Monday, October 28, 2013

Opertaion Kibou Update/ Really Interesting Manta Ray Story

Hey everyone. I hope everything is going well with you all. Operation Kibou has been going on for a little while now and so far, I think it has been pretty successful. There is a respectable number of people who seem to be reading this blog on a regular basis which I am extremely happy about. So far this operation has consisted of 9 blogs. 3 of which focused on sharks, 2 focused on the issue of whaling, 3 focused on dolphins, and one was split between dolphins and sharks. Those blogs can all be easily viewed by using the little sidebar on the right hand side of your page (if you are on a computer, I don't know if it's the same for mobile devices). Also, the Facebook group that I was hoping to get up and running is up. It is not quite finished yet, but it is there and I have started posting some news articles and whatnot. Feel free to join the group here. I'm hoping that the group will eventually be a good place for people who read this blog or have an interest in conserving marine life to get together, chat, and discuss real world issues regarding ocean conservation.

Now then... Where is the rest of this campaign going? I am going to continue to focus on dolphins, whales, and sharks. After some serious thought I have decided to add orcas into the dolphin category. Normally I would just focus on the smaller dolphins, but I figure there is no harm in discussing the larger ones, especially when there is a bit of a lull in shark news. When talking about orcas though, I will not be discussing the film Blackfish. I will be discussing what is going on with wild orcas and wild orcas alone. This does include them being taken out of the wild, but will not focus on ones already in captivity. For my views on that, please read my blog on Blackfish. Not going to sit here and beat a dead horse sort to speak. As was the plan at the launch of the campaign, once Sea Shepherd's Antarctic Whale Campaign kicks off, expect to see an influx of whale blogs as I follow their mission.

 Now for a quick manta ray story that recently came out that I found to be really interesting. I figured I'd share it with you guys cause well, even though mantas are not at the forefront of this campaign, I did say at the start that if something happened with them I'd discuss it! News has come out over the last few days that back in 2012, a research trip that comprised of several organizations had discovered a hybrid species of manta ray! This is a very, very interesting find for a couple reasons. Until recently, scientists believed that there was just one species of manta ray. Recently they split the species into two, the giant manta and the reef manta ray. In the Red Sea, both of these species of manta ray exist. Interestingly enough scientists thought that these two species kept their distance from each other by utilizing different areas of their habitat. There are other areas of the world where these two species also seem to coexist, so it will be interesting to see if more hybrid mantas start to show up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

My Reaction to "Blackfish"

Well... Just a few short days ago the highly controversial documentary known as Blackfish aired on CNN. Of course the show drew incredible ratings for CNN and could wind up to be a nightmare for Sea World. I watched the documentary and after thinking of an opinion on it for a while I finally came to a conclusion that I can actually type up. First the show itself though.

Blackfish is a documentary that largely focuses on the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau by an orca named Tilikum in 2010. The film also gave a history of attacks committed by orcas on humans in captivity while mentioning multiple times that there are no known attacks by orcas on humans in the wild. There was also the sad history of Tilikum. From being separated from his family, to being abused by tank mates, to being forced into a dark shed with those same tank mates that was too small for one orca let alone three. The sadness of Tilikum's story continued as he was moved to Sea World and sustained even more abuse by tank mates and has been isolated for the majority of his life. It's easy to see how that situation would probably drive a human insane. In fact, history has shown us what isolating and abusing people can do to their mentality. Well look at an orca whose brain is larger than ours. These animals have intelligence that we cannot even begin to truly understand, but that is for another day.

Overall I found the documentary to be pretty stunning and really used emotion to get to viewers. However, the first thing I'd like to point out is just how little was said as to what Sea World actually does for wild animals. Believe it or not, Sea World is responsible for a large number of animals who are rehabbed and released back into the wild every year. There was no mention of this though. That's about as far as I'm going to go as far as standing up for Sea World in this particular story. After all, Sea World's side of the story was not presented in Blackfish which lead to a very one sided documentary. It doesn't help Sea World's case though that employees were filmed blatantly giving out wrong information regarding orcas. From personal experience I can say that misinformation coming from employees regarding animals can really make a place look like they don't know what they're doing. Anyway I digress. Sea World was apparently asked to be a part of the film, but they rejected the offer. I don't know how valid that is or how much the blackfish team tried to get Sea World to work on the film.

So we come to the grand question. Do orcas belong in captivity? In my honest opinion, and that's all it is, my opinion, orcas no longer need to be in captivity. We are not able to replicate their natural habitat. They are smart enough to know the difference between being in the ocean and being in a tank (those who were caught from the wild at least). The social capacity of these animals are also a big reason that these animals shouldn't be kept in captivity. The proof of this can be found in Tilikum's story. Right from the beginning he was beaten by his tank mates. Much like many other animals, even some primates, a group of orcas are not all that keen on a new orca being added to the group. Especially in groups where there is an established social hierarchy. To this day, Tilikum is largely isolated from his tank mates, but sadly this is wrongly due to the fact that he is an aggressive animal. Another rather concerning fact is that orcas are breeding in captivity. At first it looks like a good thing because that means less orcas being taken out of the wild, but many orcas all have the same father... Tilikum. The genetic variations in these young orcas is not going to be healthy enough to sustain orcas in captivity for an extended period of time. There are species survival programs (such as the one for African Penguins) that are actually doing exactly what they are supposed to do. Keep the gene pool diverse enough to replace a wild population should something catastrophic happen to it. The final fact that I want to point out is that films like Free Willy have infatuated the world with orcas. People know of them, think they're cute, and care about them. The interest is there for them, but sadly places that have these animals (not just Sea World) tend to not really say much in the way of their natural histories at all during their shows. So in my opinion they're not even there for educational reasons, which to me is a big issue.

So should we stick them all on a boat and dump them all in the ocean? As nice as that sounds, I just don't think it is a feasible option. There are a few reasons I feel this way. First of all, many of the orcas in captivity now are children to Tilikum, which means they've never seen the ocean and would not have a pod to call their own. All these animals have ever known is humans and their tanks. They don't know what is in the ocean. That's not to say they couldn't survive in the wild though. These animals are smart enough to get the job done, but I feel like dumping them into the ocean would be the equivalent of dropping a millionaire into a forest with absolutely nothing. Chances are that one be one lost human who would have to go through an incredible Hell to survive. Then there is the bonds that these animals may have with their trainers. There is a possibility that these animals create bonds with their trainers. There is no proof of it, but they are smart enough to bond with their trainers as we are smart enough to bond with them. For an animal like Tilikum, being taken away from family had to be totally devastating. The bonds he had since birth severed. If he were to be released again, there is that chance that he would once again have to go through having bonds severed. That'd be like a child being kidnapped into a family and then later in life being put out on the street.

 It's a really touchy subject that I just don't see an easy way of solving. In my opinion the easiest way to go about eliminating orcas from captivity is actually simple. Stop breeding them. Stop catching them from the wild. If a slow reintroduction to the wild is feasible somehow than that could be done with the younger ones or entire groups that could form a pod, do it. I don't know if there is a feasible way of doing that though as I don't know anything about that stuff, so I'm not going to propose anything and stick with the idea that there is no way to do it until it's proven otherwise. Basically, the population would die out over time, effectively ending orcas in captivity. This would also give Sea World and other facilities enough time educate people about these animals and possibly become advocates for these animals in the wild, moreso than they are now.

Well that's how I feel about the issue. I'd love to see an end to orcas in captivity, but sadly I don't see a way of doing it that wouldn't put the animals mental health at risk. That is my greatest concern. If there is a way of doing it, then I am all for it, but it has to be foolproof. It wouldn't be fair to the animal to be released and literally stress to death. Now for some notes!

I do not hate Sea World as a result of Blackfish.
I do not think Sea World is evil.
I do not think all animals in captivity should be freed for reasons that I am not going into right now.
I do think Sea World does a lot of good for marine mammals through rehabilitation.
Due to their mental capacity, I do not support any form of dolphin or whale being  brought into captivity by taking them out of the wild.

Now that Blackfish has aired, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, will come out on Sea World's end other than the statements that have already come out which can be found easily on google by simply typing Sea World response to Blackfish. Actually I'll do it for you...  

This is the last I'm going to be saying about the film. Barring any comments of course, but this will be the only blog to focus on Blackfish. My next blog will most likely be back to sharks. For now though... Sea Shepherd's Operation Relentless (10th Antarctic Whale Campaign) is getting ready to launch...

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fishing for Sharks... With Dolphins... Two Slaughters at the Same Time!

In Peru, a new, disturbing practice has been making headlines over the past week or so. This practice actually kills both sharks and dolphins at the same time! You will probably be as shocked as I was when I first heard of this if in fact you have not heard of it already. I warn you it is quite disturbing to read about and the videos are even more disturbing. The unsustainable nature of this practice of course is more than enough to warrant an end to it.

The practice is that a fishing boat goes out and finds a pod of dolphins. The next thing that happens is that one of the dolphins are harpooned and brought onto the ship. The bleeding dolphin is often times enough to lure nearby sharks. While on board, the dolphin has the skin peeled off it's back while the animal is STILL ALIVE. The skin and meat are placed on hooks and used to catch sharks. The shark meat generally stays in Peru, but the real prize as you probably could have guessed by now is the fins of the shark. The fins are shipped off to Asia at a high price where they are made into shark fin soup. It is estimated that 10,000 dolphins are being killed every year in Peru alone by this practice. The number of sharks is unknown, but chances are it is a higher number than 10,000.

Now is this practice legal in Peruvian waters? No. It is not a legal practice, but it is still going on. To try and put further pressure on the fisherman who are doing it, Peru is currently contemplating banning shark fishing in all of it's territorial waters to try and help both the dolphins and sharks. In reality, this is a worst case scenario for the oceans. Not only do you have one apex predator here being killed, you have two! One of which is being killed at an alarming rate of 100,000,000 a year (sharks). There is no positive to this practice at all. The fisherman however are netting roughly $22,000 per trip for their catches. Truly a disgusting amount of money for what they are doing to the oceans. The government of Peru needs to act and act fast to try to further put this illegal practice down for good. If banning shark fishing or the sale of shark products is what needs to be done to save the lives of two apex predators, then so be it. The fact is that this simply cannot go on and it will not be long until Peruvian waters start to see the effects of this practice if it is allowed to endure for long.

I'm going to close out this blog with a video of what goes on during this practice. I warn you it is very graphic and does have a live dolphin being stabbed and a pregnant shark being cut open, so please if you don't think you can handle it... Don't watch.... It is very disturbing.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Taiji, Soon to be the Home of a Dolphin Park?/ Is the Slaughter Simply Tradition?

Yes you all read that title correctly. It seems that Taiji is currently looking into turning one of it's coves into a park where visitors can swim and kayak with dolphins and small whales. The town is apparently trying to transform itself into a place where people around the world can come to and enjoy marine mammals. You will be able to go to Taiji, swim with the dolphins and whales, and then eat them for dinner. Not for nothing, but something just does not sound right about that. I mean that's like going to your favorite zoo or aquarium, going to the food court, and eating your favorite animal. Personally, I wouldn't have the stomach to do that. The plan is calling for a 69 acre area to be netted off. The whales and dolphins will be taken from the cove and transported to this other cove while those that are not sent to the park will be stabbed to death and sold as food. Taiji's government has stated that they already use dolphins and whales as a part of tourism by allowing visitors to watch animals being freed from "a partitioned off space". If only those people were aware of just what those animals were being let go from. While on the outside, the idea of this park may appeal to a lot of people who may be interested in these animals, on the inside, those people who go and pay money at the park will most likely be helping to fund the slaughter that will be going on just down the road. Essentially this park will be nothing more than a slap in the face to anyone who is trying to see this slaughter come to an end.

This year, the fisherman in the cove are allowed to capture over 2,000 dolphins. The biggest argument that the fisherman use against conservationists is twofold. The first being that killing dolphins is a tradition that has been going on for roughly 400 years. The second is that there is no difference between what they are doing and what happens to cattle. Dolphin hunting and whaling may very well be a Japanese tradition, however there are things to consider. One is that it is a dying tradition. For example, there are warehouses full of whale meat from over a year ago. Less and less Japanese people are eating whale and dolphin meat, so much so that the government of Japan tried to sell dolphin meat to children as part of school lunches. There is less and less demand and more and more supply. Another thing to consider is that traditions change. There are many people in Japan, including in Taiji who have a deep, deep respect for these animals. Until The Cove was released a few years ago, many of those people had no idea that there was a slaughter going on in their own backyards. So you have a 400 year tradition that many people didn't even know about. Not to mention that 400 years ago there were hardly any ways in which people would have been able to drive dolphins or whales for miles into a cove. Sure fisherman may have killed 1 or 2 to sustain their families, but I find it very hard to believe that killing dolphins for food is an industry that's been around for 400 years.

Secondly is the comparison of this slaughter to the slaughter of cattle. This argument really irks me. It's an argument that so many people use to try and justify a variety of slaughter. Let's briefly take a look at the differences in these slaughters. First of all, most cattle that is slaughtered at this point I do believe are bred with the intent to have them be used as food. People generally are not going out wherever there are cows in the wild and stabbing them in the head. While there are certainly inhumane parts of the slaughter of cows and pigs, I don't think they are quite as inhumane as stabbing a mother right next to her child multiple times in the back and dragging them by the tail through their own blood. Another thing to consider is the types of animals we are looking at. By that I should say the mental capacity of the animals. Whether it be dolphins or whales or even sharks, you are looking at animals that are well established mentally. Sharks have an incredible network of senses that are unseen in most other animals in the world. Dolphins and whales have the ability to communicate with one another, live in family groups, and much like humans, their young are dependent on their mothers. Cows on the other hand, while certainly not stupid, simply do not have the mental capacity of these other animals. They have their social hierarchies and their young rely on their mothers, but the time in which these animals rely on their mothers are vastly different. Some dolphins will stay with their mothers their whole lives as they may choose not to leave their families.

Another thing to look at is the trauma that goes on in both of these slaughters. I'm not talking about the physicality or which way of killing is more humane in this case. What I'm looking at is the trauma suffered by the survivors. Now normally there shouldn't be any survivors in the slaughter of cattle. That is not the case at all with the dolphins/whale slaughter. An interesting thing about both dolphins and whales is their memories. Young dolphins and whales actually remember what has happened to them. They remember what happen to their families. In the case of those who are released from the cove, they remember those harrowing hours or days of being trapped in a small space with no food simply waiting to see if they are going to be killed. They remember how they were chased for miles by boats into shallow waters. Sometimes the trauma is just too much and the animals later die. They can die via stress, but the far more alarming thing is that some actually commit suicide. Marine mammals, unlike humans and cows do not breathe without thinking about it. Every breath is an effort. Have you ever noticed that dolphins and whales actually have their blowholes closed most of the time, even if their heads are above water? Anyway... There is an unknown number of dolphins and whales dying from the slaughter without actually being killed by the fisherman.

I am by no means trying to say that the slaughter of cattle is foolproof or humane or anything like that, but the fact is that the slaughter of dolphins, whales, and even sharks for that matter are simply unsustainable. There is no shortage of cows in the world and there probably never will be because of the immense amount of regulations and other circumstances such as not going out and killing them in the wild (Fun Fact: The cows we eat went extinct in the wild during the 17th century). Every dolphins or whale that is killed affects their populations. Here's a perfect example. Iceland recently slaughtered 134 ENDANGERED fin whales. Now I want to see a fisherman tell me that 134 whales does not hurt their populations with a straight face. 134 cows? I doubt the non existent wild populations of the cows we eat are being affected by 134 deaths. (More fun facts about our cows

So is this tradition and no worse than cattle slaughter? You decide. At this point my opinions on the matter should be clear and with what I think is good reason. While Taiji seeks to open their park within the next 5 years, conservationists, including myself will continue to fight for an end to the slaughter.