Nearly 60 days after the orca Keiko left his sea pen in Iceland this summer as part of a historic and unprecedented effort to reintroduce him to the wild, visual observations made in Norwegian waters confirm that he is in excellent health. Keiko Project staff obtained close-range photos and video documenting Keiko’s physical condition.
Dr. Lanny Cornell, Keiko’s lead veterinarian and an expert with more than 30 years of experience with orcas, says that Keiko is in great shape.” After 60 days at sea and traveling more than one thousand miles, Keiko is strong and does not appear to have lost any weight whatsoever. There can no longer be any doubt that Keiko has foraged successfully.”
Keiko’s crossing of the North Atlantic began on July 29, when he was last seen in the company of a group of wild whales and began swimming in an easterly direction away from Iceland. Over the next several weeks he covered more than 1,000 miles.
A satellite tag continues to provide data on his location and has also recorded his frequent dives to depths greater than 50 meters. Throughout the past months, project staff has continued to monitor both his position and diving behavior and to seek opportunities to obtain visual observations of Keiko.
However, Keiko’s reintroduction to the wild suffered a setback when he followed a Norwegian fishing vessel and entered a small harbor in Norway. Keiko project staff, who have been in Norway monitoring his VHF signal since his approach to the coast, were able to locate Keiko, but not before he had interacted with several vessels and members of the public, some of whom evidently fed him and entered the water. Project staff remain on site in Norway to monitor Keiko’s status and educate people about the project’s goals.
Dave Phillips, Director of the Free Willy Keiko Foundation, lauds Keiko’s progress despite the setback. “He’s proving he has the skills to be a wild whale, but it is critical that he not be encouraged to come to boats or people. We hope the public interactions are temporary,” Phillips continues, “and that Keiko is able to return to the open sea.”
Paul Irwin, President of the Humane Society of the US, the organization playing a lead role in the operations of the Keiko Project, joins Phillips in asking members of the public to give Keiko a wide berth. “We are appealing to all boaters to avoid Keiko and give him all the space he needs to be fully self-sufficient.” He continued: “Our efforts in moving Keiko from captivity to the wild have always been directed by Keiko’s best interests. We will continue to do exactly what is best for him.”
Early in 2002, it became apparent that Springer, a lone two-year-old orca, might need help. Earth Island’s Orca Recovery Campaign joined other organizations to form the Orphan Orca Fund. The fund successfully sought money and in-kind donations, and provided hands-on help that resulted in Springer’s return to the company of other wild whales.
Springer, also known as A73, is a northern resident orca normally found with her pod hundreds of miles north. After her mother died, Springer swam to southern resident orca territory, and frequented a ferry terminal near Seattle. Her survival was in doubt.
Environmental and animal welfare organizations, state and federal agencies and the aquarium industry each weighed in on this lonely, starving whale. Would we cause more harm trying to help, or should we risk returning her to home waters and her pod?
Opinions regarding her health, protocols regarding her transfer from the US to Canada, logistics and concerns that she would end up in captivity all weighed heavily on the decision process. Springer became more and more attracted to boats and the people in them. As summer boating season neared, US and Canadian authorities finally agreed to a plan. She was captured in June, given medical attention, and then shipped back to Canada on a high-speed catamaran.
In Canada she was put in another sea pen and released when her original pod swam by. Now, she appears to have been adopted by A51 from the A5 pod. A51 has even gone so far as to keep Springer away from boats.
This good news came at a time when the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) denied a petition to list the southern resident orcas under the Endangered Species Act.
Cox Co., Ltd., a chain of retail clothing stores in Japan, has been selling T-shirts, caps and other items of men’s, ladies’ and kids’ clothing bearing the “Dolphin Safe” logo along with a message on endangered species, and contributing part of its profit every year to IMMP. Last year’s contribution reached 2.6 million Yen.
Cox Co., Ltd. Spokesperson Shunichi Nishizawa says that the company’s belief in strengthening global environment protection activity ensures future collaboration with IMMP.
As a member of “Sanctuary Japan,” Cox Co., Ltd. has participated in the sea turtle nesting beach clean-up campaign every year at Nakatajima Beach near Hamamatsu, near Cox headquarters.
IMMP welcomes Cox Co., Ltd.’s partnership and encourages other environmentally-minded corporate citizens to follow Cox’s lead. Domo arigato gozaimasu!
A plan to import Kshamenk, a captive orca, from Argentina to the US has been blocked by a representative of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
In November 2001, Six Flags World of Adventure requested authorization from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to bring Kshamenk to a facility in Aurora, Ohio.
Environmentalists and scientists have been working for a year to block the orca’s transfer. On July 29 Victoria Lichtschein, Argentina’s chief wildlife officer and CITES authority, denied permission to the Mundo Marino oceanarium to export Kshamenk.
Nonetheless, NMFS authorized Kshamenk’s import to US in May. In July, the Humane Society of the United States sued NMFS for authorizing Kshamenk’s import without a CITES decision. Cetacean Society International, IMMP, and Wild Earth Foundation signed on to the suit.
Now the organizations face a new and big challenge: to free Kshamenk. Wild Earth Foundation (WEF) and IMMP have submitted an letter to the Argentinian authorities declaring their intent to attempt to rehabilitate Kshamenk for release into his native waters.
In the coming month, US Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans is expected to announce his latest finding on the status of dolphins in the tuna fishery and the standards for labeling tuna as Dolphin Safe. Earth Island Institute is urging the Secretary to maintain the current strong standards for Dolphin Safe tuna that prohibit setting nets on dolphins during the entire fishing trip. Stay tuned for this important announcement.
—Mark J. Palmer
In August, despite opposition from marine scientists and environmental groups, the Bush Administration approved the use of the Navy’s controversial Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar system throughout 80 percent of the world’s oceans. As part of this process, the federal National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approved the granting of “small take” permits for the Navy to kill and harass whales and other endangered species with the soundblasting sonar.
LFA Sonar makes sound pulses underwater that are as loud as a Saturn V rocket on take-off. The sound supposedly bounces off silent submarines miles away and echoes back to the LFA vessel. But LFA Sonar has questionable strategic use, as it acts as a sound beacon to enemy ships and reveals the location of other US submarines. It is a Cold War relic that threatens marine life in our oceans. Alternative systems exist called “passive” sonars that do not broadcast sound, but instead depend on computer-enhanced microphones to detect ship engine noises at long distances.
“Earth Island Institute calls on the Navy to halt deployment of LFA Sonar,” says IMMP Director David Phillips. “It is a marine mammal disaster waiting to happen and must be stopped.”
Whales have been found washed up dead on beaches in several incidents around the world coincident with the use of LFA and mid-range frequency sonars. In addition, marine fish, shrimp, sea turtles, and other ocean life may also be threatened by the intense, ear-splitting sound waves.
“After years of denial, the Navy finally admitted that whale beachings and deaths in the Bahamas in March 2000 were caused by the Navy’s active mid-range frequency sonar,” Phillips notes. “Yet they are going ahead now with deploying a louder, higher-energy LFA Sonar system, but claiming that it has a different frequency so it won’t hurt anything.
“The truth is that LFA Sonar may have much worse consequences for whales and other marine life than the sonar used in the Bahamas incident. But because no one will be out on the high seas in Asia and the Persian Gulf watching for the consequences, large scale deaths and injuries of marine life can be ignored.”
In response, a coalition of environmental groups filed suit against the Navy in federal court. Earth Island Institute launched a newspaper ad in the New York Times. (See the ad at www.earthisland.org/immp)
The newspaper ads are part of Earth Island’s campaign to stop LFA Sonar through public education, advocacy, and research.
The Earth Island ad concludes: “Wasting taxpayer resources on an obsolete and counter-productive military system is irresponsible. To then cite ’national security’ as the excuse to destroy decades of marine mammal conservation is plain dishonest.
“The truth is, no trade-off is needed. Both the whales’ survival and our nation’s security are best served by stopping the Navy’s active sonar program now.”
—Mark J. Palmer
What you can do: Take Action: Write your reps in Congress protesting deployment of LFA Sonar: Representative (name), House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515: Senator (name), Senator Office Building, Washington DC 20510, or call the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your representative’s and/or senator’s office.
We don’t have a paywall because, as a nonprofit publication, our mission is to inform, educate and inspire action to protect our living world. Which is why we rely on readers like you for support. If you believe in the work we do, please consider making a tax-deductible year-end donation to our Green Journalism Fund.Donate
Get four issues of the magazine at the discounted rate of $20.