n Russia, a battle to free nearly 100 captured whales

I[AFP] Maria ANTONOVA ,AFP•February 22, 2019

Captured marine mammals seen from above in enclosures at a holding facility in Srednyaya Bay in the Far Eastern town of Nakhodka (AFP Photo/Sergei PETROV)
Nearly 100 killer and beluga whales were captured last summer for sale to oceanariums, especially the Chinese market (AFP Photo/Sergei PETROV)
Greenpeace activists and supporters rally in Moscow, demanding the release of the orcas and beluga whales back into the wild (AFP Photo/Alexander NEMENOV)

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Captured marine mammals seen from above in enclosures at a holding facility in Srednyaya Bay in the Far Eastern town of Nakhodka Captured marine mammals seen from above in enclosures at a holding facility in Srednyaya Bay in the Far Eastern town of Nakhodka (AFP Photo/Sergei PETROV)

Dozens of orcas and beluga whales captured for sale to oceanariums have brought Russia’s murky trade into the spotlight, but efforts to free them have been blocked by government infighting.

Russia is the only country where orcas, or killer whales, and belugas can be caught in the ocean for the purpose of “education”. The legal loophole has been used to export them to satisfy demand in China’s growing network of ocean theme parks.

Photos of a total of 11 orcas and 87 belugas crammed into small enclosures at a secure facility in the Far Eastern town of Nakhodka sparked a global outcry, and the Kremlin on Friday stepped in, saying the fate of “suffering” animals must be resolved.

“There have never been that many animals caught in one season and kept in one facility before anywhere in the world,” said Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of the Sakhalin Environmental Watch group, who has emerged as a point person in the campaign to release the whales captured last summer back into the wild.

Russian investigators launched two probes into poaching and animal cruelty, while Russia’s environmental watchdog said it has refused to issue permits to export the whales.

But the investigations and any potential court case could drag on for months.

The Russian government is split between the environment ministry that says the animals must be released, and the fisheries agency that defends their capture as part of a legitimate industry.

President Vladimir Putin has ordered his ministers to “decide on the fate of the whales” by March 1, a decree said Friday.

“The animals are suffering” and may die, said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, adding that they “are being kept in conditions that are inadequate for such young animals of these species.”

– 200 orcas left –

The captured killer whales belong to the rarer seal-eating population of the species, which does not interbreed or interact with fish-eating orcas.

The environment ministry has tried to list the seal-eating type as endangered, ministry representative Olga Krever said.

“This population has only 200 adult animals” in Russian waters, she said.

But the agriculture ministry, which controls the fisheries agency and oversees non-protected sea species, views orcas as competitors for Russia’s fish stocks and doesn’t believe they are under threat, Krever said, calling the dispute a “big problem.”

Marine mammal researchers say there are good chances of a successful release, but the fisheries agency told AFP that it “carries high risks of their mass death”.

“Neither orcas nor belugas are endangered,” and are simply a resource that can be used according to existing legislation, agency representative Sergei Golovinov said.

– ‘Stars of the shows’ –

Both the United States and Canada stopped catching wild orcas in the 1970s due to negative publicity, so China relies on Russian exports.

There are 74 operational ocean theme parks in mainland China featuring whales and dolphins, according to the China Cetacean Alliance, which monitors the industry. More are under construction.

“Orcas are like the cherry on the cake” for new Chinese venues, said Greenpeace Russia campaigner Oganes Targulyan at a recent protest against whale capture.

“They are the stars of the shows.”

All 17 killer whales that Russia has exported since 2013 — which officials value at up to $6 million each — have gone to China, according to CITES wildlife trade figures.

Though the animals in Nakhodka are unlikely to get green-lighted for export, their fate is unclear.

The urgency of the situation is clear however: one killer whale went missing from the Nakhodka facility this week, Sakhalin Watch said Thursday, suspecting it may be dead.

In the West, there is widespread opposition to keeping the highly intelligent marine mammals in parks like the US chain Sea World, but in Russia public opinion is not so certain.

Companies that caught the animals are not giving up. At the weekend, they launched a new Instagram account, praising the Nakhodka facility and defending the oceanarium industry.

– ‘Lobbyist muscle’ –

On Saturday, dozens of pro-industry supporters disrupted a rally to free the whales. They showed up with signs reading “Each orca is 10 jobs” for the crews hired to catch them, and only left when police arrived on the scene.

“We see that the capturing companies are putting up a fight,” Lisitsyn said. “They are using their lobbyist muscle.”

Researchers meanwhile are already starting to organise to prepare for a potential release of the animals.

“There has never been so many animals released in the past,” said Dmitry Glazov, a beluga whale researcher at the Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution in Moscow.

He said a project of that scale would certainly require international expertise and funding. The whales, which have been fed dead fish, would need to go through an adaptation period to make sure they can rely on their natural food sources.

“For science, releasing this many animals would be invaluable,” he said.
“But there needs to be a decision first.”

https://www.yahoo.com/news/russia-battle-free-nearly-100-captured-whales-033412177.html

Another dolphin dies at Dolphinaris Arizona, 4th death in less than 2 years

https://www.azfamily.com/news/another-dolphin-dies-at-dolphinaris-arizona-th-death-in-less/article_ecf52006-25c8-11e9-8944-c3aa975c2e04.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_campaign=user-share&fbclid=IwAR2YIDU385DwvYFJdDiWsJevy4Mq2hsXbOJ-igSKYJxevEjAKoEW7Hj8CU4

NEAR SCOTTSDALE (3TV/CBS 5) – Dolphinaris Arizona announced Thursday evening that another of one its dolphins has died.

Kai, a 22-year-old male, is the fourth dolphin to die at the facility since it opened amid controversy on reservation land adjacent to Scottsdale.

[SLIDESHOW: The dolphins]

[READ MORE: Third Dolphinaris Arizona dolphin dies (Dec. 31, 2018)]

“Immediately after Kai started showing signs of health decline two weeks ago our team made every effort to save his life, including bloodwork testing, ultrasounds, x-rays, and engaging external specialists and submitting diagnostic samples to outside university veterinary laboratories,” Christian Schaeffer, the general manager at Dolphinaris Arizona, said in a statement sent to media outlets. “Kai initially seemed to be responding, but his health suddenly declined last night around 11:30 p.m. After the veterinary team administrated hours of critical care, including providing him oxygen, medicine and x-ray testing, Kai’s condition continued to decline. We made the extremely difficult decision to humanely euthanize Kai ensuring he would pass peacefully.”

[READ MORE: Discrepancy in reported cause of death at Dolphinaris raises new concerns (Nov. 17, 2017)]

Kai’s death comes a month after Khloe, an 11-year-old female Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, died after battling what Dolphinaris Arizona officials described as a chronic illness.

In May 2018, Dolphinaris Arizona lost another female dolphin named Alia. She was 10 years old.

In September 2017, a dolphin named Bodie died of “a rare muscle disease.”

Bodie died just shy of Dolphinaris Arizona’s first anniversary.

[AND THIS: Activists rally outside Scottsdale aquarium after federal report on dolphin death (Nov. 18, 2017)]

Schaeffer said the facility has launched an investigation to review the dolphins’ death.

“We recognize losing four dolphins over the last year and a half is abnormal,” said Schaeffer. “Over the last several years we have worked with a team of external experts in the fields of animal behavior, water quality and veterinary care to ensure our dolphin family remains healthy. We will be taking proactive measures to increase our collaborative efforts to further ensure our dolphins’ wellbeing (sic) and high quality of life.”

[RELATED: General manager of Dolphinaris responds to opposition (May 4, 2016)]

Dolphinaris said it has already contacted a third-party pathologist to conduct a necropsy, which is an animal autopsy, to help determine the source of Kai’s health problems.

Dolphin Free AZ, with support from Dolphin Project, is planning to hold a protest in front of Dolphinaris on Saturday at 11 a.m.

“With four out of eight dolphins dying inside of 16 months, the situation has reached critical mass. For the safety of the public and the remaining dolphins, all activities should cease at Dolphinaris Arizona until an independent investigation takes place,” said Lincoln O’Barry with the Dolphin Project.

Dolphinaris, which is part of the OdySea In The Desert complex on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community near Scottsdale, opened in October 2016.

[RELATED: Trainers keep dolphins safe in 119 degree heat (June 20, 2017)]

On Friday, PETA released the following statement about the latest dolphin death:

“As the National Aquarium in Baltimore prepares to move dolphins to seaside sanctuaries, the Parliament of Canada considers a bill that would ban dolphin captivity, and two belugas will soon move to the first beluga sanctuary, Dolphinaris Arizona’s deadly dolphin prison is out of touch with public sentiment—and there’s no excuse for keeping it open. PETA urges Dolphinaris to send surviving dolphins to seaside sanctuaries, where they would never again be forced to haul tourists on their backs in the sweltering Arizona desert.”

PETA supporters will join Dolphin Free AZ in partnership with Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project in calling on Dolphinaris to send the dolphins to seaside sanctuaries at a memorial protest on Saturday, February 2, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the west corners of E. Via de Ventura and N. Pima Road in Scottsdale.

Marineland Doesn’t Seem to Want to See Us; Here’s How They Can Keep Us Away

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=6403&more=1

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=6403&more=1

Published 08/17/18

Top: Small bucket is the only water source for numerous large animals in enclosure at Marineland.
Bottom: Animals at Marineland struggle to find shade from the blazing hot sun during heatwave.

My last two blogs were accompanied by photographs of animals I saw imprisoned at Marineland, Niagara Falls, Ontario, when I went there with Zoocheck’s Rob Laidlaw last July 5th, during a blistering heat wave. The harbor seals were not affected by record temperatures, being in a small pool in a cool interior, but at no time when we observed them did they open their eyes, an unnatural condition as verified by an expert on seal eyes, not to mention all memories I have of wild harbor seals with their soulfully bulbous eyes wide open. There have been concerns raised about the effects of chlorine on eyes and I thought I could smell chlorine, but whatever the reason, seeing the animals so confined, eyes tightly shut, certainly depressed me.

But, no more so than conditions out in open paddocks where there waslittle or no shade for numbers of large, hoofed herbivores, and water only appearing to be available in containers about the size of a bucket or pail.

On August 8, I received an email from Stephanie Littlejohn, Law Clerk, Hunt Partners LLP, a Toronto-based law firm calling itself “a unique blend of corporate and civil advocacy” consisting of “recognized litigation leaders and trusted advisors.” Ms. Littlejohn wrote: “Please find attached a Notice of Trespass for Marineland of Canada (Inc.), which is being served upon you.”

The notice prohibited me from entering Marineland’s property “At any time for any reason whatsoever” under the Trespass to Property Act. “I got one too,” laughed Rob, when I called to tell him.

Doubtless, Ms. Littlejohn and her colleagues are very professional corporate and civil advocates. Their opinions on animal welfare may differ from their client’s. Ms. Littlejohn might never even have been to Marineland or know much about animal husbandry. But, Rob’s and my expertise includes animal welfare and we both passionately care about animals. Whether any others care about animals with only pots of water and little or no shade in searing heat, or seals with eyes tightly shut, Rob and I do care how animals are treated.

Ironically, I actually don’t want to ever visit Marineland. I was so depressed by my first time there that I avoided the place for 37 years, only returning to see an exhibit that had been falsely advertised; it wasn’t there. Having paid admission, Rob and I looked at the other animals. I’m happy to wait another 37 years, by which time Ms. Littlejohn will probably be a retired lawyer and I’ll be long gone.

For now, I would gladly pay the maximum trespass fine of two thousand bucks if I thought it would eliminate my concerns, or better yet, that Marineland simply had no animals for me to worry about. If Ms. Littlejohn, Hunt Partners LLP, and Marineland want to keep me out, just eliminate the concerns I addressed &ndahs; or better yet, stop imprisoning animals – and I promise to never again cross Marineland’s doorstep. Honest.

Court grants ban of fish imports from Mexico caught with nets that hurt endangered porpoise

http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/398995-court-grants-ban-of-fish
-imports-from-mexico-caught-with-nets-that

A trade court Thursday ordered the Trump administration to implement a ban
on seafood imports from Mexico caught with a method tied to harming an
endangered porpoise species.

The United States Court of International Trade ruled that the government
must ban Mexican imports of seafood caught using gillnets, a fishing
technique that has been found to injure and kill the critically endangered
vaquita porpoise.

Scientists believe there are only 15 vaquitas left in the wild, which could
leave the species extinct by 2021.

The court denied the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the case
writing, “Evidence shows that vaquita are killed by gillnet fishing and are
on the verge of extinction: because the statutory duty to ban fish imports
resulting in such excessive marine mammal bycatch is mandatory, the
Government must comply with it.”

Gillnets are a type of fishing net that is hung in the water to catch
passing-by seafood.

The case brought by three conservation groups, the Natural Resources Defense
Council, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare
Institute against the Department of Commerce argues that it is the U.S.
government’s duty to enact a ban on Mexico under the Marine Mammal
Protection Act for the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise.

The court agreed, determining that the “law commands” that “the Secretary of
the Treasury shall ban imports of fish and fish products from northern Gulf
fisheries that utilize gillnets and incidentally kill vaquita in excess of
United States standards.”

The vaquita is most often found in the upper Gulf of California. Seafood
products typically caught with gillnets include shrimp, corvina, Spanish
mackerel and bigeye croaker.

According to data compiled by the National Marine Fisheries Service under
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. imported more than
$55 million worth of seafood from Mexico in 2017.

More than 90 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported.

Dolphin liberation in Korea

Science News
from research organizations

Date:
May 27, 2018
Source:
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology(UNIST)
Summary:
Biologists have carried out a scientific investigation on dolphin liberation in South Korea.

“Dolphin liberation in South Korea has raised awareness towards the welfare of marine animals and has resulted in the strengthening of animal protection policies and the level of welfare.”

An engineering student, affiliated with UNIST has recently carried out a scientific investigation on dolphin liberation in South Korea. The paper presents the overall analysis of the social impact of the first case of dolphin rehabilitation in Asia, which occurred in 2013.

This study has been carried out by Sejoon Kim in the School of Energy and Chemical Engineering in collaboration wit Professor Bradley Tatar in the Division of General Studies at UNIST. Their findings have been published in the April issue of the journal, Coastal Management and will be published online, this month.

“After the release of captive dolphins from South Korean marine parks, there has been a growing environmental movement towards the conservation and management of marine and coastal ecosystems,” says Sejoon. “Although such movement relies on a single-species conservation focus and does not encompass an entire ecosystem, it has enormous symbolic significance for the welfare of marine animals.”

The research team hopes to expand their research to areas beyond the study of dolphin liberation and carry out in-depth case studies on various topics, including the whale-eating culture in Ulsan, the public perspective of dolphin shows, as well as the establishment of new types of dolphin life experience facilities.

Act would dismantle marine mammal protection

There is distressing news on the front page of the Monday, April 2, Los Angeles Times, which is relevant to animals off coasts all over the US. The headline and subheading read: “Sea life at risk as U.S. seeks to ease oil rules; Bills would speed up permits for seismic blasts and dismantle safeguards for whales.”

Environmental reporter Rosanna Xia opens with:

“The search for offshore oil begins with a boom.

“Before the oil rigs arrive and the boring begins, operators need to fire intense seismic blasts repeatedly into the ocean to find oil deposits.

“For decades, environmental rules that protected whales and other marine life from this cacophony have limited the location and frequency of these blasts — preventing oil companies from exploring, and therefore operating, off much of the nation’s coasts.

“Now these safeguards are quietly being dismantled.

“The push to overhaul seismic survey rules has not attracted the same public attention as the Trump administration’s interest in opening coastal waters to dozens of new drilling leases or downsizing protected marine areas. But it too could have wide implications beyond enabling new oil operations.

“Winding their way through Congress are two bills that supporters say would create jobs, reduce permitting delays and clear the way for naval activities and coastal restoration.

“But environmentalists call them a thinly veiled oil industry wish list that would upend established protections and fast-track the permitting process for oil exploration off the Atlantic, much of Alaska and even California.”

We are told of the bills, which are called the Streamlining Environmental Approvals Act:

“They target core provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which regulates seismic blasts used to locate oil and gas. The noise, scientists say, can disorient and damage the hearing of whales and dolphins so badly that they lose their ability to navigate and reproduce.”

The lengthy article also lets us know:

“There has been little movement on the bills since the SEA Act passed committee in January. But opponents are concerned it could be folded last-minute into this year’s military reauthorization or another must-pass bill.”

Front page coverage helps make that at least a little bit less likely. You can comment right below the article, which you will find on line at http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-marine-mammal-oil-drilling-20180402-story.html OR https://tinyurl.com/ydcal3v9 . And you can send appreciative letters to the editor that speak up for animals to letters@latimes.com
The article opens the door for them. Always include your full name, address and phone number when sending a letter to the editor.

 

Seismic Testing to Begin in Atlantic Ocean in Push for Offshore Drilling

Seismic Testing to Begin in Atlantic Ocean in Push for Offshore Drilling

The Interior Department announced it is moving forward with seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean following President Donald Trump‘s executive order last month to aggressively expand offshore drilling in protected areas off the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Six permit applications by energy companies—ones that were rejected by the Obama administration—are being reviewed by the department.

The oil and gas industry has long pushed for seismic surveys used to search for oil and gas deposits deep below the ocean’s surface.

However, environmental groups warn that the surveys are an extremely loud and dangerous process.

“Seismic airguns create one of the loudest manmade sounds in the ocean, firing intense blasts of compressed air every 10 seconds, 24 hours a day, for weeks to months on end,” Dustin Cranor, Oceana‘s senior director of U.S. communications, told EcoWatch. “The noise from these blasts is so loud that it can be heard up to 2,500 miles from the source, which is approximately the distance from Washington, DC to Las Vegas.”

“These blasts are of special concern to marine life, including fish, turtles and whales, which depend on sound for communication and survival,” Cranor said. He noted that the government’s own estimates show that seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic could injure as many as 138,000 marine mammals like dolphins and whales, while disturbing the vital activities of millions more.

Furthermore, Greenpeace said “pursuing this development stands at cross-purposes with the nation’s necessary and rapidly accelerating move away from fossil fuels, and with previous commitments to address global climate change.”

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s Capt. Paul Watson explained, “One of the major threats to the survival of cetaceans, is noise pollution. More seismic testing and military LFS testing will result in more strandings. This decision equates to a death sentence for thousands of whales and dolphins.”

Seismic data has not been gathered in the mid- and south-Atlantic regions, from northern Florida to Delaware, for at least 30 years.

The Interior Department said that the surveys are needed to update information about the Outer Continental Shelf that was gathered more than three decades ago, “when technology was not as advanced as today.”

The Associated Press reported that any new drilling activity is expected to be limited to the coasts of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia.

Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke said that the surveys will help “a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation’s offshore areas … and evaluate resources that belong to the American people.”

Industry groups applauded the department’s decision to review the permit applications. “There has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from these surveys adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities,” Randall Luthi, president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said.

Trump’s executive order was aimed at rolling back President Obama’s permanent ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

“Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent,” Trump said before signing the document last month.

But Greenpeace said that Atlantic drilling would threaten the region’s vibrant fishing and tourism industry, warning that “a spill equivalent to the BP Gulf oil disaster could coat beaches stretching from Savannah to Boston.”

Additionally, Cranor pointed out that more than 120 East Coast municipalities, 1,200 elected officials, and an alliance representing 35,000 businesses and 500,000 fishing families have publicly opposed offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun blasting.

“These individuals and groups understand that nearly 1.4 million jobs and more than $95 billion in gross domestic product are at risk if dangerous offshore drilling activities occur in the Atlantic Ocean,” Cranor explained.

Conservation groups have filed a lawsuit against President Trump, challenging his decision to reverse President Obama’s ban.

Today’s Animal Rights Headlines

‘Horrific’: Animal rights groups slam Norway for killing pregnant whales
https://www.rt.com/news/380105-norway-kills-pregnant-whales/
“Animal rights groups have slammed Norway for slaughtering pregnant
whales, calling it “even more unacceptable” as they carry the next
generation of the mammals. The criticism follows a new documentary
featuring the murder of female whales carrying a fetus.
“The documentary film dubbed ‘The Battle of Agony’, about the killing
of pregnant whales, was released on NRK, a public television network,
earlier in March.
““The majority of common minke whales caught in Norway have a fetus in
their bellies,” the film said.”

Seafood company convicted of animal cruelty for improperly killing lobster
http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2017/03/10/seafood-company-convicted-animal-cruelty-for-improperly-killing-lobster.html
“The Nicholas Seafoods company of Sydney, Australia, is in hot water
with an animal rights group for causing “immense pain” to one of its
catches.
“Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
(RSPCA) reportedly observed workers from Nicholas butchering lobsters
with a band saw, before properly stunning or killing the crustaceans,
reports The Guardian.”

Animal rights protest shuts down major CBD intersection
http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/animal-rights-protest-shuts-down-major-cbd-intersection-20170311-guw0bs.html
“About 600 protesters demanding the closure of Australian
slaughterhouses have shut down a major intersection in the CBD.
“The rally, organised by Animal Liberation Victoria, began on the
steps of Parliament House about midday on Saturday, before hundreds
marched down Bourke Street to occupy the intersection at Swanston
Street.”

Berkeley animal rights activist faces federal charges
http://www.dailycal.org/2017/03/09/berkeley-animal-rights-activist-races-federal-charges/
“A Berkeley resident and animal rights activist is facing federal
charges for allegedly entering a restricted area at a Bernie Sanders
rally in Modesto on June 2.
“The federal government alleged in a criminal complaint last month
that Paul Picklesimer, a member of the animal rights group Direct
Action Everywhere, boosted another activist into a sanctioned-off area
in front of the stage at the Sanders’ rally and then entered the area
himself. He is facing up to a year in jail or a fine of $100,000.”

Japan: Queen guitarist condemns dolphin hunting

http://www.thenational.scot/world/japan-queen-guitarist-condemns-dolphin-hunting.22762

BRIAN May has condemned Japan’s dolphin hunting, saying the slaughter of animals should end in the same way society has turned against slavery or witch-burning.

The Queen guitarist and animal rights campaigner said: “Every species, and every individual of every species, is worthy of respect.”

May, in Tokyo for Queen’s sell-out concerts at Budokan arena, added: “This is not about countries. It’s about a section of humanity that doesn’t yet understand that animals have feelings too.”

Protesting against the dolphin hunt in the small Japanese town of Taiji, documented in Oscar-winning film The Cove, has become a cause for celebrities including Sting and Daryl Hannah.

Taylor McKeown, a silver medalist swimmer in the Rio Olympics, who has long been fascinated with dolphins, is now in Taiji to monitor the hunts.

Ric O’Barry, the dolphin trainer for the Flipper TV series and who stars in The Cove, started the protests against the Taiji dolphin kill, which depicts a pod of dolphins being herded into an inlet and getting bludgeoned to death, turning the water red with blood.

The hunters in Taiji and their supporters defend the custom as tradition, although eating dolphin is extremely rare in Japan. The Tokyo government also defends whaling as research.

May, who founded the Save Me Trust in 2009 to lobby governments on wildlife policy, said he opposes cruelty against all animals, including foxhunting and bullfighting. Both are also defended as tradition, but that is just an excuse, he said.

“I know Japanese people, so many. They’re decent, they’re kind, they’re compassionate, but they don’t know this is going on,” he said of the dolphin killing. “These are mammals, highly intelligent, sensitive creatures, bringing up their children like we do, and they are being slaughtered and tortured.”

Excerpts from the books “The Sixth Extinction”(s)

As longtime readers of this blog may remember, I’ve quoted from Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin’s 1996 book, The Sixth Extinction; Patterns of Life and the Future of Mankind. Now there’s another book titled The Sixth Extinction (subtitled An Unnatural Order) by Elizabeth Kolbert (sorry, no relation to Steven Colbert…).

Are humans the reason that this wonderful Earth and her inhabitants are all here? Are Homo sapiens the pinnacle of evolution? That and other questions of our evolution are discussed in the chapter “Human Impacts of the Past” in Leakey’s book. Here is a series of excerpts from that original book:

…“For instance, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-inventor of the theory of natural selection, believed that evolution had been working ‘for untold millions of years…slowly developing forms of life and beauty to culminate in man.’

“Until about a decade ago, most biologists did not feel uncomfortable with speaking of an increase in complexity as an outcome of evolution and using the term progress interchangeably with complexity. Recently, however, a certain nervousness has crept in, so it is now acceptable to talk about complexity, but not about progress. Progress, is it’s argued, implies some kind of mysterious innate tendency for improvement, and that is considered too mystical. …

“Gould was one of the most outspoken in denying progress, asserting that it is ‘a noxious, culturally imbedded, untestable, nonoperational idea that must be replaced if we wish to understand the patterns of history.’

“The ability of the human species to inflict devastation on the natural world at the level of significant extinctions was for a long time thought to be a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. In Wallace’s time, biologists recognized that the swaths of European colonizations of the globe from the seventeenth century onward had left a trail of havoc in nature’s perceived harmony. Many held earlier colonizers, such as the Polynesians throughout the Pacific, to be blameless in this respect, and to have been part of that harmony. (Western sentiments toward technologically primitive societies had in fact swung dramatically, from their being crude and barbaric beasts to being Rousseauean noble savages.) But as Jared Diamond, a biologist at the University of California at Los Angeles, had pointed out, many pre-European societies felt the same about their own forbearers.

Homo sapiens has become the most dominant species on Earth. Unfortunately, our impact is devastating, and if we continue to destroy the environment as we do today, half the world’s species will become extinct early in the next century.

[Again, this was written at the end of the twentieth century.]

“Even though Homo sapiens is destined for extinction, just like other species in history, we have an ethical imperative to protect nature’s diversity, not destroy it.

“Many people find it impossible to contemplate a time when Home sapiens would no longer exist, so they like to assume that we will break the biological rule and continue forever, or at least until our planet ceases to exist, billions of years from now, when its atmosphere is burned off by an expanding sun.

“The sixth extinction is similar to previous biological catastrophes in many ways. For instance, the most vulnerable species are those whose geographical distribution is limited, those in and near the tropics, and those with large body size. It is unusual in several ways, too, most particularly in that large numbers of plant species are being wiped out, which is unprecedented compared with past crises. But in the end, with passage of five, ten, or twenty million years, despite this and other distortions of the biota that will remain, rebound will occur. ‘On geologic scales, our planet will take care of itself and let time clear the impact of any human malfeasance,’ as Gould has put it. Why, then, if it matters not at all in the long run what we do while we are here, should we concern ourselves with the survival of species that, like us, will eventually be no more?

“We should be concerned because, special though we are in many ways, we are merely an accident of history. We did not arrive on Earth as if from outer space, set down amid a wondrous diversity of life, blessed with a right to do with it what we please. We, like every species with which we share the world, are products of many chance events, leading back to that amazing explosion of life forms half a billion years ago, and beyond that to the origin of life itself. When we understand this intimate connection with the rest of nature in terms of our origins, an ethical imperative follows:  it is our duty to protect, not harm them. It is our duty, not because we are the one sentient creature on Earth, which bestows some kind of benevolent superiority on us, but because in a fundamental sense Homo sapiens is on an equal footing with each and every other species here on Earth. And when we understand the Earth’s biota in holistic terms—that is, operating in an interactive whole that produces a healthy and stable living world—we come to see ourselves as part of that whole, not as a privileged species that can exploit with impunity. The recognition that we are rooted in life itself and its well-being demands that we respect other species, not trample them in a blind pursuit of our own ends. And, by the same ethical principle, the fact that one day Homo sapiens will have disappeared from the face of the Earth does not give us license to do whatever we choose while we are here.”

And in Elizabeth Kolbert’s Sixth Extinction, from the prologue:

[Human expansion] “…continues, in fits and starts, for thousands of years, until the species, no longer new, has spread to practically every corner of the globe. At this point, several things happen more or less at once that allow Homo sapiens, as it has come to call itself, to reproduce at an unprecedented rate. In a single century the population doubles; then it doubles again, and then again. Vast forests are razed. Humans do this deliberately, in order to feed themselves. Less deliberately, they shift organisms from one continent to another, reassembling the biosphere.

“Meanwhile, an even stranger and more radical transformation is underway. Having discovered subterranean reserves of energy, humans begin to change the composition of the atmosphere. This in turn, alters the climate and chemistry of the oceans… Some plants and animals adjust by moving. They climb mountains and migrate toward the poles. But a great many—at first hundreds, then thousands, and finally perhaps millions—find themselves marooned. Extinction rates soar, and the texture of life changes.

“No creature has ever altered the life on the planet in this way before, and yet other, comparable events have occurred. Very, very occasionally in the distant past, the planet has undergone change so wrenching that the diversity of life has plummeted. Five of these ancient events were catastrophic enough that they’re put in their own category: the so-called Big Five. In what seems like a fantastic coincidence, but is probably no coincidence at all, the history of these events is recovered just as people come to realize that they are causing another one…”

And speaking of oceans, an article in today’s Washington Post, “What the ‘sixth extinction’ will look like in the oceans: The largest species die off first,” cites a new study of the current mass extinction event and how it is currently affecting marine life.

Atlantic bluefin tuna are corralled by fishing nets during the opening of the season in 2011 for tuna fishing off the coast of Barbate, Cadiz province, southern Spain. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)