Tag Archives: Minke whales

U.S. Certifies to Obama That Icelandic Whaling Undermines CITES and Whale Population Recovery

There are several petitions circulating on this cause.
Press Release
Interior Certifies that Iceland’s Commercial Whaling Undermines International Wildlife Conservation Treaty
February 6, 2014
Claire Cassel
Minke-Whale-With-Calf-SlaughteredWASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior has certified to President Obama under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967 that Iceland’s international trade in whale meat and products diminishes the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006 and since then has exported whale meat and products despite a ban on international commercial trade. As provided under the Pelly Amendment, within 60 days following certification by the Secretary the President will determine what actions are appropriate in response to the certification.
“Just 25 years ago, commercial whaling had nearly driven whales to extinction, but thanks to a global effort to conserve whale stocks and end over-harvesting, several whale species have begun to recover,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Iceland’s whaling activities undermine these worldwide efforts to conserve whales.”

The Havlur whaling company also created whale beer.
The Hvalur whaling company also created controversial whale beer.

Hvalur, the sole Icelandic company engaged in harvesting fin whales, resumed fin whale hunting in 2013, following a two-year hiatus due to market decline in Japan following the 2011 earthquake. The 2013 whaling season ran from mid-June until the end of September with a total of 134 fin whales killed. Iceland sets its own catch quotas for commercial whaling and has significantly increased those quotas over the last several years. For example, in 2006, the annual quota was set at just nine fin whales, while the 2013 annual quota authorized the hunting of up to 184 fin whales.
Iceland has recently announced a new five-year quota for fin whales, to begin with the 2014 whaling season, which will allow a total of up to 770 fin whales to be hunted in the next five years. Fin whales are hunted solely for export to the Japanese market.
From 2008 to 2012, trade reports show that more than 1.6 million kilograms of fin whale meat and products were exported from Iceland to Japan. Fin whales are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits trade for primarily commercial purposes.
Iceland also does not follow the procedure laid out by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to assess sustainable catch levels. The IWC was established to manage whaling activities for the conservation of whale populations and is viewed as the global body with expertise for the management of whale stocks.
In July 2011, then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified under Pelly that the commercial whaling activities by Icelandic nationals are undermining the effectiveness of the IWC conservation program. In response to that certification, the President directed federal agencies to undertake a number of diplomatic actions to encourage Iceland to change its whaling policy.
Photo by e-activist.com
Photo by e-activist.com

CITES is an international agreement signed by 179 nations that is designed to control and regulate international trade in certain listed animal and plant species. Approximately 35,000 species currently benefit from CITES protection. For additional information on CITES, please refer tohttp://www.fws.gov/international/cites/how-cites-works.html.
For additional information on the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967, please refer to http://www.fws.gov/international/laws-treaties-agreements/us-conservation-laws/pelly-amendment.htm

Whales Turn the Tables and Gather to People-Watch

Curious and friendly dwarf minke whales meet curious and friendly humans in this annual meet n’ greet  – and in a remarkable turn around, it is the whales, not the humans, who more or less set the rules for how the interactions take place.  It started with a chance encounter between one man and one whale nearly thirty years ago, and now up to 50 whales come to people watch.

We believe in connecting people with nature in a profound and meaningful way.”

The following information is from the Eye to Eye Marine Encounters and Minke Whale Project websites:
John Rumney and his dedicated team of researchers and crew have been running swim with minke whale trips for 17 years and pioneered the swim with whale experience in Queensland. They were also instrumental in the development of guidelines that ensures all encounters are carried out on the whales’ terms and have now been adopted by industry as World’s Best Practice.

We want to give YOU the best wildlife experience possible in the hope that it will inspire you to protect our marine treasures. Our ethos and reputation has made us the first point of call for documentary film crews, universities and marine institutes around the world. We have been fortunate enough to introduce the beautiful minke whales to IMAX, Galatee (Oceans), National Geographic and the BBC and wish to continue sharing one of world’s most incredible wildlife experiences with others.”

dwarf minke ww“SCUBA versus snorkelling
Studies of in-water interactions with dwarf
minke whales have shown that in most
cases the whales make closer approaches
to snorkellers holding onto a rope at the
surface (Birtles et al., 2001; Valentine,
Birtles, Curnock, Arnold & Dunstan,
2004). By holding onto a rope at the
surface, swimmers maintain a relatively
fixed position and their movements
become more predictable. Snorkellers on
surface ropes are also much more easily
supervised and managed by crew than a
group of scuba divers (who are able to
move in three dimensions).
If both SCUBA divers and snorkellers are
in the water at the same time when whales
are around, scuba divers should stay well
clear of the area underneath the snorkellers
to avoid detracting from the snorkellers’


Norway is Killing More Whales Than It Can Use, Illegally Shipping Surplus to Japan

This seems to be the same tired story: old, narrow-minded and backwards beliefs causing people to behave badly.
Unfortunately people invest themselves in lifestyles that can only be sustained by destruction – and then argue that they have a right to keep doing it because it is their livelihood. Commercial fishery is a prime example – take too many fish you will soon pull up empty nets.
When resources collapse the blame games begin, and Norwegian (and Japanese) officials have got it in their collective noggins that the whales are responsible for depleted fish stocks. Solution? Kill the whales, even though this is contrary to the International Whaling Commission ban on commercial whaling. Then pretend that you are doing it for science, for food, or because your ancestors did it. {Note, some baleen whales do eat fish as part of their diet}.

But apparently Norwegians can only consume part of their whale catch, so they are shipping the surplus to Japan – in their press release, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) writes:

A bill of lading obtained by AWI shows that a shipment of 4,250 kg of frozen whale products from the Norwegian company, Myklebust Trading, left Ålesund, Norway, in mid-February, 2013, and is scheduled to arrive in Tokyo on April 12. Paperwork identifies the recipient as a Japanese company, Toshi International.
International commercial trade in whale products is banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Norway—unlike Iceland—has not successfully exported whale meat commercially since the 1980s, although attempts have been made. Most recently, a 2008 shipment of five metric tons of minke whale meat from Myklebust Trading, was rejected by the Japanese government due to contamination concerns.
AWI Executive Director Susan Millward called on the U.S. and other governments “to act decisively to convince Japan to reject Norway’s recent shipment of whale products.”

Minke whale (by Vania Kam on Flickr)

In the U.S. waters where whales are afforded complete protection, fish stocks are coming back when human impact is moderated (U.S Fish Stocks Rebound From Depletion). The whales are in balance with the plankton and fish in the ocean – even though they consume vast quantities, the great whales in particular tend to migrate long distances, and undergo fasts during parts of the year that can go on for months at a time, giving the food webs an opportunity to rebuild.
Norway, Japan, and Iceland take turns killing the whales and shipping the meat to each other in a shell game, and still their fish stocks continue to dwindle (read the AWI report here). Those countries have an attitude that they can continue in the old ways – even though those old ways got the ocean into the situation it is today – and they just look foolish to the rest of the world.

Fin Whales Face Iceland’s Harpoons Once More: Creative Math Yields Goofy Graphs

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) recently issued a press release which warns that Iceland plans to slaughter endangered whales this summer:

The Icelandic newspaper Skessuhorn reported yesterday that it had “reliable evidence” fin whaling will begin again, after being shut down last summer due to the impacts of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Although Kristján Loftsson, director of Hvalur, would not confirm, the paper claimed it had evidence that whaling will begin in June and is likely to last for three months.
The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) are urging European and US leaders to take strong diplomatic actions to end Iceland’s continued and expanding whaling.
Clare Perry, EIA senior campaigner, said: “Iceland has exported almost 2,000 tonnes of whale meat to Japan in recent years. The Icelandic whaling company Hvalur is deliberately growing an export market for an endangered species which is protected by two international agreements to which Iceland is signatory. We are calling on the EU and US to take urgent steps to end this rogue whaling.”

It is shortsighted for Iceland to take this stance, since the profitability of selling the meat (contaminated with pollutants often in excess of safe standards), is not sustainable…but of course that is not the whole story, and direct profit from whale slaughter may not even been their primary reason for killing the whales.  Simply put, whales and dolphins are seen as competitors for fish by the fishing industries of these countries, and they rely on some fairly creative figures to justify their position.
These days, any theoretical paper you read on the subject of fisheries involves mind boggling mathematics and complex computer models – yet even so, in the final analysis, the models often fall short of being an accurate representation of what is going on below the ocean surface, and when it comes to apex predators such as whales, the results can be disastrous if the figures are used to calculate how many can be slaughtered.
The problem with this type of approach is that is a top down strategy – starting with the top predators and working down the food chain to plankton – but the ocean is a bottom up system, and biologically it is driven by the biomass of plankton.  So much so that biological oceanography gives little more than a nod to anything higher up the food chain than krill.  But most of the basic fisheries models don’t include the whole life cycle loop, and for good reason – it adds too much complexity.
Yet the island countries of Iceland and Japan put considerable resources into trying to figure out just how many fish the cetaceans (whales and dolphins) consume. Based on theoretical numbers, they use these models to decide how many whales and dolphins to kill in order to conserve their lucrative fish industries (both countries enjoy a high standard of living), and they base the concept on some fairly contorted theorizing.
In this first graph, it looks like they tied a knot to make the data fit (*see below for source information):
And this one shows how you take four possible scenarios and stuff them in a sock to force data to fit:
From those numbers they come up with something like this, which seems to show that without the competition from marine mammals there would be a couple hundred thousand tons more fish for the fisheries industry:

The dashed line is the theoretical amount of catch without cetaceans (solid line), timeline should read 1993 to 2023.

But all of these mental gymnastics miss the point:  prior to the 19th century – when humans began commercial whaling in earnest – the oceans were teeming with fish.  The oceans were a system in balance, but with the development of technology humans reached farther and deeper into the seas, causing the collapse of fish (such as cod) as well as cetacean populations.  In other words, there were more fish when there were more whales.
The reason that it will never add up to take out other top predators and substitute our nets is that we remove the fish entirely from the system, interrupting the natural cycle and ignoring the feedback mechanisms that strike a balance in nature. Natural predators leave waste, and eventually their own bodies, to help fuel the system.

And we don’t know what the heck we are doing.  Please sign the petition to help put an end to Icelandic whaling.
*Reference for the graphs:  On Dynamic Interactions Between Some Fish Resources and Cetaceans off Iceland Based on a Simulation Model)

Almost 95% of Adult Antarctic Minke Whale Females Are Pregnant When Killed by Japanese Whalers

Back in July of 2006, Japan’s Institute of Cetacean “Research” released the following:

A scientific paper from Japan’s Antarctic research program shows that almost 95 percent of adult Antarctic minke females are pregnant during the summer feeding months in the Southern Ocean.
Research from the program has shown that the Antarctic minke population has a 93.8 percent pregnancy rate among adult female minke whales.
“This is very significant because it demonstrates the population is robust,” the Director-General of the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, Dr Hiroshi Hatanaka, said today. “The Antarctic minke whale reproduces consistently every year. Such high productivity demonstrates that the population is certainly well able to sustain a commercial hunt.”
“The sampling of pregnant whales are taken into account under the JARPA II research program, in line with the International Whaling Commission’s Revised Management Procedure, which is a risk-averse method for calculating sustainable catch quotas,” Dr Hatanaka said.

In 1990, the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee agreed an abundance estimate of 760,000 Antarctic minke whales. That figure is currently under review but even if the abundance estimate was halved, the taking of 853 minke whales poses no risk to the stock.
“The world is realising that there is no need or reason to prevent sustainable commercial whaling in the Antarctic under IWC management procedure and Australia may find itself standing alone while the rest of world moves on,” Dr Hatanaka said.
For further information contact ICR spokespeople:
Glenn Inwood
, +64 21 498 010
Gabriel Gomez +81 3 3536 8227

Mother Minke Whale and Calf (Wikipedia)

In the twisted logic of the Japanese researchers, this means that because the whales are pregnant the population is in good shape and therefore it is fine to keep killing the whales. And true to form they have continued to slaughter hundreds of pregnant whales in the official Marine Sanctuary of the Antarctic every year.  They do this despite international protest. Despite condemnation by world governments.  And, until last year, despite the activities of protesters.
However, in 2011, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society forced the Japanese whalers to quit their activities and steam back to Japan without their full quota of over 900 whales.
This year, Japan took 30 million dollars (targeted for earthquake/tsunami relief), outfitted extra patrol boats, and returned to the Southern Ocean in their grisly quest, hoping that protesters would not be able to interfere.  But a few days ago three Australian men boarded one of the Japanese vessels, causing an international uproar when they were detained by the Japanese. Although the Japanese considered keeping the men on board until the boat returned to Japan, the men started a hunger strike and the Australian government was able to intervene on their behalf.
Although the Prime Minister of Australia has dispatched the Ocean Protector, a ship which is usually dedicated to customs issues, to rendezvous with the Japanese boat the Shonan Mauru 2 and take the three Australians who were detained there back to Australia, the Prime Minister doesn’t sanction the behavior of the activists yet offers encouraging words.  After acknowledging that Japan’s whaling practices are unconscionable, this statement from Prime Minister Gillard’s office included: “The best way to stop whaling once and for all is through our court action in the ICJ (International Court of Justice). The ICJ is part of the United Nations.
Slight problem with that though – notice who is president of the ICJ:

Current Members





By putting themselves in harm’s way, those three Australian protesters have shown the world the important role that Australia has in this conflict, (the Japanese go through Australia’s marine territory) and the world may now look to that nation to bring the Japanese’ invasion of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary to an end.
Japan pretends that it is doing ‘research’ on these whales (see the cow/whale experiment, in which the researchers crossed cows and whales in petri dishes, a fine example of their research), but in reality it is a barbaric display of power.  And by the way, Australia will never “find themselves alone” – more likely it will be Japan.

For more information, see:
Anti-whaling Protesters Are Imprisoned on Japanese Ship as it Pursues Sea Shepherd Boat
Japan Whaling to Resume, Violence Is Feared
Why Japan Is Preparing to Battle Over Whaling – Their Other Agenda

Why Japan Is Preparing to Battle Over Whaling – Their Other Agenda

On the face of it, the government of Japan seems to be run by escapees from The Cuckoo’s Nest, taking their country down a path that is sure to end up in ruin, but things are not what they seem and Japan has a second agenda.
Their stance on whaling has gone from puzzling to illogical as they pump millions into the costly whaling industry, when Japan has yet to recover from the devastation of last year’s earthquake. Their government recently announced that they will give their fishermen 28 million dollars to support a renewed whaling venture into the Southern Ocean, and are considering granting the whalers 30 million more to provide protection from the protests by anti-whaling groups.

Neither side is backing down, and it could get deadly down there this year – if the Japanese whalers hurt or kill humans who just want to protect the ocean’s greatest inhabitants, then Japan is going to be seen as murderously ruthless as well as pridefully ego driven.
Why in world would Japan make such a choice? Nothing is quite like it seems and if, like Alice in Wonderland, you are ready to tumble down the rabbit hole into the crazy logic behind this, this quick summary will get you started (references at the end if you wish to learn more).
The number of whales Japan is allowed to take for food is strictly controlled by the International Whaling Commission, but the number allowed for scientific research is very loosely controlled, if at all in some cases. Japan uses this loophole to kill more whales to eat than would otherwise be allowed, to take endangered species, to kill pregnant females, and slaughter mothers with their calves.
Like many other whaling nations, Japan claims to have an aboriginal right to kill whales, but that does not extend to the Southern Ocean where Japan has been whaling only since 1987. They were supposed to conduct ‘research’ for five years, but that has been extended and number of whales they target has doubled, to just over 1000 minke, fin, and humpback whales.
They justify continued ‘research’ by repeating the same studies ad nauseum, or by doing bizarre research (such crossing whale sperm with cow embryos).
The profitability of whaling has gone down with rising fuel costs, the world is losing its appetite for eating whales, Japan has huge problems with its recovery, and already has stockpiled whale meat (some of which it gets from Iceland, also illegal). Protecting their fleet is going to be expensive, and could be disastrous.
Here is where we enter into ‘nothing is as it seems’ – Japan has both a secondary and tertiary motive for this costly, brutal, and unpopular stance: first of all, the whales down near Antarctica carry a less significant load of pollutants and radioactive contamination than their northern cousins.

Second, and this is fairly devious, Japan also has a significant fishery for krill and fish down there, and have dedicated a great body of research (by killing whales) into calculating how much each species of whale eats. They view the whales as competitors, and think that the whales they kill will allow their fishermen to increase their catch of krill and fish.

So, Japan sends both a whaling fleet which profits from killing whales, and a fishing fleet which they think will get more krill and fish because they have killed so many whales:

Growing concerns about the possible consequences of competition between marine
mammals and fisheries make this an increasingly important issue in fisheries management and
conservation in the future. For this purpose, comparative research on the seasonal, local and
annual distribution and abundance of cetaceans and their prey should be extended. This should
make it possible to develop a blanket, multi-species management plan for marine organisms that
also involves marine mammals such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and pinnipeds, in order to
allow a more realistic fisheries management strategy, aiming for both short- and long-term
sustainability of marine organisms, including marine mammals and their conservation in the
In the Antarctic, baleen whales, excluding Bryde’s whales, feed mainly on krill during
austral summer, where the krill fisheries decreased recently because of diminishing markets. Of
these species of cetaceans, the minke whales play an important role in the prey web in the
Antarctic in particular. Armstrong and Siegfried (1991) indicated that the minke whales consume
95% of the total biomass of krill that is consumed by baleen whales in the Antarctic. This study
showed that the annual crustacean consumption by minke whales was 42-64 million tons, and that
this amounted to 40-54% of total annual crustacean consumption by cetaceans in the Southern
Hemisphere. Tamura et al. (1997) estimated the prey consumption of krill by minke whales
around the Ross Sea in the Antarctic to be an order of magnitude greater than the estimated
consumption by Adelie penguins and crabeater seals. The writer considers that there was direct
competition for krill among cetaceans, seals and seabirds in austral summer in the Antarctic. Krill
fishery appears to be of minor importance now. However, any development of this fishery could
lead to increased competition between cetaceans and fisheries. For better understanding of this
phenomenon, it will be necessary to have more abundance estimates of cetaceans and quantitative information of prey species to assess the interaction between fisheries and cetaceans, especially as
– as for the Indian Ocean – there is no available abundance information for cetaceans. (FAO)

Until the early 1990s, the Soviet Union led in harvesting Antarctic krill, but following
the Republic’s break-up in 1991, Japan moved in front, accounting for
more than 50 percent of the annual catch; in some years it landed as much as
75 percent. (Krill Count)

Japan’s whale/krill/fish calculation doesn’t take into account that the whales are part of the ecosystem, and without whales to fertilize the water (supplying iron, a vital and limited nutrient), the whole food chain may collapse as environmental climate change affects the nutrient distribution as well.
Seriously Japan? What are you thinking?

And why is the rest of the world sitting by and letting Japan wreck havoc on an environment for which the Japanese have no historical or present right to do?

Japan is nearly at the top of the planet, the southern ocean is at the bottom.

Profitability of whaling http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/04/sea-shepherd-harassment-cuts-japanese-whale-catch-in-half.php
FAO ftp://ftp.fao.org/fi/document/reykjavik/pdf/09Tamura.pdf
Southern Ocean iron balance http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2010.00356.x/abstract
International Whaling Comission http://iwcoffice.org/index.htm
Krill Count http://www.krillcount.org/report/krillcount.pdf

Japan Whaling to Resume, Violence Is Feared

Japanese officials recently announced that Japan fully intends to return to the Southern Ocean in Antarctica and resume its brutal whaling practices in the designated marine sanctuary.  Although Japan claims that the whaling is for scientific research, this bogus claim fools no one and just makes the Japanese look ruthless, foolish, and worst of all, irrelevant in a world that condemns that practice.  The fact that Japanese fishermen continue to slaughter dolphins in Taiji because they feel it is their right just adds a layer of making the Japanese seem pridefully self important.

Minke whale and calf

Most of humanity rallied behind that island country when they were rocked by earthquakes and devastated by nuclear fallout following the tsunami last March, so this decision by Japan feels like an insult to those who respect international agreements and refrain from the wanton killing of whales – resulting in a cloud of anger and resentment that engulfs the warm support recently offered to Japan.
The fact that last year almost all of the female minke whales they slaughtered were pregnant signifies to the Japanese that the whaling was an important scientific find, while the rest of the world sees killing pregnant whales as both bad management and barbaric.

Japan’s whaling research body, the Institute of Cetacean Research, today said 91.6 per cent – or 262 of the 286 mature female minkes taken during the last hunt – were pregnant.
“Almost all of the whales are becoming pregnant each year. This is good news. This is great. It shows that the Antarctic minke population is increasing rapidly,” the ICR’s Glenn Inwood said today.  (Sydney Morning Herald)

Worse yet, Japan claims it is willing to up their game in dealing with activists, threatening to ‘do what it takes’ to fend off anti-whaling efforts and to slaughter the whales just to bring the meat home to a country that is losing its taste for both the meat and the conflict. Needless to say, the U.S. finds this stance to be unpalatable.

“We are very concerned about Japan continuing its whaling program in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary,” said Monica Medina, U.S. commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and principal deputy under secretary of commerce for NOAA. “These catches will only increase the growing friction within the IWC over how to deal with the large number of whales that continue to be killed while a moratorium remains in place. There is no reason to kill these creatures in order to learn about them. All the necessary science that we need for the management of whales can be achieved using non-lethal techniques.”

“The safety of vessels and life at sea is the highest priority for the United States.” said Medina. “I ask all parties to respect the Commission’s wishes and immediately refrain from any acts at sea that risk human life or safety. These dangerous confrontations in the Southern Ocean must stop before someone gets seriously hurt or even killed.” (Westmoreland Times)

John Daly's rally applies here...

And activists are prepared to meet the challeng

In a statement issued last Friday, Sea Shepherd vowed to take on the whaling vessels again. “They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening once again. … We will undertake whatever risks to our lives will be required to stop this invasion of arrogant greed into what is an established sanctuary for the whales,” Sea Shepherd’s leader, Paul Watson, said in a statement on the organization’s website. Sea Shepherd will have more than 100 people in the Southern Ocean to block the Japanese whaling fleet, according to the statement. (CNN)

Hopefully the responsible governments of the world will wake up and intervene, and Japan will choose a peaceful path in time to avert disaster.

Iceland’s Pirate Whaling Policies – Update 9/17/11 U.S. Imposes Sanctions

Update 9/17/11 President Obama begins sanctions:

I direct the Secretaries of State and Commerce to continue to keep the situation under review and to continue to urge Iceland to cease its commercial whaling activities. It is my expectation that departments and agencies make substantive progress towards their implementation. To this end, within 6 months, or immediately upon the resumption of fin whaling by Icelandic nationals, I direct departments and agencies to report to me on their actions through the Departments of State and Commerce.

I believe that these actions hold the most promise of effecting a reduction in Iceland’s commercial whaling activities, and support our broader conservation efforts. BARACK OBAMA
Iceland thumbs its collective nose at the rules, agreements, and standards of conduct that most of the rest of the world believes is necessary to ensure the survival of whales and dolphins.
They slaughter endangered fin whales and send the meat to Japan.
They slaughter the little Minke whales, and in what is just twisted and grotesque, serve the meat to unsuspecting tourists in their ‘look and cook‘ program – in which they combine whale watching trips followed by samples of “traditional” Icelandic food – However, prior to 1914 Icelanders did not hunt Minke whales. Superstition held that Minke whales were sent by God as protectors.” (Wikipedia)

Icelandic whaling takes this…

and puts it here:

Canned Icelandic fin whale on sale in Japan (c) EIA

It exchanges this experience…
Minke Whale (Scuba Centre Photo)

for this one:
Harpooned Minke Whale

“In the long and bloody history of commercial whale hunting, Iceland is one of the most notorious and persistent protagonists, killing more than 35,000 whales since the late 19th century and opposing or circumventing efforts by the international community to regulate whaling and prevent the decimation of whale populations.”  (EIA Iceland Whaling Report)

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is calling for economic sanctions against Iceland until that country complies with the rest of the world.  More information can be found here.

By taking strong action against Iceland, not only will the Obama Administration live up to its promises to strengthen the commercial whaling moratorium, but it will also help to ensure a real future for the IWC.
In 2009, following the collapse of its economy, Iceland applied to join the EU. Iceland’s EU accession negotiations provide a unique opportunity to end Iceland’s whaling and trade in whale products for good.
Although EU Directive 92/43/EEC (the Habitats Directive) prohibits “all forms of deliberate capture or killing” of whales, as well as sales of whale products in the EU, it provides an opportunity for member states to ‘derogate’, under defined conditions, from the Directive’s prohibitions.
It is therefore crucial that EU Member States take a zero-tolerance position to Iceland’s whaling and trade in the negotiation of its accession, to ensure that Iceland does not take a derogation. WDCS and EIA commend the Dutch and German Parliaments for passing Resolutions in 2010 stating that Icelandic whaling would be unacceptable under EU law, and urge all other EU countries that are members of the IWC to take similar action.

Please support all economic boycotts of Iceland.

"By 2010, two minke whaling companies were operating in Iceland, and sales of whale meat continued to improve with more than 100 shops and restaurants throughout the country offering minke whale meat." (EIA Icelandic Whaling Report)

A Minke Whale Accompanied a Lone Paddler for Hours in a Gentle and Friendly Encounter

A Minke whale accompanied paddler Jodie Nelson on her 40 mile, 9 hour trip between Dana Point, Ca and Catalina Island

(This event took place in March 2010)
Researchers categorize Minke whales as being both elusive and curious. These little baleen whales are adaptable, eating a variety of items from tiny plankton to small schooling fishes, and the population (estimated to be a little over 600*) along the coast of California is part of a group known to be ‘residential’ – that is, they stay in one general area all year round. They tend to be seen as solitary individuals, which may approach boats but inevitably disappear beneath the surface after a few breaths.
Yet a year ago one of these locally scarce, elusive little whales joined paddler Jodie Nelson for two hours as she paddled the 40 mile race from Avalon on Catalina Island to Dana Point on the mainland of California. Jodie had dedicated her efforts both to raise funds for breast cancer research, and as a tribute to her paddling partner who had recently died unexpectedly. It took her nine hours, and you can’t help but wonder at what an incredible boost she must have felt by the companionship of that whale.

Karen Wrenn Catalina Challenge Minke Whale Experience
“The Minke whale that joined me for almost two hours on my 39.8 mile journey from Avalon to Dana Point was swimming below me in the clear water. I could see the whales eyes looking at me, its tail would be at times right under and in front of my [board]. I just had to trust the whale and keep paddling.” Jodie Nelson (finished in a little over 9 hours)

The whaling nations continue to hunt these benign whales, but increasingly popular sentiment is against it and some day those countries will see the wisdom in changing from whale hunting to whale watching instead to boost their economies and provide jobs. There is nothing admirable in killing any animal just because you can, or because it is big, or you want to decorate your house with animal parts…but when it comes to something so gentle and intelligent as whales and dolphins are known to be then it is just senseless.
*According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, The number of minke whales is estimated as 631 (CV = 0.45) based on ship surveys in 1991, 1993, and 1996 off California
The Northeast Pacific Minke Whale Project reports that The CA-OR-WA stock is ‘resident’, consisting of small, and possibly isolated populations.

Japan Has Resumed Whaling – Is This Wise, Considering the Possible Radioactive Contamination?

According to The Japan Times, three whaling ships departed port on Tuesday on a quest to obtain minke whales for “scientific research”:

Usually, the spring hunt is conducted off Ayukawa port in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, but it has been switched to Kushiro, the base for autumn whaling, as Ayukawa port was damaged by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.  The crew, including around 30 members from Ayukawa, will catch up to 60 minke whales by early June to study their ecology.

Whether these whales are truly studied for science or not, they are also destined for the dinner plate in many Japanese homes, and the question remains what this may mean in terms of possible radioactive contamination resulting from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.  Because the marine contamination, while severe, has had little time to move up the food chain, and because the whalers are most likely well north of the contaminated area, the chances are good that those whales are not seriously contaminated at this point.  But in a way, the whalers are playing a game of Russian roulette unless they are very careful about which animals they target.

Minkes are small baleen whales(Photo from Hope4Dolphins)

The small (up to 35 feet in length  and weighing about 20000 lbs) Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) feeds by side-lunging into schools of prey as well as by gulping large amounts of water.  Their diet is varied, from crustaceans (e.g., krill), plankton (e.g., copepods), to small schooling fish (e.g., anchovies, dogfish, capelin, coal fish, cod, eels, herring, mackerel, salmon, sand lance, saury, and wolfish).  Some of these species are very likely to absorb radioactive particles immediately, others accumulate over time.

Minke whales of this stock :
In the North Pacific, their diet varies according to year, season,geographical area and prey availability. Moreover, prey species of minke whales also differs depending on the season. Japanese anchovy (Engraulis japonicus) is an important prey species during early summer (May to June).
On the other hand, in the coastal Japanese waters of the Okhotsk Sea, krill (Euphausia pacifica) are thought to be the dominant prey species. Minke whales consume various prey of pelagic zooplankton and pelagic schooling fishes and are adaptive to oceanic conditions and prey abundance in the North Pacific (Tamura 1998).

Populations of Minke whales near Japan (Courtesy Japan Foreign Ministry)

The whalers departed from Hokkaido, the large island at the top where Abashiri is located.  They may select Minkes from this region which, while not directly severely affected may have whales that migrated up along the southern coast and through the contaminated area.
This graphic shows where Minke whales may be feeding this time of year.

Notice that in April/May, young whales come into the Fukashima area (dashed lines).  The map below shows the location of the nuclear plant.

Likely marine conditions in Japan in April - notice that the warmer water coming up from the south collides with the colder northern water in the general vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. When warm water mixes with nutrient-rich colder water, ideal conditions for boosting the biological productivity are created. These 'fronts' tend to aggregate the small prey, and Minke whales would find rich feeding grounds of both krill and small fish.

How bad is the contamination?  According to the Wall Street Journal, Asia :

The water at the center of current efforts is in the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and totals some 25,000 tons, according to Tepco. The facility was first flooded by the March 11 tsunami. Operators then tried to cool the reactor by pumping in 168 tons of cold water a day.
The water is believed to have leaked into the nearby ocean, causing highly elevated levels outside the plant and resulting in radioactive readings detected in nearby fish. The water has been measured as having 13 million becquerels of iodine-131 per cubic centimeter, 300 million times the legal limit, and three million becquerels of cesium-137, which is 30 million times the limit.

(“The scientific research in the northwestern Pacific (JARPN: the Japanese research program under the special permit in the North Western Pacific) was initiated in 1994 for the purpose of collecting data on stock structures and feeding ecology of the minke whales in the area. Up to 100 whales can be taken annually. Each participating vessel is given a research license and the right to hunt a certain number of whales. The research is supervised by scientists from both the Government of Japan and the Scientific Committee of the IWC, and by an officially appointed inspector. The meat, blubber and other edible parts landed were certified by the health authorities before human consumptionLink).
I hope that the Japanese health inspectors include Geiger counters in their tool bags.
By the way, the inland waters around the Salish Sea (which extends from Puget Sound, Wa to British Columbia) are home to several well-known and frequently seen Minke whales.  Like the orcas, you may be able to come see them from the shores of the San Juan Islands.