Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. XIII No. 3 - July 2004
Compiled by William Rossiter
Marta Hevia, of Fundación Cethus, Argentina, received one of the 54 grants CSI has given in the last 12 months, for her study of the "Genetic Diversity Assessment among Commerson's Dolphin Subpopulations in Southern Argentina". Recently she shared this photo of one of these exquisite dolphins with us, along with a short note of her progress:
"During the very first weeks of the year, a new research project on Commerson's dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) began in southern Argentina.
Commerson's Dolphin. Photo courtesy M. Iñíguez, Fundación Cethus
The objective of this project, conducted by Dr. Frank Cipriano, Director of the Conservation Genetics Laboratory of San Francisco State University; and Fundación Cethus, is to assess genetic diversity between subpopulations of Commerson's dolphins in Santa Cruz Province, in Argentine Patagonia. The project will focus on the potential for depletion of the subpopulation in the Ria Gallegos area by high and continuing incidental catches of these dolphins, in terms of decreased genetic diversity and statistically significant genetic differentiation relative to the northern areas.
In this first field season, the study was carried out mainly on samples from beach cast Commerson's dolphins collected from the coast of Santa Cruz Province.
This type of analysis has become a primary component of the work needed to assess the conservation status of potentially threatened animal populations and to determine the proper scale to design and apply conservations plans."
Another grant from CSI went to Fundacion Ecuatoriana para el Estudio de Mamiferous Marinos (FEMM), to help with their new museum in Guayaquil, Ecuador. FEMM's president, Fernando Félix, reported that the museum will officially open just as the humpback whale watching season begins, on 26 June. Hundreds of people have already toured the exhibits, some of which you can see in this photo. All of us at CSI wish FEMM a wonderful opening and an exciting first season!
Museum photos courtesy Fernando Félix
The Makah Indians in early June lost the latest round in their quest to kill gray whales, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to deny the U.S. government and Makah Tribe's petition to rehear the "Anderson v. Evans" case en banc. The court added that "no further petition for rehearing or rehearing en banc will be accepted in this case." CSI congratulates the attorneys of Meyer and Glitzenstein, whose professionalism and preparation have continued to win this case. CSI has been active in the issue since it began, and is a co-plaintiff in the case. While the government and Tribe decide whether to submit a petition to the Supreme Court or try to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act or Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), they have no legal right to hunt whales. NMFS may try again to prepare an adequate Environmental Impact Statement or seek a waiver from the MMPA, and at taxpayers expense may continue to press their case. NMFS has consistently bent over backwards to facilitate Makah whaling, presumably on orders from an administration concerned with many other Native American claims. CSI believes the effort is powered by politics rather than policy, and therein may lay the solution: How many politicians will declare that gray whales should be hunted?
The Gully, a submarine canyon on the edge of Eastern Canada's Scotian Shelf, in May was designated a Marine Protected Area by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The Gully Marine Protected Area's 2,364 square kilometers is a unique and unusual habitat known in part for a resident population of northern bottlenose whales. Virtually all commercial activity is prohibited in the deeper parts of the canyon, including fishing. CSI congratulates Drs. Hal Whitehead and Lindy Weilgart, of Dalhousie University, for their unflinching advocacy on behalf of the Gully and its resident whales they have gotten to know so well. For more information please see: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/media/infocus/2004/20040512_e.htm
Bottlenose dolphins in Florida's Indian River Lagoon have abnormally suppressed immune systems, which seems to have resulted in more diseases than might be expected in a healthy dolphin population. Weakened immune systems permit opportunistic diseases like lobomycosis (skin lesions from a fungus disease), dolphin pox (a stress-related virus), and gastric inflammation. A five-year health assessment project by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution only began last year, but has produced early if distressing results. Baseline data were collected last year on some of the Indian River dolphins, as well as others in North Carolina presumed to be "normal", and some in captive facilities. More tests are scheduled in July and August. The habitat also has been tested for some human contaminants, looking for an obvious link. In somewhat similar cases a great deal of hard work by a wide range of experts eventually found links between probable sources of pollution, a complex chain of reactions, and effects on the observed animals, but political forces often intervened when the solutions demanded economic sacrifices upstream; powerful industries almost always resist change that costs them anything, no matter what the cost to others. CSI has always been concerned with the cost to the animals of the tests themselves, a highly invasive and stressful process. If the end product doesn't serve the dolphins is it justified?
Entangled marine mammals are getting more attention, thankfully.
If you have photographs of something entangled by ropes or nets there is
someone who needs to see them. Please contact Leslie Burdett
Fodor's Guides are the tourist's bible, known for pointing everyone in the right direction. Thanks to Sarah Gold, Associate Editor, the Fodor's Guide to Cancún and the Yucatán Peninsula perhaps now on shelves, and the next edition of Fodor's Guide to Mexico, include the following guidance:
Speaking of Cancun dolphin display explosion, CSI continues to support Mexico's COMARINO, the incredibly effective organization seeking justice for the still suffering dolphins imported from the Solomon Islands last year, and against Parc Nizuc, its owner, and the government officials now under legal "Denounces" by COMARINO. The complex issue swirls largely out of the public eye, as Mexico seeks to cleanse itself of an embarrassment. But even while most of Parc Nizuc's dolphins have tested positive for diseases, and the conditions are primitive and inhumane, under Mexican law an "Amparo" brought by the offending facility prevents even official access by enforcement officials.
Luna, a young orca in Nootka Sound, Canada, has been isolated from his maternal family pod far to the south, the famous L Pod. Luna is also known as L-98. As you read this Luna may have been captured and relocated to Pedder Bay, near Victoria, British Columbia, to provide an opportunity to reunite him with L Pod, if they pass by. The controversial plan was finalized after Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans decided the whale was a public-safety threat to boats and seaplanes; he likes to interact. Staff from the Vancouver Aquarium will lead the capture, sparking some controversy, but rumors had Canada's infamous Marineland as a backup destination if Luna couldn't be reunited with his family. Because Luna is from the Southern Resident orca population, which has declined precipitously since the mid-nineties, the US is contributing $100,000 to the relocation project.
One major controversy concerns the plan to tag Luna to monitor his location, if he is released. The tag would be attached to his dorsal fin with three bolts, which would corrode in time and allow the tag to fall off. But, assuming that his dorsal fin has a "high level of tactile sensitivity", how much chronic pain would he feel, from bolt and tag movement as well as the drilling? Scientists describe the dorsal fin as a complex, vascular, thermoregulatory organ, vital to the animal's reproductive health. Put another way, if the blood flow between Luna's dorsal fin and his abdomen is affected by the drilled holes and irritating bolts would he be unable to reproduce? Biologically, for the survival of L pod, he's as good as dead if he can't. As one bolt will fail first, will the partially freed tag move erratically, perhaps causing more damage?