Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Will it Take to End Japan Dolphin Slaughter?

By Hardy Jones

This is a slightly modified article I wrote last year for Huffington Post. It reflects the fact that Sea Shepherd pushed the Japanese whaling fleet out of the Antarctic during the 2010-11 season. But the principal issues are the same this year as last.

The dolphin hunt begins at the end of this week. Perhaps 100 police, coast guard and god knows what other form of policing will be present to greet the ever growing crowds of dolphin activists drawn to the scene of the killing.

On September 1st the dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan are scheduled to resume despite unrelenting tsunamis of publicity around the world highlighting this brutal slaughter. In addition the village of Futo, just southeast of Tokyo, has announced it will resume dolphin hunts, mainly to secure dolphins for captivity. Dolphin hunting in Japan continues uninterrupted. NB: This did not happen last year, primarily due to absence of dolphins from their waters.

The resumption of the dolphin hunts followed a weekend, August 27 - 29, during which Animal Planet aired the two-hour season finale to Whale Wars, the fight by Sea Shepherd to stop whaling by Japan in the Antarctic, a two-hour presentation of The Cove, the academy award winning film by Louis Psoyhos featuring Ric O'Barry; and the premier of O'Barry's own three-part film series Blood Dolphins. This represents a media barrage of unprecedented dimension.

NB: The dolphin hunt continued through the entire 2010-11 season and was even extended.

While issues of cruelty are a highly important part of the argument against these hunts there is another compelling reason why dolphins and whales not only should not be hunted but instead demand greater protection than ever.

Growing evidence suggests that dolphins are becoming so contaminated by marine toxins that eating them constitutes a genuine threat to human health. Health officials in Denmark and the Faroe Islands have already recommended that consumption of pilot whale meat taken in the notorious "grinds" not be eaten due to high levels of contaminants in the meat.

The issue of heavy metal contamination in large predatory fish and marine mammals is becoming well known. Less widely known are the high levels of organic pollutants such as PCBs, PBDEs, DDT, and other chemicals that suppress mammalian immune systems and disrupt normal endocrine function. Some of these chemicals are known to be estrogen imitators that act to feminize men and superfeminize women; in some cases raising the percentage of females babies born over male babies significantly.

Dolphins are already severely threatened by anthropogenic forces. During the last year numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published documenting a worldwide surge in incidence of diseases heretofore unknown in dolphins.

A team of researchers and veterinarians from the Marine Animal Disease Lab at the University of Florida have discovered at least fifty new viruses in dolphins, the majority of which have yet to be reported in any other marine mammal species.

Thirty new diseases have developed simultaneously worldwide resulting from what Dr. Gregory Bossart, Chief Veterinary Officer at the Georgia Aquarium, describes as profound immunosuppression leading to environmental distress syndrome resulting from chemical intoxication.

In addition, resistance to antibiotics has been found in dolphins in numerous locations around the world. Obviously antibiotics do not occur in nature. They come from people who take antibiotics and introduce them into the ecosystem through bodily elimination or simply throwing unused pills away. After they reach the watershed plankton ingest them and they bio-accumulate up the food web to concentrate in top predators such as dolphins. The dolphins then have the potential for breeding antibiotic resistant super bugs that may pass back to humans. The transmission of disease from one species to another is called zoonosis and is of great concern to the CDC. AIDS is one example of zoonotic transmission.

I first went to Japan to stop the dolphin slaughter at Iki Island in 1979. In 1980 cameraman Howard Hall and I filmed a barbaric slaughter of scores of bottlenose dolphins. Airing of the footage around the globe caused massive worldwide protest.

In that case exposure of the brutal footage of dolphins being hacked and stabbed to death essentially brought an end to the dolphin hunt at Iki. But such publicity has not produced a similar result since. NB: Dolphins are no longer found around Iki, This may be the result of changing water temperatures forcing their prey to other parts of the sea or it may be the dolphins around Iki were extinguished by the brutal hunts.

After Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherds vanquished the Japanese whaling fleet from the Southern Ocean Japan may believe it has to dig in its heels on the dolphin issue. The massive deployment of police to Taiji certainly indicates they are not backing down. I have been told by highly knowledgeable Japanese environmentalists that sticking Japan's nose in it may be making it all but impossible for Tokyo to withdraw from dolphin hunting. A proud sovereign nation cannot allow small groups of environmentalists to be seen to make it kow-tow. If Japan stopped dolphin hunting now it would appear environmentalists had forced them to back down. But the knowledge that diseases such as brucellosis and papillomavirus are being found ever more frequently in dolphins may, ironically be what forces the end of eating dolphin meat. And if that isn't enough thirteen additional RNA-based viruses that cause intestinal disease and encephalitis in humans have also recently been discovered in dolphins

It baffles me that whaling and dolphin killing can persist in the 21st century. We know so much about these magnificent animals. Whale and dolphin watching generate over US$2.1 billion per year around the world, vastly more than whale and dolphin killing.

But human self-interest on the part of entrenched bureaucratic elites is a powerful force molding individual ethics and shaping short sighted policies. So in Japan and elsewhere whaling and dolphin hunting persist.

In the light of emerging threats to the marine ecosystem, dolphins and whales in particular, the deliberate killing of these curious, intelligent, sentient animals is tragic and will only hasten the extirpation of whole populations of these magnificent sentinels of the sea.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Eyeball-to-Eyeball with a Sperm Whale pt II

By Hardy Jones

Thoughts floated through my mind, lingering for instants but, finding no certainties on which to perpetuate themselves, drifting back to wherever thoughts come from. "What does the vast computing system housed in the six-foot square skull of this animal make of me? Am I a joke? Does it find me as funny as I might a monkey scratching its ass? Surely it doesn't see me as edible? Does it have any clue that I can think too?"

But the one thought that never left my mind was, "how do I keep this animal with me?" For by now I was in love with this whale. I could not disengage my eyes from its one huge eye. I watched its every move. "Every move you make, every breath you take. . . . .". Even in open ocean swimming with a sperm whale my mind is a jukebox. It breathed every thirty seconds. I huffed and strained for enough air to keep my legs pumping. For five minutes we swam eyeball-to-eyeball, the whale using only the barest motion of its tail to gain forward momentum. I was surely in an altered state but it was not dreamlike. It was intense reality.

The great eye moved slightly forward in its socket, the left edge of the tail fluke was raised and my whale began a right turn, prelude to breaking off contact. You cannot pursue whales. If you try you will find yourself looking at a disappearing tail, some sloughed off epidermis and more than likely passing through a reddish brown cloud. So I resisted that impulse and turned left, mirroring the whale's retreat. When I looked over my shoulder the whale had turned back toward me.

Knowing I had to try to bring it to the camera I headed back towards the boat. Roc, with his huge housing, could not have moved far from it. I resented the responsibility of having to help the French crew get video of this encounter. I wanted my whale to myself to see where the encounter would go if we were left on our own.

As we approached the boat I could see Roc hanging at the surface, the glassy dome of his camera pointing at us. He was getting his video but I was going to lose my whale. Perhaps unwilling to get close to another of these strange creatures or to approach the boat, perhaps obeying a call from its mate far below, the sperm whale breathed twice, accelerated, arched forward and began to swim almost straight down. I could see it pass through the slanting golden shafts penetrating the blue of the sea. A bubble from its blowhole, a bubble from its anus and it was gone.

I don't remember swimming back to the boat but once aboard I jettisoned my dive gear and clenched my fist in triumph. Trying to share some of the experience with the French video crew I said "Incroyable! Ne c'est pas?" The director raised his shoulders and twisted his face performing that characteristic Gallic shrug and lit a cigarette.

To me to be uninspired by a sperm whale is a tragedy. Soon I will write about the joke I played on the French film crew. I love France and the French (by and large) but occasionally their arrogance needs to be brought down a peg.

For more stories of interspecies contacts in many oceans of the world read The Voice of the Dolphins by Hardy Jones, available in print and Kindle at Amazon.com

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eyeball-to-Eyeball with a Sperm Whale

By Hardy Jones

In 2001 I joined a French film crew off the Caribbean Island of Dominica. They were doing a segment of the hugely popular French television show Ushuaia. I had been hired as the whale expert and because I speak passable French. We had some remarkable encounters with sperm whales and I played a marvelous joke on the French crew.

I sat down on the swim step of our 32 foot cruiser and hauled on my fins, holding my breath to avoid inhaling the noxious diesel exhaust sputtering out of the engine at the waterline next to me. French cameraman Roc Pescadere dropped down next to me, easing his massive video housing into the water. Seventy yards away the pair of sperm whales cruised slowly toward us, their bulbous heads forging through the calm surface of the deep blue Caribbean Sea. Behind the whales the blazing green of the volcanic slopes of Dominica rose under a blue sky contrasting with cumulous clouds.

I dropped a mask over my face and bit down on the snorkel then slipped into the water as quietly as possible so as not to alarm the whales. Roc followed and we kicked lightly to separate ourselves from the boat, then hung at the surface, peering over the top of the glassy sea to spot the whales. They had begun to pick up speed. While still heading toward us they were moving faster and veering slightly to their right. We were going to lose them. I felt the usual sadness when failing to make contact and wondered, "why are you comfortable approaching our boat but frightened off by a clumsy swimmer?"

By now the two whales were close enough to view underwater; no more than 100 feet away. Viewed from above the surface their single blow holes, canted slightly off center on the left of the head, ventilated and inhaled like steam engines beginning a journey. Beneath us was what to humans is perceived as endless blue but to the whales' sonar would appear as undersea slopes and canyons hundreds of meters below. One of the whales was considerably larger than the other, nearly fifty feet in length. Both had angled the leading edge of their pectoral fins downward and begun to arch their backs, the last move before throwing their tail flukes upward to depart the surface where man and whale can interface to enter an azure universe all their own.

In a last attempt to get the whales to come and play I resorted to a technique that had often worked with dolphins and killer whales. I began to sing a pathetic imitation of a humpback's song. "Whoooop. Whoooooooop. Uuuuuhhhhhh." The smaller of the two sperm whales continued its forward motion, pointing its massive square head straight down, raising the six-foot wide tail fluke to add gravity’s impetus to the descent. The larger whale seemed about to do the same but instead of going fully vertical it hesitated, slightly arched its back and stopped as though it had bumped into something. I remember thinking "that's the first clumsy move I've ever seen a whale make."

The sperm whale now lay still at the surface and began to sonar me, generating sonic images, not only of the exterior of my body but three-dimensional impressions of the bones and air spaces within my body. Anything that wasn't water-like would read. The sonar pulses were like fingers snapping and occurred at intervals of roughly six seconds. The world got very quiet and slow. Again calling on strategy learned from encounters with other cetaceans, I began to swim - not directly at the whale, but at a 45 degree angle which brought me closer while not making a direct approach. The whale turned and began to move forward very slowly on a similar tangential tack. At a distance of fifty feet I could see the whale's eye clearly, large as a grapefruit, rotating in the socket, looking at me. Once we were no longer head-on it's sonar could not focus on me. We were eyeball-to-eyeball.

The whale was light gray with lighter patches where skin had sloughed off, a way of reducing friction as it moves through the water. I paid close attention to the jaw. The surprisingly small lower mandible fit tightly into the upper, the five-inch teeth on the bottom fitting into empty holes in the upper. An open mouth can be a threat sign so I was glad this whale's mouth was clapped shut. To keep up with the whale I had to exert myself to the fullest, breathing like a runner in the final stretch of a marathon and kicking with all the force I could muster from my finned legs. Roc with his camera housing was left behind and I knew he'd be angry that I was drawing the shot away from him.

We continued moving closer. My companion was as large as a freight car. At twenty-five feet the whale turned slightly right. It had reached its limit of tolerance. I edged slightly left so we found ourselves broadside to one another, and I recall thinking "he's got a helluva a lot broader side than I do." We continued swimming parallel to one another, eyes engaged. I was looking into the eye an animal that has the largest brain of any creature ever to live on earth, a brain seven times larger than my own. The sperm whale's eye was massive and intelligent.

In part II: Sperm Whale Etiquette

For more stories of encounters with dolphins, killer whales, humpback and sperm whales read The Voice of the Dolphins, available at Amazon.com in print and Kindle.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Meeting Goodall: of Dolphins and Chimps pt III

The Great Banana Heist

We conducted our interview with Dr. Goodall until Julia ran out of audio tape and went to the hut for another roll. She screamed and came running out looking extremely embarrassed. The reason was only too clear. Standing in the middle of the clearing was a large male chimp with the banana stalk. He didn’t laugh out loud but looked mighty pleased with himself.
I looked at Goodall expecting the worst, but she was smiling. Julia blurted out her explanation. “I opened the door and he just pushed me out of the way and grabbed the bananas. He’s phenomenally strong.” Julia appeared impressed if not a bit traumatized by the encounter.
We stopped filming to watch one of the most astonishing interspecies interaction I’ve ever witnessed. The male with the bananas stood there like a Capo Mafosi. Females approached with their hands cupped and a look of supplication. He began doling out one banana after another to favored females.
The baboons went nuts, screeching and running around in a frenzy. They wanted some banana too. After doling out a few of the precious fruits, the male climbed a nearby tree and began to eat. He would peel a banana, eat it with a look of supreme self-satisfaction and then drop the peel to the baboons below. The word haughty doesn’t begin to describe his attitude.
If ever anyone doubted the similarities between humans and chimps they need only have witnessed that interaction. The facial expressions, attitudes and behaviors of the chimps were only a slight exaggeration of what we see in our fellow humans.
It is much harder to see these expressions in dolphins as their faces are fixed, rigid to minimize drag through the water. In many dolphin species they appear to be smiling all the time but that is only the result of evolutionary forces shaping their faces moving through water over eons.
We returned to Kigoma without further misadventure, found our plane and then flew through thunderheads the entire way back to Dar Es Salaam. It was bumpy and a true white-knuckler. Below us was trackless Africa - no place to crash or even land. I was glad when we touched down back in Dar.
That night we found a secret restaurant where you could buy a sumptuous dinner - if you had dollars. The room was mainly peopled by large and well-fed African men, each of whom had two or three women crowding around him seeking his favor. My mind went back to the chimp with the bananas. Along with the fine food there was a local spirit called Conyagi – cognac. The stuff was vile but I threw back quite a few shots.

For more stories of interspecies contacts in many oceans of the world read The Voice of the Dolphins by Hardy Jones, available in print and Kindle at Amazon.com

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Meeting Goodall: of Dolphins and Chimps pt II

At the end of my last post our party had been marooned on the shore of Lake Tanganyika when the boat Goodall sent for us broke down just off a desolate village. Our two Africa boatmen loped off back toward Kigoma.

Nat, Julia and I sat there speechless. Things were about to get worse.
A band of six or seven African men approached us smiling big. Lots of white teeth. They were drunk and they had guns. The only positive development was that they spoke French. It turned out they were rebels who had been driven out of Congo across the Lake to the west.
We were all truly afraid for our lives. One guy, brain sloshed in alcohol, could decide to blow us away for fun. We’d disappear and no one would know it had ever happened.
I decided it would be best if we walked into the village. I actually felt hungry. It’s impossible to convey the poverty of this village. People just sat around with blank stares on their faces in front of their miserable huts. Then we spotted a dented and rusty sign with a Pepsi logo and the words “New Yankee Restaurant.” Huh!
We entered the dark premises and saw a fire at the back. A frail elderly man hunched over a paint can filled with oil set over an open fire. We made motions of our hands to our mouths – the international signal for eat and he waved us to a log used as a seat. He then raised his index finger while raising his eyebrows. You want one? Then alternated the one finger with the middle finger to indicate “Or two?”
One or two of what we wondered. Not knowing what was on offer we signaled “one” and waited to see the fare. The old man reached into a tin, pulled out some dough, wadded it into the size of a baseball and threw it into the oil in the paint can. Two minutes later he plucked the sizzling blob out of the oil and threw it down on a tin plate. It was muddy brown. The room was so dark it was impossible to ascertain the cleanliness of the plate but there was a decidedly hard and heavy sound to the impact on the plate of what I was beginning to think of as a kind of donut.
Whatever it might have been it was way too hot to eat so we were left to ponder who, if any of us, would allow hunger to overcome aversion.
When the cook motioned toward the “donut” I suspended rational process and reached down and tried to pinch a small portion out of the blob only to discover it was more a rock than a blob. Eventually I was able to break off a small portion and, with both Julia and Nat watching, put it in my mouth.
It was totally saturated in oil which, while rancid, at least didn’t taste like it was petroleum based. There was no other taste to it.
We extricated ourselves from the New Yankee Restaurant by paying what was surely far more than we should have and signaling we wanted to eat it while walking along the shore of the lake.
For another hour we sat near our boat and pondered our situation. There is no doubt this was one of the most dangerous situations I’d ever been in. The drunken men with automatic weapons followed us around, occasionally inviting us somewhere or other. I was concerned that Julia, being a woman, might be in more danger than the rest of us.
At dusk the sound of an outboard motor reached our ears and to our immense relief a small skiff appeared, driven by the boatmen who had set off for Kigoma five hours previously.
We took the original boat in tow and headed north along the eastern shore of the lake resuming our voyage to the Goodall camp. It was after dark when we turned into the shore and beached both boats. Dr. Goodall emerged onto the rocky shoreline with a flashlight. We began to unload our gear, taking care not to step into the water.
Her first question was “what kind of food did you bring.” I realized instantly that we had made a big mistake not doing some shopping at Kigoma.
“We landed late and weren’t able to get anything.”
She expressed mild irritation and said “well we don’t have any food here.” It had never really occurred to me that you could get to a place where there actually was no food. She was somewhat mollified when I told her we did have her engine parts, T-shirts and floppy hats.
Eventually we stashed all our gear and sat down at a small table in her cottage. Momentarily a sweet potato appeared which we all divided. That was it for food.
Hunger kept me awake and alert far longer than I normally would have been. I explained to her how we approached dolphins in the wild. She was interested in the fact that dolphins maintained eye contact with us. It’s very poor etiquette to look directly at male silverback gorilla and might easily earn you a charge. Among chimps eye contact is broken during periods of conflict and reestablished during reconciliation.
I described our methods of naming individual dolphins and how we had foolishly named a young dolphin One Spot, only to find the following year that One Spot had become Four Spot a product of maturation in all spotted dolphins.
I was humbled to be in Dr. Goodall’s presence and delighted that she didn’t laugh me out of the room as I described our work in the Bahamas. On the contrary she summed up her feelings saying “what you are doing is analogous to what we’re doing here. One of the main benefits of your work is to make the dolphins real for people, to make people empathize with the dolphins and feel what they feel. People will protect only those things they love and your films certainly make people fall in love with those dolphins.”
Eventually exhaustion overcame adrenalin and we all drifted off to our sleeping bags.
In the morning we awakened and prepared for our trek up the hillside to where she expected we’d find one of the bands of chimps she had been working with for 27 years.
There was tea but the question of a heartier breakfast didn’t come up so I asked Dr. Goodall if I might have a banana off the large stalk resting near the front door.
“Those are for the chimps . . . but you can have one,” she replied, underlining the word “one”.
I felt so maladroit and wanted to explain that we were ocean and boat people – not Africa bush people. Our meals at sea were always served on demand and in great abundance. But I knew we’d flubbed it when we didn’t bring our own food.
The weather was equatorially hot and I sweated immediately through my khaki shirt as Nat, Julia and I climbed the hill. Occasionally Jane (she’d suggested we drop the Dr. bit and call her by her first name) would stop and point out a location where she’s first met a certain chimp or from which she had observed the troops before making close encounters. The combination of no food and dehydration lent the whole experience a not unpleasant hallucinogenic feel.
Near the top of the hill Jane led us to a cement block hut with a door consisting of stout iron bars. She explained that when she had her young son, whom she referred to as Grub, with her she’d had to lock him in the hut for fear that he would be kidnapped by the chimps. She also told us that Grub had come down with Schistosomiasis and that, while he was now well, might not have fully rid himself of the parasite. Give me sharks any day.
We put our gear into the hut along with the huge stalk of bananas. As we exited she threw the bolt and warned us “never leave this door open – even for an instant.” We nodded okay not bothering to ask why.
I set up my camera on a tripod and Julia got the recording devices ready and mic’d Jane. It was not long before a chimp sauntered into the clearing. He walked right up to Goodall and extended his hand, his long index finger looking like the model for the ceiling of the Cistine Chapel. Other chimps appeared on the periphery and baboons appeared scuttling around looking very deferential to the chimps. WE were aqbout to meet the most famous chimps in the world.

To be continued . . .The Great Banana Heist

For more stories of interspecies contacts in many oceans of the world read The Voice of the Dolphins by Hardy Jones, available in print and Kindle at Amazon.com

Friday, August 5, 2011

Metting Goodall: Of Dolphins and Chimps

by Hardy Jones

When I realized that our initial contacts with the spotted dolphins in the Bahamas were not a one-time event, it became clear there was an extraordinary opportunity to study a group of highly intelligent animals in the wild.
There was an obvious comparison between the work we were doing and the groundbreaking efforts of Dr. Jane Goodall at Gombe Stream Reserve in Tanzania. We had hoped to have her join us in the Bahamas but when that wasn’t possible my work on a PBS special in 1087 gave me the opportunity to visit her at her worksite on Lake Tanganyika.
The trip was not an easy one. Julia Whitty, Nat Katzman (a producer from PBS)) and I went through Nairobi on the way to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. We stayed at the legendary Norfolk Hotel, had magnificent breakfasts every morning and sortied out to various national parks to cover stories about people who were making a difference in the protection of wildlife in Kenya for our film “Saving the Wildlife”.
When we returned to the Norfolk one evening we found a letter under our door from Dr. Goodall asking us to bring a few things with us when we flew to meet her in Tanganyika. The request included motor parts, some T-shirts and hats. We wondered why she didn’t just get them in Dar Es Salaam but purchased and packed them for the flight.
After arrival in Dar Es Salaam we soon learned the reason for her request – the city had absolutely nothing available to buy. Nothing. No thing. The socialist regime of Julius Nyerere had absolutely ruined the economy. Small shops were open but had nothing to sell. When we sat down to breakfast there was a full menu. We ordered and the waiter dutifully noted our requests. And then nothing came. All we could get was tea and stale bread.
We flew in a twin-engine charter plane from Dar to Kigoma, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika close to the border with Burundi. There we were met by a small skiff powered by a single outboard motor and operated by two young African men who did not speak English. The vessel, sent by Dr. Goodall, was covered by a wooden roof held up by four two-by-twos.
Dr. Goodall had advised us to buy our own food in Kigoma to bring to her home site. We went to the market but the fruits, vegetables and meat were so covered with flies that we defaulted to “well, she’s got to have something better than this.”
Lake Tanganyika is the longest fresh water lake in the world measuring 675 kilometres north to south and is 500 feet deep in some areas, making it the second deepest lake in the world. We motored along the shore for a couple of hours appalled by endless hillsides absolutely denuded of trees. In some places the hills were gouged by runoff and the soil showed bright rust in color. In other areas the slopes were great burnt swaths. It was sickening.
A southerly wind pushed up some fairly good swells that helped our ramshackle vessel along at a good clip. We were starting to relax when the motor quit a hundred yards off a small village. We started drifting toward shore. The conversation turned to the highly poisonous water cobras common in the lake and the danger of exposure to the parasite Schistosomiasis. We weren’t sure but we’d heard that the parasitic worms or flukes could enter the urethra and make their way to the bladder. None of us were going to enter the water.
After 45 minutes the boat washed ashore on a beach just south of the village. The two young African men informed us by signs that they would run back to Kigoma to get a replacement part.
As we sat down on the beach a group of drunken men carrying assault rifles approached us. The had come from the civil war in the Congo just across the lake.
To be continued.