Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XII No. 4 - October 2003


Cetacean News

Compiled by William Rossiter


Humpbacks songs from Tortola now are entertaining a growing number of visitors to the Peruvian Center for Cetacean Research, in Pucusana, thanks to the continued efforts by CSI's Board Member Paul Knapp. The songs debuted to a visit by 120 school children, the largest group yet in this seminal public education effort long supported by CSI. Director Dr. Sc. Koen Van Waerebeek joked that they bought a hi-fi system just to play the CD, Paul's latest "One and Mostly One Humpback Whale"; it was a great investment. They also have his previous release, "Rapture of the Deep". In a true labor of love, Paul has probably donated as many CDs as he has sold. (For more information on Paul's recordings, email Paul at pkcompass@yahoo.com or see his web site: http://www.whalelistening.com/.)

CONNY, the 65 foot life-sized ferro-cement sperm whale at the Science Center of Connecticut, is being refurbished with CSI's help, as part of our plans for the future. Visitors to CONNY will soon enjoy the very unique sounds of a sperm whale, recorded in 1981 by then-PhD student Chris Clark, as he and CSI president Bill Rossiter sat a few feet away. Chris, now Director of the Bioacoustics Research Program and Senior Scientist at the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, donated the CONNY display's master CD cut from the original reel tape.

Venezuelan whalewatching development was the subject of a workshop CSI recently helped to support, convened by Jaime Bolaños Jiménez, Executive Director of the Venezuelan organization Sea Vida. A diverse group of participants including scientists, officials, students, business people, promoters and fishermen came together to discuss "A Community-Based Sustainable Alternative for the Development of the Coast of the State of Arugua", and the media loved the event. Guidelines were proposed and submitted to the Biodiversity Branch of the Ministry of Environment, and a formal paper, "A preliminary shore-based survey for cetaceans in the central coast of Venezuela: implications for the development of a community-based whalewatching industry", will be presented at the XV Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in December.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) September meeting in Cancun, Mexico, even had dolphins protesting, as hundreds of volunteers wearing special dolphin hats demonstrated peacefully in support of abolishing the environmentally and socially destructive WTO. Led by the indefatigable dolphin-hero Ben White, of the Animal Welfare Institute, the human dolphins also demonstrated for the dolphins held captive in many facilities on Cancun. CSI was pleased to help several demonstrators get to the event, and congratulates everyone who participated.

WTO protesters with dolphin hats

WTO protesters with dolphin hats.
Photo courtesy Jen Rinick/Animal Welfare Institute

Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean, by Dr. Hal Whitehead of Canada's Dalhousie University, is a must-have book just released from the University of Chicago Press. This is not just a definitive work on one of Earth's most fascinating species; it is the cumulative experience of one of the world's most caring experts, a combination of elegant science and personal commitment. It is also a clear challenge to anyone who insists that whales must be killed, injured, probed, captured, or harassed in order to learn anything useful. In concert with several other innovative colleagues, Hal has used directional hydrophones, sloughed skin, even a pooper-scooper, to show how sperm whales could be tracked, traced and understood. With meticulous science he has challenged his peers to consider how human whaling may have done more than just kill too many whales, but may have wiped out the societies' elders and the culture's memories. He includes the modern threats of human noise, chemical pollution, plastic debris, collisions with ships and renewed whaling by Japan. When Whitehead concludes that: "We must not be seduced by the false promise that science can understand and reverse all the adverse consequences of our overexploitation of Earth," he is warning us all to get involved.

How best to kill stranded whales and dolphins for human consumption is the subject of a study by Japan's Fisheries Agency announced in late June. 273 whales and dolphins stranded without human help on Japan's shores in 2002, and the Agency argued that the cost to local communities of burying or cremating was extreme, efforts to save stranded whales were dangerous, and simply waiting for the animals to die might spoil the meat. Japan's Health Ministry, increasingly aware of the toxins often found in cetacean meat, also must review the proposal to harvest beached whales. This is separate from the infamous drive fisheries that support a growing captive display market in Asia, where the leftovers are slaughtered for food.

Another slaughter of dolphins at Taiji, Japan, was documented in early October by Sea Shepherd activists from Canada, Great Britain and the US. As the 40 dolphins that had been herded into the killing bay were being attacked with knives, the witnesses were discovered and threatened by angry fishermen. The police arrested the Sea Shepherd crew, held them for several hours and warned them not to film the slaughter, although it is not illegal to do so. Charges will be filed against the police and fishermen. Documentary filmmaker Hardy Jones had been assaulted there during an earlier kill, and fishermen then were warned by police not to act illegally again. Whether the continuing violence against activists is condoned by the government remains to be seen, but it is doubtful that people will stop trying to document the slaughter.

A 5-meter female orca was captured at Kamchatka, Eastern Russia, on 26 September by staff from the Utrish Aquarium at Anapa on the Black Sea. Transferred to a sea pen at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, she was flown to the aquarium within days, and may be intended for sale. Japan's Port Nagoya Public Aquarium has an enormous budget to buy orcas, and may have motivated the Russian operation. The orca was part of a group that was netted for that capture, including a juvenile that became entangled and died, and a young calf. Survivors were released. As Russian regulations prohibit captures of yearling cetaceans the operation may have been illegal. Previous capture attempts have failed during the three years Russian authorities have issued capture permits. This year's permit allowed up to 10 orcas from three districts, and attempts will continue through October. CSI urges your support for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's Far Eastern Russia Orca Project (FEROP), a long-term Russian-Japanese-British initiative. FEROP began in 1999, and is also supported by the Humane Society of the United States, Project Thursday's Child/Earth Island Institute, the Animal Welfare Institute, the UK's Sacher Trusts, Germany's Klüh Foundation, and CSI. Russia has ignored the 2001 letter signed by more than 25 international orca scientists, asking them not to allow any orcas to be captured in Russian waters. The letter warned of the possible consequences of taking individuals from populations about which very little is known and for which any removals would have seriously negative implications.

You can help: Please send a polite letter to the Russian Minister of Natural Resources, Vitaly G. Artyukhov at: root@ecocom.ru. For more information and an example letter please go to: http://www.wdcs.org/dan/publishing.nsf/allweb/FE9F5650FAFB273280256DBB002AFFEE

Two Pacific white-sided dolphins died at Shedd Aquarium in September, one stillborn, and the other five days after birth. Both were conceived by artificial insemination, but the aquarium has not linked that to the deaths.

Yon, a Risso's dolphin, died at Enoshima Aquarium, Japan after 42 years of performing her most popular trick to the audience, "waving goodbye". Estimated to be 46, Yon was the oldest known captive cetacean.

Luna, or L-98, the solitary orca that decided to remain in Canadian waters, continued to play games with potentially dangerous humans during the summer. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the responsible agency, on 1 October announced that, while they continue to consult with US experts and agencies with a view to reintroducing Luna to his pod, the agency still lacks a comprehensive plan to mitigate the risks to the whale and the public. While they may permit a suitable project to move the whale, DFO will not provide any resources. DFO has essentially challenged everyone else to either come up with about $500,000, very soon, or DFO will consider captivity as well as undefined "permanent means" to deal with Luna. Canada's beleaguered captivity industry is said to be pressuring DFO to get the whale, particularly the infamous Marineland at Niagara Falls.

Orcinus orca is known by many names all over the world. We thank New Zealand orca expert Dr. Ingrid Visser for this impressive list: orca, killer whale, fat chopper, sword whale, grampus, black fish and demon dolphin (English), epée de mer, epaulard and orque gladiateur (French), Swaardvis (Dutch), Schwertwal (German), vaghund, stourvaga, spekkhugger (Norwegian), tandthoye, spaekhugger (Danish), 'seguni' (lamaholot, Indonesia), 'paus pembunuh', (bahasa Indonesia, Indonesia), 'ulaulasi' (tauwala language, Papua New Guinea), 'black white bigpla dolphin' (pidgin english Papua New Guinea), plawan phechakhat (thai), fann-fiskarhydengen, hahyrna, huyding (Icelandic), agluk (Aluetian), nooku (Kurile), kasatka, svinka (Russian), aaxlu (North Alaska Inuit), skana (Haida), sakamat, sadshi, shachi (Japanese), innatu (Korean), fakan (Lapp), ardursak (Greenland Inuit), kosatka drava (Czech), and orca (Spanish).

The Mark 33, Mod 0 mine-locating device is the Navy's response to criticism of the dolphin minesweepers used in the Iraq wars. Connecticut's own LBI Inc. of Groton will supply the devices, for a total price of only $5.9 million. The name is a misnomer, as the mine-locating will still be done by unsuspecting dolphins, but the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in San Diego was pleased to use so little of the taxpayer's money to get a smaller, more streamlined unit for the dolphins to carry.

Whales before whaling in the North Atlantic was a guaranteed debate-starter, which may be why it was published in late June in the journal Science (301, 508-510, 2003). The article by J. Roman and S. R. Palumbi at first seemed to be music to whale-conservationists' ears, as it emphasized that the toll of whaling was far worse than anyone had suspected. From statistical analysis of the diversity of mutations in sampled whales' DNA, the scientists estimated that 240,000 North Atlantic humpbacks swam about before humans could do anything about it. The trouble was that the study declared that the decades of hard science, by those who actually jabbed all those whales for the DNA samples, was wrong by a factor of 12. All the real humpback experts had sweated out a general agreement that 40,000 whales was a reasonable pre-whaling estimate, down to 12,000 today.

Jousting in technical arenas, the debate roused many to complain that they would have welcomed a doubling of numbers without much question, but Roman and Palumbi instead had only weakened current statistics supporting the conservation of whales. One critic speared the argument with an unusually pointed comment that estimates of genetic diversity are complicated and error-prone, leaving conservation advocates wondering whom to trust.

By Roman and Palumbi's numbers, the historical population of finback whales was 360,000, nine times more that the accepted estimate of 40,000, and minkes totaled 265,000, versus other estimates of 100,000. The implications are significant for deliberations at the IWC, which will allow whaling on stocks that reach at least 54 per cent of historical levels. By current estimates those stocks have exceeded the threshold, so Roman and Palumbi's argument would be wonderful if true. At the moment it just looks like cetology's equivalent to cold fusion.

How many scientists will be able to attend the XV Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, to be held from 14-19 December in Greensboro, NC? About 2000 members from over 20 countries belong to the Society for Marine Mammalogy. The Society has no intention of being an elitist, geographically limited organization that unintentionally excludes poorer international scientists, but not only is the Society having trouble finding host sites, the increasing costs are effectively isolating many of the world's cetologists from attending.

CSI's long-term project to support international scientists includes helping as many as possible to attend career-essential meetings; we are alarmed at the numbers telling us they cannot afford the trip to this conference even with our limited help. In Latin American countries that are controlled by inflation, for example, it is impossible to find enough resources; especially as increased security governing visas to the US may require two round trip flights to an American embassy, separated by many weeks, for lengthy interviews.

CSI believes that, for significant and necessary conservation-science at an international level, it is often better to provide local scientists with the expertise and equipment to study local species than it is to export scientists from the US. In the US a PhD student's degree is cheap at $120,000, but most graduate with no other language and find few work opportunities. Opportunities in Latin America are surging, with most students receiving some state support, and many living at home. Their talents and drive are equal to the best here, their future research will change the future of their continent, and they are eager. Cetaceans are international; how can we make cetology the same?


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