IWC’s 65th meeting receives powerful visual message

“Migration towards Prosperity” was been presented to the 65th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission and received an enthusiastic response.  The video sends a strong message from Ecuador and the Buenos Aires Group that whales are a more beneficial as a living resource rather than being hunted.

The video documentary tells the story of  how a small, poor fishing village in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador has built a vibrant economic future based on sustainable eco-tourism through whalewatching. Their efforts reenforce the IWC’s 5 year strategic whalewatching plan in favor of  protecting whales and the ocean environment.

Making Waves through the “Eco-Revolution”

While the individuals who comprise the term “ocean activists” all work towards a common goal, the reality is, “ocean activists” come in a variety of shapes and forms, and all are armed with unique talents.

Some, for example, may use their gift of oratory to lobby on Capitol Hill or inspire others to take action at the public level.  Others address issues such as coastal erosion by restoring native dune systems and watersheds.  And still others weld the talent of a camera.

Peter Jay Brown, ocean activist, posing with the Sea Shepherd ship.

Peter Jay Brown, ocean activist, posing with the Sea Shepherd ship.

Enter Peter Jay Brown, a vivacious and outspoken ocean activist who has spent his adult life exposing environmental injustices throughout the world.  A professional cinematographer by trade, Peter Jay Brown launched his environmental career as a young boy on Cape Cod, protesting the creation of a deep water harbor.

While, with the help of President Kennedy, the harbor plan was diverted, the experience ignited a passion within Brown that would shape the rest of his life.

Pacific Whale Foundation was fortunate enough to host Brown during our recent Making Waves lectures series, held on September 10, 2014 at Pacific Whale Foundation’s Ocean Discovery Center.

Throughout the lecture, Brown entertained the audience with tales of his worldly exploits, leading us on adventures from Iceland to Japan, to South America and back.  Most recognized publicly for his stint on the critically acclaimed TV-reality series “Whale Wars”, Brown now largely works independently, partnering where he can to use his cinematography talents to raise awareness about a myriad of ocean issues.

Peter Jay Brown address Pacific Whale Foundation audience at recent lecture series

Peter Jay Brown address Pacific Whale Foundation audience at recent lecture series

Beyond the entertainment value, though, Brown spoke with true passion and sincerity about the realities of being involved with the environmental movement.  “Saving the world”, so to speaks, is a game of high stakes, little glory and a lot of emotions.  Furthermore, even the most simplistic of issues are rife with complexities, politics and people who are always looking to make a buck.

Brown nevertheless encouraged the audience, young and old, to become a part of the “Eco-Revolution”.  Making a difference, he said, rests on our individual ability to take immediate action.

There are hundreds of ways we, as the public, can get involved in what Pacific Whale Foundation likes to call “being part of the solution” – taking specific actions towards solving ocean issues.  Brown is that individual, though, that reminds us there is no better time than the present to make a difference.

Did you miss the Making Waves lecture? Watch a short clip here!

Want to start making a difference?  Visit Pacific Whale Foundation’s Conservation Page to learn more about the issues that are impacting our oceans and marine life!

Coral Reef Survey

Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) was recently contacted by WHALE Environmental Services LLC and asked if we were interested in a collaboration, as this Oahu-based company was planning to undertake a pilot project to survey the West Maui coral reefs. PWF was very keen to take part, and so we made arrangements to take our research vessel, Ocean Protector, out as a diving vessel for a change.

Using a standardized method, we made very short dives at 14 coral reefs along the coast of West Maui, between Ma’alaea Harbor and Honolua Bay. While scuba diving, we took note of various factors which would be used to indicate reef health, such as:

  • the number of coral species observed
  • the number of fish species observed
  • signs of pollution
  • signs of erosion
  • signs of coral disease or bleaching
  • signs of fishing pressure
  • signs of stormwater entry at the site

It was interesting to see the stark differences between a healthy reef and an unhealthy reef. This project is a baseline study – meaning that we are recording the current state of these reefs so we have a measurable starting point and can monitor the reef and detect any changes in the future. In science it is very important to record a baseline so you know when changes are happening. You then have data on how fast or slow changes are occurring, or in what locations.

While we await the results of the report that is being prepared, the research department is back to its usual summer routine of carrying out transect surveys for dolphins and marine debris.

Mugged by whales

Every year, from July to November, humpback whales come to Hervey Bay on their southern migration. In contrast to the open coastline, where whales are in a “migration mode” to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic, the bay is shallow, sheltered, and warm. It is the perfect place for the whales to aggregate, rest, and socialize. As a result, whales display a vast array of behaviors and interactions that make Hervey Bay a very unique whalewatching destination. Not surprisingly, some people refer to Hervey Bay as “Australia’s whalewatch capital.”

In addition to the most common humpback whale behaviors that can be seen in Hervey Bay, such as breaching, tail slapping, head lunging, etc., whales in Hervey Bay will often approach a vessel and stay within close proximity, interacting with people on board for significant periods of time. This behavior is known as “mugging”.

HB003-PWF

Photos taken under QLD permits: QS2011/GS040 and Registration #307.

Hervey Bay is the only area in the world where curious humpback whales consistently mug vessels. It is not uncommon to be unable to go anywhere because a pod of whales keeps interacting with your vessel. Indeed, you need to wait for them to move away first, following Australian regulations , which require whales to be 100 metres from a vessel before engines can be operated.

HB001-PWF

When being mugged, whales will approach the vessel, and sometimes circle around it. The whales will often look at the people on board, tilting their bodies to one side or spyhopping, when a whale vertically pokes its head out of the water in order to scan the surroundings. People are always in awe as it is a very unique experience. Sometimes it makes you wonder who is actually watching who.

HB002-PWF

Photos taken under QLD permits: QS2011/GS040 and Registration #307.

Whales also dive under the vessel to pop up on the other side, repeating this behavior over and over. It often feels like playing a game of hide and seek where people on board will move from side to side in an attempt to guess where the whales will surface next. At times, the whales can be so close that our camera lenses are too big to take a photo.

Photos taken under QLD permits: QS2011/GS040 and Registration #307.

Photos taken under QLD permits: QS2011/GS040 and Registration #307.

Below is a video that the research team filmed last whale season from our research vessel that captured what it is like to be mugged by whale(s).

Being mugged by a humpback whale for the first time is an exhilarating and breathtaking experience that will stay with you forever. Every day is different on the water but if you get the chance to be mugged again, I promise, you will never get tired of it.

A response to “Shark Week” from Maui

Who’s heard the adage, “Live every week like it’s Shark Week”? Though Discovery Channel’s TV extravaganza has come and gone, the repercussions from this wildly popular special are still echoing here on Maui, especially after the airing of a program named Sharkageddon that focuses on recent shark attacks in Hawai’i.

Though we also get excited when seeing footage of big, toothy, graceful elasmobranchs, some of the opinions presented as “facts” in Sharkageddon are truly troubling to us here at Pacific Whale Foundation. This program discussed the perceived spike in shark attacks in 2013 in Hawaii and attempts to explain why this occurred. Unfortunately, in the excitement to create a show full of ominous music and cliffhanging moments, the producers may have run out of time to fact check some of their findings. Though I am not currently involved in any specific shark research, as a marine scientist and steward of the marine environment, I felt the need to address some of the “findings” from Sharkageddon and explain why it might not be time to be scared out of the water just yet.

ALL shark attacked are recorded

First off, the Sharkageddon program emphasizes the amount of shark attacks in 2013, which was unusual. However, they go on to state that provoked attacks are never reported, chillingly adding that “there’s more shark attacks than we ever knew”. This is simply untrue, as Hawaii’s DLNR keeps track of both unprovoked and provoked attacks. A provoked attack, by the way, is  defined by the International Shark Attack File as occurring “when a human initiates physical contact with a shark, e.g. a diver bit after grabbing a shark, a fisher bit while removing a shark from a net, and attacks on spearfishers and those feeding sharks.”

Protections on sea turtles are not the problem!

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle- Photo Courtesy of Nate Formel

Secondly, the program tries to place blame on the recovering population of Hawaiian green sea turtles as a motivator in increased tiger shark attacks on people. Though it is true that sea turtles are protected throughout the United States under the Endangered Species Act, this protection was implemented in 1978 and since then, Hawaiian green sea turtle numbers have increased steadily. If there was a connection between tiger shark attacks and the recovering population of green sea turtles, it would be expected that tiger shark attacks would have increased steadily during this time period as well. Instead, we only see a spike during the years 2012 and 2013. Simply put, the recovery of this species once in danger of extinction is not at fault for “drawing in” more tiger sharks—and this dangerous notion could threaten to derail much of the good that the ESA and conservation efforts have done in protecting sea turtles. Give sea turtles a break- they only make up a small percentage of this highly omnivorous sharks’ diet anyways!

Sharks are not being “drawn in” to Ma’alaea Harbor from Kaho’olawe!

Lastly, as an organization that provides educational eco-cruises in Maui, this “fact” presented in Sharkageddon hit particularly close to home to us at PWF. The program stated as a matter of course, that sharks are drawn in to Maui from Kaho’olawe (which the show pronounced incorrectly by the way- sheesh!) because boats dump leftovers from dinner cruises into the harbor. Ma’alaea Harbor is actually one of the “greenest” harbors in Hawaii- providing pump out stations for sewage as a better alternative to dumping offshore and readily accessible dumpsters for boats in slips. From our organization’s point of view, we can personally attest to our boats’ waste management practices of donating our leftover food from eco-cruises to a local pig farmer, and for the rest of our refuse, we recycle what we can and deposit garbage in a dumpster. To our knowledge, no other boats in Ma’alaea dump leftover food in the harbor; it just wouldn’t make sense with dumpsters right on the docks, and the Coast Guard station right there. It’s against the law- the Marine Plastic Pollution Research and Control Act , enforced by the Coast Guard, forbids discharging waste, including food scraps, into U.S. waters.

Now, I could go on with inaccuracies within the Sharkageddon show, but instead I would like to leave you with this thought- remember that we are more dangerous to sharks than they are to us. It’s currently estimated that over 100 million sharks are killed a year by humans- as accidental bycatch, as victims of shark finning, and as targets of shark fisheries. We don’t need to add fear mongering as a threat stacked against these beautiful, essential ocean creatures. Indeed, Sharkageddon did hastily wrap up their show with a conservation message as well- coupled with a little more research on facts in the future, this will help to turn the tide in favor of these apex predators in the ocean.

Putting an End to the Taiji Dolphin Slaughter, Right From Your Computer

Every year, thousands of dolphins are slaughtered along the coast of Japan in brutal drive hunts.  The majority of dolphins caught in these hunts are butchered and their meat is sold in restaurants and supermarkets throughout the country.  To fetch a higher price, and simultaneously tout itself as a more premium product, the meat is oftentimes purposely mislabeled as “whale” meat.  A smaller percentage of the animals are spared from death, and instead sold to aquariums and marine parks in countries such as China, Taiwan, Egypt and the Philippines.

Bottlenose dolphins are the most commonly caught dolphin species in the Taiji dolphin drive

Bottlenose dolphins are the most commonly caught dolphin species in the Taiji dolphin drive

Drive hunts, also known as drive fisheries, refer to the practice of herding dolphins and small whales into coves where the animals are subsequently slaughtered or, more rarely, spared alive to be sold into captivity.  While these hunts went on for years outside of the public eye, the rise of social media, revealing documentaries, covert video recordings and highly publicized protests have brought international attention and outcry to the issue of drive hunting.

September 1st marked the beginning of the annual dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan – an eight month long killing spree made infamous in the 2009 award-winning documentary The CoveOn average, the Taiji dolphin drive will result in the death of over 1,000 dolphins and the capture of 200 dolphins for the captivity trade.

Although the powerful Japan Fisheries Agency maintains that the yearly Taiji dolphin drive is an important part of Japan’s “food culture”, the drive itself is fueled primarily through the profits from sales to the multi-million dollar marine mammal captivity industry.  A dolphin slaughtered for meat, for example, fetches around $600 on the market, while those destined for aquariums or marine parks can be sold for up to $300,000.

Ric O'Barry with dolphin meat for sale, but labeled as "Whale" meat, in Japanese Supermarket

Ric O’Barry with dolphin meat for sale in Japanese Supermarket

Unfortunately, outside of individual country laws, there are no international protections for these animals.  The International Whaling Commission, for example, does not manage dolphin or porpoise species, only large, baleen species such as humpback whales.  Countries that partake in dolphin drives set their own quotas and manage their own industries.

Educating the public, particularly the local public, about the realities and environmental impacts of dolphin drives is therefore an important first step towards ending the needless slaughter.  The fact that dolphin meat is highly contaminated with mercury, in some cases exceeding the Japanese Ministry of Health’s recommended levels by 5,000 times, should be evidence enough that dolphin meat is unsuitable for human consumption.

The real change in Taiji, though, will come when we are able to put a stop to the marine mammal captivity trade.  In 2002, for example, Pacific Whale Foundation was an instrumental part of banning marine mammal captivity throughout Maui County.  U.S. law also now prohibits the importation of dolphins from Taiji for captivity purposes.

Ric O’Barry, the longtime dolphin trainer turned anti-captivity activist, has been a leader in raising awareness about the Taiji dolphin slaughter.  O’Barry’s annual pilgrimage to the town of Taiji coincided with this year’s start to the dolphin drive, and he spent the past weekend presenting hunt photos to the U.S. Embassy in Japan, staging beachside protests in Taiji and meeting with the local Taiji town council to discuss alternatives to the dolphin hunt.

The reality of the Taiji dolphin drive.  Photo courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society

The reality of the Taiji dolphin drive. Photo courtesy of Oceanic Preservation Society

In addition, as the first dolphin hunting boats launched on Monday, O’Barry and his comrades across the world celebrated Save Japan Dolphin Day 2014, an international day of action that serves to protest the dolphin drive and the marine mammal captivity industry that ultimately fuels the drive.

As of day two, the dolphin boats have come back empty handed.

taiji dolphins

The good news is, you don’t have to be in Japan to help make a difference for the dolphins!  Here are 5 easy ways to be a part of the solution, without leaving your computer:

  1. Sign the petition. Sponsored by Earth Island Institute, this petition is currently over 750,000 signatures strong.  Sign your name and appeal to the U.S. government to urge Japan to revoke permits that allow for dolphin slaughter.
  2. Like” it and “Share” it on Facebook: Facebook isn’t just about updating the world about what you ate for breakfast – it’s a place to make a stand and reach a lot of people in the process! Start out by “Liking” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project Page and then “Share” daily updates (like this one) to your own newsfeed!
  3. #tweet4taiji: Social media takes ocean advocacy to the next level! Use the hashtag #tweet4taiji on your Twitter or Instagram accounts to join the conversation and also raise awareness about dolphin drives.
  4. Send an email: While it may seem slightly old fashioned, sending an email or writing a letter is still an important way to voice your concerns! Better yet, throw an email writing party and send to the following:
  1. Host a screening of “The Cove” or “Blackfish”: If you have a DVD player, projector and screen, you could host your very own backyard screening of these incredibly eye-opening and advocacy oriented documentaries for your friends and family.  Have everyone pitch in to cover the cost of the screening, and let the education go to work!  While you may actually have to move away from your computer for this one, you can at least purchase the film online!