SC67A | Bled, Slovenia

Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.

The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.

PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.

A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.

This year was historic in that the IWC allowed the creation of a working group comprised of members of the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee, ensuring for the first time that conservation measures will rely upon scientific advice and not purely political concerns.

Despite the positive achievements at this year’s SC, members were left somber with the recent loss of Dr. Carole Carlson, a pioneering whale scientist, naturalist, conservationist and PWF Board Member. Dr. Carlson served on the Whalewatch Sub-Committee of the IWC since 1994, and organized and conducted multiple international whalewatching workshops.

One calm afternoon, traditional boats called pletna took members of both committees to an islet in the lake’s center where the Church of the Assumption of Maria is located. The evening commemorated Dr. Carlson’s commitment to the development of whalewatching guidelines throughout the world, and her dedication to education and scientific programs on behalf of whales and their natural habitats.

Many of her close colleagues said a few words, including Greg who made a very moving speech about his dear friend and the vision they shared. “Dr. Carlson was a visionary, a guardian of the sea, and an engaging advocate for public education and whale conservation. Her contributions are a living legacy to the protection of whales and their ocean home.” It was remarkable how Carole affected so many people. As the sun set over the still ice-capped mountains, a sense of hope embraced the gathering knowing that efforts will continue to be made in her memory to conserve and protect the world’s whales and our ocean environment.

Watch the Memorial for Carole Carlson, 14th May 2017, Bled, Slovenia.

 

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Whale-sized Fun for Maui Children at Sea!

As a part of our education efforts, every whale season we host numerous school groups participating in our Keiki (Hawaiian for “children”) Whalewatch program. Last week we concluded this season’s program with 1,518 children now having more knowledge about humpback whales.

Pacific Whale Foundation’s Keiki Whalewatch program is offered to create an impactful and interactive learning experience for our future generation. It is evident that many children who attend our program have yet to observe a humpback whale. After greeting the children, educators often ask the group, “who has never seen a whale?” Each time, several mini hands launch towards the sky in eager anticipation of the near adventure that will soon change that response. Designed so that children preschool through high school can experience these majestic animals in their natural habitat, Keiki Whalewatches allow children to connect with our marine environment, and for many, to see a whale for the very first time.

Exclusively available to schoolchildren and their teachers and chaperones, participants enjoy a unique 75 minute whalewatch complimented by a playful presentation in our Discovery Center classrooms. Each program is specific to their grade level and offered at a heavily reduced rate. Schools are also invited to apply for additional scholarship support through our No Child Left Indoors (NCLI) program. This year, four schools benefited from the NCLI program receiving a total of $1,159 in scholarship support to subsidize some of the field trip costs.

We want to thank all of our Members, volunteers, staff, and other supporters who help make it possible for the children to experience this fun and fact-filled, learning excursion. We also extend great appreciation to the schools who work hard to give their children these extraordinary educational experiences. Mahalo to Kamehameha Schools, Paia School, Kamaliʻi Elementary, Lokelani Intermediate, Wailuku Union  Preschool, Makawao B Headstart, Smart Start Christian School, Haiku Elementary, Peaceful Parent Happy Child, Kihei Elementary, Waiheʻe Elementary, Kula Elementary, Saint Anthony School, Waiheʻe Elementary, Children’s Garden Preschool, Christian Homeschool Co-op, Storybook School, Montessori of Maui, Wailuku Elementary, Princess Nahienaena Elementary, Lihikai Elementary, as well as our local home school groups.

Whale done, everyone! We had a great time and look forward to “sea-ing” you next year.

 

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!

 

FACT OF THE WEEK: Can’t Touch This

FACT OF THE WEEK: Zoonotic disease Brucellosis found shared between marine mammals and humans.

MORE ON THIS: Zoonotic diseases are those which can be passed between humans and animals. Brucella spp. is the genus of bacteria which causes the zoonotic disease Brucellosis, and can be found in numerous domesticated livestock and wild animals. The Brucella strain in domesticated animals has been eradicated in most industrialized countries, but unfortunately, in developing countries, it is still an issue. The disease has also been found in marine mammals, particularly recorded in dolphins, seals and sea lions. Symptoms in each terrestrial or marine mammal vary, and acquiring the disease can be done by ingesting the bacterium or by touching an open wound.

Spotted dolphin with a lesion

Dolphin with an open wound

A case of a New Zealand man acquiring Brucella was reported in 2002. Initially doctors thought the transfer was from the man dressing a pig a year prior. Upon further investigation through laboratory tests, the Brucella strain found in the man was more closely associated with a strain found in a United States bottlenose dolphin and common seals. The man was interviewed and stated that he was never directly in contact with a marine mammal, but he was in contact with different types of bait and he had consumed a raw fish (Brucella is killed by cooking). Now you know that marine mammals can have diseases which can be passed to humans, so please refrain from approaching or touching them!

FURTHER READING:

  • NOAA Fisheries: Brucella Infection in Marine Mammals Read More
  • McDonald, W. L., Jamaludin, R., Mackereth, G., Hansen, M., Humphrey, S., Short, P., Taylor, T., Swingler, J., Dawson, C.E., Whatmore, A.M., Stubberfield, E., Perrett, L.L., & Simmons, G. (2006). Characterization of a Brucella sp. strain as a marine-mammal type despite isolation from a patient with spinal osteomyelitis in New Zealand. Journal of clinical microbiology44(12): 4363-4370.

Written by Laura Behm