Thursday, October 15, 2009

Toxins and Disease Threaten Catastrophe for Marine Mammals

Avalanche of New Diseases Hits Marine Mammals
Quebec City, Canada, October 14, 2009
By Hardy Jones

Dolphins and other marine mammals are often described as sentinels of the health of the seas. They are long-lived, coastal dwelling, top-of-the-food-chain predators, sharing those characteristics with humans. The news from these sentinels is that the oceans are contaminated to a degree that seriously threatens the health of not only marine mammals but humans as well.

At the previous meeting of the Society of Marine Mammalogy in Cape Town in 2007, a major theme was that dangerous levels of toxins have been detected in many species of marine mammal in locations around the world and that this is impacting their immune systems.

At the current meeting in Quebec the chickens have come home to roost. Actually they’ve been coming home for a log time but now scientists have caught up to it. Until we turned the oceans into a chemical soup a bacteria, virus or fungus, ubiquitous or commonly found in the environment, was taken care of by a healthy dolphin, seal or manatee immune system. Those immune systems are now being assaulted by high levels of contaminants building up in marine mammals globally.

The chemical industry has maintained that dilution of chemical waste was the solution to the problem. What they did not count on is the biomagnification of toxic chemicals by the marine food chain causing marine mammals to ingest and store dangerous levels of organic pollutants.

The following is a partial list of papers presented at the conference describing diseases emerging among marine mammals. Many of them have heretofore been unknown or rarely found among marine mammals. The sheer volume and variety of these diseases is highly alarming.

New diseases being found in dolphins: papilloma, brucellosis, morbillivirus, toxoplasmosis, leptospirosis, botulism, cholera, salmonella.

Toxoplasmosis in polar bears in Svalbard, Norway. Possibly due to warming waters and more diverse array of migratory birds arriving in the island.

Opportunistic Antibiotic Resistant Organisms Cultured from Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins Inhabiting Estuarine Waters of Charleston, SC and Indian River Lagoon (Florida). Paper by Bossart et al.
Bossart et al have found high percentage of dolphins along the southeastern coast of the United States to have epidermal lesions. Same researchers have found lobomycosis in bottlenose dolphins in same area along with orogenital papilloma.

Unusual mortalities of marine mammals in the St. Lawrence Estuary associated with saxitoxin-producing red tide.

Giardia and Cryptosporidium found in North Atlantic and Southern Right Whales.

Streptococci in marine mammals stranded around the British Isles.

There has been first confirmation of Phocine Distemper Virus (PDV) in sea otters in Alaska. There has been a huge decline in the Alaska sea otter population over recent years.
Tracy Goldstein.

Verminous pneumonia found in Saint Lawrence Estuary (SLE) Belugas. This derives from lungworm. One hundred percent of the adult and juvenile populations have this affliction.
Geuix et al.

PBDE concentrations in marine biota and people from North America are the highest in the world and are increasing. PBDE concentrations in marine biota and people from North America are the highest in the world and are increasing. Susan Shaw et al

Distemper has caused epizootics in Lake Baikal, the Caspian Sea and Northern Europe.

Organochlorine pesticides found in Galapagos sea lions.

There are many more and the whole problem is compounded by warming of the climate. Organic pollutants bound in ice are released when the ice melts. As waters warm prey species may decline or disappear. In many diverse locations marine mammals are reported to have thinner layers of blubber meaning that pollutants stored in fat have been released into the blood and organs of the animal.

President Obama has recently called for a massive strengthening of the laws governing production, distribution and disposal of toxic chemicals. The chemical companies will fight it tooth and nail but far stricter standards must be applied - not just to save marine mammals but humans as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Top Whale Researcher Calls Japans Scientific Whaling bogus

Phillip J. Clapham who directs research on large whales at Alaska Fisheries Science Center reported to the Society of Marine Mammalogy in Quebec that Japanese scientific whaling is without merit and a poor screen for continuing commercial whaling.

In addition he said the Japanese consider whales competition for fish and thus want to cull them.

Scientific whaling was originally designed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for small sample size. Nothing like the huge takes of Japan. The IWC Protocol allows sale of whale meat to covers costs.

1982 IWC passed moratorium to start in 1986. Japan immediately began scientific whaling.

Japan says they need to kill whales to study their position in the ecosystem. But it’s really because they think whales eat too many fish – too many of “their” fish.

The total number of whales taken by all nations, including Japan, prior to the moratorium was 2100 from 1952 – 1986. Total taken by Japan since 1986 is 12,581 whales and counting. So after the moratorium the number of whales killed skyrocketed due to Japan’s so-called scientific whaling.

The original scientific whaling self-awarded quota started at 300, went to 442, then 852. Japan is now hoping to take humpbacks and has taken fins.

Japan has also taken 200 minkes in Northern Pacific.

The argument that whales “eat too many fish” is preposterous. Not all whales eat fish – most in Antarctica eat krill.
There are so few whales today compared to prewhaling that this idea of whales consuming all the fish is nonsense.
Main predation on fish is other fish.

If you remove top predators from a system you disrupt the system. The real problem is human overfishing.

Japan said Minkes were eating too much krill to allow the blues to recover. So they justified killing minkes.

Then they said the minkes were victims and that humpbacks are driving the minkes out of business. So they now want to kill humpbacks. Anything that justifies their desires.

Clapham told the meeting of nearly 1,000 marine mammal scientists that after 18 years there is no valid scientific data from Japan’s work nor has Japan integrated its work into that of other studies.

Today there are far better non-lethal alternatives to study whales.

A highly interesting turn of events is that Australia will start a Southern Ocean Research Partnership that will employ no lethal methods and will be tied in to other scientific work. What effect will this have on the Japanese Antarctic Whaling fleet operating in the same waters?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dolphin Kills at Taiji Japan diminished

October 12, 2009
Hardy Jones

There is some good news regarding the level of slaughter of dolphins at Taiji. While some 80 pilot whales have been slaughtered during the first five weeks on the season this is far below the normal kill rate.

International pressure has been brought about by films such as The Cove. In addition revelations in international meetings that the Japanese government is subjecting its citizens to a major health risk by allowing the sale of toxic dolphin meat have put tremendous pressure on Japan to end the slaughter of dolphins.

Blue Voice will continue to test dolphins and dolphin eaters to show the extreme levels of contamination present in dolphin meat.

We are currently in Quebec at the biennial meeting of the Society of Marine Mammalogy where highly disturbing are being presented about the rise of new diseases among marine mammals and the danger of transmission to humans.

More on this in blog tomorrow.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zoonosis: Transfer of Disease between Dolphins and Humans

October 11, 2009. Quebec City, Canada
by Hardy Jones

The following is taken from my hastily scratched notes during the Environmental Health Workshop.
In the early days the Society of Marine Mammalogy bi-ennial meetings were devoted to identification and distribution of whales, dolphins, manatees, and analysis of feces of various species of marine mammal from Patagonia to the Arctic. There were always a few reports on the songs of humpback whales.
At the Cape Town meeting two years ago there was a marked increase in the number of papers on contamination of the marine environment by toxic chemicals and their impact on the health of marine mammals and even humans. It was the first time I’d heard discussion of the concept of zoonosis - the transfer of disease between species, including animal to human animal and human animal to other animal species.
Here in Quebec environmental contamination and zoonosis are among the principal topics in the Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Marine Ecosystem workshop. The bottom line of the discussion is that unprecedented environmental changes are taking place worldwide brought about by urbanization, rapid global transportation and global climate change.
Interspecies disease transfer is not a new concept. AIDS is thought to have arisen through blood contact when a human killed a monkey in central Africa for food. The same is thought to be true for Avian Influenza (bird flu) and swine flu (H1N1).
Trichinella, a member of a genus of parasitic roundworms, causes trichinosis, a disease once feared among those eating pork. Trichinella is now being found in Ringed Seals and possibly in Walrus that have been forced to eat ringed seals due to a decline in their normal prey due to overfishing and climate change. Inuit hunt Walrus for food. It is unknown whether eating walrus constitutes a health threat for those Inuit.
Carlos Yaipen-Llanos of the Peruvian group ORCA, reports an increase in diabetes in northern Peru among fishermen who eat dolphins. The increase in disease incidence does not occur among members of the same village who do not eat dolphin meat. Incidence of diabetes among Peruvians in general is quite low.
Japan was listed among those nations that are hot spots of risk for zoonotic events. Drug resistance has been identified in Japan along with many new pathogens. The combination could lead to a superbug that would not respond to antibiotics.
The conference itself begins October 12.

Belugas and Blues: Whale Watching St. on the Lawrence

October 6, 2008
Deborah and I arrived in Quebec airport at 1030pm – an hour late. Canadian customs is one of the most annoying systems on earth. The length of lines is usually atrocious, worse than Narita airport at Tokyo. But this time we were at the head of the line and checked through quickly. Ah, in the clear for a decent arrival at our hotel and a good night sleep.
When we reached the final official to whom you normally hand your customs declaration, virtually anywhere in the world, you are into the country. But no, the young lady with the big iron on her hip in a blue para military uniform put us into a special holding area and we wait and wait and wait. Behind us about ten individuals or couples singled out for one reason or another lengthen the line. We at least are at the head of the line.
For an hour and fifteen minutes, as I decline into a hypoglycemic torpor, we wait for someone to come and deal with us. When an official finally addresses us he has many questions. He wants to know if we are working in Canada and if we are going to sell our gear. We talk for a long while explaining that we are attending a conference on marine mammals and are not traveling second-hand camera salesmen. Eventually the pressure of the people behind us sighing and shuffling forces him to let us through. Why the hell would I want to sell my camera? To be fair the customs agent was perfectly courteous.
And from that point on the French Canadians defied their reputations as some of the world’s most unfriendly people. Maybe it is because I speak a bit of French but we have been greeted in an unusually cordial and friendly manner through our entire stay so far.
October 7. It’s raining in the morning as we drive toward Tadoussac. The fall colors are radiant, even in the rain and fog. The hotel Tadoussac is one of those classics you find in National Parks, anyway a mini version of them. The living room with fireplace looks out over the St. Lawrence. Food is excellent and the rooms adequate.
It’s exciting to think we are so close to Belugas, not to mention blue whales, humpbacks, minkes and many other cetacean species. The area looks pristine. It is not. The St. Lawrence is vast but not big enough to handle the flood of pollutants that have come from upstream
We take a commercial whale watch and immediately spot belugas - pretty far away but still my first sighting of this species that has intrigued me so long. I will save a discussion of the survival prospects of these dolphins (though they are called beluga whales they are a species of dolphin) for a subsequent blog. New information will be released at the forthcoming conference.
During the trip we also see minkes feeding right by our boat and blue whales a couple hundred yards from us. It’s October and generally the true whale species would have departed but we’re lucky and they’re still here.
Without exaggeration the St. Lawrence is one of the great whale watching venues on earth.
Once in Quebec at the environmental health workshop I describe my experience whale watching to two young Japanese scientists who were delighted at the prospect of similar encounters the following day.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

My First Dolphin Massacre, Iki, Japan

My First Massacre
The Tragic Story of Dolphins at Iki

In 1978 I first heard of the terrible slaughter of dolphins at Iki Island, Japan. In Hawaii filming my first film on dolphins, I saw a picture in the local paper of hundreds of dolphins dead on a beach on an island off southern Japan.

By that time I was a bona fide dolphin lover, having just spent time swimming with and filming a pod of spinner dolphins off Lanai. The pictures from Japan shocked and horrified me. I could not imagine how people could deliberately kill dolphins.

I went to Iki in 1979 and 1980 as well as in later years, most recently 2006. Some interesting facts emerged from those visits.

Until 1971 dolphins had not been a problem at Iki. But in that year a current broke off from the main Kuroshio Current running from the Philippines past the eastern coast of Japan and changed the distribution of fish around Iki, bringing fish dolphins prey upon. At the same time the Japanese were overfishing their own waters and the Shichiriga Banks off Iki were one of the few areas where abundant quantities of fish could still be found. The dolphins may have been forced to Iki by shortage of fish elsewhere.

By the mid 1970s so many dolphins migrated through the area off Iki that fishermen began to worry they would consume too many fish. Their catch was falling and they were terrified. But overfishing was the culprit (plus pollution in the breeding areas) not dolphins. The Iki islanders brought in a fisheries expert who said there might be as many as 300-thousand dolphins passing by, each eating 20 pounds of fish a day. The fishermen did the math and concluded they were at war with the dolphins – a typical resource war. They began by shooting and harpooning them. Then they learned from fishermen at Taiji the Oi Komi technique of banging on metal poles stuck in the water to make painful sounds that would drive the dolphins into a bay where they would be slaughtered.

In 1978 the first mass murder of dolphins took place. The fishermen, surprisingly, had invited the media to record the event which resulted in the photos syndicated around the world, one of which I saw in Hawaii. Amazingly the fishermen thought that showing how many dolphins were in their fishing grounds would spur the government to action to eradicate the dolphins or to pay a bounty on them. Follow the money!

In 1979 I brought a film crew to Iki. We interviewed the fishermen, went out on their boats but never saw a dolphin. I made a film in which I tried to understand (not agree with) why these fishermen, who were astonishingly decent and hospitable people, would brutally slaughter as many as two thousand dolphins. They did it to protect their livelihood. It was a them or us mentality.

In 1980 I returned with Howard Hall, then a neophyte underwater cameraman, today one of the preeminent marine cinematographers in the world. We went first to Taiji where we turned our cameras on a group of 200 melonheaded whales that had been captured and were slated for slaughter. Fearing a worldwide scandal if the killing were filmed they let the dolphins go.

Howard and I then went on to Iki where we walked straight into a brutal massacre of up to 2,000 dolphins. We shot film. I got it to Tokyo where CBS News processed it and satellited it around the world, causing a massive backlash against Japan.

Dexter Cate, an environmentalist from Hawaii, untied some of the nets holding those dolphins not yet killed. He was arrested, tried and sent to prison but released fairly quickly. His action brought further attention to the situation at Iki.

Late in March of 1980 local and prefectural governments told the Iki Islanders they should not hunt dolphins – at least until things cooled down. There was no hunting until the mid 1980s when dolphin slavers came to Iki with money in hand and incited an oi komo roundup resulting in the taking into captivity of dozens of dolphins and the slaughter of hundreds.

During my most recent visit to Iki I learned that there are no dolphins in the waters around Iki today. There is no consensus as to why. One plausible answer is that water temperatures have changed, removing the prey that first attracted dolphins to Iki during the 1970s. Squid boats now find their catch far to the north of Iki and report there are dolphins in those waters. The fish that have left Iki waters have been replaced by more southerly species as the waters warm. The fishermen are catching tuna for the first time.

The irony is that dolphins for captivity have become so valuable that the Iki Islanders wish they would come back so they could capture and sell them.

At Futo, where dolphins had been hunted for years, the latest hunts occurring in 1999 and 2004, bottlenose dolphins have disappeared and are found on the other side of the Izu peninsula. This certainly has to do with a change in water temperatures. I can’t say the dolphins learned to avoid Futo because they were hunted for decades and always appeared offshore until very recently. But larger forces are at work in the oceans today.