Book Review: The Lost Whale: The True Story of an Orca Named Luna
Luna was a small (which means still rather large) young orca separated from his pod and mother, who began to come up to boats and people in a manner that could only be characterized as “friendly.” Which astonished a number of people around the British Columbia community in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Orcas, also known as killer whales, are well known in these waters but they generally skirted or ignored boats and people. Not Luna.
Photo by Thomas on Flickr
Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm fell into the story of Luna when they heard rumors of a friendly orca whale that could be touched, played with, and seemed himself fascinated with people. (Parfit and Chisholm have also made a documentary about Luna entitled The Whale.) In this very wild country, where most travel is by boat or float plane, a large wild animal exhibiting friendly behavior was a novelty.
It was also, as it turned out, a tragedy.
In The Lost Whale, Parfit and Chisholm record in detail the history of Luna’s visits with humans, hanging around boats and even harbors, with many admiring humans wanting to play with him and touch him. The government fisheries agents, responsible for Luna and other marine mammals as well as the safety of the public, had a difficult role in this affair. They want to protect both people and Luna, but how do you do that when both parties want to come together for seemingly innocuous play? How can the government people trying to intervene be anything less than “the bad guys” in this scenario?
Also involved were native groups, who come to see Luna as an important symbol of their heritage and beliefs. As well as several scientists who came to observe and try to explain Luna and what was happening in Nootka Sound.
This volatile mix exploded when fisheries officials decided they should try to capture Luna and perhaps bring him into contact with other wild orcas so he could rejoin his family pod (wild orcas essentially spend their entire lives with their family). Some suspected they would wind …more
SB 1132 addresses the loopholes in state’s current fracking regulatory law
Last week, Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced a new bill, SB 1132, calling for a moratorium on fracking and other types of unconventional well stimulation in the state (like acidizing).
Photo by Shoshanna Howard/Food and Water Watch
California is the nation’s 4th largest producer of oil, with over 50,000 wells. Eighty percent of these wells are in Kern County around Bakersfield, uneasily sharing the landscape with the state’s productive agricultural industry and contributing to the worst air quality in the nation. Fracking has been happening for decades in California, but a new boom is on the horizon in oil production as oil companies like Chevron and Occidental gear up to use extreme extraction techniques to capture the oil trapped in the Monterey shale formation.
Last year, the legislative session kicked off with the state Democratic party voting to add ‘banning fracking’ to its platform, and 10 different bills to reduce harm from fracking were introduced. This included three bills that called for a moratorium on the practice while the state figured out whether there was any way to protect communities and the environment from fracking’s impacts.
But the oil and gas industry fought back, hard. Although tens of thousands of Californians weighed in against fracking in California, and polls showed a majority of Californians opposing fracking, at the end of 2013, state lawmakers had only passed a weak regulatory bill, SB4. (Read my critique of it here.)
Although the state regulatory agency, Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) is in the process of writing rules to carry out the law, it’s clear that stronger medicine is needed.
There are two main problems with SB4, no matter how DOGGR implements rules to carry it out:
- Fracking and acidizing is allowed to continue while regulators conduct the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) – essentially treating Californians’ water and health as fracking guinea pigs
- The current EIR doesn’t assess the full range of impacts of fracking/acidizing.
SB1132 fixes both of these issues. It expands the scope of the current EIR to include economic impacts, effects on private property and land use, as well …more
Operations by gas consortium in Amazon reserve for vulnerable Indigenous peoples met with legal action
Three Peruvian judges are scheduled to meet on 1 April following a lawsuit filed to stop a gas consortium from operating in a reserve in the Amazon created for indigenous peoples living in “initial contact” and “voluntary isolation.”
There are already wells in the west of the reserve where gas has been produced for years, and last month the Energy Ministry approved the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the expansion of operations involving more wells, a pipeline extension and seismic tests further to the north, east and south.
photo by Brian Ralphs
The lawsuit was filed against the Energy Ministry and the company leading the consortium, Pluspetrol, in August 2013 by the Lima-based Institute for the Legal Defence of the Environment and Sustainable Development (IDLADS). It asks the judge to order, among other things, the Energy Ministry to rescind its approval of the expansion and to ban all oil and gas operations in the reserve:
We request that [the judge] orders the Ministry of Energy and Mines to exclude the Kugapakori-Nahua-Nanti and Others’ Reserve from any kind of promotion, exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons.
The lawsuit also asks the judge to order Pluspetrol to “refrain from exploring for or exploiting hydrocarbons” in the reserve, and to respond to observations in a technical report on the EIA by the Culture Ministry in July last year which stated that the new wells, pipeline and seismic tests could “devastate” or make “extinct” the reserve’s inhabitants and was subsequently rescinded.
IDLADS claims that operations in the reserve violate the Peruvian constitution, Peruvian law and international law, and the reserve’s inhabitants’ rights to a “healthy and balanced environment”, self-determination, life, health, “ethnic and cultural identity”, “biological and cultural integrity”, dignity, territory, property, ancestral possession and prior consultation.
Almost 75 percent of the gas concession, created in 2000 and called Lot 88, overlaps the reserve, which was established 10 years earlier. In 2003, the reserve was granted greater legal protection by a Supreme Decree “guaranteeing [its] territorial integrity”, banning “human settlements” different to those of the reserve’s inhabitants, banning the “granting of new rights involving the exploitation of natural resources”, and ensuring that “existing rights to exploit natural resources must be carried out with the maximum considerations to guarantee that the rights …more
SB 1381 is a cleaner version of Prop 37, say bill proponents
California’s gearing up for round two of the GMO labeling debate. This time though the battle will be duked out in the state legislature rather than in the public arena.
Photo courtesy Senator Evans' Office
On Friday, state Senator Noreen Evans, a Democrat from Santa Rosa, introduced a new bill to label GM foods sold in California. SB 1381 would require food sold in state grocery stores to be labeled if it contains genetically engineered ingredients. The bill’s proponents say it is basically a cleaner, more streamlined version of Prop 37, the 2012 ballot initiative to label GMOs that was defeated at the polls.
Sponsored by a coalition of 17 environmental, consumer, food groups, and small businesses called Californians for GE Food Labeling, SB 1381 provides more protections for farmers and retailers, and places limits on potential litigation. The bill will most likely be assigned to the California senate health committee by mid-March.
“This legislation provides more clarity on who’s responsible for labeling or mislabeling,” says Rebecca Spector, West Coast director of the Center for Food Safety, the group that was lead author of the legislation. “The retailer is only responsible for labeling fresh produce at point of purchase. The bill also makes it clear that farmers are not liable unless they have intentionally misled retailers.” The Center, incidentally, had also co-authored Prop 37.
California voters rejected the ballot initiative in 2012 by a less than 3 percent margin. Spector says post-election polling showed that 21 percent of all California voters who voted against Prop. 37 reported they support labeling of GE foods but were confused about certain provisions of the initiative. Also certain provisions in Prop 37, such as banning any processed food from being labeled as natural, had alienated groups like the Natural Products Association, which should typically have been allies.
The new bill, Spector says, doesn’t include this provision. It also minimizes the risk of farmers, food manufacturers, and retailers being sued. “If a company is notified of a violation it will have a 60-day period to correct their labeling prior to a lawsuit moving forward, and there’s no fixed penalty,” Spector says.
Native primates mistake wires for vines, suffer horrific deaths, crippling injuries
As Costa Rica’s tropical sun beat fiercely in the small jungle clearing in the Nicoya peninsula, I held the swaddled baby monkey in my arms. Her black fur radiating heat, Felicia reached out a tiny human-like hand and gripped my extended index finger.
All Photos by David Lee Drotar
Nosara Wildlife Rescue’s mission of rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing native animals that have been injured or orphaned was an expensive operation and my sister, friend and I had been “invited” to visit and donate. There are two facilities that work cooperatively under the umbrella of Nosara Wildlife Rescue. The refuge receives injured animals and rehabilitates them, and the SIBU Sanctuary spans more acreage and provides longer-term care. We chose to visit the refuge.
“Do they feel emotions like we do?” our companion, Anne Narciso asked.
“Oh, absolutely they do,” organization founder Brenda Bombard assured us. “After an infant loses her mother, she cries for three or four days.” Felicia looked at me with huge, mournful black eyes that popped from a teacup-sized head. I suppressed a tear, but the story became only more heartbreaking.
Felicia is a howler monkey, one of four monkey species found in Costa Rica. Howler monkeys, which are named for their throaty howls that can be heard as far as three miles away, travel in social groups by swinging from treetop to treetop. They rarely set their feet on the ground. However, as the jungle canopy becomes increasingly fragmented by the roads, houses, and condos built to accommodate the influx of tourists and expats, the monkeys have begun using electrical lines as a convenient conduit for bridging gaps in the natural corridors.
In many areas the existing power lines and transformers are left unshielded. Draped as they often are, through the dense canopy of trees, the monkeys mistake the live wires for the vines that they usually use to travel between feeding grounds. The result is devastating.
Her graying tresses pulled back to avoid entanglement with curious animals’ paws, Bombard reached for a long fiberglass pole that had several extendable, interlocking sections. I anticipated what was coming next and my attention shifted between the demonstration and the little …more
Sochi leaves behind a legacy of illegal dumping, trashed wetlands, and amended environmental laws
No one wants to be a buzz kill when it comes to the Olympics. The snowboard half-pipe makes our jaws drop, the downhill skiers defy gravity at every turn, the ice dancers are oddly fascinating, and don’t get me started on the bobsled.
Photo courtesy Russian Presidential Press and Information Office
That being said, not everything about the Winter Olympics is inspired or inspiring, particularly this year. Ever since 2007, when Sochi received the nod of approval in from the International Olympic Committee to host the 2014 Games, environmentalists have warned of the inevitable ecological destruction that would follow. These warnings have gone largely unheard, and the destruction may actually be worse than anyone anticipated.
So, what has environmentalists so flustered?
To begin with, Sochi was a bad choice to host the Olympics. The nearby mountains slated for skiing are part of Sochi National Park, a specially protected area with the highest species diversity of any region in Russia, and home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Despite the unfortunate choice of location, environmental groups were hopeful that steps would be taken to minimize damage, and participated in monthly meetings aimed at improving environmental components of Olympic planning and construction processes. It quickly became apparent, however, that in the rush of construction efforts, their concerns and suggestions were not being implemented by Olympic organizers, and in 2010, WWF and Greenpeace withdrew from the Sochi environmental consultation process.
And the environmental wrongs have continued to pile up. Large illegal waste dumps have cropped up around the region, including within Sochi National Park. More than 3,000 hectares of forest have been logged, including regions with rare plant species. Red deer and wild boar habitat have been destroyed, and large mammal migration routes have been interrupted. Large swaths of previously protected wetlands now lay underneath the Olympic Village.
“The most long-lasting effect will be from the damage to the Mzymta River,” says Igor Chestin, CEO of World Wildlife Russia. “[The damage] was done mostly by construction of the combined railway and highway, but also when people were building on the banks. They were streamlining the riverbed, making it more like a ditch than a real wild river…thus not allowing the natural flooding and meandering of the river.” Before construction began, the Mzymta …more
Ivanpah installation a zone of death for tortoises, raptors
The world’s largest solar thermal power plant officially went online one week ago today, on February 13. At a ceremony in the Mojave Desert south of Las Vegas, with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz presiding, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System formally joined California’s power grid.
Photo by Howard Ignatius
The cleantech trade press trumpeted the milestone in glowing terms only rewritten corporate press releases can offer. One article went so far as to call it the “Hoover Dam of Solar,” though whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your view of river impoundment. Reaction to the opening from other quarters was decidedly nuanced. When it was proposed in 2007, Ivanpah was first lauded as the future of clean energy. Now, the project is rarely covered in the press without the epithet “controversial” attached, aside from those glowing reports in the tech press.
Ivanpah’s three units each consist of a 459-foot power tower surrounded by more than 100,000 independently targetable mirrors, called “heliostats.” The heliostats focus the harsh Mojave sunlight on boilers atop the towers, where the concentrated solar radiation (a.k.a. “solar flux”) generates steam. The steam turns turbines, which generate electricity. The three units combined will generate up to 377 megawatts of power for Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison.
In a nation struggling to come to a sane climate policy, Ivanpah might seem like an unambiguously good project. If the nearly 4,000-acre solar plant had been sited somewhere else, that might have been closer to the truth. But located where it is, this week’s coverage of the opening ceremony wasn’t complete with the word “controversial.”
From the start, wildlife advocates opposed the Ivanpah plan. Its nearly 4,000 acres, perched on an alluvial fan a few miles from the Mojave National Preserve, was some of the best remaining habitat for the desert tortoise, which the federal government lists as a threatened species. Tortoise biologists hired by project backer BrightSource Energy surveyed the site and came back with an estimate of about three dozen tortoises on the site.
Many other biologists felt that estimate was off. The survey was done during a very dry year, and during droughts tortoises tend to …more