Saturday, June 30, 2012

June 30, 2012

Review of Aboriginal Whaling in the Caribbean. A must read.

Reprinted from Caribbean News Now!
Letter: Humpback whaling in Bequia, and the IWC's failed responsibility
Published on June 30, 2012

Dear Sir:

Each year at around this time, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meets to decide on matters pertaining to the planet’s whale populations and to monitor activities and oversee the compliance of nations permitted to hunt whales under the IWC’s Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) Regulations. This ASW facility was put in place to accommodate indigenous populations with a long tradition of whale hunting for subsistence needs.

Aside from this the hunting of whales for commercial purposes is banned entirely by the IWC due to overhunting in the last century, which caused many species to become critically endangered. The more recently imposed threats to the survival of whales are the rapid decline in environmental conditions of the world’s oceans being caused by human activities across the globe, and the culling of thousands of whales each year by the Japanese, which according to them is for the purpose of scientific research and for which there is an apparent loophole in the IWC’s constitutional make up.

This year, official representatives for St Vincent and the Grenadines to the IWC will present a case or statement of needs to the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Committee (ASWC) for the renewal of its hunting quota for humpback whales by the Bequia whalers. This request will be will be raised before the main body (member nations) of the IWC for a decision at its Plenary to be held from July 2 to July 7, 2012.

Without doubt, St Vincent’s request to the IWC will be sanctioned by the whaling nations, along with the Japanese and their usual cohorts, namely, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, St Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, St Lucia and Grenada and others. In making up the numbers, there may even be a few landlocked nations of Africa there to bring support to the quest of St Vincent this year, compliments of the Japanese Government.

This writer is currently in Panama as part of an observer delegation for the East Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA). There also will be Louise Mitchell Joseph of the St Vincent National Trust and Paul Lewis, also representing the Friends of the Tobago Cays (FOTC). The ECCEA is one of many environmental groups from across the globe that makes this annual pilgrimage to the IWC meetings, held in different venues around the world.

In spite of the fact that NGO observers are not permitted to participate in the decisions taken by the IWC, the hope and contribution of our group is to bring a different kind of energy and message to the IWC than that of the official delegation of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

This year will be a very challenging one for St Vincent and the Grenadines as a new report by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) of June 2012 presents a scathing account of St Vincent’s record of IWC Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling infractions and the IWC’s failure to demand compliance by St. Vincent and the Grenadines over a period of 30 years, in spite of the IWC ban on hunting North Atlantic humpback whales by all ASW nations. Last year for the first time, it agreed to allow Greenland a quota of 19 humpbacks, a decision that is a source of contention for many of its member nations.

According to the AWI report, St Vincent was granted permission in 1987 to hunt humpback whales on the condition that Bequia’s whaling operation would be brought to an end upon the retirement of its then last surviving harpooner, Othneil Ollivierre. Since then, the IWC renewed St Vincent’s quota six times, including twice after the death of the old whaler and even doubled the quota in 2002.

Among the charges outlined in the report are that the IWC permitted and enabled St Vincent and the Grenadines in such a manner that would never have been tolerated by any other country permitted to hunt whales under ASW regulations. The essential points being the fact that (a) the Bequia hunt is not conducted by aboriginal people and until recent years, whales were only valued for the oil they produced and not the meat; (b) the nutritional needs were never properly stated (perhaps because they don’t exist); (c) inhumane hunting techniques causing prolonged pain and distress to the animal; (d) targeting and killing lactating mothers along with their calves; (e) improper management of the flencing and distribution of whale meat and the selling of whale meat to tourists and other users on the main island of St Vincent and which, according to the regulations, would be viewed as a commercial activity.

More recently, the whalers have apparently been using speedboats to break up pods and separate mothers from their calves and in general to aid the hunt. Contrary to the recent practice the ASW regulations are very specific to the type of boat that can be used and emphasizes the most humane killing methods to be deployed in the hunt.

According to the report, the Vincentian authorities have been extremely economical with the information they provide to the IWC in relation to the whales caught and those struck but not caught. ASW regulations require that every country operating under its ASW regulations must inform the IWC when a whale is struck and the size of any whale caught; provide information as to the time between the first strike and the death of the whale; the type of method/s used in the killing of the whale, including the number of strikes to any one whale and the type of equipment used and photographs of the fluke and DNA samples for identification purposes. Not surprisingly, the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ authorities stand accused by the Animal Welfare Institute’s report of being consistently delinquent on nearly every single requirement.

No one knows how much damage this business of whaling is actually doing to our tourism industry, especially in such critical economic times. It would seem that those in authority have gone to sleep in relation to tourism trends and global responses to environmental issues. One has to ask the question: Are the professionals who are employed by government to advise on these matters actually doing their jobs? Or are we really dealing with a top down situation where those in authority are not listening to the professionals?

If I were to go by the brief words shared between our esteemed Chief Fisheries Officer and me while on our respective pilgrimages to the IWC, the former would be the most likely answer since, according to him, he is not in favour of the killing of whales but he is merely doing his job.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to tell who is speaking the truth in the aftermath of the 2010 investigative journalism by the UK Times, which exposed blatant corruption on the part of some Caribbean nation’s representatives by accepting favours from the Japanese in the form of luxury travel and accommodation, cash and even the services of prostitutes in exchange for their support of the Japanese agenda at the IWC. At the time of this exposure, Antigua’s Commissioner to the IWC was also serving as acting chairman of the organization, and he too admitted to accepting some of those favours.

Adding spice to the discussion on the Bequia hunt was a statement made by the SVG’s prime minister some time ago to the effect that since he recognized the fact that whales are mammals he transferred the management of those resources out of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and placed it directly under his jurisdiction.

The Japanese overt courting of these small island nations to support their agenda at the IWC is no secret to anyone and may seem harmless enough. But for a developed nation to take advantage of the vulnerability of small and economically deprived nations when such an agenda can damage those nation’s integrity and ability to sustain themselves is not only highly irresponsible, it is criminal. So are the local politicians who take our nations along this path.

The IWC also has a very important role in ensuring that its regulations are upheld and in arriving at responsible decisions. It also has a responsibility to control meetings in manner that disallows member nations from disrupting, overwhelming, controlling and manipulating the processes by which it operates, in furtherance of their individual agendas.

Be that as it may, we need to take the whaling shackles off our tourism Industry in order for it flourish and bring benefits to our local economy, and the sooner we do so the better off we will be. Today’s discerning traveller is very hesitant to patronize nature based tourism destinations that habitually violates international human and ecological standards and regulations, and there are a growing number of organizations out there to keep them very well informed.

We can find much more meaningful things to do with the human and financial resources that we are currently investing in maintaining a presence at the IWC. The time to put an end to the hunt has long passed.

Marlon Mills
Friends of the Tobago Cays

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Review of Dtag Research with Humpback Whales on Stellwagen Bank

Check out this short video that reviews the recent research on humpback whales using the Dtag.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

June 10, 2012 Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion

8 am Seabird & Whale Tales Excursion - New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance and Krill 

This past Sunday the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA) in collaboration with Captain John Boats conducted their all day marine wildlife cruise as a benefit for NECWA. This is an all day affair where we have 8 hours to enjoy ourselves offshore. Having a longer period of time out on the water allows us to get further offshore than we can with a standard 4-hour whale watch. And this extra time allows us to be able to stay with the animals a little bit longer. 

This Sunday, we headed south to the waters off Chatham for we heard reports of a large concentration of whales and seabirds feeding to the east of Chatham. As soon as we left the dock around 8 am, we headed right for Race Point and then worked our way down the backside of the Cape. It took us almost 3 hours of steaming and over 61 miles before we found what we were looking for.  

We were 26 miles east of Chatham when we saw many blows in front of us. Our captain, Capt. Tommy O'Reilly did an excellent job of getting us into this concentration of whales, seabirds and fishing boats. We must have had at least 50 to 80 humpbacks feeding at the surface, some feeding along while others were feeding in small groups of up to 8 individuals. And we had thousands of shearwaters, mainly sooty shearwaters feeding right alongside the whales. 

I want to thank Captain John Boats and Capt. Tommy O'Reilly for making the call that allowed us to head south into these productive waters off Chatham. It was a long ride, but one that was well worth it. I don't think I have had many days like this offshore in my over 30 years of working out on the water. It was a once-in-a-life experience for many of us onboard the boat today. 

Here is a list of the humpback whales that we have identified from this trip so far. I want to thank our NECWA staff (who are also Captain John naturalists) for their time and efforts offshore, especially helping to ID the humpbacks as we headed back to Plymouth Harbor at the end of the day.  

Alphorn, Anchor and calf, Apex, Bounce, Buzzard, Canopy, Cantilever, Centipede, Compass's 2008 calf, Coral, Crown, Crystal, Entropy, Fern, Ganesh, Habenero, Hancock, Isthmus, Midnight, Milkweed, Mystery, Palette and calf, Perseid, Pharos, Pisces and calf, Pox, Putter, Rapier and calf, Release, Rune, Shards, Springboard, Strike, Stub, Tau, Touche, Tracer, Treasure and Xylem. 

Purchasing Photos on NECWA's SmugMug site

Kari Heistand, one of our NECWA staff, has posted many of her photos on the NECWA SmugMug site. You can view the photos by going to  Kari also posted Bill Rossiter's images of the humpback whales feeding right under the bow of the boat. All photo purchases will go directly to NECWA and will support our many projects and activities. 

Here is the trip report by David Clapp. A big thank you to David for writing up this report. 

Whales and Birds, Oh My!!

We knew early on that there were only a few whales and almost no sea birds in the Stellwagen Bank area. The NOAA crew was out on Stellwagen Friday and saw very little. So, we decided before leaving the pier that we had to run around Provincetown and down the backside of the Cape; past Truro, Wellfleet, Eastham, and Orleans. Our destination was to be a reliable, but distant, feeding area well off Chatham Light. It was about 27 miles offshore and a long boat ride from Plymouth. But, we had flat water and a lovely day to travel - so we went for it. 

And are we glad we did!!

There were about eighty humpback whales in the area; 42 flukes were photographed and 37 individuals were identified. The others were too distant to bother with; there were whales everywhere. During the day a few Minke whales wandered through and there was one report of poorly and briefly seen dolphins. 

The whales were bubble-feeding in groups up to six animals; as far as the eye could see. It was spectacular. The whales were one thing as they created and pierced pierced bubble nets taking sand lance by the ton. But there was more; as each net started to form, and as the bubble rose to the surface, hundreds of sooty shearwaters would flutter to the bubbles and await the frantic scurry of the small fish as the whales forced the toward the surface. They were well aware of the feeding habits of these whales and able to eat until they were to heavy to fly. There were times were the ocean was frothy with whale-blown bubbles and thousands of pencil-sized sand lance swam frenetically in all directions.

There were 3,000 or more sooty shearwaters, great shearwaters (35), Manx shearwaters (4), pomarine and parasitic jaegers (2 each), northern gannets (40ish) and a few Wilson’s Storm-Petrels and lots of hard-working gulls. There should have been hundreds of Wilson’s Storm-Petrels but for some reason there were very few. The birders also had a few common loons, terns, and cormorants. A surprise bird was seen off Race Point on the return trip. There were two Razorbills floating just off shore well seen and photographed.

It was a great day - special and memorable even for those of us who do this with some regularity. 

Thanks NECWA.

David Clapp’s blog page ontheroadwithdec has three pages dedicated to this trip.

Here is a list of birds that we saw offshore. Thanks to David Clapp, Jim Sweeney, Blair Nikula, Peter Flood and Vin Zollo for their hard work on bird identification and counts. 
Sooty Shearwater            3000
Great Shearwater                35
Manx Shearwater                 4
Wilson's Storm-Petrel         30
Pomarine Jaeger                   2
Parasitic Jaeger                     2
Northern Gannet                40
Laughing Gull                    40
Herring Gull                     200
Great Black-backed Gull   40
Common Tern                   65
Common Loon                    8
Double-crested Cormorant 20
Razorbill                              2

John McGannon has posted two You Tube videos from this all day trip. Check out the links below.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

June 4th and June 5th, 2012 - School Presentation

Captain John Boats and NECWA joined forces to put together a two-day whale affair for the students and teachers at the Middleboro Memorial Early Childhood Center. Krill, Tammy, Leah, Tiffany, Mary, Brandon, Kate, Katherine and Lauren had a great time telling these amazing kids about Salt, the most famous humpback in the world!

And a big thank to Mrs. Flauvell and Mrs. Levesque for arranging this annual event. And thank you to all our parent volunteers who helped teach and oversee the different hands-on activities that we offered.

We sang, danced, watched video clips, inflated a humpback calf and did a lot of fun and neat hands-on activities, all focused on marine wildlife in New England. Over the course of the two days, we reached over 250 children and made many new friends. Many have promised to come visit us and the whales this season! Don't forget to say hello when you join us offshore!