Tag Archives: Antarctic

SeaWorld pulled into long-running battle against Japanese whaling

UPDATE: April 4, 2016

Capt. Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has condemned the Humane Society of the U.S. for forming an alliance with SeaWorld, saying SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby “has found his Judas,” and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle “single-handedly put the brakes on the movement inspired by Blackfish.” Read the full commentary on Sea Shepherd’s website.
—–

SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the U.S. are urging President Obama to take a stronger stand against whaling by the Japanese harpoon fleet, which recently returned to Japan with 333 dead minke whales, all killed in the Antarctic.

Three dead minke whales were hauled up on the deck of the Japanese whale-processing ship MV Nisshin Maru in 2014. Photo: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia
Three dead minke whales were hauled up on the deck of the Japanese whale-processing ship MV Nisshin Maru in 2014 in the Antarctic.
Photo: Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia

“The United States is well-positioned to lead a comprehensive effort to persuade Japan to abandon commercial whaling as an anachronism that is imprudent, unnecessary for food security, cruel and economically unsound,” states the letter to Obama (PDF 464 kb), signed by Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld, and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS.

Combining forces to oppose commercial hunting of marine mammals throughout the world is one element of a negotiated agreement between SeaWorld and HSUS. Of course, the most notable parts of that agreement specified that SeaWorld would discontinue its breeding program for killer whales and halt all theatrical performances. See Water Ways, March 17.

This year’s whale hunt in the Antarctic was endorsed by the Japanese government, which considers dead whales to be lethal samples of tissue collected during an annual “research” trip, which ultimately puts whale meat on the commercial market.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the whale hunt, as carried out at that time, failed to meet scientific standards. As a result, the Japanese government took a year off from whaling, altered its plan and continued the whale hunt at the end of last year going into this year. This time, Japanese officials declared that they would no longer be subject to international law on this issue, so a new lawsuit would be meaningless.

Meanwhile, an expert panel of the International Whaling Commission took a look at the new “research” plan and concluded that Japan still had not shown how killing whales conforms to the requirements of research, given options for nonlethal research. See “Report of the Expert Panel …”

Last week’s report by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research said the whalers were able to obtain all 333 minke whales proposed in the plan. It was the first time in seven years that the full sampling was completed, because Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was not there to interfere, according to the report on the New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean.

Of the 333 whales, males numbered 103 and females 230. Of the females, 76 percent were sexually mature, and 90 percent of the mature females were pregnant, suggesting a healthy population of minke whales, according to the report.

The letter from Manby and Pacelle acknowledged that the U.S. government had joined with 30 nations in December to write a letter voicing concerns about Japan’s decision to resume whaling. But the Manby-Pacelle letter also complains that the U.S. has given up its leadership role on the issue, ceding to New Zealand and Australia for the legal battles.

“In the United Kingdom, in Latin America, and elsewhere, whale welfare is high on the diplomatic agenda with Japan and other whaling nations,” the letter states. “We believe that it is time for the United States to re-assert itself as a champion for whales, and to take a stronger hand in pressing Japan to relinquish commercial whaling.”

Among the steps that should be considered, according to the letter:

  • The U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission should be empowered to threaten Japan with sanctions, though details were not specified in the letter.
  • The U.S. government should include provisions against whaling in international trade agreements.
  • Japan’s potential assets should be surveyed as a prelude to invoking the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act of 1967. The amendment allows a ban on imports of fishing products from a country that violates international fishery conservation rules — including those of the IWC.

For readers interested in the SeaWorld issue, I should note that Pacelle still vigorously defends his alliance with SeaWorld. In a blog post announcing the anti-whaling letter, he adds further explanations for his position.

Meanwhile, the successful Japanese whale hunt has motivated environmental groups throughout the world to call on their national governments to confront Japan directly, at least in diplomatic circles.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has confronted the Japanese whaling ships on the high seas in years past, is rethinking its plans for the future, according to Capt. Peter Hammarstedt, chairman of Sea Shepherd Australia’s Board of Directors.

“Sea Shepherd was handicapped by the new ICR strategy of expanding their area of operations and reducing their quota, meaning that the time to locate them within the expanded zone made intervention extremely difficult with the ships that Sea Shepherd is able to deploy,” Hammarstedt said in a news release.

This past season was an opportunity for world governments to find the resolve to uphold international conservation law, he said. The Australian and New Zealand governments could have sent patrols to protect declared sanctuaries, but they failed to do so, “and this has served to illustrate that the only thing that has proven effective against the illegal Japanese whaling fleet has been the interventions by Sea Shepherd,” he added.

Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director, said the Australian and New Zealand governments have offered false promises.

“The majority of Australians wanted the Australian government to send a vessel to oppose the slaughter,” Hansen said. “They did not. Sea Shepherd requested that the Australian government release the location of the whalers. They refused. Instead, the governments responsible for protecting these magnificent creatures stood by, in the complete knowledge that both federal and international crimes were taking place. This empty response from authorities in the wake of the ICJ ruling is a disgrace.”

Hammarstedt hinted that Sea Shepherd might be back later this year when the Japanese ships take off for another season of whaling.

“Sea Shepherd will soon have a fast long-range ship,” he said. “More importantly, Sea Shepherd has something that the Australian and New Zealand governments lack — and that is the courage, the passion and the resolve to uphold the law.”

‘Whale Wars’ delayed by production issues

For the past several years, June has brought us a new television season of “Whale Wars.” But this year the production has been delayed, and nobody seems to know when the show is likely to air.

whale wars

Whale Wars, of course, is the weekly documentary showing confrontations on the high seas, as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tries to stop Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.

As I reported in January (Water Ways, Jan. 4), Sea Shepherd hired its own film crew during this past whaling season (summer in the Antarctic, winter here). At the time, it seemed like the group did so to be able to control the filming. But in a new blog entry in The New Yorker, Raffi Khatchadourian suggests that it was the Animal Planet producers who got cold feet, given the Ninth Circuit Court injunction that prevented Sea Shepherd from getting within 500 feet of the Japanese ships.

The U.S. affiliate of Sea Shepherd and Capt. Paul Watson himself withdrew from the anti-whaling campaign, leaving in charge the Australian affiliate, which is not subject to U.S. court jurisdiction.

Brian Eley, senior communications manager for Discovery Channel, responded to my inquiry yesterday, saying it isn’t clear when Season 6 of “Whale Wars” will air. Footage was delayed this year “through no fault of anyone.”

Continue reading

Amusing Monday: encounters with polar ice

When I hear about research taking place in Earth’s polar regions, I often wonder how our amazing ice-breaker ships make it through the ice. Do they just plow forward without hesitation, or do they worry about getting stuck?

Cassandra Brooks, a doctoral student at Stanford University, recently compiled an intriguing video showing time-lapse scenes of the Nathaniel B. Palmer on a cruise just completed in the Ross Sea of the Antarctic.

Cassandra’s narration provides a clear explanation of all kinds of ice encountered by the ice breaker, and she touches on the research itself.

“It was so beautiful,” Brooks told NBC News’ LiveScience. “And it was such a neat experience to be on this crazy boat that was just screaming through the ice.”

The video was part of a blogging project she undertook for National Geographic. The blog includes just seven entries, but each is an enjoyable science lesson for the reader. Take the entries in chronological order (bottom first) to get the full story of the adventure.

Before entering the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Brooks worked in both basic research and environmental education, according to the bio she wrote for her own website.

She holds a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and has published articles for both scientific and general audiences.

Casandra informs me that she hopes to write a final closing blog related to the recent cruise and will probably continue blogging about other projects.

Amusing Monday: Humoring a friendly leopard seal

In today’s featured video, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen calmly describes his underwater encounter with a massive leopard seal in the Antarctic.

I guess Nicklen was not so calm at the time, as he tells in his narration, but he stayed in place and kept shooting as the leopard seal made moves toward him that could be interpreted in various ways. Nicklen, who has plenty of experience around wild animals, said the seal acted aggressive at first but later tried to make a connection, perhaps by offering the diver a penguin to eat.

Nicklen, who has been working in the polar regions for 17 years, had a “unique childhood among the Intuit in Canada’s Arctic,” according to his bio. He has shot some amazing and exciting scenes, and I’m an admirer of his images of the spirit bear, which is another unique story. See the spirit bear photos on his webpage, and check out the National Geographic story by Bainbridge Island writer Bruce Barcott. Nicklen lives on Vancouver Island.

As for leopard seals, they are pretty amazing creatures, though not always amusing. Take a look at this series of videos by BBC Nature. You can also swim with a leopard seal via a “crittercam” in this National Geographic video, which features the work of biologist Tracey Rogers. (The crittercam part starts about halfway through.)

Another crittercam captures the movements of an Australian sea lion as it hunts for and eventually eats an octopus. The National Geographic footage is from a project designed to figure out what the sea lions are eating. Australian sea lions were once hunted to near-extinction but are now protected by the Australian government.

Amusing Monday: Between polar bears and penguins

In searching for amusing material, I came to realize that polar bears and penguins have developed an amazing friendship — at least in cartoons and amusing videos.

The examples are numerous, and I’ll share some of my favorites with you now:

1. A dancing bear who has moved in with a penguin angers the bird with his wasteful use of water. This video was produced for Environment Agency UK. (Click on the video player at right. And, of course, the “full screen” version is available.)

2. Apparently, a male polar bear can develop a close cross-species relationship with a female penguin, but he’d better watch what he says. The second video on this page is from 4Mations, another UK website dedicated to interesting and funny cartoons.

3. Friendship. Did I mention friendship? Check out this shocking promo for King Pundit.

4. Who can forget the Coke commercial in which the polar bear family accidentally invades a Christmas party being held by a large group of penguins?

5. Here’s one called “Cold Friendship,” but I have to admit that its subtle message runs a little too deep for me to locate.

6. Animal Planet’s series called “Animals Save the Planet” includes a cartoon about the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs. I’m not sure if the penguin is a slave or just enjoys a lot of exercise.

7. Someone put a couple of wildlife videos together to demonstrate the different lifestyles of penguins and polar bears. (By the way, I’ve heard that polar bears crawl along thin ice to reduce the risk of breaking through.)

While I enjoy all this paring of polar bears and penguins, I have to wonder how they ever got together. Polar bears live in the Arctic on the top side of the world, while penguins live in the Antarctic on the bottom.

Copyright David Farley. Used with permission of the artist.

Cartoonist Dave Farley has his own vision about what would happen if these two species ever got together. See cartoon at right. Check out Dave’s complete archive of cartoons at the Dr. Fun website.

Now on a more serious note, an online magazine called “Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears” has been written for elementary school teachers who wish to integrate science and literature. It’s a good place for anyone to learn about the polar regions of the Earth. According to the website’s creators, the first step toward understanding the two poles is to “develop a sense of place,” realizing that the Arctic and Antarctic are very different environments.

‘Whale Wars’ series includes Bainbridge woman

Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, now a full-fledged crew member with Sea Shepherd, is looking forward to watching the fourth season of “Whale Wars,” which begins Friday.

Izumi Stephens

A preview for the program shows Izumi standing on the deck of a ship, gazing into the ocean with tears in her eyes. The clip is so short that even she can’t recall when that emotional moment was caught on film.

“It was probably when I saw a whale,” she said — though it could have been during other events, such as when the Sea Shepherd crew searched for a private yacht that had gone missing. Only an empty lifeboat was found.

Izumi, who has not seen any of the final footage, said she remained in an emotional state during much of the voyage through the Southern Ocean, where Sea Shepherd did its best to disrupt the operations of the Japanese whaling fleet.

Many crew members cried tears of happiness when they learned that the Japanese whalers were packing up and leaving the Antarctic a month earlier than normal, their efforts to catch whales confounded by the anti-whaling group. The whaling would stop — at least for this year — and Sea Shepherd crew members would return home to their families.

Continue reading

Bainbridge mom proud of her anti-whaling efforts

Izumi Stephens, the Bainbridge Island woman who traveled to the Antarctic to defend whales against Japanese whalers, has ridden an emotional roller-coaster during her first 40 days at sea.

Izumi Stephens

One thing Izumi has learned is that the sight of a humpback whale can lift her spirits, she told me today by satellite phone from the Southern Ocean.

A native of Japan, this single mom signed on with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as a translator. She is serving aboard the Steve Irwin, which is part of a three-vessel anti-whaling fleet in pursuit of four Japanese whaling ships. (Check out previous descriptions of Izumi in the Kitsap Sun Oct. 31 and Water Ways Nov. 1.)

The Steve Irwin left Hobart, Australia, on Dec. 2. Izumi was at sea about three weeks — having survived a bout of severe sea sickness as well as homesickness — when she spotted a massive humpback whale off the side of the ship.

“Before I saw a whale, I was desperately wanting to see my daughter and go back home, and I wanted to touch my dogs,” she told me. “Then I saw a whale, and I think my determination and motivation and everything caught up with me.”

She still misses her children, her friends and her community, she says, but seeing that first whale reminded her why she had joined the battle in the first place.

“I’m doing this for the whales and our future and our community,” she told me, “and I’m so proud.”

Spending weeks at sea is an experience like nothing she has ever faced before, Izumi said. She takes her turn at mopping floors, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. She has used her language skills on only a few occasions — mostly to speak to Japanese reporters covering the story and updating Sea Shepherd’s new Japanese-language website.

Watching whales swimming in the ocean has brought real meaning to the anti-whaling campaign, she said. A day or two after that first sighting, Sea Shepherd faced its first encounter with the Japanese whaling fleet.
Continue reading

Passion for whales links woman to Sea Shepherd

A Bainbridge Island resident, Izumi Stephens, will join Sea Shepherd in its upcoming campaign against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic, as I describe in a story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

Izumi Stephens

A native of Japan, Izumi will serve as an on-board interpreter for the anti-whaling group. While engaging whalers, Sea Shepherd has an occasional need to converse with Japanese ship captains as well as conveying information to Japanese news reporters.

If you’ve watched “Whale Wars” on television, you know about Sea Shepherd’s highly confrontational approach to the Japanese fleet, often maneuvering its vessels into dangerous positions in front, behind and alongside the massive whaling ships.

Capt. Paul Watson, who heads Sea Shepherd, broke away from Greenpeace in 1977 as he pushed for more severe actions against whaling operations throughout the world. In 1980, “operatives” from his three-year-old organization took credit for sinking the whaling ship Sierra in Lisbon, Portugal — the first of many similar attacks.

Sea Shepherd, which operates throughout the world, has an ongoing connection to the Northwest. Its international headquarters is located in Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, and Watson frequently returns to this region.
Continue reading

Amusing Monday: Google goes beyond the streets

Last week, Google announced a new “Street View” from Antarctica, a seemingly remote and desolate place. Is there nowhere left to hide?

Two new Street Views allow you a glimpse of a colony of penguins as well as a scenic vista of Half Moon Island, one of the Shetland Islands in the Southern Ocean.

Penguins on Half Moon Island, from Google Street View

Now, Street View images are available on all seven continents, bragged Brian McClendon, vice president of engineering for Google Earth and Maps.

Several bloggers were quick to point out that Antarctica has no streets to view, so the name is completely out of context.
Continue reading

Massive Wilkins ice shelf in Antarctic continues to break up

Icebergs have begun to “calve” from the northern section of the Wilkins ice shelf in the Antarctic, indicating that the massive chunk of ice has become unstable, the European Space Agency is reporting today. (Go to ESA News.)

<i>The demise of an ice bridge that connected Charcot and Latady Islands has destabilized the front of the Wilkins ice shelf. The margins of the collapsed ice bridge are shown in white.</i><br><small>Satellite image courtesy of ESA</small>
The demise of an ice bridge that connected Charcot and Latady Islands has destabilized the front of the Wilkins ice shelf. The margins of the collapsed ice bridge are shown in white. (Click on image to enlarge.)
Satellite photo courtesy of ESA

Three weeks ago, a connecting ice bridge collapsed between the Antarctic mainland and Charcot Island. As a result of that collapse, rifts have widened and new cracks have formed.

“The retreat of Wilkins Ice Shelf is the latest and the largest of its kind,” David Vaughan of the British Antarctic Survey said in the new release. “Eight separate ice shelves along the Antarctic Peninsula have shown signs of retreat over the last few decades. There is little doubt that these changes are the result of atmospheric warming on the Antarctic Peninsula, which has been the most rapid in the Southern Hemisphere.”

Dr Angelika Humbert of the Institute of Geophysics at Münster University said the future of the ice remains uncertain.

“We are not sure if a new stable ice front will now form between Latady Island, Petrie Ice Rises and Dorsey Island,” she said. “If the connection to Latady Island is lost, the projected loss of 3,370 square kilometers of ice might be greater — though we have no indication that this will happen in the near future.”

Reuters reports on the story.

Meanwhile, in another Reuters story, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is quoted as saying tourism must be limited to protect the fragile Antarctic region.

“We have submitted a resolution that would place limits on landings from ships carrying large number of tourists,” she said at a joint session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council. “We have also proposed new requirements for lifeboats on tour ships to make sure they can keep passengers alive until rescue comes.”

She continued, “With the collapse of an ice bridge that holds in place the Wilkins ice shelf, we are reminded that global warming has already had enormous effects on our planet, and we have no time to lose in tackling this crisis.”