Tag Archives: Antarctica

International court rules against Japanese whaling

Japanese whalers who hunt whales in the Antarctic can no longer justify their actions as “scientific research” and must stop their annual whale roundup, according to a ruling by the International Court of Justice.

The court ruled today that Japan’s so-called “research” does not meet ordinary scientific standards. The court ordered Japan to stop killing whales under the guise of its research program, called JARPA II. As stated in a 73-page finding (PDF 649 kb) supported by 12 of the 16 judges:

“Taken as a whole, the Court considers that JARPA II involves activities that can broadly be characterized as scientific research, but that the evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives.

“The Court concludes that the special permits granted by Japan for the killing, taking and treating of whales in connection with JARPA II are not ‘for purposes of scientific research’ pursuant to Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the Convention (the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling).”

In the legal action brought before the United Nations court by Australia, the judges carefully scrutinized the JARPA II methods and procedures. They found that the sampling procedure and lethal take of minke, fin and humpback whales falls short of legitimate scientific study in many regards:

“The fact that the actual take of fin and humpback whales is largely, if not entirely, a function of political and logistical considerations, further weakens the purported relationship between JARPA II’s research objectives and the specific sample size targets for each species — in particular, the decision to engage in the lethal sampling of minke whales on a relatively large scale.”

A news release (PDF 174 kb) issued by the court does a fair job of summarizing the findings:

“Examining Japan’s decisions regarding the use of lethal methods, the court finds no evidence of any studies of the feasibility of or the practicability of non-lethal methods, either in setting the JARPA II sample sizes or in later years in which the programme has maintained the same sample size targets. The court also finds no evidence that Japan examined whether it would be feasible to combine a smaller lethal take and an increase in non-lethal sampling as a means to achieve JARPA II’s research objectives.”

After the ruling, Koji Tsuruoka, Japan’s representative at the court, addressed reporters at the Peace Palace in The Hague. According to a report by Australian Associated Press, Tsuruoka stated:

“Japan regrets and is deeply disappointed that JARPA II … has been ruled by the court as not falling within the provisions of Article 8. However, as a state that respects the rule of law, the order of international law and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the decision of the court.”

He said Japanese officials would need to digest the judgment before considering a future course of action. He refused to discuss whether a new research program could be crafted to allow whaling to resume.

Australian officials were careful not to gloat over the victory as they emphasized the need to maintain favorable relations with Japan. Bill Campbell, Australia’s general counsel in the case, was quoted by the AAP:

“The decision of the court today, important as it is, has given us the opportunity to draw a line under the legal dispute and move on.”

The ruling was welcomed by environmental groups, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sent ships to the Antarctic to directly confront the whaling ships and interfere with their whaling activities, as seen on the television show “Whale Wars.” Capt. Alex Cornelissen of Sea Shepherd Global had this to say in a news release:

“With today’s ruling, the ICJ has taken a fair and just stance on the right side of history by protecting the whales of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the vital marine ecosystem of Antarctica, a decision that impacts the international community and future generations. Though Japan’s unrelenting harpoons have continued to drive many species of whales toward extinction, Sea Shepherd is hopeful that in the wake of the ICJ’s ruling, it is whaling that will be driven into the pages of the history books.”

Antarctic penguin getting intensive care

UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 18

Our friend Happy Feet is going to hitch a ride part of the way home on Aug. 29, when he is taken aboard a research vessel operated by the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research. See the latest news release from Wellington Zoo.

Dr. Lisa Argilla, manager of veterinary science at the zoo, will accompany Happy Feet with assistance from two NIWA staff, who will be trained before departure. Rob Murdoch, NIWA’s general manager of Research, was quoted in the news release:

“The NIWA team are looking forward to having this extra special guest onboard the vessel with us for the journey. Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we’re pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean.”


UPDATE: Thursday, Aug. 4

Happy Feet may be headed headed home to the Antarctic later this month, Wellington Zoo officials have announced.

The date of his departure will depend on the availability of a ship, but the plan is to truck the bird to New Zealand’s South Island, then transport him by ship. He will have a microchip implanted in his leg, which may be detected at Antarctic outposts where penguins are monitored. A satellite transmitter glued to his feathers will follow his precise movements until it falls off during molting in April. See Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal.

UPDATE: Thursday, July 7, 8:40 a.m.

We are now able to call Happy Feet a “he” instead of an “it,” since DNA has confirmed that he is a male.

The Wellington Zoo, which is taking donations to help pay for his eventual release, has set up a live video camera for people to watch the bird in his enclosure. There is not much to see, as Happy Feet rests most of the time, except when he is brought in fish to eat or fresh ice to keep cool. The infrared camera shows a black-and-white picture. Happy Feet is kept in the dark to simulate current seasonal conditions in the Antarctic.

A video report by The Associated Press updates the story and features some of the get-well cards that Happy Feet has been getting from children around the world.

Wellington Zoo’s Facebook page includes ongoing updates and some artwork that children have sent.

UPDATE: Wednesday, June 29, 10:01 a.m.

A group appointed to advise New Zealand authorities on the fate of Happy Feet is recommending that the penguin be released into the Southern Ocean southeast of New Zealand, but not in Antarctica.

“The reason for not returning the penguin directly to Antarctica is that emperor penguins of this age are usually found north of Antarctica on pack ice and in the open ocean,” said Peter Simpson, spokesman for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, who was quoted in a story on Forbes.com.

UPDATE: Tuesday, June 28, 7:24 a.m.

Happy Feet has perked up after veterinarians and a gastroenterologist (medical doctor) removed 6.6 pounds of sand from its stomach.

“Yesterday he actually punched me in the stomach with his flipper,” said Lisa Argilla, a veterinarian at Wellington Zoo, who was pleased with the increased activity, including vocalizations.

We still don’t know if the animal is male or female, though tests are pending.

Reuters has a good report, including video.

A lot of folks around the world were fascinated last week with news that an emperor penguin was found alone on a beach in New Zealand — and more than a few people are wondering what will happen next. Well, much has happened since the first news reports, but the bird’s fate remains uncertain.

The penguin, which should have been living with its kind far to the south in Antarctica, apparently took one or more wrong turns, swam 2,500 miles and found itself on New Zealand’s Peka Peka Beach. There, the bird became a popular attraction among local residents.

“It was out of this world to see it, like someone just dropped it from the sky,” Christine Wilton was quoted as saying in an Associated Press story. Wilton was walking her dog Monday when she spotted the black-and-white bird.

According to reports, this is the first emperor penguin to visit New Zealand in 44 years. Although its sex has not been determined, this penguin was nicknamed “Happy Feet” after the movie about emperor penguins.

At first, wildlife authorities chose to leave the penguin alone. The bird seemed healthy, and they hoped that it would leave on its own. They knew that elephant seals and leopard seals from Antarctica sometimes come and go from New Zealand shores.

But by Friday morning in New Zealand (which is 19 hours ahead of Pacific Time), the bird was lethargic. Veterinarians noted that the bird was eating sand and sticks, and they were concerned about a possible infection. The bird may have been eating sand in an effort to cool down, experts speculated, since penguins often eat snow and ice when they get too hot.

Happy Feet was picked up and taken to Wellington Zoo, where it has undergone three procedures over the past few days. On Monday morning, veterinarians, assisted by a human doctor, performed an endoscopy to see what was in the bird’s stomach. They removed about half the debris, hoping the rest would pass naturally.

Happy Feet seems to be doing well, according to zoo officials, but it is listed in critical condition because of the number of sticks that remain in the animal’s stomach.

If he or she survives, experts will decide if they should prepare for a trip to Antarctica. Long travel is considered risky for the bird, and placing it with other penguins could put them at risk if it somehow picked up a disease in the warmer waters of New Zealand, according to reports.

The next trips to Antarctica are supply flights to Scott Base in August. In addition, a millionaire businessman has offered to take Happy Feet aboard a Russian icebreaker, but that would not be until February.

I’ll continue to provide updates to this entry.

Some of the best reporting:

Associated Press video, June 21

Associated Press, June 20

The Telegraph, Sydney, June 24, with video

Sydney Morning Herald, June 27

Stuff, June 27, with good videos

About New Zealand penguins: Penguin.net

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

International Whaling Commission has its hands full

UPDATE, Friday, June 25
“There are no winners and losers in this,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s former prime minister. “It ain’t over til it’s over, and even then it ain’t over. There will be a pause. We will resume discussions about this next year,” he told The Associated Press.

As the IWC meeting ended today, Greenland’s native population was granted permission to hunt a few humpback whales for the next three years, expanding the list of species the Greenlanders are allowed to kill under the license of subsistence hunting.
UPDATE, Wednesday, June 23
Whaling moratorium talks break down — so whaling nations will continue to set their own limits. Changes in the governance of the International Whaling Commission will be considered. See report in Reuters.
UPDATE, Tuesday, June 22
A Norwegian delegate to the International Whaling Commission, Karsten Klepsvick, told Reuters reporters today that the compromise being debated behind closed doors will fail:

“As we can see it today, we do not believe these negotiations will succeed. There are at least eight, ten stumbling blocks, but the main stumbling block is that those who are against whaling seem to be willing to accept nothing but nil (quotas), and we cannot accept that.”

The future of the International Whaling Commission — and perhaps even the survival of certain whale species — rests on decisions being made this week in Morocco.

While I have no personal insight into this story, I think it’s worth summarizing activities swirling around the meeting that began today. If you haven’t heard, a controversial proposal by IWC Chairman Cristian Maquieira would lift the ban on whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway. In return, the three countries would come back into the fold of the IWC, with new quotas officially imposed by the commission to reduce recent harvest levels.

Maquieira says his plan could save thousands of whales a year. (Check out an article Maquieira wrote for the BBC or read a press release (PDF 40 kb) issued by the IWC.) As the annual meeting of the IWC got under way today, Maquiera was not present due to illness, according to reporter Arthur Max of the Associated Press.

Deputy Chairman Anthony Liverpool opened the meeting then quickly moved the discussions behind closed doors for two days of negotiations among the strident anti-whaling countries as well as those that insist that whaling is a long-held cultural right. It’s in those meetings that things may come to a head.

Currently, Japan, Iceland and Norway set their own whaling quotas. Japan claims an exemption in the IWC Charter that allows for the taking of whales for scientific research — even though nearly all the whale meat ends up in the commercial market. Iceland and Norway operate under a process that allows formal objections to the whaling moratorium.

In a surprise move leading up to today’s meeting, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment Group and the World Wildlife Fund said in a joint statement (PDF 420 kb) that a compromise on quotas is possible but only if six essential elements are met:

  1. End all whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary near Antarctica.
  2. All whale products must be consumed in the country for which the hunt was authorized.
  3. Catch limits must be calculated by the IWC’s scientific committee to assure appropriate management procedures.
  4. Harvest of threatened, endangered or vulnerable species would not be allowed.
  5. Scientific whaling beyond the limits set by the IWC would not be allowed.
  6. Contracting governments must agree not to operate under objections to the agreement as originally allowed in the IWC Charter.

Meanwhile, other environmental groups argue that it is wrong to kill whales and that any compromise serves to reward the whaling countries for bad behavior. As Nikki Entrup of Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society told John Vidal of The Guardian:

“It would be a fundamental mistake now to reward those three whaling nations who have continued to ignore the international consensus on commercial whaling and are opposed by millions of people around the world. What kind of message does that give out to countries like Korea who used to whale? I urge Greenpeace to withdraw their position. They want to do the right thing in principle but more whales are killed in the northern hemisphere than in the south.”

Japan has hinted that it might pull out of the IWC if member nations can’t abide its whaling activities. Meanwhile, Australia has filed an action against Japan in the International Court of Justice, saying Japan’s actions are a direct violation of the international whaling ban in the Southern Ocean.

International politics and intrigue run thick through this whole story. Check out last weekend’s Times of London for an investigative report accusing Japan of bribing officials of other countries to come to the IWC meeting and support whaling.

It will be interesting to see if members of the IWC can find a way to make the organization relevant again.