Endangered whale, 1 of only 400 left in world, found dead off N.J. coast

https://www.nj.com/monmouth/2020/06/endangered-whale-1-of-only-400-left-in-world-found-dead-off-nj-coast.html

Updated Jun 25, 7:49 PM; Posted Jun 25, 7:49 PM

North Atlantic right whale
North Atlantic right whaleNOAA

4.5ksharesBy Chris Sheldon | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

An endangered species of whale, one of only 400 left in the world, was found dead Thursday morning off the coast of Long Branch, officials said.

The whale was spotted floating in the ocean in the Elberon section of the city and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was able to confirm that it was a North Atlantic Right Whale after photos were sent to the organization.https://b95b4947059efc0726d46ddbbfa2a995.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

New Jersey’s Marine Mammal Stranding Center was working Thursday with NOAA to find a spot where a necropsy can be performed to find out how the mammal died, authorities said.

The discovery was the first confirmed right whale death in U.S. waters this year, NOAA said.

Since 2017, 31 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead in U.S. and Canadian waters and of the 400 that are remaining, only 95 are breeding females, officials said.

Entanglement in fishing gear and vessel strikes are among the leading causes of North Atlantic right whale deaths, NOAA said.

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Whales are left to themselves as watchers stay at home

There are pros and cons to COVID-19’s impact on whales — less boat traffic, but also less research.

“The whale watching industry is pretty unique in this part of the world,” Mark Malleson of the Center for Whale Research says. “We cover so much area and … have so many eyes out there.”

This story was originally published by Hakai Magazine and is reproduced here with permission.

In late April, residents of Nanoose Bay on southeastern Vancouver Island, British Columbia, gathered on the shoreline of a local park to observe a juvenile gray whale. For several days, they watched and waited, and were occasionally rewarded for their patience when mist erupted from the ocean surface like compressed air exploding from a giant barrel. The whale would take a deep breath, arch its barnacled back, and dive out of sight.

The sightings were brief, but memorable — not just because they happened to them, but because they didn’t happen to anyone else. On a normal day, the gray whale would have been shadowed by commercial whale watching boats. COVID-19 has changed all that.

The pandemic has constrained vessel traffic around the world, probably to the benefit of whales. Ship strikes can kill or injure, while underwater engine noise and a vessel’s physical presence can disrupt whales’ ability to feed, rest, socialize, navigate, and communicate. “Generally, less noise resulting from a reduction in all manner of vessel traffic right now is probably not a bad thing for the whales,” says John Ford, a whale researcher emeritus with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).

“Generally, less noise resulting from a reduction in all manner of vessel traffic right now is probably not a bad thing for the whales.”

Commercial whale watching is not immune to COVID-19. The whale watching fleet from British Columbia and Washington state totaled about 138 vessels in 2019, according to Soundwatch, a program of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Washington, which monitors vessel compliance in the San Juan Islands. That represents more than 500,000 customers annually.

But the pandemic has left the fleet docked.

In April, the Canadian government announced that all passenger vessels with a capacity of more than 12 passengers are prohibited from engaging in nonessential activities, including whale watching, until at least June 30.

Since then, the industry has conducted talks with Transport Canada aimed at getting the fleet back on the water, with the potential for British Columbia, perhaps through the Ministry of Health, deciding when to green-light commercial whale watching. The industry is putting together a blueprint for how that might happen, including staff training, frequent sterilization of vessels, and the wearing of face masks.

Meanwhile, whales in the Salish Sea are enjoying a rare respite from tourists and repeated boat traffic. That includes endangered southern resident killer whales, whose numbers have dropped from 98 in 1995 to an estimated 72 individuals.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association, representing Canadian and American companies in the Salish Sea, says the downside to COVID-19 extends beyond their lost revenues.

Every day the fleet is idled due to the pandemic, scientists cannot benefit from a GPS-based app developed by the industry in 2019 that provides real-time information on when and where whales are sighted. “That cannot be replicated by science, even on a good day,” says association spokesman Kelley Balcomb-Bartok.

Brad Hanson, a researcher with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is among more than 20 scientists who have received permission to access the app’s data for specific study periods. “It is much more efficient,” he says. “I don’t like to go out and spend a lot of time searching for whales.” Such data can also help to track a sick whale or identify larger trends in whale numbers and species in the Salish Sea.

Mark Malleson has a foot in both camps: he is a veteran captain for Prince of Whales in Victoria, and does contract work for DFO and the Center for Whale Research in Washington State, mainly taking identification photos of killer whales. He documented the first fin whale in the Juan de Fuca Strait in 2005. “The whale watching industry is pretty unique in this part of the world,” he says. “We cover so much area and … have so many eyes out there.”

“Absolutely, there is going to be less data. Whether or not the absence of those data would compromise our efforts or understanding … long-term, I’m not sure.”

Individual whale watching companies also support conservation organizations through a variety of initiatives, including donating one percent or more of ticket sales or a fixed donation such as $2 per ticket, and offering free seats or free charters of vessels for education, fundraising, or research purposes.

One major beneficiary is the Center for Whale Research, founded by Balcomb-Bartok’s father, Ken Balcomb. The center receives up to $30,000 per year from whale watching companies, evidence of the intertwining of whale commerce and whale conservation. On the Canadian side of the border, the Vancouver-based Pacific Salmon Foundation reports that whale watching companies contributed about CAN $105,000 to the organization in donations and gifts in kind in 2019.

All of which offsets — but does not eliminate — the industry’s impact on whales.

“We need to embrace what’s best for the southern residents while still having a viable economy,” asserts Balcomb-Bartok. “I can’t say we are benign. It is a factor. Let’s find the best balance.”

The absence of data from the whale watching fleet comes at a time when whale researchers also struggle to get onto the water due to the pandemic.

Thomas Doniol-Valcroze, head of DFO’s cetacean research program on the west coast, says research by government organizations such as his own and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has largely ground to a halt. Physical distancing can be problematic for boat crews, while going for fuel and handling study equipment carries the risk of contamination. Fieldwork by small organizations may still continue, he says, including using drones to document whales’ physical condition. Hydrophones are also collecting data on underwater sound levels resulting from reduced vessel traffic.

As for the whale watching industry’s contribution, he says: “Absolutely, there is going to be less data. Whether or not the absence of those data would compromise our efforts or understanding … long-term, I’m not sure.”

Ultimately, all manner of vessels, whether they contribute to research or not, can be disruptive to whales, Doniol-Valcroze concludes.

“Everybody who is honest knows that when you’re out there — whether you are a researcher or whale watcher or anything else — you’re having an impact on these animals. It all comes down to whether it’s worth the impact or not.”

It makes you wonder what the whales would say. A question left to humans to debate.

Larry Pynn is a veteran environmental journalist who has received some 30 awards for his newspaper and magazine writing, including eight Jack Webster Awards. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

Icelanders Don’t Like Whale Meat—So Why the Hunts?

The whale business isn’t booming, but hunters are reluctant to give up the trade, a new film shows.

 

When it comes to commercial whaling, Japan is in the limelight. The country has been widely accused of using a scientific research program as a guise for hunting hundreds of whales a year and selling their meat. Last year, an international court agreed that the program isn’t scientific and ordered Japan to shut it down—to no avail.

But while Japan’s whaling program may be the most publicized, Japan isn’t the only nation hunting whales for commercial gain. Iceland does too. Along with Norway, the country openly defies a 1986 moratorium set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a voluntary body whose member nations agreed not to hunt medium and large whales for profit.

The solitary minke whale, which isn’t threatened with extinction, falls into this category. So does the endangered fin whale, also called the finback whale. But Icelandic whalers hunt them both anyway. This caught the attention of Jonny Zwick, a filmmaker based in California. His documentary Breach, released on Amazon Prime in November, explores the country’s commercial whaling industry.

How is it that Iceland can even hunt the animals? When the country wanted to rejoin the whaling commission in 2002 after a decade long hiatus, it included a clause in its reentry bid objecting to the commercial whaling ban. This “reservation” to the moratorium is what allows Iceland to whale commercially. Each year, the government sets what’s supposed to be sustainable kill numbers for minke and fin whales.

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WATCH: See the trailer for the upcoming documentary Breach, which examines Iceland’s controversial commercial whaling industry. Video courtesy Side Door Productions

Minke meat largely appeals to tourists who can order it at Icelandic restaurants. But meat from the endangered fin whale isn’t popular at all in Iceland, so it usually gets shipped to Japan—even though there’s not a big market there, either. International trade in fin whale is banned, but another “reservation” to that ban allows Iceland to ship whale meat to Japan.

The film shows that the whale meat business isn’t exactly lucrative, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s lone fin-whaling company, Hvalur, from trying to sell its product. The business has even incorporated whale into beer and luxury dog food, and in 2014 it was forced to take a long and circuitous route to avoid European ports that blocked passage of its ships.

Intrigued by the film, I recently caught up with Zwick to discuss it. He spoke about how Icelanders feel about whaling, what shocked him most about the country’s whaling practices, and what he thinks of Hvalur’s director, Kristjan Loftsson.

How did you get interested in the topic?

My uncle is a marine biologist conservationist. He actually informed me about what was taking place in Iceland. I found it quite shocking that I’d never heard that endangered finback whales, the world’s second largest animal, were being slaughtered for commercial gain there. I decided to go and was pretty shocked by the access that I was granted—and decided that somebody needs to tell this story.

California native Jonny Zwick produced a new documentary called Breach, which examines Iceland’s commercial whaling industry.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JONNY ZWICK 

What kind of story did you want to tell?

I wanted to tell the story from the Icelanders’ point of view because obviously there are a lot of objections to whaling commercially around the world—what we’ve seen in protests in Japan—but I wanted to hear it firsthand from those involved and those who’ve been surrounded by it. When I found out that 52 percent of Icelanders still supported whaling in 2013, I really wanted to hear why.

How would you compare Iceland’s whaling industry with Japan’s or Norway’s, countries that also engage in commercial whaling?

Iceland is the only country in the world to hunt the endangered finback whale, which is very different from the commercial minke whaling that takes place in Norway and Japan. Because it’s a different species—it’s an endangered species.

Iceland’s minke whaling isn’t that prevalent, but Norway is killing a ton of minke whales off the radar, and Japan is completely under the spotlight, which is appropriate because they go down into the whale sanctuaries, and they kill thousands of whales as well, but they’re minke whales and they claim for it to be research. Norway and Iceland openly admit to it being commercial whale hunting, but no one seems to give it much attention.

Whalers in Iceland cut open a fin whale, the second largest mammal, after blue whales. The country sells its meat to Japan.

PHOTOGRAPH BY HALLDOR KOLBEINS, AFP/GETTY IMAGES 

As you filmed the documentary, what surprised you most?

The International Whaling Commission designated a scientific committee that spent a lot of time coming up with this number of 46 fin whales that would be established as a sustainable amount of whales that could be killed each season. The Icelandic government says that it’s adhering to the IWC regulations and rules, yet they have a quota of 154 for fin whales that can be killed every year. It was shocking to me that they’re getting away with this. They’re killing three times the amount that’s supposed to be sustainable.

Has the International Whaling Commission done anything to stop them?

A lot of NGOs and people who’ve been pushing for new legislation have almost given up on the IWC. They really don’t consider the IWC as a body that’s going to do anything about that, so they’re calling on specific governments, rather than even dealing with the IWC.

I was surprised that Iceland’s whaling industry pretty much comes down to one man, Kristjan Loftsson. What do you make of him?

He’s the son of the man who started Hvalur, this whaling company. And it’s really hard for him to let go, and he doesn’t want people telling him what to do with his heritage. At one point, it probably was profitable for Icelanders, for his company. But now it’s been proven as unprofitable, so his motives just become very obvious. And he just has this huge propaganda policy. He gets kids at a really young age to come and start working for him in the whaling stations, and he really tries to ingrain this nationalistic sentiment into them and get everybody on board with continuing his family practice.

The film shows the battle between the whaling and whale watching industries. Can you describe that dynamic?

The whale watching industry brought in about 300,000 people in Iceland last year alone, and Iceland’s entire population is 300,000. So this business is huge, and seeing a whale alive in the wild is more more valuable for somebody going to Iceland than trying it on their dinner plate. But then you have these tourists coming to Iceland, going whale watching, and then getting off the boat and actually trying this whale meat. When you get off the ships it’s advertised as an Icelandic tradition. So there’s just this weird dichotomy and there has to be education there.

Slabs of fin whale meat await packaging at the Hvalfijordur whaling station in Iceland.

PHOTOGRAPH BY INGOLFUR JULIUSSON, REUTERS 

So as you hoped, did you discover why Icelanders support whaling?

It’s a nationalistic thing. They gained independence in 1944, and they want to set their own rules. They consider whales their resources, and they don’t want people telling them what to do with their resources. And they get really heated about it, and they have pride about it.

What do you want this film to accomplish?

The majority of Icelanders may be in favor of whaling, but I believe that’s primarily because they haven’t received any education about whales in their surrounding waters and don’t understand that whaling is not enhancing their economy in any way but rather is hurting it. I want the film to be able to answer questions and educate people about the illegal whale hunting taking place in Iceland. They don’t call it illegal, but it is defiant, and they are breaking international law in the trade of endangered species.

This story has been corrected to reflect that Iceland gained independence in 1944.

This story was produced by National Geographic’s Special Investigations Unit, which focuses on wildlife crime and is made possible by grants from the BAND Foundation and the Woodtiger Fund. Read more stories from the SIU on Wildlife Watch. Send tips, feedback, and story ideas to ngwildlife@natgeo.com.

Whale watching tour disentangles humpback off Nova Scotia

‘They get stuff wrapped around them, it’s like one of us in a straitjacket’

Kevin Dares, a first mate with Lunenburg Whale Watching Tours, fastened line to a grappling hook and used it to snag gear attached to a humpback whale. (Lunenburg Whale & Seabird Tours/Facebook)
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Flower called for help and reached the Marine Animal Response Society, which in turn contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“They were going to see if they could scramble a boat or some people to come out and help this thing out,” he said.

But Flower was worried there was only a few hours of daylight left and he didn’t think help would arrive before dusk.

He said the waters were calm so he brought the boat alongside the whale, which he estimates was about nine metres long.

Some of the 42 passengers helped pull the tangle of gear that had been attached to the whale onto the boat. (Submitted by Walter Flower)

Flower and his first mate, Kevin Dares, scoured the boat for something to hook onto the buoy. They ended up fastening a line to the boat’s bow and tossed a mooring hook into the water to try to snag the clump attached to the whale. On the 10th try, it worked.

“The whale was swimming ahead at a couple of knots. It was calm, but you’re always get moving around a little bit the boat and just try to get the throw perfect, you know. And then Kevin nailed it. It was fish on,” Flower said.

“We kind of pulled its head around, it turned towards us on the surface, and then I gave a little more throttle back. And then we started pulling it, dragging it a little bit and the line just came out of its mouth, and a whole big clump of stuff came out to a lot of cheers from our passengers in the boat. It was a happy ending.”

Walter Flower said his boat was south of Cross Island when it came upon the humpback whale tangled in gear. (Submitted by Walter Flower)

The rescue was all over in about 20 minutes. The passengers helped pull the fishing gear onto the boat.

Flower said the humpback swam off much happier once it was freed.

“It just kind of made a little splash kick with his tail and just headed due south,” he said.

A whale of a controversy erupts as a second whale dies in two weeks

 A carcass of a young humpback whale, about eight metres long, that was killed during octopus fishing is retrieved on June 27, 2019 in Cape Town, South Africa. According to the City of Cape Town officials, the humpback whale was entangled in an octopus fishery line and had drowned. This is reportedly the third entanglement and second fatality of whales as a result of the octopus fishery in the last two weeks. (Photo by Gallo Images/Brenton Geach)  Less

The City of Cape Town has called on Environment, Forestries and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy to issue a moratorium on octopus trapping in False Bay, following the death of two whales in two weeks as a result of the controversial industry.

  • ARTICLE UPDATE 4.50PM, 28 JUNE, 2018:  The Minister on Friday acounnced in a statement it had decided to temporarily suspend exploratory fishing for octopus with immediate effect. The decision was taken following consultation with operators in the False Bay Area. 

Late in the afternoon of Wednesday, 26 June, the carcass of a juvenile humpback whale was spotted off of Sunny Cove in False Bay. The animal was left floating overnight until city officials from the Environmental Management Department’s Coastal Management Branch, with assistance from Cape Town Octopus – the company at the centre of the controversy – were able to retrieve it early on Friday morning.

It was the second whale to have died in just two weeks, both allegedly having drowned after becoming entangled in fishing line attached to octopus traps.

The death of a Bryde’s whale on 11 June sparked outrage on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, with citizens calling for the industry to be shut down after media reports revealed that the octopus trapping permit is classified as experimental rather than commercial. The official number of whales that have died as a direct result of becoming entangled in octopus traps is not known – some reports indicate that nine whales have died over the last few years, while others say the humpback whale is only the third to drown.

But Garry Nel, General Manager of Cape Town Octopus, told Daily Maverick on Thursday that the latest whale death was not as a direct result of his current gear.

“It was a line that was lost seven years ago in another detanglement operation from a separate vessel all together that was one of the very first research boats in that area using gear with no modifications. We assisted the NSRI in that detanglement, and they cut the line and we never found that gear again.”

Nel has operated in False Bay catching octopus for over 15 years, although the Department of Environmental Affairs told Daily Maverick that multiple stakeholders were offered the same permit option.

Nel said the line used seven years ago floated, while the lines his team currently use are weighted, sinking lines. Nel told Daily Maverick that one of the new sinking lines caught onto the old piece of line, but the whale was entangled in the older line.

In a press release issued by the City of Cape Town Marian Nieuwoudt, Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment said that “the whales swim into the long ropes, and that they get a fright when this happens. They then roll over and get entangled, and eventually drown because the fishing gear is too heavy for them to reach the surface.”

A juvenile humpback whale is hauled to shore after becoming entangled in octopus traps on 26 June in False Bay, Cape Town. Photo: Tessa Knight

As a result of the latest whale death, the City has called for Minister Barbara Creecy to issue a moratorium on the experimental licence, requesting that all gear be removed from False Bay until the “fishing gear and equipment are redesigned, tested, and proven not to pose a threat to our marine life”.

Creecy, as the new Minister of Environment, Forestries and Fisheries (DEFF), takes over control of what was previously the Department of Agriculture, Forestries and Fisheries (DAFF). It was DAFF that issued the experimental octopus fishing permit in 2003 and it is DAFF, now DEFF, that Nel provides with data on all things octopus related.

At a Fisheries stakeholder forum on 19 June Creecy addressed the contentious issue of trapping octopus in False Bay.

“What I would like to do is get some independent opinion on this so that I can understand whether we are doing everything that we can to prevent a situation where we’re endangering mammals,” Creecy said.

But environmental activists are demanding the Department provide answers as to why the process has taken so long. Swati Thiyagarajan, head of Conservation and Campaign of the Cape Town-based Seachange Project, told Daily Maverick that one of the biggest issues with the Department is a lack of transparency.

“It’s a Marine Protected Area, why did the start this project in the first place? What, and who, are they supposed to be protecting?”

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Thiyagarajan was among a small group of bystanders and activists who watched Thursday’s humpback being transported from the slipway onto the back of the City’s Solid Waste Department’s trucks (see video clip above). As the juvenile whale was moved into shallow waters those present noted the presence of another whale just outside of the slipway investigating the situation.

Darryl Colembrander, City of Cape Town Head of Coastal Management and Programmes, told Daily Maverick that the missing pieces of flesh on the whale were in fact shark bites rather than wounds caused by the entanglement itself.

A juvenile humpback whale is hauled to shore, 26 June, False Bay, Cape Town. Photo: Tessa Knight

In a response to Daily Maverick’s request for information, Albie Modise, Chief Director of Communications for the Department of Environmental Affairs said:

“The only consistent (and therefore practically usable data) that has been received from this fishery to date has been that collected by Mr Nel’s fishing operations.

“As fisheries data relies on analyses of trends over time, the data from the first few years are not very informative, but these become more informative as one accumulates more data over time.”

The Department did not respond to a deadline requesting more information on why data was not made public. DM

Dozens of grey whales washing up dead along migration route — and B.C. is their next stop

The whales appear emaciated but whether from decline of food supply or overpopulation is unclear

Every spring, the grey whales migrate from Mexico to the North Pacific. (Craig Hayslip/Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute)

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An unusually high number of grey whales are washing up dead on West Coast shorelines on their annual migration north and B.C. is the next stop, warns a U.S.-based marine biologist.

More than 20 grey whales were stranded ashore in California this spring, and, further north along the coast in Oregon, several more have washed up recently.

Eleven whales were recently stranded in Washington state. Only one survived.

“We’re already beyond what we would typically consider high numbers and this is still early in our stranding season,” said Jessie Huggins, stranding co-ordinator for the Cascadia Research Collective.

in one of the longest migrations of any mammal, grey whales migrate from their wintering areas near Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in the North Pacific every year.

“They’re heading towards Canada,” Huggins told CBC’s On The Island. The whales are expected to pass by Vancouver Island.

Young grey whale pictured washed up on Ucluelet beach on Vancouver Island in 2016. (Les Doiron)

Food shortage

From necropsies on the animals, Huggins said it appears that food shortage is an underlying cause of the deaths.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of emaciated animals,” she said.

Grey whales feed on sediment along the ocean floor, which brings them closer to shore than other types of whales. Their proximity to land means they are more likely to wash ashore and for their deaths to be noted.

“Many other whales, when they die further off-shore, we never see them,” Huggins said.

“Especially skinny ones because they tend to sink first.”

Thanks to wildlife protection measures like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, grey whales became a “success story” and their numbers increased over the last decades.

The research hasn’t concluded whether the recent deaths are due to a decline in food sources or an overpopulation of grey whales or some combination of both.

“It’s difficult for us to tell at the moment, but we do know that, for the last year or two, there have been a number of very skinny whales,” Huggins said.

“They didn’t get enough food last summer and, along their normal migration patterns, are just not able to make it all the way to Alaska.”

On The Island
Dozens of grey whales washing up dead along migration route – and B.C. is their next stop
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00:00 06:53

An unusually high number of grey whales are washing up dead on West Coast shorelines on their annual migration north and B.C. is the next stop, warns a U.S.-based marine biologist. 6:53

Fin whales and mountain gorillas back from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts

‘With sustained, long-term conservation action, we can not only prevent extinctions, but also achieve considerable population recoveries’

Anti-poaching efforts have helped boost mountain gorilla numbers by hundreds in recent decades

Anti-poaching efforts have helped boost mountain gorilla numbers by hundreds in recent decades ( Getty )

There is hope for the survival of fin whales and mountain gorillas after conservationists announced both species have been pulled back from the brink of extinction.

After decades of persecution by whaling vessels and poachers, modern efforts to protect these mammals appear to be working as their numbers have started to recover.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains a “red list” to monitor the status of the world’s wildlife, and in its latest update both whales and gorillas have shifted one step further away from becoming new entries on the long list of species wiped out by humanity.

After a recent WWF report revealed 60 per cent of monitored animal populations had been obliterated in the space of decades, the announcement shows concerted international action can yield results.

Previously listed as endangered, fin whale numbers have roughly doubled since the 1970s when an international ban on commercial whaling was introduced. The population now stands at 100,000 mature individuals.

There has also been a marked improvement in western populations of grey whales, which are no longer considered critically endangered.

Fin whales numbers have doubled since an international ban on whaling was introduced (Aqqa Rosing-Asvid)

Dr Randall Reeves, chair of the IUCN cetacean specialist group, said it was “a relief” to finally see these populations on the rise.

“These whales are recovering largely thanks to bans on commercial hunting, international agreements and various protection measures. Conservation efforts must continue until the populations are no longer threatened,” he said.

In central Africa, anti-poaching patrols and the concerted removal of snares has helped boost mountain gorilla numbers from 680 individuals a decade ago to over 1,000 now, the highest figure ever recorded.

The IUCN has therefore reclassified the apes from critically endangered to endangered, crediting this small but significant victory to collaborative efforts that have spanned the nations where they reside.

However, they noted that despite the success of this subspecies, the eastern gorilla species to which it belongs remains critically endangered, and the future survival of these apes is still on a knife edge.

“Coordinated efforts through a regional action plan and fully implementing IUCN best practice guidelines for great ape tourism and disease prevention, which recommend limiting numbers of tourists and preventing any close contact with humans, are critical to ensuring a future for the mountain gorilla,” said Dr Liz Williamson of the IUCN primate specialist group.

However, the good news from the IUCN was tempered by reports that overfishing and illegal logging are sending species in parts of the developing world spiralling into decline.

Lack of sustainable fisheries and a boom in demand mean that 13 per cent of the world’s grouper fish are now threatened with extinction, and 9 per cent of the fish in Lake Malawi, according to the IUCN’s latest assessment.

Meanwhile illegal logging has fuelled a 15-fold increase in trade in the Vene timber tree, which the IUCN says is now endangered.

With some nations still holding out on a total whaling ban, and companies accused of fuelling the destruction of rainforests home to orangutans, tigers and rhinos, conservationists are clear that despite some successes urgent international action is needed to end the mass extinction of wildlife.

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WWF has called for a “global deal” in the mould of the Paris climate agreement to save nature, and an ongoing UN biodiversity summit in Egypt presents an opportunity for decisive action.

“The recovery of species like mountain gorilla, fin whale and Rothschild’s giraffe demonstrates once again that with sustained, long-term conservation action, we can not only prevent extinctions, but also achieve considerable population recoveries,” said Dominic Jermey, director general of the Zoological Society of London.

“As the world’s governments convene in Egypt to continue discussions around forging a new and ambitious strategic plan for biodiversity, we hope that these examples will embolden countries to make strong commitments that will put the world’s wildlife on a path to recovery.”

Japan Aims to Overthrow 32-Year-Old Global Whaling Ban

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

LORRAINE CHOW OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

whales Takver / Flickr

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

http://buzzflash.com/commentary/japan-aims-to-overthrow-32-year-old-global-whaling-ban

Japan is proposing a slew of rule changes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil this week that conservationists worry would ultimately lift a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Japan, which launched a “scientific whaling” program in 1987 as a loophole to the moratorium, has killed more than 15,600 whales in the Antarctic since the ban (including juvenile and pregnant minke whales), according to a report released last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute(AWI).

Other commercial whalers include Norway, which has killed more than 14,000 minke whales, and Iceland, which has killed nearly 1,800 whales in defiance of the moratorium, according to the report.

Previous reports have revealed that the Japanese government has an ultimate goal to resume commercial whaling, even though most of its citizens no longer eat whales. Whaling proponents say that hunting the mammals is part of their culture.

Hideki Moronuki, Japan’s senior fisheries negotiator and commissioner for the IWC, told the BBC that the country is pushing for the “the sustainable use of whales.”

Among its proposals, Japan wants to set up a “Sustainable Whaling Committee” which would create catch-quotas for nations wishing to allow their citizens to hunt healthy whale populations for commercial purposes, according to AFP.

Japan, which says minke and other whale stocks have recovered, will propose setting new catch quotas for species whose stocks are recognized as healthy by the IWC scientific committee.

Japan is also seeking to lower the proportion of votes required to set rule changes to a simple majority of the 89-member IWC, rather than three-quarters.

IWC meeting host Brazil is trying to rally other anti-whaling nations, such ads the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, to sign the “Florianópolis Declaration” that states commercial whaling is a no longer economically necessary and would allow the recovery of all whale populations to pre-industrial whaling levels, according to AFP.

Conservation groups have highlighted significant welfare concerns regarding “inhumane” time to death (TTD) rates after the whales are caught.

Whalers typically use an exploding harpoon to try to kill the animal “instantly”—defined by the IWC as within 10 seconds of being shot.

However, the report from EIA and AWI found that the hunted whales have suffered up to 25 minutes before dying:

  • Iceland’s TTD data in 2014 claimed that 42 died “instantly” while eight whales had to be shot a second time and their median TTD was eight minutes.
  • Norway recently collected TTD data for 271 minke whales. The median TTD for the 49 whales not registered as instantaneous deaths was six minutes. One whale had to be shot twice, taking 20-25 minutes to die.
  • Japan’s minke whales taken in the offshore North Pacific hunt take an average of two minutes to die, while those in the coastal hunt take over five minutes. Antarctic minkes take an average of 1.8 minutes to die.

Whaling opponents are urging the IWC to reaffirm its international moratorium on commercial whaling.

“If Japan gets its way, it would be a massive victory for those rogue whalers who have time and again defied the international ban on commercial whaling and an absolute disaster for the world’s whales,” said Clare Perry, EIA’s Ocean Campaigns leader in a statement received by EcoWatch.

“Many whale species have not yet recovered from massive overhunting in the past, and they are also facing a wide array of mounting existential threats ranging from climate change to marine pollution by chemicals, plastics and noise,” Perry added.

Kate O’Connell, marine wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute had similar sentiments.

“We’re only just beginning to grasp the vital role whales play in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans,” O’Connell said. “Weakening the ban now would be a fatal mistake, and would open the doors to increased commercial whaling around the world. This cruel and unnecessary industry is a relic of the past that has no place in modern society.”

“All other contracting governments to the IWC must step up to vigorously defend the moratorium from this new assault by Japan and its allies,” O’Connell concluded.

EcoWatch@EcoWatch

Japan Kills More Than 120 Pregnant Whales http://ow.ly/4NJS30keIMi  @SeaShepherd @Oceanwire @savingoceans

Japan Kills More Than 120 Pregnant Whales

More than 120 pregnant female minke whales were killed this year in the Antarctic Ocean as part of Japan’s “scientific whaling” program.

ecowatch.com

BBC shelves Human Planet over whale-hunting breach

https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2018/apr/26/bbc-shelves-human-planet-after-doubts-cast-on-whale-hunting-scene

Broadcaster withdraws series from distribution amid doubts over harpooning scene

Human Planet
 A scene in Human Planet showing tribal people living in treehouses was faked, the BBC said earlier this month. Photograph: BBC

The BBC has withdrawn its TV series Human Planet from distribution after finding a second editorial breach in a matter of weeks.

Earlier this month the corporation said a scene in one episode showing tribal people living in treehouses had been faked by the programme’s makers. Now, it has said a scene showing a hunter apparently harpooning a whale is not an accurate portrayal of the man’s role.

“The BBC has been alerted to a further editorial breach in the Human Planet series from 2011,” it said in a statement. “In episode one, Oceans, a Lamaleran whale hunter named Benjamin Blikololong is shown supposedly harpooning a whale.

“On review, the BBC does not consider that the portrayal of his role is accurate, although the sequence does reflect how they hunt whales. The BBC has decided to withdraw Human Planet from distribution for a full editorial review.”

It is not the first time the series has been hit by claims of fakery. In 2015 it emerged that a semi-domesticated wolf had been used because the crew had been unable to find a wild wolf on location.

The BBC statement said: “Since this programme was broadcast in 2011, we have strengthened our training for the BBC’s Natural History Unit in editorial guidelines, standards and values.”

Young whale finds its way out of Southern California harbor

 https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/wayward-humpback-whale-stuck-in-california-harbor/2017/05/20/ce924696-3dc8-11e7-a59b-26e0451a96fd_story.html?utm_term=.419b5e375c0b
May 21 at 3:00 PM
VENTURA, Calif. — A humpback whale that made a big splash with boaters after wandering into a Southern California harbor was on the move again Sunday after finding its way back to the open ocean.

“We have great news,” an ecstatic Ventura Harbormaster John Higgins told The Associated Press. “The whale was able to find its way out.”

Authorities may have helped it on its way by playing a continuous loop of humpback whale feeding sounds overnight near the harbor’s entrance-exit point.

The idea was to draw the whale toward the open water under the belief there would be something good to eat.

The 40-foot-long creature had wowed boaters and passers-by on shore for hours Saturday after it arrived in the small fishing harbor north of Los Angeles.

People stood on small boats and docks watching it swim back and forth and occasionally surface.

Whale experts told Higgins it appeared to be a healthy juvenile, although he didn’t know its age.

The Coast Guard, National Parks Service, authorities and volunteers spent hours trying unsuccessfully to shepherd it back to the ocean.

After blocking its path with boats and banging on pipes failed to work, they tried the whale feeding sounds. The tactic finally succeeded after they cleared everyone out of the area and moved the underwater speakers closer to the ocean.

Authorities discovered the whale had left on its own when they returned in the morning, Higgins said.

As far as he knows, the young humpback was the first to pay a visit to Ventura Harbor.

“We’ve had California grey whales just peek into the harbor as they’re going up and down the coast,” he said. “But none have ever gone into the harbor.”