This Week in Whales: Oh Snap! NRDC Takes NMFS and the Navy to Court; Japan Still Embracing Tradition of Killing Dolphins; New Amazonian River Dolphin...
- On Monday, NRDC filed suit challenging the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Navy for their authorization of Navy training and testing activities over the next five years in Southern California and Hawaii. The Navy is authorized to inflict about 9.6 million instances of temporary hearing loss and significant behavioral disruption, thousands of permanent injuries, and up to 155 deaths from its use of sonar and explosives. Despite this unprecedented level of harm, neither the Fisheries Service—the federal agency mandated to protect marine mammals—nor the Navy, have veered from the same-old “protective” measures that do little to actually alleviate any of the harm caused by the 60,000 hours of continuous sonic booms and 250,000 explosive detonations the Navy now has permission to perform. This lawsuit is just the latest salvo in NRDC’s campaign to bring sanity and commonsense to Navy training and testing. I look forward to keeping you updated on the lawsuit. Wish us luck!
- In the past week, Japanese dolphin hunters have captured 250 dolphins in Taiji Cove and slaughtered almost all of them—the remainder will be shipped off to aquariums. Each year, 22,000 dead dolphins and porpoises are slaughtered in Japanese waters. New “advances” in killing techniques are meant to decrease the dolphins’ suffering by reducing time-to-death, but are so gruesome they wouldn’t be allowed in Japan’s cattle slaughterhouses. Activists worldwide are protesting the practice, but the domestic grassroots movement is gaining considerable speed—the government promptly deports foreign activists, but permanent residents are hoping their voices spur a nationwide outcry. The dolphin slaughter is not only morally reprehensible, but it’s also a health and safety issue: dolphin meat contains dangerous levels of mercury and other industrial pollutants that bio accumulate up the food chain. And even though Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe defends dolphin hunting as a cultural practice, there’s no doubt the Taiji dolphin slaughter will remain a hot topic internationally—especially with the 2020 Olympics slated to take place in Tokyo.
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recently reversed its earlier decision and recommended that Lolita—the southern resident killer whale taken from her Puget Sound home 44 years ago and installed at the Miami Aquarium—be listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, just as her wild cousins are. The decision lends hope to the decades-long struggle by activists to see Lolita reunited with her pod.
- NOAA ‘s Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary has partnered with a number of marine sanctuaries across the Caribbean to launch Carib Tails, a new international citizen science effort that invites sailors and yachters to photograph the tails of humpbacks they encounter and upload the photos to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalog to help researches discern humpback migration patterns.
- A team of zoologists has just discovered an extremely rare new breed of river dolphin—officially named Inia araguaiaensis— in the Brazilian Amazon. It wasn’t “discovered” in the sense that the animals were just found—scientists knew they were in the Araguaia River Basin—but DNA testing has proved what was previously only suspected that this population is genetically distinct from the other two river dolphin populations that inhabit the Amazon Basin. Very cool. Let’s hope this discovery leads to better conservation practices for all of Brazil’s river dolphins.
- Scientists have still not determined why a group of 33 pilot whales beached themselves and died in the shallow waters off southern Florida over the past few weeks.
- New research suggests that whales naturally fertilize the ocean with their iron-rich excrement, which spurs phytoplankton blooms that absorb carbon dioxide. Therefore, a larger population of baleen whales and krill could hypothetically help address climate change by sequestering more greenhouse gases. Sounds farfetched to me that this could put a dent in our carbon-in-the-atmosphere problem, but I’m all for any justifications to protect whales.
- The critically endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales (there are only 312 left today) that live in Cook Inlet, Alaska are accumulating worrisome levels of oil-related contaminants from their environment or prey according to a recent study that tested their blubber samples. Possible sources of the pollutants include oil and petroleum products, discharges from industrial operations, and runoff from roads and natural seeps and coal seams. My colleague Taryn has blogged about Cook Inlet beluga whales before—these whales face a whole host of threats, including (but not limited to) seismic surveys for oil and gas in the region and construction in the Port of Anchorage.
Meanwhile, this week in Wales....
Wales has suffered record-breaking winds, rains, and floods this month, battering the coastline and severe enough to expose the Stone Age landscape. I wonder what “Apocalyptic” Storm Brigid will reveal? Wales can expect the frequency and severity of storms to increase due to—you guessed it—climate change.
Photo Credit: Daniel Webster for Cascadia Research