Let’s Not Forget the Dolphin Soldiers

Orcas were used by the Navy in the 60's and 70's.

The Navy has been studying the unique abilities of marine mammals since at least the 50’s, and has found ways to put these animals to work  both in warfare and in national security.  Most of this work is in the ‘detect, catch or fetch it’ category – such as locating and marking underwater mines – and the animals are well cared for by industry standards.
Whether we like it or not, until people stop coming up with ways to blow each other up or otherwise use the murky water depths for senseless destruction the Navy will continue to use whatever resources they have to protect and defend us, and dolphins are some of their best allies (*see below).
As loathsome as the practice by the military of conscripting cetaceans as soldiers may be, we are just players in a global contest, and the Navy is not the bad guy – or at least, is not the worst guy (although their research has been callous, and caused great suffering to whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals).  We Americans forget, in our passion to protect  innocent animals, that other countries also carry on similar research and activities, and in many nations there are no laws to prevent animal cruelty.
The following is the first of a five-part video series offers insightful information into the use of “cetacean soldiers”:

*The development, training, veterinary care, and research facility that supports today’s Navy Marine Mammal Program is centered in the Biosciences Division of the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) located in San Diego, California.
Does the Navy train its dolphins for offensive warfare, including attacks on ships and human swimmers or divers?
No. The Navy does not now train, nor has it ever trained, its marine mammals to harm or injure humans in any fashion or to carry weapons to destroy ships…Since dolphins cannot discern the difference between enemy and friendly vessels, or enemy and friendly divers and swimmers, it would not be wise to give that kind of decision authority to an animal. The animals are trained to detect, locate, and mark all mines or all swimmers in an area of interest or concern, and are not trained to distinguish between what we would refer to as good or bad. That decision is always left to humans.
Is the Navy exempt from following regulations for the keeping of marine mammals?
…The Navy is responsible for meeting all requirements of these laws regarding acquisition, care and treatment of its marine mammals, and not only meets but exceeds them and leads the industry in many cases. Congress has provided the Navy with exemptions to a few specific requirements in support of national security, but none related to the care and well-being of the animals.

Does SeaWorld Have Too Much Influence in Government Decisions?

What right does SeaWorld have to keep the young female pilot whale that beached with more than a dozen others in the Florida Keys on May 5th? Most of the whales died or were euthanized, two males were tagged and released, and there are just two others still alive in guarded condition. SeaWorld vets have participated in deciding which whales would be released (males, coincidentally, which are not needed for their breeding program and represent husbandry challenges), euthanized, or treated (females).

Courtesy Florida Keys News Bureau

Pilot whales can’t be released as solitary individuals because they live in social groups, so unless her original family can be found that youngest whale has only a life in captivity to look forward to. Finding her family is a needle in the haystack operation, and will be expensive to attempt. The National Marine Fisheries Service makes it fairly easy for qualified amusement parks to “adopt” these whales, which are protected from capture by the Marine Mammal Protection Act – it is the easiest, cheapest solution.
Why should SeaWorld be allowed to ask for and be granted this little whale? There are many aquariums worldwide that would like to have her too – not that it would be a better solution for the whale – so shouldn’t other groups have the right to bid on her? Should SeaWorld have to pay for her? Shouldn’t every effort be made to find her family first? It may be true that most of the whales died, but why didn’t the authorities wait to release the two males and then release all the survivors together?
What is SeaWorld doing at the moment to help? As far as I know, it is unpaid volunteers who are there, round the clock, administering care to the whales…and reports are filtering out that the authorities have had major problems. So if SeaWorld is offering ‘expertise’, it is not evident.
Here are some insights from concerned individuals, which will be kept anonymous until the people involved are notified:

“…the reason I backed off as soon as they decided to move them to Key Largo…They were talking about keeping the young one if it survived since the day they stranded.”
“… NONE of these vets or the owner of MMC have worked with pilot whales before. As you’ll see below, injuries have happened to these whales caused by the staff’s decisions (like using $1.99 flotation tubes from Publix to help them float). It also took the whale they euthanized five minutes to die, I’m not an expert, but that seems like an extremely long time.”
“… A staff member was bitten yesterday by an unidentified whale (couldn’t get number). He had stitches on his right hand and about seven ¼-inch to ½-inch puncture wounds around the outer and top part of his hand. He also had a puncture wound on his middle finger right next to his fingernail. They also discontinued the use of the round foam floatation sticks which were put underneath and between their pectoral fins to aid flotation. These caused injury to the whales; the skin and tissue on the inside corner of their pectoral fins were removed in a 3 inch round area.”
“…#303: “303”–Medium (most critical)
–Urinated blood. (Friday night & Saturday morning)
–Eating fish–6 lbs of herring.
–Ultrasound performed to assess how quickly food is passing through intestines. Indicated there is a problem with passing digestive material quick enough. This is a concern.
–Water pumped into stomach, she regurgitated.
–IV with 3 Liters of Sodium Chloride administered via lower side of fluke. (Done on Friday night & Saturday morning)
–IV procedure failed first time. Veterinarian admitted they waited too long to begin flow of sodium chloride through the IV. Blood clot formed and had to try again. Second attempt to administer succeeded.
#301: “301“–Baby
–Digestive issues.
— being tube fed “fish milkshake”–3.5 lbs of fish 3x daily.
#302: “302”–Medium (w/sunburn)** #302 or #303 Euthanized today
–Still being tube fed “fish milkshake”–3.5 lbs of fish 3x daily.
–Curvature of fluke due to build up of amino acids–drugs not working to cure issue.
–Veterinarians doing “experimental treatments” with drugs on the amino acid build up issue.
–Fluke falling to right side @ 90degree angle, and body is creating an “S curve”.
#300: “300”–Largest (healthiest)
Ate 30 lbs of fish”
“This whole rescue was rotten from the start I am a Marine Mammal Medic in New Zealand and I have watched this whole “rescue” in absolute horror! It has been grossly OVERMANAGED and the whole time I knew why. It was worth all this to get their hands on ONE Whale. If it is of their opinion that this little one cant be released there needs to be an independent inquiry. AND if it is found to be true this baby CANNOT go to seaworld! She needs to be placed in semi wild conditions to be monitored and looked after. I hope American activists are ready for a fight. Im in NZ and i sure as hell am!>

What can be done? Demand accountability. You have a right to follow the tracking of the released whales and to know the results of the necropsies. You have the right to ask the Fisheries Service for records, and to request that you get the whale;  ask for, fill out, and return the forms. Get an injunction to keep SeaWorld from getting the young pilot whale until all other options have been explored.
SeaWorld may get to keep this whale, and are arguably the most qualified to do so. But they should not be allowed to participate in the decision making process, and it is up to concerned citizens to curtail SeaWorld’s influence in the future.
Update  5/26/11
Thanks for the insight from an anonymous source:  no permit is required for a “non-releasable”  marine mammal.  That should make it easier for you to ask to have the whale for yourself.  Of course it makes it easier for SeaWorld too…

How to apply for a permit to display a marine mammal : http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/pdfs/permits/instructions_display.pdf
“A stranded marine mammal that has been classified as non-releasable may be held for the purposes of public display without a permit and in accordance to the three public display criteria (50 CFR 216.27).
A permit is required to hold a releasable beached/stranded marine mammal in captivity for any purpose, including public display.”
(Acknowledgments will follow if appropriate, but the first goes to Sandy M. who asked for more information.)

Amazing Video of Wild Dolphin Birth, Compare to SeaWorld’s Tank Birth

There is something amazingly different in the experience of viewing wildlife in its natural environment, as opposed to the sight of the same animals in captivity.  
It is not possible to re-create for the animals the complexity of their own natural habitat, and the safety from predation we offer comes at too huge a price – they become our wards, and their behavior becomes dulled and often neurotic.  But back in the wild environment the same animals often exude a life force absent in their captive counterparts, and no where is this more true than it is of dolphins and whales.

In this video of a wild dolphin giving birth, notice how the mother dolphin and the baby continue on with life as usual, as the pod hitches a ride on the boat’s wake:

“Uploaded by shelbysc450 on Jun 16, 2009

This was off the SC coast about 50 miles out of Charleston harbor. We were sport fishing and saw this happening. What you can’t see is there were several other dolphin circling the mother. Pretty incredible if you think about all the sq. miles of ocean and we happened on this.”

Compare that to SeaWorld’s laboratory pool, where the isolated female gives birth in a sterile environment to a calf, engineered to be a female:
“Uploaded by seaworld on Apr 14, 2009

Cocoa, an Atlantic Bottlenose dolphin calf, was born on Nov. 28, 2008.  Cocoa’s sex, a female, was pre-determined prior to conception through artificial insemination.”

No matter how anyone feels about keeping dolphins and whales in captivity, most people would agree that SeaWorld could do better than this, and at least allow the calves a more enriched environment in which to enter the world.

Just Who Is Swimming In SeaWorld’s Gene Pool?

Correction 5/19/11:  I received the following message from Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute:  “…we are a 501(c)(3) non-profit marine research organization. While SeaWorld has been a long time partner and supporter of ours we are a completely independent organization. To reiterate, our research efforts at Hubbs are not connected to SeaWorld’s AI [Artificial Insemination]program.”  References to the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute have been omitted.
What do you call a cross between a whale and a cow?  A ‘whow’?
When scientists managed to take the sperm from a dead minke whale and successfully fertilize a cow’s egg ,  people weren’t just saying ‘whow’, they were asking why.  Then the story behind SeaWorld’s artificial insemination program surfaced when their prime sperm source, Tilicum, killed trainer Dawn Brancheau last year. Recently the fact that SeaWorld collects the gonads from dead whales and dolphins was brought under scrutiny.
What is going on in those labs, anyway?

(Courtesy Inventor Spot)

Mixing cow eggs and whale sperm in a petri dish seems so bizarre that even Dr. Frankenstein would have had a tough time coming up with the idea, but there are two things to consider:
First, the scientists in the whaling nations have to come up with something to justify their continued ‘research whaling’; by the end of the 90’s they had completed the basic justifiable research and moved into the labs (where they first grew tiny little minke whale embryos before deciding to try crossing whales with cows (abstract)).
Second, in some cases researchers are forced to use what is available to them – so even though they they may be looking for ways to eliminate genetic problems in humans, for instance, they do the early research with other species . In the cow/whale experiment, they were developing a ” heterologous fertility test”, which is used to test the fertility of sperm in animals.
SeaWorld’s research, though, is focused on breeding an ideal population of captive whales and dolphins. At this time they are only able to manipulate the sex of the fetus, but they are working on being able to mix together eggs and sperm (most likely from dead wild animals), and then to successfully implant the embryo into a captive female of the same species. The resulting calf would bring SeaWorld entirely new genetic lines for their breeding program.  What is holding them up?  In their own words:

The immediate challenge for the development of oocyte and embryo
technologies in cetaceans is the lack of access to post-mortem tissue, and when
available, access within a timely manner after death.

In the meantime, SeaWorld gives whales and dolphins synthetic hormones to synchronize their breeding cycles, they collect sperm and select for the gender that they want, and inject the sperm all the way into the female’s uterus – often without anesthesia and at times taking the dolphins out of the water for up to 30 minutes.

The first pre-sexed zoological species, the bottlenose dolphin, was born in 2005 (O’Brien & Robeck, 2006) and the technology has since been integrated into a global reproductive, genetic and social management program for the species (O’Brien et al., 2009) resulting in a total of 14 pre-sexed bottlenose dolphin calves to date.

The question at this point is how will we know if SeaWorld injects captive females with sperm from dead wild males?  Or when they create test tube whales?  And what is to stop them from further manipulating the genes for the qualities they think are desirable?
Before choosing to donate to any of SeaWorld’s  research entities, it might be a good idea to look into what they are really doing with the money.

Reference:  http://www.comparativepsychology.org/ijcp-2010-3/02.obrien_robeck__FINAL.pdf

Rain or Shine, This Festival Will Educate and Inspire – Water, Whales, and Native Americans

My apologies for the late notice, but even so I hope you can attend this festival that celebrates both the whales and the local Native American culture.  That it may be a soggy day is a given this time of year, but those of us who live here are used to layering on the Gortex and going anyway!

The Penn Cove Water Festival features annual tribal canoe races, Native arts and crafts, demonstrations, storytelling, dance performances, artist demonstrations, authentic Native foods, children’s activities, and exhibits and displays.


Holding to tradition, the Penn Cove Water Festival is represented by an original design by Tsimshian artist Roger Purdue.


The new Whale Wheel celebrates the importance of orca whales.


This year’s design is the new “Whale Wheel” design, depicting 5 Orcas in the Northwest Native art style. The design will not only adorn the 2011 Water Festival T-shirts, posters and fine art prints, but is also featured on the new Whale Wheel being carved by local Coupeville carver’s under Roger’s direction. The carved whale wheel will replace the salmon wheel, carved by Roger and unveiled at the 1995 Penn Cove Water Festival.
The immense, beautiful interactive salmon wheel has been a favorite focal point of the Coupeville waterfront, with residents and visitors giving it a spin as they walk by. The salmon wheel will be “retired” and put on display in the Island County Historical Society Museum, and replaced by the new Whale Wheel. Roger chose orcas for the new design of the wheel, to honor the orcas and to remember the whales taken and killed during the Penn Cove orca captures of the 1970s.

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

11am-6pm

Coupeville Waterfront, Whidbey Island, Wa

Free!

Iceland Choosing Not to Hunt Fin Whales Is Due to the Honor in Japanese Culture

Normally Iceland takes fin whales as part of it’s “subsistence” allotment, which it then turns around and tries to peddle on the open market, usually to Japan.
But in a surprising turn of events, Japan has politely refused to buy this whale meat – not because of a change in attitude towards whaling, nor to fears of the high levels of contaminants present in whale meat, but simply out of respect and support for their fellow citizens.
According to the Iceland Review,

the Japanese are showing solidarity with one another. Those who weren’t directly impacted by the catastrophe don’t go out to have fun and don’t eat at restaurants but rather have simple food at home, he described.
“There is no use for us to try and sell whale under these circumstances,” Loftsson commented. Also, three companies that have taken part in the import and processing of Hvalur’s fin whale meat were destroyed in the disaster.

My son, who is minoring in Japanese and who spent a semester abroad in Japan last year was recently helping me comprehend a google translation of a Japanese scientific article, much of which looked nonsensical. My son explained at that time that the Japanese language is structured to reflect the wholeness of the nation, and how everything reflects upon the community awareness, versus our American language which all too often is about “I” “Me” “Mine”. The particular article we were struggling with concerned dolphins and radioactive contamination, but the google translation got most boggled in trying to translate what the author recommended people do about situation because of the cultural differences imbedded in the language.
That whaling is not commercially viable at this point is good news, but that Japan continues to demonstrate how to survive loss and tragedy with dignity is nothing short of inspirational.

SeaWorld Has a Vested Interest in Helping Stranded Whales and Dolphins

The efforts by volunteers, government officials, the Marine Mammal Conservancy and SeaWorld to save some of the pilot whales that beached themselves recently in the Florida Keys is both heartwarming and admirable.  Although many of the whales died, two were successfully released and five others are receiving care (Sun-Sentinel).
Yet having SeaWorld and The Marine Mammal Conservancy involved is a double-edged sword, since both groups are committed to maintaining whales and dolphins in captivity (the majority of both the advisory board and the research committee of the Conservancy is composed of ex-Seaworld executives or those of other captive facilities (more here)).  Both organizations have the needed expertise to help the stranded whales though, and since they get the public to support them with donations they have the financial resources to help as well.  But it is like leaving the proverbial foxes to guard the hen house, because dolphins and whales are worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to theme parks.
 
 
 

Creative Commons Photo

Why are these stranded animals worth so much money? It is the old law of supply and demand  in action- it is next to impossible for the theme parks to obtain wild-caught animals, and they are now trying to breed them in captivity. But there are so few individuals of some of the species in captivity that inbreeding, with all the associated genetic liability, is inevitable and SeaWorld is desperate to deepen their gene pool. In a Frankenstein-esk move, SeaWorld applied for and received a permit to collect reproductive parts from dead animals:

The research will involve the collection, receipt, import, export and analysis
of marine mammal specimens (hard and soft parts) under the jurisdiction of both the National
Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Specimens
of interest fiom dead animals include, but are not limited to, testes (including the epididymis and
vas deferens), ovaries, uterus (with any conceptus if present), cervix and proximal vagina, pineal gland, urine, feces, teeth, and blood. Specimens of interest fiom live animals include, but are not limited to, semen, urine, feces, saliva, ocular secretions, and blood.
2 For species under NMFS jurisdiction, receipt does not include samples from animals stranded in the U.S. Such samples would be obtained under separate authorizations issued by the NMFS Regional Offices, or for ESA-listed species, under a separate NMFS permit. Such samples may be exported and re-imported under the authority of this permit.

To obtain samples from stranded animals under NMFS jurisdiction, you should contact the appropriate Regional Stranding Network Coordinator (list attached) to become a designated stranding responder or authorized recipient of such specimens.

Naturally enough, SeaWorld is a designated stranding responder:  NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources.
In early 2010 they deemed a young stranded and rehabilitated pilot whale, “Sully”, unreleasable and brought him to live with two females in their San Diego facility. On the face of it, this seems reasonable enough because the rescuers had been unable to reconnect the young whale with his family, or with another pod in the wild.  But then the picture gets a bit fuzzy because the SeaWorld animal keepers suspected that the whale had hearing loss, which led to tests that did indeed show diminished hearing, giving SeaWorld another justification for keeping the whale in captivity. But I could find nothing more about the hearing tests, and my call to SeaWorld on the subject was fruitless.

Japan fishermen measuring a pilot whale (Reuters)

In November of 2009 SeaWorld had tried to import a young male pilot whale from Japan, but it met with outcries and accusations that SeaWorld  supported the Japanese drive fisheries (responsible for the slaughter of hundreds of pilot whales each year).  From the Federal Register:

The applicant requests authorization to import one male nonreleasable stranded pilot whale from Kamogawa SeaWorld 1404-18 Higashi-cho, Kamogawa, Chiba, Japan to Sea World of California. The applicant requests this import for the purpose of public display.

SeaWorld denies the association with drive fisheries vehemently:

Sep 25th, 2010 – Updated Information on Sea World California’s Request to Import a Pilot Whale
“Argo the pilot whale has no association with the drive fisheries. He was a lone stranding, as a neonate, six years ago on a beach northeast of Kamogawa and was nearly dead when rescued. Animal care specialists nursed him to health at Kamogawa SeaWorld saving his life. Because Argo was hand raised by humans, he is not releasable. Kamogawa SeaWorld does not have any other pilot whales at its park while we have three pilot whales here. We were asked if could provide long-term care for Argo so that he could live with other whales of his own species. We of course said yes. And in case you are not aware, we are providing long-term care to a young pilot whale named Sully rescued after he stranded near death on the island of Curacao a year ago. Argo, like Sully, was given a second chance at life by passionate and dedicated animal care specialists working in marine-life parks like ours.”
– SeaWorld San Diego

The problem with SeaWorld is that it just lacks credibility, and has a tendency to distort facts and re-write history.  Below is a prime example, in which SeaWorld is either mixed up and less than competent in it’s record keeping, or is tweaking reality to suit it’s needs.  The dates/age/identity of this whale just don’t add up:

SEAWORLD’S GRAND DAME, BUBBLES THE PILOT WHALE
Press Release (by SeaWorld) Created: January 2010
It’s hard to find an animal with a more legendary career than SeaWorld’s short-finned pilot whale superstar, Bubbles. This grande dame’s career spans more than 40 years. “I’ve never known an animal with a more impressive air spin, where she jumps out of the water and spins around at lightning speed,” says Bill Winhall, assistant curator at SeaWorld San Diego and one of Bubbles’ original caretakers at Marineland of the Pacific, once located along the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., where Bubbles career first began.
As a young 12-foot-long, 1,600-pound female pilot whale, she began her expansive career at Marineland in the 1960s and was eventually given her own stadium and placed center stage.
At approximately 47 years old, Bubbles is one of the oldest marine mammals at SeaWorld and perhaps at any park, according to SeaWorld senior veterinarian Tom Reidarson.

Information provided by SeaWorld to marine mammal inventories put Bubbles’ capture date at September 6th, 1966,
but Bubbles was actually captured on February 27th, 1957.  She was estimated to be 7 years old at that time. So in 2010, the time of the SeaWorld press release, Bubbles would have been 60 years old, not 47. Here she is in the first few minutes of an episode of Sea Hunt, which aired in 1958.

Right now SeaWorld San Diego has the two older female pilot whales and the young male, and will most likely need to find a young female if they wish to breed these whales, but they seem to be committed to providing a home for any of the unreleasable whales – which is fine, as long as someone else is making that determination.
Note: I contacted Hubbs/SeaWorld Research about the ages of the pilot whales and to find out specific information on the stranded animals, and will post that information when/if I hear back.

Mother Dolphins and Their Calves

This is a partial re-post of a previous Mother’s Day post, with some added video and a comparison between the captive and wild orcas.

Like us in so many ways, new dolphin moms face sleep deprivation and babies that scream or babble. The young wild dolphins need to be taught how to communicate and learn the intricacies of their culture, while the young dolphins in captivity have to learn to adapt. Here are some insights into the mother/young bond of dolphins:

Although scientists don’t entirely know why the death rate is so high for baby dolphins, we do know that the environment into which they are born can be harsh. Humans swaddle our babies in blankets and crank up the thermostats to keep them warm – orca babies (orcas are actually dolphins) on the other hand go from a cozy 97.5 degree environment to 45 – 55 degree water in seconds, temperatures that adult humans can survive for about two to four hours.
A calf born in captivity will swim continuously, and scientists speculate that this is because the babies have thinner blubber and therefore need to generate body heat by moving in order to keep warm. They are also less buoyant and need to surface to breathe more often than their mothers. The Center for Whale Research confirms that the Southern Resident orcas are rarely motionless, even during rest periods.
And just as our babies first babble, then begin to shape words and sentences, orca calves need to learn to communicate with their families. Scientists at SeaWorld report that orca calves can vocalize soon following birth, and characterize the sounds the babies make as “loud and high pitched, resembling screams”. After about two months the babies begin to make sounds like their moms, and will continue to add to their vocal repertoire as they get older.
Research shows that mother dolphins and orcas in captivity show a significant change in sleep pattern for weeks or months following the birth of their calves, no surprise there when you think about having to keep up with the babies!
The wild orcas may have an edge over their captive counterparts however, in that they have an extended network of family to help out, and the older siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are all known to babysit and entertain the calves and thereby giving the mother whale a chance to feed and maybe catch a nap. Wild orca family:

SeaWorld:

Pilot Whale Rescue in the Florida Keys

What a heartwarming and hopeful sight to see people working so arduously to help a pod of  beached pilot whales, coming as is did within days of Japan’s renewed slaughter of the same species.
Selfishly, I have to say that it has taken enormous reserves for me to write about whale slaughter while trying to keep an open and understanding mind.  I have had to view hundreds of gory photos and read heartbreaking accounts of cruelty, and contemplate the toxic load that these animals carry.  Those images invaded my sleep and tested my belief in human kindness, so it is heartfelt gratitude that I offer all those who step in to help, however they can.

People rescuing pilot whales, showing kindness, compassion, and determination to help. (Bob Care, Florida Keys News)

Wildlife experts and volunteers in the Florida Keys have rescued eight pilot whales stranded in shallow waters and are using boats and a helicopter to locate more of the animals, officials said on Friday…More than 100 people, including Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials and volunteers, backed by a flotilla of small boats and a Coast Guard helicopter, were scouring the area looking for more of the beached whales. (MSNBC)

Via Samantha Whitcraft: 24+ hours without sleep; 12 hours on-site with the pilot whales; 7 whales rescued and now being cared for; 3 hour drive back to Miami; a million thank you’s to everyone [FWC, Navy, NOAA, Coast Guard, students] that was there for the pilot whales all night and this morning (especially Shelby Proie and “Thelma-to-my-Louise, Kendra Silvera)!

Any good … that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again. STEPHEN GRELLET

Japan’s Current Hunt for Pilot Whales a Poor Choice

Short finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) Creative Commons

Following within days of the announcement that Japan had abandoned the spring slaughter of ‘small whales’ by Taiiji fishermen, reports began to filter in that between 60 and 100 of these pilot whales had been slaughtered there. Normally the hunting season extends through April, but because of the March earthquake the government chose to extend the season, in a move that may have been calculated to throw protesters off base.  Given that world opinion is increasingly against this slaughter, it really is unfortunate that Japan has opted to behave in a seemly underhanded way.
What the whalers care about is their way of life and their pocketbooks, and exhibit the all too common attitude that those are rights, not privileges  – but in our changing world everyone is having to make changes.  In this case, given the amount of problems facing that nation, it is understandable that dealing with the ‘fishing’ industry is not high on the government’s agenda, nor, when a people have lost so much is it easy to ask them to abandon what little remains of their lifestyle.   On the other hand, those changes are inevitable, and maybe while the whole world is offering to help them recover from the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear contamination that so recently devastated them, Japan could choose to see this as an opportunity to make significant change.

But given the seasonal clock that governs marine life, there may not have been enough time to really reconsider this year’s hunt.  Soon the whales will move into the area of highest radioactive contamination as they follow their favorite prey item, squid, on it’s annual northward migration.

The pilot whales follow the warmer water. In the spring (green line) they are south of the Fukushima reactor (red dot), but as the seasons progress they move farther north (orange line). (Whaling Commission)

These pilot whales are seldom located north of the 16 degree C temperature (60.0 F) line, which gradually moves up the coast as the colder northern waters retreat during the summer months.  They are most often found in deep water off of shelf edges, and because Japan is perched so precariously on four tectonic plates at the edge of the continental shelf, the pilot whales come fairly close to land near Taiiji:
South/central Japan is perched at the deep ocean shelf edge, habitat favored by short finned pilot whales.

In this case it is very likely that both the pilot whales and the squid will pick up an unhealthy load of radioactive material on their northward journey – a fact that is probably not lost on the fishermen. As the animals return south they will again face exposure, and although the squid are short lived the whales are not (often living into their 40s), and will continue to acquire more contamination with each passing year.
Next year has got to be better for Japan, and hopefully they will reconsider the wisdom of holding onto a way of life that is sure to become increasingly unhealthy.