What makes someone want to see commercial whaling resume. Of course there are those few individuals in each of the so-called ‘whaling countries’ who are able to financially benefit in huge ways from whaling, but what drives someone like Chairman William Hogarth to see the deaths of thousands of whales as a ‘political solution’. Maybe its expediency, maybe it’s a personal sense of achievement in an environment where ones peers admire ‘diplomatic’ solutions (maybe we should substitute ‘simplomatic’ here). What ever it is, I would suggest that those who are trying to rush through an new agreement to allow commercial whaling resume whilst new administration is bedding down, are not responding to the democratic will of their nation but are, at best pursuing the redundant views of an outgoing government, and at worst, their personal ambitions and views.
Its time that those who are appointed to represent us do just that, represent us and not the interests of others such as the `Japanese, Norwegians or Icelanders.
Can a non-American add to the enthusiam obviously felt by many of his countrymen for the new US President?
The US's position on climate change in recent years has been an awkward one (and I am perhaps being kind). Yesterday in his moving inaugeral speach, the 44th president spoke specifically to this issue.
He said that America can no longer 'consume the world's resources without regard to effect' and that 'Every day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet'.
He went on to promise to work with 'old friends and former foes' to 'roll back the spectre' of a warming planet' and committed his administration to the development of renewable energy sources.
This is a significant policy commitment for the US and a change of tone that will have resonated across the world.
For more information about climate change, its significance for whales and dolphin and how we can help click here.
The full inaugeral speach can be heard or read here.
President Obama (that feels so good to “say”!)
I cried today as you took the oath of Office of the President of the United States. Tears of joy. I am proud to be an American- no caveats as there have been in the past- just proud. I am hopeful.
What I heard you today say is this:
Everyone matters, no job is too small
Change is possible though not necessarily easy nor instantaneous
We must work together for change
We can overcome any obstacle by working together
I have renewed hope for our country, for the world, and for the animals inhabiting the oceans oblivious to the imaginary lines drawn by mankind. We can end the human-induced threats faced by whales and dolphins from whaling to vessel strikes and entanglements. Not today – it may take years- but we can do it. Every job at WDCS matters, every volunteer matters, every supporter matters- as a Team, we can do it and we will.
Thank you for being honest with us – for telling us that the road will not be an easy one- and each and every one of us needs to step up to the plate. And thank you for reminding us that YES, WE CAN! We can make a difference and we will continue to do so.
And now I say- YES WE WILL make a difference. Thank you President Obama,
A proud American
Okay, so the US public did not want to elect her, but is it right that Governor Palin takes it out on belugas? It would appear that Sarah Palin has decided that oil and gas interests should not be inhibited by those pesky endangered species
In 1979 an aerial survey of the Cook Inlet belugas by University of Alaska biologists estimated their numbers at about 1,300 animals. In 1994
National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biologists only found half that many. By 1998, the population had fallen to 347, NMFS said.
The Anchorage Daily News reports that 'the state of Alaska plans to sue the federal government over its recent decision to list Cook Inlet beluga whales as an endangered species, the governor's office reported Wednesday. The lawsuit would try to rescind the listing.
'It's warranted because the beluga population near Anchorage may already be recovering through cooperative state and federal management efforts', Gov. Sarah Palin is reported to have said.
Seems Gov. Palin's math is not quite up to the job either.
Two points here. Back in the 1990s we would regularly get accusations from the Faroese that organisations like WDCS would be 're-touching' images of its whaling to make it look as if there was more blood in the water than 'there really was'.
Take a look at the following pictures from the Faroese website Dimma.fo to see what the blood levels really look like. Their photos not ours.
At the same time Dimmaletting, one of the main newspapers in the islands, ran a piece saying that the Faroese Food and Veterinary Agency has not yet dealt with the recommendations from the nation’s medical officials on giving up eating pilot whale meat, but “the work will come soon” said Bardur Enni, director of the agency. Other media also ran two articles about the fact that despite the warnings, pilot whale meat was on offer at two hospitals (Klaksvíkar and the national hospital at Havn). The Health Minister, Hans Pauli Strøm, was interviewed and said that he intends to come put with an advisory that pilot whale meat should not be offered at health facilities. Suðuroyar Hospital, however, has not served pilot whale meat in two years, and the inspector of the hospital, Ronnie Midjord, said that he was surprised that the government health officials have not come out with an advisory.
Now I have heard everything. It seems that I am indirectly personally underwriting Icelandic whaling whilst the ‘credit crunch’ bites. Today’s Guardian (UK) reports that Britain’s building societies are ‘up in arms over the bills they face for bailing out banks that collapsed last year, and are urging their members to get involved by writing to their MP and the chancellor’.
Now I am a member of a building society and it would seem that my building society is one of those having to underwrite (‘cough up’ as the Guardian reports) as much as £30 per member. Amongst the building societies affected, the tiny Ecology building society, which has 9000 members and specializes in giving environmentally friendly mortgages, faces an estimated bill of £270,000.
Icesave and Kaupthing Edge, both UK divisions of Icelandic banks with thousands of savers, collapsed last year. UK banks and building societies, not the taxpayer, are footing the bail out tab for these banks. However, as most of us have accounts with these institutions, it seems we are paying. The Guardian reports that the [UK] Government has made loans totaling almost £20bn to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme so it could make payouts to customers of Icesave, and is charging interest on these.
So whilst the Icelandic Government contemplates suing the British Government for the problems in its own banking systems, we are expected to pay for those ‘mistakes’.
At the same time the Icelandic Government is promoting the resumption of commercial whaling because of the financial difficulties it has brought upon itself.
Something does not feel right here.
It has been very cold over the Christmas and New Year holidays here in the Northern Hemisphere and it still is as you can see from this view out of our window here in Chippenham this morning. Arguably, it is colder than usual, although this perception may be affected by recent warmer-than-usual winters. In addition to this, the UK was hit by heavier than usual rain over the preceding summer months. So, that’s two (or maybe three) summers where there has been severe flooding in some parts of the British Isles and, very sadly for the inhabitants, sometimes the same parts. The picture of unusually severe weather seems to be worldwide. In fact wherever in the world you may be reading this, the chances are that you have unusual or extreme weather stories of your own to relate.
An increased frequency of severe weather events is in line with climate change modelling but how does global warming relate to cold winters? Well, with or without climate change, there are underlying patterns in global climate that cause widespread effects. The best known of these are called El Niño (the ‘Christ child’, because it tends to dominate the weather at Christmas) and La Niña (the little girl). At the core of these phenomena are major temperature fluctuations in the surface waters of the tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean and, essentially, they are opposite forces and drive the world climate in different ways. Presently La Niña, the weaker of the two, is dominating. This gives places like the northeastern United States, that typically have cold and snowy winters anyway, especially hard winters. The ways in which changes in sea conditions are linked into weather patterns via these phenomena are well explained (including helpful diagrams) here.
So what we seem to be experiencing at the moment is a warming world with the overlay of the powerful cooling impact (in northern parts) of La Niña. This will certainly be causing some extra confusion about climate change.
It is the warming world that I really want to say something about. There are still those who deny man-made climate change and following much controversy in the media there is much residual bewilderment. This confusion, and perhaps also some inherent mistrust of scientists, is not helping us respond to what is an incredible and unprecedented threat to all living things.
People were starting to write about climate change as a theat to whale and dolphin conservation in the mid-1990s. At that time there was enough information available to add it to the list of issues that would bring significant difficulties to these animals. What has changed since then is that there is now no speculation involved in whether or not human-made climate change is happening. There is also a much improved ability to model likely scenarios and outcomes for planetary systems. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) looked at this matter in a special workshop twelve years ago. A primary conclusion from that workshop was that there remained so many unknowns that it was difficult to predict outcomes for whale populations and the scientists involved at that time also felt that the whaling management regime was robust a precautionary enough anyway that it could adequately allow for climate-mediated affects on populations. The IWC is holding a second workshop this February to look at this matter again. The outcomes of this meeting will not be made public until the Annual Commission meeting in May, this year in Madeira.
There is a second important climate change workshop planned in Costa Rica (also in February) and here again impacts on cetaceans form a major theme. The Costa Rican government is striving to make its country the first carbon neutral one. This may be a case of the developing world showing the so-called first world how to act. Like other countries, Costa Rica also wishes to know how their wildlife, and other natural resources, are being impacted and their workshop will help with this, and also improve understanding of how climate change is affecting marine systems more generally.
Despite this flurry of activity (and there are numerous other initiatives all over the world on similar themes), there is still a hesitation on the part of policy makers to act. It is almost as they cannot bring themselves to believe in the problem that they are being faced with and the need for a speedy response. I can understand that people may not want to face up to this threat and the enormous challenge it presents. On a personal level those with children may wish that they were going to leave them a better, easier and more comfortable world. On national scales, politicians have many pressing needs before them that may appear to be more immediate, more urgent, such as responding to the economic down-turn or even worse ongoing wars. (And how can we hope to run our planet better when our relations with our own species, our own neighbours, remain so violent in so many places?) So it may be an entirely human response to turn away from this risk, to deny it, to latch on the residue of arguments left by professional climate-change deniers, and to hope that it goes away. Regrettably it won’t.
You will probably know that a global body of experts was established in 1988 to investigate climate change. This itself was a unique exercise. It can be seen as a remarkable success of international and cross-disciplinary co-ordination and, quite rightly, this body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for its work in 2007. Its mandate has been “to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation”. The IPCC made a series of reports over the last few years. The latest ones, issued last year, left no doubt that global warming was real. The work of the IPCC is detailed on its own website here: http://www.ipcc.ch/index.htm
The simple facts now in front of us are as follows:
Fact 1: Climate change is happening and humans are contributing to it
Fact 2: Temperatures are continuing to rise
Fact 3: The climate change is not just part of a natural cycle
Fact 4: Recent warming cannot be explained by the Sun or natural factors alone
Fact 5: If we continue emitting greenhouse gases this warming will continue and delaying action will make the problem more difficult to fix
Fact 6: Climate models can now predict the main features of future climate
Note that facts 3 and 4 are primarily counter arguments and these reflect the need to still address misunderstandings. Probably the biggest residual misunderstanding even amongst those that accept that we live on a rapidly warming planet is that global warming means a gradual and uniform warming worldwide. (You can even hear some living in colder regions expressing that this may be a welcome development for them.) The realities of climate change are still starting to become apparent and include changes in climate on a regional level that may appear counter-intuitive, even including in some places a localised cooling effect. Nonetheless regional outcomes of a warning world are increasingly predictable, which is again good news (and I don’t want this message to be all doom and gloom) because it gives our species the opportunity to adapt to them.
How adaptable other species may be is a big question. It is the human species which is the cause of the current problem (because of our enormous greenhouse gas emissions) and it is only the human species that can put it right. However, to do this, all nations have to see this as a top priority. Perhaps an acknowledgment of the link between climate change and the current economic instability in the world would be helpful. Money markets function on understanding the world within which they operate being ‘confident’ in what they know. Climate change has introduced some new degree of instability, unpredictability and concern into that world. Think, for example, of the situation of the insurance companies now having to deal with more calamities, and therefore claims, than the models that they use would have predicted. Hence, the recession should be seen as something linked to global warming, not something inherently separated from it, and the good news here is that our improving powers of prediction should also help to inform industry and commerce. We will also need new commodities in a warming world, providing investment opportunities for industry and commerce if they are swift enough to engage with them.
But what of the whales, dolphins and porpoises that we, WDCS, strive to speak for? One marine mammal, the polar bear, has become the ‘poster-child’ of climate change. Those pictures of the beautiful white bears isolated on dwindling chunks of arctic ice are certainly helping to get the message across of the threat to the bears and the wider implications of melting ice caps. What is less visible, however, is the plight of the three Arctic whale species that are equally dependent on the underside of the Arctic ice: the beluga, the bowhead and the narwhal. Less obvious also is that the situations of cetaceans with narrowly defined habitats such as those living in rivers or in a limited area like the vaquita in the Gulf of California, and which have no opportunity to move away from their home ranges as conditions of temperature and food availability change.
These are just brief illustrations of some of the primary threats to ‘our animals’ and over the last twelve years the WDCS team has been deeply involved in the processes that are building on our understanding of the threats created by climate change for different taxa and populations. We have produced a series of publications and provided briefings to the public and policy makers in many ways. Most recently, for example, working with WWF we held a lunch-time briefing in the middle of the Conference of the Parties to the Migratory Species convention in Rome. Our joint briefings on climate change and its implications for cetaceans can be see here in the Publications Section of our website.
Currently we are deeply involved in both the February workshops.
So when people say what can we, as individuals, and as WDCS do about this seemingly overwhelming threat, I suggest there are three levels:
• Firstly, as individuals and as an organization we can seek to reduce our carbon footprints. There is a lot of good advice now readily available as to how to do this; see for example the Pew Center on Climate Changes relevant pages here. However, we, as WDCS, also need to be wise in how we do this because much of our WDCS work does require international and national travel (and believe me as those who know me well will testify, if I never have to step on another plane that would be just fine), because this is still the way the world works. In order to affect outcomes of international processes we need to be at meetings and conferences. (I look forward to the time when we can all meet virtually.)
• Secondly, we can encourage others to act similarly and reduce their carbon footprints.
• Thirdly, WDCS has a unique role in helping to investigate and then explain to public and policy makers how climate change affects those animals that we represent. This knowledge also needs to be fed appropriately into conservation plans and management strategies worldwide. And these plans and strategies will also have to be able to swiftly adapt as conditions change. The days of old fashioned static conservation plans are gone and part of WDCS’s task is now to seek this integration of climate-change related aspects into plans
All in all, we as WDCS staff, friends and supporters have a significant responsibility and a unique contribution to make. It is said that every generation has to face a significant challenge (some perhaps more than one). For some generations it is war, for others famine. Climate change is I think our big challenge.
Planet Earth is now an ark floating in a hostile sea. We have to decide how to populate this ark, protect its inhabitants, calm the sea (a problem that Noah never had) and find our way back to the safety of ‘land’ again.
Mark Simmonds, International Director of Science, WDCS
Our American based colleagues have been waiting for months to say what they think of the outgoing US Government’s record on cetacean conservation. Well actually, they have not held back so much if you look back through this blog, but they have been pondering what the overall legacy will be. It would seem that in these final few weeks President George Bush will announce that the US is to establish what it calls "the largest area of protected sea in the world" around its Pacific islands.
The BBC reports that ‘Commercial fishing and mining will be banned in the protected zones which include the Marianas Trench, the deepest area of ocean on the planet.
The area totals 500,000 sq km (190,000 sq miles) of sea and sea floor.
President George W Bush will formally announce the measure during an address on Tuesday evening in Washington.’
Erich Hoyt, WDCS Global Marine Protected Area Campaign leader, in response to the announcement said ‘We had hoped for even larger areas to be protected, but this is indeed a significant step forward toward the US meeting the 2012 commitments in terms of designating new marine protected areas (MPAs) and MPA networks. Now it's time for the rest of the world to accelerate the process of making MPAs to protect marine mammals and other species and ecosystems around the world."
In October 2008, WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, launched a 5 year campaign including a global petition to create 12 large, highly protected safe havens or MPAs for whales and dolphins as their contribution to 2012 targets. Surveys have turned up 18 whale and dolphin species in the Mariana Trench National Marine Monument alone, including the popular humpback whale and spinner dolphin, as well as Risso's dolphins, sperm whales, sei whales and melon-headed whales, and several rare beaked whale species. Commercial fishing will be phased out of the monuments, but recreational fishing, whale watching, diving and other sustainable marine tourism will be allowed.
So what do you think to Bush’s last hurrah? Does it change your opinion of him, or is this too little too late?