillivirus worldwide, another disease possibly affected by environmental changes. What changes? The American Institute of Physics reported the average global surface temperature is 14ºC, up 0.57ºC from the first data in 1861. They reported that the warmest year in the warmest century was 1998. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst found the 90's the warmest of the millennium, but it's not over yet. One consequence of the warming reported by the British Antarctic Survey is a five mile lowering of the earth's mesosphere. Increased atmospheric CO2 has altered the level of calcium carbonate in seawater, decreasing coral calcification rates by up to 11%, and has raised ocean temperatures, stressing coral enough to expel supporting algae. Some shallow corals have declined 95% through such bleaching. Corals are an early alarm bell. What this all means for cetaceans, much less the rest of us, is still unknown.

Orcas Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

Some of the estimated 450 orcas that feed in the coastal waters off Alaska have dangerously high levels of industrial pollutants concentrated in their blubber, according to a scientific study reported in the Anchorage Daily News June 6th. During the past five years the study has found PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, and the pesticide DDT in 77 blubber samples taken from 74 of the area's whales. The concentrations of the contaminants is much higher than expected, especially among "transient" orcas that show a cultural preference for marine mammal prey. Transients had the poisonous chemicals up to 22 times greater than among the "resident" clans of orcas that prefer a fish diet. Those levels are comparable to beluga whales in the industrialized St. Lawrence River estuary that are classified as hazardous waste if they die and wash ashore. Those belugas have not reproduced in decades, and biologists blame the contaminants. Beluga mothers metabolized concentrations of chemicals into their milk. Perhaps for a similar reason one family of local transient whales in Alaska has failed to produce any offspring since 1984. Five of the 11 members of that group were found to have high levels of contaminants in their blubber. Biopsy samples from ten transient orcas averaged PCBs at about 237.7 parts per million and DDT at about 346 parts per million, according to the draft report of the 1998 "Comprehensive Killer Whale Investigation" sponsored by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council. The federal standard for PCBs in red meat for human consumption is 3 parts per million, and the limit for DDT in fish is 5 parts per million, although there are better reasons not to eat orcas. Most of one transient family disappeared in the year after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill which dumped 11 million gallons into Prince William Sound. Exxon, by the way, still hasn't paid a dime, but that's another story. PCBs are used in plastics, paints, and electrical transformer oils. They were banned from the U.S. in 1979, but are still produced and used in Asia. The United States stopped using DDT in 1972, but it is still manufactured here and exported. PCBs, DDT and other dangerous chemicals are found throughout the world, spread by wind and ocean currents. In the Alaskan case they most likely are coming from Southeast Asia where they are still used. They may also be leaching from a U.S. military dump site in the ocean off Alaska's coast. Easily entering the food chain they accumulate in fatty tissues and organs of animals, reaching dangerous levels in top predators such as orcas.

Bits And Pieces

In June the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans had scheduled a hearing on H.R.1934, proposing to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to establish a Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Grant Program. On June 29, 1999, the House Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife, and Oceans had scheduled an oversight hearing on the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

In June the Wildwood Crest (New Jersey, USA) Environmental Commission enacted a "dolphin-safe zone" extending 200 feet from the water's edge, where gillnet fishing and boat/personal watercraft speeding is prohibited when dolphins are present. At least three bottlenose dolphins washed ashore in late June at Island Beach State Park, New Jersey, having died entangled in commercial fishing nets. In South Africa numerous cases are springing up as people harass dolphins with jetskis, in spite of laws against such actions.

As of June 1st, at least 65 dead gray whales have been reported along the Mexican coast in 1999, with as many as 32 in California, eighteen in Washington, and seven in British Columbia. The number of calves migrating north this spring is the lowest ever recorded. While some scientists still declare that such losses are normal to a healthy population, others speculate that the emaciated condition of the dead whales indicates that the population may exceed the food available in the Bering Sea causing the whales to starve. Whether climatic or other factors have caused the decline in resources is under frantic investigation.

In June NMFS announced the availability of revised whale watch guidelines for vessel operations off New England. These guidelines provide vessel speed recommendations, decrease the number of vessels that should be near whales, and recommend using lookouts near known whale aggregation areas. At the Boston Harbor U.S. Coast Guard Base on June 28, 1999, the mandatory ship reporting system to protect North Atlantic right whales is expected from NOAA as this Whales Alive! goes to press.

The Faeroe Islands pilot whale fishery has withstood worldwide disgust and frustration for decades. Faeroese fishermen herd up to 1,500 pilot whales into shallow bays and slaughter them with hooks and spears as part of a ritualistic event odd and horrifying to the rest of us. Now they have protested yet another public reaction as Tengelmann and Aldi, the two largest supermarket chains in Germany, have promised to stop buying fish from the Faeroe Islands. The Faeroese economy is supported almost entirely by fish product exports but boycotts haven't done well against provoked nationalism before. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society reported and initiated this boycott and promises to spread it throughout Europe.

There will be no Faeroese representative at the 5th Annual Conference on Animals and The Law held by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Entitled "The Legal Status of Non-Human Animals", the conference is scheduled for Saturday, September 25, 1999 at 42 West 44th Street, New York, USA. The Conference will be a discussion of how the law currently classifies non-human animals and whether the current legal framework is in accord with scientific understanding, public attitudes and fundamental principles of justice. For further information, call 212 382 6600, ext. 6613.

From the World Council of Whalers meeting in Iceland in March came the enlightening report "Whale and dolphin hunting in the Philippines". The central Philippines and the Visayan Islands, about 12% of Philippine waters, are the known dolphin and whale hunting regions. People take smaller species of dolphin, although a few villages also take whales. The activity is family based, with men hunting and the women selling the meat for about $1/kg. The meat is eaten cooked when fresh, and any surplus is dried and stored. Because of the 1992 ban on catching and selling of dolphins and whales under FAO 185 and 185-1, the meat is sold house-to-house rather than openly in the markets. There is no acknowledged export of whale products. In some cases, whales are hunted for use as bait in catching economically important fish species. Recently, dolphin hunters have been encouraged to engage in ecotourism, and provided with fishing gear so as to catch other marine resources or to take up seaweed and other forms of farming. Due to the great demand for whale shark meat in export markets some shift has occurred from hunting dolphins to catching sharks. Although there has been a decline in numbers of whales sighted since 1992, planned assessments of whale stocks may allow the whaling ban to be relaxed. The government of the Philippines fully supports the sustainable use of her resources and is not expected to be represented at "The Legal Status of Non-Human Animals" conference noted above.

Humans use and abuse cetaceans in many ways. "Cultists" on organized tours in South Africa are still flaunting the recent Marine Living Resources Act and swimming with dolphins. Several cases of jetski riders herding or running over dolphins are in the news there as well, according to the much respected Dolphin Action and Protection Group. New Zealand has now controlled the extremes and enjoys showcase ecotourism based on reasonable permits, professional experience and many, many accessible cetaceans.

Norwegians Can't Find Enough Whales To Kill

Despite a ban by the International Whaling Commission and protests by several countries the Norwegian government opened their self-proclaimed whale hunting season on May 3rd. 753 minke whales kills were planned, up from 621 in 1998. Norway resumed whale hunting in 1993, and now has an enormous frozen stockpile of meat they can't sell abroad. The government maintains a ban on exports of the meat and byproducts while attacking the international laws that make it illegal. Norway's fishing ministry authorized 35 boats to hunt until the end of July. Soon Norway's whalers were blaming bad weather rather than a shortage of whales or confrontations with Greenpeace boats for their low kill rate. As of June 16th the hunters had killed 294 whales, nearly 100 fewer than at the same point a year ago. Greenpeace zodiacs and a Norwegian Coast Guard vessel called to protect the whalers collided, causing at least one injured Greenpeace crewmember to be hospitalized. Two other activists were arrested, fined, and released pending a court hearing.

Japan Finds Whales To Kill

Japan decided in May to lift a 1972 ban on hunting Baird's beaked whales in the Sea of Japan off the western coast of the northern island of Hokkaido and allowed up to eight to be killed until the end of June, according to a forestry and fisheries ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Commercial whaling on the high seas has been banned since 1986 but this kill falls outside the jurisdiction of the International Whaling Commission and adds to the fleet of Japanese ships continuing to kill whales along the nation's coasts. Hundreds of whales are hunted at sea each year in what the government calls a research program to determine whether Sea of Japan waters are capable of sustaining whaling, although meat from whales killed for research is sold for profit by professional whalers and used by the government in much publicized programs to provide food for school children in an effort to develop a growing commercial interest.


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