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

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Conservationists hail court ruling to ban Japanese whaling

International conservation groups praise the decision of the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) to drive out the Japanese from whaling in the Southern Ocean.  The Court ordered Monday the immediate revocation of special permits granted to Japanese whalers to kill and gather whales in the name of scientific research.

The International Court of Justice in Hague, the Netherlands. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Court finds the Japanese operation in the Southern Ocean not consistent with the provision of the scientific programme under Article 8 of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It finds that “the killing, taking and treating of whales under special permits granted for JARPA II is not for purposes of scientific research within the meaning of Article 8 and that Japan thus has violated three paragraphs of the Schedule. ”

Australia filed the case against Japan in 2010. Today,  the Court announced its verdict and ordered Japan to immediately  refrain from authorizing or implementing any special permit whaling which is not for purposes of scientific research within the meaning of Article 8. It also ordered to cease with immediate effect the implementation of JARPA II; and to revoke any authorization, permit or licence that allows the implementation of JARPA II.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society USA and Sea Shepherd Australia (SSA) welcome the decision. Both have directly intervened against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. Last week, SSA’s fleet under “Operation Relentless” arrived home in Melbourne from the Southern Ocean just in time of the end of another whaling season. It announced the success of its campaign in saving at least about 750 whales from the Japanese slaughter.

The Sea Shepherd sent their representatives to the court listen to the verdict,  which include Captain Alex Cornelissen, Executive Director of Sea Shepherd Global and Geert Vons, Director of Sea Shepherd Netherlands. They were also accompanied by Sea Shepherd Global’s Dutch legal counsel.

The ICJ, by 12 votes to four, said Japan hadn’t acted in compliance with its obligations under the international whaling convention. Australia had asked the 16-judge panel to ban Japan’s annual hunt on the basis it was not “for purposes of scientific research” as allowed under the international whaling convention.

Japanese vessel Yushin Maru No. 2, center, sails alongside Sea Shepherds’ The Bob Barker, left, in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica. (Photo:: AP)

In Australia, SSA Chariman ,Bob Brown said  the ICJ findings ”vindicate a decade of courageous actions by Captain Paul Watson and his crews.”

“All across Australia people will be celebrating this win due to Sea Shepherd and their huge public support for protecting whales in this country that led to the Australian Government to take this legal action,” Brown said adding “Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott should tell Japan, ‘Never cross the equator again with a whale harpoon gun’.”

Jeff Hansen, SSA Managing Director also said the result “gives further credit to Sea Shepherd for not only upholding Australian Federal laws also International laws in defending the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary for the whales and for future generations.”

“In the absence of law enforcement in the Southern Ocean, Sea Shepherd has been the only organisation upholding the law in defence of the International Whale Sanctuary, while Japan has been consistently breaking the law and this ruling now proves that,”  Hansen concluded.

Blog Link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

Environment Minister ignores plea from the Southern Ocean

UPDATE: Environment Minister Greg Hunt replied to the letter sent by Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker, but unable to help in pressuring the Japanese to stop whaling.

Re-blogging this post on March 3.

The “Relentless Operation” of the Sea Shepherd Australia (SSA) is in distress following the relentless attacks of Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker alleged the Japanese fleet has assaulted its vessel for the third time this season and has sounded alarm to the Australian Government asking for rescue. However, the distress call has fallen on the deaf ears.  .

Sea Shepherd’s fleet observes this Minked Whale swimming around the vessel. (Photo: Tim Watters)

The Captain also asked the New Zealand Government to cooperate in the mission to protect the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The Japanese are accused of throwing steel cables on Bob Barker’s bow, an attempt to disable the propeller and rudder of the ship. On Sunday, the whalers are also accused of throwing bamboo spear at the crew of the small boat rescue. The Bob Barker decided to launched two small boats to defend their ship and attempt to cut the steel cables during the assault. It sustained damage of the antennas of the small boat in the process, Capt. Hammarstedt claimed.

The helicopter’s GPS indicates the northern border of the Antarctic Treaty Zone (Photo: Eliza Muirhead)

Hammarstedt said his vessel is carrying nine Australian volunteers who have joined the cause in protecting the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Earlier on Sunday, the Sea Shepherd Fleet located the Japanese factory vessel for the fourth time “with a dead, protected Minke Whale onboard, and blood running from the side of the ship. Slabs of whale meat were also filmed on the deck, along with the severed head of a recently butchered whale. “

Hammarstedt wrote a letter to Environment Minister Greg Hunt  two weeks ago and bewailed how the minister ignored his plea. He said “the Australian government has failed in its duty to take any action against the poachers of the Japanese whaling fleet. “

Despite broken promises of the Government to protect the Southern Seas, the Sea Shepherd will remain relentless in its mission to guard the vast expanse of the sanctuary, “enforcing international conservation law when governments refuse to take action.”

Captain Peter Hammarstedt of The Bob Barker (Photo: Marianna Baldo)

Captain Paul Watson also announced earlier that Sea Shepherd cannot be stopped. He said Sea Shepherd is not only a group, but a movement of thousands of people pursuing their passion and courage to defend and protect the oceans.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

Sea Shepherd chases Jap vessels with bloody whales

An action-packed adventure awaits the Southern Seas. Sea Shepherd Australia’s mission to chase the Japanese whale hunters started with a bang. Re-blogging yesterday’s story:

Former Greens Senator and now Sea Shepherd Australia (SSA) chairman, Bob Brown, spoke in Hobart Monday to confirm the Sea Shepherd Fleet has located all five Japanese whale poaching vessels, including the Japanese factory ship, the Nisshin Maru, inside the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary (SOWS).

SSAThree SSA vessels – The Steve Irwin, The Bob Barker, and The Sam Simon – are now pursuing the Japanese whaling fleet. Their mission is to drive them away from the target poaching grounds, disrupt their hunt, prepare to shut down their whale-killing operations, and to ultimately send them back home.

The Steve Irwin’s helicopter first located the Nisshin Maru at 64°44′ S, 162°34′ W, in New Zealand’s sovereign waters in the Ross Dependency Antarctic region, and inside the internationally recognised SOWS.

SSA_2

Sea Shepherd claims it has obtained footage and images of three dead protected minke whales on the deck of the Nisshin Maru, taken at the time the factory ship was first located. A fourth whale, believed to be a minke, was being butchered on the bloodstained deck.

SSA managing director, Jeff Hansen, said, the Southern Ocean has been tainted by illegal whaling activities. He said, “No one will ever know the pain and suffering these playful, gentle giants went through from the time the explosive harpoon ripped through their bodies to the time they drew their last breath in a red sea full of their own blood. ”

The group denounced the blood stains on the deck of the Japanese vessel and called it a barbaric act. Captain of The Steve Irwin, Sid Chakravarty, said, “When ‘science’ requires you to grotesquely bloat up the bodies of protected whales, stroll across a deck smeared with their blood, hauling their body parts with hooks and chains, and discarding their remains over the side, then that ‘science’ has no place in the 21st Century.

SSA_3

“The Nisshin Maru is an out-and-out butcher ship and a floating butchery has no place in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Sea Shepherd will remain relentless in driving these fake, desperate and subverting ‘scientists’ back to Tokyo.”

Captain of The Bob Barker, Peter Hammarstedt, said,

Once again, the Japanese government has shown flagrant disregard for international law by continuing their illegal whale hunt while the world patiently awaits a decision from the International Court of Justice. The Japanese government’s dishonourable attempt the skirt the legal process is an insult to the cooperation demonstrated by people around the world, dedicated to enacting conservation laws out of a shared recognition for the need for environmental protection.

Blog Link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

Sea activists celebrate win against anti-whaling

Sea activists are celebrating the defeat, for now, of Japanese whale hunters who have ”left” the Southern Ocean.

Sea Shepherd Australia announced the success of Operation Zero Tolerance (OZT), a campaign to drive the Japanese whalers out of the seas near the Antarctic.

The conservation group welcomed the return of three ships commissioned to carry out the anti-whaling campaign. The ships, Steve Irwin, Sam Simon, and Bob Barker, with 110 international crew members, arrived at Seaworks Pier in Williamstown, Wednesday, amid a throng of anti-whaling fanatics.

The euphoric return is considered a victory for the whale conservation. Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, earlier hailed his group’s success and said the Japanese had the lowest catch in history with “no more than 75″ of the mammals culled, the Japan Times reports.

The Japanese claims whaling is for scientific research purposes to justify the trade. Pic: News Ltd.

Watson, who is wanted by InterPol, calculates “the figure is a meagre total that contrasts with the 267 caught last year — 266 minke whales and one fin whale — and is dramatically below the Institute of Cetacean Research’s target this year of 935 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales.”

The three vessels embarked on the voyage in November last year to combat the Japanese whale killers. After four months, the OZT is considered as the most successful campaign so far in sending the Japanese back home.

A Japanese ship (right) collides with Bob Barker. Pic: AP.

The sea battle was fierce. Steve Irwin and Bob Barker collisions with Japanese vessels. In February this year, the 8,000 ton Nisshin Maru rammed into the Steve Irwin and the Bob Barker. Watson “accused Japanese coastguard personnel of throwing concussion grenades at their protest ships during a confrontation in the frigid waters near Antarctica and said the Bob Barker was taking on water in its engine room.”

Bob Brown, a co-chair of the OZT was alerted during the confrontation and had called on Australian government to dispatch a naval ship to the area to ease the tensions.

“It is illegal to be ramming ships in any seas anywhere on the planet. It is illegal for a tanker to be carrying heavy fuel oil into Antarctic waters under international law,” Brown said.

Three ships and 110 crews arrived in Williamstown, VIC, but not Captain Paul Watson. Pic: Sea Shepherd Australia.

Jeff Hansen, Director Sea Shepherd Australia, however, acknowledged with “heavy heart” that Captain Paul Watson has not arrived ashore.

Watson has disappeared after skipping bail in Germany amid allegations by the Costa Rican government that he endangered the lives of shark finners back in 2002. Watson strongly denied the allegation. He also faced extradition requests from both Costa Rica and Japan against whom Sea Shepherd have waged a long and bitter war over whales in the Antarctic.

A whale being hauled by a large Japanese vessel. Pic: Australian Custom Service.

While sea activists are celebrating, the Japanese Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi earlier said that whaling has been part of a long historical tradition in Japan.

Sea Sheperd may have won the battle, but the war is not over.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent