Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Whale Of A Week!

The Whalers Are Long Gone, but These Great Whales Are Still Struggling. Researchers have created the first reliable population estimates for the now-rare New Zealand southern right whale.
Once upon a time, tens of thousands of right whales congregated along New Zealand’s coast—so many that people in seaside towns complained about how much noise they made.

Today the species is still recovering from a century of intense whaling and remains a rare visitor to the mainland.

The first comprehensive estimate of the population shows the devastation large-scale whaling left in the South Pacific: At the start of the 19th century, there were 28,000 to 47,100 New Zealand southern right whales.

At the start of this century, there were 3,300 to 5,700—just 12 percent of the pre-whaling population.

Southern right whales “seem to be re-colonizing the New Zealand coast from the sub-Antarctic islands, slowly,” said ecologist Jennifer Jackson of the British Antarctic Survey, who led the study, published Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“They used to be so numerous, it’s hard for us to imagine what the ocean would look like if they were back to their earlier numbers,” said Jackson.

The more thorough estimate of the population's ups and downs will, she hopes, help improve recovery and habitat conservation plans for the right whale.

Jackson and her colleagues estimate that after hunting was banned in 1935, the New Zealand right whale population rose slowly, from fewer than 200 individuals toward 1,000 by the late 1950s.

But then illegal Soviet whaling set off another population crash.

Soviet whalers killed more than 3,300 southern right whales in the South Pacific and Antarctic between 1946 and 1987, according to data revealed several years after the fall of the Soviet government.

That number included about 400 New Zealand right whales, taken between 1958 and 1963, Jackson and her colleagues determined.

To assess how many whales there were in 1800, the researchers used logs from American, British, and French whaling ships, along with other historic documents, to develop estimates of how many whales ships encountered and how many were killed.

The American logs in particular contained very detailed information on the number of whales the crews succeeded or failed to land, she said. “For every five whales caught in a sheltered bay, four were brought in, while in open ocean, for every three, one would be lost to the sea.”

Annual government import records listed how many barrels of oil were landed port by port, allowing Jackson and her colleagues to “convert oil back into whales,” she said. “We also converted whale bone imports back into whales.”

With these data, and taking into account the whale’s reproduction rate, they developed two population estimates. The lower number estimates whales in New Zealand waters only, while the larger one encompasses whales in waters off eastern Australia.

“Genetically, the Australian and New Zealand populations are very different,” Jackson said. “They don’t fully mix, but we know they could potentially move long distances.”

A dozen distinct genetic lines of New Zealand southern right whales have survived the whaling era, said Jackson, which is low but sufficient diversity to restore a healthy population.

But it’s an open question whether the species will ever again number in the tens of thousands amid 21st-century pressures such as warming temperatures, ocean acidification, and overfishing.

“We know the oceans are changing,” Jackson said. “Models that take into account environmental change will be the next thing we’d like to explore.”

Save Russian Orcas From Being Captured and Put on Display

Save Russian Orcas From Being Captured and Put on Display
TARGET: Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Yefimovich Donskoyv, Russian Federation


Many countries have outlawed the inhumane capture of live, healthy sea mammals. But the marine mammal trade is still thriving in other parts of the world, and wild orcas are being trapped in Russia and sold to theme parks and aquariums, where they live their lives in captivity.

Orcas are social animals, and used to swimming long distances. Captive sea mammals live miserable lives, isolated with little room to move. They become agitated and stressed, and live shorter lives.

This is no way for wild animals to live. Please sign your name and urge Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Sergey Yefimovich Donskoy, to outlaw the capture of wild whales and dolphins in Russia. CLICK TO HELP!

This Orca Was Meant for Rescue and Release … But Has Spent Past 6 Years on Display in Marine Park.

While SeaWorld recently made the incredible announcement that it will no longer breed its orca whales in captivity, concerns are growing over the fate of its wild-born orca, Morgan, who is on loan at Loro Parque, a marine park tourist attraction, on the Spanish island of Tenerife.

Morgan was captured off the Dutch coast in 2010 when she was found in a severely weakened state, and was nursed back to health at the Dolphinarium in Harderwijk, the Netherlands. Although she was brought into the Dutch facility on a “capture, rehabilitation and release” permit, she was then transported to Loro Parque, where she has remained. The Dutch council ruled that without her mother, she would not be able to find food for herself and, therefore, could not survive in the wild. However, Morgan is no longer a baby calf, and activists say that life in captivity is driving her mad. Campaigners including the Free Morgan Foundation and The Born Free Foundation are calling for the orca to be released to a sea pen as she has been terrorized by other orcas while in captivity and shows “evidence of self mutilation, caused by repeatedly banging her head.”

In a short film, called ”I am Morgan – Stolen Freedom,” director Heiko Grimm explains that Morgan was considered valuable as she potentially introduced a new blood line to widely in-bred orcas, but since SeaWorld will no longer breed its killer whales in captivity, activists are now stepping up their call to retire Morgan to a sea pen, and fulfill the “release” portion of the original intent of her capture.

Morgan’s family has been located in the wild and activists say she could be a successful release candidate. If you’d like to help, The Free Morgan Foundation has put forward a variety of suggestions including writing letters to Hinderk “Henk” Bleker the State Secretary for the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation asking for her release.

The most important thing you can do for marine animals is to not support their captivity. Without patrons supporting orca shows, these facilities can not exist. You can also lend your name to this petition. Above all share this article and encourage others to speak up for Morgan! Featured image source: AFP

Keiko's Rescue Was Not A Failure needs to tell truth of triumph freedom know how 2live at home
JEREMY SUTTON-HIBBERT One of the abiding problems that the people organizing to end the captivity of killer whales face is the reality that our mainstream national media — being mostly corporate entities themselves — are eager to lap up the falsehood-laden propaganda put out by the marine parks. Even the supposedly non-corporate "independent" media lap it right up. The marine-park industry's favorite retort whenever anyone wants to talk about returning wild-born captive orcas to their homes — as many people are now doing about Lolita — is to claim that the effort to return Keiko, the star of "Free Willy," to the wild, only resulted in his death. In fact, you can see Robert Rose, the curator of the Miami Seaquarium and the man responsible for the continued incarceration of Lolita, repeatedly making that claim to gullible TV reporters who were reporting on last week's "Miracle March for Lolita" in Miami: And sure enough, when PBS reporters covered the story, the same sort of retort was brought up repeatedly by the marine-park defenders — and yet no one from the anti-captivity side was given any airtime to explain that this was fundamentally false, a gross distortion of the Keiko story.
Instead, what we got was the marine park industry's side only: ROBERT ROSE: I mean, she's gonna die, without question. They are going to take her out there and do exactly the same thing they did to Keiko which is to kill him. HARI SREENIVASAN: Keiko was the iconic killer whale that starred in the movie "Free Willy." Keiko was released into the waters off Norway in 2002 but died alone a year later of pneumonia. ROBERT ROSE: Unfortunately this didn't have the Hollywood happy ending where Free Willy jumped over the wall and lives happily ever after.
And then, when viewers protested, the PBS ombudsman's office issued the following lame response: It is also true Keiko, the iconic killer whale that starred in the movie "Free Willy," also had time to acclimate to the wild. A year after Keiko was fully released into the wild, Keiko died. We understand there is a passionate debate around Keiko's death and whether she was properly prepared for returning to the wild or if she died simply of natural causes. In the future PBS NewsHour may have the opportunity to do an in-depth story about this important debate.
This is aggravating. PBS and its spokesperson betray their hapless ignorance in small ways and big. Small: The spokeswoman here refers to Keiko as a "she." Big: If the marine-park industry had had its way, Keiko never would have been moved out of Reino Aventura and almost certainly would have died there by 1996, perhaps 1997 at the latest. Period. If you go back to 1994 and '95, when the "Free Keiko" campaign was just getting underway, it had been made painfully clear by the entire marine-park industry that Keiko was not going to be leaving Reino Aventura, the tiny, cramped Mexico City pool where he had been held since 1985, anytime soon. None of the other parks wanted him because of his papiloma-virus infection and his rapidly declining health. And they actively sabotaged an agreement between activists and Reino Aventura to place him in a seapen in Iceland.
Instead, the campaign successfully built a new pool for him in Oregon, bought him from Reino Aventura, and moved him there in January 1996. He was moved a little more than two years after that to the Iceland seapen. And he wound up living a good life up until late 2003. So the campaign to free Keiko bought him more than seven more years of life. And they were pretty damned good years, especially for a large male captive orca whose previous life had mainly been stuck inside tiny concrete pools. His pool in Oregon was the nicest orca pool in the world, and he regained his health there, losing the papiloma virus and gaining large amounts of weight. His Icelandic seapen was even better; he grew healthy and strong there, and relearned how to hunt on his own quite efficiently. Keiko was functionally free beginning in the summer of 1999, allowed to roam at will out of his seapen, but returning voluntarily until that day in August 2002 when he hooked up with a pod of wild orcas and never came back, showing up in Norway instead and reestablishing contact with humans. The Keiko experiment was not a failure except in reaching a final goal that the industry had a direct hand in ensuring was never reached — namely, a positive identification of his familial pod so he could be reunited with them. What we learned from Keiko is that such identification is vital to a complete reintegration. But in every other regard, this was a successful reintroduction to the wild. He learned to feed himself. He was independent. He clearly appeared to be healthy and happy, right up until just before he died. And the lung infection he died from may well have been contracted in captivity anyway. I quote Paul Spong on this subject in my forthcoming book, "Of Orcas and Men: What Killer Whales Can Teach Us." Here's what he says: "My belief is that Keiko would have needed direct contact with members of his immediate family and community in order to fully integrate back into a life in the wild," says Paul Spong. "That did not happen in Iceland, and it is very unlikely that it would have happened in Norway. However, this does not mean that it could not happen, given the appropriate circumstances. Had more been known about Keiko's social background, it would have been far easier to put him in contact with members of his family. I do not believe he met his mother or any siblings or close cousins while he was swimming freely in Icelandic waters. He did meet and interact with other orcas, but they were not his kin, so he did not join them permanently. That said, Keiko did get to experience the feel and sounds of the ocean once again, after being surrounded by barren concrete walls for most of his life, and that, I believe, must have come as a profound relief to him. For me, the simple fact that Keiko died as a free whale spells success for the grand project that brought him home. Deniers will deny, spinners will spin, but they cannot erase or alter this truth."
SeaWorld’s recent announcement that it will immediately end its captive breeding program for orcas throughout all of its parks, alongside a phasing out of its traditional orca performances and shows to make way for a more ‘natural’ visitor experience by 2019, was met with a fair amount of surprise from the public, and from within the aquarium industry itself. As we have watched SeaWorld fight back against congressional inquiries, OSHA citations, civilian lawsuits, plunging stock value, flagging ticket sales, and other public relations nightmares spawned by the tragic death of trainer Dawn Brancheau and documentary Blackfish, we were still taken by surprise by this significant about-face by SeaWorld.
As the embattled leader in marine park entertainment, SeaWorld essentially conceded that public attitudes have shifted so significantly that its current business model is unsustainable. As the primary pressure point since the release of the paradigm-shifting documentary Blackfish in 2013, orcas have become the poster child for all whales and dolphins in captivity. The roadmap towards a sunset on orcas in captivity has effectively been revealed.

This dramatic shift in policy is testament to the power of the people, and the gradual awakening of an industry to a progressive alternative future—a future not reliant upon unethical practices, and one that can highlight the best aspects of its operations (rescue and rehabilitation) utilizing state-of-the-art technology to complement its entertainment offerings. Without SeaWorld stating the obvious, with this decision it has essentially acknowledged that orcas are too large, too socially complex, and ill-adapted for concrete captive environments.

And, they have announced that they will do what we have collectively asked them to do—they have committed to no longer acquiring any cetaceans from the wild, phasing out their orca shows and breeding programs, and refocusing their attention and resources towards pressing marine conservation issues and rescue work. With these steps forward, they have acknowledged that their reputation, because of the current and projected future attitudes of the public regarding the holding of orcas in captivity, will not be enhanced by stubbornly hanging on to a conflicted and outdated practice that is increasingly causing discomfort for the consciences of a good majority of the public.

And because of this, SeaWorld must know that orcas represent every cetacean in captivity. They know, and we know, that it is not just about Tilikum and the other orcas. Although the touchstone since the release of Blackfish, orcas are representative of all whales and dolphins—sentient, far-roaming, socially complex, and ill-suited both physiologically and psychologically for a life in confinement.

In response to questions about these ‘others’, the other marine mammals in SeaWorld’s care, SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby replied “Stay tuned on that…We need to execute this well. We need to have the organization in the same direction. Then we will apply those learnings elsewhere.”

This response suggests that of course SeaWorld gets it, and that there might be room for it to move further on dolphins, or belugas, or the pilot whales in its care.

And, it is not just about SeaWorld, either. There are still other facilities, and other countries conducting captures from the wild and importing whales and dolphins from unsustainable sources or through cruel methods. But with this decision, SeaWorld becomes a leading industry example of what needs to, and can, happen elsewhere. Globally, there are over 3,000 whales and dolphins in at least 300 facilities. This move could be the large pebble that initiates a ripple effect throughout the once-placid and well-protected waters of the public display industry.

The response from other corners of the marine park industry was almost an audible recoil into a crouched and defensive posture. The Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquaria (AMMPA) issued a statement the very same day that revealed a stark and vivid contrast between perhaps an emerging ‘new guard’ and an old guard still entrenched in the slippery-slope rhetoric of self-defense, fear-mongering, and victimization. Where SeaWorld’s announcement could provide room for collaboration and dialogue, the AMMPA’s was about ‘us and them’ with reference to an activist agenda set to destroy the livelihoods of marine mammal trainers and future educational opportunities for our children.

The more conservative and supportive response from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) also made sure to remind us through its less-dramatic statement that zoos and aquaria are committed to animals in their care, especially SeaWorld that will continue with its ‘state of the art’ care for the orcas in its parks and in the oceans. It could be that we will see an end to the solidarity of the captivity industry as it starts to fall under the weight of public opinion and internal philosophical divides.

And then there are the bright lights within the aquarium industry that are light years ahead of SeaWorld in determining that their model, based in ethics, public attitude survey data, and forward-thinking business acumen, must change.

The National Aquarium in Baltimore had discontinued breeding, developed a policy against acquisition from the wild, and considered possible alternative sanctuary environments for the dolphins in their care, long before Blackfish came onto the scene. Similarly, Merlin Entertainments has developed a policy against the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity and is working hard in conjunction with WDC to develop sanctuaries for the whales and dolphins it has acquired.

WDC welcomes any positive and incremental step towards the phasing out of the practice of holding whales and dolphins in confinement for our entertainment. Captivity involves a cruel lifecycle from start to finish, whether it involves capture and separation of individuals and families from their ocean homes, or a lifetime of confinement and dysfunctional social groups in sterile concrete tanks.

It used to be counter-culture to question captivity; now it is becoming clear that a rapidly growing number of people despise this outdated and dying practice. Questioning and opposing the practice of captivity has gone mainstream. The commitment of any facility to no longer acquire whales and dolphins from the wild and end breeding are two steps in the right direction towards ultimately ending a cruel industry and all of the pain and suffering associated with it.

So, this is not a free pass for SeaWorld, but it is an open door. We hope that door will open wider. It is perhaps the beginning of more rational engagement where dialogue and positive leadership can slowly turn the captivity industry ship around, and steer it into more humane waters.

As we witness the beginnings of a sunset for one species in captivity, perhaps it will welcome a future sunrise and new hope for others.

We continue our work towards realizing sanctuary environments for whales and dolphins, and believe that a more natural solution is both a realistic and idealistic future for an improved quality of life for each and every one.

The Japanese whaling fleet returned today to its home port in Shimonoseki. The Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research confirmed the killing of 333 minke whales: 103 males and 230 females - 90.2% of whom were pregnant. 
The whaling ships had set sail for the Antarctic on December 1st, despite failing to get approval from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and despite its whaling being condemned by the International Court of Justice.

In March 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan should immediately rescind its unilateral Antarctic special permit (so-called ‘’scientific”) whaling since Japan’s Antarctic whaling did not qualify as such, and therefore as a consequence, Japan was in contravention of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on commercial whaling.

However, in November 2015, Japan announced that it would resume Antarctic whaling under its new programme, “NEWREP-A”, despite international opposition. In December 2015, the UK and other European countries signed on to a portest (demarche), strongly condemning Japan´s plans.

 “Japan has time and time again shown that it is willing to disregard science, international law, and international cooperation when it comes to its whaling operations. But what the whales need now is more than just diplomatic protest. We are calling on the European Union and the international community to consider appropriate legal and economic sanctions against a country that is clearly exempting itself from international agreements, whenever it suits its agenda”, says Astrid Fuchs, Programme lead with WDC.

The population total for the Antarctic minke whale is officially classed as unknown. They are categorised as Data Deficient by the IUCN Red List (2008), making it difficult to know the exact impact of this hunt on the population. The IUCN assessment suggests that there has been a 60% reduction in the population between the 1978–91 period and the 1991–2004 period, but this is still being investigated. If correct the IUCN would classify the Antarctic minke whale as endangered. As the population numbers are unknown any hunting has the potential to significantly impact on the population, especially when females of breeding age and pregnant females are killed.

Japan wants to sign a trade deal with Europe. We want to make whaling a deal breaker! – please support our petition today!

The EU and Japan are looking to increase trade in goods and services with each other – in other words make loads and loads of money. They are close to signing a new trade agreement.
Great BUT…

A. Japan hunts and slaughters hundreds of whales each year. It wants to kill 4,000 in the Antarctic over the next 12 years!
B. The EU does not support whale hunting. Most of the people in the EU do not support whale hunting!

This is nonsense!

We can’t allow a nice new trade agreement between the 'whale friendly' EU and a country like Japan - a country that has just announced that it will ignore an international court ban and kill 333 whales each year for the next 12 years in Antarctica.

Let’s stop the slaughter for good.  Ask the EU to use its power and say ‘no new trade agreement until the whaling stops’.
EU whaling infographic
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<p><a href=""><img src="" alt="Stop Japan's whaling - WDC Infographic" title="No EU-Japan trade agreement until the whaling stops - WDC Infographic" width="600px" /></a><br/>Take action today. Ask the EU Parliament to say 'no' to a new trade agreement with Japan until the whaling stops. <a href="" title="No EU-Japan trade agreement until the whaling stops">Please sign our petition today!</a> Visit our campaign page and help us stop end the cruelty of whaling.<p>