North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) are one of the most endangered animals on the planet with fewer than 450 remaining. While they once roamed both sides of the Atlantic, they now only exist on the eastern seaboard of the US and Canada where they struggle to survive. Ship traffic, fishing gear, pollution, and offshore energy developments create daily physical and acoustical obstacle courses through which they must weave to find food, and each other.
But they are not beyond hope. What we, as humans, do, will determine which way the pendulum swings- recovery or extinction. And the US is legally obligated to work toward recovery, even if we (as a nation) sometimes forget we are. Right now, thanks to your support, WDCS is helping to remind the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that they have a legal obligation to protect these animals.
With the passage of the Endangered Species Act (in 1973), right whales received legal protection which included the creation of Critical Habitat - areas that are critical to the conservation of the species (i.e. have physical characteristics that known to be important for things like breeding, feeding, and nursing.) In 1994, Critical Habitat was designated for Northern right whales (E. glacialis) in Cape Cod Bay, the Great South Channel (East of Cape Cod) and off the coast of northern Florida. Those areas were known to be important feeding and nursing areas in the north, and calving areas in the south. Last year, WDCS, along with the Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Ocean Conservancy, petitioned NMFS (the federal agency charged with protecting whales) to expand Critical Habitat for NA right whales. Researchers from NMFS, itself, had discovered previously unknown habitats of significance for the species. It seemed like a no-brainer, to be honest.
However, NMFS never responded to our petition. We waited, and waited, and waited.......... 90 days passed, the legally mandated limit for them to respond to our petition. Nothing. So we went to Washington DC (another thank you for your support which got us there) and asked what the problem was.
Seems when NMFS designated North Pacific right whales as a separate species from North Atlatnic right whales in 2008, they weren't sure if
Critical Habitat still existed legally in the North Atlantic. So they couldn't respond to a request to "expand" if it wasn't there.
We pointed out a variety of NMFS documents where they referred to Critical Habitat as still existing for North Atlantic right whales post 2008, as well as pointed out that the species designation E. glacialis, for which Critical Habitat in the Atlantic was designated, remained with North Atlantic right whales. They said they would get back to us shortly. So we waited some more...................... But we can't wait any longer and neither can NA right whales. As a result, WDCS, along with Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Humane Society of the United States filed a suit today. It was not our first choice, but a necessary one.
I am not a lawyer, I am a biologist. I have studied right whales, I have necropsied dead animals on a beach that had been either killed by ships or entangled in fishing gear. I have heard them talk to each other. I have seen them interact. I am privileged. And I am ever so grateful to the lawyers and advocates that can do something legally to help ensure that, in the future, the privilege will not be mine alone.
There are many, many lawyer jokes- but I am humbled by the dedication and passion for which the lawyers and advocates have fought for a species they have not yet seen in the wild. And I am sincerely thankful to our supporters who fund us to make sure that NMFS doesn't forget they have a legal obligation to make sure the pendulum swings toward recovery
This weekend something changed for cetaceans. One big step for man; one giant sweep of the caudal fin for cetaceans.
We spend great deal of time and energy battling the many threats to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and their habitat, but this weekend we made significant progress in a new arena. At a conference hosted by WDCS and Paola Cavalieri, co-founder of the ‘Great Ape Project’, experts gathered to discuss the recent findings in cetacean science which demonstrate that these animals often live in complex societies and that some species even have their own culture, which they transmit between generations or groups. The objective of the meeting was to determine what these, and other, scientific findings mean for how we treat cetaceans and what obligations such knowledge bestows upon us, as the perpetrators of much harm to cetaceans.
Some people are already suggesting that we aim to ‘give’ ‘human rights’ to cetaceans. But this is not the case; in fact it rather misses the point. Cetaceans do not need ‘human’ rights, what we are seeking is the recognition that cetaceans have their own set of rights, including the right to life, freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment and the right not to be held in captivity or servitude, or be subject to cruel treatment, or be removed from their natural environment. We do not want to ‘give’ these rights, but instead to ‘recognise’ that these rights already exist. As our colleague Paola Cavalieri has stated, this would indeed be moral progress.
Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins
Based on the principle of the equal treatment of all persons;
Recognizing that scientific research gives us deeper insights into the complexities of cetacean minds, societies and cultures;
Noting that the progressive development of international law manifests a growing sense of entitlement by cetaceans;
We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.
We believe that:
1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
8. Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
9. No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
10. Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.
Agreed, 22nd May 2010, Helsinki, Finland
Click here to sign the Declaration
I am currently sat on a train traveling back from Finland. I have just had the privilege of spending a couple of days with group of lawyers, philosophers, and dolphin and whale biologists meeting at the University of Finland to examine the current level of scientific and legal evidence for the inclusion of whales and dolphins into the moral community.
Yep, I did not know what that meant either two days ago, but I was amongst people who did, and the team systematically sifted through the evidence before them and came to what I feel is a remarkable conclusion – that whales and dolphins have a right to life and protection that goes way beyond our current constructs of ‘conservation’ and ‘protection’.
The team looked at the dynamic changes in customary internal law and the latest evidence that cetaceans have sophisticated levels of culture and social complexity that can no longer be ignored or dismissed.
I thought it might be hard to come to a conclusion that whales and dolphins now deserve even greater protection, but the meetings findings reveal that it would now be disingenuous to deny them the status of non-human persons, a term the philosopher and speaker at the conference, Thomas White has introduced me to.
I know that this claim will cause some to mock us for considering such a view, but I challenge anyone to examine the evidence and not come to the same conclusions.
Hearing the distinguished scientist Hal Whitehead discuss the discovery of culture in sperm whales was met with amazement and awe. The reflections of Professor Sudhir Chopra, reflecting on the seminal paper that he co-authored twenty years ago, Whales: Their Emerging Right to Life, published in the American Journal of International Law, concluded that even after almost two decades since this publication, his conclusions ring true today as they did then. What was particularly interesting was the rigour of the science involved at a time when the IWC is turning its back on science and using what it calls 'Ad Hoc scientific approaches', or 'twaddle' science, as Sidney Holt more clearly refers to it.
The meeting was the first stage in an ongoing debate, but its going to be a remarkable road, and it was privilege to be there at its beginning. It is also doubly important at a time when the IWC is still beholden to those who subscribe to the archaic belief that whales and dolphins are just resources. Those who support this view, such as whalers and their insipid allies such as Sweden, should reflect what has been happening at the University of Finland. Its time for a new beginning - lets hope the IWC doesn't set us back fifty years again as its threatening to do with a resumption of commercial whaling.
You can find out more here
Humanity's treatment of nature and our environment has always been very much about how our society lives and interacts with not just nature, but one another.
That's why we've been so heartened to see how online social networks, such as facebook and twitter, have allowed organizations to work and organize together on important issues in brand new ways.
We all know the power of word of mouth and social networks in our own lives, but it really does take social networking to save whales too. Through facebook and twitter we've been in contact with dedicated advocates, one of the most dedicated is Jeff Friedman. Jeff volunteers with The Climate Project, BlueVoice.org, Orca Network, and Orca Lab. Last weekend Jeff traveled to Miami to protest the conditions that Lolita (an Orca taken out of the wild 40 years ago) has been kept in at Miami Seaquarium. Below Jeff shares with us what it was like to see Lolita in person. We want to thank Jeff for his tireless efforts fighting captivity.
I want to share my experience at Miami Seaquarium. First, my disclaimer: I did not pay admission to get in. As someone who is against keeping orcas and other dolphins in captivity, I will not support these places financially. I was given a free entrance pass which had been donated to a friend.
Hopefully by now you've seen the photos and read Lolita's story, and even though I had seen many pictures i was not prepared to see first hand how bad Lolita's situation really is. Pictures don't capture depth. Just as pictures of the Grand Canyon can never convey its true size and depth, pictures of her tank do not convey the lack of size and depth.Many hotels and health clubs have larger pools. Her tank is like a large backyard swimming pool. As soon as I walked in this reality hit me and has stayed with me. I had seen many pictures beforehand, but none of them prepared me well for its true lack of size. 40 years in that pool is unimaginable.
I will also say that Lolita is beautiful. That hit me right away too and it was surreal to see this orca in front of my eyes that I have read so much about. Suddenly, the injustice being done to her became more real to me.
Lolita is mostly unavailable for public observation. Unlike other marine parks (SeaWorld), you can only see Lolita during her 2 shows a day. The public was allowed to entered the stadium 10 minutes before the show. Lolita listlessly floated near the front of her tank, as the stadium music blares loudly, she looked at people for a few minutes. Then she sank to the bottom and was still for several minutes, up for a breath and a look, then back to the bottom. Barely moving.
During the show itself, I was shocked at the lack of Lolita's presence. In the intro the trainer asked in a salesy voice, "Where is the one place in the world where you can see a killer whale swim and play with Pacific white-sided dolphins?" Of course her answer was Miami Seaquarium, but I was thinking British Columbia. The show is 20 minutes. Lolita swims around with a trainer standing on her back, breaches 3 or 5 times, tail slaps, pec slaps, demonstrates her L pod calls and splashes water on the first 6 rows. Hardly 20 minutes worth of material. So they spread it out. She does one "trick" then swims to the platform for 3 to 5 minutes, mouth open, catching dead fish from a trainer while the Pacific dolphins take over the show. Then Lolita does a breach or another "trick" and back to the platform for another 3 to 5 minutes. Combined, literally, she is performing for maybe 5 minutes of the 20 minute show. The dolphins played a much larger role. I cried the entire show.
I don't know why she's not the main feature of the show, there are rumors and speculation though. Apparently her long time trainer left a year or so ago and there is talk that Lolita has not been the same since and this is impacting her ability/desire to perform. There are rumors that she shows signs of depression and her food is being laced with prozac.
At the end of the show, Lolita immediately swims to the corner of the tank. She was not able to access the back tank, which was gated off and had the 6 Pacific white-sided dolphins. Lolita waits there in front of her trainers, at one point with her mouth open as if she was waiting for food. Yet they completely ignore Lolita, instead watching the dolphins and talking to each other. Lolita then floated still with her head against the gate, watching the dolphins, still with no attention from trainers.
We were able to get to the rail of her tank and stand within a few feet of her, making eye contact with her. We said hello in an excited, friendly pitch. At one point Lolita nodded her head up and down. Of course I cannot tell you she was reacting to us or what she was thinking or feeling. Only that she nodded and we had eye contact.Within 5 minutes of the show ending, security kicks everyone out.
So she does 2 shows a day, 20 minutes each. You can see her 10 minutes before and 5 after. That is a total time of 1 hour and 10 minutes public view time per day. At all other time she is behind closed doors, literally. The stadium is secured by metal garage doors. There is no way in. This raises so many questions of what is going on behind closed doors. Do they open the gates to give her access to the back tank behind the trainer platform? Or is she confined to the front of the tank, making her living space even smaller? Is she getting attention, stimulation and exercise? Enough food? Medical care? It all happens privately with no ability for the public to know.
I left the facility very depressed. The facility is a relic to the 1950's. The crowds are small. Many of my photos show empty bleachers. I watched 2 bottlenose dolphins (in a tank larger than Lolita's) pushing beach balls around. I got bored watching them after 5 minutes. I had the freedom to walk away. I can only imagine their plight.
It was all an experience I am grateful to have seen firsthand. I am hopeful that this firsthand experience with Lolita and her conditions enables me to enrolling more people in the cause to return her home. I took a lot of sadness out of there with me that will remain with me for a very, very long time.
Getting Lolita home is so important for her and us. Though we can never fully give back what others have taken from her, we need to give her what we can. After witnessing this, leaving her there is inhumane and wrong. It is terrible for her and it speaks poorly on us if we allow this to continue.
You can follow Jeff on twitter
I see the IWC Secretariat have reissued the Chairman's campaign document, sorry press release . The statement indicates that the Chairman has redone his numbers and has to revise down the fact that his proposal will now only 'save' 320 whales a year, rather than the 400 a year that they originally claimed
Its not clear whose mistake this was, or where the new advice comes from, but it shows that someone is busy selecting the best spin they can find for their ever shaky proposal to resume commercial whaling
I notice that they have now also selected the years 2005-2009 to compare their proposal to. This selective period over-emphasizes the claims to potential success of the deal. If they had selected 2000-2009, we would see greatly reduced numbers, and indeed for Iceland and Norway huge increases in actual whales taken. Ah statistics and whales - two things often abused.
One would be forgiven in thinking that the whalers have been aware of this strategy and spin for some time wouldn't you.
It reminds me of the old adage, 'there are misunderstandings, misrepresentations and then there is the propaganda of the pro-deal advocates'
My first reaction before we discuss some of the comments included in the press release is to ask on whose authority is this release based. Is this the IWC speaking? Is this the members of the IWC speaking? I really don’t believe so for the latter?. For one thing, the authors refer to Iceland’s whaling under ‘reservation’, a made-up category of whaling that a large number of member states don’t recognize and has no basis in the ICRW The press release refers to the Chair’s and Vice-Chairs proposal as a ‘peace plan’. I am sorry but its not a peace plan, it’s a retrograde step back to the block quotas of 30 years ago. What has been presented before as a negotiating process is now obviously being touted as formal proposals from the Chair and Vice-Chair and for one believe the almost emotional blackmail in this press release should be formally rejected by governments and ngos alike. But what does it actually offer?
The IWC Chair and Vice-Chair have just issued a press release saying ‘If you really care about whale conservation - give our proposal a fair reading’ (7 May 2010) http://iwcoffice.org/index.htm
My first reaction before we discuss some of the comments included in the press release is to ask on whose authority is this release based. Is this the IWC speaking? Is this the members of the IWC speaking? I really don’t believe so for the latter?. For one thing, the authors refer to Iceland’s whaling under ‘reservation’, a made-up category of whaling that a large number of member states don’t recognize and has no basis in the ICRWMy tax goes towards paying for my home government to attend the IWC and I don't like the thought that my hard earned cash is paying for the IWC Chairman and Vice-Chair to push their agenda out to the press.
The press release refers to the Chair’s and Vice-Chairs proposal as a ‘peace plan’. I am sorry but its not a peace plan, it’s a retrograde step back to the block quotas of 30 years ago.
What has been presented before as a negotiating process is now obviously being touted as formal proposals from the Chair and Vice-Chair and for one believe the almost emotional blackmail in this press release should be formally rejected by governments and ngos alike.They claim that it brings ‘all whaling operations under full IWC control and to strengthen further and focus the work of the IWC on conservation issues’
But what does it actually offer?
Continue reading "IWC: Whaler's Charter or cuddly peace plan?"
As an active member of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC), WDCS is celebrating because ASOC has successfully raised an objection to the MSC certification of the Ross Sea toothfish fishery. An independent adjudicator has upheld our objection and remanded the decision to the certifiers for reconsideration and rescoring. WDCS and ASOC were outspoken in contending that giving a 'green label' to the exploitation of an unsustainable fishery for the Antarctic toothfish in an area proposed as a highly protected marine reserve was 'completely inappropriate'.
The ASOC press release is below, and the full decision can be read through the links on the ASOC or Cetacean Habitat websites.
Continue reading "Saving toothfish and the Ross Sea"
This is almost directly taken from the Guardian newspaper, but I thought it was worth recounting here.
When a 13ft gray whale was found dead on a beach near Seattle (Washington State), the following was found amongst the 190 litres of algae in its stomach;
Continue reading "What one whale ate"
‘They say’, said the reporter carefully, ‘that the age of cheap oil is over’. ‘They’ being a group of invisible and anonymous experts. The sentiment, however, seems to ring true. In order to exploit dwindling oil reserves, the industry is pushing into more extreme environments, for example deeper seas and further offshore, than it would have worked in before. This raises some difficult questions. Does the escalating cost of what may be described as the ‘oil addiction’ of modern societies, now include an increased risk embedded in the deployment of newer technologies in more difficult environments? And with such an increased risk would there not be an inevitability of increased accidents; and, arguably, the deeper a well and the further offshore it is, the more difficult it may be to cap?
The latest horrify and still expanding spill in the Gulf of Mexico points to this, but we should also not forget the recent major spill in Australia where another offshore rig started to leak and also proved very difficult to staunch.
Continue reading "Oily Times"
Well Denmark has at least got an excuse. It's Government has to constantly put the interests of Greenland and the Faroe Islands before its own citizens it seems, but who is the main proponent of commercial whaling outside of Denmark in the EU?
It seems that Sweden has the whaling bug. Whenever the issue is discussed in the EU it's the Swedish Commissioner who is primary salesman for the whalers.
Like an addict that is desperate to see whales dying, the Swedish Commissioner is running a one man crusade within the EU to get commercial whaling back, whatever the cost it would seem.
I would ask the Swedish Government, as I take it that the Commissioner is acting under their direction of course, and not pursuing his own agenda, to look to the latest Scientific Whaling Permit issued on the 19th May for whaling in the north west Pacific to take 120 minke whales. the permit states, 'Revenues derived from the sales and deducted with necessary costs can be regarded as proceeds'. Those 'costs' are commercial profit to the whaler to the rest of us.
So, Sweden, where is Japan's good faith now?
But maybe Sweden is not that interested in the terms that Japan is insisting on, maybe the Swedish Commissioner is simply focused on getting commercial whaling back, whatever the cost - to the whales.
So thanks a lot Sweden. You now lead the ranks of 'European Whale Enemy No 1!'