By Faith Rudebusch
For 12,000 years, wolves have roamed Southeast Alaska's rugged Alexander Archipelago—a 300-mile stretch of more than 1,000 islands mostly within the Tongass National Forest. Now, their old-growth forest habitat is rapidly disappearing, putting the wolves at risk. As the region's logging policies garner controversy, a new study examines what the wolves need in order to survive.
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According to a study from the Norwegian Polar Institute, "plastic in all sizes" can be found throughout the Norwegian Arctic and in the Svalbard islands, an archipelago between Norway's mainland and the North Pole that's also one of Earth's northernmost inhabited areas.
By Michael Svoboda
There are several reasons climate communicators and activists, and not just cli-fi aficionados, could benefit by seeing Downsizing, the end-of-2017 movie starring Matt Damon and directed by Alexander Payne—to be released March 20 on disk.
1. It is one of the few films that addresses climate change mitigation (i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions). Most cli-fi movies depict extreme weather disasters (impacts) or survivors struggling in bleak climate-changed landscapes (adaptation).
Photo credit: Norwegian Public Roads Administration
To complete the 680-mile drive under current conditions, you would have to allow 21 hours for travel. Why? Traveling north-to-south across the country requires eight ferry trips across fjords. Norway's fjords are too deep and too wide to support bridges. Well, above water ones that is.
A $25-billion project by the Norwegian Public Roads Administration poses a possible solution to that problem: floating underwater tunnels.
The tunnels could cut trip time to 10.5 hours by reducing the need for ferry rides. The project is expected to be completed by 2023. Each tunnel would be suspended under 100 feet of water, held up by pontoons on the fjord's surface and possibly an anchor bolted to the bedrock. Each fjord would be equipped with two tunnels: each two-lane, one for traffic flowing in each direction.
Photo credit: Norwegian Public Roads Administration
Underwater tunnels aren't a new idea for Norway. The country has 1,150 traffic tunnels, 35 of which are located under shallow bodies of water. Fjords, however, can be a mile deep, creating a challenge for conventional tunnels.
The floating underwater tunnels will allow boats to still traverse the fjord without the worry about hitting or being blocked by a bridge.
But there's still a long way to go before floating underwater tunnels become reality. Engineers have several questions to answer, including how wind, waves and currents will affect the structures. If the tunnels prove too difficult, Inhabitat reported, politicians have the right to send the funding to another project.
The following Norwegian Public Roads Administration video offers more information about the project:
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is asking big-box retailer Costco to stop its purchase and sale of salmon exported from the Faroe Islands until the Faroes bring the brutal and archaic mass slaughter of pilot whales and other cetaceans, known as the "grindadráp" or "grind," to a grinding halt.
Actors Richard Dean Anderson (MacGyver), Eric Balfour (Haven), Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner), Ross McCall (24: Live Another Day), Cliff Simon (Stargate SG-1), Clive Standen (Vikings); actresses Shannen Doherty (Charmed and Beverly Hills, 90210), Perry Reeves (Entourage) and Red Hot Chili Peppers front man Anthony Kiedis have teamed with Sea Shepherd to send a letter to Costco CEO Craig Jelinek from the organization's founder, Captain Paul Watson.
Hollywood Stars Demand @Costco Stop its Purchase and Sale of Faroe Islands’ Salmon... https://t.co/Sx8p8Fyvtd https://t.co/58nWarTYJ2— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1468013968.0
The letter comes on the heels of last week's news that a pod of 30-50 pilot whales was slaughtered in the first grindadráp (grind) of the year, on the island of Viðoy in the Danish Faroe Islands archipelago.
The letter to Jelinek expresses concern that chain-store giant Costco is selling salmon farmed in the Faroe Islands, an archipelago of 18 isles in the North Atlantic, where hundreds of wild, migrating cetaceans are slaughtered each year.
Describing this massacre of ocean wildlife, the letter states that "entire pods of pilot whales and dolphins are driven by hunting boats to the shallow waters along the Faroe Islands. ... Those cetaceans who are not herded far enough into the shallows will have a gaff hook stabbed into their blowholes and will be pulled ashore the rest of the way by rope. The panicked and thrashing whales or dolphins are then slowly sawed into behind their blowholes with a special Faroese hunting knife and killed by the severing of their spinal cords, as each animal is brutally slaughtered before the eyes of their family members. No member of the pod is spared, not even pregnant females or juveniles."
Though Faroese whalers claim that the grind brings a quick and humane death, some of these highly intelligent and socially complex marine mammals take as long as four minutes to die, as the steely waters of the Faroes run red with blood.
The letter to Jelinek continues, "As a large and respected member of the corporate retail community, Costco should not condone these acts of brutality by economically supporting the Faroese salmon fishery. Costco can apply economic pressure to end the atrocity known as the "grind," a whale hunt that should be deemed illegal by the anti-whaling EU but yet is supported by Denmark, a part of the EU. Mr. Jelinek, Costco and you as its CEO, now have the opportunity to show your members and the international community that you represent a company of compassionate individuals who care about the fate of intelligent and sentient whales and dolphins as well as the oceanic eco-systems upon which they—and all life on Earth—depend for survival."
The grind is an outdated practice as the Faroese people have one of the highest standards of living in all of Europe and access to the same foods found in grocery stores in Denmark. In addition, Faroese health officials have warned against consumption of the pilot whale meat, especially by children and pregnant women or women of childbearing age, because it is contaminated with neurotoxins such as mercury.
Though it is the slaughter of cetaceans by the Faroese that is opposed by Sea Shepherd, the organization is calling for a boycott of salmon exported from the Faroes until the senseless grind is permanently ended.
"These compassionate celebrities have offered their desperately needed voices to the pilot whales who were killed recently in the Faroe Islands and to those who are at risk each time they pass by Faroese shores," Watson said regarding the Hollywood industry's support. "We must make it known that the blood of intelligent and social whales and dolphins stains every package of salmon from the Faroes. This archaic massacre of cetaceans, defended by the EU-member nation of Denmark, must be sunk economically. I encourage all concerned consumers to do their part by boycotting salmon from the Faroe Islands at Costco and wherever it is sold."
The appeal to boycott Costco comes just weeks after Sea Shepherd released a 22-minute documentary short on YouTube shot by McCall, chronicling his experience in the Faroe Islands, along with a companion essay he published in the Huffington Post.
Since 1983, Sea Shepherd has sent 10 campaigns to the Faroes, saving hundreds of whales and dolphins while dealing with the arrest of Sea Shepherd volunteers and the seizure of the organization's boats.
Faroese law states it is illegal to interrupt the killing and illegal to sight a pod of whales and not report it. To further protect their beloved Grind from outside interference, this year the Faroese enacted laws that prohibit Sea Shepherd crew from entering their waters and wearing Sea Shepherd shirts on land.
This year, in response, Sea Shepherd Global announced Operation Bloody Fjords, a new operation targeting the massacre of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.
With years of footage of this bloodshed, Operation Bloody Fjords will include culling together decades' worth of photographic and video evidence to target the Grind in legal, political, commercial and economic arenas. A full-length documentary feature will also be produced.
Picture a 4-foot diameter pipe running into the ocean filling the offshore canyons at a rate of 160,000 tons per day. The pipe runs from an enormous gold and copper mine directly into the Indian Ocean. The pipe is filled with mine "tailings"—a toxic sludge of heavy metals, rock and coagulants mixed in with the pulverized mine wastes that spreads and covers the seabed dramatically impacting plant and animal life and polluting the surrounding water. That is the Deep Submarined Tailings Disposal (DSTP) system at Newmont Mining's Batu Hijau copper and gold mine in Indonesia.
Although Batu Hijau is the biggest mine that is using DSTP, at least 16 mines in eight countries are also using DSTP, with others to follow. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Norway lead the way using DSTP at their mines. In Chile, mines in the mountains north and east of Santiago are proposing to run pipes 50-100 kilometers so they can dump into the canyons of the Pacific Ocean off of the Chilean coast. The enormous Los Pelambres Copper Mine in Chile proposes to use DSTP in the future, discharging its wastes directly into the ocean.
While you might think this mining disposal would be limited to the unregulated developing world, Norway actually leads with the most mines using this polluting disposal system. The mining wastes are dumped into Norway's pristine fjords, filling much of those fjords over time. One such mine has prompted a backlash by Norwegians who, working with Friends of the Earth International, have started the Save The Fjords campaign.
As stated on their website, “In April 2015, the Norwegian government gave its final permission for an open-pit mine in a mountain called Engebo. The mine will dump more than 250 million tons of chemicals and waste into the pristine Forde fjord."
The Norwegian proposal sparked the “biggest civil disobedience actions in newer Norwegian history" where hundreds of people protested and 80 people were arrested blocking the mining action and trying to save the fjord. Through Global Greengrants Fund, a grant has been given to Friends of the Earth International to help inform Norwegians about the Engbo mine and its ocean disposal.
It could make sense in some cases to dispose of mining wastes in the ocean, but only if those wastes were non-reactive and only if the toxic heavy metals in the wastes are removed. In addition, if ocean disposal does take place, it should be closely monitored and regulated and it should only happen where local people are not dependent on the marine environment for food. Proposals to use DSTP along the coastline of Chile threaten the Humbolt Current System (HCS) which sustainably produces almost 20 percent of the annual harvest of fish biomass. The HCS is the most productive marine ecosystem on the planet. Just four mines would dump one million tons of mine waste into the HCS every day, one gigaton every three years.
Over the last 25 years, international regulatory bodies including the 1996 London Convention and Protocol by the International Maritime Organization and the 1992 Oslo Paris Convention have attempted to set minor regulations for DSTP, but those standards are mostly being ignored.
In the very few places where monitoring has occurred, studies have measured dramatic decreases in the amount of benthic meiofauma (animals less than I millimeter long) as well as all forms of benthic macrofauna (larger than 1 millimeter), which, along with phytoplankton, form the basis of the food chain in marine environments. Almost no research has occurred about the consequences of dumping 100's of millions of tons of mine wastes at current DSTP sites. This phenomenally destructive pollution is virtually unregulated across the planet's marine environments.
Terry Odendahl, PhD, is president and CEO of Global Greengrants Fund. Roy Young is the former executive director of Global Greengrants Fund and founder of Nature's Own. Gary Wockner, PhD, is an environmental activist, writer and consultant to Global Greengrants Fund.
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The remote beach was empty except for me and my companions. The broad expanse of sea was empty, too and I squinted at the horizon, looking for a human shape. This was two years ago, deep in southern Chile and five of us had just descended the bottom section of the Pascua—a burly, glacier-fed river—by kayak. We were at the Pascua's mouth, where it empties into a fjord and we were planning to head through the fjord to the small town of Caleta Tortel. Two of the kayakers from our party, Lisa and Roberto, had paddled ahead until they disappeared amid the chop. Now, I was trying to find them in this gray-green world.
Seeing no sign of them, I walked back to the riverbank and kneeled for a drink of agua dulce—freshwater. Cold slid down my throat. The air smelled sweet, of mist and storms and clouds were slung low above the water. Waves jostled and splashed and I breathed deeply, readying myself for what I knew I had to do next: paddle through the tumult that Lisa and Roberto had just vanished into.
There was nothing for the three of us left on the gravel bar to do but load into our boats and point them toward the inlet. The other lives we all lived—an existence with things like showers and email and beds—had become laughably unimportant. Our needs were immediate and self-evident. Stay alive, stay dry, stay together and keep going. Or turn back. But we had no intention of turning back. We gripped our paddles and pushed off the bank.
Where the river hits the sea, we hit the waves—heaving pyramids of whitecapped water that splashed over our spray skirts. My boat partner and I counted aloud to pace our strokes—one, two, three, four—as we dug our paddles into the dark water, hoping that if we paddled hard enough for long enough, we'd stay upright and make it to the nearest shore. Our kayak, about 17 feet long, rose onto the swells, hung in midair, then slammed back down. I clenched my paddle tighter. My forearms stiffened and ached. The land, the water, the weather—all of it became real and close. Although nerve-racking, this was the kind of intensity I lived for. It pulled me into the present and put all of me to work.
We aimed our boat for a beach that we could see between the waves. As we got closer, I spotted two life-jacketed figures pulling brightly colored plastic boats ashore. Lisa and Roberto had made landfall.
Why was I there, paddling as hard as I could on those stormy seas? There's more than one way to answer that question. The Pascua is in a region of Chile called Aysén. I'd spent the past couple of years there doing research on a proposal to build five large dams, two of which would be on the Pascua. During the course of that project, I had learned a lot about river flows, hydropower and electricity transmission lines. But I wanted to know the river that I had thought about so much in a more intimate way. Before the Pascua's power turned to megawatts, I wanted to feel its current against my skin.
I was also in Aysén for less practical reasons. Like many others before me, I'd been drawn by the idea of Patagonia: a place where wind and weather ruled, granite spires rose from the Earth and teal rivers curled through a trackless steppe. Parts of Aysén are practically uninhabited, with less than three people per square mile—a lower population density than that of the Sahara Desert or Mongolia. I'd hitchhiked through the region, kayaked its rivers and explored its valleys, trying to get closer to the place I'd been so fixated on. The ecological philosopher Arne Naess wrote that mountaineering is a way to participate in a mountain's greatness. In the same vein, everything I did in the far south was part of my attempt to participate in the greatness of that landscape.
The Pascua encapsulates all that is wondrous about Patagonia. Other rivers in the area, like the Baker, are strewn with ranches, but very few gauchos—South America's version of cowboys—live along the Pascua. Those who do first arrived in handmade wooden rowboats. To get up the river before motorboats, the gauchos had to stand on the thickly forested banks of the Pascua and pull their boats (which were sometimes full of lambs) upstream with ropes. A spur road from the dirt highway did not arrive until 2006. The Pascua was remote, powerful, isolated—a force to be reckoned with. As a few friends and I talked about a potential trip on the river, we began referring to it as "the wild and unknown Pascua."
So, we decided that in February 2014 we would kayak the lower Pascua from near Lago Quetru to the shores of Tortel. Our crew would be Weston Boyles, a then-27-year-old Colorado native; Tyler Williams and Lisa Gelczis, husband-and-wife guides from Flagstaff, Arizona; and Roberto Haro, a middle-aged gym teacher from the town of Cochrane who taught local kids how to whitewater kayak. The four of them had met through an organization Weston started, Rios to Rivers, which had facilitated an exchange between some of Roberto's teenage kayakers and some American kayakers to paddle the Baker and Colorado Rivers while learning about the effects of dams.
Simply getting ready for the trip was challenging. There were no reports from other paddlers or even any detailed maps. So we huddled around a laptop in Roberto's kitchen, scrolling through satellite images to sketch a route.
Maps of the area show a shredded coastline where the continent encounters the sea. Islands are splattered across bays and fjords slice into the mainland, carvings left over from the last ice age. Patagonia's topography is similar to that of Southeast Alaska and Norway, except with more places where glaciers meet the sea.
The journey promised heavy rain, cold temperatures and high winds. Friends of ours could not understand why we would suffer through it. When we told people in Cochrane that we would kayak from Lago Quetru to the mouth of the Pascua, then up the coast to Tortel, one person asked, "Do you want to die?"
I struggled to explain why we wanted to go there. I often felt like using the clichéd response: "If you have to ask, you'll never understand." What drives anyone on this kind of quest? For me, it came from a desire to be part of something giant and wild, a yearning to participate in something beautiful. To do that fully, I needed to give up control.
At the beginning of our journey, on the banks of the Pascua, we had packed our boats and loaded them into the water. The river was so wide, it often looked like a moving lake. Boils wrinkled the surface. The water split into braids around sandy shoals and bent sharply around unnamed mountains. We paddled up creeks and made sandwiches with manjar (Chile's version of dulce de leche) on our spray skirts. On our second day, we reached the Pascua's mouth, where the river emptied into the fjord and where our group dispersed and came together again on that wind-whipped beach to wait out the bad weather.
We took naps and ate snacks and read books, then eventually set out again. Frothing water exploded against cliffs to our left. To our right, the sea spread outward until it welded itself to a skyscape of gray clouds. No more beaches appeared on the coast. The headwind blew so hard that if we paused our paddle strokes, the Klepper went backward. I couldn't stop to scratch my nose. Weston and I synchronized our strokes. Much of the time, we couldn't see our friends.
After four hours of struggling against the wind, we ducked into a protected cove where iridescent clumps of ice emerged from the dark water—sedan-size pieces of glacier that had calved off from a tongue of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Most of the mountains had darkened by that time, except for one ridge behind us that was gilded by the only shaft of sun we had seen all day.
We paddled toward the coast, to where a few of these icebergs were beached on the front lawn of an abandoned ranch. Aysén is a ranching region, settled by homesteaders in the early 20th century, when border tensions with Argentina led the Chilean government to give away free land. Though more and more Ayséninos are moving to towns and making a living from tourism, the region remains a gaucho stronghold. These hardy souls live the life that many people hope will continue but few people want to live themselves.
We poked around the ranch—walking around the sagging fence that surrounded the cabin, pushing through the overgrown bushes, peeking into the shed where the family once hung their meat. Richard White, a Stanford environmental historian, has written that outdoor recreation like kayaking and mountaineering represents a type of "rugged play" that mimics the hard life of the pioneer. We gringos were trying to re-create the experience of those early gaucho pioneers—only we were doing it for entertainment rather than survival.
This rugged play demands that we use our bodies to move through the land until our thighs quiver and burn, our calves tighten and tire. It also demands that we look closely at whatever is around us: rapids and waves, discoloration and indentations in snow-covered ice, the outcroppings and contours of rock. We often feel closest to the land when it requires attention and labor from us and so such play is a way of reconnecting to the Earth. Among those of us who work with papers and pens, screens and keyboards, rugged play represents a kind of nostalgia. It's a yearning for the days when we knew the land the way the family at this ranch would have—when we knew it because we had to know it, when we knew it with our bodies.
My musings were swept away by the immediate demands of hunger, cold and fatigue. We set up our nylon tents near the old wooden buildings, made fire and food on the beach and slept.
We woke the next morning to wind hurtling over the water. The waves were even larger than they had been the day before. We set out, making spurts of progress up the coastline. I had a plane to catch in four days, but it was foolish to believe that we could control our rate of progress.
The next several days blurred together: a montage of driving wind and rain, Weston yelling at me whenever my hood wasn't up and paddling furiously whenever the wind abated. We hung around on beaches when the weather was especially bad, then got back in our boats during the small openings when the wind died down.
One morning, we reached a beach at the tip of the string of islands we had been following since leaving the icebergs. The beach faced a seven-mile open crossing. The weather remained windy and wavy, with whitecapped water and biting gusts. There was no way we could head into open water in such conditions, so we waited again.
We knew exactly how much food we had left: two rolls of coconut cookies, two packets of saltine crackers, a bag of oatmeal, a bag of pasta, a few pieces of stale bread and three bags of dried milk. The five of us shared half a bag of pasta for dinner.
The next day, the rains fell so heavily and continuously that Lisa and Tyler never took off their dry suits. The rest of us shivered in soaked-through rain gear, holding our pruney hands over a fire, taking turns gathering wood. At one point, Lisa and I walked to a nearby beach and heaved large rocks onto pieces of driftwood, trying to split them, joking that we'd become cavewomen.
None of us mentioned our hunger. We had chosen to give up control and there was nothing we could do now but wait out the wind. We were all elated that night when Roberto caught a small fish. I ate the head—including the eyes. Tyler, who doesn't smoke, asked for one of the cigarettes we had brought as gifts for gauchos. He thought it would lighten the mood.
In the beginning of the trip, when optimism and awe had reigned, we'd fondly nicknamed each snacking and sleeping spot. Tranquilo Bay. Love Beach. We dubbed this waiting spot Desolation Cove.
The next morning, hope displaced our desolation. Smaller waves passed by, free of whitecaps. We packed up our gear and readied our boats in silence, pointing our bows toward the lanky waterfalls and forested mountains that we could see across the open water. New snow dusted the peaks.
We crossed the previously treacherous passage with ridiculous ease, aiming toward a gap between the continent and an island. The seven miles passed quickly. We soon entered a protected channel, drifting by misty cascades and a curving coastline, enjoying Roberto's secret stash of lollipops and opening up the two emergency rolls of coconut cookies. We were giddy with proximity. There were no more open crossings between us and Tortel. We guessed that we would make it to town that evening.
Midmorning, we spotted a gray wooden boat in a cove. Since reaching the mouth of the Pascua, we'd seen some detritus left from human activity on a few beaches—two deserted and collapsing cabins, empty gas canisters in the sand, rusty nails in pieces of beached wood—but this boat seemed to signal that someone was close by. A tin roof caught light between the trees. We could see chickens and dogs moving about, laundry swinging from a line and smoke puffing from a chimney.
A couple stood outside the house, both wearing black rubber boots and baggy pants. We landed and walked up to their cabin. The man had a mustache, a hat and a tentative posture. The woman had a wide smile and thick hair that fell around her ears. She exuded enthusiasm as soon as we introduced ourselves, ushering us into her house for mate, the ubiquitous South American tea sipped through a metal straw and apologizing for the mess. They didn't get many visitors, she said.
It was a simple one-room cabin with a wood-burning cookstove in the corner. In another corner, clothes were piled on top of a mattress. Newspaper, pieces of cardboard and a poster of the Virgin Mary covered the walls. A flattened cat food box was pressed against the door and often flapped, letting the wind enter. We sat shivering around the stove, swallowing mate, then bread, then rice, then fish. I was awed by the intense abundance; even the plate was warm. I went back for more.
We described our trip to the couple. The woman nodded. She told us that she'd grown up on the unoccupied ranch near the Jorge Montt Glacier—the ranch where we'd camped next to icebergs. She'd had to cross from there to Tortel many times as a child. It was the route her family had taken to get to town.
When we described Desolation Cove, she nodded again, adding that the wind always blew hard there. Once, she said, she had waited at that spot for seven days before she could cross the channel. Often, gauchos would wait together on that beach, all on their way to Tortel and all stopped by the wild winds of the open channel. Many would bring lambs in their boats for beachside asados. They would make tortas in the sand.
What many in Cochrane had warned us would be a lethal journey was, for the gauchos, just part of their routine. Our rugged play had once been someone's commute.
In the following days, after we reached Caleta Tortel, forces other than wind, weather and water would take control. I'd hitchhike hundreds of miles to the nearest airport, try to weasel my way onto an interhemispheric flight and apologize to my professors for being late to a new semester. I'd be quickly jolted back into a life of papers and pens, screens and keyboards, showers and email and a bed.
But those gauchos, of course, would stay and often I would think of them: still there, watching the water, waiting out the weather, intertwining their lives with the land and paying close attention to its details. I was only a visitor to that place the gauchos call home, but paddling was my way of weaving the land and sea into my life. Beyond the picture of a place, the postcard version of it, was the possibility of participation.
Salvation for the Pascua
When my friends and I kayaked the lower reaches of the Pascua River in early 2014, we thought we were undertaking a kind of farewell adventure. For eight years, Chilean environmentalists and their international allies had been fighting to prevent the construction of five dams on the Pascua and Baker Rivers. Many people feared that the dams were a done deal and that these wild rivers—gems of rugged Patagonia—would become reservoirs.
Then a massive citizens' movement overturned the political conventional wisdom. Anti-dam protests in Chile's south and marches in the capital, Santiago, made the dams a major issue in the 2014 presidential campaign. Not long after President Michelle Bachelet came into office, her cabinet voted to cancel the dams.
The decision was a landmark victory for Chile's environmental movement. Today, the Pascua and Baker Rivers continue to flow freely.
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Sometimes it is hard to find good news on the climate. Take a quick look at a couple of today’s stories:
According to Australian researchers, five tiny Pacific islands, which are part of the Solomon islands, have completely disappeared due to rising sea levels, in what is being described as the “first scientific confirmation of the impact of climate change on coastlines in the Pacific.” Another six islands have had large swathes of land washed into the sea too.
Elsewhere, one in five of the world’s plant species is said to be threatened with extinction, with climate change one of the factors along with farming and construction.
There is also bad news for caffeine addicts, with the news that scientists are warning that coffee is “at risk of running out by the end of the century as a result of intensive farming and climate change.”
Sometimes all this bad news seems overwhelming.
But there is good news too, which gives immense hope to those fighting Big Oil, especially in the Arctic: Big Oil is in full retreat from the region.
Once the Arctic was the seen as the last big untapped frontier for the industry. But rather than being full of black gold, the Arctic has proven to be one of the most expensive black holes for the industry ever.
Bloomberg reported this morning that after spending a whopping $2.5 billion for drilling rights in U.S. Arctic waters, oil companies such as Shell and ConocoPhillips have quietly relinquished their rights to some 2.2 million acres. This equates to nearly 80 percent of the leases they bought nearly a decade ago.
This is truly significant: Peter Kiernan, the lead energy analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit told Bloomberg: “Arctic exploration has been put back several years, given the low oil price environment, the significant cost involved in exploration and the environmental risks that it entails.”
Oil giant, Shell which has already blown $8 billion on its mis-guided Arctic folly, relinquished 274 leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, although it is holding onto the lease that it started to drill last year. ConocoPhillips formally relinquished its 61 Chukchi Sea leases. Statoil had already dumped 16 Chukchi Sea leases and its working interest stakes in 50 others in the U.S. Arctic last November.
Michael LeVine, senior counsel for the environmental group, Oceana, which uncovered the information in Freedom of Information requests, said: “Hopefully today marks the end of the ecologically and economically risky push to drill in the Arctic Ocean.”
The Big Oil retreat comes as the Washington Post reports that President Obama and other political leaders are coming under pressure to do more on climate change in the Arctic region.
Many Democrat politicians and environmental groups are pushing for Obama to ban Arctic drilling altogether as part of the next five-year leasing plan, which runs from 2017 to 2022. Nearly 70 House Democrats sent a letter last week to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, which said in part:
“The Arctic Ocean should be permanently protected from oil drilling, not used to drill for more fossil fuels that we will not need—and must not burn—if we are serious about powering our future with clean energy.”
Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, added that “The president has made a commitment to address climate change and protecting the Arctic must be part of that equation.”
All eyes will be now on the White House on Friday, when Obama meets political leaders from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Sweden and Norway. Climate change is on the agenda.
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By David Kirby
Paul Spong deftly threads the June Cove through the churning tidal waters of Broughton Strait, skirting granite outcrops topped with evergreens, until we enter the bottle-green expanse of Blackfish Sound. Rounding a rocky headland on Hanson Island, we pull into a sheltered cove surrounded by thick stands of cedar, fir and spruce. In the distance, snow-flecked peaks tower above nearby Vancouver Island. Screeching bald eagles circle overhead and behind us, black-and-white Dall's porpoises resembling miniature orcas dart around in the icy sound.
“Welcome to Double Bay," the marine mammal scientist, who has studied captive and wild killer whales for decades, said with a smile. “This, I think, would be a terrific home for Corky."
As I survey the serene swath of wilderness, I find it hard not to agree. Corky the killer whale is one of the star performers at faraway SeaWorld in San Diego. In 1969, at around age four, the orca was snatched from her family (which still patrols this area each summer) in a notorious roundup in Pender Harbor, on the British Columbian mainland. Six whales were removed from their pod and sold to theme parks and aquariums, hungry for more of the crowd-pleasing ticket sellers. Now, nearly 47 years later, Corky is the longest-held captive orca.
She is one of 56 killer whales confined to tanks in the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Japan, France, Spain and Argentina. Their lives are vastly different from those of orcas in the ocean, which typically stay with their families for life; captive orcas are often removed from their mothers, sometimes at very young ages. Orcas in the wild can swim up to 100 miles per day; orcas in tanks are lucky to swim 100 laps. Most studies show that death rates for captive orcas are higher than for wild ones. Unlike their captive relatives, orcas in the ocean don't need antibiotics, antifungals and even antidepressants to maintain their health and well-being.
Spong and his wife, Helena Symonds, who operate the nonprofit research center OrcaLab, have been hoping to return Corky to her native waters for decades. They even envision the whale rejoining her pod in the wild. But the obstacles have been daunting. SeaWorld vows it will never transfer any of its marine mammals to sanctuaries because, the company claims, it would endanger the animals.
But Spong and Symonds refuse to give up, bolstered by a burgeoning international movement that has risen up around them in recent years—one that seeks to deliver captive whales and dolphins into “retirement" from the noise-filled arenas and barren concrete tanks where they labor daily to entertain tourists. If Ringling Bros. can retire its elephants and research universities can send lab chimps to sanctuaries, many animal welfare advocates ask, why can't the same be done for whales and dolphins?
Not too long ago, that question would largely have been brushed off as naive, if not patently absurd. But times are changing. When I published my book, Death at SeaWorld, in 2012, the ethics of holding huge whales in small tanks were not on many people's radar. But the book and to a greater extent the documentary Blackfish, profoundly altered public opinion about captivity.
At first, SeaWorld tried to ignore the escalating clamor, betting that the outrage was just a fad. But ticket sales continued to flag, the company's stock plummeted and corporate partners fled to safer waters. Then in March 2016, SeaWorld issued a stunning announcement: It would stop breeding captive orcas immediately and phase out theatrical orca shows by 2019.
The about-face has reenergized the anti-captivity movement and given hope that SeaWorld and other marine parks will one day agree to transfer at least some of their animals to seaside sanctuaries. But where will they go? In the works are at least nine “retirement" plans, under which captive whales, dolphins and porpoises would be transferred to netted-off pens in the ocean off the coasts of the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Pacific islands. The movement might extend to China, where nine Russian-caught killer whales were recently exported to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom amid a marine park building boom, though they have yet to be put on display.
“People are now seeing that these sentient beings aren't corporate assets," said Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for the U.K.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation and a leading advocate of the sanctuary movement.
A More Natural Life
The marine park industry argues that transferring marine mammals to sea pens exchanges one form of captivity for another and would harm them by exposing the animals to pollution and other hazards. Sanctuary proponents counter that life in a netted-off area of the ocean is infinitely preferable to confinement in what amounts to a glorified swimming pool.
Video: See How SeaWorld's Killer Whales Can Go Home Again
“Any sanctuary is going to be better than captivity," said Lori Marino, a marine mammal neuroscientist, the founder of the Utah-based Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and the executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. Unveiled in May, the project has brought together marine scientists, conservationists, legal experts, veterinarians, former animal trainers and others to build the world's first permanent seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins held in captivity.
“We have to look at the kind of environment that their brain evolved in, what their brain evolved to do and how far or close their setting is to that natural environment," Marino told me. “They have a brain that obtains pleasure in figuring out how to go places, how to get prey with others, in swimming and deep diving, even in navigating their social lives and communicating over long distances."
Sanctuary advocates envision that sea pens could be established in a cove or a bay, with an anchored net closing off the mouth or perhaps among a group of small islands surrounded by barriers. In most cases, whales and dolphins would have access to acres of deep, natural seawater rather than barren concrete tanks. If possible, they would learn to catch fish rather than consuming only frozen-and-thawed food. They would receive round-the-clock monitoring and regular veterinary care but could spend their lives without having to perform tricks. Though most sites would provide public access to the animals, visitors most likely would be kept at a discreet distance. There would be no stadium-style seating filled with flashing cameras, roaring crowds and deafening music.
Sea pens, proponents say, could improve the overall health, well-being and longevity of the animals. How do they know this? Because pens exist, at least for certain species.
The U.S. Navy keeps 82 bottlenose dolphins—and a number of sea lions—in sea pens in San Diego Bay and at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, where they are trained to detect mines and “enemy swimmers" and retrieve objects from the deep. Some marine mammal facilities with swim-with-the-dolphin programs also maintain their animals in seawater, according to Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute.
Back to Nature?
Retiring captive animals to a seaside sanctuary for the rest of their lives—while complicated and expensive—is one thing. Rehabilitating them for return to the sea is quite another.
Although many people would like to see that happen, captive-born whales and dolphins are poor candidates for such release. Not only do they have no experience in the wild, but they have no families with which to reunite. They might learn to catch food, but without a social group to join they could become solitary social misfits. Though it's possible to release captive-bred animals, it would not necessarily be ethical or sound.
“I seriously doubt we could teach them how to be normal in a social setting," Rose said, even though solitary whales and dolphins have been documented in the wild. “The arrogance of thinking we can teach a captive-bred whale or dolphin how to be a wild, competent adult is pretty outrageous."
Animals obtained from the ocean are better candidates for release. Hundreds of dolphins and several pilot whales and false killer whales (members of the dolphin family) held in tanks around the world were taken from places such as Russia, Korea, the Solomon Islands, Cuba and Taiji, Japan. There are also scores of wild-caught beluga whales, mostly from Russian waters.
Of the 56 orcas in captivity, only a small number were taken from the ocean; the rest were bred in captivity. But knowing where the animals were captured is not the same as knowing where their families are.
Among all wild-caught killer whales, we know the definitive identities of the families of just two, both from the Pacific Northwest: Corky, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales and Lolita, a solitary orca who has been held for 46 years in a tiny pool at Miami Seaquarium, who belongs to the L pod of Southern Residents. So if the idea of repatriating animals to the ocean is to reunite them with their native pods, the notion of release for most of them is problematic.
Can Corky Swim Free?
As Paul Spong ferries me around Blackfish Sound, the 77-year-old scientist with longish, wispy hair and a playful smile concedes that his vision for the "Free Corky Campaign" has evolved over time. Spong and others have been trying to return the orca to her pod since 1990. For years, reunification seemed like an optimal and plausible option. After all, researchers are familiar with her relatives, who routinely swim by Hanson Island, home to the twin inlets of Double Bay.
No orcas are around on this sparkling spring day, but I have seen many wild killer whales. The encounters are exhilarating. They chase prey together, chattering wildly to coordinate the hunt. They “spy hop" above the surface to get a look around and leap from the sea in exuberant, thunderous breaches. I once watched an entire pod of orcas frolicking in a cove, only to disappear within seconds after one of them, presumably the oldest female, gave the signal that it was time to go. Their communication skills are that staggering.
Two members of Corky's immediate family are still alive—siblings that were born after her capture but share the same calls. Spong thinks other relatives would also recognize her as one of their own.
Video: Watch and listen to Corky's family, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales, seen on Aug. 13, 2015. (Video: Megan Hockin-Bennett for Orcalab)
“These are extremely intelligent animals with long memories," he told me, adding that each family group has a distinct set of vocalizations or dialects. “We can identify approaching orcas just by the sounds they make, even before we see them."
“When we began this decades ago, our idea was that she'd learn how to catch live fish again and we would see how she was interacting with her family group," Spong said, gazing at Corky's potential future home. “And then at a point where it was obvious she was interacting with them, we would let her go with a tracking device."
Sadness engulfs Spong's face as he continues. “The problem now is that so much time has passed—she's so much older—that we're hesitant to go there," he said. “Our thought at this point is to create a permanent retirement home for her and care for her."
When I ask SeaWorld about this, company officials email me a written statement. “Putting our killer whales in sea cages would expose them to disease, pollution and other man-made and natural disasters," the statement reads. “In addition, given the ages of our whales, the length of time they've spent in human care and the social relationships they've formed with other whales, it would do them more harm than good [and] could cause the whales immense stress and even death during transport and release."
Still, Spong clings to hope for a corporate change of heart. “We think it would be a great thing for SeaWorld," he said. “They're recognizing that when they do good things, the public responds." SeaWorld would need to be directly involved with Corky's retirement. “She would need trainers she was familiar with."
Spong steers past the outcrops along Double Bay's mouth, explaining how barriers could connect them to complete Corky's enclosure. We enter the tranquil inlet. Spong points to a compound of low-rise wooden buildings along the shore, originally built as a private fishing lodge. He said that he intends to look into buying the place. With its dock, restaurant and sleeping quarters, it's ready-made for housing workers and even visitors who would pay to see Corky, helping to offset some of the costs.
Those costs are considerable. While the lodge would negate the need for building infrastructure, buying the place and all the land around Double Bay would likely run into the millions. Even the nets could cost $100,000 or more.
Two Homes for Lolita
Of all the orcas in captivity, perhaps none engenders as much public sympathy as Lolita, who has spent the past 46 years at Miami Seaquarium, much of it alone, with the exception of a few dolphins. Her enclosure is small: 80 feet long and 35 feet wide, with a depth of just 20 feet, the same length as her body. She has limited protection from the blistering Florida sun.
Lolita was taken from her family at about age four in 1970 during the largest orca roundup in history, at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, about 40 miles northwest of Seattle. More than 90 whales, probably the entire Southern Resident population, were corralled into the narrow bay. Four of them died and seven of the youngest ones were sold to marine parks. Today Lolita is the only Southern Resident of the 45 captured who is still alive in captivity.
Lolita might also stand the best chance of any captive orca of being delivered from her confines. The Southern Resident orca population was listed as endangered in 2005 and in 2013 the federal government agreed to include Lolita in the listing in response to a lawsuit from animal welfare groups. Although a federal judge on June 2 rejected conservationists' claims that Lolita's cramped confines at Miami Seaquarium violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the animal rights activists are appealing the ruling and there is another pending action against the federal government that could conceivably result in Lolita's release.
There are two competing plans for retiring the whale to her native waters.
The older plan, dating to 1995, was conceived by Ken Balcomb, director of the Washington state–based Center for Whale Research, along with his half-brother Howard Garrett, an outspoken anti-captivity activist featured in Blackfish and his wife, Susan Berta. Together they run the Orca Network conservation organization on Whidbey Island, not far from Penn Cove.
On a sunny May morning, the snow-covered Olympic Mountains glistening across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Garrett and I make our way to horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to tour the site he has selected for Lolita—265 acres of wooded waterfront property owned by Jim Youngren, a real estate developer who would donate the land for the killer whale's resettlement.
We head down to the estate's waterfront, which includes a large cove that would be netted off for Lolita. Garrett and Youngren say the site is ideal: It is isolated, protected from the elements and there is little boat traffic on the sound. And, they say, it would be temporary. After her arrival, they would embark on a regime of training Lolita to reunite with her family by improving her stamina, teaching her to catch fish and taking her out on “walks," accompanied by a boat, into the sound.
The detailed proposal for Lolita's rehabilitation focuses on weaning her from dependence on humans for survival and includes plans for a project manager, a staff veterinarian, caregivers, divers, security personnel and a water quality manager. The total estimated budget, for transportation, infrastructure and feeding and caring for Lolita for three to six months ranges from $758,000 to about $1.56 million.
"We will raise the money through traditional fund-raising, including individual small donors, major foundation grants and appealing to benevolent benefactors, anybody willing to pitch in to help Lolita go home," Garret said. "Unfortunately, I don't have a Rolodex of billionaires that I play golf with."
Money isn't the only obstacle. Miami Seaquarium has consistently rejected the idea of retiring the whale.
“There is no scientific evidence that … Lolita could survive if she were to be moved from her home at Miami Seaquarium to a sea pen or to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest," Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium's general manager, informed me in an email. “It would be reckless and cruel to jeopardize Lolita's health and safety. Miami Seaquarium is not willing to experiment with her life in order to appease a fringe group."
But Garrett is confident that Lolita will recognize her family and yearn for reunification with them. (Lolita's mother is alive and well). He envisions the day that Lolita hears her family in the ocean.
“It would be the moment we're all waiting for," he said. “Her family might be 20 miles away, chattering as normal and she recognizes them and calls back in their calls that only that family uses. If they're curious, they'll probably make a beeline to her. I don't think it's going to be an immediate warm welcome. I think there will be a time of rebuilding relationships and trust levels. But that will be the most fascinating scientific experiment: How tight are those bonds and how clear is that memory after all those years?"
After visiting Orcas Island I take a ferry to Port Angeles and make the 90-minute drive along a narrow, winding highway that skirts the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the far northwestern corner of the continental U.S., home to the 47,000-square-mile Makah Indian Reservation. Just before Cape Flattery, I pull into Neah Bay, a large, curving expanse bisected by a mile-long rocky jetty connecting the mainland to Waadah Island.
It is here, alongside the jetty, that an informal coalition of conservationists and members of the Makah Tribe want to install a floating pen, with nets anchored to the seafloor, to house Lolita.
I meet with two key members of the project: Michael Harris, a Seattle-based network television journalist and former president of the Orca Conservancy and Micah McCarty, former chairman of the Makah Tribal Council and member of the federal government's National Ocean Council.
There is an orca on McCarty's family crest. Like most Native American tribes in the region, the Makah revere killer whales in their mythology, in which orcas are considered “Killer Whale People" who live in villages under the sea and put on orca costumes when they come to the surface.
In 2008, Harris was contacted by a number of Hollywood luminaries, including Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer, who had heard about Lolita's plight and wanted someone to devise a plan to return her to the Pacific Northwest.
Their plan recommends a project team of five people to direct day-to-day operations, a 10-member scientific advisory team, a chief veterinarian, a “boat follow" team, a bay pen team and a project security chief. Before leaving Florida, Lolita would be thoroughly examined for infectious diseases or any medical condition that would put her in danger during transport to the sea pen.
Once in her pen, Lolita would be taught to catch fish and be conditioned to go out for walks, initially led by the boat team and later with a “non-human device" such as an underwater drone so she no longer associated boats with human care.
“We need to get these animals away from imprinting on people in boats," Harris said. “You cannot ocean walk a human-imprinted whale into a congested recreational boating area. We're 70 miles from the nearest major population center."
McCarty says the location is ideal. There would be several levels of security, including Makah authorities and year-round access to wild salmon and other fish. Another advantage: Killer whales pass nearby 12 months of the year, he said. The proposal calls for installing underwater hydrophones on an island at the mouth of the strait, operated 24 hours a day, that could detect the approach of Lolita's family when it came time to reintroduce her to her pod. Before swimming free, Lolita would be outfitted with tracking devices, possibly attached with suction cups, to monitor her success and rescue her if she got into trouble.
If the successful release of Lolita cannot be achieved, the plan calls for her permanent residence in the bay. “I'm an optimist, but I think the options have to be that she'll be cared for well the rest of her life if she can't make it in the wild," McCarty said, noting that the pen, envisioned at 10,000 square feet, could be expanded or a new pen could be installed in a cove on Waadah Island.
Harris declined to offer a long-term budget, but looking at expenses from other orca relocation efforts, he estimated that the move from Miami and the first six months of operations would run about $1 million. The proposal calls for academic partnerships, in which universities and research centers would pay fees in exchange for access to Lolita for scientific studies.
There is a rich history of wild-caught cetaceans returning to nature, with varying degrees of success. One of the earliest involved a 20-year-old pilot whale named Bimbo, who was reintroduced into the ocean in 1967 by Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, after nearly eight years in captivity. Two years after his reintroduction, Bimbo was sighted near Santa Barbara and five years later, he was seen again near San Clemente.
Without question, the most famous, expensive and controversial orca release involved Keiko, star of the 1993 Warner Bros. movie Free Willy, who was yanked from his family near Iceland in 1979 when he was about two years old. Keiko had languished for years at a Mexico City amusement park in a small, shallow pool filled with tepid tap water spiked with chlorine and table salt. The subpar conditions caused Keiko to lose weight and contract a papilloma viral infection that left large patches of his skin with disfiguring warts.
Keiko's plight gained worldwide attention. In 1995, the California-based Earth Island Institute, with seed money from Warner Bros. and American telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, helped establish the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. A $7.3 million, high-tech rehab facility was built at the Oregon Coast Aquarium with the intention of returning Keiko to the ocean. In early 1996, Keiko was flown to his new tank, which was filled with cold, fresh seawater. He learned to catch fish to supplement his frozen diet.
In September 1998, Keiko was transferred to a floating sea pen in Iceland anchored in a spectacular inlet surrounded by volcanic cliffs. Over the next few years, Keiko's health and stamina continued to improve. In 2000 Keiko began taking walks in the open ocean, outfitted with a tracking device. He often stayed away for days. Then, in the summer of 2002, for unknown reasons, Keiko took off, embarking on a 50-day, 1,000-mile odyssey across the North Atlantic, under constant satellite tracking, to the coast of Norway. Data from his tag showed that Keiko made repeated deep dives on his journey, suggesting he was foraging for fish.
The killer whale's arrival in Norway sparked a public sensation, as hordes of boaters and swimmers flocked around the Hollywood star. It was a terrible situation, given that the idea was to wean him from humans. Critics declared the experiment a wretched failure. Keiko's caretakers relocated to Norway and walked him further up the coast to Taknes Bay, far from the raucous crowds. He spent the next 15 months coming and going as he pleased. Then, in December 2003, he began exhibiting signs of lethargy and lack of appetite. On Dec. 12, Keiko beached himself on the rocky shoreline and he died that evening. No necropsy was performed, but his vet suspected the cause was pneumonia.
Skeptics accused the project of murdering a hapless animal that never should have been released. The seven-year project, they noted, had come with a $20 million price tag, said David Phillips, executive director of the Earth Island Institute, which worked on the release project. “Keiko had five years with the sights and sounds of natural seawater," he said. “I think it was a great success in terms of Keiko, his well-being and the whole world that wanted to do the right thing."
Are seaside sanctuaries a pipe dream of well-meaning but misguided whale huggers? Critics say the money spent on sea-pen retirement could be better used on conservation of wild animals. “I find that the continued debate over SeaWorld's 27 well-cared-for killer whales seems to encapsulate how nonprofits in the U.S. are fighting for animals not in need of saving while ignoring species and animals that are in the wild and truly need help," said Eric Davis, editor of the pro-industry website Awesome Ocean, which has received funding from SeaWorld.
On Tuesday, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced that it would build the first North American seaside sanctuary by the end of 2020 for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins currently living in an amphitheater at the facility.
For the past five years, aquarium officials have been evaluating the feasibility of building a seaside sanctuary and searching for possible sites, which include locations in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.
The move will undoubtedly send tremors throughout the captive whale and dolphin industry and put pressure on companies like SeaWorld to soften their resistance to retiring some their animals to sea pens.
There are at least five other proposed whale and dolphin release projects that have a shot at coming to fruition.
Chief among them is the Whale Sanctuary Project. Leading the charge are board members Lori Marino, Naomi Rose, David Phillips and Charles Vinick, who directed the Keiko project from 1998 through 2002.
The new group's goal is to establish a “model" sanctuary somewhere in North America where whales, dolphins and porpoises can be rehabilitated for release into the ocean or, for the majority of animals, allowed to live out their lives in an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat, one that enhances well-being and autonomy.
“We're really focused on British Columbia right now," said Michael Parks, a licensed engineer and commercial freighter captain who worked on the Keiko project for five years. “There are so many good-looking sites there, especially the west side of Vancouver Island, with waterways that go quite a ways inland, provide good protection and have access to road systems." Parks is also looking at sites in southeast Alaska, Washington, Maine and Nova Scotia.
The ideal site must not only be protected and accessible year-round but has to have the right temperature, salinity and seafloor depths; tidal action to flush out animal waste; an area for veterinary care and animal husbandry; and room onshore to construct a command post and visitor center. The group plans to allow public access, which is legally required for U.S. sites, not only to educate people about marine mammals but also to accept donations. The site will likely have two sections: one for rescued cetaceans and wild-caught captives being rehabilitated for release and the other to permanently house those that cannot be freed. Federal, state and local authorities will have to sign off.
Project officials are expecting to spend upwards of $20 million raised from donors to acquire a site, install nets and build infrastructure. They're off to a decent start. Munchkin, a global baby-product company, has donated $200,000 for the site search and pledged at least another $1 million to the project. Munchkin CEO Steven Dunn tells me the idea came to him after a claustrophobic experience in an MRI machine.
“I thought, This is what captive orcas feel like," he said. “I had empathy for them that I couldn't get out of my head."
What if they built a sanctuary and nobody came? Marino says that rescued marine mammals might be among the first arrivals. She, like many others in the movement, believes that parks and aquariums might one day bend under public pressure and retire parts of their “collections."
Other sea-pen projects are on the drawing board. Merlin Entertainments Group and its aquarium division, Sea Life, which is opposed to keeping marine mammals in tanks, announced in 2009 that the company was working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to create a sanctuary plan for belugas and dolphins at properties it had acquired.
“We're working towards advancing two sanctuary projects right now," said Whale and Dolphin Conservation's Courtney Vail. "One involves relocating three female belugas caught in Russia that are now at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, a Merlin-acquired property. Merlin is working toward readying them for relocation to an arctic sanctuary that WDC [Whale and Dolphin Conservation] is helping to site and develop."
Vail's group is also working on a feasibility study to develop a bottlenose sanctuary in the Mediterranean within five years.
One of the most well-known sanctuary efforts involves Morgan, a female orca who was found, alone, emaciated and sick, off the Netherlands in 2010. The three-year-old killer whale was captured and taken to a local theme park, which was given a permit to rehabilitate her and return her to the sea. That never happened. Despite months of legal wrangling by animal welfare advocates, in 2011 Morgan was sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. She was put in a tank with five other killer whales living there on a “breeding loan" from SeaWorld, which today claims ownership of Morgan.
Almost from the beginning, Ingrid Visser, a renowned killer whale scientist and founder of New Zealand's Orca Research Trust, has fought for Morgan's liberation. Visser is also a leading sea-pen proponent whose recent renderings of a conceptual high-tech sanctuary—with an expansive modern pier and attached husbandry pen and glassed-in observation centers for paying visitors—were derided by industry defenders as being little different from SeaWorld.
Visser and some colleagues were able to obtain a few recordings of Morgan's vocalizations while the whale was in Holland and they matched them with a group of Norwegian whales known as P pod, though the identity of Morgan's immediate family remains unclear.
Visser cofounded the Free Morgan Foundation and helped devise a plan to send the killer whale to a sea pen in Norway, with the intention of reuniting the orca with her family.
“We have at least five different sites in mind and we've looked at three of those in detail," she told me. “One is a [fjord] where the entrance is protected from large swells and it's within a half-mile of known feeding grounds of Norwegian orca, but it has limited road access. Another one is within a group of islands, though it's near a fishing harbor."
But, Visser said, “there's no point in building a sea pen if the authorities won't release her. It's putting the cart before the horse."
If Morgan's reunification with her family fails, the Free Morgan Foundation is prepared to look after her for life.
“Let's at least improve her life with a fjord to swim in," Visser said. “Or even train her to swim beside a boat and go out with whale-watching tours and use that for education and science. It's far better than where she is now, doing the tango and moonwalk for tourists."
The Whale Sanctuary Project's Marino firmly believes that day is coming for Morgan and many other captive killer whales.
“The SeaWorld announcement about breeding is a good one, but they need to take the next step and transfer the animals that are going to be there for the next 30 years to a sanctuary," she said. “They can't be released, but their quality of life can be improved by orders of magnitude. Still, this is not just as easy as saying, 'There's a good inlet—let's throw a net across and put some animals in it.' It's a solemn responsibility and it's the best we can do for animals that are in captivity."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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Atlantic salmon, the native salmon that used to inhabit the northern Atlantic Ocean, rivers and seas, is a species now represented by an impostor: farmed salmon. Also known as cultured salmon, farmed salmon comes from hatchery genetic stock and unlike its native ancestors, lacks wild genetic variation. The wild fish our ancestors ate is gone. What appears on our dinner plates is a substitute copy, a genetic dilution of a once mighty fish, the adaptive king of the sea and a significant food for coastal humans since prehistoric times.
Yesterday morning approximately 20-30 wonderful creatures were swimming in the cold Northern waters enjoying life in the company of their small family group.
It was a beautiful Monday morning; the seas were calm and the skies were blue.
Though most civilized people in the world would view this as a beautiful thing, watching a pod of these unique creatures swimming gracefully through the sea, a small group of thugs on the shore nearby gazed over the water with murderous intentions in their heart.
The call was issued to kill. The police closed the tunnels. The Sea Shepherd ship Brigitte Bardot was patrolling approximately 25 nautical miles to the south but quickly raced to the site where the whales were spotted. However, the vessel was unable to proceed through the entrance of the fjord, which was being guarded by the Danish Navy vessel Triton. The thugs were unleashed with huge hooks and sharp knives.
in the name of tradition in the Faroe Islands. Photo credit: Sea Shepherd / Rosie Kunneke
The pilot whales were driven to shore and massacred as the police blocked the path of any interference.
The bodies were hoisted onto the dock by a crane as each animal was disemboweled, unborn fetuses ripped from their mothers' wombs. The bodies were decapitated one by one. One supporter of the slaughter sent me a message saying, "We could show ISIS a thing or two about decapitation, you whale-loving bastards."
Photo credit: Sea Shepherd / Nils Greskewitz
As the mutilations continued, Sea Shepherd volunteers were surrounded by Faroese police officers charged with the duty of preventing any interference with the slaughter.
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There is no justification for the enslavement of animals.
None. There never has been and there never can be. Slavery is slavery—unjustifiable, cruel, evil and soul-destroying, both for the victims and the oppressors.
Circuses and places like SeaWorld are despicable places, and the only zoos that should exist are those that rehabilitate wildlife, contribute to the conservation of habitat and provide medical facilities for animals in the wild.
Up until 1979, adult mountain gorillas were murdered so that baby mountain gorillas could be captured and displayed at the Cologne Zoo. This was once a routine practice by zoos, and today this method continues with the mass slaughter of dolphins in drive hunts designed to capture dolphins for trade and display in dolphinariums around the world.
Because of places like SeaWorld, we have the horror of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji.
This makes any person, man, woman or child who purchases a ticket to SeaWorld, Marineland or any facility profiting from the display of dolphins as culpable for the crime as the business interests that have thrived for so long on animal slavery.
The greatest circus in the world is Cirque du Soleil, and it does not exploit animals. There are alternatives.
We live in the greatest electronic media age in the history of the world. A facility that incorporated huge IMAX-like screens depicting real wild dolphins, orcas, seals, sharks and fish in their real-life habitats would be just as thrilling and far more educational than these concrete prison cells where cetacean slaves are forced to perform stupid tricks solely for the purpose of providing amusement to humans. They are not really much different from the venues of ancient gladiatorial sports, in which animals were slaughtered for the amusement of the masses—except today the killing is prolonged and miserable.
It has been very encouraging to see the impact of the documentary Blackfish on the plummeting profits of SeaWorld. This cruel and unnecessary facility must be shut down.
This brings up two questions that I constantly hear. First, “What about the jobs of the people who work at SeaWorld?"
Yes, what about their jobs? Employment does not justify cruelty. Human slavery provided tens of thousands of jobs to merchants, sailors, seers, and escaped slave hunters. Do we care about their despicable jobs today? Not at all. Their jobs were consigned to the dustbin of history where they belonged.
I also have no sympathy for the shareholders who have lost and continue to lose their investments.
Tens of millions of dollars in investments were lost with the joyous death of slavery. And for those who still hold shares, hoping in vain that SeaWorld will recover, I think it is time they wake up and smell the coffee before they lose even more of their thoughtless investments. Anyone who continues to hold shares in SeaWorld is not only not to be pitied for their lack of compassion, they deserve to lose their investments because of their reckless financial gamboling. SeaWorld will not recover unless they radically change their modus operandi. The writing is on the wall as the anti-cetacean slavery movement continues to grow in power and influence.
The second question is, “What will happen to the animals if SeaWorld collapses?" First, SeaWorld has a legal responsibility to find a solution. They cannot legally abandon the animals. They cannot put the animals down without long and costly court battles.
There is, however, a way that SeaWorld and other facilities can actually survive, that investors can recoup their investment, employees can retain their jobs, and the animals can be given a new lease on life.
And if I were the CEO of SeaWorld, this is the plan I would follow.
First, I would find large bays or fjords where the openings could be netted off. The animals could then be placed in these large enclosures. Food could be provided by a trust fund set up by SeaWorld and trainers hired to teach the orcas and dolphins how to return to freedom in the ocean. Thanks to scientists like Dr. John Ford, we can match captive orcas with their pods based on the dialects within their language. People could still come to see the animals in these enclosures, although without the silly tricks. This facility could also serve as a hospital and rehabilitation center for sick and wounded animals.
Secondly, I would empty the tanks and replace them with a multi-media, IMAX-type environment to take people on virtual tours of our ocean. I would provide real educational messages about the state of our ocean and planet, and what we need to do to protect and conserve species, lives and eco-systems. This facility would provide plenty of jobs.
All we need to do is replace slavery with rehabilitation and replace amusement parks with entertaining, educational facilities.
So SeaWorld could survive, jobs could be retained and the animals could be freed—but only if someone has the vision, the courage and the willingness to do the right thing for the interests of all concerned: the investors, the employees and most importantly, the animals.
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A once-rich habitat in the Antarctic has become an impoverished zone as icebergs—increasingly breaking free from the surrounding sea ice because of global warming—scour the shallow-water rocks and boulders on which a diversity of creatures cling to life.
Photo credit: Vincent van Zeijst via Wikimedia Commons
A report in the journal Current Biology says that researchers who carried out a survey dive in 2013 at Lagoon Island, off the West Antarctic Peninsula, discovered that “no live mega or macro-fauna can be found, the first time this has been observed there, despite being regularly visited by scientific divers since 1997”.
Dr. David Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey, and colleagues report that boulders on the seabed near the Rothera research station had once been richly encrusted with creatures that competed for living space. Now such rocks might only support a single species.
Early Warning System
“The Antarctic Peninsula can be considered an early warning system, like a canary in a coal mine,” Barnes said. “Physical changes there are among the most extreme and the biology considered quite sensitive, so it was always likely to be a good place to observe impacts of climate change.”
“But impacts elsewhere are likely to be not too far behind. A lot of the planet depends on the near shore environment, not least for food. What happens there to make it less stable is important.”
Climate change has already begun to affect Antarctica in different ways. Researchers last year found that as icebergs broke free, the surviving ice shelf had begun to melt from underneath. The effect of the drifting icebergs was mixed: at depth in the fjords of the Peninsula, for instance, the species variety seemed to have got richer, according to one set of observations.
But no such effect was observed in the ocean shallows that are being scraped and scoured by drifting icebergs. The researchers say that although no species has disappeared entirely from the region, the numbers are so low as to be negligible.
In 2013, most of the observations seemed to involve just one opportunistic or pioneer species, a suspension feeder called Fenstrulina rugula. What had once been a rich habitat had become one of the simplest seabed systems to be found anywhere.
“Reduction of complex systems into very simple ones, where many (formerly important) species become too rare to maintain meaningful ecological roles, is a common reaction to anthropogenic disturbance such as overfishing, pollution, introductions of non-indigenous species and habitat destruction,” the report’s authors say.
“Across West Antarctica, the levels of these disturbances are among the lowest globally, apart from greenhouse contributions to climate change.”
The scientists conclude: “We expect the deeper seabed to become richer in benthic colonisation with more ice shelf collapses and fast ice losses, but hard surfaces in the shallows are likely to become deserts dominated by rapidly-colonising pioneers and responsive scavengers.”