Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Brutality at the Cove is not Limited to Dolphins...

Disturbing and shocking images have come out from Taiji Japan of a pod of pilot whales being slaughtered in the cove. The images are beyond heartbreaking and truly envelop what goes on in Japan's worst kept secret. From September 10th, 2013- September 12th, 2013 Japanese fisherman in Taiji, Japan held a pod of 18 pilot whales in the cove and ultimately slaughtered them. Japan, using a loophole in the moratorium that is in place against commercial whaling, claims to kill whales for scientific research which is why these whales were brought in for slaughter as opposed to being brought in to be sold to marine parks like the dolphins. So let's take a look at this horrific slaughter. All photo credit goes to Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who has men and women on the ground keeping track of what is going on at the cove. They are the Cove Guardians.

the sea shepherd conservation society
In this picture, the killing boats are seen intimidating a pod of pilot whales. Using loud noises, including banging lead pipes underwater, the boats drive the whales towards the cove.

In the cove, the pilot whales are frightened until the are forced close enough to shore.

The large whales get caught in the nets and are dragged into the shallow waters.

Some of the whales that didn't get caught in the nets were literally tied by their tails and dragged to shore.

One whale managed to escape the cove, but beached itself on a public beach nearby and was dragged back.

Meanwhile the remaining whales all clung together in a desperate attempt at survival.

After bearing witness to the slaughter of it's family, this whale began to swim upside down at a very slow pace. Being forced to swim in the blood of it's family. It simply couldn't handle what was going on.

Baby and young whales who were too small to meet any kind of quota swam near their dying mothers until the were dragged away.

Some of the whales thrashed against rocks in a desperate attempt at escaping their deaths.

These two photos are all that need to be shown to grasp the magnitude of what took place. Following the killing, the baby whales were chased out of the cove by the same techniques that the Japanese used to force them in. These whales were lucky to avoid the slaughter, but at such a young age, chances are that they will not survive the loss of their mothers. 

It's bad enough that the Japanese slaughter dolphins in the cove, but to continue to defy international law is a travesty in itself. Of course nobody is going to question the Japanese on this since it took place in their waters. As sad as it is that those whales were slaughtered, it is even more sad to think about those babies who were released. Whales have an incredible memory, and even if these babies do survive, they will be haunted by their time in the cove. These animals are highly reliant on their mothers like a certain other species of animal I can think of, and much like that other animal, their chances of survival without their mothers is naturally cut down.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Turn of the Tide? The Race to Save Sharks Continues!

Hello everyone. I hope all is going well in your lives. This blog will have two shark topics! In an extension of my last blog, my friend Marie Levine of the Shark Research Institute wrote to me regarding the situation with airlines dropping the shipping of shark fins. Hopefully this will clear up any confusion that there could be in regards to the subject. Secondly there has been some big news coming out of China in regards to sharks and shockingly bluefin tuna as well.

Marie writes,

"Some 19 airlines are still significantly involved in shipments of shark fins to Hong Kong. In August, Alex Hofford, who isbased in Hong Kong, launched a campaign aimed at convincing air carriers to stop shipments of fins and enlisted the help of Shark Research Institute and other conservation organizations. Last month, letters were sent to the following airlines: Aeromexico, Air France, Air India, China Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Eva Air, Garuda, GolIberia, Iran Air, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysian Airlines, Pakistan International Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Sri Lankan Airlines, Taps and United Airlines
 To date, two of those airlines responded. Emirates announced publicly on their website that they would go shark free on September 3, 2013. The second was Iran Air, who, although they have not publicized it, maintain that they do not carry shark fins and that they care very much for wildlife conservation. Please applaud their decisions via Facebook and Twitter; if we can generate positive buzz about their decision, it will encourage other airlines to follow their lead.
 And if you fly on any of the airlines on the list, please, please, call them and ask them what the status is with regard to transporting shark fins to Hong Kong. The next shark free airline could be just around the corner!
 Good luck, and let's push the airlines together"

If you are interested in writing to any of these airlines, Marie was kind enough to also send me a sample letter that I will share with you all!

Here is the sample letter....

Dear Sirs & Madam,
 We are writing on behalf of a global coalition of animal protection, shark and marine conservation groups, with regard toyour airline’s commitment to sustainability.
 As one of the world's leading airlines. We applaud your commitment to sustainable development, but there is an aspect of your operations that directly contradicts the airline's commitment to the environment, which is the carriage of shark fin and related products on flights to Hong Kong. This is serious, given your commitment to protecting the environment. Simply put, the tons of shark fins transported as cargo into Hong Kong is directly leading to the endangerment of shark species and the marine environment in the Americas, Asia and beyond.  Hong Kong Government data indicates that over 1,162 tonnes of shark fin were imported into Hong Kong in 2012, of which 14.1% was by air cargo.
 As you may already know, Cathay Pacific Airways took a great step in the right direction last September by making a public commitment to stop carrying shark fins and related products on its subsidiary airline, Cathay Pacific Cargo. (It has long been banned from the passenger services of Cathay Pacific Airways, Dragonair and Air Hong Kong).
 As recently as June, size more airlines have followed in Cathay Pacific's brave steps; Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Qantas, Air New Zealand, Fiji Airways and Emirates. Of these six airlines, we would particularly commend Korean Airlines, Asiana Airlines, Air New Zealand, Emirates and Qantas for implementing an across the board 'blanket ban', rather than a so-called 'sustainable fins only' ban.
 And it is not just airlines that are moving in the right direction. Shipping lines are too. In 2010, Maersk announced a total ban on the carriage of all shark fin and shark-related products on their container ships. In July 2013, Evergreen Line of Taiwan did the same.
 We need your help in cutting the supply chain of shark fin to Hong Kong.
 At the recent meeting of CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which concluded in Thailand on March 14, 2013, several shark species were granted protection, as they have been pushed ever closer to extinction by the shark trade.   Not all sharks are endangered. However, due to poor regulation of the fishing industry, illegally finned and fins of endangered sharks often end up in shipments. INTERPOL’s Environmental Crime Program has advised that companies transporting these fins may be implicated in a crime. Until the legality and sustainability of sources of shark fin can be adequately accounted for, we recommend all companies involved in logistics to suspend transport of shark fin as a precautionary measure and responsible business practice.
 We therefore request that you publicly commit to ending the transportation of shark fin on all your flights. We further request that you set an aggressive timeline to stop the transportation of all shark fin and related products, and publish this in the 'News Releases' section of your website.
 On behalf of everyone in the 60 conservation organizations in this campaign and all our supporters, please, stop carrying shark fin and related products from all your flights.

Now for what has come out of China. The government of China has decided that it is going to get on board with green living and sustainability. In a rather surprising move, the government of China has decided to ban both shark fin soup and bluefin tuna at all government functions. The hope that myself and other conservationists have is that this could be the start of something big in China. China is the shark fin capital of the world and for them to ban shark fin soup from all government functions is a big step in the right direction in the fight to save these animals. If the government follows the rules they lay down, there could be a ripple effect in which fewer and fewer celebrations will serve shark fin soup (and bluefin tuna for that matter) and eventually it's possible that many restaurants would also drop the soup. The demand for fins are dropping as is and this will do nothing but further drive down that demand. The press release from the Chinese Government can be found here...

The airline campaign coupled with the Chinese Government cracking down on corruption and banning shark fins at official government functions has led to a sharp drop in the demand for shark fins. The shark conservation movement keeps picking up steam and that is nothing but good news for the sharks.   

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shark Fin Imports Dropping in China

News broke yesterday out of China that the imports of shark fins has dropped off a great deal in the last year. Ricky Leung Lak-kee, chairman of the Hong Kong Marine Products Association has told the Sunday Morning Press that the shark fin industry has been hit hard. The drop off of imports is estimated to be roughly 30%. That is a massive number in just one year. There are a few factors that have caused this drop off. One of those is a conservation campaign that is going on that has caused some airlines to actually stop transporting fins to China. Another factor is the slumping economy that China is currently dealing with. We in America know what happens during those times. People become more hesitant in how they spend their money, and shark fins are apparently not a high priority for everyone to be spending their money on. The third factor actually has to do with the Chinese Government. As I mentioned in my first shark blog of Operation Kibou, the Chinese Government is currently cracking down on corruption, so that has also led to less shark fins being brought into the country. This is major news as China is the shark fin capital of the world. Leung has scrambled to try to reverse this downward spiral by throwing out senseless insults at conservationists. He claims that the conservationists don't care about the fisherman and their families, only the sharks. In reality, the fisherman wouldn't have to do much to switch their catch to a different, more sustainable fish. After all, if you can catch a shark, chances are you can catch any kind of big game fish.

The whole story of the conservationists ruining the lives of the fisherman is apparently a stretch of the truth. China has been having more and more products imported into the country than at any other time in history. China is essentially killing off their own fishing industries, not the conservationists. Of course Leung wouldn't throw his own government under the bus, but it's the truth. To top it off, there are many fish farms in mainland China that are also taking business from the fisherman. 

Mr. Leung was completely ignorant in his statements to The Morning Press, and as a result he showed the world just how uneducated people really are in regards to sharks. Another claim that he made mentioned that there are over 400 species of shark, which is true. He then went on to say that because of that, sharks will never go extinct. It doesn't matter if there were 1,000 species of shark, they can still be wiped off the face of the Earth. Then of course is the old argument, people eat cows so why not sharks? I'm not even going to give a response to that because frankly,it's like comparing a crab to a shark. They are nothing alike. The situations of the species in question are nothing alike. Even how the animals are raised are nothing alike. All I'll say is that the cows are bred for eating in a sustainable fashion. Sharks are not bred in farms and are not fished in a sustainable fashion. 

 The sheer amount of proof that is out there that these animals are going to go extinct far outweighs any kind of claim that Mr. Leung makes. It is frightening when people like him are in charge of things such as the Marine Products Association. They have no idea what is going on in the world. All Mr. Leung is trying to do is worm his way out of a serious problem that he is now facing and has decided that conservationists are the people he is going to take his frustrations out on. Facts are facts. Less people are eating shark fins. More people are starting to learn the truth. Even the Chinese Government is becoming more aware of the extreme situation that sharks are in and they are starting to take some, albeit small, motions towards conserving these animals (the corruption crackdown being one, but of course that is not solely targeting shark finning). With this news there is renewed hope within the conservationist community. All we can do is hope that more and more airlines hop on board and stop shipping fins and that those actions will spread to shipping lanes in the seas, and trains on land. The stones have been cast into the water, now we wait to see if those ripples can become waves!    

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Whaling, Will This be the Final Year?

Here we are in the year 2013 and there is still whaling going on in the world. Two nations are really, in my opinion, at the top of whaling in the world. One of those is Japan, whom the whaling portion of this campaign will largely focus on, and the other is Iceland. Japan claims to kill whales for scientific research in response to a moratorium on commercial whaling handed down by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). In reality though, little if any research on whales has come out of Japan. The IWC allows a certain number of whales to be killed every year for scientific research. Rather than tossing out all of the unused whale meat, the IWC allows the meat to be sold. That is the loophole that Japan exploits on an annual basis. They claim they kill the whales for research, but then sell the whale meat for a profit. Iceland is far less sneaky with their whaling. Rather than trying to hide what they are doing under the curtain of research, Iceland states they are whaling for endangered fin whales for dog treats. Yes you read that right. Since the Tsunami hit Japan a few years ago, the demand for whale meat has taken a sharp dip and as a result, Iceland has turned to selling the whale meat in dog treats. Sadly the IWC has not issues any form of statement on this slaughter.

Meanwhile in Japan, there is a ton of attention on their whaling program. Over the summer there was an international court case in which Australia took Japan to court over the whaling issue. The reason for this is that Japan is actually conducting commercial whaling within the Australian controlled Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Many people believe that Japan's case in court is not a very convincing one. Some of the things Japan threw at Australia were scientific findings (apparently that could have been founded without actually killing the whale), claiming that Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are simply hired by the Australian Government to do their dirty work, and also stating something about a food security issue. The claims really don't have much to do with the actual case from what I understand and many people feel that Australia clearly has the better case. Time will tell if whaling is going to resume in the Southern Ocean. Either way, this court has a massive, massive choice to make. Either way, the face of international conservation is going to change. Either Japan is going to be punished for their crimes or they are not and they will continue whaling in violation to the moratorium of the IWC.

The economics of Japan's whaling program make about as little sense as them trying to claim that they are whaling for research. Last year Japan arrived back at port with roughly 25% of their quota. The industry lost millions and millions of dollars as a result of that. For the past few years the whaling industry has literally been tanking. Millions lost every year. This is largely due to the intervention of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who seek to uphold the International Laws that Australia simply won't physically enforce. After the Tsunami, Japan even transferred some of their tsunami relief funds to beefing up security on the whaling ships. Yes, if you donated anything to tsunami relief in Japan, your money could have actually went to beefing up security on whaling vessels and not supplying people with life's essentials.

As the Japanese Antarctic Whaling Season starts to near, the world sits and waits to see what happens. The whalers begin to prepare for the season and Sea Shepherd prepares to once again uphold the laws that Australia won't. Last year proved to have the most violent clashes between the whalers and conservationists. At one point, the whaling factory ship actually shoved a conservation vessel into a fuel tanker, essentially sandwitching the conservation vessel between the other two ships. All kinds of  lives are going to be at stake this winter. Human lives for sure if last year was any indication of what could be to come, and the lives of an unknown number of whales are going to be on the line. Hopefully this court verdict will come down before the season starts and puts an end to the chaos and killing once and for all. If not, be sure that Operation Kibou will be following the ever changing events in the Southern Ocean throughout the winter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

One of the World's Oldest Predators May Soon Vanish Forever

Welcome everyone to the first shark blog of Operation Kibou. So first of all have you ever looked at a shark and wondered just how many of these animals exist? Have you ever thought that the Ocean is simply teeming with sharks? If you answered yes to both of those questions then you may be in for a surprise. There are currently over 400 known species of shark in existence. The vast majority of these sharks though would surprise you in both their appearance and length. Typically, many people think that sharks look something like this.


In reality though, many sharks are actually quite small and many of them look more like this than the great white pictured above. 

One thing that all of these sharks have in common though is that they are all facing very real and very dangerous threats from man. For those of you who have followed any of my campaigns before, you will be familiar with these threats. If you want you can skip ahead to the recent news at the end of this blog. For those of you who have not, be prepared to be floored because the following information may shock you. I know it did me when I first found out. The first threat that man poses to sharks is what I like to call the media threat. 

The media has painted sharks as monsters that humans should fear. Don't believe that? Take a look at the incredibly popular major motion picture "Jaws". You have a movie where a massive great white shark decides to terrorize a seashore town by simply eating person after person after person. Of course in the end the shark is killed and all is well, but the effects that that movie had on an entire generation of moviegoers is evident to this day. Shortly after "Jaws" was released, fisherman started killing every shark they could find because all sharks were apparently Jaws just looking to eat a human for his next meal. To this day shark movies are still being produced. Most recently in the form of Sharknado. This movie literally has a tornado full of sharks tear through a city. Sadly some people actually believe that something like that could happen. Take a listen to news stations. Whenever there is a shark attack, it becomes a huge deal. Beaches get closed, dramatic graphics appear on T.V. screens, and all the publicity causes some people to get on their boats and go on a hunt. Even Discovery Channel's Shark Week has seemingly jumped the shark (no pun intended). In recent years, Discovey's Shark Week has become full of nothing but shows depicting sharks killing people. So here we are in the year 2013 and the media is still making a massive deal about sharks. Ironically though more people are killed by dogs and cats every year. Makes me kind of wonder where all the killer cat and dog movies and shows are.

The next threat involves both commercial and recreational fishing. This one is pretty simple to understand. Sharks have a slow reproductive rate. Most of the larger species give birth to very few pups and may not breed on an annual basis. To make matters worse in a sense, sharks mature later in life than most animals making them very vulnerable to overfishing. That is a big part of what is going on right now in the world. Sharks are simply being fished far too quickly. Recreational fisherman are usually pretty good about following the rules and regulations of shark fishing. Most will catch their one shark and be done (That's the limit here in New Jersey). Recreational fisherman usually catch sharks with the intention to eat them, but at the same time, some catch them solely for their jaws and nothing more. This is a massive waste of the animal. Very similar to going to Africa and killing a rhino for it's horn. Most recreational fisherman don't do this, but sadly there are those who do. Recreational fishing does effect shark populations in a negative way, but the damage is nowhere near that of what commercial fishing has done to shark populations.

The damage that commercial fishing has done to sharks is really twofold. The first practice I'll go over is the practice of long line fishing. The second is the practice of shark finning. Long line fishing is an incredibly dangerous style of fishing, not only for sharks, but nearly any animal that lives in or ventures into the sea. Here is what long lines look like.

These lines can extend for over twenty miles and as you can see, the number of hooks is incredibly large. The biggest problem with these long lines is that they are totally indiscriminate and they are pretty much impossible to monitor at all times. This means many of the animals that get hooked die before the fisherman get to them. Normally long lines are used to catch large game fish such as tuna and swordfish. However, long lines will catch sharks, seals, turtles, small whales, unintended fish, and sea birds in addition to their intended catch. In the case of sharks, they panic after being hooked, get tangled in the line and drown.

 Long line fishing is illegal off the west coast of the United States, but it is legal off the east coast. Millions of sharks die every year on long lines where they are not even the intended catch. The amount of bycatch that long line fishing produces is truly unacceptable. Many of the sharks that are caught, dead or alive, share a similar fate. That fate is the process of finning.

Shark finning is the process of catching a shark, cutting off the animal's fins and throwing the animal back into the water. Any shark that that is finned cannot survive. They will be unable to swim, sink to the bottom of the sea and die from drowning, starvation, blood loss, or they will be eaten by other animals. Right now, it is estimated that 100,000,000 sharks are being killed for their fins every year. The question you might be asking yourself is why. Why does this happen?


The answer is actually quite disturbing. The shark's fins are sold and used in a soup called shark fin soup. Shark fin soup has it's roots in China where many years ago the soup was given solely to the Emperor as a symbol of his status. Now though it is available to the public around the world and it has caused a massive, massive problem for shark populations around the world. Prior to being turned into soup, the fins are dried out. For a good idea as to just how big of a problem this is, check out this picture of shark fins drying on a rooftop in China.

Yes every one of those white, black, and grey things in the first and third pictures are all fins. That is literally thousands and thousands of fins!

 In the United States, shark fin soup can sell for over $100. Yes that is $100 for a bowl of soup. All for some kind of status showing. You might be wondering. Is it even good? The answer is debatable. The shark's fin is totally tasteless, but adds a gelatinous texture to the soup and a high dose of mercury (yes the mercury that is dangerous to human health). The actual flavor of the soup comes from either the beef or chicken flavoring that is added in. For more on shark fin soup, I turn things over to Gordon Ramsay.     

I don't think much more needs to be said on the topic of shark finning and shark fin soup right now. The bottom line is that shark finning is incredibly dangerous to sharks. These animals simply cannot compete with commercial fishing pressures. Shark finning is becoming illegal in many areas around the world, but it is nowhere near enough. Even in areas where sharks are protected people are still finning. Countries simply are not enforcing their laws hard enough when it comes to preventing finning. One of the large reasons for that is that countries simply cannot afford to have entire fleets out watching all the vessels in their waters. The best thing people can do is, if finning is illegal in the area, is to call the authorities and report the vessel. We all need to help put a stop to illegal shark finning and shark finning in general.

As dire a situation that sharks are in, there is still hope. Mind you, we need to act quickly if we are to save these animals, but still hope remains. One of the most recent signs of this is what is being called a large decrease in consumption of shark fins in China. This is quite significant, but apparently has little to do with new conservation measures that have been instated in the Pacific. Instead, it has a lot to do with the Chinese government crackdown on corruption and opposition to extravagance. It also has to do with culture changes that are apparently happening in China as more and more young people are avoiding shark fin. To go along with this, more and more Pacific islands are becoming designated shark sanctuaries. Though they are not able to protect 100% of the sharks, the Marshall Islands for example has arrested two foreign vessels, banned them from Marshall Island waters, and fined them each over $100,000. That doesn't sound like much to us here in the United States, but you have to remember things are different in other parts of the world.

In the United States, NOAA has so far been unable to undermine the state shark conservation laws that were put in place by several states including California, Washington, New York, and Delaware. Hope still remains for these animals. Operation Kibou is all about that hope. So what can you do? Well there are a few things really. You can visit shark conservation groups and institutions such as my friends over at the Shark Research Institute ( and Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ( to learn more about sharks and what is being done to save them. You can visit local dining locations that serve shark fin soup and explain to the management about the desperate situations that sharks are in. You can inform friends and family that shark populations are literally being wiped out. You can watch documentaries such as Sharkwater and show them to friends and family or possibly even encourage local schools to do a screening. Time is running out for sharks, but hope remains. Let's all work together to save these animals!

As I said at the start of the blog, what you were about to read may shock you. It's a truly frightening situation for these animals and the fight to save them continues on. My next blog will be an introduction to the whale portion of Operation Kibou unless something major comes up on the dolphin or shark front. From then on there will be no planned blogs. Instead the blogs will be unplanned so I won't be telling you guys what the next one will be about. Thank you all for reading and I hope you all had a great holiday weekend.