Monday, August 1, 2016

What 'A Whale Of A Week'

Trouble for North Atlantic Right Whales?
Recent studies on endangered North Atlantic right whales have experts seriously concerned. Research shows that while rules addressing ship strikes have helped reduce the number of whales killed that way each year, entanglement in fishing gear continues to be a massive problem – and actually seems to be getting worse.

Read more about this research and what it means for North Atlantic right whales >

The 6 Dumbest Things SeaWorld Has Done Since 'Blackfish' PremieredThis list has the best of the worst—from espionage to the most pathetic PR spin ever. READ MORE AND HELP ORCAS

Norway Kills More Whales Than Iceland and Japan Combined – How You Can Stop This Barbaric Practice. The cruel whaling practices of Iceland and Japan have been well documented in recent years, but another country still engaging in the brutal trade has so far managed to largely escape international scrutiny. A recent report reveals that Norway now leads the world in terms of whaling, killing more whales than Iceland and Japan combined.

This is not a title to be proud of, as whaling is an ecologically destructive and barbaric trade. Studies prove that whales are incredibly intelligent creatures, and their immense capacity for emotional empathy puts them on par with humans. These highly evolved creatures communicate through a complex vocal language as well as visual cues, and can create elaborate melodies.

Whales are so much more than large lumps of meat, populating the oceans for humans to catch, kill and sell. Yet, that’s exactly how whalers treat these magnificent animals. Whales are pursued to the point of exhaustion before being harpooned with excruciating exploding harpoons. Wounded whales are then pulled on board and speared or shot with high-powered rifles. Sometimes they are simply dragged by their tail alongside whaling vessels slowly suffocating to death — observers report seeing whales take ten minutes to die — as their heads are forced underwater.

Norway’s Massive Annual Whale Slaughter
Since 2012, Norway has killed more whales per year than any other country, and over the last two years, it has killed more than Iceland and Japan combined. It has also been increasing its exports of whale products — selling 172 metric tons of meat and blubber to Japan for instance since 2014 — in total defiance of an international ban on such a trade.

The recent report from the Animal Welfare Institute, OceanCare, and Pro-Wildlife exposes how Norway disregards the ban on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has largely benefitted from a reprehensible lack of scrutiny so far. OceanCare’s president Sigrid Lüber notes that “The IWC has not formally commented on Norway’s whaling since 2001 and the international community has not presented a demarche to Norway since 2006.” While Iceland and Japan face international legal action for its whaling programs, Norway has largely been spared global criticism, attention, and action.

This is despite the fact that Norway only respected the IWC’s whaling ban until 1993, subsequently using a loophole to resume hunting for minke whales. The country sets its own quotas for the number of whales permitted to be killed and these are so high and include such a high proportion of breeding females, that this practice puts the species’ survival at severe risk.

Titled “Frozen in Time: How Modern Norway Clings to Its Whaling Past,” the report also explains that “As one of the world’s most modern and prosperous countries, Norway’s whaling is an anachronism. Slaughtering whales to eat and trade has no place in Norway and serves only to diminish the country’s international reputation.” It concludes that the IWC and governments aligned to it should “compel Norway to cease commercial whaling and trade in whale products.”

Indeed, Norway doesn’t only brutally hunt and kill whales, it also actively promotes whale meat and whale parts to revive the trade and derive increasing profit from it. Shockingly, the Norwegian government plays a huge part in keeping this dying industry afloat. The “Frozen in Time” report reveals that the government financially supports projects using products derived from whales, such as dietary supplements and cosmetics. It also supports the industry with fuel tax exemptions and free storage for whale meat.

While the Norwegian government is decidedly backward on this important conservation issue, the country’s population has long turned its back on whale meat. There is now so little demand for it that along with subsidizing the industry, the government has launched a marketing campaign — complete with sickening whale recipes — to convince the public to resume its whale meat consumption. Nowadays, government subsidies are the only thing keeping the Norwegian whaling industry going.
national geographic
Killing Whales for Pet Food… and Fur?
The government has been so desperate to ensure whales continue to be caught and killed that it helped the industry turn huge quantities of unwanted whale blubber into pet food. What’s worse, an investigation led by the Animal Welfare Institute and the Environmental Investigation Agency revealed a shocking link between Norwegian whale meat and the country’s fur industry. As if murdering magnificent and intelligent creatures for their meat wasn’t bad enough, it turns out Norway is feeding its unwanted whale meat to other animals, also killed for profit.

The document exposed the fact that in 2014, over 113 metric tons of whale meat — the equivalent of 75 individual minke whales ­— were delivered to Rogaland Pelsdyrfôrlaget, the country’s largest manufacturer of animal feed for the fur industry. While in the past, whale meat was so undesirable it was funneled into the pet food industry, or even dumped overboard and burned, it is now being used for the fur industry too.

Susan Millward, the executive director of AWI, rightly stated, “Killing these sentient and magnificent animals to feed suffering animals on fur farms underscores why the world opposes whaling, and clearly demonstrates that Norwegians have no legitimate need for whale meat.”

What You Can Do
This year, Norway is expected to kill over 880 minke whales, according to its own self-chosen quota. Last year, the country murdered 1,286 individual whales. This is despite an international moratorium on the trade of whale products and its citizen’s own opposition to whale meat.

Aside from never consuming whale meat and being sure to check all cosmetics and dietary supplements for whale parts, there are a number of petitions you can sign to demand an end to whaling in Norway: by PETA, SumofUs, and ForceChange, for instance.

You can also contact the IWC, urging it to take immediate action to ensure Norway respects the international ban on whaling. Finally, you can contact the Norwegian embassy in your country to voice your opposition to whaling and write to the Norwegian Prime Minister to let her know you will not be visiting the country — and encouraging others in this boycott — until Norway stops its barbaric whaling practice once and for all. If enough people express their opposition to this trade, public pressure may force the government to stop supporting this barbaric industry and spare thousands of whales the intense suffering and distress or being harpooned, captured and killed.

Instead, whalers could make a living with their boats by converting their cruel trade into a whale-watching business, a $1.5 billion-a-year industry worldwide. As Brian Palmer, from OnEarth, dryly notes, “no government subsidies or blubber storage required.” Lead image: Ray Alley / Daily Telegraph
A Ray of Hope for Beleaguered Russian BelugasWild belugas are one step closer to protection from exploitation by U.S. aquariums. Last fall, we told you about a court case in which the U.S. took a strong stand against exploiting wild-caught beluga whales by upholding the National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) decision to deny the Georgia Aquarium a permit to import 18 wild-caught belugas from a population in trouble. It was an important verdict because it sent a message that the U.S. can and will put limits on the legal trade of animals if it appears the wild population is in danger.
NMFS recently took another step forward for the same population of beluga whales at issue in that case. The agency proposed a rule to designate these belugas as “depleted,” a simple word that can make a big difference. If the proposal is finalized, this rule would grant the belugas an additional layer of protection, making it illegal to import any of them for display in marine parks or aquariums.

The Tale of the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur Belugas
Belugas live in close-knit pods, ranging from a few individuals to up to several thousand whales. These groups spend the winter offshore, but congregate in shallow water in the summer, often in bays or the mouths of streams and estuaries. These summer sites are important, especially to female whales, who return to the same site year after year—usually the same summer site visited by their mother. Because of this, belugas that share summering sites can be genetically distinct from whales at other summering sites. This genetic distinction is important – NMFS uses it to designate different groups of belugas, called “stocks.” Each stock may have different needs, or face different threats, so acknowledging the differences can help officials better confront those problems for each group.

There are several stocks of belugas that summer in the Sea of Okhotsk in western Russia. The proposed NMFS rule would protect the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur stock, which gets its name from the three places in which it lives: Sakhalin Bay, Nikolaya Bay, and Amur River estuary.

Calculations from historic hunting data have led researchers to believe that there were once at least 13,000-15,100 Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas. Decades of whaling caused a serious decline, but these beleaguered belugas still face many ongoing threats, including boat strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, pollution, and climate change. Rapid increase in gas and oil development in the Sea of Okhotsk will only exacerbate many of these hazards. And on top of all of this, these belugas are captured to be bought, sold, or traded into aquariums around the world.

Today, there are fewer than 4,000 whales left in this group. Even using the most optimistic numbers, the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas are at just 30.5% of what they used to be. “Depletion” is an understatement.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and the International Whaling Commission calculate that the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas cannot afford to lose more than 29 or 30 whales to human activities. Anything more is simply unsustainable.

Demand for Public Display Drives Captures Up
Beluga whales are one of the few species of whale displayed in aquariums and marine parks. Aquariums have had little success breeding belugas in captivity, so when they need more, they turn to those still in the wild. Historically, belugas were captured for display in Canada, but when that practice was outlawed in the early 1990s, aquariums and marine parks turned to a less regulated source: Russia.

Live-capture removals have been ongoing in the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur region for some time, but there is little hard data available. Researchers were able to observe some of the 2013 live-capture operations in the Sakhalin Bay, and the numbers were grim. More than 120 belugas were captured and removed, of which 81 were transported to temporary holding facilities, 7 are known to have died in holding, and at least 34 more died during capture operations. To make matters worse, these live-capture deaths are probably an underestimate; researchers also found evidence of attempts to conceal slain belugas. Nine beluga whale carcasses washed to shore, including one where a sand bag had been tied to the tail in a failed attempt to sink the dead whale.

The Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas need any protection they can get. Interest in wild-caught belugas is on the rise, mostly fueled by growing demand in China. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of applications to export belugas caught in Sakhalin Bay more than doubled. The Ministry of Agriculture of the Russian Federation has not put any meaningful limits on exports of these belugas. In 2014, the Ministry set the total allowable captures for scientific research and cultural display for Sakhalin Bay at 150 belugas—five times what the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas can support.

Not Our Belugas – But Still Our Concern
Since these belugas don’t live in the U.S., we can’t put strict regulations in place to protect them like we can with our own native species, such as the endangered Cook Inlet beluga. But we can take steps to decrease the demand for these animals here. That’s what this proposed rule could achieve. When a stock is designated as “depleted” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, no animal from that stock can be imported into the U.S. for public display.

Since the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas live entirely outside of U.S. waters, this would be a first. NMFS has never designated an entirely foreign stock of marine mammals as depleted. However, since U.S. demand for these animals helps fund their capture, it’s an important step to take and a good precedent to set. Defenders, along with the Humane Society of the United States, commented in support of this proposed rule, highlighting additional science and findings to support a depleted finding.

On June 22nd—perhaps reading the writing on the wall—Georgia Aquarium announced that it would no longer take any whales or dolphins from the wild. NMFS is expected to announce its final decision in October, and we hope that it will make the “depleted” designation for the Sakhalin-Nikolaya-Amur belugas official. Even though these belugas are far from U.S. shores, we still have a responsibility to make sure that we don’t play a part in their continued decline. The post A Ray of Hope for Beleaguered Russian Belugas appeared first on Defenders of Wildlife Blog.

A wild baby orca found alone in New Zealand needs your help. Your support has been tremendous and we now have over 130,000 signatures, I wanted to thank you and ask you again to lend your voice, this time to a wild baby orca who needs our help.

Today I learned of a lone baby orca found alone in New Zealand is in need of assistance and the Government refuses to let a rescue team intervene on its behalf. Please consider signing this petition asking the New Zealand Government to allow Dr Visser and her team assist the calf.

New Zealand Government: Allow Dr Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust to assist lone baby orca in New Zealand
A lone baby orca has been found off the coast of New Zealand. It is severely dehydrated and requires assistance. Read more here:...

The List is Out! Here are the Top 10 Worst Tanks for Whales and Dolphins in North America. Despite the fact that various studies have shown that the best place for a wildlife animal is in their natural habitat, time and time again we we’ve witnessed just the opposite: majestic creatures being captured and kept in enclosures. Take whales and dolphins, for instance. Normally, in the wild, these animals would travel hundreds of miles per day, have the thrill of hunting for their own food, and most importantly, experience all of the different dynamics that come with being in a pod and interacting with other marine animals.

Whales and dolphins who are captured, however, are confined to tanks that are a mere fraction of the space they have in the wild – tanks that are downright criminal in comparison. While, personally, we feel that ALL tanks are equally terrible, there are some characteristics that make certain tanks worse than others. And the animal rights organization, In Defense of Animals, in a similar vein as their famous Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List, has taken it upon themselves to also investigate and identify the Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins and Whales, here are three from the top five on the list.

SeaWorld, San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida 
Unsurprisingly, all three of SeaWorld’s locations nabbed the top spot. From stealing cetaceans out of the ocean to ignoring obvious signs of distress and depression, all while claiming that this behavior is “normal,” SeaWorld is hardly the conservation-based organization they lead the public to believe they are.

After a year of terrible press (much of which was spurned by the release of Blackfish), it finally seemed like SeaWorld had begun to understand how horrible their facilities were, and decided to end their orca breeding program. Unfortunately, it seems that the announcement was yet another PR spin by the park – they had not made the choice to end it, they were forced to, and more importantly, they can break the agreement at any time. Worst of all, SeaWorld doesn’t seem to have any intention of slowing down the exploitation of their marine animals. At the very same time that they decided to “eliminate” the orca performances, they opened up interactive “swim-with-the-dolphins” exhibits. Yeah … it really seems like they have these marine animals’ best interest in mind…

Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
Heartbreaking Photo of Isolated Baby Beluga Illustrates Precisely Why Captivity Needs to End
Imagine being put in solitary confinement for years, essentially left for dead with no one to interact with but a metal gate. For many of the animals at Marineland, this scenario is one they must deal with every day. Marineland not only has Kiska, Canada’s last captive orca, in their possession, but under their watch, all five of this sweet orca’s children have died. Kiska has also outlived all seventeen of the other orcas Marineland used to have and now must pay the price for being the sole survivor. Her physiological and psychological state has suffered tremendously over the years. She has severely worn teeth from compulsive gnawing, dorsal fin deterioration, and has shown signs of being underweight.

In addition to the heartbreaking story of Kiska, Marineland has also amassed approximately 46 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, 28 black bears and approximately 500 fallow deer. The beluga population, in particular, have been kept in terrible conditions of isolation.

Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Georgia
There are several acts Georgia Aquarium has to be ashamed of. Most notably, attempting to import wild-caught beluga whales from Russia, hosting swim-with-dolphin programs, holding belugas inside an enclosed building, and shipping belugas across the country with no apparent regard for their social, psychological, and physical well-being.

In Defense of Animals even refers to the Georgia Aquarium as the “dying pool,” since three beluga whales died under their “care” between 2012 and 2015. Considering their blatant disregard for these animals’ well-being, it sadly seems that the strings of death will only continue at this marine park.

The full list and descriptions of each offense can be found on IDA’s website, but for a quick overview, here are the zoos that have made it into the IDA’s top 10:

1. SeaWorld, San Antonio, Texas; San Diego, California; Orlando, Florida

2. Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

3. Puerto Aventuras Dolphin Discovery, Mayan Rivera, Quintana Roo, Mexico

4. Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta Georgia

5. Miami Seaquarium, Miami, Florida

6. Six Flags Mexico Dolphin Discovery, Mexico City, Mexico

7. Institute for Marine Mammal Studies, Gulfport, Mississippi

8. Mirage Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

9. Vancouver Aquarium, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

10. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago, Illinois

As heartbreaking as it is to see that these parks are still in existence and still causing an incredible amount of pain to marine animals around the world, it is important that we highlight them. We hope that this list will inspire these parks to finally display a bit of compassion and #EmptyTheTanks! 

If the reality of marine animal captivity upsets you, the best thing you can do is raise awareness for the issue (sharing this article is a good start) as well as boycotting all facilities that keep animals captive for profit. While it can feel like the blame for these animals’ suffering is mostly out of our hands, as long as we keep giving these cruel institutions monetary support, we are partly to blame. We can all help put an end to this vicious and abusive cycle. Image source: Tinseltown/Shutterstock

Atlantic Seismic Testing Could Threaten Endangered Wildlife. The Obama Administration has ruled that there will be no drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic, at least for the next five years. So why would they allow seismic testing to look for deposits of fossil fuels, knowing it could have grave consequences for whales, sea turtles and more? Learn about how seismic testing could impact marine life, and see what you can do to help >
Sad, Lonely Orca in Tank

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