It seems that three years later, the two chefs and the owner of the Hump in Santa Monica have been charged with conspiracy to import and sell sei whale meat, a violation of the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Los Angeles Times reports that a federal grand jury has indicted the owners of the parent company and two of its onetime chefs, charging them with felonies that carry lengthy prison terms of up to 67 years in federal prison. The restaurant's parent company is reported to potentially faces a fine of US$1.2 million.
WDC is pleased to see that the US authorities are taking this crime seriously, but we are still awaiting to hear how the European Commission is going to react to our revelations that whale meat was freely available to tourists in Denmark. The sale to tourists both in Denmark and in Greenland means that more whales are dying than are actually needed to feed native GreenlaNders for whom any IWC whaling quota is meant for.
Lets hope the EU Commission take this as seriously as the US and stamps out this illegal trade once and for all. We will let you know when the Commission lets us know.
It seems that three years later, the two chefs and the owner of the Hump in Santa Monica have been charged with conspiracy to import and sell sei whale meat, a violation of the United States Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The issue of whaling and the killing of dolphins is a highly emotive one. It can stir passions in all of us, and I am still staggered at the brutality of some of the things people do to our cetacean cousins.
However, it's critical that we focus our passion to achieve the end goal of ending these hunts and not allow our dislike of the practice of whaling spill over into vitriol against those who practice the killing of whales and dolphins. You know the old saying 'hate the act, not the person'.
What we are trying do is bring more compassion into the world, not inflate more hatred. The success of the WDC campaign against Icelandic whaling is not down to being 'anti-Icelandic' but by being 'anti-Icelandic whaling' and in particular Grandi, the driving force behind the fin whaling and Iceland's position at the IWC.
When it comes to the Faroes, the images are terrible and heart-wrenching, but again, hatred against the Faroese will not bring an end to the hunt. Helene Hesselager O’Barry writes eloquently on this subject and her latest blog is well worth a read.
On November 21st , an unsuspecting 8-year old girl, Jillian Thomas, was bitten by a dolphin at the petting and feeding pool at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. This comes as no surprise to WDC who published a report on the injuries and other risks to both humans and dolphins that occur at dolphin petting pools that primarily exist at SeaWorld parks in the US, and based in nearly 100 hours of undercover investigation at these pools. We have been monitoring these pools since the mid-1990s, and have revealed not only a disturbing frequency of bites and aggression by dolphins in these pools towards the public, but also the disturbing treatment of dolphins at the hands of patrons at these parks. This is, of course, not the first incident at this and other SeaWorld parks: it is just that it happened to be captured on video and for the entire world to see.
As a result of these investigations, WDC launched a campaign, and alongside HSUS, released its report in 2003. Our studies have recorded and assessed human and dolphin behaviors which present direct or indirect risks to the health and welfare of visitors or dolphins, including biting and butting/bumping, and the feeding of foreign objects and contaminated food items. Other factors that were looked at include gull harassment at these pools, feeding regimes, access to refuge areas, overcrowding, and potential for bi-directional disease transmission. The conclusion of this report is as relevant now, as it was then: the physical interaction between humans and dolphins may pose serious risks to the health and welfare of both parties. Abrupt movements by, and aggressive competition between, dolphins can result in physical injury to visitors. Many of the dolphins in these pools also bear wounds.
The words of this young girl in response to her injury also reveal the other side of this issue, and that is the welfare of the dolphins involved in this program. She stated that I was afraid that the dolphin might get sick because of the paper carton.” WDC’s investigations reveal that up to 17 dolphins, including calves can be in the petting pools at any one time. Too many dolphins in an overcrowded pool are subjected to not only stress, but the potential to be fed foreign objects or contaminated food items from the public, where inadequate supervision not only may lead to injuries, such as the bite experienced by Jillian Thomas, but the ingestion of objects that could prove fatal to the dolphins if undetected. There is more to be concerned about for these dolphins than just the paper fish carton. The government-maintained Marine Mammal Inventory (MMIR) report reveals that the ingestion of foreign objects is a common cause of death in captive marine mammals.
Through the life of our campaign, and the long history of meetings with the relevant regulatory agencies, the only change that has occurred at these pools is a restriction of access to the dolphins around a portion of the perimeter of the pool, and signage at the pools that indicates “feeding dolphins in the wild is illegal.”
What does feeding dolphins in the wild have to do with an 8–year old girl being bitten at SeaWorld in Orlando? For one, feeding dolphins in the wild is illegal. However, perhaps less obvious is the connection between these interactions in public display facilities, and problems for wild dolphins. I suggest that this mixed messaging within the context of interactive programs not only confuses the public, but is responsible for significant conservation issues in the wild: you can feed dolphins or swim with them here, but don’t feed them or swim with them in the wild. It is this ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality that is leading to a real regulatory nightmare in the wild.
Dolphins are being harassed and fed, especially around the coastline of Florida and throughout the Gulf, and the conflicts between humans and dolphins are intensifying. Individuals in Louisiana who are eager to interact with a solitary sociable male dolphin have been bitten and sent to the hospital. Swimmers in the hot zone of Panama City, Florida, known as a mecca for swimming and feeding wild dolphins, have had threatening encounters with aggressive dolphins that have pushed them underwater and away from the safety of their boats. Interestingly enough, it is in these areas where dolphins have been injured by human interaction and directed vandalism, and where individuals have been convicted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for crimes against dolphins, including shooting and throwing pipe bombs at dolphins.
In fact, interactions with wild dolphins have become so prevalent, and the consequences so serious, that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) launched a public campaign in the late 1990s to deter feeding, touching and swimming with dolphins in the wild. This ‘Protect Dolphins Campaign’ deals directly with human-dolphin interactions and harassment in the wild, and seeks to educate the public about the risks to dolphins and the public in interacting with dolphins, pointing to the grave consequences that can result. Provisioning (feeding) dolphins modifies their natural behaviors and leaves them at increased risk for collision with boat propellers, vandals, recreational and commercial fishing operations, and may prevent them from foraging on their own. Similarly, swim-with activities can harass and harm wild dolphins.
As people are participating in more encounters with captive dolphins, there is an unmistakable trend of people seeking out close encounters with free-ranging dolphins in the wild. We believe this trend is increasingly harmful to wild dolphin populations, as evidenced in Hawaii with the spinner dolphins, in southeastern US with bottlenose dolphins. Swim-with activities can target vulnerable populations and disrupt normal behavior. For instance, in Hawaii, spinner dolphins are targeted by swimmers and swim-tours in their resting bays during the day (they feed at night). Recent research in this area has revealed that some populations are being displaced, and population level impacts are becoming evident, altering behaviors and distribution of these populations in the longer term.
The seriousness of feeding wild dolphins is also the focus of another NMFS public-facing campaign developed in collaboration with, ironically, public display facilities. WDC declined to be a part of this collaborative initiative because of our very concerns about the connections between these activities at public display facilities and what is occurring in the wild.
The ‘Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins,’ campaign which includes a very clever and graphically-appealing Public Service Announcement and accompanying website makes it very clear that feeding dolphins in the wild is not only illegal, but pretty much a death sentence for the dolphins that subsequently become habituated to human hand-outs and find themselves at risk of boat propeller injuries, or worse, the vandalism of irritated fishermen or recreationalists. In certain areas, dolphins may frequent angling areas, follow commercial fishing boats looking for an easy catch, and become the target of a public eager for close interaction in coastal areas. Media reports about dolphins being fatally targeted in the Gulf region, some with guns, another with a screwdriver, have intensified in the media since last June and continue to today. The poster child for this campaign was Beggar, an adult male bottlenose dolphin that was infamous for his begging behavior around boats, and that eventually led to his demise.Beggar was found dead in October, and was likely the most observed wild dolphin in the world. Focused observation of his activities over 100 hours and conducted in 2011 identified 3,600 interactions between Beggar and humans (up to 70 per hour) and 1689 attempts to feed him 520 different food items, from shrimp to hot dogs and beer. In addition, during just those observation hours, researchers logged 121 attempts to touch him, resulting in nine bites to people. Beggar reportedly spent much of his time a short distance from shore, where he was frequently approached by boaters. As a result, Beggar stopped foraging on his own and stopped socializing with other dolphins.
The connection is obvious to us. It is time for NMFS and SeaWorld to acknowledge the real link between the close interaction between dolphins and the public at these facilities, and the problems of managing these same activities in the wild. Opportunities for physical contact with dolphins, including touching, feeding and swimming with both wild and captive animals are increasing in range and intensity. From our perspective, these programs stimulate the public’s demands to get closer and closer to these unique animals, increasing the risk for injury to both the public and dolphins, both in the wild and in captivity. By promoting and reinforcing the acceptability of feeding and touching dolphins, captive feeding programs will continue to encourage the public to repeat their experiences with these animals in the wild.
Although the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) stopped requiring the reporting of injuries in 1999 with the suspension of regulations governing interaction programs in public display facilities, these suspended regulations, which were opened for public input in 2002, are due to be released as newly proposed and revised regulations in the spring of 2013. WDC has been critical of these regulations, providing our recommendations for their improvement over 10 years ago, requiring the specific redress of petting pools within those guidelines, or their closure. However, we have been informed by APHIS that dolphin petting pools are no different than any other interactive program and pose no greater risk, and will therefore not be specifically addressed in the proposed regulations.
And this brings us back to the ‘Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins’ Campaign. NMFS is placed in an untenable and difficult position, where it works in partnership with public display facilities, that through lip service appear ‘supportive’ of the agency’s role in cracking down on illegal activities that harm and harass dolphins in the wild, but that actually perpetuate and propagate the very activities that NMFS must regulate in the wild, such as feeding, swimming and petting activities, at their facilities. And we are not the only ones that see this connection. A detailed survey of public display facilities conducted in 1989 reveals that many zoos and aquaria have eliminated their petting and feeding programs, citing the unacceptable risks associated with such attractions. In addition, individuals from within the public display community itself have questioned whether they are part of the problem in promoting these activities that are illegal and detrimental to dolphins in the wild. It is time to acknowledge the risks that captive dolphin interaction programs pose to humans and dolphins, both in captivity and in the wild. In the clear absence of a willingness to specifically regulate and acknowledge the risks associated with petting pools, and continuing injuries at these attractions, WDC continues our call for their immediate closure.
I see a parent has quite rightly complained about their daughter being bitten by a dolphin at SeaWorld in their petting pools.
WDC reported this risk and incidents of previous bites some years ago, but SeaWorld were allowed to continue this circus trick. You can see our full report here Biting the Hand
One thing has always bugged me about the petting pools. Well actually a lot of things do, but one question is whether individual dolphins are being overfed or underfed? To keep the dolphins 'keen' to take fish from visitors, do they need to be hungry? And what happens if one dolphin gets more fish than they should? Are they withdrawn from the show?
However, I also noticed that the UK's daily Express was reporting that US ex-Navy trained dolphins had been loaned to SeaWorld. WDC has often spoken out against the use of dolphins in military exercises, but I cannot help feeling that dolphins that have been trained in underwater combat situations should not be sent to captive display facilities to do 'tricks' for the general public.
I have no idea if the ex-Navy dolphins ever end up in the SeaWorld concrete tanks used for the petting pools, but it makes you wonder doesn't it?
It seems that the Japanese Government and the Institute of Cetacean Research is getting desperate in its attempts to prove that their so-called 'scientific whaling' is more than an ongoing exercise in self-preservation. Having suffered campaigns to end sales of whale meat on online stores by intermediaries the Government is going digital in order to make some money itself.
Reports out of Japan indicate that Japan's Fishery Agency has announced that starting next year, individuals can
purchase meat by mail order and it will also be sold directly to
restaurants. Previously, sales were made only to wholesale distributors.
This raises a significant cause for concern as Japan has historically been unable to regulate illegal sales of whale meat even when it controls supplies.
It seems that by allowing for online sales Japan is going to significantly increase the risk of abuse by unscrupulous dealers. I for one think the risk of smuggling of whale meat products will also increase as it will become more difficult to track who is purchasing whale meat over the internet.
Lets see how many examples of whale meat trafficking we see reported in the coming months and years?
Lets also see what other countries meeting at the CITES (Convention in Trade in Endangered Species) meeting of parties in the new year think about it?
It seems the statements of the US National Aquarium and Merlin Entertainments against the proposed import of belugas by the Georgia Aquarium are creating quite a stir.
In the past the display industry has seemed to hold its tongue even when some may have disagreed with what colleagues in the industry were up to, but now some have the courage and the willingness to distinguish themselves as being different and in pursuit of a different vision.
Fingers crossed that their vision is a foundation for a future without live captures of whales and dolphins and eventually, even an end to all cetacean captivity.
The recent reports on accusations that monies designated for tsunami reconstruction have been misspent should not come as a shock. But what is really more shocking is the Japanese media's previous indifference to the story.
I say we should be shocked, but should we really? A Japanese press that has been unwilling, except in some exceptional circumstances, to question its government on the issue of whaling policy, may not be willing to rock the boat on other matters either.
Its seems that projects financed by the $150bn (£93bn) fund include an ad campaign for Japan's tallest building and support for whaling so-called 'research'.
But why has the government taken such a position? it seems that the pork-barrel of Japanese politics is coming home to roost.
Among the expenses listed are $30 million dollars for Japan’s yearly whale hunt, $380,000 to promote Tokyo Sky Tree, the world’s tallest free-standing broadcast tower, free training for fighter pilots and a subsidy for a contact-lens factory located nowhere near the site of the disaster-hit coast.
At first the initial audit report was 'largely ignored by the Japanese media, as clientelism – the allocation of budget money to those with close ties, often in exchange for political support, is not unusual in the country’s politics.' reports rt.com
“Exploiting the construction effort is treacherous to the first degree,” proclaimed a Tokyo Shimbun editorial.
Rt.com goes onto note that Yoshimitsu Shiozaki, an academic specializing in urban planning at Kobe University, who has conducted his own survey of the spending, believes that little will be done to reverse the spending priorities. "But this time the funds are being used in a more deceptive way," said Shiozaki.
Its a mark of a countries democracy that the public and media can hold their government's to account.
The Japanese people must begin to question why a stagnant and costly industry such as whaling that benefits so few is receiving such preferential treatment, whilst millions of people are still suffering from the recent disasters? Who in government and the civil service is benefiting and who has their finger on the bank account?
Yesterday (25th October 2012), the European Parliament passed a resolution on the development of a a free trade agreement with Japan ( European Parliament resolution of 25 October 2012 on EU trade negotiations with Japan (2012/2711(RSP)).
WDC was pleased to note that the resolution, whilst urging the development of the agreement noted that,
'... the Commission, the Council and Parliament support the maintenance of the global moratorium on commercial whaling and a ban on international commercial trade in whale products, seek to end so-called scientific whaling and support the designation of substantial regions of ocean and seas as sanctuaries in which all whaling is indefinitely prohibited', and,
'Notes that serious divergences remain between the EU and Japan on issues related to the management of fisheries and whaling, notably Japan’s whaling under the guise of scientific whaling, and calls for broader discussions on the matter of the abolition of whale hunting and of trade in whale products'.
This is fully in accordance with EU law that prohibits any commercial whaling or trade in whale products and WDC commends the EU's parliamentarians for ensuring that this issue is front-and-centre in discussions with Japan.
WDC has long argued that EU law means that EU member states cannot vote for any form of commercial whaling and we are pleased to see EU Parliamentarians upholding this position.
Just as a debate is raging in the US about the proposed import of 18 beluga whales for display scientists in the US have published research which they believe shows that the vocalisation of one particular beluga whale in captivity were remarkably close to human speech.
Listen to the recording and judge for yourself.
This is not new. It is not unusual for beluga whales to imitate the sounds that they hear in captivity. Put ‘beluga sounds’ into YouTube and you will be furnished with a host of examples, from belugas imitating the sound of their trainer’s whistles, right through to an apparent imitation of flatulence.
We also know that belugas can understand verbal commands that are used by their trainers, in combination with whistle and hand signals. The question is, in imitating these human vocalisations was the whale trying to tell us something; to transfer information through sound in our own language?
The research was published in Current Biology and shows that these vocalisations were two octaves lower than usual and were made before the whale reached adulthood. Noc, the beluga whale who was recorded making these unusual sounds, died in captivity some five years ago. Yet, it has taken all this time for this research to emerge.
And what did one of the staff at this captive facility believe he heard Noc say when he was in the water cleaning his pool? ‘Out’
Was that ‘Get out’ or ‘Let me Out’? Perhaps we’ll never know.
It’s good news announced at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meetings in Hyderabad, India (8-19 Oct. 2012) that marine protected areas (MPAs) have shown a 10-fold rise the past decade to cover 2.3% of the surface of the global ocean.
OK, it’s only a drop in the world ocean puddle, and the growth is being driven by just a handful of fairly new, large MPAs, most of them designated with the PEW Foundation’s help.
The policy brief by Mark D. Spalding, from the Nature Conservancy, and others notes that the 20 largest MPAs cover more than 5 million km2 and that this represents more than 60% of the entire global MPA coverage.
But from a whale, dolphin, and large mobile marine animal point of view, these large areas include potentially significant habitats.
Of course, it will be another matter figuring out how to manage these areas, most of which are far from communities, and to make the protection effective. Read more on this.
One such area we at WDC, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, have been focusing on is the Costa Rica Dome. This area has a substantial population of endangered blue whales that breed, raise their calves and feed in the area. There are also huge dolphin, shark, sea turtle and other important species in this productive area. We have been working since 2009 to try to get this area accepted through the CBD as an ecologically or biologically significant area (an “EBSA”) preparatory to it becoming a large high seas MPA.
In August at a CBD workshop, we succeeded in getting the Costa Rica Dome endorsed by scientists — working with our partners MarViva, Marine Conservation Institute, the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. It is now being considered by the CBD Parties in India. The newly proposed boundaries are not quite as large as we’d hoped, but the marine area now extends right to the shoreline of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, which will help buy-in from local communities and government and connect ecosystems from the land with coastal whale, dolphin and sea turtle populations to the deep sea. On that note, for obtaining “buy-in”, the proposed name “Costa Rica Dome” has been changed to “Central American Dome”. This is a bit like changing the name of the “Gulf of Mexico” to the “Gulf of Mexico and Southern US States”, though the Costa Rica Dome’s established name is not so well known. But if changing an accepted geographical name results in collective responsibility and better protection, I am all for it.
For more information about the implications and next steps for marine protected areas, visit cetaceanhabitats.org