Whale Protection Update

Progress: Since our article on the plight of the Western Gray Whale population off Sakhalin Island, Sakhalin Energy has postponed plans to construct a pipeline this summer pending further environmental studies. This may be in response to pressure from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development who had been approached for financial backing. This gives the whales respite for a year. In addition, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has acknowledged its "great concern" over the compelling evidence that this population is in "serious danger of extinction" and made a recommendation "as a matter of absolute urgency that measures be taken" to protect the Western Gray Whales. Thank you to those who wrote letters in support of the whales in response to our plea in this summer's AWI Quarterly. We need them more than ever, as recent news indicates that deals are being made for a 2007 plan to ship Sakhalin gas to a plant in Mexico, with pipeline distribution to California.

This spring we reported our success in persuading the Mexican government to deny an application by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) to conduct an extensive seismic study off the Yucatan Peninsula using the ship RV Maurice Ewing. Subsequently, LDEO re-applied to the Mexican government, and the Mexican state-owned oil company Pemex also applied to conduct a separate seismic search for oil and gas. In public meetings held this summer, our colleague Araceli Rodriguez of Grupo Ecologica Mayab and a Mexican fishing cooperative presented twenty years of evidence provided by AWI that showed airguns used for seismic testing severely damage fisheries. Mexico rejected both applications!

Set-backs: On July 3, as many as 200 highly stressed melon-headed whales were found tightly clustered against the beach in Hanalei Bay, Kauai, HI. This behavior is very unusual as melon-headed whales tend to be scarce deep water dwellers. Residents organized to keep the whales from stranding and learned that a six-ship Navy fleet had begun a military exercise nearby using mid-range active sonar that morning. The Navy denies culpability. Fortunately it appears that most of the whales survived the ordeal, though one baby whale was found dead.

Similarly, within a week of U.S. led NATO military exercises staged from July 11 to 16 off the Moroccan coast and involving more than 20 warships, dead whales started washing up on the nearby Canary Islands. By July 27, four beaked whales and a young sperm whale were dead, and two other dead whales washed up as far west as the Azores. Fourteen whales died during similar multinational military exercises in 2002 in the Canary Islands. Necropsies of the dead whales indicate a type of decompression sickness.