Occasionally accounts come our way of observations on whales that are unusual and very interesting. I recently heard of one such incident and asked the guy who told me the story, Bertie Gregory, who is a student at the University of Bristol, if he would write it up so that we could share it.
He kindly did and here is that account beautifully illustrated by some of his own photographs:
Last summer I visited the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, to aid a wildlife tour guide on his boat. The majority of our trips involved searching inlets and sounds for black bears, bald eagles and the mysterious coastal wolf. About once a week however, we’d take guests out to sea to find grey and humpback whales. During the summer months, these two species come in huge numbers to feed on the explosion of aquatic life. The grey whales spend most of their time in shallow water, often less than 20m deep, feeding on mud dwelling invertebrates. The more charismatic humpbacks meanwhile, feed on small fish further offshore.
As a result of their huge numbers, we saw both species on every trip. All the while on the water we’d always be watching out and listening on the radio for orca (killer whales). The pods which visited the waters we searched for were the ‘transient’ variety, they feed on marine mammals and are notoriously hard to find as they’re constantly on the move up and down the coast. For that reason it was common for there to be only one sighting a week by the tour operators. The other variety, known as ‘resident’ killer whales tend to stay around the same area feeding on fish. There is much debate over the taxonomy (evolutionary classification) of killer whales and its generally agreed that there is probably more than one species as the different ‘cultures’ have not interbred for thousands of years.
I was particularly keen on finding them as up to then my sightings were limited to the various BBC landmark series! On one particular afternoon, we had a full boat of 12 guests and decided to make our way to Cow’s bay, an area we had consistently seen grey whales for the past few weeks. Just as we exited the harbour, I heard the boat’s radio crackle briefly; my boss, the boat’s captain, took it off the latch and held it to his ear. After a couple more crackles he turned to me and smiled, ‘the black and whites are out there’, he said. In very good spirit, all the tour companies work together and let each other know where the various animals are. Whenever the possibility of a rarer sighting came up, as with the coastal wolves, we didn’t tell the guests immediately because as quickly as they’re spotted, they may just disappear. My boss changed the course of our 20 foot Boston Whaler away from Cow’s bay, directly out to sea. As we got closer to the GPS coordinates we had been given, more details came through. A voice once again crackled on the radio, ‘there’s more than ten of them’, my ears pricked up. I stood up out my seat and scoured the water ahead of us with my binoculars; 500m ahead was the boat we’d been hearing from. Suddenly, I spotted numerous ejections of water-vapour, firing high up into the air, the tell-tale sign of whales.
Whale watching regulations state that boats aren’t allowed to approach the whales closer than 100m, but the killer whales didn’t know this as all twelve headed towards us. I’m a passionate wildlife photographer but these whales were proving tough to get good pictures of. Their faces were only up for a fraction of a second, followed by their proportionally massive dorsal fin, before they dived back under the surface.
I then heard another pair of exhalations but this time from behind the boat, they sounded deeper and louder to what we’d heard so far that day. I turned to see two adult humpback whale surface 30m from the boat. The killer whales weren’t approaching us, they were approaching the humpbacks, we just happened to be in their way! The killer whales got closer and closer to us, barely 5m away before they dove under our boat towards the humpbacks. Then everything went eerily quiet. All the whales were under the water, the boat engines were long switched off.
The silence was broken by an almighty trumpet from underneath the water; it vibrated our stomachs right down to the core. The sound was made by one of the humpbacks and moments later it surfaced continuing to let out these very elephant like noises. The killer whales then surfaced all around it, rolling on their sides and tail slapping. Never before had any of the guides (some with 30 years experience) seen killer whales attacking adult humpbacks. What’s more, within the pod of orca were a couple of juveniles- signified by their white skin having a yellow tone. These two youngsters were getting stuck in swimming just metres from the humpbacks, as they tried to join in on the action.
After a good half hour of the killer whales tail slapping, harassing and chasing the humpbacks, the tables turned, the 15m long humpback adults had had enough. The next time all the whales surfaced, it was the humpbacks that were doing the chasing.
Unfortunately, our time on the water was up, what should have been a two hour whale watching trip had already become three and an half. I begged my boss to stay but (apparently!) the customer is always right and understandably some of the small children on board were getting very cold. I’ll never know how the story ended. I feel very privileged to have witnessed such an incredibly rare event. I’ll be going back next summer to try my luck again!
Occasionally accounts come our way of observations on whales that are unusual and very interesting. I recently heard of one such incident and asked the guy who told me the story, Bertie Gregory, who is a student at the University of Bristol, if he would write it up so that we could share it.
Charles Dickens had a lot to say about Christmas.
Indeed some suggest that in many ways he invented the Christmas festival that many of us now enjoy in much of the western world and beyond. A Christmas world of snowy streets, jolly family feasting and, of course, a time when charity is also remembered amongst the mid-winter festivities.
Dickens lived when there was much poverty and great suffering in both the expanding cities and the often hostile countryside of Britain, and many children were caught up in this. At the same time there were also a better-off part of society, a burgeoning middle-class and a political system that had it within its power to help. Dickens recognised these things and his stories, at least in part, were morality tales aimed at highlighting and ultimately ending the suffering of people, especially children. Consider the weird and jarring scene in A Christmas Carol when the eponymous miser Scrooge spies a bony claw-like hand under the robes of the jovial and festive figure of the Ghost of Christmas Present?
Here in abbreviated form is the scene:
‘From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at [the Spirit’s] feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.’
Scrooge is so dismayed at their appearance that he can only manage to ask the Spirit if the poor children are his.
The resounding and chilling reply comes back ‘They are man’s!’
Then the Spirit adds, ‘This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.’
The fact that these figures are portrayed in the company of the third Christmas ghost (the one of the current time) emphasises that Dickens is signposting issues of his day for his devoted readers.
Dickens was very much a social campaigner and active not just in illustrating the pressing issues of the day but also a champion of certain charities. Are there lessons in this for those of us trying to campaign today?
His writings were immensely popular. The books so famous now were equally so when first published and mainly sold in serialised form. They were Victorian soap operas with a keen readership avidly awaiting each chapter and each new series and Dickens himself (something of an actor) would also perform them in modified form to packed theatres.
February 7th 2012 is the bicentenary of Charles Dickens’s birth. We shall be hearing much more about him in the coming year. A new biography reportedly suggests that this great Victorian moralist was a flawed individual himself; eventually abandoning his wife of many years and many children for a younger actress. This bleak interpretation of his character may disappoint his current fans, but what is undeniable about Dickens is the effect of his writings, and our ongoing fascination for him and his stories. Is he the major literary figure in the English language? Is he greater in his influence than Shakespeare? I think he is. He wrote in a way that was accessible to all. His stories grip, entertain and gently educate with a pervasiveness that remains effective today. Adaptations of his stories still abound. We never seem to tire of Dickens. Even as I write, BBC TV is featuring as part of its Christmas season his deeply twisted tale of Great Expectations and the entry to the New Year here in the UK will be marked by something of a festival of films on TV derived from Dickens’ stories.
What would he have made of our modern forms of communications: twittering, tweeting and blogging, films in three dimensions and the live-streaming of You Tube and the rest of the new-dimension of the internet? I think he would have engaged heartily with all of these things as new ways to tell stories, even though he would have had censure his wonderful erudition for the brevity much of this new ‘information highway’ is best suited to.
And what does any of this have to do with whales and dolphins? Well, at the same time that Dickens was trying to open the eyes (and the purses) of those around him to the inhumanity of man to man, so animal suffering was also starting to be recognised and addressed and, in fact, Dickens was again in the vanguard of this reform. In 1824 the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals was formed and Dickens was both a member and a great supporter.
Bill Sykes the principal villain in Oliver Twist is famously cruel to his poor but faithful dog, Bullseye, as well as abusive and bullying to all around him, culminating in the awful murder of his lover, Nancy. Animal cruelty appears again in Great Expectations where the very unpleasant character Bentley Drummle mistreats his horse, an activity that eventually causes his death. Dickens clearly recognised the link between mistreatment of animals and cruelty to people.
For some critics, Dickens’ characters are too simple. They compare them unfavourably with the better-fleshed out and sophisticated individuals drawn by other later authors; but my goodness he could tell a story. So, one lesson for those of us trying to achieve improved protection of animals that are suffering in a world dangerously overly-burdened by the unsustainable needs of our own expanding and self-obsessed population may be that we too need to use compelling stories. We need to engage the attention of our fellows and show them why they should care.
Fortunately, in the UK we no longer have workhouses and helpings of gruel being doled out, but we did witness terrible things in 2011, including unprecedented civil strife and growing unemployment and, elsewhere in the world, things every bit as terrible as those in the streets of Dickens’s world continue. Against this backdrop of human strife, we have to show people enough about the animals that they will care about them; understand the importance of saving the societies of cetaceans and, ultimately speak out for those beings that – despite their sophistication - cannot do so for themselves.
This is not going to be at all easy (it wasn’t easy before economies started to falter), but through our knowledge of these animals (including our adoption schemes) we have the opportunity for people to learn to know individual animals and their communities and for their very specific stories to be told. Whales and dolphins are also animals that can captivate our attention. Real encounters are rarely forgotten.
We have stories to tell, characters to bring to an eager public and we have a just cause.
I know everyone in WDCS would want to join me in wishing all our supporters and friends around the world a very Happy New Year.
‘…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!’
Several years ago I was watching a documentary on North Korea and I am afraid that I had to stop watching. It was not the usual story of abuse of human rights, or the kidnapping of Japanese nationals - all terrible in their own right,- it was the image of small children starving.
I had not long become a dad myself and that certain something had clicked inside where cruelty to children was no longer an abstract crime, but was now a gut-wrenching, breath-taking reality. I think some of you will know what I mean.
Well it appears that despite the fact that the nation of North Korea has millions of starving children and declining agricultural production, their self appointed leader can still afford to import dolphins for his own amusement.
The contrast in Kim Jong-il's priorities should escape no one.
Some of my colleagues are going to accuse me of going off on one with this, and for it being 'too scientific', but I am peeved at an article I read this morning and needed to get some comments off my chest. It's in the vein of my last entry on the way science is presented, so you could say that it's at least following a theme.
Headlines can be deceptive and misleading and I have to take issue with the National Geographic’s headline - ‘Penguin Numbers Plummeting—Whales Partly to Blame?
The article states that ‘Penguin populations have plunged by as much as 50 percent during the past three decades in the West Antarctic Peninsula and Scotia Sea, scientists report.’ The article goes onto say that the report the article is based on, in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences states that ‘The problem appears to be a shortage of krill, the seabirds' primary fare, caused by rising regional air temperatures and rebounding populations of hungry whales.’ But hold your horses. It seems that penguins only started eating krill when the ecosystem was changed by human impacts.
It appears that the seabirds abandoned their 38,000-year diet of fish in favour of krill, shrimp-like crustaceans that are a major component in the diets of fur seals and baleen whales only when the krill became available because whaling and sealing wiped out huge numbers of marine mammals.
When discussing whales the original paper references ‘Reilly, S., Hedley, S.L., Borberg, J., Hewitt, R., Thiele, D., Watkins, J., Naganobu, M. 2004. Biomass and energy transfer to baleen whales in the South Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. Deep Sea Research II 51, 1397-1409’ which states that the amount of krill consumed by whales estimated from a 2000 Antarctic survey amounted to some ‘4–6% of the estimated krill biomass in the region (and probably less than this percentage of the total annual krill production).’
The Reilly et al. paper does not appear to set out to blame whales for low krill population numbers but indeed, seems to say that any future krill fishery should be managed so as to allow for recovery of whales, - it states in the abstract that, ‘the depleted numbers of baleen whales resulting from past or current whaling activities should be taken into account when setting quotas for the commercial exploitation of krill if there is to be a recovery to pre-exploitation biomass levels of baleen whales’
An earlier article in National Geographic (2007) supports the theory that Antarctic sealing and whaling led to a krill population explosion, and that the penguins apparently took advantage of the surplus. But now the krill has seen a decline in the last 30 years, but a corresponding increased percentage of fish are not appearing in the penguins diet
The report does later on note that, ‘fish stocks have also been heavily fished out by Russian trawlers’ and so denying the penguins their food of choice. The report also notes that krill fishing is increasing. The earlier 2007 National Geographic story fully acknowledges that overfishing is a negative impactor. In this report researchers are noted to say, ‘"And now with krill on a decline and fish harvested out in a lot of areas … that's a concern…. What do [the penguins] have left to switch to? They don't really have any options left…. In addition, fishers are now actively taking krill, which are used as feed in fish farms. This "will further cause problems,"’ One other note of concern is that the Academy of Sciences paper reports that, ‘In addition, the Marine Stewardship Council’s recent certification of one company’s krill fishing as being sustainable* and the introduction of new products (e.g., Omega-3 krill oil, a popular dietary supplement) suggest that the [krill] fishery may be poised to expand further in the near future.'
Reading the original paper in in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences we see that it states that, ‘The West Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) and adjacent Scotia Sea support abundant wildlife populations, many of which were nearly extirpated by humans. This region is also among the fastest- warming areas on the planet, with 5–6 °C increases in mean winter air temperatures and associated decreases in winter sea-ice cover. These biological and physical perturbations have affected the ecosystem profoundly.’
The abstract concludes that, ‘Linking trends in penguin abundance with trends in krill biomass explains why populations of Adélie and chinstrap penguins increased after competitors (fur seals, baleen whales, and some fishes) were nearly extirpated in the 19th to mid-20th centuries and currently are decreasing in response to climate change.'
So whilst the Academy of Sciences paper tests the hypothesis that the reduction of whaling is removing fewer whales from the Antarctic ecosystem and they are eating more krill, the significant conclusion is that the major impact on the penguins is ... yes you guessed it...climate change.
I suggest we should all be wary of extracting the comments from papers, in this case about whales being ‘partly to blame?’, and therefore giving overdue inference to just one element of a complex issue. There are enough people willing to abuse the science without respected journals helping them with juicy spin.
2012 is quickly racing towards us. It’s a crucial year because the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development set internationally agreed targets to establish extensive networks of MPAs around the world by 2012.
Whether the 2012 target turns out to be to ambitious will soon become clear as many of the proposed MPAs will need to be on track during 2011 to meet the 2012 deadline.
Daniel Cressey writing in Nature (Vol. 469, No. 7329, 13 January 2011) quotes Tundi Agardy, the lead author of a paper published in Marine Policy (35, 226-232 (2001)) [one of the other authors is a friend of WDCS, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara], warning of ‘blind faith’ in the ability of MPAs to stem biodiversity loss.
Agardy is not opposed to MPAs. Indeed it appears that the paper is highly supportive of MPAs, but is critical of policy makers who end up designing MPAs that are too small to be effective and that create an illusion of protection when none is actually occurring. The paper also points out that poor management and the fact that degradation of waters outside an MPA can mean that the MPA is ineffective.
The paper goes onto illustrate the MPA for the vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California has not been successful because the paper claims that it missed a major area of the species core range.
WDCS is campaigning for MPAs for cetaceans around the world, but some policy makers seem ready to repeat the list of mistakes that Agardy and her colleagues outline. I am concerned that proposals for MPAs that policy makers may accept will be too small and too limited to make a difference.
In the same edition of Nature the lead editorial calls on policy makers to think big when considering protected areas. Whilst the leader looks specifically at terrestrial national parks and the impacts of climate change, it also notes that ‘landscape scale’ conservation initiatives are necessary to adapt to the impacts of climate change where many species will need to be able to move to adapt.
I remain concerned that policy makers may believe that the oceans of the world are ‘big enough’ to allow for such movements and adaptations by cetaceans, but how will small protected areas be flexible enough to accommodate such changes? Only if we look at larger ocean landscape protected areas - that address multiple threats to cetaceans - will we really begin to create the necessary frameworks to manage human impacts and so allow these creatures to flourish in such highly dynamic environments.
Lunch passes in a blur and suddenly delegates are back in the room; are they missing their closed sessions, all those romantic little liaisons with other like-minded (or not like-minded) commissioners? Anyway, they are now fully exposed to public scrutiny again and the biggest question of the day is, of course, who will win the football (and for our American reader the ‘soccer’ match). Another question is why is so much media now reporting that The Deal is dead when the agenda item is still open? Why are some NGOs celebrating the death of the deal, when it may just be sleeping. AGENDA 3 THE FUTURE OF THE IWC HAS VERY CLEARLY NOT BEEN CLOSED.
Into the Stocks with Debbie
We move on to that part of the agenda where whale stocks are considered and Dr Debbie of the Scientific Committee takes us through the various populations one at a time and at a healthy pace. [There is a promise that some NGOs might be allowed to speak at the end of the day and much negotiation is going on between the numerous groups present about who should have this privilege.] Anyway, first we encounter the southern ocean minke whales. The two most recent surveys do not agree and the substantial decline between the two surveys is of concern says the UK. Japan is less concerned. His scientists are fairly sure that the minkes are hiding under the ice [can they breath under there?] and he makes reference to some parts of the scientific committee report that probably are not available yet but which are obviously helpful. He looks forward to solving the issue of the disagreeing population estimates in the near future and to RMPing the minkes quite soon. The report on southern hemisphere humpbacks brings some comments from a number of countries that seek to protect them, notably New Zealand and Australia. The recovery of ‘their’ humpbacks is generally slow and numbers remain low.
Then the critically endangered Western North Pacific gray whales leap onto the stage and we learn there is much concern about them being accidentally caught in nets and also harmed by oil and gas development. The scientific committee has passed some recommendations and the commission is now being asked to agree them. Japan say they have improved their domestic laws and an educational programme for set-net fishermen is in place; fortunately since 2007, there has been no incidental take. Japan will work hard to help this depleted species. The USA views this as one of the most endangered whales. They welcome the development of an action plan for this species. Their lead scientist calls for surveys before seismic survey by the oil and gas industry commence and calls for oil and gas operations to use best practise. Russia now speaks and they too realise this population needs to be protected. They are doing some survey work with Japan but he is worried about some terms in the paper. These scientists are independent but independent of whom? He continues on this theme for a while and asks for the clear use of terms. Sometimes, he says, we hear that such groups of scientists are ‘dependent of’ some companies. He refers to the conservation plan and a sentence noting a contract between IUCN and the petrol company. He says we need to be careful with formulations.
[England has scored a goal against Slovenia and there is much excitement in the UK delegation. But then Rooney has a goal disallowed. ]
Mexico is supportive of conservation work. Monaco is next to the microphone and is represented by their scientists Justin Cooke (who also happens to represent the world conservation union – IUCN - to the IWC). He carefully explained that following the probable extinction of the baiji [the Chinese river dolphin] this species is likely to be the next cetacean to be lost. The IUCN plan for their conservation has been endorsed by the IWC scientific committee and these measures appear to have born fruit as there has been no entrapment in nets in Japan in the last two years. With regards to the seismic surveys, he agrees that the survey should be postponed. Justin is beamed up onto the big screens to either side of the podium holding Acting Chairman Liverpool and IWC Executive Secretary, Nicky Grandy.
What is slightly odd is that audio and image are out of sync and his lips move slightly after the words. Korea notes it utilised this species several decades ago. It is now extinct in Korean waters and now protected. The UK is worried about the status of the species and encourages more action. The seismic survey should be considered for postponement; they strongly support the conservation management plans and agree with the US that this one may be exemplary; Austria is always, she says concerned about stocks. It goes without saying that the IUCN recommendations should be supported! Oman tries to take a reservation on what is said about humpbacks in his region. [There is an isolated and increasingly beleaguered population of humpbacks in the Arabian Gulf.] He suggests that more research is needed. The Chair of the Scientific Committee agrees and notes this is what her committee is recommending.
Acting Chair Liverpool rules that the commission takes note of the scientific committee report and agrees its recommendations. Chair Debbie ploughs in with her summarise summary of the scientific committee report. Southern rights whales are considered and permits are recommended to deal with oil and gas development off South Africa. The USA then highlights the recent high mortality of southern right whales off Peninsula Valdes. More research is needed he says. Argentina (in this case the highly distinguished alternate commissioner) supports the recommendations made for this population by a workshop in March 2010. He thanks the US for supporting this workshop and Dr Robert Brownell for co-ordinating it. Brazil also thanks the United States and Bob Brownell. They agree with the scientific committee. The Scientific Committee report is noted and endorsed.
North Atlantic Right whales and other stocks are all swiftly dispatched and all relevant recommendations agreed.
A tea break erupts.
And – horror of all horrors, the delicious Morocan pastries swiftly run out. British scientists range around the room foraging but to no avail. The whale shark on the wall is starting to look tasty.
After tea we are treated to the return of an old favourite. Japan presents a power point entitled ‘Escalating Violence against Japanese Research Vessels by the Sea Shepherd’. We have reported this many times previously – so will not bother here. Suffice it to say, many are outraged. We move on to whale killing methods and some countries report on their hunts. New Zealand says its paper speaks for itself. Norway lists a few of its actions. Greenland also provides some data. The totals truck and loss was 7% for their west Greenland minke whale (i.e. animals that were struck and not recovered – poor things). There are no comments whatsoever. And without even a pause for some tumble weed to pass through because we are now very far behind with our agenda, we speed on to agenda irtem 5.2 but there is some hesitation on the stage… no it is OK, just some pesky countries interrupting things with questions. Austria notes that we all seem to accept indigenous whaling but that it could still be improved and made more humane and countries should help this process by providing more data.
The UK is given the floor and he calls for an end to the use of the [very cruel] cold harpoon and for welfare data to be provided. A Norwegian expert them takes us through the report of the IWC’s disentanglement workshop – which considered how to get whales out of nets. It includes a long section on Euthanasia and is available elsewhere [many good bookshops?] UK and others congratulate the people who took part in the workshop and produced the report. The US supports the conclusions of the workshop Argentina very eloquently expresses its appreciation too and suggests that similar workshops should be held elsewhere too. Others make similar compliments and the commission endorses the recommendations from the workshop. The UK has submitted a paper about hosting a workshop – to clarify this would not be an official IWC workshop (oh no) but we are inviting people to participate. The paper explains the rationale for this. And they may be able to find funds for would-be attendees. Belgium’s distinguished scientist speaks up in favour of this and recommends invited experts from outside the IWC should be invited. Argentina eloquently supports. Australia associates with the previous speakers; at IWC 63 we would like the working group on whale killing methods to meet.
Norway, however, decides to spike the fun. He says that is has no objections, but he has concern with just limiting this to whaling. He says whaling is the most regulated and best documented compared to other hunts. Only 2000 whales are taken each year whereas thousands of terrestrial mammals are taken. But no one is interested and others speak to support the distinguished alternate commissioner for the UK who relaxes back into his seat and receives the important news that the UK has beaten Slovenia in the football world cup.
Later, very sportingly the Commissioner for Slovenia comes over to shake hands with the UK Commissioner. In closing for the day acting Chairman Liverpool announces that because it is late and there is a nice reception out by the hotel pool next door with fanta and snacks and Peter Garrett, the NGO presentations are cancelled until a time when there is nothing better to do – or something like that – we cannot quite hear. So now it is off to pool side for that orange fanta.
Peter Garrett and Sir Geoffrey Palmer
More Evil Cats
Meanwhile elsewhere in Agadir on a traffic island surrounded by speeding red petit taxis there are further discussions about deal making between the predators of the town.
A small, but highly-focused group of kittens, have now joined the avian delegations’ debates on sustainability (also known as the how-many-chicks-can-we-eat debate).
Anyway the kitten team – their mewing threatening to rival that of the gulls - is now demanding their own ‘small and sustainable quota of gull chicks’! [You will recall the earlier negotiations with the kestrels went badly and someone got somewhat eaten.]
As this would be a ‘shared-quota’ with those same kestrels, the birds of prey are objecting strenuously, and emphasising that the kittens themselves would substitute perfectly well for chicks, should that prove necessary and this would be both sustainable and perfectly scientific. But the kittens are unable to stop pressing their case, their diplomatic skills are too limited.
They are too young; too inexperienced; too cute; and just too tasty; and one by one they are eaten by the falcons.
But tomorrow is another day and AGENDA 3 STAYS OPEN … let's see what else is going onto the menu.
Speed Dating at the IWC
We understand that various groupings of countries have been meeting with various other groupings in order to seek mutual happiness, social gratification and a long and happy life. This is happening behind the IWC’s reinforced and famously closed doors. The groups, if unfulfilled in their quest for mutually satisfying relations, then move on to others to see if they like them better. (All of which is accompanied by Belgian fan dancing and nice Moroccan pastries.) Presumably if one group of countries finds they like another enough they may spawn some lovely little amendment texts that help put a deal in place. These texts will then be shared with others (but not the public obviously). Anyway, more importantly, we all had a truly fabulous reception yesterday provided by the generous host nation in the beautiful Atlantic Palace Hotel (where most of the country delegations and NGOs are staying and where poorer NGOs come and hang out in the hall ways and watch the… football; there are also fewer malevolent cats there than in many places).
The reception was around the pool and consisted of a huge buffet of food mainly cooked in the tradition terrines used here and a literal mountain of fruit for dessert. Moroccan musicians paraded amongst the delegates. As the stars came out, we briefly felt as if we were in the set of a glamorous movie. However, WDCS does not have too much time for this kind of thing and the team was soon taken off back to the fish docks many miles away, where we are lodging, to listen to the cats sing through the long night.
Tuesday – the IWC doors remain firmly barred. A few delegates peek out from the various meeting areas. Some even bravely exit for coffee, nimbly avoiding the few non-governmental representatives still lingering there to lobby them. Five minutes walk away through the hot sun, the lobby of the luxurious
However, relief is in sight for the press pack. Is it a bird, is it a plane… no it is the unmistakable form of everyone’s favourite friendly giant, Peter Garrett the Australian Environment Minster. Firstly he joins the press conference back over the in Atlantic Palace Hotel organised by WSPA (and focused on Norwegian whaling) and then, with film crews trailing him, swiftly strides to the conference centre where a media frenzy follows and a petition opposing whaling with almost one million names on it is handed over. Press Frenzy
Garrett makes some bold statements in opposition to whaling and the press pack – happy now that they have landed some film (or some text) scampers back to the media tent to beam their treasures through the air via various satellite dishes and similar. Minister Garrett
Meanwhile behind the closed doors the speed dating continues…. And almost certainly an EU co-ordination will break out. Never mind tomorrow is another day. A street cat of Agadir has moved into the tent and is sleeping paws-up on the carpets (no doubt waiting to trip up a passing delegate). It may be interviewed later.
Further to numerous complaints about the brief nature of the report from the first day of the IWC this morning (well two complaints – one from someone who is actually here), here are some more words from the pool-side where we have been enjoying the aquarobics with some young Russian ladies and their more mature husbands.
The day starts bright and sunny. It is not as hot as it was a couple of weeks ago during the Scientific Committee when temperatures were in the forties and scientists started to keel over like so many dominoes in the heat.
Today the climate is less Sahara and more
Delegates enter via the coffee area and under the somewhat surprising picture of a whale shark. The whale shark (which is not of course a whale, or indeed a dolphin but … essentially a shark) last featured at the IWC meeting in St Kitts and
Senior diplomats and politicians are present today. Ministers, even ex-prime ministers, and their delegations are meeting and greeting as the last few minutes before the meeting begins. Camera flash guns are going off all around – everyone is photographing everyone else. Cameras, mobile phones, TV cameras – all kinds of recording equipment in being excitedly waved in the air.
Sir Geoffrey of New Zealand
Various consultations can be seem going on; for example the Australian envoy for whales finds the UK minister, Richard Benyon MP, who is here to show his solidarity with the whales and they are soon deep in discussion. Senior delegates elsewhere shake hands or bow, and exchange small witticisms and congratulations or commiserations over the latest football scores.
Finally everyone finds their seats and some drumming begins from the far end of the room. Is it a troop of Belgian fan dancers? Sadly no.
A troop of Moroccan musicians and dancers in splendid traditional dress march in from the back. They are rewarded with applause.
Then Anthony Liverpool, the Vice Chair of the Commission, acting for the Chairman, who is unwell and wisely absent, thanks the King and the host country for their hospitality.
He welcomes everyone and the deputy major of Agadir and the Secretary General of Moroccan fisheries welcome everyone and wish the meeting well.
The chairman then rules it is a coffee break. No one challenges this, and delegations vie for beverages in the small hall way area under the watchful eye of the whale shark. Delegates bearing deeply secret pieces of paper bustle around avoiding NGO delegates.
After the tea break, the Secretary of the Commission, Dr Nicky Grandy, reads out a list of countries without voting rights; there are many. Delegates carefully note them down (not much point lobbying them if they cannot vote – should there be a vote).
Acting Chairman Liverpool is pleased with how the discussions have gone; he does not want discussions to be interrupted – commissioners need to be able to express their views without interruption. Delegates should therefore keep points of order to a minimum because it can be very disruptive. No second interventions from any country will be allowed until all countries that wish to speak have spoken. NGOs may address the meeting later (albeit briefly and giving delegates the opportunity to enjoy the small rather public rest rooms in the dungeon area). This is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. One individual per organisation will speak (no choruses).
Turning to the important issue of how delegates will be able to watch the important football matches happening over the next few days during the world cup, it seems Mr Liverpool has a cunning plan. He is going to close the commission for a couple of days. Various groupings (such as the European Union) will only need to send one representative into a series of bilateral working groups with the whaling nations, concerning The Deal.
And so it is, Gentle Reader, that we are all sent out (people on the podium calling for those not chosen to take part in discussions to leave the room as quickly as possible) and we head swiftly to the pool, because the fate of the whales is now in the hands of a few people who probably don’t like football.
Examination of the whale shark.
Along the sea front people are doing the same kinds of things that happen on sea fronts all over the world and the red bricks of the promenade are starting to heat up in the early morning sun. There are some joggers and just a few swimmers. Other people are moving their towels into place on sun-loungers to reserve them. Jet skis are being hauled into place and on a quiet part of the red bricks, a small troop of local youths, including one girl, who is modestly dresses in an all-over track suit with her hair covered, are practicing kick-boxing, kicking a pair of padded bats held high in the air by their trainer.
Two patrol men riding two-wheeled Segways weave through the throngs of tourists and local people strolling on the promenade. Sunday is a holiday for all and the hard sand adjacent to the sea is filled from one end of the bay to the other with local boys playing football. (The IWC is not of course the only international competition happening at this point and here football is a major interest.)
Some newly planned palm trees provide a little shade as delegates migrate along the promenade from their seaside hotels to the Conference Centre of the Golden Dunes.
Outside the conference centre today there two types of police in attendance, some standing behind the small trees that line the pavements. (They are not seeking camouflage, just enjoying the little shade that the trees offer.) The men in the smart khaki-coloured uniforms carry a two handled baton on their belts but the equally smart policemen in blue uniforms also have revolvers at their hips. Across the car park outside the conference entrance, tents are being moved into place – perhaps to take the overspill at coffee time – and inside a closed commissioners meeting is occurring in a hot room in the basement that we shall call the dungeon.
This cramped meeting of the commissioners (potentially representing 88 countries) only (give or take an aide or two) is expected to be looking at a revised version of the Chair’s proposal (The Deal). The last few days in earlier closed sessions were mainly devoted to discussions about this and Saturday may have been taken up with trying to draft something new – something more sweetly sugared to suit the tastes of a majority who might then vote it into place.
So what can we expect to see over the coming next few days?
Well either there will or will not be a new proposal to discuss, if there is (or perhaps even if there is not, we can expect countries to state their positions and at this meeting countries that have long been allies in their opposition to whaling may fall out. In particular the support from the
The less surprising support from the whaling nations (or at least
The skies here are full of birds. Squadrons of swifts in formation dissect the air shrilly screaming and the fragrant fish-processing docks at the northern end of the wide sandy bay help to ensure that there are many gulls, but there are also a range of species that Europeans can easily recognise, including house sparrows and collared doves (which are nesting in the palm trees along the red brick promenade). Then there are some more exciting avian sightings even in the heart of the tourist sector including a lot of kestrels and, rather surprisingly, an encounter in the middle of a hotel garden with a young booted eagle.
Fledgling kestrels just outside the conference centre.
Some of the gulls can be seen at night emulating bats and feeding on the fat and juicy insects that swarm around the powerful spotlights that line the shore. Their meals no doubt include a few of the large and winged cockroaches, which are poised to take over the world, when it finally become clear that human dominion has failed.
The gulls and the small kestrels seem to spend a lot of time sparring. The kestrels are perhaps a little smaller and but are more formidably armed with hooked beaks and talons. Both species seem to rearing their fledgling at this time and I suspect that the kestrels may have a less than holy interest in the young gulls. Perhaps as this is
The small kestrels state the following: ‘We should stop our constant arguing. This is making the bird community dysfunctional; we are at an impasse!’
The gulls listen with interest, their small brains hoping to find a way forward that might protect their precious and demanding chicks from the rapacious kestrels.
The kestrels continue: ‘What we suggest is that you allow us to take some of your chicks; not enough to harm your population obviously, just enough to satiate our appetites and allow our population to thrive.’
The gulls look less impressed, but the kestrels press their point.
‘If you agree to this we can have peace; you can carry on making that bloody awful noise that you make at five am in the morning and we can continue to… talk about other ways to improve things for you. We would also stop taking some of the other smaller birds that we now prey on. Perhaps we would even conserve them.’
One of the gulls, who perhaps has been out too long in the hot African sun, moves a little close to the chief negotiator of the birds of prey. ‘Tell me more’, he says ‘we have argued too long. I, for one, respect your right to eat us. Let us reach out across the cultural divide, let us be friends’.
Some of the other gulls now gathered in a crowd for what might appear to be some kind of a conference are mewing loudly.
‘Don’t be such a nit!’ one calls but he is hushed by others from his northern colony.
The compromise minded gull moves closer to the falcons ‘How many of us do you wish to eat’ he says. ‘If it is less than you do now, that might give comfort to my brothers and aid this ‘peace process’!’
The kestrels say that it will be ‘sustainable’ (that is seen as very important and many gulls are now nodding) and according to the calculations – because they will have to expend less energy hunting and quarrelling - they will need less gull babies than now.
The calculation is complex apparently and chief gull negotiator now moves forward to hear the details (something about a choice of tuning levels for the kill quota algorithm) and in doing so comes within striking range of the other side and, because they just cannot help themselves, true to their nature, they lunge, they grab, they rend and they eat him all up.