International Marine Mammal Project

Earth Island News

International Marine Mammal Project

Local group sues Nagoya Port Authority

Ombudsman Aichi, a citizens’ group in Aichi prefecture, Japan, has sued the Nagoya Port Authority (NPA), seeking suspension of the purchase of two orcas from Russia. The group claims that keeping orcas in a small tank is a form of animal cruelty and violates the principles of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The NPA administers the budget of the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium (PNPA). At PNPA’s request, NPA has allotted 350,000,000 \ (US $2.9 million) for the costs of purchasing orcas.

On July 23, 2002, the plaintiffs filed a petition to freeze any budget appropriations for the purpose of buying orcas. The audit commissioner rejected the petition on September 18, stating there was “no need to take such corrective actions.” Attorney Hiroshi Fukushima, representing Ombudsman Aichi, brought the case to the Nagoya District Court on October 15, the first court case initiated in the name of animal welfare protesting retention of animals in an artificial environment.

PNPA recently opened a new cetacean facility, with 15 bottlenose dolphins captured by drive fisheries, and six belugas from Russia. Original plans had included the display of a pod of orcas, which Russian traders had been requested to capture in the Sea of Ohoktuk in 2001. The capture failed due to pressure from Ombudsman Aichi and other environmental organizations worldwide. The cetacean facility opened on November 1, 2001, with no orcas on display.

- Nanami Kurasawa

Fisherman of conscience

For 30 years, Japanese fisherman Izumi Ishii hunted dolphins, following in the footsteps of four generations of his family. Three years ago, however, the sound of dolphins crying as 70 of them were being slaughtered on the town dock caused him to change his occupation.

Shortly thereafter, during the 2002 International Whaling Commission, Ishii publicly announced his decision to stop participating in dolphin kills. In a country where conformity is prized and confrontation is anathema, his announcement made national news.

Now, in the same waters that once ran red with blood, Ishii hosts marine mammal-watching tours. On September 25, 2002, Ishii led foreign guests and members of the Japanese press on his first dolphin watch along the Izu coast, 150 miles south of Tokyo. Two hours from the harbor, a sperm whale approached the boat. For 45 minutes, the curious mammal spy-hopped and rolled beside the vessel, to the cheers of people on board. At times speechless, Ishii had tears running down his cheeks. His had been a risky venture, one with implications for the lives of thousands of dolphins and whales, not to mention his own livelihood and credibility.

Ishii now leads cruises regularly, delighting visitors with sights of bottlenose dolphins, false killer whales, and sperm whales. With the support of hotel chains and tourist organizations, Ishii has been introduced to numerous clients. Ted Danson’s non-profit has plans to bring groups of American tourists to Japan in 2003 to participate in Ishii’s tours. In addition, is raising funds to bring “Ishii-san” to the United States to study how whale- and dolphin-watching programs are conducted.

- Hardy Jones

Keiko continues

The summer of 2002 held many surprises and accomplishments for the Keiko Project. In June, after a long winter, Keiko began regular ocean voyages from Westman Islands, his Icelandic home. These ventures brought him closer to wild whales than he had been in previous summers. Keiko exhibited strong swimming and diving behaviors and mingled extensively with his wild cousins. For several days at a time, he would stay out at sea, constantly monitored by satellite and radio tags. At the end of July, Keiko went on “the swim of all swims,” a sharp departure from the days when he swam in circles in a small tank in Mexico. He began heading east from Iceland with wild orcas and soon left sight of land and tracking vessels. The excitement was overwhelming for those who have worked all these years on Keiko’s rescue and rehabilitation.

Keiko was tracked for over four weeks in the open ocean through satellite and radio. His diving behavior and travel of over 50 miles per day indicated he was foraging for himself on live fish. He had no human contact through this period. Keiko was free and in the open ocean heading to Norway, nearly 1,000 miles from Iceland.

The first weekend of September brought a surprise. Keiko separated from the wild pod after encountering a herring boat, which he followed to Norway’s Halsa fjord, to the delight of large numbers of fans. He allowed people to interact with him, which did present a problem. However, this was quickly corrected when the Free Willy Keiko Foundation staff arrived to educate the public that Keiko needed to become acclimated to his new surroundings. With the help of the Norwegian government, Keiko was given full protection and guarantees he would not be captured or exploited in any way. Keiko was welcomed to remain in Norway for as long as he chose, without any restrictions such as a barrier net or sea pen.

Dr. Lanny Cornell, Keiko’s veterinarian, pronounced him healthy. Keiko had lost no weight on his 1,000-mile journey, confirming that he was hunting and eating.

On November 7, the foundation relocated Keiko from deep inside the Halsa fjord to a new sheltered spot in Taknes. It is an excellent location - closer to wild whales, and in a place where staff can stay nearby. The area is more remote from boats and humans.

Support from the Halsa community, the public, and the Norwegian national government remains excellent and we can now proceed with preparations for the next phase - getting Keiko out with wild whales in late winter or early spring.

- Mark Berman

Secret dolphin report released

IMMP has obtained a secret research report on dolphins and posted a copy on EII’s website. Prepared by scientists in the Bush administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the report reveals that thousands of dolphins are still dying in tuna nets in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP), largely in tuna fleets owned by millionaires in Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and other tuna fishing nations.

“This report on NMFS scientists’ dolphin research clearly shows that the technique favored by the Mexican fleet and other nations to catch tuna harms dolphins,” says David Phillips, IMMP director. “The Secretary of Commerce has until the end of December 2002 to determine if he will weaken the US federal standards for the use of the ‘Dolphin Safe’ tuna label in order to allow Mexican and other tuna importers to falsely claim their tuna does no harm to dolphins. This secret report shows that dolphins are still dying in tuna nets and that weakening the ‘Dolphin Safe’ tuna label would increase the slaughter.”

The report, the result of NMFS research conducted from 1997 to 2002, includes many shocking statistics:

Despite low “reported” dolphin kills from the tuna fleets, dolphin populations remain seriously depleted. Eastern spinner dolphins remain at only 35 percent of their former numbers, while northeastern offshore spotted dolphins are at only 20 percent. Either the dolphin mortality reports are false, or dolphins are dying in tuna nets out of sight of onboard observers.

More importantly, the research shows that dolphins are not recovering as expected. By some calculations, the populations may still be declining. By one analysis, it will take 65 years for depleted eastern spinner dolphins to recover, while depleted northeastern offshore spotted dolphins would take 78 years to recover. Another analysis supported by the data projects that neither species would recover after 200 years. According to calculations based on NMFS populations models, 43,590 dolphins are dying in tuna nets each year.

Nets are set on dolphins 5,000 times annually, resulting in the chasing of 9.6 million dolphins and the capture in nets of 2.3 million dolphins each year. Individual eastern spinner dolphins in the ETP are chased an average of 5.6 times each year, and two out of three captured annually. Individual northeastern offshore spotted dolphins average 10.6 chases and 3.2 captures each year. The report states that physiological stress - resulting in low birth rate, ill health, and early death - is a plausible explanation for the lack of recovery of dolphins.

At least an additional 6-10 percent of eastern spinner dolphin mortality and an additional 10-15 percent of northeastern offshore spotted dolphin mortality occurs when dependent calves become separated from their mothers during the chasing and netting process, and the percentage is likely higher.

There is no evidence of any environmental changes that could account for the magnitude of the lack of recovery of dolphin populations. Indeed, the carrying capacity of the ETP for dolphins would have to decrease three- to four-fold in order to account for the lack of recovery of dolphins.

In short, the practice of chasing and netting dolphins to catch the tuna that swim beneath is clearly the reason for the dolphins’ lack of recovery. No other explanation fits the research data or the facts.

“The American public deserves to know the truth about how tuna is caught,” says Phillips. “The Bush administration is sitting on this explosive report that details the dangers of chasing and netting dolphins. The Secretary of Commerce is poised to decide to deliberately lie to American consumers to benefit a small handful of Mexican tuna millionaires and drug lords, who would be able import tuna to the US using a phony “Dolphin Safe” label. All of the major US and European tuna processors have pledged not to buy or sell such tuna. American consumers won’t buy tuna stained by the blood of dolphins!”

-Mark J. Palmer

Take Action: Write Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans (US Department of Commerce, 14th Street and Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20230) and tell him you will not buy any tuna caught by chasing and netting dolphins.

Return to the Sea

With a boatload of staff from the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Nicaraguan soldiers cheering them on, two rescued dolphins (nicknamed Bluefield and Nica) swam into the wide open sea on August 23, after a mere 16 days in rehabilitation.

Captured in the wild only three months earlier, their future had been quite bleak.

“When we found them, they were sick, covered with sores and reeking with illness after living for months in freshwater,” reports Gerardo Huertas, WSPA’s director for Latin America.

Their captor had intended to train Bluefield and Nica for a swim-with-the-dolphins program, billed as therapy for children with Down syndrome. Unfortunately, the mistreatment of the dolphins nearly resulted in their death before they could ever be trained. The dolphins had been living for several months in an above-ground swimming pool, which had been lined with black plastic. Without filtration, the water was coffee-colored, due to the dolphins’ own excrement.

When WSPA’s team was called in to assess the dolphins’ condition, they immediately saw that the dolphins were losing weight due to bleeding, painful gums that impaired their ability to eat.

After WSPA reported their findings to Nicaragua’s Ministry of the Environment, arrangements were made to confiscate the dolphins; WSPA was officially granted custody during the first week of August.

In order to stabilize the dolphins’ health, the team flushed the filthy water from the pool and replaced it with clean water and 3,000 pounds of salt, mimicking the salinity of seawater. The dolphins were given a diet of fresh fish, supplemented with vitamins and electrolytes, and a course of antibiotics.

After several tense days, rescuers felt Bluefield and Nica had stabilized enough to be moved into a saltwater sea pen to continue their rehabilitation. The transport operation began before dawn on August 7.

With help from the Nicaraguan army, both dolphins were loaded onto a boat for the brief ride to a nearby naval base. From there, a military helicopter waited to chauffeur the dolphins to a natural sea pen on the coast of Nicaragua’s Corn Island, where marine mammal specialist Ric O’Barry began their rehabilitation.

“Because they had been in captivity a relatively short time, they still remembered how to hunt fish and use their sonar,” says O’Barry. “Also, they were captured as adults, so they had years of experience in living in the wild. Mainly, we just needed to give them the proper habitat, and they healed beautifully.”

A few weeks later, the dolphins were examined by veterinarian Dr. Juan Carlos Murillo, who gave them a clean bill of health. Arrangements were made to take them to the area where they had originally been captured. They were loaded aboard a Nicaraguan coast guard vessel by WSPA staff with assistance from a dozen Nicaraguan soldiers. Minister of the Environment Jorge Salazar and his staff were also on hand.

Though a wild ocean storm raged all around them, the two dolphins leapt playfully among the waves before eventually swimming off to find their family pod, which waited nearby.

WSPA is currently urging the Nicaraguan government to pass legislation that would prohibit the capture of wild dolphins. To learn more about the problems created by keeping wild dolphins captive, visit

- Joan Yenawine

Court restricts killer sonar

A US federal court in San Francisco has sharply restricted the use of Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar, a system that emits one of the loudest sounds ever produced by humans under water. Designed to detect silent submarines at long distances, LFA Sonar and other active sonars now in use have been implicated in the deaths of whales around the world, and have been identified as being potentially harmful to fisheries and to other marine life. There are effective passive sonars available, based on enhanced new microphones and computers, that do not harm whales or other marine life.

IMMP applauded the court outcome, but noted that the judge did not stop LFA Sonar altogether. “The judge is still allowing the US Navy to test and train with LFA Sonar in a very large area of the Pacific Ocean,” says IMMP director David Phillips. “We need to put a stop to LFA Sonar altogether, and that means more work in Congress, in the courts, and with the public.”

“What the Navy sought (for testing and training with LFA Sonar) was 14 million square miles of Pacific Ocean,” adds Joel Reynolds, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) which challenged LFA Sonar in court. “What we ultimately agreed upon, after winning the preliminary injunction, was somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of that - in an area of the Pacific Ocean that our experts unanimously told us was among the least productive sections of the much larger permitted area.” Reynolds states that NRDC is still seeking to have the Navy’s permit for LFA Sonar “invalidated on a permanent basis as soon as possible.” A full trial on LFA Sonar is scheduled for June 2003.

In related news, two additional new strandings of rare beaked whales related to loud noiseblasting of the oceans occurred in September. In the Canary Islands, at least 17 beaked whales of different species beached themselves following nearby NATO naval maneuvers. So far, NATO and the US Navy have refused to say what kind of active sonars were in use for the exercises. In the Sea of Cortez, a loud airgun owned by the National Science Foundation and used for seismic testing was discovered operating without proper environmental permits near a coast where two beaked whales stranded and died.” Airguns aim very intense bursts of low frequency sounds toward the seafloor to determine its geological structure. A lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity resulted in a legal ruling that shut down the project until proper environmental review could be undertaken by federal agencies.

“Clearly, noise pollution of our oceans is becoming more and more of a global problem,” says Phillips. “EII is determined to put an end to the noiseblasting of our precious oceans.”

A new, more conservative Congress will reconvene in January 2003, and the Navy and other military branches are expected, with the blessings of the Bush White House, to attempt again to overturn key environmental laws that protect whales, endangered species, and the ecosystem.

-Mark J. Palmer

Take action: Write your members of Congress (Senate or House Office Building, Washington DC, 20510 (Senate) or 20515 (House)) and urge them to oppose weakening of any environmental laws, especially the Marine Mammal Protection and the Endangered Species Acts, for harmful military activities. Urge Congress to ban the use of LFA and other loud active sonars.

Correction: in our print version and on an earlier version of this web page, we incorrectly attributed the Sea of Cortez seismic exploration project to the National Research Council. We regret the error.

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