Sea Shepherd sets sail to the Great Australian Bight

The Great Australia Bight is home to the blue humpback whale. (Photo – ABC Open: Anne Powell)

There are beautiful places worth saving. The Sea Shepherd had set sail for the Great Australian Bight for the first time in August 2016 and the ocean conservation group found places like Nuyts Reef, Isles of St Francis, the Bunda Cliffs, the Head of Bight and the Pearson Islands.

The group said it discovered one of the world’s best kept secrets –  rich in biodiversity. The Bight is home to Blue, Minke, Fin and Humpback whales, and is one of the planet’s most significant Southern Right whale nurseries, Sea Shepherd Australia’s Managing Director Jeff Hansen said.

 

Many fish species like the critically-endangered Southern Blue Fin tuna, Great White shark, Mako shark, seals, dolphins and penguins are in abundance in the Bight. It is truly alive; a place that is rare, unique and globally significant, with many of the off-shore islands on par with the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Galapagos Islands.

 

Sea Shepherd had launched Operation Jeedara that showcased a truly remarkable place – one of Mother Nature’s greatest and grandest shows on Earth. The operation sent BP and Chevron to pull out of their oil drilling activities from the Bight.

Southern bluefin tuna circling inside a transport net. (Photo: Greenpeace/AAP)

 Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Steve Irwin is again aiming to set sail to the Bight with its international crews in March this year, but it needs funds to complete an engine overhaul.

 

Hansen said the crew will take cameras below the waves to reveal more secrets from this natural wonderland. “We’ll explore and document the incredible wilderness that lies protected by the boundaries of the Pearson Islands Sanctuary Zone, the Nuyts Archipelago, and the Bunda Cliffs Sanctuary Zone,” he added.

The bight is also a home to seals. (Photo: Australia.com)

At the completion of the Bight expedition, the M/Y Steve Irwin and crew will set their sights on the Adani coal mine on Operation Reef Defence.

 

“From everyone here at Sea Shepherd, thank-you for your help to get our flagship, the M/Y Steve Irwin back on the water.  We have some way to go but with your continued support we will be on our way to the Great Australian Bight,” Jeff said.
Advertisements

What’s On 2018?

As mercury hits over 40 degrees Celsius in most states of the country in January, the Bureau of Meteorology has released a data showing that 2017 toppled weather records nationwide. Climate change is also noted as driving up global temperatures. Last year was the third hottest on record in Australia and seven of Australia’s ten hottest years have occurred since 2005.

Climate Councillor Professor Will Steffen said the exceptionally warm year included some of the worst impacts of climate change seen in Australia to date, including severe heatwaves and devastating coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Read more.

Image: Bureau of Meteorology

While temperature is soaring high, it has already posed a massive threat to the Great Barrier Reef, including coral bleaching. There are other challenges like water pollution, fishing, industrialisation, and governance. There has been an ongoing resistance against industrialisation in Abbot Point along with the government’s approval of Adani to dredge close to the marine park. Various conservation groups have been up in arms to stop the project once and for all. Groups include Greenpeace, WWF, Fight For the Reef, GetUp, and much more.

Bleached magnificent sea anemone (Heteractis magnifica) with clownfish (Amphiprion percula). Lizard Island, March 2016.

On marine conservation, the Sea Shepherd has been relentless in its pursuit to stop the Japanese Whaling Fleet from routine killing of whales in the Southern Ocean. The International Court of Justice has ruled out that whaling in the area is illegal but the Japanese is unstoppable. The marine conservation group has vowed to take action with the law and the Australian people behind them.

Yushin Maru and the Kyo Maru No.1 transfer whales to the Nisshin Maru factory ship, Southern Ocean/ Dec 21, 2005

There are other agenda for the year including Australia’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement to lower temperature below 2 Degrees Celsius. Various solutions have been on the table that are yet to be worked on.

 

The imminent death of the Great Barrier Reef

In 2016, there was an obituary written for the Great Barrier Reef. The cause of death: climate change and ocean acidification. It died at the age of 25 million.

Australian scientists confirmed this is not far from the truth —  if drastic action to save the reef is not taken. In a media release by the James Cook University, scientists conducted a survey last year in which they recorded severe coral bleaching across huge tracts of the Reef. They completed aerial surveys along its entire length. Reports said that while bleaching was most severe in the northern third of the Reef, the middle third has experienced the most intense coral bleaching.

Orpheus Island bleaching. Image: Greg Torda

Prof. Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, who undertook the aerial surveys in both 2016 and 2017, said the combined impact of this back-to-back bleaching stretches for 1,500 km (900 miles), leaving only the southern third unscathed.

The bleaching is caused by record-breaking temperatures — even without the effects of El Niño conditions.

The aerial surveys in 2017 covered more than 8,000 km (5,000 miles) and scored nearly 800 individual coral reefs closely matching the aerial surveys in 2016 that were carried out by the same two observers.

Dr. James Kerry, who also undertook the aerial surveys, explains further, “this is the fourth time the Great Barrier Reef has bleached severely – in 1998, 2002, 2016, and now in 2017. Bleached corals are not necessarily dead corals, but in the severe central region we anticipate high levels of coral loss.”

It takes at least a decade for a full recovery of even the fastest growing corals, so mass bleaching events 12 months apart offers zero prospect of recovery for reefs that were damaged in 2016.”

Coupled with the 2017 mass bleaching event, Tropical Cyclone Debbie struck a corridor of the Great Barrier Reef at the end of March. The intense, slow-moving system was likely to have caused varying levels of damage along a path up to 100 km in width. Any cooling effects related to the cyclone are likely to be negligible in relation to the damage it caused, which unfortunately struck a section of the reef that had largely escaped the worst of the bleaching.

“Clearly the reef is struggling with multiple impacts,” explains Prof. Hughes. “Without a doubt the most pressing of these is global warming. As temperatures continue to rise the corals will experience more and more of these events: 1°C of warming so far has already caused four events in the past 19 years.”

‘Ultimately, we need to cut carbon emissions, and the window to do so is rapidly closing.”

Mining and Fossil Fuels

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) blasts the mining and fossil fuels industry as well as the lack of government action. Mining and burning of fossil fuels– like coal – are warming the oceans and killing the reef, the Foundation claims.

Kelly O’Shanassy, ACF director said this is a global tragedy blaming the Australian government and coal companies for undermining action on global warming.

O’Shanassy said in order to have any chance of saving the rest of the reef, there should be a stop in digging up and burning coal and take the alternative — to rapidly repower Australia with clean energy.

“We are heartbroken, and furious. But we will not stop speaking out, showing up and holding people accountable for their decisions,” she said adding:

“The death of so much of our reef was not an accident. It was conscious choice. The government and coal companies knew this was coming yet for years they chose to undermine action on global warming. They laughed as they threw coal around Parliament.”

Follow @rdelarosayoon

 

How long can Japan ignore mounting international pressure to stop whaling?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe participates in a media conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after their bilateral meeting at Kirribilli House in Sydney, Australia, Jan 14, 2017. Source: Reuters/Chris Pavlich

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe participates in a media conference with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull after their bilateral meeting at Kirribilli House in Sydney, Australia, Jan 14, 2017. Source: Reuters/Chris Pavlich

JAPANESE Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on a high-profile business trip to Southeast Asian countries and Australia to strengthen trade, security, and other regional cooperation.

But while he held talks with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Sydney, ocean activists say there is something amiss in the meeting as whale hunting in the Southern Ocean was not included in the agenda.

Whaling in the Antarctic has strained diplomatic ties between Australia and Japan. The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s whaling program is unlawful and therefore it must cease once and for all. The Federal Court of Australia also told Japan to stop its massive whaling in the region.

Environmentalists stage a rally against Japan’s whaling in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 19, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Environmentalists stage a rally against Japan’s whaling in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 19, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

Despite the rulings, however, Japan ignored them and practically turned deaf ears to global condemnation.

For one thing, whaling is uniquely Japanese, a tradition that dates back since time immemorial – a cultural tradition that only Japanese can understand.

Chris Burgess wrote in The Asia-Pacific Journal an analogy comparing between Japan and whales.

He said to deny Japan from whaling is tantamount to denying Japan’s existence, an insult to its national pride and identity.

Speaking of Japanese-ness, whaling is not an isolated case that Japan has blatantly misunderstood.

Take for instance the demand for apologies for its wartime past. Japan withheld apologies and if it did, the form and content are rather ambiguous.

Japanese prime ministers have acknowledged the pains and sorrows wars have inflicted to hundreds or thousands of victims, but the nation’s officials continue to visit the Yasukuni Shrine to pay respect to war criminals.

SEE ALSO: Japan, S. Korea ‘comfort women’ feud flares amid Pyongyang missile fears

The comfort women’s issue is another thing.

Survivors have demanded apologies and compensation, but Japan strongly denied forcing women into sex slavery — besides hasn’t Germany or America done it too?

Japan has been condemned by its Asian neighbours for glossing over wartime crimes yet it continues to rewrite schools history textbooks extolling its military past. Japan claims innocence to fingers pointed at him as if Japan is simply maligned with impunity.

Simply put, Japan and whales are inseparable. Whale is a delicacy bringing back nostalgia of home and childhood, as Rupert Wingfield-Hayes wrote in BBC News, Tokyo .

(File) A chunk of lean meat of a whale caught in the Antarctic is placed on a cutting board before being sliced up for a sashimi dish at whale meat restaurant Magonotei in Tokyo Thursday, June 17, 2010. Source: AP Photo/Koji Sasahara

To the Japanese, ethics and morality on meat-eating are practically relative and arbitrary the same way Australians slaughter kangaroo for its meat or how British cook adorable rabbits for a hearty meal, or how Americans make a burger out of a holy cow.

For the Japanese, meat means whale. Could there be a deep chasm between eastern and western thought in regard to being a carnivore?

What Japan might have overlooked is the scale and magnitude of its whale hunting. Japan hunts for 333 minke whales each year traversing and trespassing international waters and marine sanctuaries.

SEE ALSO: Obama urged to pressure Japan to end whaling

Following the release of the Academy Award-winning documentary, The Cove (2009), which showed the brutal whale slaughter turning waters into blood red, Taiji has become ground zero for local and international activism. Taiji is a town located in Higashimuro District, Wakayama Prefecture.

The notorious whale hunt in Taiji turning water into blood red. (Pic: Supplied)

The notorious whale hunt in Taiji turning water into blood red. (Pic: Supplied)

The film brought global awareness on how fishermen round up some 1,000 dolphins a year to sell to marine parks or kill for meat.

In response to it, Megumi Sasaki produced a documentary film, A Whale of a Tale, in an attempt to shed light on the juxtaposition of contrast between Japanese and non-Japanese thoughts in regard to whale.

Her film, however, did not get as much attention as The Cove.

Japan did not sail to international waters to hunt for whales, not until 1934, eventually ending up to Antarctica. The nation’s confidence was boosted with its advancing technology including the introduction of steam ships and grenade-tipped harpoon guns. Further, whales helped keep Japanese citizens fed both during and after World War II.

Just like its display of military might in the heydays of territorial expansion, the Japanese whaling fleet commands strength and fearless dominion over international waters.

Confrontation at Sea

The Sea Shepherd has been in the media spotlight, unfazed with the Japanese fleet.

The marine conservation group has launched an annual campaign to confront and send the Japanese fleet back home minus the whales.

Dramatic confrontations like adrenaline-packed action movie have taken place in high seas. The head-on clashes, however, have been said to be illegal posing risk and danger at sea.

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Nisshin Maru rams The Bob Barker in a series of clashes in the Southern Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

The Sea Shepherd has been charged in a U.S. court for its action despite its noble cause. The U.S. arm of anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd has agreed to pay AU$3.332 million (US$2.25 million) to Japanese whalers for breaching a court injunction.

But just like the Japanese, who can stop the Sea Shepherd?

This year, the group dispatched two vessels to mutually bully and harass the Japanese fleet.  Sea Shepherd Global vessels, the Ocean Warrior and the MV Steve Irwin, left Australia’s Southern Operations Base the first weekend of December carrying 51 crew members from eight countries.

Their goal is to intercept the Japanese fleet, which departed from Japan in late November, and prevent them from killing their self-allocated quota of 333 minke whales. This year’s campaign is dubbed as Operation Nemesis.

What else can be done?

Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare suggested it is critical to maintain diplomatic pressure on Japan.

He said external pressure can only be successful if enough decision-makers in Japan understand the risks to Japan’s wider interests by continued whaling and start to question the wisdom of that decision.

He also noted that the main option for governments is to make strong diplomatic protests to Japan as 33 countries have already done so, including Australia, the U.S., Mexico, South Africa and all 28 EU member states, led by New Zealand.

The Japanese government needs to understand the changes that have taken place in the course of human history. This is the era where global awareness on the state of the planet has become more urgent than ever.

Part of the difficulty to stop Japanese whaling is rooted in its bureaucratic system. Japan’s whaling is government-run, a large bureaucracy with research budgets, annual plans, promotions and pensions.

If the ministry’s office in charge of whaling is downsized, it discredits the bureaucrats and politicians. For now, downsizing or demolishing the whaling section is not possible. As BBC noted:

“If the number of staff in a bureaucrat’s office decreases while they are in charge, they feel tremendous shame… which means most of the bureaucrats will fight to keep the whaling section in their ministry at all costs. And that is true with the politicians as well. If the issue is closely related to their constituency, they will promise to bring back commercial whaling. It is a way of keeping their seats.”

More activism

Activism has to continue to put pressure on Japan sending a message that time has changed.

Remember what the small neighbour South Korea did. Victims of comfort women protested every Wednesday without ceasing since the 2005 in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

The move was aimed at forcing the Japanese government to make public and face-to-face apology, as well as to offer individual compensation for its wartime sex crimes.

As a constant reminder, the now aged women in their 80s or 90s, supported by various civic and academic groups, put up bronze statues in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and in major cities worldwide.

The statues depict young girls who were forced to serve as comfort women for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The sight has embarrassed embassy officials. Recently, these grandmothers have stroke a breakthrough.

SEE ALSO: Japan: South Korea’s WWII ‘comfort women’ to receive $90k each

The Japanese government finally caved in to their demands for formal apology and compensation. However, there is a string-attached to the compensation package. Japan asked the South Korean government to remove the statues they have erected in front of the embassies and elsewhere.

A big whale statue might not be needed to put up in front of every Japanese embassy around the globe, but a sustained pressure can send the message across: it is sad to say goodbye to whaling, but time has changed.

It is time to set the whales free.

Follow @rdelarosayoon on Twitter | Blog Link

Epic hunt for toothfish poachers ends in the Atlantic

It has been an action-packed season in the Southern Ocean chasing big illegal fishing boats. Six bandit ships wanted by the Interpol are on the run, three of which have been either intercepted, detained, or sunk into the depths of the sea. Sea Shepherd Operation Icefish ended Monday with the sinking of The Thunder. Viking is now in the hands of Malaysian authorities and Kunlun await’s Thailand’s verdict. Re-posting my earlier stories:

‘The Thunder’ sinks in Sao Tome

The Thunder's last few moments before it's gone forever. (Photo: Sea Shepherd)

Sea Shepherd’s Operation Icefish ended early this week with the bizarre sinking of Interpol-wanted vessel, The Thunder, inside the Exclusive Economic Zone of Sao Tome.

After 110 days of action, chasing the elusive vessel, Sea Shepherd Captain Paul Watson said the campaign has accomplished its mission. The longest hot pursuit of a poaching vessel in maritime history, Operation Icefish has been “the most successful intervention against high-seas poaching in the history of anti-poaching operations,” the captain said.

Thunder, the most notorious of the so-called “Bandit 6, was sunk deliberately by its crew as they clapped and cheered, media reports said. It was left with clear signs that the vessel was intentionally scuttled. The hatches were not closed to maintain buoyancy, but instead, the doors and hatches were tied open, along with the fishhold. The vessel then went down 4,000 meters below.

Watson is convinced the vessel was scuttled as a deliberate act of desperation. It was allegedly owned by unscrupulous and wealthy fishing companies based in Galicia, Spain.

According to Watson, the illegal toothfish industry linked to Spanish companies has suffered a severe financial blow, and faces the face criminal courts in Malaysia, Thailand, and Sao Tome for its illegal activities, including illegal fishing, illegal registration, and false declarations. Deliberately scuttling a ship in the territorial waters of Sao Tome is also a crime. READ MORE…

Australian gov’t seizes toothfish poacher Kunlun

The Australian government has finally decided to do something about illegal fishing vessels. And when Australian Customs officials recently took out their patrol ship they met Kunlun, a notorious and elusive poaching vessel cruising on its way with a massive haul of Patagonian toothfish.

Kunlun was intercepted west of Cocos Island (Keeling) on Thursday. The Sea Shepherd suspects the vessel was en route from the Antarctic to Southeast Asia to offload its illegal catch. READ MORE…

Malaysia detains notorious ‘Viking’ poaching vessel

Another major blow has been dealt to illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean with the detention of the Nigerian-flagged poaching vessel, Viking, in Malaysia – bringing a total of three notorious illegal fishing vessels and their crew in for interrogation this fishing season. Nigerian-flagged the Thunder was de-registered last week making it officially stateless. Kunlun, meanwhile, is in Thailand’s detention.

Held for violations of Malaysian maritime law, Malaysian authorities have indicated that the Viking will also be investigated for alleged illegal, unregulated, unreported (IUU) fishing violations. READ MORE….

The Thunder is scuttled and sunk into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Tome.

Australia urges cooperation on illegal fishing

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Peter Dutton urged the international community to forge cooperation to combat Illegal, Undocumented, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing following the arrest of poaching vessel, Kunlun, in Thailand.

Dutton said Australia works with international partners through the Regional Plan of Action with Southeast Asian countries to address illegal fishing.

Australia alerted Southeast Asian nations about the expected arrival of Kunlun into their ports at any time. The vessel was found anchored off Tapaonoi island, near Phuket, and is now being detained, according to a local report by Phuketwan. Phuket Marine Police authorities dispatched teams to gather information so that investigation will commenced shortly.

Kunlun, taken on 7 January 2015 in Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. Area. (Photo: Interpol)

Dutton praised the arrest and detention, and said, “This is an excellent example of interagency and international cooperation achieving tangible results.”

US, EU address Illegal Fishing

In the US, the Presidential Task Force on IUU Fishing and Seafood Fraud released its action plan that sets out the aggressive steps to curb IUU fishing. The plan is based on the recommendations of the Task Forced made in December 2014 that federal agencies will take both domestically and internationally .

The plan identifies actions that will strengthen enforcement, create and expand partnerships with state and local governments, industry, and non-governmental organizations, and create a risk-based traceability program to track seafood from harvest to entry into U.S. commerce.

WWF considers the action plan as a “crucial win” for the European Union and the global community to confront illegal fishing. The conservation group also said the plan will further boost the EU’s strong action to fight against illegal fishing, which is estimated to cost between EUR 8 billion and EUR 19 billion annually.

Eszter Hidas, EU Policy Officer for WWF’s Illegal Fishing programme, said the world’s two biggest fish importers seem now determined to close their doors to any illegal fish product.

IUU fishing represents 11 million to 26 million tonnes of catch, which accounts for 13-31 per cent of global catch, according to WFF.

Michele Kuruc, vice president of ocean policy at WWF-US, also said that the action plan marks “a decisive shift” in US policy. The plan is a way to put black market enterprises on notice that the country is closing its doors to their illegally caught seafood, she added.

IUU

Australia calls for high level cooperation

Australian Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture Senator Richard Colbeck has been calling for a high level of regional and international cooperation and reiterated the need of mapping out an action plan.  He said IUU fishing is a global issue and it is “great to see this level of international cooperation to protect our marine resources and eliminate illegal fishing.”

The Kunlun was intercepted by the Royal New Zealand Navy in the Southern Ocean in January, but eluded arrest. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) was patrolling the seas in February and caught the vessel in the Indian Ocean while on its way north. Australian Customs boarded Kunlun to verify the flag State of the vessel.

Kunlun has a long history of IUU fishing in the Southern Ocean and is the subject of an INTERPOL Purple Notice seeking information on the individuals and networks that own, operate, and profit from the actions of the vessel.

The Kunlun attempted to avoid detection by entering the Thai port under the name Taishan and claiming to be flagged to Indonesia.

“The Australian Government will continue to provide support as necessary. It will continue to take effective action, together with our international counterparts, in order to send a strong message that IUU fishing will not be tolerated,” Senator Colbeck said.

Follow @DGreenJournal
Blog Link

 

New study predicts demise of Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef is facing serious threats from climate change, and ongoing coal projects make it even worse. The Carmichael Mine Project, located in the Galilee Basin, will go ahead despite warnings that coal transported from the mining site to the Abbot Point Port will cause irreparable damage to the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

A new scientific study says the reef could be destroyed by environmental change before the end of the century. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation  (CSIRO) and Bureau of Meteorology (MOB) forecast that Australia will be hit hard by climate change as temperatures will rise of up to 5.1C by 2090. Scientists under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change  (IPCC) have agreed a limit of 2C if the earth is to avert catastrophe.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts rising temperature that hit Australia hard.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts rising temperature that hit Australia hard.

CSIRO’s principal scientist,  Kevin Hennessy, said the inland will be most affected but  one of the most dramatic  transformations are set to take place in the seas that surround Australia, which will warm between 2C to 4C  unless carbon emissions are cut.

On average, four metric tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted to the atmosphere per person per year, representing an increase of 30% over the last 250 years. The IPCC monitors these changes.

The effect of climate change is already changing the Reef. The Department of Environmentalso confirms sea and air temperatures will continue to rise, along with sea levels, and the ocean is sure to become more acidic. These changes affect reef species and habitats, as well as ecosystem processes, and the industries and communities that depend on the Reef.

Brisbane protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Brisbane protest against dredging in the Great Barrier Reef. Pic: Stephen Hass (Flickr CC)

Tourism, commercial fishing and recreational fishing on the reef together contribute $6.9 billion to the national economy per year. Unusually warm sea temperatures have already caused serious and lasting damage to 16% of the world’s coral reefs. The Great Barrier Reef has experienced eight mass bleaching events since 1979, triggered by unusually high sea surface temperatures. The most widespread events occurred in 1998 and 2002 with more than 50% of reefs bleached. Coral bleaching is a natural process but the rate is increasing faster than ever before.

The Federal Government gave a green light to the coal project despite warnings from the United Nations that it will put the Reef at risk. Predictions also suggest that the Carmichael mine could produce an extra 130 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over the mine’s lifetime, representing a quarter of Australia’s annual emissions.  The pollution from the entire Galilee Basin, if all projects go ahead, will be more than Australia’s entire annual greenhouse gas pollution.

The GBR from space. Pic: NASA (Wikimedia Commons)

The GBR from space. Pic: NASA (Wikimedia Commons)

“That intermediate emissions scenario would have significant effects for Australia,” Hennessy said. “Coral reefs are sensitive to even small changes in ocean temperature and a 1C rise would have severe implications for the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo reef.

The forecast is grim for the Great Barrier Reef and if Australia cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions the future could be very challenging, the CSIRO scientist said.

Re-blogged from: Green Journal/Asian Correspondent
Follow @DGreenJournal

Rare killer whales seen in Indian Ocean

On the sidelines of Operation Icefish, the Sea Shepherd group saw one of the most spectacular sea creatures in the South Indian Ocean while chasing a Nigerian-poaching vessel from the Antarctic. The crew spotted of a rare type of killer whale which was not been seen for decades.

The crew of the MY Bob Barker ship encountered “Ecotype D Orcas” while passing between the Crozet and Kerguelen archipelagos in pursuit of the toothfish poaching vessel, Thunder, in late December.

Bob Barker rare encounter with Ecotype D orcas in the South Indian Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd Global)

Bob Barker rare encounter with Ecotype D orcas in the South Indian Ocean. (Photo: Sea Shepherd Global)

Robert Pitman, Marine Ecologist and Antarctic Orca expert from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, confirmed the whales are type D orcas based on the photographs sent by the crew. While examining the photographs, Pitman also said he believed they have never before been filmed alive.

Scientists admitted that little is known about this type of Orca, which is infrequently seen in inaccessible subantarctic waters. The last sighting of the rare whales was in 1955 on Paraparaumu Beach, New Zealand.

The Type D orca is characterised by its large bulbous forehead, similar to that of the Pilot whale, and tiny post-ocular eye markings. From National Geographic:

While typical killer whales—types A, B, and C—have streamlined bodies and large, white eye-patches, type D whales have tiny eye markings and large, bulbous heads.

Researchers are said to have sequenced type D’s genome using material collected from a museum skeleton from 1955.

Research in Antarctic waters has revealed that there are at least four distinctly different-looking forms of killer whales, referred to as types A, B, C and D. (Photo: NOAA)

Research in Antarctic waters has revealed that there are at least four distinctly different-looking forms of killer whales, referred to as types A, B, C and D. (Photo: NOAA)

Bob Barker chief engineer Erwin Vermeulen  recounts, ”The crew watched in awe as the 13 killer whales, including a small juvenile and a large male, used the six-metre swell to surf across the bow. For almost an hour the surf-show continued and was accompanied by bow riding, tail-slaps and breaches.”

Sea Shepherd said DNA retrieved from the 1955 stranding revealed that Ecotype D’s genetic differences point at a divergence from other Orcas about 390,000 years ago. This makes Ecotype D the second oldest Orca type, and second most genetically divergent.

Determining how many species of Orcas there are is critically important to establishing conservation measures and to better understand the ecological role of this apex predator in the world’s oceans, it concluded.

Link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

Pirates catch illegal gillnet and 200 toothfish

They are misunderstood as pirates, but they are not. The Sea Shepherd and its crew of volunteers are activists guarding the oceans from illegal poachers. And since the Japanese whalers cannot be spotted in the Southern Ocean this season, the crew has been all out to go against illegal hunters of Patagonian and AntarcticToothfish.

Sea Shepherd crew works on the deadly gillnet (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

Sea Shepherd crew works on the deadly gillnet (Photo: Jeff Wirth)

The Bob Barker ship has been in pursuit of the African vessel, Thunder, since the vessel first fled on December 17. And for five days, the Sam Simon ship chased the poaching vessel. Thunder fled leaving behind a 25-km-long gillnet with a haul of over 200 toothfish and other sea creatures. Majority of which are dead and the surviving crabs have been thrown back into the waters.

Sid Chakravarty, captain of the Sam Simon, said the retrieval of the illegally laid gillnet set, combined with the pursuit of the Thunder, Operation Icefish has achieved what it had set out to do in less than a month since it kicked-off. The operation has been unstoppable despite criticism on the legality of the ‘pirates”operation in the international waters. Read full story HERE as well as Bob Brown’s press statement on Sea Shepherd’s toothfish operation.

 

 

Mission to hunt toothfish poachers in Antarctic

Marine conservation group, the Sea Shepherd, is gearing up for another Southern Ocean expedition in time of Antarctic summer.

The group suspects the Japanese will not return to kill whales this hunting season, but if they do, they will drive them back to Japan. The International Court of Justice declared in March this year Japanese whaling in the area is illegal.

Sea Shepherd is launching the next mission called Operation Icefish to catch poachers of Patagonian and Antarctic Toothfish.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. (Photo: AFMA)

The group said toothfish poaching is another threat in the area that has had a devastating effect on icefish population. They warn illegal fishers they will seize nets and will work with authorities to confiscate illegal boats.

The Sea Shepherd ship, Sam Simon, arrived in Auckland’s harbour yesterday after a voyage from Melbourne. The ship, carrying 25 crew from around the globe, arrived in New Zealand to source supplies and to prepare for the upcoming operation.

Operation Icefish will be the first campaign of its kind, using innovative direct action tactics to fill a law enforcement void exploited by illegal toothfish operators.

The Bob Barker and the Sam Simon will leave Hobart and Wellington, respectively, to patrol the Antarctic.

Peter Hammarstedt, Captain of M/Y Bob Barker and Director of Ship Operations said in a statement illegal fishing operations will be documented, reported, and confronted. He added, “they will be physically obstructed from deploying their illegal gillnets and unlawful fishing gear will be confiscated and destroyed.”

Michael Lawry, Sea Shepherd New Zealand welcomed the Sea Shepherd ship. He said Sea Shepherd launched a pioneering work to patrol the seas in 2002 with one ship that left Auckland  to confront illegal whalers. On its 12 years of operation, thousands of whales were saved. Come down and welcome the ship and brave crew into our port,” he said

Patagonian Toothfish

Toothfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants. (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

Upscale restaurants serve toothfish gourmet (Photo: Gourmet Traveller)

An Australian Government report said there is a large-scale illegal toothfish fishing around Southern Ocean which was first  noticed in 1997. Surveillance and monitoring were then put in place. According to the report, there was a spike in catch up to three to four times higher than the allowable and legal catch of species in all areas. According to the Coalition of  Legal Toothfish Operators Inc,  illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing for toothfish “has been reduced by about 95% since peak levels in the 1990s.” At present, IUU fishing for this specie is restricted to the high seas and mostly, they are caught by gillnet.

Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) is the most valuable fishery in Antarctic or subantarctic waters. Prices could fetch up to $US10 per kilo for headed, gutted and tailed fish in major markets in Japan and the United States. Toothfish can grow to a large size (over 2 m long and 100 kg in weight). Its white flesh is considered to be of top quality with few bones. Tootfish is served as a gourmet dish in upscale restaurants around the world.

Blog Link: The Green Journal AU @ Asian Correspondent