International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island News

Another big court win for dolphins
The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) is celebrating an important legal victory for dolphins in the US Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel unanimously turned down an attempt by the tuna industries of Mexico and Venezuela to intervene in the case on the side of the Bush administration.

The case of Earth Island Institute v. Secretary of Commerce Gutierrez opposes the Bush administration’s attempts to weaken the standards for the “Dolphin-Safe” tuna label. The Bush administration is trying to help Mexico and Venezuela import their tuna, caught by chasing and netting dolphins that swim above tuna in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETP), and give the canned tuna a phony “Dolphin-Safe” label. IMMP and a coalition of environmental groups have successfully blocked the new standards from going into effect.

The Appellate Court further denied claims by the foreign tuna industries that the case belongs in the US Court of International Trade in New York, a court presumably more sympathetic to the claims of Mexico and Venezuela. The court, in an important footnote, notes that the case involves labeling of tuna, not embargoes against the import of tuna.

The tuna industries of Mexico and Venezuela sought to intervene in the case, but were denied by Judge Thelton Henderson in the District Court in 2004. The tuna industries, responsible for the deaths of thousands of dolphins in tuna nets, then appealed their intervention request to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Thursday, May 26, the three-judge panel (Judges Hawkins, Graber, and Selna) unanimously rejected the arguments for intervention, noting that the Bush administration was representing the foreign fishing industries’ interests in the case.

“The fishing associations fail to meet their burden to show that the representation of their interests by the Secretary of Commerce, or the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), both of whom seek to uphold the Secretary’s finding, is inadequate,” the court said.“Adding lawyers representing the tuna industries of Mexico and Venezuela would only further muddy the waters of this case,” noted David Phillips, director of IMMP. “The tuna industries have had their say. This is another victory for the dolphins, as we seek to maintain the current US Dolphin-Safe standards to protect the mammals from harm.”

More than seven million dolphins have been killed since the late 1950s, when tuna fishermen began using mile-long purse seine nets to catch tuna. While most tuna fishermen seek schools of tuna using fish finders or scanning for feeding activity on the surface, some fishermen in the ETP use the strong association between dolphins and tuna. For reasons still not understood, tuna swim beneath the dolphins in the ETP. Fishermen chase the dolphins with speedboats until they are exhausted, then deploy huge nets around them. Many dolphins die in the nets, but recent research indicates many also die as a consequence of the chase and netting, but do not show up in regular counts of dolphin mortality. For example, dependent dolphin babies are separated from their mothers during the chase, and die as a result of the separation. Dolphins also may be released from the nets “alive,” but later die from injuries or physiological stress.

Plaintiffs in this case include: Earth Island Institute, Samuel LaBudde, The Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, and Oceanic Society.
— Mark J. Palmer

Orcas belong in the wild!

Kshamenk update
In the Argentinian province of Río Negro, local officials are working with Wild Earth Foundation (WEF) and Free Willy-Keiko Foundation (FWKF) to retire the captive orca Kshamenk to a sea pen in the ocean.

Members of WEF, FWKF, and Earth Island Institute traveled to Viedma, the capital city of Río Negro, to meet with legislators and the vice-governor. An independent television crew accompanied the team to document the efforts of the people involved in the crusade to save Kshamenk for inclusion in the documentary “Keiko: The Next Wave.”

Río Negro’s legislators had already issued laws to protect the marine mammals and are working on a law to regulate whale-watching activities in their coastal waters. The province is leading the effort to petition the Argentine federal government to block Kshamenk’s export to the US, and insist he instead be transferred to a retirement facility in the Argentine Sea.

The team landed in Viedma’s airport at noon, and minutes later was at the legislature with the lawmakers and the vice-governor of the province to discuss the next step: requesting a sample of Kshamenk’s DNA to determine whether he belongs to the northern or southern Orca population. At the end of the meeting, the vice-governor proclaimed Río Negro’s official support to the Kshamenk project at a press conference. The government’s official support significantly improves Kshamenk’s chance to return to the ocean.

Take action: For more information on Kshamenk please
visit the Web sites of the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation
and Rio Negro.

The following day, delegates traveled 150 kilometers to the location proposed by Río Negro for Kshamenk’s retirement, Caleta de los Loros, a sea lagoon inside a protected area full of wildlife. After evaluating the site from the coast and solving some transportation problems that emerged during the inspection, part of the team took aerial photos and footage of the sea lagoon at low tide. The location seems to be a good option, although measurements of depth, tidal flow, temperature, and fish stocks must be evaluated to ensure that Caleta de los Loros meets Kshamenk’s needs.

After the inspection, a crowd of more than 600 people gathered at the city’s cinema to listen to the story of Keiko and learn how Kshamenk could soon follow in Keiko’s “flukeprints.” Upon the request of schoolchildren, a petition was posted on the legislature’s Web site.

After having enjoyed Río Negro’s hospitality, the delegates returned to Buenos Aires, optimistic that with continued hard work, Kshamenk will soon be out of his tiny pool and back where he belongs – the Argentine sea.

Marin County says noto loud sonar
Marin County, California has become the latest local government to pass a resolution urging the banning of very loud military sonars known to kill whales, fish, and other marine life.

IMMP and Seaflow – a local Marin County group working to protect oceans – helped to draft the resolution, based on resolutions previously passed by the city and county of San Francisco, the city of Hilo in Hawai’i, and the county of Maui. Last fall, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a similar resolution urging European Union countries to restrict the use of the intense sonars to protect whales and marine life (see Spring 2005 EIJ).

Newly elected Supervisor Charles McGlashan presented the sonar resolution to the Marin County Board of Supervisors on April 12, as his first legislative action. The Board supported the resolution unanimously.

“The health of marine mammals and the fisheries off our coast is critical to our quality of life and the maintenance of our vibrant, visitor-driven economy,” Supervisor McGlashan said. “Collateral damage in our oceans is unacceptable.”

Military active sonars have become increasingly loud in oceans over the past 20 years, some exceeding the noise just five feet away from the launch of a space shuttle. A series of strandings of beaked and some baleen whales in close proximity to military use of sonar in various areas of the globe has worried scientists, as the beachings appear to be caused by the sonars, which do considerable physiological damage to the whales, especially their sensitive inner ears.

Take action: If you are interested in having your local
city, county or state government pass a resoution against
intense military sonar use, contact Seaflow by phone at
(415) 229-9366 or e-mail at; or
contact IMMP by phone at (415) 788-3666 or e-mail at

Many scientists believe such sources of loud noise can also harm fish species and other marine life.

The resolution calls on Congress and the President to end the use of intense military sonars until adequate protection for the marine environment is in place. The US Navy and the Bush administration continue to deny that their military sonars do any harm.

To read the full Marin County resolution, click here.

IWC Convention report
The daily activists’ newsletter ECO is written and published by representatives of nonprofit environmental and animal-welfare organizations that attend the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings.

ECO is the voice for those who seek protection for whales – a daily series of articles and commentary on the proceedings for the official IWC delegates, the media, and the general public. IMMP staff published ECO during the International Whaling Commission meetings in the Republic of Korea, June 20–24. Following are some highlights of ECO’s coverage of the IWC meeting.

June 20: Korea to go whaling

Vice Minister Moo-Hyun Kang of the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries announced that Korea would take the necessary steps to resume commercial whaling, including conducting scientific whaling to “promote experiments with” the IWC Revised Management Procedure. The press statement included proposals to research small cetaceans as well.

Minke whales are routinely
processed into meat and
sold in Korean markets

It is no secret that the Republic of Korea has been pressing to continue commercial whaling. Minke whales, around 80 per year of which are reportedly caught “accidentally” in fishermen’s nets, are routinely processed into meat and sold in Korean markets.

Greenpeace and the Korean Federation of Environmental Movement (KFEM) have been occupying a site in Ulsan with a “Whale Embassy.” The site is proposed for a Korean whale meat factory to process the expected commercial whaling catch.

“These whales are destined to become part of a lucrative whale meat industry, an industry that will lead to the extinction of Korea’s minke whales within our lifetimes,” said Yeyong Choi of KFEM.

Despite moratorium, 24,000 whales die

The IWC instituted a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1985. Now, 20 years later, commercial whaling continues, often underthe guise of “research.” How many whales have died during this moratorium?

The numbers are startling. More than 24,000 whales have been killed, mainly by Japan, Norway, and Iceland, since the moratorium went into effect. With the Republic of Korea intending to resume commercial, or “scientific” whaling, the moratorium appears to be a convenient diplomatic fiction.

June 21: Again no secret ballots

The annual effort by Japan and other nations to allow puppet nations to hide their votes to kill whales was defeated by the Commission during Monday’s meeting by a 30–27 vote. Japan had proposed that Commission members could take a secret vote if five member nations asked for such a secret ballot for any particular issue.

Many nation delegations argued strongly against further undermining the credibility of the Commission by resorting to secret votes on highly contentious issues before the IWC. Other nations objected: “St. Kitts and Nevis is not for sale,” exclaimed that nation’s delegate. “We small Caribbean nations must protect ourselves,” he added.

But the UK delegate forcefully stated: “This issue goes beyond whales. It goes to the fundamental rights of people….”

ECO and the environmental community thank those nations that have stood fast for transparent voting and accountability at the IWC.

June 22: Japan’s RMS goes down

Japan’s attempt to end the long, drawn-out process to create a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) hit a brick wall as 29 countries voted against it (with five countries abstaining). The argument from Japan and others was a weak “any management plan, no matter how incomplete, is better than no management plan.” As Japan needed a three-quarter vote to amend the schedule, the defeat was particularly significant.

Japan repeated the familiar assertion that they were running out of patience with the RMS process, with the IWC process, and that Parliamentarians back home were asking Japan to “consider its options” for violating the moratorium and continuing commercial whaling. Of course, Japan is already involved in commercial whaling, only they call it “scientific research.”

Commissioner Rollie Schmitten of the US carefully outlined the weaknesses of the Japanese proposal. He noted the proposal would automatically eliminate all whale sanctuaries, despite the fact that the sanctuaries have nothing to do with the RMS. He noted the proposal would automatically end the current moratorium on commercial whaling. The proposal further does nothing to address the problem of proliferating scientific permits. Commissioner Schmitten added that the outline provided by Japan for observers does not, in itself, constitute a Code of Conduct for whaling nations.

June 23: Japan’s whaling for “science” condemned by IWC

The hot topic for this year’s IWC meeting: Would Japan’s Fisheries Agency get away with its outrageous expansion of scientific whaling in the Antarctic?

The result? Yesterday, a majority of IWC countries strongly condemned Japan for moving forward to more than double the take of minke whales and add endangered fin and humpback whales to their annual slaughter. But Japan will go whaling anyway.

Japan’s controversial whaling effort – killing whales for dubious scientific studies that have virtually never been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals and then selling the meat in Japanese markets – has been condemned by dozens of IWC resolutions. It is no secret that Japan ignores the public and scientific outcry against its “research” whaling.

Denmark, Kiribati, and
China are usually
considered part of the
Japan pro-whaling bloc.

Australia’s resolution condemning the “scientific” whaling proposal was approved narrowly 30–27. Japan had picked up a new voting nation in Nauru, newly arrived at the IWC meeting yesterday. However, this advantage was countered by the abstention of the Solomon Islands, apparently fulfilling at last its government’s pledge to Australia a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, Denmark, usually a strong supporter of the whaling nation bloc, voted for the resolution.

ECO thanks the IWC majority for speaking out for the whales and for legitimate science.

June 24: Japan loses coastal whaling vote

Japan’s losing streak continued this week with a close vote against their proposal to award themselves a commercial quota of minke whales off their coast. Only 26 delegations supported the new whaling proposal; 29 were opposed with three abstentions.Japan has used “cultural” and “traditional” arguments to support coastal whaling for a number of years before the IWC. ECO finds it interesting that Japan dismisses concerns about whaling from other nations as being “emotional” and “not based on science.” Surely, Japan’s arguments for coastal whaling are emotional pleas masking a return to commercial whaling to benefit a highly developed nation in a small sector of its local economy?

The three abstaining nations, Denmark, Kiribati, and the People’s Republic of China are usually considered part of the Japan pro-whaling bloc. ECO salutes them and the opposing nations for their stance.

Jailing a dolphin protector
IMMP and other NGOs around the world were outraged to hear that dolphin activist Araceli Dominguez, head of the Mexican environmental group GEMA (Grupo Ecologista del Mayab) in Cancún, was jailed on April 23 under trumped-up charges by several captive marine parks. Araceli has protested the capture of dolphins for use in “swim-with-dolphin” programs in the booming hotel and marine park business around Cancún and other Mexican resorts.

Because of her outspoken efforts to protect dolphins, the local marine parks Park Nizuc and Atlantida sued her for “defamation.”

An international campaign pelted Mexican President Vincente Fox and other authorities with letters, petitions, and e-mails. Mexican-based groups held a press conference condemning the jailing. The

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