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This Week in Whales: Happy Birthday Endangered Species Act; Russian Beluga Whale Rescue Flounders; Japan Takes Sea Shepherd to Court...

Zak Smith

Posted December 29, 2011 in Reviving the World's Oceans, Saving Wildlife and Wild Places

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News in the world of whales this week (or close to it).

         Humpback whale (Photo by NOAA)

  • Happy Birthday Endangered Species Act!!!  Thirty-eight years ago, President Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act and it’s been under attack ever since.  NRDC has been fighting anti-environmental laws and riders all year.  And we’ll keep it up.  Here’s a toast to the ESA reaching a ripe old age.  Twenty-four marine mammals are listed under the ESA: beluga, blue, bowhead, fin, gray, humpback, killer, North Atlantic right, North Pacific right, sei, Southern right, and sperm whales; Chinese River and Indus River dolphins; Gulf of California harbor porpoise; Guadalupe fur, Hawaiian monk, Mediterranean monk, Saimaa, and spotted seals; Steller sea lion; manatee; sea otter; and polar bear.  Am I missing any? 
  • The effort to save 100 beluga whales trapped in ice floes in Russia has been suspended due to bad weather.  A rescue tug sent to rescue the belugas failed to make its way through the ice and headed to port for refueling, hoping for improvements in weather and ice conditions.  Fortunately, there’s still time for future attempts as experts from the Chukotka Fishery Research Center believe there is enough food in the area to keep the whales alive until January.  The whales can break an ice layer up to 10 centimeters thick if the need arises to maintain open water for breathing.  Fingers crossed. 
  • Japanese authorities have extended the detention of a Dutch anti-whaling activist apprehended while attempting to film the transfer of dolphins from the sea to holding pens in Taiji.  The yearly slaughter and capture of dolphins in Taiji was the subject of the 2009 Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove.  An employee claims that the Dutch activist pushed him, but there were no witnesses to the alleged push.  Really?  Weeks in jail for allegedly pushing someone?  Seems excessive.  Typical though for a government seeking to hide shameful conduct.  If what Japan allows is so great and they have nothing to hide, why not let people film? 
  • In other news of Japans’ errant determination to kill marine mammals without pesky interruptions, Japanese whalers have filed suit in US court to stop Sea Shepherd from disrupting whaling in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica.  Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research – the cover for Japan’s whaling interests – is seeking a U.S. court order to prevent Sea Shepherd from engaging in activities at sea that could harm the crew and damage its vessels.  Sea Shepherd’s response:  “The lawsuit is frivolous.”  The judge set a hearing in the case for February 16. 
  • Meanwhile, one of Sea Shepherd’s boats, the Brigitte Bardot, was damaged by a wave while pursuing the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, off the west coast of Australia.  Pursuing the Japanese whaling ship in six-meter swells, Brigitte Bardot was slammed by a wave that cracked the hull on impact.  The Sea Shepherd’s flagship, Steve Irwin, arrived 18 hours later and is towing the damaged ship to port.  All 10 of the crew are safe.  What are not safe are the hundreds of whales the Japanese plan to kill this season, which are currently feeding like crazy and fattening up in unwitting preparation for the whaling fleet’s arrival.  According to Australian Marine Mammal Centre scientist Nick Gales, “These whales feed like blazes.  Their whole annual cycle is set around access to this hugely abundant food in a short period of time.”  Sounds like at least some of these whales will be enjoying their last supper.

Meanwhile, this week in Wales…

A record number of people, more than 650, took part in the annual Boxing Day swim in Tenby on Monday, which raises money for charities.  Many were in fancy dress.

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Comments

Howard GarrettDec 30 2011 01:24 AM

I didn't know it was the birthday of the ESA. I'll lift a mug to that. I would suggest a refinement of your list of mammals protected by the ESA. All killer whales in US waters aren't listed, just the Southern Resident community, now numbering 88 individuals, which are genetically and culturally distinct from all other orca communities.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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