Jet boats, new nets to scoop Tasmania's whales from disaster
Andrew Darby, Hobart
November 15, 2011/the AGE
Parks and wildlife officers check the condition of a stranded sperm whale. Photo: Grant Wells
Rescuers using new techniques to aid stranded whales remain hopeful they can save sperm whales in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania's west coast.
Jet boats and a recently invented scoop net already have been used to save two whales and guide them to the open ocean.
Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife staff (assisted by volunteers from the Tassal salmon farm) rescue sperm whales in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania?s west coast. Photo: Grant Wells
The rescue team is now waiting for a break in the weather to free another two whales ''parked'' on sandbanks in the harbour.
''Unfortunately the wind is blowing directly into the narrow harbour entrance, effectively blocking the whales' path to the open ocean,'' said wildlife incident controller, Chris Arthur.
Sperm whales, normally deep ocean-dwellers that use sonar navigation, may fall victim to tricky beach topography and herd panic when they come inshore.
Refining methods learnt in a similar stranding in 2007, marine mammal specialists are using heavy duty waterjet-powered work boats from salmon and trout farms in the harbour to break the sand's suction on the whales.
A specially developed net strung between two vessels is used to scoop up the whale, and slowly ease it across the bank.
Lessons of the whale strand
November 14, 2011/SMH
The beaching of whales can be an opportunity to learn more about them. Photo: AFP
Why whales beach themselves and what their lives are really like are still a mystery to scientists.
In this, the stranding season, it's hard to see the growing number of whales washing up on our shores as an opportunity rather than a sad loss. But we should.
This week in the global hotspot of whale strandings, Tasmania, marine mammal specialists were working, again, to extract surviving sperm whales from entrapment in the west coast's Macquarie Harbour.
Outside the harbour on Ocean Beach, another 22 of the giants lay dead on the sand.
The reasons for repeated mass strandings of deep ocean hunters like the sperm, and their pilot whale relatives, remain difficult to untangle.
Adverse weather, herd panic and tricky beach topography may all contribute. Occasionally there is also evidence of human harm through technology such as active sonar.
While it's rarely possible to help a beached whale weighing more than a couple of tonnes get back into the water, there is no doubting the sympathy for them.
People instinctively rush to help the smaller pilot whales at a stranding, like passers-by suddenly on the scene of a train crash.
No less so with humpback whales coming to grief in rising numbers along our coasts this spring.
In Western Australia, 14 were counted by the end of September alone.
On the east coast, another dozen have been in the news since August as the annual winter migration tracks up and down. They range from newborn humpback calves and babies to juveniles and adults.
Victorian Department of Sustainability wildlife manager Charlie Franken, while speaking of yet another stranding off Gippsland, said there seemed to an unprecedented number around the country.
Without question the total number of humpback is growing. Their recovery from 20th century whaling is resulting in what is possibly Australia's most spectacular seasonal animal migration. With a population increase of about 10 per cent annually, you would expect increased mortalities too.
But in among all that, we are probably killing them too. There is growing evidence of vessel collisions and propellor slicing. Floating plastics are suspected of clogging gullets and filling stomachs. And there are questions over the effects of chemicals such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), and other man-made toxins that enter the ocean as waste and can accumulate in marine mammals.
We know too little of this. There is not enough of what some marine biologists call ''chainsaw science''. Cutting up a very large animal for a necropsy is so logistically daunting there is seldom more than a surface check, and tissue sampling.
The massive injuries of a ship strike may be visible, but in the absence of an obvious sign, what has happened inside the whale to contribute to a potentially untimely demise?
Things are changing elsewhere. In Britain a new ''CSI'' has begun operating out of the Zoological Society of London.
The Cetacean Strandings Investigation team has already turned up one uncomfortable verdict: the blunt force trauma that killed a harbour porpoise was inflicted by the snouts of its cousin, the bottlenose dolphin.
We already know that we don't need to kill whales to study them. When they are dead, we should know more than we do.
Andrew Darby is Hobart correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.
Japan whaling fleet accused of using tsunami disaster funds
Justin McCurry in Tokyo
Guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 7 December 2011 05.50 GMT
Japanese whalers have left port under heavy guard and clashes are expected with Sea Shepherd conservation activists
A Japanese ship injures a whale with its first harpoon. Photograph: Kate Davidson/EPA/Corbis
Japan's whaling fleet has left port under heavy guard as it prepares to kill almost 1,000 whales in the Antarctic, where more clashes are expected with members of the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group.
Three ships, led by the 720-tonne Yushin Maru and accompanied by a fisheries agency guard vessel, left Shimonoseki port in south-western Japan amid accusations that the fleet was taking cash intended for fishing communities hit by the March earthquake and tsunami.
According to campaigners the government used 2.28 billion yen (£19m/US$30m) from the earthquake recovery fund, on top of its existing $6m annual subsidy, to pay for this year's hunt.
"It is absolutely disgraceful for the Japanese government to pump yet more taxpayer money on an unneeded, unwanted and economically unviable whaling programme, when funds are desperately needed for recovery efforts," said Junichi Sato, the executive director of Greenpeace Japan.
"The whaling programme is a black mark on Japan's international reputation, and a black hole for taxpayer money. Pouring billions of yen into Antarctic whaling during this time of crisis is downright shameful. Japan cannot afford to waste money on whaling in the Antarctic when its people are suffering at home."
The fisheries agency said the use of the fund was justified because one the towns destroyed by the tsunami was a whaling port.
Reports said several Japanese groups had written a letter to the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, protesting against the use of recovery cash.
"We demand the government not waste any more taxpayers' money on the whaling program but instead spend this money on projects that actually help the people, communities and region affected by the tragic March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis," the letter said.
"It is clear that the Japanese government's stated goal of resuming commercial whaling in the Southern ocean is unachievable. The whaling program cannot survive without taxpayer handouts."
The fisheries agency would not confirm that the fleet had left or say how long it would remain at sea. Japan's whalers usually leave for the southern ocean in December and return in April. .....<cont>
Sea Shepherd lawsuit 'could end whaling'
Posted December 10, 2011 09:05:26/ABC NEWS online
(Australian) Greens leader Bob Brown says a Japanese whaling action in the US federal court could backfire and help bring an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Japanese whalers are seeking an injunction against the Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson in the US federal court in Seattle.
The Institute for Cetacean Research and the owner of two of Japan's whaling ships want an injunction against Mr Watson and Sea Shepherd because the anti-whaling group "puts lives at risk".
Mr Watson says he is not worried about the lawsuit.
"It sounds like a frivolous lawsuit, US courts don't take those very seriously," he said.
But the Greens are taking it seriously. Senator Brown says the US legal action could complement legal action brought by Australia against Japan in the International Court of Justice.
He says the Australian Government should take this opportunity to intervene.
"Japan has gone to an international court - effectively the US - and Australia should use this opportunity to bring forward a case which may have otherwise taken years to have Japan found guilty of its breach of international law by killing the whales in the first place," he said.....
Pressure mounts for release of whaling activists
Updated January 09, 2012 09:32:05/ABC news online
Pressure is mounting on the Federal Government to act as three Australian anti-whaling activists are held captive on a Japanese surveillance boat.
The men illegally boarded the whaling support vessel Shonan Maru 2 in waters off the south-west coast of Western Australia on Saturday night.
They were helped aboard by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd.
"The three negotiated their way past the razor wire and spikes and over the rails of the Japanese whaling vessel," Sea Shepherd said in a statement.
The men, Simon Peterffy, 44, Geoffrey Tuxworth, 47 and Glen Pendlebury, 27, carried with them a message reading: "Return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters."
The Japanese fisheries agency says the men are uninjured and have been questioned about the incident.
But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon says the men boarded the vessel outside Australian territorial waters and it is possible they could be taken to Japan.
"We hope that it won't come to that, but you do have to look at the past to know that it is likely these three Australians may be taken back to Japan," she said. ....<cont>
Japan to hand activists to Australian authorities:
The Federal Government has confirmed three Australian anti-whaling activists being held onboard a Japanese whaling ship will be released.
....The Shonan Maru 2 was about 40 kilometres off the south-west Australian coast when the men boarded.
The Japanese surveillance vessel had been tailing anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd's ship the Steve Irwin.
When the trio boarded they demanded the ship bring them back to Australia, thus delaying its pursuit of the anti-whaling vessel.
However the ship continued on its way to the Southern Ocean.
Yesterday the men had begun a hunger strike, but the Japanese government said the protest would not disrupt its plans to continue its so-called research whaling program.
Australia rebukes Japan over breach:
THE Gillard government has complained to Japan after a whaling vessel went deep into Australian territorial waters in pursuit of a protest vessel.
Hours after Japan said yesterday it would release three Australian protesters who illegally boarded a whaling security ship, it emerged that another vessel of the Japanese fleet went as close as four nautical miles to Tasmania's Macquarie Island in pursuit of the activists' long-range ship Bob Barker.
This brought the Japanese ship, the whale catcher Yushin Maru No. 3, inside Australia's 12 nautical mile territorial limit, where domestic laws ban whaling.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said the government had complained to Japan about the incursion.
''We have asked our embassy [in Tokyo] today to reiterate to the Japanese government that whaling vessels are not welcome in Australian territorial waters,'' the spokesman said. .......
.......Meanwhile, south of WA, the Shonan Maru No. 2 steamed on in pursuit of the Sea Shepherd flagship, Steve Irwin, after the agreement to release the activists.
Ms Roxon said the Ocean Protector would be diverted from a fishing patrol to meet the Shonan Maru No. 2 and pick up the activists
Foreign Affairs chased whaling compromise
January 5, 2011/SMH
Both anti-whaling activists, and a Japanese whaling institute, release footage of a New Year's Day clash at sea as activists try to disrupt a whale hunt.
THE federal government is mounting a determined defence of its whaling policy in the wake of WikiLeaks disclosures that spotlight deep internal rifts over whether to compromise with Japan.
People involved in marathon global peace talks over whaling confirmed yesterday the evidence from leaked US diplomatic cables that the Department of Foreign Affairs was pushing for a deal throughout.
Its officials favoured a bargain that would allow Japan a controlled whaling phase-out in the Antarctic, and resisted the push to take Tokyo to an international court, sources told the Herald.
Hunted ... the anti-whaling vessel Steve Irwin pursues the Japanese whaling fleet on New Year's Day. Photo: AFP
The cables show a Foreign Affairs official complaining to US diplomats that efforts to strike a deal had ''bounced off'' the then environment minister, Peter Garrett, who instead had challenged the US-led effort to obtain an agreement.
Proposals floated in the peace talks to let Japan whale in the North Pacific, but not in the Antarctic, gained Foreign Affairs backing, according to the cables. Mr Garrett never accepted them, sources said.
Eventually Japan's refusal to phase out its Antarctic hunt, or even substantially reduce it, left the peace talks at a stalemate, and Mr Garrett prevailed.
Peter Garrett and Tony Burke.
Cabinet agreed to start the legal action now under way at the International Court of Justice, and maintained the blanket opposition to whaling held by successive Australian governments for more than 30 years.
The three years of peace talks under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission finally hit a wall six months ago at its annual meeting in Agadir in Morocco, and there have been no efforts to revive them.
Mr Garrett was on leave yesterday and unavailable to comment, and the Environment Minister, Tony Burke, refused to comment on the substance of the cables.
However, Mr Burke told reporters in Sydney that the ultimate decision of the government at the time was whether what was on offer diplomatically would satisfy Australia.
''Australia's view was that whaling should end,'' Mr Burke said. ''Nothing in the diplomatic discussions, as it turned out, was going to bring an end to whaling by Japan. Therefore we took them to court.
''Make no mistake, this is an issue where we have a markedly different view than Japan.
''This is not something where the government, or Australians generally, see a whole lot of grey areas.''
The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said the leaks highlighted that there was still far too much silence from Canberra on the whaling issue, and he again called for surveillance of the whaling fleet now in Antarctic waters.
Mr Burke said the fleet was still in New Zealand's search and rescue zone, but he left open the prospect of sending a monitoring vessel. ''There's been no decision on that at this stage,'' he said.
The cables also revealed an attempt by the chief US whaling negotiator, Monica Medina, to meet Japanese demands to move against Sea Shepherd activists by stripping the group of its US tax-free status.
The Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson said he was confident any such attempt would fail. He said the fleet was still running westward last night, north of the Ross Sea. ''As long as they're running, that's fine, because no whales are being taken.''
The (Wikileaks) cables also revealed an attempt by the chief US whaling negotiator, Monica Medina, to meet Japanese demands to move against Sea Shepherd activists by stripping the group of its US tax-free status.
Two things our "leaders" could be thinking about; sanctions, and travel bans.
Whaler ignores call to leave Australian waters
January 12, 2012/Sydney Morning Herald
Unwelcome visitor … the Yushin Maru No.3 stayed just off the coast of Macquarie Island yesterday. Photo: Carolina A Castro/Sea Shepherd
A JAPANESE whaling ship has defied high-level Australian complaints to stay in the waters of World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island.
The harpoon-equipped whale hunter Yushin Maru No.3 was still there late yesterday, hours after the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the ship was leaving.
''I'm aware that there has been one vessel which I'm advised has been in Australian territorial waters and I'll advise that it will leave Australian territorial waters,'' Ms Gillard said.
The Australian embassy told the Japanese government on Tuesday that whaling vessels were not welcome in the country's waters, repeating earlier complaints.
But the Japanese ship was photographed yesterday within a few miles of the coast of Macquarie Island, which is part of the state of Tasmania.
The Sea Shepherd anti-whaling group said the harpoon ship continued trailing its vessel, Bob Barker, inside the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit all day.
''Things seem to be reaching a boiling point here,'' the Bob Barker's first mate, Peter Hammarstedt, said. ''It has followed us on circuits of the island, keeping right inside the 12-mile zone.''
The Bob Barker sought refuge at Macquarie Island to try to shake the ship off its stern. As long as some Japanese vessels are able to keep tabs on Sea Shepherd activists, the rest of the fleet can continue whaling.
ANU professor of international law Don Rothwell said if Yushin Maru No.3 was staying close to Macquarie Island it was violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which would normally allow a ship to proceed though these waters.
''The actions of Yushin Maru No.3 are not consistent with the right of innocent passage,'' Professor Rothwell said.
The Greens leader, Bob Brown, said the ship's presence was illegal and called for a naval vessel to be sent there.
The Japanese ship is said (in your article) to be "within a few miles" of Australian land, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's in Australian territorial waters - depending on how "few" miles we're talking about, and the purpose of the ship's presence there, territorial waters stop within 3 or 12 miles from shore.
....it emerged that another vessel of the Japanese fleet went as close as four nautical miles to Tasmania's Macquarie Island in pursuit of the activists' long-range ship Bob Barker.
This brought the Japanese ship, the whale catcher Yushin Maru No. 3, inside Australia's 12 nautical mile territorial limit, where domestic laws ban whaling.
George OB would know for sure
I suspect the legalistic elemnt here is the intention of the Japanese vessel trailing the Bob Barker - is it merely an innocent transit, or is it something else? I think it is clear enough that it is something else, but it is also true that the protesters have long used similar and much more egregious self-serving interpretations of international law to justify their interference with the whalers. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. One side wishes to impose its will on the other, and the other doesn't agree.
Three whaling activists transferred to customs boat
January 13, 2012 - 4:25PM/SMH
Three anti-whaling activists have been transferred from a Japanese vessel to the Australian customs ship Ocean Protector, the Japanese news agency Kyodo is reporting.
Confirmation is being sought from the federal government.
....It is likely that the Japanese vessel is claiming the right of innocent passage (which permits coming to within just neters of the shoreline (ocean depth permitting).
Common sense tells us that they are likely trailing Bob Barker for reasons, having nothing to do with innocent passage. However, that involves their intent, not their actions.
Interestingly the right of innocent passage is nearly absolute - it protects all passage no matter what may be the intent of the vessel in question.
From a legal perspective, I don't see much difference between the contending parties here. Each seeks to impose its will on the other, and each has shown a more or less equivalent disregard for the meaning and intent of recognized maritime law.
I believe your objections are based on your own ethical concerns about the killing of whales. That is certainly your right, and I have no argument with you on that point. However, there is no internationally recognized law that prohibits the Japanese from doing what they are doing. You can certainly fault them on an ethical or moral basis, but they do indeed have the legal right to disagree with you