Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 3 - July 2002


News Items

By William Rossiter


Wojciech Bachara's Gift. The gift from Wojciech Bachara, a 30-year-old man in Warsaw, Poland, is a reminder that giving is itself a gift, rewarding and fun. In this world where so many things have only economic value, many are always concerned with getting some "real" return for whatever they give or do, having lost sight of the satisfaction to be had from simply helping out. With a simple, honest, and charming passion, Wojciech Bachara naively emailed every beaked whale scientist he could find, to ask if they would consider giving him photographs of the beaked whales they studied. He explained his obsession for beaked whales well to professionals who shared his passion, but had opportunities he would never have. It was clear to almost everyone that his purpose was only to build a personal collection, without a shadow of avarice, cunning or profit in mind. He simply displayed his passion, and pleaded, repetitively.

To be plain about it, scientists are busy folk who would not seem to have time to chat with someone landlocked in Warsaw. They stand out as unique because they often feel their data, such a photographs, are more valuable to them than gold. Beaked whales are enigmatic creatures very few cetologists and fewer fanatical whale watchers have ever seen, and good photographs are rare. In spite of all this, Wojciech hit the right chord in most; he engaged these specialists because of a shared passion and his open honesty. Mother Teresa could not have gotten more from these folks. But forget about duplicating Wojciech's feat. Even if you are somehow more honest and passionate, you are late with a one-off idea.

By April his persistence began to pay off, and by May he had 660 photos, probably the largest collection outside of any museum in the world. With disarming reassurance he made certain that his contributors knew that his collection of their photos, in many cases very rare images of the rarest of cetaceans, were for him alone. Part of his unique approach was to share every positive response with almost everyone, so the list had a good chance to see how they measured up, and maybe even feel gently competitive. Without intending to, he had created an excellent database of who had what photos of what species, a resource of great value.

Those who contributed should be pleased and proud to have shared their photos. Those perhaps too stuffy or busy to share should wonder what they are missing about this very positive human exchange. There is still time to get the gift of giving. If you wish to share your beaked whale photos and be a part of a very illustrious crowd, contact Wojciech Bachara at mesoplodon@poczta.onet.pl. CSI has some beaked whale photos donated by scientist friends, and we have been getting permission to send them to Wojciech. I would be very pleased to send him something of mine, but I have never seen a beaked whale. I understand his passion, I appreciate the gift he has given us, and I thank him for reminding us all that humanity is better for sharing.

Continental Shelf Whale Watching offers a rare opportunity to see enigmatic and elusive beaked whales. They were a major attraction for a once-a-year whale watch, to roam over 100 miles southeast of Cape Cod for three days in late June. The whale watch supported the unique survey by the Center for Oceanic Research and Education (http://www.coreresearch.org/), aboard the "Yankee Capts" boat out of Gloucester, MA. CSI's Bill Rossiter was eager to be on board. Just getting to the shelf the trip passed through a concentration of over four percent of the entire Western Atlantic population of right whales. Without a permit we were unable to approach closely enough to photographically identify the individuals, which remain well beyond all but the most dedicated surveys. With only 300 or so right whales remaining, always threatened by human activities, the approach distance rules are well justified, in spite of the lost opportunity here. Scattered in all directions were basking sharks, occasionally breaching. The whales had gathered to feed on dense patches of copepods, each animal so small, in fact, that a netted sample was just a reddish haze without magnification. Maybe it was the increasing swell rocking the boat, but with a strong lens I thought I saw a parade of copepods waving a banner that said "protect us from wh...", but their demonstration was quickly lost in the crowd that filled the small vial. To fill the mouth of a hungry whale might take millions of copepods, protesting or not. Although there are expert estimates of the density of copepods needed to make it worthwhile for a whale to even open her mouth, the number necessary to keep a fifty ton creature alive is incomprehensible to me.

On the second day increasing winds forced the survey inshore. As 13 foot waves swept the shelf, we spent the night almost softly at Asia Rip, an open water anomaly of peace caused by unique and complex contours and currents, and known to generations of mariners seeking refuge from a killing sea. The heavy sea stopped our survey of the deep shelf canyons, but we were able to return to an assembly of at least 50 humpbacks that we had passed through quickly on the previous day's retreat. Several times the stopped boat had close bubble-feeding humpbacks simultaneously in at least three directions, and for some I had to go to the rail and look down. Clusters of Atlantic white-sided dolphins appeared and vanished, some feeding and playing with the humpbacks. Fin whales were part of the show, but as aloof as usual. The flat-calm return to Gloucester confirmed reports that almost all the whales were out of reach to many whale watches, many along our route. We saw only one Minke whale and one harbor porpoise in several hours. Even surveys of areas empty of whales have value.

Cuvier's beaked whale
Photo courtesy Martin Smith

In spite of the fact that in 2001 Cuvier's beaked whales had close-approached the same trip (see photo by Martin Smith), and many species of cetaceans and birds were seen and photographed, the 2002 trip almost cancelled for inadequate bookings! We whale watchers have a long way to go to match bird watchers. Most fanatical whale watchers have shared boats with offshore "birders", the people who casually identify a speck at four miles, disdain bow-riding dolphins because another albatross is out there, somewhere, and wear their life list on their foreheads. Birding trips to exotic locations are always at capacity, and they go everywhere. What's wrong with us whale-nuts! Today there are opportunities to see Amazon River dolphins from dugout canoes, Antarctic orcas from warm ships, or the Bahamas' spotted dolphins in their own water world. While these experiences can be too expensive for many of us there are many small-scale scientific projects that depend upon ecotourism, and the cost for a memorable experience is relatively cheap. In many projects supported by CSI members the spectrum of values are enormous, with local people coming to understand and respect the true value of their local environment, young scientists discovering how to measure and communicate the real world around them, and eco-tourists like us enriching our lives while helping the local economy and human knowledge. Get with it, get out there, and get wet!

Oil Versus Environment in Costa Rica: Oil lost when Costa Rica's Environment Ministry announced in mid-May the unprecedented rejection of a request by a United States oil consortium for permission to drill and explore near the Caribbean coast. Costa Rica's Supreme Court had ruled in December that the process of granting concessions of regional blocks for oil exploration was unconstitutional. In February the National Technical Secretariat (SETENA) of the Environment Ministry had rejected an environmental impact statement from the US consortium, which had been intent on exploring for oil in part of a special biodiversity zone. Costa Rica's innovative approaches to protecting the environment and renewable resources are being continued by the new President, Abel Pacheco de la Espiella, who said at his inauguration that Costa Rica should become "an ecological leader, not an oil enclave." Costa Rica's example is a true gift to humanity, and the world.

South Africa's Dolphin and Whale Protection Group celebrated its 25th year recently. CSI joins in the congratulations due to this outstanding organization, but not just because we agree with what they do. Founded by Secretary Mrs. Nan Rice, DPAG has often been the only national voice for certain conservation issues, and has never faltered from influencing the government to do the right thing for whales and dolphins.

Sandra Lee, New Zealand's Minister of Conservation, has stepped down after nine years as a lawmaker. An ardent anti-whaling campaigner, Minister Lee influenced local and international issues with a style CSI wishes we could clone elsewhere. The 49-year-old grandmother of four had been a powerful and positive influence on New Zealand's leadership position in marine conservation issues. As a Maori, she brought better balance to indigenous issues. Strongly opposed to any return to commercial whale killing, she championed the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary. When that was defeated with the help of the bloc of IWC member's votes Japan secured with financial aid, she openly criticized Japan vote buying. Minister Lee recently appealed to South Pacific nations to set up whale sanctuaries within their Exclusive Economic Zones. Palau and Papua New Guinea have done just that, along with Mexico, which is the world's largest national sanctuary, enclosing about one million square miles.

CITES, the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, has received 54 proposals for changes to its listing of endangered species, which will be decided upon at the twelfth Conference of Parties, 3-15 November, in Santiago, Chile. One is from Japan, asking CITES for permission to trade in northern hemisphere minke whales and in Bryde's whales in the northwest Pacific. An additional proposal is rumored to try to change the Convention's name, as the traders and users of endangered species object to the psychological pressure the word "endangered" puts on their business. CSI counts on CSI Board Member and CITES expert Kate O'Connell to make sense of the issues, and fight on our behalf for whales and dolphins.

Viagra may be reducing the market for dolphin-derived aphrodisiacs in China, Hong Kong, and other Southeast Asian countries, but the poaching of dolphins for their mythical aphrodisiac value from India's east coast and Ganges and Brahmaputra Rivers has increased over the past two years, according to scientists and police. Even the threat of a seven-year jail sentence does not slow the trade, where a pound of meat or blubber fetches about one dollar, a very significant amount to local fishermen.

Commercial fishing netted and killed at least 2,000 dolphins in Europe last year. Almost 200 dolphins washed ashore on the beaches of Devon and Cornwall between January and April this year, while 300 dead dolphins came ashore south of Brittany in just eight days in January. Over 80 percent showed evidence of net entanglement, many mangled further as fishermen tried to sink the bodies. The deaths were linked to the start of the sea bass fisheries in the new year. Conservationists have fought since 1988 for remedies for the increasing slaughter. The only remedy feared by guilty fishermen was being shut down, and all others have been resisted. A lack of political will and effective enforcement allowed them to keep killing. One tuna-trawler was found with 30 dead dolphins caught in one haul. Four trawlers together accidentally caught 145 dolphins, porpoises and pilot whales in one season. 53 dead dolphins were taken after 116 bass fishing hauls. With scientists declaring that the existence of some cetacean populations are threatened, the European Commission finally is responding with more vigor. Besides stepped-up monitoring and enforcement patrols, sonic pingers and dolphin escape hatches will be required on more nets, if the will to stop the slaughter prevails.


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