Cetacean scoop

Originally published in the Student, October 2012.


Photo credit: Jay Ebberly

Thirty years after the International Whaling Commission held its successful vote for a pause on commercial whaling in the Hilton Metropole Hotel in Brighton, the second annual Whalefest began, with famous naturalists, charities and organisations coming from all over the world to attend lectures, panel debates and book signings.

Although the number of whales killed each year has dramatically fallen since the official moratorium in 1986, proving it to be the most effective conservation legislation ever made, one thing was made clear by the collection of marine mammal experts present: this is a fight that is far from over. The ban on commercial whaling is still hotly debated each year, with the three main objecting countries (Japan, Iceland and Norway) arguing against the majority to lift the moratorium.

But this is not all: there are some other current issues that need urgent action and attention that were never far from any of the discussions about marine conservation.

At the moment, the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins are on the brink of extinction. Hector’s dolphins (pictured above) in New Zealand have suffered a 76 per cent decrease in their population since the introduction of nylon filament fishing nets. The subspecies of Maui’s dolphin is in even more danger, their numbers having depleted more than 94 per cent and their current annual declination rate is 7.5 per cent… leaving them very little time. After the 2006 extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin, this threat is very real. The New Zealand Government has opened a public consultation on new protection measures, allowing the public to voice their opinions about these dolphins’ right to species survival. For more information and the details on how to respond to this consultation, visit www.hectorsdolphins.com before Monday 12 November.

One of the other huge issues being discussed at the Whalefest was the case of the female orca Morgan (pictured below). She was found weak with exhaustion and hunger in shallow coastal waters off the Netherlands in June 2010, and was rescued by a dolphinarium in Harderwijk. Taking Morgan into captivity was justified by nursing her back to health, and after her pod was located and release plans were composed by the Free Morgan Group, the Harderwijk Dolphinarium sent her to a marine park in Spain that trains these huge marine predators to perform tricks for tourists in tiny pools, where she has received wounds from other stressed captive orcas. The Free Morgan Group (FMG) have launched several court cases to fight for her release, which has begun to represent other cases of this kind. For more information about the current court case (Thursday 1 November) and the FMG’s petition visit http://www.freemorgan.org.

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