Friday, August 21, 2015

Whale Of A Week

A Wrong Turn for Humpback Whales - Science doesn’t support dividing humpback whale species and removing vital  protections.Humpback whales are famous for their distinctive “song” and animated aerial displays. The males sing varied notes intertwined in an elaborate song that can last as long as twenty minutes, sometimes singing on repeat for hours on end. Humpback whales also steal the show with their varied acrobatic routine of leaping out of the water and slapping their tails and flippers against the surface with a resounding splash. Each year people flock to the water for the chance of seeing one of these gentle giants. But although these whales’ numbers have increased in recent decades, they aren’t out of the woods yet.
Humpback whales, © NOAA

Initially listed as endangered in 1970, humpback whales have not yet weathered the storm from the decimation wrought by centuries of whaling. Yet this spring, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed stripping the species of many of its protections under the Endangered Species Act. For management purposes, the agency’s proposal would split the whales into 14 “distinct population segments” around the globe, removing all protections for 10 populations, downlisting two from endangered to threatened, and only retaining endangered status for two populations.

Slicing and dicing the global humpback population into a piecemeal patchwork, where some whales get legal protection and some don’t, makes zero sense. Because humpback whales migrate thousands of miles each year, these proposed 14 populations will be meaningless to the whales themselves. Whales from different populations will inevitably intermingle, making it difficult to determine who’s who to enforce protections. NMFS’s proposal also jumps the gun by declaring the humpback whale a recovery success story. Increasing population numbers do not mean the humpback whale is in the clear: although the species is largely protected from hunting, other threats are increasing, and the risk of extinction still looms.

Like most whales, humpbacks face the threats of increasing underwater noise, entanglements with fishing gear, collisions with large vessels, and the effects of climate change. Warming oceans and changing currents affect where, when, and how much food the whales have, as well as the species’ migration routes, reproductive success, and overall survival. Scientists don’t yet know the full extent to which climate change will affect humpback whales, though it is clear that warming temperatures are altering the ocean’s chemistry and interfering with food webs. In the face of that uncertainty, how can officials declare that humpbacks are recovered? The science does not support either removing protections for humpback whales or breaking the species up into smaller populations with different levels of protection.

Defenders, along with our conservation allies, submitted extensive comments to NMFS detailing all the obstacles to recovery that the humpback whales still need to overcome. Our coalition of experts laid out the reasons why the whales should remain listed as endangered throughout their range, backing up each point with thorough research and substantial scientific data. Now we can only hope that the agency will listen, and these iconic whales will keep the legal protections they need as they face a difficult and uncertain future. The post A Wrong Turn for Humpback Whales appeared first on Defenders of Wildlife Blog.

Whaling in the Faroes by Richard Corbett

It’s a pleasure to receive well-argued representations from constituents on genuine issues. Here is one such message I received recently from Millie Hall of East Yorkshire, on the subject of whaling by Faroese people.
I expect you are aware of the continued whaling in the Faroe Islands as pictures hit the media recently when around 250 whales were slaughtered on two beaches in one day. This was part of a whale hunt known as the grindadrap (literal translation “murder of whales”) or grind. The killing is not restricted to pilot whales, it also includes white sided dolphins, orcas and bottle nose dolphins.
The Faroese insist that this meat is not sold, but every part of the whale is used and is shared amongst their community as a valuable source of meat for a region that has very little in terms of natural resources. The whole of that statement is a lie for four reasons:
  1. Whale meat from the grinds is sold in supermarkets and restaurants in the Faroe Islands, so it is bringing in money for some of the people involved which makes it a commercial enterprise.
  2. Every part of the whale killed is not used, not even every whale killed is used. The hunters have been documented discarding whole whale carcasses into the sea that they did not have time to process before dusk.
  3. It is not a valuable source of meat, it is very dangerous due to the amount of toxins (high levels of mercury and PCBs) even Faroese doctors confirm it contains. The poisonous levels would not be legal in any other food approved for human consumption and the fact that children are being given this meat to eat by parents who should know better means that they are being poisoned. There is a high incident of disease on the island related to these pollutants.
  4. The Faroe Islands have a thriving fishing industry including farmed salmon. They also have a large amount of sheep. They trade these commodities for all the benefits of a materialisic society and with this and their subsidies they enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.
The resulting argument is that the Faroese kill whales because they want to kill whales.
Denmark has sent naval vessels to support the grind and prevent protesters from getting close to the whales in an attempt to protect them. Before 2014 Denmark remained completely separate from the hunt, but by sending their ships, they are clearly showing their support for this slaughter. These included a frigate, helicopters, small boats and hundreds of sailors at a huge cost to the Danish and European taxpayers.
Although the Faroe Islands are a self-governing nation, they are still within the Kingdom of Denmark. The Faroe Islands are not part of the EU, but Denmark is. The European Union bans commercial whale hunting and whale imports by its members. I suggest that by supporting the whale hunting in the Faroe Islands by sending their navy, Denmark has participated in this commercial whale hunting, and so broken the laws of the European Union. The Faroese claim independence, so say the EU laws do not apply to them, but they are happy to accept EU subsidies from Denmark and support from Danish police and Danish navy, which suggests a lack of independence from an EU nation. How can they have it both ways?
Current research suggests that whales and dolphins have language that they use to communicate. They even seem to have names for one another. Current research also suggests that whales and dolphins have a huge capacity for emotion, potentially higher than humans.
The grind identifies a pod of whales in a suitable area, they then go out in motor boats, surround the pod, herd them until they are exhausted and force them onto a beach where they are killed. The Faroese claim that the slaughter is humane and happens within seconds. Video footage proves that the whales die a torturous, agonising death that takes no less than five minutes and up to an hour. Pods of whales are made up of mothers and calves on the whole, they are friends and families who have usually spent all of their lives together. I appreciate it is difficult, but just for a moment, please think about this.  
A group of family and close friends are going about their business, doing no harm to anyone, when suddenly they are surrounded by noisy, smelly, frightening boats. They try to flee but are chased until they are exhaused. The mothers are worried about their babies, but can do nothing to protect them. They are forced into a bay already turning red by the blood from the deaths of their friends who were in front of them. Once in shallow water they have a hook in their blowhole which is used to drag them on to the beach (equivalent to a hook up a human nose being used to pull their whole body weight) where they are stabbed to death. The fear, pain, confusion and panic they must feel is incomprehensible. If this were being done to humans the outcry would be unbelievable, why is it acceptable that wild free animals who pose no threat to us can be treated this way?
I am asking that you raise this issue within the European parliament, and ensure that Denmark is held accountable for supporting an illegal action. In 2013 the Faroese were only able to kill 33 whales in three months, thanks to the actions of protesters. In 2012 without the protesters, in the same time period, more than 1300 whales and dolphins were killed in the grind. This year, thanks to the intervention of the Danes, 250 pilot whales were killed in one day. I am asking that you try to ensure that Denmark cannot support the whale slaughter in the future, even if they will not act directly to prevent this happening in the Kingdom of Denmark. If the Danish navy and police are not present, it gives protesters the opportunity to save the whales once again.
Ms Hall is quite right that the Faroes are not part of the EU, and that rules we agreed at EU level to protect whales do not apply there. Nonetheless, we can try to put pressure on Denmark, at the very least to stop sending their navy to support whale hunts. Unfortunately, Denmark now has a Conservative-Liberal coalition government, which makes it less likely to be receptive to representations from other parts of the political spectrum.