Cetacean Society International
Whales Alive! - Vol. XV No. 4 - October 2006
Killer Sperm whale. That's the common name given by the scientists that discovered the fossil of the real creature, officially named Zygophyseter varolai. Killer Sperm Whale sounds better to the media, and describes a whale that roamed the seas that washed over Italy approximately eight million years ago. It had a version of the spermaceti organ, and "was an active predator" possibly big enough to eat whatever it wanted to.
Sakhalin II's permit is temporarily threatened. Russia's Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resources in September threatened to revoke the environmental permit for the enormous energy production scheme that was expected to be fully operating by 2008. The decision is seen by many as a maneuver, and may be reversed in late October. It certainly is not the end in the conflict over the enormous $20 billion oil and gas project near the Sea of Okhotsk's Sakhalin Island. Sakhalin's Phase I began in 1998. Phase II includes four pipelines and one of the world's largest production plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG).
The threat to revoke the permit cited predictions of significant impacts to salmon runs and the livelihoods of thousands of Sakhalin islanders who depend on fishing. An environmental assessment was cancelled and work on the project may have stopped. Some of the momentum for these actions began in August, when Russian authorities stopped construction of two onshore pipelines because of many environmental law violations, including industrial wastewater dumped into the ocean. The impact of the oil and gas project on the critically endangered western Pacific gray whales apparently was not cited as part of the decision, and the campaign by many scientists and NGO's, including CSI, on behalf of the whales and against the development seems to have been ignored.
Norwegian whalers killed about 500 whales in their commercial whaling season from April through August, about half of the self-awarded commercial quota of 1,052 whales. Norway blamed high fuel costs and bad weather, while opponents cited a lack of interest and storage space in a depressed market. The emerging view is that the government's political will to protect controversial whaling is far bigger than demand for whale meat and whalers' willingness to catch whales. Tourists to Norway have been subjected to whales being killed or hauled on board in front of whale watchers, and whale meat has been served to unknowing tourists traveling with Svalbard Travel simply to use up supplies.
A proposed European Union 7.7% tariff on "Jojoba Esters", botanical ingredients used in cosmetics, could change the whale meat market dramatically, because the tariff on spermaceti will remain at zero. The waxy esters derived from the blubber of all whales, not just sperm whales, are virtually identical to Jojoba, and the cosmetic industry may seek the lower priced commodity. Whale products currently cannot be traded into or out of the EU, but whaling nations might petition CITES in 2007 to allow that to change. Norway has so much blubber that most is now dumped at sea, and any market would be an incentive to kill more whales.
We ask all readers to send automated letters by email to the officials in each EU country responsible for this issue, by responding to the WDCS Action Alert at http://www.wdcs.org/dan/publishing.nsf/allweb/608F46DFB5C1189A802571E6005114E3.
South Pacific whale and dolphin species will be better protected and conserved by an agreement signed in September by Ministers representing member nations of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program, led by New Zealand. The memorandum was developed under the international Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and was adopted in New Caledonia.
A National Marine Fisheries Service rule to limit noise impacts on bowhead whales in Alaska was delayed in September by order of U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline. The rule was to require that no seismic work over 120 decibels could continue when four or more mother-calf pairs of bowhead whales were present. The Court found in favor of ConocoPhillips, citing the hardship to the oil company and questions ConocoPhillips had raised about the effectiveness of the rule. Shell Offshore Inc. and GX Technology Corp., also have permits for seismic surveys in the Chukchi Sea this summer and fall. Shell will also be allowed to survey the Beaufort Sea, where the U.S. Minerals Management Service plans more energy exploration lease sales soon.
The US Navy's latest noise salvo is a response to the record number of critical public comments received on their various efforts to use low and mid-frequency active sonars.
First, plans were announced for Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for almost all naval training activities near Hawaii, including all active sonar use. Models and experiments would analyze sonar affects on marine mammals, and presumably other marine life. Environmental impacts from other activities would be analyzed, including the simultaneous training of three carrier strike groups. Public meetings were held in the state during September, and public comments will be accepted through 13 October. The Draft EIS is forecast for May, with a Final EIS completed in early 2008. For more information see: Navy Hawaii Range Complex Environmental Impact Statement: http://www.govsupport.us/navynepahawaii/hawaiirceis.aspx.
Second, the Navy's request for a five year permit to harm marine mammals while operating the Low Frequency Active Sonar System (LFA) was announced by NMFS in late September. The request is similar to the Supplemental EIS that CSI and many others commented on in 2005, dropping previous protections ordered by the federal court and NMFS, doubling the operational LFA systems and allowing their use worldwide. Please review (CSI will email or mail you a copy) and submit your comments prior to 30 October. It is extremely important for all of us to act, once again, so that NMFS continues to see the enormous concern that people still feel about the spread of this dangerous technology.
Third, the Navy is preparing an EIS for mid-frequency sonar exercises for the entire east coast and Gulf of Mexico. This echoes the EIS project for Hawaii, in more ways than one, and again represents the effect of the fervor and volume of critical public comments. There will be seven public hearings, and public comments will be accepted prior to 1 December. Once again, CSI will send copies on request. We all need your comments.
The Navy has nothing to lose by firing these salvos, and the obvious intent of packing so many comment periods close together is to have you simply give up fighting. It is not an exaggeration to say that if you give up marine mammals will suffer the consequences. Of course we've all said the same things before, and yet with time has come more evidence that our complaints are justified: sonar kills. We should be grateful that the Navy is abiding by the law, which would not happen in many other nations, and that our opinions must be heard.
CSI at the United States Supreme Court? Whoever would have thought? CSI in September joined with twelve other organizations in an Amicus Brief that urges the Supreme Court to rule that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is authorized, required, and has a duty to regulate greenhouse gases. The Amici Curiae or "friend of the court" brief declared that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons, present a more profound threat to human health and welfare than anything else currently regulated under the Clean Air Act. CSI's concerns go beyond, to impacts on the marine ecosystem with worldwide implications.
The parties in the suit include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the states of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, along with environmental groups, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and three cities. This is the first time that states have sued the federal government over global warming issues.
CSI congratulates Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal for his work on the now consolidated suit, Mass et al v. EPA, which has afforded a diverse range of citizenry, such as those CSI represents, to join in calling EPA's inaction on carbon dioxide "intolerable - a dangerous disservice to the nation."
Prepared under the auspices of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at Vermont Law School, the brief is at http://www.sierraclub.org/environmentallaw/lawsuits/docs/2006-08-30-briefoceancoast.pdf. It argues that EPA's refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions violates the plain language of the Clean Air Act. It is meant to focus the Supreme Court's attention on current and imminent impacts of global warming, declaring in part, "One need only look to the oceans and coasts of the United States. Ocean temperatures are increasing. Ocean chemistry is changing and becoming more acidic. The polar caps are melting and sea levels are rising. Coastlines are eroding and estuaries are changing. Hurricanes are becoming more powerful and destructive. Coral reefs are dying and the marine food web is unraveling. Marine life is under increasing stress as life zones diminish. Human communities closest to the oceans and coasts are bearing the brunt of these profound changes in the marine environment." "There is strong and growing scientific consensus that all of these effects are closely linked to the emission of so-called greenhouse gases" the Amicus participants stated, and that the gas pollutants "may reasonably be anticipated to endanger human health or welfare."
Other participants of the brief include the American Littoral Society, Humane Society of the United State, International Wildlife Coalition Inc., Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Nantucket Soundkeeper / Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, The Ocean Conservancy, Ocean Futures Society, Ocean Public Trust Initiative (a project of Earth Island Institute's International Marine Mammal Project), Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, SeaWeb, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (North America) and Jean-Michel Cousteau, renowned ocean explorer and president of Ocean Futures Society.