Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Inching Towards Protection

    Greetings and welcome or welcome back! Today's blog is some good news out of New Jersey. Yesterday, representatives from the Shark Research Institute, Humane Society, American Littoral Society, and Jenkinson's Aquarium testified in favor of a bill that would ban the possession, trade, and sale of certain shark fins in New Jersey. I am proud to say that I was one of those testifying in favor!  The bill has already passed the state senate and as of yesterday has now passed the assembly appropriations committee by a vote of 8-1.

    From here the bill will travel to the state assembly for a vote and if it passes there, it will head to the Governor's desk. I will be sure to post update blogs as things progress with this bill for better or for worse. So what is this bill? The bill is pretty self explanatory. The bill, if signed into a law would bad the sale, possession, and trade of shark fins in New Jersey. While it may sound self explanatory there is some things within the bill that ease some of the opposition's feelings.

    First, this bill does not ban the sale of shark fin soup in the state of New Jersey. What it does ban is restaurants illegally obtaining shark fins from other countries, states, etc.. If a restaurant is obtaining fins in a legal manner, then there will be no issue. Keep in mind though the massive problems that shark fin soup is linked to for both humans and sharks alike.

    This bill does not hurt recreational fisherman who are good honest fishermen. It will hurt those that catch a shark for the fins and just dispose of the shark's body though. If a fisherman wants to sell the shark's fins, they can. However the whole body of the shark must go with the fins attached. I guess another inconvenience would be that charter boats will no longer be able to nail shark fins to the dock as trophies.... Apparently that's a big deal somehow... Not going to try to explain why that is significant in the long run. In addition, the bill does allow for shark fins to be possessed consistent with licensing for fishing.

    Finally, believe it or not, shark fishing is a very tiny market in New Jersey. In fact, 2016 shark fisheries accounted for a whopping 0.51% of all the species landed in the state. Yes, not even 1%. The impact overall of this bill will be minimal and will help to close the loophole in the national shark finning laws. So far 13 other states have passed similar legislation with the most recent being Texas. Even states that are completely landlocked (Nevada) have gotten in on the bans. More locally Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York all already have similar legislation in place.

    Fingers are crossed and all eyes on the next state assembly meeting where this bill will go up for a vote. If you are a resident of New Jersey, I, along with over 25 organizations whom have signed on in support of this bill ask you to call your legislators and tell them that you support bill A4845! As always thank you for reading and stay tuned as more news about this comes out!

Monday, March 18, 2019

Species Focus: Southern Fiddler Ray

    Hello everyone, today I will be starting a new blog type that I am going to call Species Focus. These blogs will be educational blogs designed to give some fast, basic facts about different species of sharks, rays, dolphins, and whales. Though the majority of these blogs will focus on sharks and rays, I do plan on sprinkling in dolphins and whales from time to time. The first species I'll be focusing on is the Southern Fiddler Ray.

Southern Fiddler Ray Trygonorrhina fasciata

    The Southern Fiddler Ray is a guitarfish that prefers to spend it's time on the sandy, shallow bottom of the sea. It is also known as the banjo shark and the fiddler ray. This species of ray can be found exclusively along the southern coast of Australia. As mentioned previously, they prefer shallow waters, but can be found in waters as deep as over 500 feet. 

    Like many other species of ray, the choice of food for this species consists largely of shellfish and crustaceans. The Southern Fiddler Ray can grow to be around 4 feet in length and weigh around 15 pounds when full grown. This ray gives live birth to 4 to 6 pups per breeding season. The gestation period of this species is one year (12 months). Interestingly enough the baby rays rapidly develop over the final few months of gestation.

    These rays pose no threat to humans and they are of little commercial interest. That being said, the meat of these rays apparently taste pretty good so there is a small demand for it. The fiddler ray is a popular ray in aquariums around the world. They adapt to life in captivity very well. They are known to quickly pick up on target feeding and will still bury themselves in the sand of their exhibits as they would do in the wild. 

    When it comes to conservation, the Southern Fiddler Ray is currently listed as a species of "least concern". This means that the populations do not reach the criteria for being threatened, vulnerable, or endangered. While there are no protections for this species of ray, it does make it's home in some marine sanctuaries and protected zones. The fiddler ray is abundant throughout its range.

    Thank you for reading the first of my Species Focus blogs!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Japan to Resume Commercial Whaling. Whales of Antarctica Spared!

    Well it didn't take too long for something major to happen to bring me back to whales huh? Over the course of the last couple weeks, news stories have been flying around that Japan was looking to leave the International Whaling Commission and resume the practice of commercial whaling. Japan had threatened to leave the IWC multiple times in the past, but never did. As of this morning however, Japan has officially left the IWC. What does this all mean and why did it finally happen though?

    The why is much easier that the what does it mean. The straw that broke the camels back sort to speak could easily be found as recently as this past September. Japan had brought forward a proposal to reinstate commercial whaling. The IWC rejected the proposal and came to the conclusion that whaling was no longer a valid economic activity.It also effectively slammed the door on Japan's long standing loophole by stating that whaling was no longer needed for scientific research. Japan has been hunting whales since 1987 under the guise of scientific research. It was just a few short years ago that the research they were doing was nothing more than commercial whaling. With September's resolutions the loophole was finally tied shut and Japan, left with nowhere to go has now left the IWC. Japan continues to claim that it needs to whale for protein and various other things the whales are used for. So with the why out of the way, the question that we will have to wait and see to be fully answered is what does this all mean.

    The easy answer is that this means Japan will begin commercial whaling within it's economic zones and territories in 2019. This also means that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary where Japan has been whaling under the guise of research is finally, finally safe from the Japanese whaling fleet. Japan will not be going to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary anymore as it would be illegal to kill whales there for commercial purposes (yes it was always commercial, but that's politics for ya). Those are the two sure things that we know. We also know that Japan already was hunting whales for "research" in their waters every year as well. What we don't know is how all in Japan may or may not go with this. Will they increase their quotas to make up for the numbers they won't  be getting in the Southern Ocean? Will the popularity of whaling and eating whale within Japan continue to decline? Will the whale populations in the North Pacific be sustainable with Japan becoming more focused in the area? With Japan leaving the IWC, will small countries whose votes were previously bought out by Japan change their tune on whale conservation? Will Japan return to the IWC at some point? These are all harder to answer questions that only time will tell us.

    The biggest takeaway here is that the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now an actual whale sanctuary and not just named one. Whales are now free to swim there with no fear of industry slaughtering hundreds of them. The Whale Wars that raged between conservation groups like Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace has finally come to an end in the Southern Ocean. While there had been no physical confrontations over the past couple years due to the Japanese whaling fleet getting some serious tech upgrades and military involvement, the pressure had continued to be poured on and the setbacks for the fleet never really ended. Today we should all celebrate this small victory for the whales in the Southern Ocean. It is not often that we have something like this to celebrate so as we head to 2019, let's raise a glass to the IWC for rejecting Japan's proposal and effectively ending whaling in the Southern Ocean! 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Captivity or a Chance for Survival Revisited

    Welcome or welcome back everyone. To re-kick things off here I am going to actually take a look back at my very first blog that I posted back in 2012. It's a question that has become a massive debate since then and one that I had largely kept away from outside of some thoughts on Blackfish. It's been six years since I posted that blog and thoughts and feelings change, so before getting into all the stuff I'd like to get into here, I'd like to take a few minutes and share some thoughts.


    Aquariums, when done right can really be an incredible tool in raising awareness and helping conservation efforts of marine life. Yes, there are aquariums with dirty secrets, play dirty, and are a direct link to several species being exploited. That said, it is not all of them. The majority of Aquariums that you will find (in the United States anyway) have the primary goal of educating the public about the animals that they house. Honestly many of these are not animals that people will just sit at home and look up for themselves. These aren't elephants and lions that have been in the media for years and years. These are smaller animals like horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and menhaden that many people don't even know exist. They don't know they exist and they certainly don't know any issues they may be facing. Sure a lot of people have seen Jaws, but most have never even seen a real shark and are petrified of them from a movie. That's where the aquarium comes in as a massive tool for learning. Overall, the good that aquariums are doing largely outweigh the bad. Again, there are certain facilities that value entertainment and show over education. It's up to you to decide for yourself which is a good versus a bad one though. My feelings and my experience tells me that the majority of these facilities are by no means as awful as the media has stated in the years since Blackfish.


    Dolphins and captivity has been a debate that has raged on for a while now. It is one that I have so many mixed feelings about, but I feel like I can summarize it as this. Years ago, before Flipper or Free Willy came out, people were nowhere near as into dolphins as they are today. Back then dolphins were in a similar spot as so many other marine animals. Very little was known (we've only really started to understand them now) and people just didn't care that much. Since then the popularity of dolphins and our knowledge of what they are capable of has exploded. Dolphins, much like pandas, lions, and other notable mammals have the attention of the world. Is there a need for them in captivity though? I have mixed emotions on it. The thing is, it sounds like these animals are very much aware of their situation in captivity. They are incredibly social and wickedly smart. Should an animal like that be contained? I lean towards no honestly. I see the educational benefits. They are there and they are extremely valid. My feeling though is that these animals are popular enough that they do not need to be in captivity for people to take an interest in them. I sit on the beach here and anytime a pod of dolphins comes by it captivates the beach. Not for the silly behaviors and tricks that they can do, but for what they are. With all of that being said I do believe there is a special place in aquariums for dolphins that are no longer fit for the wild and require extra help to survive. Those that have been hit by boats, abandoned, sickly, and otherwise injured are prime examples of this situation.


    This is an easy one for me. I don't think whales have a real place in captivity. Many of the same reasons I feel this way can are the same as the dolphin category. Again, I understand the educational aspect of it, but again we are dealing with animals of great intelligence that know full well of the situation that they are in. At this point there really are only a few species of whale that are in captivity to begin with, but I do believe that enough people care about these animals that we don't need to be taking more of them out of the wild at this point. That could always change, but that's my feelings on it at the moment.


    Rays come in all shapes and sizes. When people hear the term "ray" the first thing that normally comes to mind is a sting ray. The disc shaped bottom dwelling sting ray. I feel like that's a problem. There are all kinds of rays out there. Some massive like the manta ray, others not. Whatever the case, people do not know anywhere near enough about these animals. Many people would be hard pressed to even recognize that different species of rays exist as opposed to just "sting rays". Walk into an aquarium and chances are you will see many species of ray, sometimes within the same tank. Each one vastly different from the other, but you would never have known it. We know so little about these animals and their presence in aquariums is nothing but a good thing for many of the species in existence. Side note: Keeping large species of ray in tanks that are too small is not acceptable at all...


    Saved the best for last. Sharks in captivity are pivotal to their survival. The other species that I have typed about so far all have their fair share of issues, but sharks are a very special in regards to this blog. Unless you've lived in an area with no technology (how are you reading this?) over the past well thirty plus years, chances are you have probably heard something about the animal known as the shark. Chances are also probably pretty high that you haven't heard many good things about sharks. Sadly sharks in the media very rarely get any form of positive statements. It's usually reports of sharks biting people or Shark Week shows full of bloody waters and what not. I digress. Sharks are needed in captivity today to make sure that these animals are around in the future. Millions upon millions of sharks are being killed every year for a variety of reasons (though none really legitimate) and largely, nobody knows. Will there be a white shark years from now? How about a thresher shark? It's entirely possible there wont be unless people act, continue to act, and continue to work to save them. The first step in doing that is educating people that these animals are not the blood thirsty creatures that we see on the big screen. I know many people who won't step foot in the Ocean because they think a shark will kill them instantly. It's not good.

    Aquariums are leading the charge in education when it comes to sharks. The truth is out there, but many people will only believe what they see on T.V. until they see it for themselves. At an aquarium you'll see sharks coexisting with other animals and not constantly tearing them apart. You'll see that there is intelligence there outside of mindless eating machines. You'll learn just how incredible their senses are and just how sensitive these animals can be. No, they're not as cute and cuddly as the panda at the zoo, but that doesn't matter and the role they play in the world far surpasses many others on land or in the sea.

    To wrap this whole thing up, Aquariums still have a place in the world. It's been a debate. Some people want every animal freed, some want none freed, some want marine mammals freed, and some want specific species freed or at least placed in sea pens or something. I fall into the last category overall. Sharks, rays, and countless other marine life need some form of representation. Whale and dolphin watching is a huge thing now. They don't need to be in a tank. What about those not near a coast that wants to see them? It's a part of life. Not everyone is near everything. If you live in the Midwestern United States and want to see some crazy animal not found in any nearby zoo, you have to travel. Some animals just don't do well in captivity and history shows us that cetaceans aren't really the best in captivity. Not saying there wasn't a time for them, but I think that time has largely passed. As far as other marine life. Aquariums remain a hope for the survival of the species.   

Monday, November 26, 2018

2018 Reboot

    It has been nearly two years since I have posted on here. I'm not ready to disclose the details of what has been going on in my life for that past couple years, but one thing I have to admit I stepped away from. I stepped away from the fight to save sharks and other marine life. It wasn't a choice that I made easily, and it was certainly not one that I took lightly or one that I fully wanted to make. It was a choice I made to dedicate my time on a different, unrelated cause. That cause came to an end a little bit ago and now I have made the choice to rejoin a fight that, if you look at the history here, I was at one point pretty involved in. So what is ahead here?

    My plan is to begin blogging on a regular basis again soon. The question I am still trying to figure out in my head though is just what I will be blogging about. As was always the case, sharks are going to be the main focus here. I will probably restart doing educational blogs on different shark species as well as shark related news. I've been out of the loop for a bit with all of this, so please bear with me as I get myself caught up while trying to get you caught up as well. Another big focus on this blog was whaling. As I got news from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as to what was going on in the Southern Ocean between themselves and Japan I would blog about it. Nowadays anti whaling is mostly taking place in the courts and information is pretty scarce. I'm thinking I'll post about whaling still from time to time to keep the awareness up that this is still happening in 2019/2019.

    As far as my involvement with Sea Shepherd goes, I currently am not involved with them, but I'll say never say never about being in touch with them again down the line. Another thing I used to blog heavily on was dolphins. For a while this blog really became a dolphin first blog as I got heavily involved in Anonymous's Operation Killingbay and Operation Killbay 2. Both of those were all about spreading the crimes in Taiji, Japan, as far as we could while other members went after various targets via hacking. Now I have no involvement with them either. Again, not saying I never will again, but right now I think I'm going to take the same approach as I am with whales. Keep the awareness up, but not focus so much on anything really educational about the various species and what not. At least not yet.

    Lastly, this blog used to have a focus on overfishing and manta rays. This focus was mainly back in 2015 as I tracked Sea Shepherd's epic battle against illegal toothfish poachers. For now I don't really know how much of these topics I am going to cover. Certainly overfishing is a massive problem, but it is one that I will be able to incorporate in a large number of shark blogs. As far as mantas go... They are rays after all, so I will continue to blog about them as they fall into the same bracket for me as sharks.

I'll end this reboot blog there then. Welcome to or welcome back to A Voice for the Voiceless. This blog is dedicated to increasing the awareness of marine life conservation issues including dolphins, whales, rays, and sharks. Along with conservation issues this blog will help to give people more knowledge on some of the most misunderstood creatures on the planet, sharks and rays. Thank you for reading and stay tuned because there is much, much more to come.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Sea Shepherd Locates the Japanese Whaling Fleet

    Hello everyone and Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and whatever other holiday you choose to celebrate! Just a few minutes ago on Sea Shepherd Global's Facebook page it was announced that the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has located the Japanese Whaling Fleet in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. According to the Facebook post, the two Sea Shepherd vessels located one of the harpoon vessels in thick fog hiding out behind an iceberg. The harpoon ship apparently emerged from behind the iceberg and took a collision course with the two other ships, though no collision was reported.

    This marks the first meeting between the activists and the whaling fleet in a few years. Last year, Sea Shepherd continued to battle the Japanese whaling fleet in court as it illegally returned to the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary while it also operated an operation against illegal fishing in the area. At the time, the Sea Shepherds did not have a ship that was not already involved in another campaign capable of outspeeding the whaling fleet. The year before that, the whaling fleet took a year off after their whaling program was deemed to be commercial and not scientific.

    So what does the discovery of a harpoon ship mean? Well it means that the factory ship is close by. If the factory ship is located, the Sea Shepherds can do what they have done in the past and block the slipway of the factory ship. That action prevents the whaling fleet from transferring whales from the harpoon ships onto the factory ship. In years past Sea Shepherd has had varying success in keeping near the factory ship. Some years were more successful than others, but all seasons have done big time damage to the profits of the whaling fleet as they have had to continue to dedicate resources to try and shake Sea Shepherd. Every day that they are dealing with Sea Shepherd is a day they are not whaling. The biggest advantage the whaling fleet had in years past was speed. The whaling fleet had even upgraded it's aging factory vessel to give it more speed and with some help, it would be able to get away. Another advantage of the whaling fleet is the numbers game. The whaling fleet at one point had three harpoon ships, the factory ship, a security ship, all down in the Southern Ocean opposing what was three Sea Shepherd ships. This year though the game has changed a bit. The numbers game remains in favor of the whaling fleet, but this year, Sea Shepherd has the speed advantage with their new ship.

    In years past, when the Sea Shepherds located a harpoon ship, the whaling fleet would begin to move around and the harpoon ship would tail the Sea Shepherds and keep the rest of the fleet alerted to where they were. Now though the harpoon ship will be able to follow the one, slower Sea Shepherd vessel, but the new one will out-speed and eventually vanish off the harpoon ship's radar. At that point the ship will potentially have a clear shot to the factory ship. Sea Shepherd is hopeful that they will have located the factory ship before Christmas. Whether or not that will happen, we all wait and see, but one thing is for sure. The Sea Shepherds have located the whaling fleet and have now began cutting into their profits as they occupy one of the harpoon vessels.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Whale Wars Set To Reignite?

    Greetings everyone. It has been quite a while once again. Since my last blog, life once again decided that it had some other plans for me and I have not been able to actually type up a blog. That's quite unfortunate because there is a lot of stuff that I would have liked to had covered as it happened, but I'll just have to touch on it as I go now. Long story short... Honeymoon planning, work, wedding thank you cards, and various other things all stacked onto one another and really prevented me from blogging. Also, I did not want to post anything during election season considering the issues surrounding both candidates and the varying views on environmental stuff, I did not want the blog to go in a direction I never intended it to go in. With the election over and life finally slowing down a little bit I am happy to be sitting at the keyboard again blogging about things that are going on in our Oceans. Awareness and education remain the key of this blog and that continues with this blog entry.

   Japan's whaling fleet has left it's home country and is once again heading to the Southern Ocean to hunt whales for what the country deems as scientific research. Back in 2014 the International Court ruled that Japan's whaling program was not scientific, but commercial whaling which there is currently a moratorium on. So Japan was forced to scrap it's program and the whaling fleet stayed in port for the 2014-2015 season. The following season however, Japan defied the International Court and returned to the Southern Ocean and hunted down roughly 300 minke whales. This number was significantly lower than past hunts which also saw humpback and endangered fin whales hunted as well. The Japanese whaling fleet's quota for this season is 333 minke whales, which is the same as it was a year ago.

    While the whaling fleet steams south, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society continues to prepare itself to once again head south and oppose the whaling fleet. Last year, Sea Shepherd sent one ship down to the Southern Ocean to oppose illegal activities such as toothfish poaching and whaling. They never set eyes on the whaling fleet, but the group did cause all kinds of problems for illegal fishermen in the area. One of the main reasons that Sea Shepherd did not see the whaling fleet last year was that the whaling fleet had a significant speed advantage. Anytime the whaling fleet would have even sniffed Sea Shepherd in the area, they'd be gone. This year though could prove to be a different story as Sea Shepherd has claimed it will once again be going to the Southern Ocean to oppose Japan's whaling program directly. The group is hoping to catch the whaling fleet with their brand new ship "Ocean Warrior".

Photo: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
    This ship could once again turn the tide in the battle of the Southern Ocean as it is faster than any ship in the whaling fleet. It also has a helipad so in addition to whatever radar systems the ship has, it will have the added benefit of a helicopter in the sky as well. Perhaps to combat this new ship, or just to increase their area, the Japanese whaling fleet has doubled the area in which it's ships will be hunting. Currently the Japanese whaling fleet is heading south and will remain there until sometime in March, 2017. The "Ocean Warrior" is currently docked in Australia awaiting it's time to head south and try to intercept the whaling fleet.  It is interesting to note that Sea Shepherd founder, Paul Watson and the rest of Sea Shepherd USA remain unable to assist Sea Shepherd Australia due to a court ruling against them by the United States Government. Only time will tell if the Whale Wars that climaxed a few years ago in a heated season that saw several collisions including one with a refueling ship.

    As I have done in the past I will try to keep everyone updated here on what is going on in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. However, for any breaking news I advise following Sea Shepherd Australia on Facebook and Twitter if they have one and keep watch at www.seashepherd.org . Stay tuned as I will have more blogs coming in the near future. One of my next blogs will probably be an update on the Cove in Taiji, Japan as that slaughter is well underway.