Things you see when you don’t have a camera

A trip to town yesterday was pretty amazing, wildlife-wise. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera. From the north side of the Astoria bridge we saw the humpback whale who’s been seen hanging out around in the lower Colombia River for a few days.

Then, after visiting the sea lions who reside on the East Moring Basin docks, we went to Hammond, by to Fort Stevens State Park, and watched a friendly herd of elk close up in a scene reminiscent of Mammoth Village in Yellowstone National Park. 

For a grand finale, we stopped to walk the dog at the “Dismal Niche”* rest area (*a name indicative of Lewis and Clark’s lack of appreciation of the area),  and saw a group of around 30 harbor seals just offshore in a channel of river. They were treading water, popping up and going under, probably looking for fish though we never saw them catch any). Perhaps they were just enjoying the gentle current in the eddy they found there. 

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2015. All Rights Reserved

Why We Can’t Compromise With the Whale Killers

A whale's eye peeks out of the sea.

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Response to Arizona State University News Article

A Professor at the University of Arizona wants save the whales by advocating the killing of whales.

Just another one of these wishy-washy, self-proclaimed academic experts pandering to the whaling industry by posing as a conservationist. The same kind of mind-set as Texas big game hunter Corey Knowlton who justifies killing rhinos because he calls himself a conservationist.

Leah Gerber is a marine conservation biologist and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. She wants a compromise with the whale killers.

She is one of those academics who seem to know everything about whales except for what is really important. She has advocated “culling” (killing) whales to increase fisheries which in my opinion is a very ignorant approach to ocean ecology. She has also advocated placing a value on whales saying that conservationists should be willing to buy their lives. In addition she tends to use other utilitarian wordage like “take” and “harvest instead of kill and “stocks” instead of population. She most definitely lacks empathy for the whales themselves or an understanding of the true value of the whales to the oceanic eco-systems. Leah Gerber boasts of being a sushi lover and is an advisor to the seafood industry which explains her commercially oriented viewpoint on whales.

This is my point-by-point response to this “expert” on whales who lives in that “maritime” state of Arizona.

Arizona State University

ASU: Is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling?

Captain Paul Watson: Why is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling? Because a professor in Arizona says so.

ASU: The three-decade international moratorium on commercial whaling isn’t working. Animal-rights activists insist the ban remain absolute, while the three rogue nations still pursuing the world’s largest mammals refuse to quit hunting.

Captain Paul Watson: Yes they are rouge nations and they should be dealt with like rogue nations. Japanese whaling has already been condemned by the International Court of Justice. When nations violate international agreements the solution is not to simply legalize their activities because they refuse to stop. Gerber reveals her bias here by referring to whale conservation activists as animal tights activists. This is the mindset that sees only animal rights activists as opposing whaling. Gerber works with WWF, NOAH and other utilitarian groups that see whales as a commodity and thus they see conservation as management, that includes lethal exploitation.

ASU: Leah Gerber, a marine conservation biologist, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and founding director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, floated the idea of a compromise in the September issue of scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Captain Paul Watson: She may have floated the idea but it’s an idea that needs sinking.

ASU: Rebounding whale populations, the predominance of other threats, and stubborn stakeholders make the moratorium a “failed management system,” Gerber said. The past 30 years of the International Whaling Commission’s conversation has been stalled by disagreement on the ethics of killing whales.

Captain Paul Watson: The laws to enforce the moratorium exist. There is simply a lack of political and economic will to do so. The moratorium needs strong leadership from the conservation oriented majority members of the International Whaling Commission. The USA should invoke economic sanctions as provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce specifically to uphold the moratorium. This is like saying it is illegal to rob a bank but the bank robbers continue to rob banks despite the law therefore we should allow them to rob some small banks to satisfy their greed.

ASU: “It really boils down to an ethical argument: that it’s not right to kill a whale,” Gerber said. “Personally I don’t like the idea of killing a whale, but that’s my value, and other people have other values. Insisting on our values in discussions about whaling has resulted in a global stalemate.”

Captain Paul Watson: It is both an ethical argument and an ecological argument. Plankton has been diminished by some 40% since 1950 and this has happened in part because of the removal of a very large part of whale biomass. When you consider that one Blue whale defecates 3 tons of iron rich, nitrogen rich feces every day and we removed some 300,000 Blue whales since 1946 alone and whale feces provides a nutrient base for plankton, what whaling has done is to diminish these farmers of the sea. Lower whale populations means lower plankton populations means lower oxygen production and diminished carbon sequestering by plankton. We need to revitalize bio-diversity in the sea and to do that we need to bring back whale populations to pre-exploitation levels.
And there is an ethical argument. Slavery was abolished and was no acceptable compromise that allowed some people to own slaves so that other slaves could be freed. Whales and dolphins are highly sophisticated, intelligent social, self aware, sentient beings. They communicate on a very high level and they have their own cultural units. There cannot be any justification for killing whales or dolphins by any group of humans for any reason, anywhere. The very idea of a compromise is unethical when you consider that to a great many people the idea of killing a whale is simply murder. There is no global stalemate. Commercial whaling is illegal. It just needs to be enforced.

ASU: Changing course and allowing Iceland, Japan and Norway to legally hunt under regulations and monitoring might break the current stalemate. Currently Japan whales under a loophole allowing for scientific research. The other two countries hunt whales commercially in protest of the ban

Captain Paul Watson: Since 1974 my course has been set on 100% abolishment of the slaughter of whales and dolphins. I have no intention of changing course because a professor in the desert somewhere has decided that Japan, Norway, Iceland and Denmark should be allowed to kill whales.

ASU: “If our common goal is a healthy and sustainable population of whales, let’s find a way to develop strategies that achieve that,” Gerber said. “That may involve agreeing to a small level of take. That would certainly be a reduced take to what’s happening now.”

Captain Paul Watson: I have a major problem with anyone who refers to killing as taking. You don’t take a whale’s life, you kill an intelligent sentient being. A so-called “small level of killing” simply keeps an industry alive that should be tossed onto the dustbin of history. Whaling needs to be abolished 100% by everyone, everywhere for any reason. Sea Shepherd has seen to it that the Japanese kill quota has been substantially reduced.

ASU: Since the moratorium was declared in 1982 and begun in 1985, whale populations have rebounded across the board, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: First Gerber says the moratorium in not working then in the same breath she says the moratorium has caused whale populations to rebound. Whale populations are indeed slowly recovering but there is still a long way to go before returning to pre-industrial whaling levels. We need more whales to address climate change and the health of the Ocean. We do not need whale meat on anyone’s plate. Economically whales are more important alive than dead both to what the contribute to the ecology of the Ocean and in terms of the revenue generated by the whale watching industry which is far more lucrative than commercial whaling.

ASU: “Overall the whaling that’s happening is not threatening any population,” she said.

Captain Paul Watson: I disagree. The loss of every whale is a loss to the planet in a world where whales and dolphins are dying from pollution, reduced fish populations and habitat destruction.

ASU: “With the exception of the J stock (a population that lives in the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea) of minke whales, current levels of take are fairly sustainable.”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber has not provided any evidence to back this ridiculous statement up. To say that Bowheads, Southern and Northern Right whales, Humpback whales, Fin whales, Blue whale populations can be sustainably slaughtered is absurd. The Icelanders want Fin whales. The Greenlanders want to kill Bowheads, Humpbacks, Fins and Minke’s.

ASU: The appetite for whale meat has been on the decline in Japan. An April 2014 poll by Asahi Shimbun,Japan’s newspaper of record, revealed that 14 percent of respondents occasionally or rarely ate whale meat. (Thirty-seven percent said they never ate it.) Consumption in Japan peaked in the 1960s and has steadily decreased; today, whale-meat consumption is about 1 percent of its peak, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Captain Paul Watson: Having stated this, it is a puzzle as to why Gerber feels there is a need to allow a legal return to whaling.

ASU: The Japanese have argued that it’s part of their cultural heritage. They also call American protests hypocritical because Alaskan Inuit tribe members hunt whales every year.

Captain Paul Watson: Whaling is not part of Japanese culture historically. It was an activity that took place in a few isolated communities. It was never a national traditional activity. 95% of Japanese people never ate whale meat until General Douglas MacArthur introduced the modern whaling fleet in 1946 to provide cheap protein for post war Japanese populations. Whaling was part of Ainu culture but Japan passed laws to ban whaling by the Ainu. It is hypocritical of Gerber to compare Inuit whaling allowed by the U.S. government to Japan where aboriginal Ainu whaling has been banned.

ASU: Norwegians have eaten whale meat since medieval times, but that habit has slowed in more recent times. Whale was served in school cafeterias and as military rations during the 1970s and 1980s, making it the mystery meat for a generation who won’t touch it anymore. It’s seen as something your grandparents ate. (Oddly, it’s enjoying a renaissance among young Norwegian foodies.)

Captain Paul Watson: Norwegian whaling is a blatant violation of IWC regulations and the global moratorium and economic sanctions should be invoked against Norway, Japan and Iceland by the signatory members of the IWC.

ASU: The 2015 catch netted about 700 tons of whale meat, while the Norwegian market won’t bear much more than 500 tons.

Captain Paul Watson: Norway’s whaling operations are illegal under international conservation law. The killing of these whales is not only illegal but ecologically senseless and economically unnecessary.

ASU: “Good catch is all very well, but we have challenges in the market,” Åge Eriksen, CEO of a seafood supply company, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK last year. “We’ve got more meat on land than we can sell, and it is not a desirable situation.”

Captain Paul Watson: Unfortunately that is the situation with the commodity market over all – over production resulting in huge wastage.

ASU: Minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere have such a large population that taking a few wouldn’t be a big deal, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber lacks the data to make such an assumption. In fact in a paper she wrote Minke whale populations are not as large as they need to be. We need a great increase in whale populations in order to repair the ecological instability in the Ocean, Also from an ethical point of view, killing (not taking) of a highly intelligent sentient being should not be allowed. In one of her papers she stated that the moratorium failed to increase whale populations and now she contradicts herself.

ASU: The media perception of whaling is often that it’s evil, but there are worse threats to the whales’ livelihoods, Gerber said. For instance, she said that whale mortality numbers are also driven by the mammals being hit by ships. For instance, blue whales off the coast of Long Beach, California, simply didn’t know to get out of the way of ships, according to a Stanford University study released in April. Because they are the biggest creatures in the sea, they’ve never had to avoid threats.

Bycatch entanglement, where whales are snagged in nets, and contaminants in seawater are two other serious threats.

Captain Paul Watson: To say that there are worse threats is like saying that murder is not the worst evil because more humans die in auto accidents so we should allow for a few murders. Stopping ship strikes is something that must be worked on and there is the technology to address this threat. There are many other threats to the whales like radiation, chemical and plastic pollution, climate change and diminishment of plankton and fish. These other threats to the survival of the whales cannot be used to justify the slaughter of whales.

ASU: “For most populations, whaling actually makes up a pretty small fraction (of whale deaths),” she said, pointing out that International Whaling Commission members know this. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but let’s take some baby steps.”

Violent action by animal-rights groups has not had an effect, either.

Captain Paul Watson: Baby steps may be fine for the whalers but the whales need abolition of whaling now. The prejudice of Gerber can be seen in her reference to “violent action.” There has been no violent action by anti-whalers. Not a single whaler has ever been injured by a whale defender. Japanese whalers have violently attacked whale defenders and have caused injury. Sea Shepherd may be aggressive but certainly not violent. You cannot describe the saving of the lives of whales from harpoons as violent. Whaling is violent, saving whales is not. Blocking a weapon of violence is a non-violent act.

ASU: “A lot of the (non-governmental organizations) like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd raise a lot of money in advocating for saving whales by chasing whaling vessels in the open ocean,” Gerber said. “What success has that had?”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber needs to do some research. Over 6,000 whales saved in the Southern Ocean is what I call success. The Japanese have failed to get their quotas every year since 2007 and in most years they took less then 30% and sometimes as low as 10% and in the last season (2014/2015) they took zero whales. The ICJ ruled against them. The IWC ruled against them. The campaign has been quite successful Leah Gerber, thank you very much. As for collecting money, Sea Shepherd has raised a fraction in donations to oppose whaling compared to the profits that whalers made before Sea Shepherd intervened.

ASU: Japanese whaling delegates have said they’re open to compromise arrangements, Gerber said.

“The animal-rights groups, on the other hand, are like, ‘Nope. My deal or nothing.’ To me, it’s not the best way to lead to change.”

Captain Paul Watson: You do not compromise with lives. We will not compromise on the lives of whales. One position is to kill whales. The other position is to not kill whales. The only possible compromise is to allow the killing of some whales which means killing whales, but if our position is against killing whales how can that be justified? To get what they want in a compromise the whalers can agree to accept lower profits. However we cannot morally agree to accept lower deaths. Whales are not a commodity to us. They are distinct individual living sentient beings. It would be extremely cold hearted for us to barter their lives in exchange for allowing whalers some profit.

My position is clear I cannot respect any scientist who advocates the killing of whales or dolphins. There is nothing scientific about killing whales. Advocating lethal exploitation benefits only those who profit economically. It does not benefit the species and it does not benefit science. All my life I have had to battle these scientists who act as apologists for the exploitation industries. Many years ago I coined a name for them. Biostitutes, the appeasers of those who profit from inflicting cruelty, death and diminishment.

Scientists Baffled as 30 Large Whales Die in Mild Alaska Waters



By Katy Galimberti, Staff Writer
August 26, 2015; 4:33 PM ET

Scientists are baffled as to what may be causing a high volume of whale deaths in the Gulf of Alaska this summer.

From May 2015 to mid-August, 30 large whales have stranded in the region, triggering an investigation into the cause of the “unusual mortality event,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service said in a statement.

“To date, this brings the large whale strandings for this region to almost three times the historical average,” NOAA said.

The 11 fin whales, 14 humpback whales, one gray whale and four unidentified cetaceans have stranded along the shores of the Gulf of Alaska where water temperatures have consistently been above average for the four-month period.

Bears feed on a fin whale carcass in Larson Bay, Alaska, near Kodiak. Adult fin whales in the Northern Hemisphere measure up to 78 feet, roughly the size of an eight-story building. (Photo/NOAA)

In all of 2014, just five large whale strandings were reported in the western Gulf of Alaska.

Out of the 30 spotted whales, only one has been sampled as of Aug. 14. Most carcasses were floating and irretrievable, NOAA said.

While different species of whales prefer various climates, the fin whale and humpback whale can be found in most of the world’s oceans. Humpback whales migrate to temperate and even polar waters during the summer before migrating back to tropical waters in the winter, according to the American Cetacean Society (ACS).

Record-Setting Toxic Algae Bloom Wreaks Havoc in Pacific From Alaska to California

While fin whales are believed follow a similar pattern, taking to colder areas in the summer for feeding, the ACS said recent evidence suggests they may disperse across deep ocean waters.

In May when the strandings began, water temperatures in the region hovered a couple of degrees above normal in the mid-40s F, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Tom Kines said.

“Current water temperatures are also couple of degrees above normal,” he said.

Coinciding with well above-normal sea surface temperatures, a record-setting algae bloom has been plaguing the Pacific from Alaska to California. The algae can produce a potent toxin that can be harmful to people, fish and marine mammals, NOAA said.

Russian Permit of Passage for the Winter Bay is a Dark Day for North Atlantic Whales



Paul Thompson 2/8/15

As the Winter Bay slipped out of Tromso this afternoon heading north there was confusion about whether the Russian Government was allowing passage of the vessel with its 1700 tonnes of endangered Fin whale meat through Russian waters to Japan. Clarification has now ben provided and its confirmed that a Russian Permit has been granted allowing passage through the waters of the Northen Sea Route from West to East and return East to West. This in effect establishes a “safe” trade route of whale products from the North Atlantic whaling nations of Iceland and Noway through to Japan and is a dark day for Fin and Minke whales in the northern hemisphere.

Ice conditions from the latest satellite data would indicate that conditions may be suitable for the vessel to pass despite the fact it is only single hulled and contact with ice could have serious consequences for the structural integrity of the vessel

A Lion Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy


That’s a loose adaptation of Ingrid Newkirk’s famous saying. Translation: in terms of being capable of suffering and having a will to live, we’re all created pretty much equal.

But the other night, when I shared Vegan Outreach’s post, “I Am Cecil,” one reader was troubled by its perceived message that seems to compare an endangered, charismatic predator to a factory-farmed pig.

I can understand both sides. Wildlife advocates are screaming for blood, in a war cry heard round the world, while animal-rights activists are hoping to harness the outrage that people are feeling over the abuses suffered by this beloved lion. On one hand there’s Cecil the lion, who was hit with an arrow and pursued for forty hours before finally being shot, decapitated and skinned. At the same time—each and every day—animals by the billions suffer endlessly on factory farms and almost no one seems to care or pay them any mind.

I’ve seen this kind of situation before. Back in 1999, members of Washington’s Makah Tribe were planning a trophy hunt of their own. Their target? An innocuous grey whale.2003875881-300x0 Long story short, much to the dismay of whale advocates, a “sacrificial” whale was shot with a fifty caliber elephant gun. Meanwhile, somewhere in the Midwest, millions of chickens, cows, pigs, turkeys, etc. were in effect sacrificed as well by people who had never heard of the Makah’s or seen a grey whale.

The only good I can think of that came out of the whole bit of ugliness was, after considering the hypocrisy of advocating for one species of animal while still eating others, my wife and I swore off meat and have been vegan ever since. As a result of 16 years of veganism (times 2), thousands of animals have been spared the horrors of factory farming.

Of course I’d love to see the uproar over Cecil become the final death knell for trophy hunting that wrenches control of wildlife from the hands of hunters and their government apologists. But, while we’re waiting, concerned people can actively end a lot of animal suffering every time they pass a drive-through window or a sit-down steak house restaurant. And folks who make the ethical switch to a plant-based diet would not likely be inclined to pay $50,000 for the sick thrill of killing a lion with an arrow.

Don’t Allow Whales to be Slaughtered off the Washington Coast!

Don't Allow Whales to be Slaughtered off the Washington Coast!

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is considering an appalling plan to allow gray whales to be slaughtered off the Washington coast. Allowing a hunt would set a dangerous precedent that undermines the global moratorium on whaling.

Please submit your public comment opposing the hunting of gray whales off the coast of Washington.The risks of a hunt are significant. Proponents suggest that “only a few” whales will be killed for subsistence and cultural reasons. But even one whale is too many, regardless of who hunts them. Scientific evidence makes it clear these magnificent, sentient creatures are under grave threats from far too many sources.

The threats to gray whales are vast — from navy sonar and other underwater noise, to climate change, ocean acidification, ship strikes and pollution. The impact of this hunt on delicate gray whale populations has the potential to be huge. Not to mention, there are only a few individuals left in some populations, and there is a virtual certainty that whales from these populations will be killed because it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between them during a hunt.

Please sign the petition today to submit your public comment to NFMS opposing the hunting of gray whales off the coast of Washington.


This petition is now closed. You can still make a difference in the Care2 community by signing other petitions today.


Don’t Allow Whales to be Slaughtered off the



we’ve got 25,053 signatures, help us get to 30,000 by July 31, 2015

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is inappropriately considering allowing gray whales to be slaughtered off the coast of Washington. Pierced with harpoons and riddled with numerous bullets, these magnificent creatures will suffer extreme pain if NMFS permits the hunt.

The hunt threatens not only a recovering population of Eastern North Pacific gray whales, but the few remaining individuals left in the endangered Western North Pacific and also the Pacific Coast Feeding Group populations. There is a very strong chance that whales within these smaller groups will be killed because it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the populations, particularly given that hunts are often chaotic and conducted in tumultuous ocean conditions.

There is far too much scientific uncertainty about the impact a hunt would have on gray whales and the environment. Additionally, NMFS is not adequately considering the cumulative impacts of all the other threats to gray whales – such as navy sonar and other underwater noise, climate change, ocean acidification, oil and gas development, ship strikes and pollution.

The proposed hunt in Washington is just the first step toward a dangerous precedent that would undermine the global moratorium on whaling. Whale watching is a meaningful and economically lucrative alternative that helps maintain the gray whale’s iconic role in numerous cultures.

Gray whales have been known to migrate up to 22,000 kilometers, nearly 14,000 miles, crossing the jurisdictions of multiple countries. So this is an issue of international concern.

Please sign this petition to submit your official public comment opposing the hunt of gray whales and requesting that NMFS deny any permits to hunt gray whales in Pacific Coast waters.  less

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is inappropriately considering allowing gray whales to be slaughtered off the coast of Washington. Pierced with harpoons and riddled with numerous bullets, these magnificent creatures will suffer extreme pain if NMFS permits the hunt.

The hunt threatens not only a recovering population of Eastern North Pacific gray whales, but the few remaining individuals left in the endangered Western North Pacific and also the Pacific Coast Feeding Group populations. There is a very strong chance that whales within these smaller groups will be killed because it is virtually impossible to tell the difference between the populations, particularly given that hunts are often chaotic and conducted in tumultuous ocean conditions.

There is far too much scientific uncertainty about the impact a hunt would have on gray whales and the environment. Additionally, NMFS is not adequately considering the cumulative impacts of all the other threats to gray whales – such as navy sonar and other underwater noise, climate change, ocean acidification, oil and gas development, ship strikes and pollution.

The proposed hunt in Washington is just the first step toward a dangerous precedent that would undermine the global moratorium on whaling. Whale watching is a meaningful and economically lucrative alternative that helps maintain the gray whale’s iconic role in numerous cultures.

Gray whales have been known to migrate up to 22,000 kilometers, nearly 14,000 mil… more

Humpback whale rescued after CRAB fishing gear entanglement

Crab pots, which require long vertical ropes through the water column, are a frequent source of entanglements. Fishermen and scientists are working together to minimize the risk to marine mammals.

Humpback whale rescued on high seas after reported entanglement

Members of the Whale Entanglement Team tracked this juvenile humpback up and down the Central Coast in an effort to free it from fishing gear. After four days, their efforts paid off when the whale swam free near the Gulf of the Farallones. (Photo courtesy Whale Entanglement Team, operating under MMHSRP Permit 18786)

Moss Landing >> A four-day odyssey to free a juvenile humpback entangled in fishing gear had a happy ending Monday when the whale finally swam free in the Gulf of the Farallones.

First spotted near Moss Landing, the whale was pursued by the Moss Landing-based Whale Entanglement Team with help from federal marine authorities. A crab pot line attached to gear later traced to Oregon had deformed the whale’s upper jaw and immobilized a flipper.

Over four grueling days that often lasted late into the night, the team tracked the whale and eventually was able to cut the whale free of the line. Officials said the prognosis appears to be good.

“We feel that it’s a young whale and it should survive,” said Peggy Stap, executive director and founder of Marine Life Studies and part of the Whale Entanglement Team.

So far this year, 40 whales have been reported entangled in the North Pacific Ocean, with 15 of those in the Monterey Bay alone. Researchers are still looking for two whales reported locally as being entangled.

In all of 2014, there were just 10 reported entanglements in the Monterey Bay area.

Stap estimated the whale at 33 feet, and despite its encumbrances, led rescuers from Moss Landing south to Point Sur before heading north past Año Nuevo. Whale Entanglement Team lead responder Pieter Folkens said the whale had life-threatening injuries, and rescuers feared the whale would lose its flipper.

Moss Landing-based Sanctuary Cruises first reported the whale. Rescuers tracked it with radio telemetry, and were aided by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, often not returning to harbor until near midnight.

“It was just insane,” a weary Stap said.

Crab pots, which require long vertical ropes through the water column, are a frequent source of entanglements. Fishermen and scientists are working together to minimize the risk to marine mammals.

An Egregious Mass Murder in the Faroes Islands This Morning

Captain Paul Watson's photo.

20 to 30 dolphins were viciously slaughtered within the last hour on the beach at Havannasund on Vidoy Island.

The police mobilized quickly to block off a tunnel to the island and to set up a restricted zone to keep people away from the killers as the blood coloured the water a deep red and the screams of dying dolphins echoed across the beach, as laughing and cheering Faroese whalers splattered themselves with hot blood in a perverse orgy of sadistic lust.

The police closed the tunnel to the island to prevent anyone from reaching Havannasund.

The police are aggressively assisting the dolphin killers.

The Brigitte Bardot was unable to reach the location in time. The dolphins had been quickly spotted and driven with stones and bang poles onto the beach where their drooling killers waited with their knives eager to extinguish the lives of these gentle creatures.

The Faroe Islands continue to encourage the barbarity of slaughtering dolphins with the full complicity of the government, the media, the police with new authoritarian special laws and now the Danish government and the Danish Navy.

The Faroese have decided to pull out all stops in their defense of this savage cultural obscenity.

It appears that many people in the Faroes are so traditionally and morally bankrupt that they can only find identify in the bloody ritualized culture of sadistic slaughter, as if to proclaim to the entire world that they, the Faroese require blood sacrifices to illustrate their lack of complete lack of empathy and morality. It is their way of spitting in the face of common human decency by declaring their uniqueness in the only way that has any meaning for them – the deliberate and prideful infliction of suffering and death to innocent, intelligent, self aware, socially complex sentient beings.

With the power and force of the Kingdom of Denmark defending their little backwater vassal entity in the Islands of Sheep, the whalers are intent to cowardly continue killing, believing they have God on their side (“Gott mit us”) and knowing they have the politicians in their pockets.

How the US Navy Plans to War Game the Arctic

Destroying What Remains: An Animal Rights Article from


Dahr Jamail, /
June 2015

[NOTE from PLEASE visit WAR OF THE WHALES for detailed, sad, horrifying information about the effects of sonar on sea animals!]

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions.

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks. It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

That summer in 2003 when my life in Alaska ended was an unnerving one for me. It followed a winter and spring in which I found myself protesting the coming invasion of Iraq in the streets of Anchorage, then impotently watching the televised spectacle of the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” assault on that country as Baghdad burned and Iraqis were slaughtered. While on Denali that summer I listened to news of the beginnings of what would be an occupation from hell and, in my tent on a glacier at 17 thousand feet, wondered what in the world I could do.

In this way, in a cloud of angst, I traveled to Iraq as an independent news team of one and found myself reporting on atrocities that were evident to anyone not embedded with the US military, which was then laying waste to the country. My early reporting, some of it for TomDispatch, warned of body counts on a trajectory toward one million, rampant torture in the military’s detention facilities, and the toxic legacy it had left in the city of Fallujah thanks to the use of depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous.

As I learned, the US military is an industrial-scale killing machine and also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet, which makes it a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As it happens, distant lands like Iraq sitting atop vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas are by no means its only playing fields.

Take the place where I now live, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The US Navy already has plans to conduct electromagnetic warfare training in an area close to where I moved to once again seek solace in the mountains: Olympic National Forest and nearby Olympic National Park. And this June, it’s scheduling massive war games in the Gulf of Alaska, including live bombing runs that will mean the detonation of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic munitions, as well as the use of active sonar in the most pristine, economically valuable, and sustainable salmon fishery in the country (arguably in the world). And all of this is to happen right in the middle of fishing season.

This time, in other words, the bombs will be falling far closer to home. Whether it’s war-torn Iraq or “peaceful” Alaska, Sunnis and Shi’ites or salmon and whales, to me the omnipresent “footprint” of the US military feels inescapable.

sonar war arctic
All of Southeast Alaska’s pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy’s upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The War Comes Home

In 2013, US Navy researchers predicted ice-free summer Arctic waters by 2016 and it looks as if that prediction might come true. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that there was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter of the satellite era. Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).

The waters in the Gulf of Alaska are some of the most pristine in the world, rivaled only by those in the Antarctic, and among the purest and most nutrient-rich waters anywhere. Northern Edge will take place in an Alaskan “marine protected area,” as well as in a NOAA-designated “fisheries protected area.” These war games will also coincide with the key breeding and migratory periods of the marine life in the region as they make their way toward Prince William Sound, as well as further north into the Arctic.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions. No fewer than a dozen native tribes including the Eskimo, Eyak, Athabascan, Tlingit, Sun’aq, and Aleut rely on the area for subsistence living, not to speak of their cultural and spiritual identities.

The Navy is already permitted to use live ordnance including bombs, missiles, and torpedoes, along with active and passive sonar in “realistic” war gaming that is expected to involve the release of as much as 352,000 pounds of “expended materials” every year. (The Navy’s EIS lists numerous things as “expended materials,” including missiles, bombs, torpedoes.) At present, the Navy is well into the process of securing the necessary permits for the next five years and has even mentioned making plans for the next 20. Large numbers of warships and submarines are slated to move into the area and the potential pollution from this has worried Alaskans who live nearby.

“We are concerned about expended materials in addition to the bombs, jet noise, and sonar,” the Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk tells me as we sit in her office in Cordova, Alaska. EPC is an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat. “Chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, cyanide, ammonium perchlorate, the Navy’s own environmental impact statement says there is a high risk of chemical exposure to fish.”

Tiny Cordova, population 2,300, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state and consistently ranks among the top 10 busiest US fishing ports. Since September, when Stolarcyk first became aware of the Navy’s plans, she has been working tirelessly, calling local, state and federal officials and alerting virtually every fisherman she runs into about what she calls “the storm” looming on the horizon. “The propellants from the Navy’s missiles and some of their other weapons will release benzene, toluene, xylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthalene into the waters of twenty percent of the training area, according to their own EIS [environmental impact statement],” she explains as we look down on Cordova’s harbor with salmon fishing season rapidly approaching. As it happens, most of the chemicals she mentioned were part of BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which I covered for years, so as I listened to her I had an eerie sense of futuristic déjà vu.

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

The Navy’s EIS estimates that, in the five-year period in which these war games are to be conducted, there will be more than 182,000 “takes” — direct deaths of a marine mammal, or the disruption of essential behaviors like breeding, nursing, or surfacing. On the deaths of fish, it offers no estimates at all. Nevertheless, the Navy will be permitted to use at least 352,000 pounds of expended materials in these games annually. The potential negative effects could be far-reaching, given species migration and the global current system in northern waters. p>

In the meantime, the Navy is giving Stolarcyk’s efforts the cold shoulder, showing what she calls “total disregard toward the people making their living from these waters.” She adds, “They say this is for national security. They are theoretically defending us, but if they destroy our food source and how we make our living, while polluting our air and water, what’s left to defend?”

Stolarcyk has been labeled an “activist” and “environmentalist,” perhaps because the main organizations she’s managed to sign on to her efforts are indeed environmental groups like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the Alaskans First Coalition.

“Why does wanting to protect wild salmon habitat make me an activist?” she asks. “How has that caused me to be branded as an environmentalist?” Given that the Alaska commercial fishing industry could be decimated if its iconic “wild-caught” salmon turn up with traces of cyanide or any of the myriad chemicals the Navy will be using, Stolarcyk could as easily be seen as fighting for the well-being, if not the survival, of the fishing industry in her state.

War Gaming the Community

The clock is ticking in Cordova and others in Stolarcyk’s community are beginning to share her concerns. A few like Alexis Cooper, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), a non-profit organization that represents the commercial fishermen in the area, have begun to speak out. “We’re already seeing reduced numbers of halibut without the Navy having expanded their operations in the GOA [Gulf of Alaska],” she says, “and we’re already seeing other decreases in harvestable species.”

CDFU represents more than 800 commercial salmon fishermen, an industry that accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Cordova’s economy. Without salmon, like many other towns along coastal southeastern Alaska, it would effectively cease to exist.

Teal Webber, a lifelong commercial fisherwoman and member of the Native Village of Eyak, gets visibly upset when the Navy’s plans come up. “You wouldn’t bomb a bunch of farmland,” she says, “and the salmon run comes right through this area, so why are they doing this now?” She adds, “When all of the fishing community in Cordova gets the news about how much impact the Navy’s war games could have, you’ll see them oppose it en masse.”

While I’m in town, Stolarcyk offers a public presentation of the case against Northern Edge in the elementary school auditorium. As she shows a slide from the Navy’s environmental impact statement indicating that the areas affected will take decades to recover, several fishermen quietly shake their heads.

One of them, James Weiss, who also works for Alaska’s Fish and Game Department, pulls me aside and quietly says, “My son is growing up here, eating everything that comes out of the sea. I know fish travel through that area they plan to bomb and pollute, so of course I’m concerned. This is too important of a fishing area to put at risk.” p>

In the question-and-answer session that follows, Jim Kasch, the town’s mayor, assures Stolarcyk that he’ll ask the city council to become involved. “What’s disturbing is that there is no thought about the fish and marine life,” he tells me later. “It’s a sensitive area and we live off the ocean. This is just scary.” A Marine veteran, Kasch acknowledges the Navy’s need to train, then pauses and adds, “But dropping live ordnance in a sensitive fishery just isn’t a good idea. The entire coast of Alaska lives and breathes from our resources from the ocean.”

That evening, with the sun still high in the spring sky, I walk along the boat docks in the harbor and can’t help but wonder whether this small, scruffy town has a hope in hell of stopping or altering Northern Edge. There have been examples of such unlikely victories in the past. A dozen years ago, the Navy was, for example, finally forced to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as its own private bombing and test range, but only after having done so since the 1940s. In the wake of those six decades of target practice, the island’s population has the highest cancer and asthma rates in the Caribbean, a phenomenon locals attribute to the Navy’s activities.

Similarly, earlier this year a federal court ruled that Navy war games off the coast of California violated the law. It deemed an estimated 9.6 million “harms” to whales and dolphins via high-intensity sonar and underwater detonations improperly assessed as “negligible” in that service’s EIS.

As a result of Stolarcyk’s work, on May 6th Cordova’s city council passed a resolution formally opposing the upcoming war games. Unfortunately, the largest seafood processor in Cordova (and Alaska), Trident Seafoods, has yet to offer a comment on Northern Edge. Its representatives wouldn’t even return my phone call on the subject. Nor, for instance, has Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, whose president, Katrina Hoffman, wrote me that “as an organization, we have no position statement on the matter at this time.” This, despite their stated aim of supporting “the ability of communities in this region to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems.” (Of course, it should be noted that at least some of their funds come from the Navy.)

Government-to-Government Consultation

At Kodiak Island, my next stop, I find a stronger sense of the threat on the horizon in both the fishing and tribal communities and palpable anger about the Navy’s plans. Take J.J. Marsh, the CEO of the Sun’aq Tribe, the largest on the island. “I think it’s horrible,” she says the minute I sit down in her office. “I grew up here. I was raised on subsistence living. I grew up caring about the environment and the animals and fishing in a native household living off the land and seeing my grandpa being a fisherman. So obviously, the need to protect this is clear.”

What, I ask, is her tribe going to do?

She responds instantly. “We are going to file for a government-to-government consultation and so are other Kodiak tribes so that hopefully we can get this stopped.”

The US government has a unique relationship with Alaska’s Native tribes, like all other American Indian tribes. It treats each as if it were an autonomous government. If a tribe requests a “consultation,” Washington must respond and Marsh hopes that such an intervention might help block Northern Edge. “It’s about the generations to come. We have an opportunity as a sovereign tribe to go to battle on this with the feds. If we aren’t going to do it, who is?”

Melissa Borton, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, feels similarly. Like Marsh’s tribe, hers was, until recently, remarkably unaware of the Navy’s plans. That’s hardly surprising since that service has essentially made no effort to publicize what it is going to do. “We are absolutely going to be part of this [attempt to stop the Navy],” she tells me. “I’m appalled.”

One reason she’s appalled: she lived through Alaska’s monster Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. “We are still feeling its effects,” she says. “Every time they make these environmental decisions they affect us… We are already plagued with cancer and it comes from the military waste already in our ground or that our fish and deer eat and we eat those… I’ve lost family to cancer, as most around here have and at some point in time this has to stop.”

When I meet with Natasha Hayden, an Afognak tribal council member whose husband is a commercial fisherman, she puts the matter simply and bluntly. “This is a frontal attack by the Navy on our cultural identity.”

Gary Knagin, lifelong fisherman and member of the Sun’aq tribe, is busily preparing his boat and crew for the salmon season when we talk. “We aren’t going to be able to eat if they do this. It’s bullshit. It’ll be detrimental to us and it’s obvious why. In June, when we are out there, salmon are jumping [in the waters] where they want to bomb as far as you can see in any direction. That’s the salmon run. So why do they have to do it in June? If our fish are contaminated, the whole state’s economy is hit. The fishing industry here supports everyone and every other business here is reliant upon the fishing industry. So if you take out the fishing, you take out the town.”

The Navy’s Free Ride

I requested comment from the US military’s Alaskan Command office, and Captain Anastasia Wasem responded after I returned home from my trip north. In our email exchange, I asked her why the Navy had chosen the Gulf of Alaska, given that it was a critical habitat for all five of the state’s wild salmon. She replied that the waters where the war games will occur, which the Navy refers to as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, are “strategically significant” and claimed that a recent “Pacific command study” found that naval training opportunities are declining everywhere in the Pacific “except Alaska,” which she referred to as “a true national asset.”

“The Navy’s training activities,” she added, “are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life.”

In its assessment of the Navy’s plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. “Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat],” its report said, “include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality.” According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge “may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover.”

Captain Wasem assured me that the Navy made its plans in consultation with the NMFS, but she failed to add that those consultations were found to be inadequate by the agency or to acknowledge that it expressed serious concerns about the coming war games. In fact, in 2011 it made four conservation recommendations to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise offset possible adverse effects to essential fish habitat. Although such recommendations were non-binding, the Navy was supposed to consider the public interest in its planning.

One of the recommendations, for instance, was that it develop a plan to report on fish mortality during the exercises. The Navy rejected this, claiming that such reporting would “not provide much, if any, valuable data.” As Stolarcyk told me, “The Navy declined to do three of their four recommendations, and NMFS just rolled over.”

I asked Captain Wasem why the Navy choose to hold the exercise in the middle of salmon fishing season.

“The Northern Edge exercise is scheduled when weather is most conducive for training,” she explained vaguely, pointing out that “the Northern Edge exercise is a big investment for DoD [the Department of Defense] in terms of funding, use of equipment/fuels, strategic transportation, and personnel.”

Arctic Nightmares

The bottom line on all this is simple, if brutal. The Navy is increasingly focused on possible future climate-change conflicts in the melting waters of the north and, in that context, has little or no intention of caretaking the environment when it comes to military exercises. In addition, the federal agencies tasked with overseeing any war-gaming plans have neither the legal ability nor the will to enforce environmental regulations when what’s at stake, at least according to the Pentagon, is “national security.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the safety of locals in the Navy’s expanding area of operation, there is no obvious recourse. Alaskans can’t turn to NMFS or the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA. If you want to stop the US military from dropping live munitions, or blasting electromagnetic radiation into national forests and marine sanctuaries, or poisoning your environment, you’d better figure out how to file a major lawsuit or, if you belong to a Native tribe, demand a government-to-government consultation and hope it works. And both of those are long shots, at best.

Meanwhile, as the race heats up for reserves of oil and gas in the melting Arctic that shouldn’t be extracted and burned in the first place, so do the Navy’s war games. From southern California to Alaska, if you live in a coastal town or city, odds are that the Navy is coming your way, if it’s not already there.

Nevertheless, Emily Stolarcyk shows no signs of throwing in the towel, despite the way the deck is stacked against her efforts. “It’s supposedly our constitutional right that control of the military is in the hands of the citizens,” she told me in our last session together. At one point, she paused and asked, “Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes around not protecting salmon? Look at California, Oregon, and Washington’s salmon. They’ve been decimated. We have the best and most pristine salmon left on the planet, and the Navy wants to do these exercises. You can’t have both.”

Stolarcyk and I share a bond common among people who have lived in our northernmost state, a place whose wilderness is so vast and beautiful as to make your head spin. Those of us who have experienced its rivers and mountains, have been awed by the northern lights, and are regularly reminded of our own insignificance (even as we gained a new appreciation for how precious life really is) tend to want to protect the place as well as share it with others.

“Everyone has been telling me from the start that I’m fighting a lost cause and I will not win,” Stolarcyk said as our time together wound down. “No other non-profit in Alaska will touch this. But I actually believe we can fight this and we can stop them. I believe in the power of one. If I can convince someone to join me, it spreads from there. It takes a spark to start a fire, and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done.”

Three decades ago, in his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez suggested that, when it came to exploiting the Arctic versus living sustainably in it, the ecosystems of the region were too vulnerable to absorb attempts to “accommodate both sides.” In the years since, whether it’s been the Navy, Big Energy, or the increasingly catastrophic impacts of human-caused climate disruption, only one side has been accommodated and the results have been dismal.

In Iraq in wartime, I saw what the US military was capable of in a distant ravaged land. In June, I’ll see what that military is capable of in what still passes for peacetime and close to home indeed. As I sit at my desk writing this story on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the roar of Navy jets periodically rumbles in from across Puget Sound, where a massive naval air station is located. I can’t help but wonder whether, years from now, I’ll still be writing pieces with titles like “Destroying What Remains,” as the Navy continues its war-gaming in an ice-free summer Arctic amid a sea of offshore oil drilling platforms.