“Fed Up in Wyoming” reads the caption under this stunning photograph posted on a hunter’s Facebook page (reproduced here under Fair Use). The photo is yet more evidence that, two years after political reactionaries led a successful campaign in the House of Representatives and then the Senate to remove the North Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the endangered species list, the slaughter of wolves continues to escalate as wolf hunters fall deeper in their paranoid fantasy that the wolf represents a liberal conspiracy against rural communities. (Earth Island)
You may be wondering what shooting wolves in the Rocky Mountains has to do with marine mammals, and the answer is that even though most of what people do to marine mammals occurs out of sight in the open ocean or underwater, the perpetrators are equally hesitant to show their faces as are these wolf killers. Standing up for your beliefs carries risks – someone, somewhere, is guaranteed to oppose your point of view – but hiding behind masks and walls of paperwork only serve to show an awareness of the wrongdoing.
Out in the oceans, fishermen consider dolphins and whales to be competitors or bycatch (unintended when fishing) and willingly kill them, the animals get tangled in crab and lobster pots or fishing nets, and are hit by ships. The ambient noise levels in the ocean is continually rising, interfering with the whale’s long-range communications. Navies worldwide engage in espionage and mock warfare movements involving loud sonar, and bombing practice occurs over wide swaths of the ocean.
Nations continue to hunt whales and dolphins for meat while pretending it is for scientific research. The oceans are increasing polluted with effluent and plastic debris. Our demand for oil has resulted in devastating spills, and nearly constant deafening sound from seismic surveys.
There is no escape for whales and dolphins, other than to cast themselves on our beaches, which they appear to be doing in increasing numbers.
Unlike the wolf killers, the masks worn by the perpetrators of ocean destruction are more subtle – they hide behind international partnerships that protect them from each country’s laws. Currently Exxon/Mobil and BP are teaming up with Canada’s Imperial Oil to drill in the Arctic, and even though Exxon/Mobil is a U.S. corporation, they have a Canadian subsidiary and also own controlling interest in Imperial. The upshot? Environmental protections that are drastically more lenient than the U.S., and where the only consideration given to marine mammals is in how the indigenous population will be effected in their hunts.
Perhaps most insidiously, they are hiding behind the issues that frighten us most – climate change, energy shortage, and the threat of losing all that we have spent lifetimes building. An example of this occurred last March when a pod of orcas were trapped in the ice at Hudson’s Bay, thought to have been caught off guard by shifting ice patterns. While this shift in conditions was initially blamed on climate change, it turns out that the local power company is probably responsible:
“There’s a connection between the freshwater plumes sent into Hudson Bay from the Quebec power corporation’s huge dams and the quick freezing of water in the bay which led to entrapments of eiders, beluga and killer whales this past winter, suggests Joel Heath, a biologist whose film People of the Feather about Sanikiluaq hunters and eider ducks, received acclaim.
The connection is worth studying, he said, because although entrapments occur naturally, this past winter there were at least three occurrences in southern Hudson Bay.”
Wherever people are hiding behind masks, covering their tracks, or working below the public radar, a price is paid and the world as we know is quietly being changed.
The good news is that although it may seem as though we are powerless to bring about change, we are not – an International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network is being created which will keep track of sightings of injured, stranded, and dead whales and dolphins on a global scale. This will make it difficult for industry and military to deny the impacts of their activities, and it will help provide data to scientists to help determine why there are alarming numbers of dolphins and whales beaching and dying.
Overall, the experts pointed out that the dead dolphins may be alerting us to troubles in our oceans.
Said NOAA’s Spradlin, “Marine mammals are like the canary in the coal mine”—many bottlenose dolphins live on the same coasts and eat the same fish that we do.
“Our first mandate is to protect the dolphins, but the underlying bigger picture is if things are hurting these animals,” he said, “[they] could also be hurting people as well.”
While an outbreak of morbillivirus (related to measles) is known to be responsible for some of those dolphin deaths, it is important to be aware that there could be other causes as well, and not let the disease create a smokescreen. The scientists need our support. For more information, please visit the International Dolphin and Whale Stranding Network.