Category Archives: Cetaceans

Great Bear Rainforest

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An agreement was reached last week to protect the vast majority of Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest old-growth temperate rainforests left in the world.

The deal is between First Nations governments, the provincial government of British Columbia, and the forestry industry that fulfills commitments first made a decade ago as part of the Great Bear Rainforest Agreements.

With the agreement, some 3.1 million hectares (7.7 million acres) of the Great Bear Rainforest, over 85 percent of the temperate rainforest in the remote coastal region will be permanently off-limits to industrial logging. The remaining 15 percent (550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) of the forest will be subject to “the most stringent legal standards for commercial logging operations in North America.

The agreement requires a 40 percent reduction in logging compared with 2006 levels — or 2.5 million cubic metres (88.2 million cubic feet) per year — for the next 10 years. After that, logging will be done on a “conservation trajectory.” Logging companies will have to make annual progress reports to the public to ensure they meet the required conservation targets.

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The agreement also solidifies First Nations governments’ shared decision-making powers with the B.C. government within their traditional territories and establishes measures to improve the wellbeing of First Nations communities.

This is a  victory for the global climate, as well, as B.C.’s coastal old-growth rainforests are known to store large amounts of carbon, meaning that increased protections will result in an immediate reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation.

Just over half of the region known as the Great Bear Rainforest, which encompasses about 6.4 million hectares (15 million acres) of coastal B.C., is covered by forest ecosystems (around 3.6 million hectares, or 8.9 million acres). It is the traditional territory of 26 First Nations.

The Great Bear Rainforest provides habitat for a number of iconic species, including towering, ancient trees as well as grizzly bears, orcas, salmon, wolves, and the unique, white-furred black bear known as the Spirit bear that the rainforest is named for.

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Injured Captive Orcas

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Recently a wildlife veterinarian, Heather Rally, who works for PETA recently visited SeaWorld’s San Antonio park. She was there to take a look at its orcas and saw severe dental trauma in the cetaceans and sea lions at risk of blindness.

One big issue was the terrible state of the orcas’ teeth. Captive orcas are already at risk for dental trauma — bored and stressed, they often begin gnawing on the edges of their tanks — but Rally said she was alarmed by the frequency and severity of the dental trauma she witnessed.

“Every single orca that I observed had significant wearing on their teeth, specifically on the lower mandible. They start chewing on their tanks, as a result and stress … as soon as they start doing that they start to traumatize their teeth.”

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The damage is much more than cosmetic. When the orcas, bored by captivity, begin to chew on the hard parts of their tanks, they fracture their teeth. The fractures expose the dental pulp, the living tissue within their teeth. Not only is this painful, but the fractures act as a “direct portal” for bacteria to enter the bloodstream — and can lead to heart problems, pneumonia, sepsis and death.

As a result, SeaWorld vets perform a “root canal” of sorts to clean out the pulp of the tooth. For the rest of their lives, the orcas have to undergo daily cleanings to keep their teeth fit, Rally said. “It’s not a pleasant experience,” she explained. “It takes a lot of time to train these animals to endure something like this.” Severe dental trauma is very rare in the wild

The cramped tanks also lead to in-fighting between whales, and sometimes gruesome injuries. In the wild, such encounters are very rare because the submissive animal can just swim away. But because SeaWorld houses its orcas in such unnaturally small quarters, tensions can quickly turn violent when they wouldn’t in the wild — leaving the whales at risk.

SeaWorld orca, Nakai with injury on chin area.
                                                SeaWorld orca, Nakai with injury on chin area.

Some of these injuries have been dire, such as in 2012 when a male named Nakai had his entire lower jaw torn off during a fight with another whale. In 1989, a female named Kandu broke her own jaw and severed an artery when she attacked another whale — she bled to death as her panicked infant calf swam circles around her.

SeaWorld drugs its whales with benzodiazepines to alleviate aggressive behavior, but the aggression does not stop. Former trainers have revealed that the park uses food deprivation to make whales perform, separates infants from mothers and pumps them full of drugs. Orcas also live shorter life spans in captivity than they do in the wild

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A Call for Saving Leviathan, for Saving the Whales, Part 1

Gray Whale

“From Hell’s Heart I stab at thee” decried Melville in “Moby Dick.” In the heyday of whaling, tens of thousands of sperm whales were destroyed for oil every year to light the cities of modern civilization. Advancing as the dominant force on earth, man slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the great mind of the oceans, the whales.

Is humanity capable of saving the seas? The ways the seas and the whales go, so does civilization. The seas are acidifying. Whales are key not just for their fecundation of the phytoplankton on which we depend for oxygen, but also for the entire immune system of the oceans. The oceans are being asked a reprieve. Without the life it sustains, humanity will drown. As Laurens van der Post wrote in “The Hunter and the Whale,” “Killing disproportionately was the last unforgiveable depravity.”

“Thinking Like a Dolphin,” National Geographic’s May issue cover story, confirms the urgency of the issue and underscores the supreme importance of cetaceans to humanity. I once heard Paul Watson speaking out for the cetaceans. He shared an anecdote from several decades ago, when he tried to stop a Russian whaler from harpooning a sperm whale. His words carried all the power of a fury decrying the modern Ahabs as he maneuvered with his zodiac trying to position himself between the long steel blade and the brain of one of the most remarkable beings on earth. Eventually the harpoon found its way into the body of the sperm whale causing untold agony.

Gray Whale 6

In the depths of its pain, surrounded by pools of blood, as the ocean turned crimson, the whale’s eye, reflecting the earth in miniature, shot a glance of what seemed like a depth charge of pity at Watson and his men. It was pity, full of loss of an enormous warrior who has battled giant squid and the ferocious crushing solitude of the fathoms below. It was pity not for itself, but for the entire human race! When Watson discovered that the whale oil of exceptional quality was being used to lubricate Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles by the Soviet Union, his voice rose and trembled because he felt the human species had gone completely mad.

The peak days of whaling are over, most whale populations have survived, but some like the southern right whales are exceptionally vulnerable. The ignominy of hundreds of years of slaughter and now industrial pollution is crucifying the cetacean mind.

In ancient Greece and even more recently off the coast of India there are many stories of dolphins saving humans from drowning. Arion who invented the dithyramb (a wild ancient Greek choral hymn) tells the story of the dolphin that saved the life of a singer who was thrown from a ship into the sea. Pliny the Elder, Cicero, Oppian in his long poem “Halieutica,” and the great historian Herodotus tell similar tales of the incomparable human cetacean bond.

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Korianos’ story as told by Plutarch is perhaps the most inspired. Some fishermen in Byzantium were to kill a group of dolphins. Korianos interceded, paid the fishermen and freed the dolphins from their net. The dolphins gave a long look at Korianos and then departed. A few weeks later, a storm raging off the coast capsized a boat on which Korianos was onboard. He alone survived and was saved by a dolphin that carried him to shore. Plutarch mentions that when Korianos died, a group of dolphins appeared before his funeral pyre with heads above water to mourn, as his human companions had done. When the smoke cleared, the dolphins disappeared and were never seen again! (from “The Dolphin, Cousin to Man“ by Robert Stenuit 1968).

* Reprinted from permission from the author, my good friend Cyril Christo.

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World Orca Day

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Today is World  Day. Keep these magnificent and majestic marine mammals where they belong, the world’s oceans, not in aquariums to perform in shows.

Surfing culture

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The Vaquita: Desert Porpoise of Mexico

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The vaquita, is the smallest members of the porpoise family and found only in the waters of Mexico’s northern Gulf of California. The marine mammal, whose name means “little cow” in Spanish is rapidly becoming extinct as they accidentally drown in the gill nets local fishers deploy for fish and shrimp. According to a new report, their numbers have declined by more than 40 percent in just a single year. Now, only around 50

Vaquitas are shy creatures, and rarely seen, except when they are pulled to the surface, usually dead in fishing nets. They have been known to science only since 1958, when three skulls were found on a beach. At the time, it was thought that they numbered in the low thousands. Scientists and fishers alike say the animals, with their pretty facial markings and sleek bodies, are endearing.

There’s danger now that the porpoises will become the second cetacean (the first was the baiji, or Chinese river dolphin) to succumb to human pressures, most likely disappearing forever by 2018.

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Indeed, the government of Mexico established a presidential commission on vaquita conservation in 2012, when scientists estimated the porpoise’s population at 200. In 2005 Mexico created a refuge for them, banned all commercial fishing in the refuge’s waters, beefed up enforcement, and invested more than $30 million (U.S.) to compensate fishers and encourage them to switch to other fishing methods.

It also established the international scientific team to monitor the porpoise’s population, reproductive rates, and habitat. Its members hail from such august conservation bodies as the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the International Whaling Commission, the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, and Norway’s Institute of Marine Research.

All were optimistic then. “We thought we were going to see the vaquitas’ numbers increasing by 4 percent a year,” said Barbara Taylor, a marine biologist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, California, and a member of the team. “Instead, they’ve had a catastrophic decline of 18.5 percent per year.”

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The decline is due to illegal fishing that is out of control. In the past three years, illegal gillnetting for the totoaba, a critically endangered fish that can grow to more than six feet long (1.8 meters) and 300 pounds (136 kilograms), has surged. Unfortunately, the Vaquita and the similarly sized totoaba live in the same parts of the gulf.

The totoaba’s swim bladder, highly prized as a traditional health food and medicine in China, can fetch thousands of dollars. Few fishers can resist the temptation.

Scientists estimate that about 435 miles (700 kilometers) of legal nets are in the water every day during the fishing season, from mid-September to mid-June. That number is not counting the illegal nets for the totoaba,” Taylor says.

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Because of the vaquita’s timid nature (a sighting at 300 feet [90 meters] is considered close), scientists are not able to make visual counts of the animals. They rely instead on an array of special acoustic devices, deployed every year before the fishing season begins (they too are easily tangled in the nets), to record the sounds of the animals as they forage in the murky waters they favor. From these sounds, the researchers are able to estimate the vaquitas’ numbers.

Because the animal’s population is so low, the team says there is only one solution: Ban all gillnetting in the gulf’s upper regions, including the waters surrounding the vaquitas’ refuge. The ban must be strictly applied, even to the legal shrimp and fin fish fishery, and enforced with more police patrols on sea and land.

“It’s a hard choice,” Taylor acknowledges. Such a ban will hurt all the fishers, including those who aren’t engaged in the illegal fishery. But, she said, if Mexico doesn’t do that, it “will lose the vaquita.”

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Mexico, China, and the United States governments need to work together to control—if not end—the trade in totoaba swim bladders. The dried bladders are often smuggled across the U.S. border before ending up in the Chinese marketplace.

There is a modicum of hope. Even at only 50- 97 animals. the species can still be saved. Most marine mammals, including other cetaceans, that have been taken down through hunting have come back, so it’s not too late. But if nothing is done, they can also go extinct rapidly, as happened with the baiji. They can be gone before you know it.”

The commission will meet again at the end of August to discuss what to do next to save the vaquita.

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Pilot Whales Slaughtered

 

Dead pilot whale

Yesterday, June 29 a peaceful group of Pilot Whales (known as a pod) was swimming off the coast of the Faroe Islands. These beautiful and majestic animals were surrounded by boats and forced into shore where they were slaughtered by ruthless villains.  Both the Faroese police and the Danish Navy assisted with the killings as activists from Sea Shepard watched helplessly. Twenty to thirty pilot whales were disemboweled, unborn fetuses ripped from their mothers’ wombs. The bodies of the whales were decapitated one by one.

Aftermath of a Grind Pilot Whale Hunt in the Faroe Islands - Klaksvik "best of Image"

One supporter of the slaughter sent me a message to sea Shepard saying, “We could show ISIS a thing or two about decapitation, you whale-loving bastards.”

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Photographs were taken by the brave and dedicated volunteers of Sea Shepherd

 

 

 

Pity the Pilot Whale

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Once again,  the horror show of evil that the Faroese call the grindadráp, which translated means “the murder of whales.” has started.

This year the Faroese not only have the Faroese Coast Guard and the Danish Navy to defend these brutal and pitiless killers, but the whalers also have the services of the Faroese Coast Guard to find the pods of whales so they can be slain.

There can be no justification for the use of military assets to help kill whales in order to secure whale meat that is inedible because of the toxic levels of mercury in the bodies of the whales.

It is tragic that in the year 2015, with the diminishment of biodiversity and with hundreds of species going extinct, that there are still people so alienated from reality that they continue to engage in contributing to the death of the ocean.  Many Faroese citizens overfish, they slaughter puffins, other seabirds, whales and dolphins. These are the kind of people that I hope future generations of humanity will look back upon with utter disgust and realize in is these type of people why the world is devoid of so many species.

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Teach your children well. Not so, in this case…

The Faroese enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world with the highest income per capita in all of Europe. Their supermarkets are well stocked with anything that can be bought in Copenhagen, London or Paris. They all drive cars, own computers and enjoy the luxuries of modern industrialized society, yet many claim that they need to kill pilot whales and dolphins for meat.

The truth is that some of them simply like to kill. They enjoy it. They need to see the blood spurting into the water. They need to smell and wallow in the blood and the sh*t of the dying animals. They need to hear their pitiful screams because these are the needs of sadistic psychopaths. Not all Faroese are cruel and not all participate in this foul obscenity. Both for those who do and for the politicians who support these despicable acts of slaughter, the evidence is that there is a rotten stench of death associated with these islands that will be angrily remembered when the pilot whales and the dolphins are no more.

Faroe Islands


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