International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island News

International Marine Mammal Project

Bush administration conspired with Mexico
The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) recently released a series of memos that show a pattern of deliberate abuse of science by the Bush administration at the expense of protection for dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific tuna fishery. On December 31, 2002, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans made a legal claim that there were “no significant adverse impacts” on dolphins that are deliberately chased and netted by fishermen to catch the tuna that swim beneath them. This claim was meant to give Mexico and other tuna-fishing nations the ability to falsely label tuna caught in this way as “Dolphin Safe” and sell it in the US.

The Bush administration supports a weak international agreement, the International Dolphin Conservation Program (IDCP), which allows the chasing and netting of dolphins in order to catch tuna, instead of implementing measures that truly protect dolphins. The IDCP is administered by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, made up of representatives of tuna fishing nations and their tuna industry officials.

IMMP sued in federal court (Earth Island Institute v. Secretary of Commerce Evans), and won a preliminary injunction that is still in place. IMMP’s lawsuit contends that the Bush administration weakened the meaning of the Dolphin Safe tuna label on the basis of trade politics rather than science.

Further, IMMP took steps to obtain secret memos and other documents in the Commerce Secretary’s decision record. These memos prove the US government privately conceded that dolphin populations were not recovering from depleted status, likely due to the tuna fishery. The documents also show that Mexico and other tuna fishing nations put intense political pressure on the Commerce Department to ignore its own scientific conclusions.

Over 300 documents were withheld from the court record. Federal Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco ruled October 10 that the public interest in the case warranted releasing some of the withheld documents.

“Congress would not allow weakening the Dolphin Safe tuna label unless the science showed no impact on dolphins,” declared David Phillips, executive director of EII. “The Bush administration has blatantly and illegally ignored its own scientists, caving in to the demand of Mexico that tuna be falsely labeled “Dolphin Safe,” despite killing tens of thousands of dolphins annually.”

The IMMP lawsuit and request for summary judgment will be heard before Judge Thelton Henderson on April 26, 2004. Plaintiffs in this case include IMMP/Earth Island Institute, Samuel LaBudde, Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Defenders of Wildlife, International Wildlife Coalition, Animal Welfare Institute, Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Animal Fund, and Oceanic Society.

—Mark J. Palmer

Navy battens hatches on sonar
IMMP and other environmental organizations fighting noise pollution in the oceans are confronting the Navy’s deliberate attempts to misstate the science and promote the use of whale-killing sonar regardless of the environmental damage.

Following Congressional approval of special exemptions for the US Navy from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Navy has been stonewalling further research and denying culpability in key instances of whale and porpoise deaths due to the use of underwater sonar.

Congress approved amendments, sponsored by the Bush administration and Congressional military committees, that effectively gut the MMPA provisions that prevent Navy activities from harassing and killing marine mammals. The Secretary of Defense can exempt any activity by the military from the MMPA in the name of training, preparedness, and national security.

A series of incidents around the world has linked the new sonar, which emits some of the loudest noises ever produced by people, to the deaths of beaked whales, minke whales, and harbor porpoises. Additionally, sonar produces sublethal effects that are not fully understood.

However, the Navy has stepped up its campaign to deny any involvement of Navy sonar in such incidents. Recently, the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), part of the Department of Commerce, released a report on several harbor porpoises that stranded during an incident in Puget Sound’s Haro Strait. Although 70 percent of the porpoises had deteriorated too much for scientists to find signs of acoustic trauma, the scientists stated that acoustic injury from Navy sonar being used at the time of the strandings could not be ruled out. The Navy announced to newspapers that these results exonerated them, and further characterized the panic that ensued in pods of endangered orcas during the sonar use as “within this species’ normal range of behaviors.”

Many biologists are concerned that the Navy seems intent on continuing to use intense noise in Haro Strait, among other places.

In related news, the Navy has appealed a court case to the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that restricts their use of Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar. The experimental LFA Sonar is considered particularly dangerous to marine life because of its use of very loud sound at frequencies that carry for miles underwater. The Navy had been sued by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and settled the case with an agreement to restrict LFA Sonar experimental use and training to the western Pacific Ocean around China and Korea. Now the Navy wants to break the deal it originally signed. If the legal agreement is overturned, the Navy could start using LFA Sonar in US waters.
—Mark J. Palmer

Victory for Mexican dolphins
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has won another victory for marine mammals in Mexico. A branch of the federal government announced administrative actions against former officials who authorized the illegal importation of 28 dolphins from the Solomon Islands.

Last July, the dolphins were placed in a private amusement park in Quintana Roo. IFAW launched a thorough investigation and found that the operation constituted a violation of national and international law, including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). These violations occurred on the watch of former Deputy Environment Minister Raul Arriaga.

IFAW presented the results of its investigation to the authorities in November, demanding a formal inquiry and charges against those responsible for the importation of the dolphins. The Ministry of Public Office (the equivalent of a federal comptroller in Mexico) admitted that both the dolphin importation and the permits were illegal, announcing actions against Arriaga and 27 other current and former Environment Ministry officials.

“This is an important step in the much-needed battle against impunity,” said Bettina Bugeda, director of IFAW Latin America. “It shows the potential of the productive partnership that can be established between civil society and the authorities.”

While welcoming the actions of the Ministry of Public Office, Bugeda added that the Mexican government still has much to do in both cases. Authorities still need to file charges with the Attorney General, investigate financial gains from illegal hunting permits, and revoke these permits and any issued to import the dolphins. “And perhaps more importantly,” said Bugeda, “the dolphins have to be rescued from the illegal commercial exploitation they are suffering.”

IMMP goes to Spain
In mid-February, as a representative of Asociación Para la Defensa de los Derechos del Animal (ADDA), Spain’s oldest animal welfare organization, I had the pleasure of accompanying Mark Berman and Paolo Bray, coordinators of IMMP’s Dolphin-Safe program, on their visit to tuna canneries in Spain.

More than 90 percent of the world’s tuna industry participates in IMMP’s Dolphin-Safe program.

Most of Spain’s tuna canning is located in the northern region of Galicia. During our visit to this area, we met with representatives from several of the Spanish companies involved in the Dolphin-Safe program. They were all very proud of their participation.

There is only one Spanish tuna canning company that does not fulfill IMMP’s requirements for the Dolphin Safe Program, and sets nets on dolphins. We hope that collaboration between ADDA, a locally and nationally known organization, and IMMP will encourage it to adopt more humane practices.

During IMMP’s visit to Spain, ADDA helped organize a conference in the city of Barcelona to talk about the problems of cetacean captivity, dolphin swim programs, and dolphin-assisted therapies. These are particularly urgent issues in Spain due to the number of dolphinaria being set up there.

Many issues affecting captive cetaceans were discussed, including capture methods and negative effects on wild populations. This conference also served to launch the Spanish version of IMMP’s “A Fall from Freedom” video, which will be offered to schools around the country.

Flaws of dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) were discussed at the conference as well. Parents of disabled children pay great amounts of money believing that swimming with dolphins will cure their children. There is no evidence that DAT is more effective than any other method, and other methods of therapy don’t involve the suffering of wild animals.

DAT and swim-with-dolphins programs are risky to humans because dolphins are unpredictable in the artificial, stressful, and frustrating conditions that accompany captivity. Many human swimmers have been injured during these programs.
—Jennifer Berengueras

Memos obtained by IMMP include these statements that contradict the Secretary’s finding on December 31, 2002, of “no significant adverse impacts” of the tuna fishery on dolphins, and show the Bush administration’s intent to strike down dolphin protections:

The Government of the United States strongly regrets that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling striking down the Secretary of Commerce’s finding concerning the effects of purse seine fishing on depleted dolphin populations… The United States can understand the strong disappointment of the government of Mexico and the Mexican industry… We are committed to implementing the Agreement on the International Dolphin Conservation Program (AIDCP), consistent with US law and the intention of the parties to the AIDCP to open markets to tuna caught in accordance with the agreement… The United States believes that it has fulfilled its commitments under the AIDCP and the Declaration of Panama; however, because of the court decision the definition of ‘dolphin-safe’ cannot be changed at this moment.

—Secretary of State Colin Powell to US Ambassador
to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow, in a cable asking Davidow to convey the
message to the Government of Mexico, August 15, 2001.

A determination of ‘no significant adverse impact’ is not supported by the science.

—Dept. of Commerce, General Talking Points, Outline with Talking Points for Tuna/Dolphin Briefing, December 11, 2002.

We’ve all seen the science. We know that dolphins aren’t recovering. Now, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

—Talking Points: Briefing for the Secretary (of Commerce) on the Dolphin Safe Label Final Finding, December 16, 2002.
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