Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 4 October 1999


Cetacean News

By William Rossiter, CSI President


What Is A Whale Worth: Would You Risk Your Life For One?

Imagine yourself in a small inflatable boat, on a choppy, cold, windy sea, pulling a line attached to fishing gear wrapped around a 60 ton right whale. Near death but incredibly strong the whale drags the gear, boat and people through the waves like corks. Three weeks of ordeal to free three right whales; you are exhausted and cold. During the summer you have worked on too many other whales as well. Most were successes, none as dangerous as this whale here and now, and she is probably going to die unless the lines can be freed. But, in spite of repeated and heroic efforts, weather, whale and darkness fight back. You are forced to pull away. The drama was more real than the words can make it, played out in August and September beginning in the Bay of Fundy. The whale was known as #2030. Tracked with a special buoy that sent signals to satellites, she moved offshore and South, and was East of New Jersey when her buoy was left behind on 28 September. Over 25 days the whale had moved at least 804 miles. If she is alive it is because of the rescue effort.

The heroes in the boat working the lines were from the Center for Coastal Studies, the core of the Disentanglement Network. The Network is made up of many organizations and institutions, formed to deal with the increasing problem of entanglements. In July they saved right whale #2753, granddaughter of Staccato, the over 30 year old, 45 foot, 60 ton mother of six who had died in April from a boat collision that broke her jaw. Why make such sacrifices and even risk lives to free whales? Besides the obvious concern each Network person has for every whale in distress, there are no more than 325 right whales left in the North Atlantic. Every one is precious. The earlier effort to free #2660 involved the Center for Coastal Studies, New England Aquarium's vessels "Neried" and "Bonita", East Coast Ecosystems Fast Response Vessel, International Fund for Animal Welfare's "Song of the Whale", and vessels from Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, U.S. Coast Guard, and NMFS. For the full story see http://www.coastalstudies.org/.

Free Electrons

Recognizing the value of the Internet, and all the garbage that one must wade through to find the facts, CSI will try to promote certain resources that seem particularly valuable. Some are listed throughout this issue. In addition try:

(1) Need an Expert? Try the still-developing Global Directory of Marine (and Freshwater) Professionals. GLODIR is available for noncommercial use, developed and maintained by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC). The Directory contains information on individuals involved in all aspects of Marine or Freshwater Research and Management. It is intended to be a tool for scientists, policy makers, publishers and anyone who needs to contact a marine or freshwater professional. http://ioc.unesco.org:591/glodir

(2) The Journey North is a Best Education Site winner, detailing the migration of many species of birds, butterflies and whales, and other seasonal events. http://www.learner.org/jnorth/

(3) The Minerals Management Service (MMS) has revised its web page on Gulf of Mexico whales and dolphins and the `GulfCet' program. Now included are photographs of Gulf of Mexico species. MMS also offers free Gulf of Mexico whale and dolphin posters and a teacher's guide. http://www.gomr.mms.gov/homepg/regulate/environ/marmam/gulfcet4.html

Free Pictures

CSI's website will soon have 95 images of 22 cetacean species (almost) free for the taking. As you read this the CSI PHOTO GALLERY may be up and ready! Small images suitable for reports and any noncommercial use will be available to anyone online. Publication quality images can be negotiated. Our purpose is to make quality images available for educational, scientific and conservation uses. All we hope for in return is that the users join CSI. The format is designed around the "Marvel of Whales" slide presentation CSI offered for many years. In addition we will have a sample of humpback whales singing near Tortola, a project of Board Member Paul Knapp. We are trying to grow with the times and help you along too.

Educational Packages

Teachers and students are always looking for good educational resources with a twist. We are continuously awed with what's available for children today. To compete demands something cheap yet accurate, exciting yet purposeful. We already have a link to Dagmar Fertl's and Nicole LeBouef's "African Marine Mammals", but that is still Internet dependent. Why not try something created for a region a long way from your school? The whales, dolphins and facts may be the same but the whole approach is flavored with a fresh cultural outlook as a valuable educational tool. From Brazil we suggest Marcos Santos' books and resources, although only in Portuguese. Barbara Todd's "Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises", complete with incredible posters and activity sets, is flush with the colorful New Zealand Maori culture. For a sophisticated and accurate focus on orcas we suggest Ingrid Visser's New Zealand Orca Adoption educational packages. Both these units are being sponsored into every primary and middle school in New Zealand. Nathalie Ward's incredible Caribbean "Jump for Whales" educational package is crammed with color and local flavors, even including a 2000 calendar featuring winning posters by students. We cannot do justice to these efforts here, but we have reinforced our enthusiasm with funding grants for each of the above packages. If you have an interest please let CSI know and we will show you why we are so excited. We know that there are others out there. Tell us about them.

Tonga: Which Is Worth More, Watching Whales Or Eating Them?

On 10 July a dead humpback whale that had been struck by a ship was towed to Nuku 'alofa, capital of Tonga. The whale's meat was distributed locally, and enjoyed as a "healthy meal of traditional food after so many years" that the Tongan people had been denied since Tonga whaling stopped in 1978. Reliable sources warn that Tonga may soon try to kill whales again. At the same time a Maori Whaling Hui (meeting) from 8-10 July in Auckland, New Zealand, brought together representatives from several Pacific indigenous whaling cultures, and a few suspiciously modern ones as well. The Maori are pressuring New Zealand to permit their customary rights to utilize beached or stranded whales that come ashore on their coastline. Whales have always been valuable as an opportunistic source of subsistence in primitive cultures. Stranded whales in Britain used to be considered "the King's Fishes" to profit the monarchy first. Commoners faced death if they took without permission. Modern commercial whalers are trying to blur the clear distinctions between naturally dead whales as a historical subsistence resource to human populations with very limited resources, and high-tech killing for international commercial trade and profit. The Auckland hui included the World Council of Whalers, which has become a front for modern whaling, denigrating the heritage and traditions of the indigenous people they are said to represent. CSI honors the traditional cultures. We despise those who today misrepresent them for power and profit. CSI has also supported scientific projects to study the humpback population near Tonga. Last year we helped a scientific survey by Rochelle Constantine. Recently, in keeping with our efforts to promote whale watching especially in areas vulnerable to whaling, CSI gave a grant to Dr. Mark Orams, Senior Lecturer at Massey University, New Zealand for "an Assessment of the Socioeconomic Impacts of Whale Watching in the Vava'u Island Group, The Kingdom of Tonga".

Norway: Whaling On In Spite

During the Norwegian whaling season from May to August, 589 minke whales were caught by 36 boats, far below the self-granted 1999 limit of 753. In keeping with the twisted logic supporting the hunt the limit had been increased, but even fewer whales were killed than in 1998, when 625 minke whales were killed from a self-granted limit of 671. Bad weather, high waves and direct protests by Greenpeace activists were held responsible for the reduced kill. A Greenpeace boat was hit by a bullet during one obstruction effort. There is no information on the whales that were fatally struck but escaped to die, nor truthful data on the time to death. Norway's obstinate and obscene whaling disregards an international ban on whaling, worldwide condemnation, and, just perhaps, some angry Norse gods who are trying to tell them something. What if a lightning bolt melted a harpoon gun?

Japan: Whaling Any Which Way They Can

CSI respects Japan, the Japanese people, and their magnificent cultural heritage. We feel compelled to declare this because, in issue after issue, our Whales Alive! reports some Japanese implication in schemes that amount to a continuous rape and pillage of the Earth's common resources. Friends of the Earth Malaysia published "Decimation of World Wildlife, Japan as Number One" in 1988. Although focused on Japan's relationship to CITES issues, the book was a numbing indictment of a straightforward policy of worldwide resource domination as a national policy. The past decade has seen the problems this policy causes worsen. At a preparatory meeting this summer for the CITES conference in Nairobi next year, COP 11, the Japanese were refused yet another request that four stocks of whales be proposed for downlisting to Appendix II at COP11: North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere minkes, Western Pacific Brydes, and Eastern Pacific grey whales. The ultimate purpose of Japan's continual effort is unlimited commercial whaling and international trade. Recent Whales Alive! articles reported on "scientific" whaling and hi-tech shore based "cultural" whaling, both with self-granted quotas, endangered species' DNA in meat markets, several shore-based drive fisheries, the slaughter of thousands of Dall's porpoises, subsidized school lunches of whale meat, rumored bribing of Caribbean nations and IWC Commissioners to gather puppet votes, the orcas captured and killed at Taiji, captive orcas that were to be caught in Norway ... and these are just some of the cetacean issues. The full picture of Japan's efforts is almost overwhelming. National policy appears to dictate that every resource Japan can reach is theirs to be taken until they are stopped. It is a war for common resources fought with skill, technology, money, politics, and games, and the Japanese may be winning. Anything goes; a sperm whale that had been floating dead about two days was secretly landed in June at the infamous whaling town of Taiji, Japan, site of the recent capture of orcas for captive display. Although procedures for disposing of such whales were well known, this IWC-protected whale was sold to a dealer in the black market. The eight meters long and nine ton whale may have died from a collision with a boat, but if it ended up on a restaurant menu its tissues were probably riddled with mercury. What goes around comes around?

As environmental problems grow in scale and scope it is all too easy to believe that there is nothing that one can do. Everything happens so fast. But today communications happen faster, and have proven to be one of our greatest weapons. The Internet and email have particularly revolutionized the environmental movement. Exposing illegal, unethical or unjustified assaults on the environment has resulted in some wonderful victories in the ongoing war. As a concerned person you can make a difference by ensuring that groups like CSI know what is happening around you. Tell us who is responsible. Identifying officials who allow terrible things to happen through intent, incompetence or greed destroys their anonymity. An excellent example of how fast things can happen began in early September:

Russian Belugas To Japan

Alerts began 3 September that the State Fishery Committee of the Russian Federation had agreed to a contract to supply 200 tons of beluga whale meat and blubber for commercial use in Japan. The targeted beluga whales lived in the Sea of Okhotsk, the waters between Russia and Japan. For the equivalent of US$400 per whale the belugas were to be processed and exported to Japan, where 2,000 tons of dolphin and porpoise meat are consumed annually. This was the first commercial hunt for beluga whales, a reopening of international trade in whale meat, and the first time that a Russian whaling fleet has taken to the seas since 1986. Japan and Norway engage in commercial whaling, but since the 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium there has been no legal international trade in whale meat. Although the Japanese have never eaten beluga, the element of being new and exotic was expected to create windfall profits. If not, the meat could be mixed with other species and sold in markets. (DNA studies have found even endangered species for open sale in Japan.) This trade was legal. Belugas are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), only requiring an export permit and a determination that the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.

The news flowed in an email surge, provoking immediate and strong responses. Many feared that the Russian hunt would set a precedent for further whaling in Russian and Arctic waters, and widespread international trade in cetacean products. The U.S. State Department sent démarches to both Russia and Japan protesting the hunt. NOAA became directly involved in several ways. Dr. Robert Brownell, an expert on both whales and Japan, traveled to Japan to brief the U.S. Embassy. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow met with Russian CITES authorities. The U.S. Marine Mammal Commission sent letters of protest. Congressman Delahunt spearheaded a Congressional letter and sign-ons by members of the House International Relations Committee to the Japanese and Russian embassies in Washington condemning the hunt (apparently the letter had a significant impact on the Russians). In spite of a Russian Embassy spokesman's comment, "Well, your country let the Makah Tribe kill whales", there already was a powerful reaction by Russian experts and authorities. Within Russian CITES Authorities, the Marine Mammal Council and many scientists worked hard to stop the trade. Russian CITES authorities had to be forced to provide the export permit for the first shipment of the beluga whale meat and blubber under threat of legal action. Greenpeace, World Wide Fund for Nature, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Russia's Marine Mammal Council, the Russian Society of Animal Protection, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and many other environmental groups prioritized their resources to fight the crisis. IFAW was superb. As one example they sent a rapid response film crew on site to film the unloading of the meat. Scientists were particularly concerned about the effects of the unmonitored hunt on the beluga populations. The contract for 200 whales meant that many more would be fatally wounded and whole social units devastated. All of the quota stocks are considered depleted but the Bering Sea populations. Russia's past record of under-reported catches and smuggled whale meat could lead to far more whales being killed than officially claimed or allowed.

At 2:00 p.m. Moscow time 14 September, the Russian government announced the decision to stop the beluga hunt, refuse to issue any additional export permits, and revoke the existing domestic quota of 2100 animals. This decision came following an emergency meeting in the office of the Deputy Prime Minister and included representatives of the Foreign Ministry, the State Committee on Fisheries, Fisheries Institute (the only ones supporting the whaling), Marine Mammal Council, and Russian CITES Authorities. The CITES Authority was the strongest proponent of canceling the hunt, citing its unsustainability, lack of knowledge regarding Russian beluga populations, and the damage to Russia's reputation. Deputy Prime Minister Sherbak's decree, to stop the beluga harvest pending a reassessment of the numbers killed, was issued on the 16th but was not effective until 20 September. It also limited the sale of meat next year to the Russian market only. Four export permits were requested, for 20, 50, 50, and 80 tons. While the first permit was closed out additional whales have been killed against some or all of the other three permits.

Although many people and organizations deserve credit, CSI urges you to thank the Russians first:

(1) Vladimir Nikolaevich Sherbak, Deputy Prime Minister, The Russian Federal Government, 2 Rochdelskaya Street, Moscow, Russia 103274. Fax: 011+7095+205-5670

(2) Mr. Valentin Ilyashenko, CITES Management Authority, State Committee for Environmental Protection, Moscow 128812, Russia. Fax: 011+7095+254-8283

Russian Belugas to Canada

On 2 October nine female beluga whales were imported into Canada from Russia. This most recent move by Marineland of Canada's aggressive breeding farm concept for belugas and orcas adds to three male belugas imported on 30 May and crams them all next to five orca whales confined to a third section of the "Friendship Cove" tank.

U.S. Belugas Are Under Attack Too; Does Our Government Care?

On 29 August more than 60 Cook Inlet belugas were reported to be stranded by low tide in Turnagain Arm. At least 6 died and Native American use of the dead belugas was permitted. The total Cook Inlet beluga population may be as low as 275 animals and the evidence suggests that they are being wiped out. However, ignoring much expert advice, NMFS appeared to have succumbed to political pressure when in September it was announced that Cook Inlet beluga whales would be listed only as "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The terribly reduced population would not be protected under the Endangered Species Act. A public comment period on the depleted designation will be announced and a public hearing will be scheduled. Part of the pressure came from businesses such as oil exploration and resource exploitation fearful of restrictions on their activities if the ESA was involved.

What Is The WTO Millennium Round; How Will It Affect Your Life?

A far more explicit example of the power of profit is the World Trade Organization. Besides the resource impact of a growing human population CSI is concerned with the awesome power of multinational corporations, and that brings us to another numbing reality. CSI joined early on with an unlikely consortium of organizations now numbered in the thousands to sign on to a statement that began: "In November 1999, the governments of the world will meet in Seattle for the World Trade Organization's Third Ministerial Conference, the Millennium Round. We, the undersigned members of international civil society, oppose any effort to expand the powers of the World Trade Organization (WTO) through a new comprehensive round of trade liberalization. Instead, governments should review and rectify the deficiencies of the system and the WTO regime itself."

Why should CSI be involved? Because, among all the social and economic problems, the WTO promotes an outright assault on the environment in the name of economic growth. National laws to conserve or protect resources are subservient to autocratic WTO rulings, which are governed by profits to multinational businesses without regard for national boundaries or populations, with no allegiance or responsibility save to shareholders. The WTO signals a new and aggressive age of feudalism controlled by the multinational corporations. The new age's faith is that technology will solve the problems, a pervasive attitude that environmental impacts and destruction of habitat can be made up for by technology. This is for people only of course. What happens to the rest of the natural world seems unimportant. Whales and dolphins, and their habitat, are measured in relation to commercial profit, either as resources or as impediments to free trade. How far will the WTO go to promote the commercial utilization of cetacean and marine resources, something fundamentally opposed by CSI? No one knows and we do not want to wait to find out. There isn't room to describe the WTO problem adequately in this Whales Alive! Instead we must plead with you to read every article you can find on the "Millennium Round", and ask yourself why so many diverse groups plan to demonstrate against it in Seattle. Educate yourself to this complex issue. It will affect whales and dolphins, and your life as well. You even may want to go to Seattle and join the crowd.


Go to next article: Status Review Of Gray Whales or: Table of Contents.

© Copyright 1999, Cetacean Society International, Inc.

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