Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XIV No. 3 - July 2005


Cetacean News Items

Compiled by William Rossiter


The Energy Bill may be close to a vote as you read this, if the appointed Conference Committee has reconciled significant differences between the House and Senate versions. Of special concern to CSI are the Senate amendment proposing an "inventory" of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lands for oil and gas exploration, essentially to blanket those vast waters with seismic survey airguns, and the House version, which allows drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and exempts oil companies from liability for contaminating water supplies with MTBE. To contact your members of Congress see the blue pages in your phone book, or http://thomas.loc.gov/home/legbranch/legbranch.html, or the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121.

The Hawaii SuperFerry (HSF) moves at 40 knots, brashly asserting it will avoid breeding humpback whales and calves with visual scans augmented by radar. In June they gave up on forward looking sonar, in spite of assertions during their approval phase and briefings to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Sanctuary Advisory Committee (SAC) that they would have the capability perhaps this year.

HSF has testified under oath before state commissions that they will not get within 500 yards of humpbacks, and no authority has the courage or will to call their bluff ridiculous. Consider night and bad weather operations through known concentrations of whales, with many near-surface calves and whales that will not hear the ferry's approach, and deny that the operation is a catastrophe-in-waiting.

High speed catamaran ferry

High speed catamaran ferry
(Photo: William Rossiter)

This fast catamaran ferry is leaving Provincetown, Massachusetts, zooming exactly where the same photographer has taken photos of humpback, right, fin, minke and pilot whales, Atlantic whitesided dolphins, harbor porpoises, and basking sharks, because it is a natural choke point. Slower whale watch boats have run over whales and even killed a diver near here. Another bloody collision is overdue, especially with the ferry, especially in reduced visibility.

The real issue is cost. The cost of truly mitigating injuries to marine life cuts into profits, but what happens to the business when a boat collides with a whale? The fast ferry's designers assert that hulls will not fail if they slice into a 50 ton mass moving in the opposite direction with a collision speed of 50 knots or more. If nothing else, a collision is likely to injure people, or knock them overboard.

There may be a solution to collisions, although not on the East coast. In an attempt to stop collisions between right whales and boats, a study of right whale reactions to alarm noises broadcast by the boat found that the whales reacted the wrong way, sometimes surfacing in the boat's path. But what about humpbacks and other species? CSI urges the very profitable HSF to fund a study of noise deterrence of humpbacks, to see if a specific alerting noise might cause the whales to evade early enough to keep those hulls unbloodied. Two transmitters separated by the right distance can produce an oscillating sound, definitely nonnatural and attention getting. Adding more noise to the oceans goes against the grain, but we are thinking of a forward-beam-focused sound that may save lives. Besides, Hawaii's enormous cadre of humpback scientists need to find something else to study, or they may have to move.

Whale and Dolphin Watching in Japan may now attract upwards of 140,000 people per year, spending perhaps $40 million USD. These are extrapolations as there appear to be no updated official figures. CSI and many others are working to expand the industry, as we believe such benign activities will increase public sentiment against whaling and dolphin drives.

Whaling and whale watching coexist in Norway and Iceland. Norway may still use the same boats to transport tourists or harpoon minke whales, but as far as we know not at the same time. Sometimes the harpoons are even removed to give watchers a better bow view. Iceland's whaling and watching are perhaps more physically separated, but both nations differ from Japan as their publics generally support whaling almost as an act of defiance against the world, and whale watching in both nations depends upon foreign tourists, where Japan has enough of its own. What would happen if Japan's tourists were denied whale watching?

OCEANS 2005 is billed as a "forum for ocean scientists, engineers, industry, technologists, educators, researchers, policy makers and the public to present research, technologies and innovative ideas to those involved in global cooperation to protect our internationally connected waters." OCEANS 2005 will be held from September 19-23, 2005, in Washington DC, and cover many areas pertinent to Marine Protected Areas (MPA) issues, such as ocean policy, regional ecosystem approaches and governance, coral reefs, marine archaeology, and more. For more information, see http://www.oceans2005.org/.

Recommendations for US MPAs were finalized in June, after a two year effort, by the Federal Advisory Committee on Establishing and Managing a National System of Marine Protected Areas. The recommendations include a statement of purpose for and benefits to a national system of MPAs, outlines the benefits of such a system, describes goals and objectives, sets forth guiding principles, defines MPAs, outlines the importance of and mechanisms for promoting stewardship and enhancing management effectiveness, articulates processes both for assessing existing MPAs and for proposing new sites for inclusion in the national system, and sets out key aspects of implementation. All those words did not actually create any MPAs, but there is hope. To read the recommendations, entitled "Protecting America's Marine Environment", go to: http://www.mpa.gov/fac/pdf/mpafac_report_06_05.pdf.

European Union MPAs will be aided by a grant of two million euros for the "Marine Protected Areas as a Tool for Ecosystem Conservation and Fisheries Management" project. Seventeen European research institutes will be working together to provide policy advice and develop methodologies to assess the potential of different MPAs. The goal is to improve the science and methods for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management in EU waters, and to understand the effects of MPAs on target species, habitats, ecosystems, and socioeconomic impacts. The project is coordinated by the Danish Institute for Fisheries Research, Department of Marine Fisheries.

North Pacific right whales will have critical habitat zones off Alaska proposed by October and finalized by next June, now that a U.S. District Court Judge has ordered NMFS to stop further delays. The court in June agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity that the agency's failure to act violated the Endangered Species Act. ESA issues have been delayed across the board by the administration. Twenty-five of the whales were seen together in the Bering Sea in 2004, not quite as extinct as everyone had thought, but still not a healthy population.

Twenty-eight North Atlantic right whale calves have been added since mid-December to the tenuous population of one of the world's most vulnerable species. This is the second highest count since 2001, when 31 right whale calves were counted, and a most welcome change from the one calf found five years ago. The good news is tempered by the five right whales known to have died in the past six months. Two were pregnant and two others were reproductive females. Statistically, 25 percent of the juveniles will die before maturity, about ten years for females. Birth numbers appear to be correlated with available prey resources in previous years, so the highly variable numbers of births suggests great fluctuations in those resources. Many scientists are working to understand why this happens, and especially if human activities are a factor.

To find and follow the calves hundreds of scientists surveyed coastal waters from Florida's calving grounds to northern New England, documenting mothers and calves as soon as possible during their northern migration. Some scientists risk their lives attempting to disentangle whales, many more spend countless hours trying to reduce all forms of human impact. But the whales' ancestral coastal migration routes and feeding areas conflict with countless ships, fishing gear, noises, and chemicals. The pressure from human activities doesn't end in the summer feeding grounds of the Bay of Fundy, but the maximum effort by so many people to keep this species from extinction seems to be gradually succeeding.


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