This Week in Whales: Navy Predicts Massive Harm, Shrugs Shoulders; Push for Whale Sanctuary in Europe; Killer Whales Are Wild Animals...

News in the world of whales this week (or close to it).

  • Earlier this week, I attended a public meeting hosted by the Navy in San Diego on its plan for training and testing activities in Southern California and Hawaii from 2014 to 2019.  The predicted level of carnage from the Navy’s activities over the five-year period is staggering – over 14 million instances of marine mammal take (“take” means any harm that ranges from a significant behavioral impact, like habitat abandonment, to death), including almost 3 million instances of temporary hearing loss, over 5,000 instances of permanent hearing loss, 3,000 lung injuries, and 1,000 deaths.  Unfortunately, the Navy’s astonishing estimation of harm contained in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement did not trigger a corresponding identification and analysis of alternatives or mitigation measure that would in any way significantly reduce the harm to the area’s whales and dolphins.  The document tells a story of devastation, offering no pathways for lessening the harm.

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  • While all of the Navy personnel at this particular “meet and greet” were friendly and more than willing to talk about how great the Navy is, I didn’t find any “forest through the trees” comprehension of the magnitude of harm the proposed activities will have on wildlife.  There aren’t other government agencies out there proposing activities that will have anywhere near this level of impact on wildlife, much of which is endangered.  The Navy seems very proud of the fact that it has conducted such a “comprehensive” (in its opinion) analysis of impacts.  But where’s the pride in its development of alternatives that allow it to achieve its training and testing needs, while dramatically reducing the impact to whales and dolphins?
  • On the 21st anniversary of Ireland’s declaration that its coastal waters are a sanctuary for whales and dolphins, the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group has called for an extension of Ireland’s whale and dolphin sanctuary to all of Europe.  The Irish sanctuary extends up to 200 nautical miles offshore and bans the hunting of whales and dolphins and otherwise raises awareness about Ireland’s marine mammals.  According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group’s Brendan Price, “The sanctuary declaration was unique in Europe and no EU member stat had made such an unequivocal statement about the importance of their waters for cetaceans.”  Let’s hope the rest of Europe jumps on board.
  • Making a no-brainer decision, a federal administrative law judge for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission said that killer whale trainers “must either remain at a greater distance from them, stand behind a physical barrier or use other devices to keep them safer during performances.”   According to the judge, “Once a trainer is in the water with a killer whale that chooses to engage in undesirable behavior, the trainer is at the whale’s mercy.  All of the emergency procedures, nets, underwater signals and hand slaps are useless if the whale chooses to ignore them.”  Yeah, they’re called wild animals for a reason.  The Judge also cited to a report by the unfortunately named Dr. Duffus, which states, “To be repeatedly held underwater, grasped in the mouth of a rapidly swimming killer whale and to be pursued under and at the surface of the water….  It is not whales playing, or an accident, it is a large carnivorous predator undertaking what thousands of generations of natural selection prepare it for.”  In reaching its conclusion that employers, like SeaWorld, must protect their employees when it places them in danger, the Judge rejected SeaWorld’s claim that orca behavior can be predicted with more than 98 percent accuracy, noting that the claim was not based on scientific data.
  • Scientists are combining data from tagged whales with data on human activities to better manage interactions between whales and humans on the West Coast.  The hope is that the data will support management practices that will reduce the number of whales accidentally killed by ship strikes and entanglement from fishing gear.  There’s a history of blue whales being killed by ship strikes in Southern California and gray whales have recently been entangled by fishing nets.  Mapping out where the whales are and where the human activity is may help shift some of the human activity away from the whales during migration.