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Contemporary knowledge of impressive neurophysiology and behavior in cetaceans, combined with increasing opportunities for studying free-ranging cetaceans who initiate sociable interaction with humans, are converging to highlight serious ethical considerations and emerging opportunities for a new era of progressive and less-invasive cetacean research. Most research on cetacean cognition has taken place in controlled captive settings, e.g., research labs, marine parks. While these environments afford a certain amount of experimental rigor and logistical control they are fraught with limitations in external validity, impose tremendous stress on the part of the captive animals, and place burdens on populations from which they are often captured. Alternatively, over the past three decades, some researchers have sought to focus their attention on the presence of free-ranging cetacean individuals and groups who have initiated, or chosen to participate in, sociable interactions with humans in the wild. This new approach, defined as Interspecies Collaborative Research between cetacean and human, involves developing novel ways to address research questions under natural conditions and respecting the individual cetacean's autonomy. It also offers a range of potential direct benefits to the cetaceans studied, as well as allowing for unprecedented cognitive and psychological research on sociable mysticetes. Yet stringent precautions are warranted so as to not increase their vulnerability to human activities or pathogens. When conducted in its best and most responsible form, collaborative research with free-ranging cetaceans can deliver methodological innovation and invaluable new insights while not necessitating the ethical and scientific compromises that characterize research in captivity. Further, it is representative of a new epoch in science in which research is designed so that the participating cetaceans are the direct recipients of the benefits.
Citation: Marino L, Frohoff T (2011) Towards a New Paradigm of Non-Captive Research on Cetacean Cognition. PLoS ONE 6(9): e24121. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024121
Editor: Karen McComb, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Published: September 7, 2011
Copyright: © 2011 Marino, Frohoff. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
Funding: The authors have no support or funding to report.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
* E-mail: email@example.com
Cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises and whales) are an order of fully-aquatic mammals who have engrossed scientists and the public alike with their large complex brains, impressive intelligence, and social and communicative sophistication –. For a long time the study of these characteristics in cetaceans lagged behind the rich literature on cognitive, social and even cultural aspects of nonhuman primates. And, just as we have learned that some nonhuman primates possess such qualities as self-awareness, morality, culture, empathy and politics, we now have evidence for similar sophisticated abilities in cetaceans and other animals such as elephants. These developments have provided new lenses through which we have reconsidered these aspects of ourselves; the reference point by which we can view our own characteristics relative to other animals has expanded and diversified beyond the primates. Therefore, the complex sentience of other animals such as cetaceans must be recognized and their physical, psychological and behavioral needs appropriately protected. Accordingly, scientists are now faced with the task of accommodating this contemporary knowledge of cetacean neuroanatomy and behavior in ways that alter their research approaches and priorities.
Cognition refers to the thought processes of an individual; it typically comprises memory, problem-solving, concept formation, self-awareness, and other abilities that involve information processing at various levels and in various domains. It is important to define the term cognition in the context of our arguments in order to be clear about what kinds of studies we are proposing in this paper. Cognition can be assessed through indirect measures and inference as well as through direct tests. Ongoing long-term field studies of social complexity, foraging, and culture in dolphins and whales continue to yield some of the most intriguing insights into cetacean behavior. Examples include long-term observations of sponge-carrying in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in Shark Bay, Western Australia, which have led to the discovery of tool use in dolphins and provided important information about learning and cultural transmission – and work on communication among dolphins and whales which has produced insights into vocal learning and referential signaling in cetaceans in the wild –. Generally, field studies reveal the importance of cetaceans learning and remembering individuals within their community and recognizing their particular characteristics and interrelationships, all abilities reliant upon strong long-term memory and of relevance to cognition . Likewise, neuroanatomical postmortem studies of brain size, structure and complexity in dolphins and whales provide critical information about the neurobiological bases of intelligence and cognition and allow for inferences about these processes that may be tested through behavioral studies , .
Field and neuroanatomical studies like the ones mentioned above are potentially important sources of relevant data about cognition and promote the generation of hypotheses. But they often do not allow measures of cognitive abilities. In this paper we propose developing ways to more directly assess cognition in wild individuals that may replace studies in captivity and form the basis for a more extensive cognitive ethological approach in cetaceans; one that also encompasses aspects of their behavioral ecology. There are a number of protocols available for studying cognition that either can be potentially transferred to research on dolphins in the wild or are already being applied to study wild individuals, including cetaceans. We describe several below. One of the keys to being able to transfer cognitive tasks from the captive situation to the wild is the opportunity to work with individual dolphins one-on-one. Individuals known as lone sociable dolphins present the potential for doing so. Lone sociable dolphins are free-ranging cetacean individuals who are often solitary, yet, for one reason or another, have initiated, or participated in, sociable interactions with humans in the wild with some regularity , . Some of these individuals were orphaned and have become separated from their social group and are truly isolated from conspecifics. Others move back and forth between interactions with humans and members of their own (or other) species but nevertheless fall under the category of lone sociables. There are numerous known individual cetaceans who fit this description; mostly bottlenose dolphins in various regions (Tursiops truncatus), beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in Eastern Canada and orcas (Orcinus orca) in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. And while not all of them will be good candidates for research, many of them can be with the right circumstances and proclivities of the individual dolphin or dolphin group.
Cognitive Tasks with Cetaceans
Many cognitive tests assess processes such as learning, memory, communication, attention, the ability to discriminate stimuli, imitation, and preferences through basic procedures that involve repeated interactions with particular individuals. If these protocols are developed they could be used to assess cognitive capacities in lone sociable dolphins in the wild. As described later in this paper, interactions with lone sociables may, under certain circumstances, afford the opportunity to present stimuli of various kinds (including mirrors for testing self-awareness), present “choice paradigms” with objects to assess preferences, and initiate simple training procedures that can be used to probe learning and memory and other cognitive abilities. Most of these kinds of tests do not require an extensive experimental set-up but are dependent upon regular access to an individual in a way that allows a certain degree of methodological consistency.
Communication and language research has been one of the most vigorous areas of cetacean study. Studies of natural communication have been ongoing for decades and can be complemented by further work using new technologies and methods. These studies typically involve acoustic and visual recording in order to extract correlations among sounds, behavior and context. Playback experiments - a set of techniques by which natural or synthetic signals are broadcast to an animal or groups of animals and the response noted – are subsequently used to reveal what listeners know about the broadcast signal or the signaller that produced it. These kinds of studies have typically been conducted with groups of cetaceans but can also be applied to individuals in order to learn more about how individuals process communicative sounds. Capabilities to perform this sort of research will grow with our ability to create increasingly sophisticated pattern detection algorithms, present relevant stimuli in playback experiments, and monitor the detailed behavioral responses of subjects underwater.
One of the main goals of research with captive cetaceans has been to determine whether dolphins and other cetaceans can comprehend an artificial symbolic language. The work in captivity heretofore has provided important insights into cetacean intelligence and cognition , . However, similar methods can potentially be used to engage individual lone sociable dolphins in tests of language comprehension. For instance, interactive underwater keyboards containing visual symbols that dolphins could select have been used to study these skills in captive dolphins , providing a closer approximation to two-way communication. Denise Herzing and her colleagues piloted the use of an underwater keyboard with a habituated group of wild spotted dolphins with some success. Moreover, Herzing and collaborators from Georgia Tech in Atlanta are currently developing a cutting-edge technology that will potentially provide a much more sophisticated interactive interface for human-dolphin communication in the wild. Although these efforts are challenging and not a guarantee of success, they represent the promise of applying new technologies to the study of communication and language comprehension in wild dolphins.
Why do we need a new paradigm for cetacean cognition research?
There are advantages and disadvantages to studying dolphins and whales in captivity versus the natural setting. Research in captivity affords a level of experimental control and internal validity that cannot be as easily achieved in the natural setting. Decades of research on captive dolphins has resulted in a rich literature on their intelligence, self-awareness, and cognitive abilities . On the other hand, captive studies are limited in external validity for a variety of reasons. These comprise the unknown and largely uncontrollable developmental-cognitive effects of living in an artificial physical, perceptual and social environment on the generalizability of findings to wild cetaceans. Captive studies may be confounded by the physical and psychological stress and trauma evidenced in illnesses and aberrant dolphin behavior described below. Also studies of wild dolphins may reveal behaviors and capacities that are absent or diminished in captivity. Recently, a study of a group of wild chimpanzees revealed that their gestural repertoire was over twice the size suggested by studies of captive chimpanzees . Such studies suggest that captivity may truncate capacities under some circumstances and lead to inaccurate conclusions. On the other hand, there are also difficulties and limitations associated with interacting with wild dolphins and, in particular, lone sociable dolphins, who may not be representative of other dolphins who live in normal wild social groups.
As important as the above pro and con arguments are, there is an arguably more compelling reason to consider adopting a new paradigm for studying cetacean cognition. This has to do with the essential importance of adjusting our behaviors, protocols, and paradigms to the very information provided by our scientific endeavors. In our view, the conclusion from decades of cumulative results of both captive and field studies is that cetaceans possess a level of intelligence, awareness and psychological and emotional sensitivity that makes it unacceptable to continue to keep them in captivity if not necessary for their welfare, survival, or conservation. We do not deny that captive studies have contributed substantially to this conclusion. Our point is that now that we have this knowledge about cetaceans it is incumbent upon us to revise our approaches to studying them.
How and why captivity harms cetaceans
Captivity for both wild-caught and captive-born cetaceans is devastating on a number of levels ranging from harm to the captive individuals to negative impacts on entire populations in the wild, even when even a small number of individuals are removed from their social groups , . There is a copious scientific literature confirming the damaging effects of captivity on dolphin and whale physical health and psychological well-being. The challenges to cetaceans in captivity are numerous beginning with the physical constraints of the artificial enclosures (regardless of how natural they may appear to humans aesthetically) that limit physical exercise and are often harmful in other ways to the cetaceans' distinctive physiology . Confinement impacts social relationships, degrades autonomy through the imposition of an enforced schedule of activity and behavior, causes boredom produced by a relatively sterile and unchanging environment, induces frustration, and inhibits incentives and abilities to carry out natural behaviors such as hunting and traveling. While awareness of how husbandry in cetaceans in captivity can be significantly improved is increasing , the abundant evidence for stress, disease and increased mortality in captive cetaceans is an inevitable outcome of such confinement, loss of control and deprivation where dolphins are held subordinate to humans in unnatural physical and social conditions.
There is ample anatomical and behavioral evidence that dolphins are not only self-aware but also emotionally sensitive and psychologically complex , , –. Many captive cetaceans display physiological and behavioral abnormalities indicative of psychological distress and emotional disturbance. These include stereotyped behavior –, unresponsiveness, excessive submissiveness, hyper-sexual behavior (towards humans or other dolphins), self-inflicted physical trauma and mutilation , stress-induced vomiting , compromised immunology ,  and excessive aggressiveness towards other dolphins and humans , . One of the more dramatic forms of aberrant behavior in captive cetaceans is evidenced in the long record of orcas and other dolphins killing and seriously injuring humans, other whales, and themselves in captivity –. These statistics are striking considering that there is not a single recorded instance of an orca seriously harming, let alone killing, a human being in the wild. Moreover, serious aggression among orcas in the wild is relatively low and most injuries, e.g., rake marks, are superficial . These discrepancies in aggression and aberrant behavior between cetaceans in the wild and captivity provide particularly clear evidence for psychological and behavioral disturbances in captive orcas.
Stress and Disease.
Stress derives from many aspects of captivity, not the least of which is that associated with the many changes in social groupings and isolation that occur in captivity. Social relationships play a critical role in the lives and well-being of dolphins and whales. Bottlenose dolphins, orcas, and other cetaceans are not merely gregarious. They form complex societies with dynamic social roles in intricate social networks ,  many with cultural traditions , . In the wild individuals can have very strong and long-lasting relationships . In the “resident” orca groups of the Northeast Pacific, both sons and daughters remain with their mothers in their matrilineal cultures . Conflict in the wild is resolved effectively through various means that include dispersion and shifting alliances within large groups of animals , an opportunity not afforded by captivity. Social group composition is dynamic and fluid with individuals exerting choice about their associations. In the confines of captivity where social groups are often artificially constructed and transferred in and out of different pools and facilities without choice, and there is not enough room or social support to resolve conflict, dolphins and whales suffer extreme stress that has led to reduced life expectancy . Waples and Gales (2002) state that a decline in fitness, reproductive and physiological problems or even death can be the result of an animal being subjected to stress. There are several cases where stress, social stress in particular, was the probable cause of illness and death in captive bottlenose dolphins . Several studies ,  provide overviews of behavioral measures of dolphin welfare related to stress in captivity.
Furthermore, the U.S. Marine Mammal Inventory Report  lists numerous stress-related disorders, such as ulcerative gastritis, perforating ulcer, cardiogenic shock and psychogenic shock as ‘cause of death’ in captive cetaceans, strongly indicating that stress is an important component of captive display. Moreover, recent work shows that handling and transportation of captive dolphins is so stressful that it can decrease their immune system function .
The effects of increased stress and disease in captive cetaceans are evident in the mortality records as well. Up until a few years ago mortality rates were significantly higher in captivity than in known wild populations of bottlenose dolphins. Only recently have survivorship statistics in captivity (6.4%) reached a level not statistically significantly different from that thought to exist in the wild (3.9%) –. The best estimate of average and maximum lifespan for captive and wild bottlenose dolphins is about 25 and 45 years, respectively . But there are biases in these data that make it doubtful that bottlenose dolphins live as long in captivity as in the wild (see below).
Importantly, bottlenose dolphins face a six-fold increase in risk of mortality immediately after capture from the wild and immediately after every transfer between facilities . These findings demonstrate that the stresses associated with transfer from one captive facility to another and capture from the wild are similar.
For orcas the discrepancy in mortality rates between captivity and the wild is even greater. The natural average lifespan for male and female orcas is 29.2 and 50.2 years, respectively, with a maximum longevity of 60 and 90 years, respectively , –. In captivity most orcas do not survive much past the age of 20 years ( for a review). DeMaster and Drevenak  estimated the annual mortality rate for captive orcas at 7.0%, and two further studies, Small and DeMaster (1995) and Woodley et al (1994) both estimated (captive) annual mortality rates at 6.2% (excluding calves) , , considerably higher than the 2.3% annual mortality rate figure for wild populations . Moreover, there is evidence suggesting belugas die prematurely in captivity as well .
It should be noted, when interpreting any of the above findings, that survivorship statistics from captive facilities often exclude periods of sharply increased mortality – those associated with capture and transfer. According to Small and DeMaster (1995)  the first 60 days of captivity should not be taken into account when calculating survival rates for wild-born individuals, since the mortality during this time is so high. Further, remote locations and many non-western or developing countries were not included in these studies; hence it is likely that the worst of these facilities were omitted from these data. These biases can easily lead to artificially inflated survivorship data.
All of these findings provide empirical evidence that captivity is harmful to cetaceans, resulting in abnormal behavior, stress-related disease, and, ultimately, high mortality/short lifespans. This state of affairs is not only unfavorable as a context for scientific work it makes the confinement of cetaceans for research purposes difficult to defend ethically.
Given all of the disadvantages of maintaining cetaceans in captivity for research, how should we move forward if we wish to continue learning about and from cetaceans? The answer lies in building upon ongoing research in the natural habitat and using these various efforts to create a new paradigm of research on cetacean cognition.
Results and Discussion Top
A New Paradigm of Interspecies Collaborative Research
An ethically and scientifically progressive research paradigm takes into account current knowledge about the complex psychological and sociological needs and capacities of cetaceans as well as the increasing anthropogenic challenges to their survival worldwide. A new era of cetacean research has been developing ‘beneath the surface’ over the past three decades that exemplifies a more responsive approach to what we now know to be key aspects of both individual cetacean wellbeing and conservation. This new approach is called Interspecies Collaborative Research (ICR) , . ICR amounts to optimizing existing natural conditions for the primary benefit of the cetacean rather than imposing artificial ones for the sole benefit of the researcher. (Moreover, this new paradigm does not include research on captive animals unless exceptional circumstances exist that involve rehabilitation and eventual transfer to a sanctuary or release to the wild as well as mutual cooperation in the absence of human withholding of positive stimuli or applying negative reinforcement.).
Possibilities for studying free-ranging cetaceans who initiate close proximity and even sociable interactions with humans have been providing unique scientific opportunities for an era of less-invasive cetacean research. Inherent to the methodology of ICR is respect for and protection of cetacean individuals, groups, societies, and cultures. We now know that the survivorship of individuals is inextricably linked to that of their culture ,  and a population's ability to survive may be particularly dependent upon the cultural role of key individuals in their group - so that the concept of wellbeing must encompass all levels of concern ranging from the individual to the society. ICR offers unique insights and methodologies concordant with new empirical data compelling us to reevaluate what is rigorous and ethical science with respect to the individual as well as the conservation of entire populations and species.
Habituation and interspecies sociability in the wild has certainly been explored in prior years by pioneering scientists such as Jane Goodall with chimpanzees in the 1960's and Cynthia Moss with elephants beginning in the 1970's. But the line between the observer and the observed is especially blurred when cetaceans initiate aspects of close proximity and sociability towards human boaters and swimmers. The choice of some free-ranging dolphins and whales (as individuals and in groups) to initiate or participate in sustained physical proximity and even sociable interactions with humans is somewhat unique among wild animals (especially those not provisioned with food). What we knew of as fables of free-ranging dolphins exhibiting sociable behavior towards humans from times of antiquity  are realities encountered by modern day researchers.
Interspecies cetacean-human sociability in the wild involves a continuum of behaviors in which cetaceans approach, or are receptive to human approach, and exhibit close and sustained physical proximity with humans that may include prolonged visual and acoustic contact and exchange, and may even involve tactile sociable contact, acoustic and postural mimicry, and play , . Cetacean sociality with humans ranges from the extreme of solitary individuals who are geographically isolated from conspecifics (typically, young orcas or belugas who have been orphaned but are nutritionally weaned) to individuals who interact with conspecifics, e.g., bottlenose dolphins (though some are solitary), mother and calf pairs of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus), humpback whales (Megaptera novaeanglia) individually or in groups, dwarf minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) in groups, and whole populations of spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the Bahamas.
Unique opportunities for studying cetaceans with deference to their choice, on their terms, and in their own environments are providing alternatives to more invasive methods of scientific investigation.
Over the past few decades, not only have dolphin- and whale-watching become popularized, but even in-water encounters with dolphins and whales have become commercialized in various areas around the world -. The commercial aspects of observing cetaceans in their natural habitat are certainly preferable to the unsustainable (let alone cruel) aspects of intentionally slaughtering. Yet, it is critical to acknowledge that close contact with any wild animals, including dolphins and whales, can present serious risks for cetaceans (and humans) and implementation of precautions are warranted to protect them .
ICR with Solitary Cetaceans
A unique situation arises when cetacean individuals socialize exclusively with humans or have somehow lost contact with and access to conspecifics. When addressing such lone, sociable cetaceans research protocols can and should be developed to do “double-duty” as protection and enrichment on the one hand and data collection on cetacean psychology on the other , .
In the only on-site assessment of multiple species of solitary, sociable odontocetes (toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises) over numerous years, Frohoff identified three critical aspects of successful protection of solitary individuals (especially apparent when implemented in stewardship programs with Catherine Kinsman designed to protect orphaned and isolated belugas); (1) early assessment of the unique and varied risks encountered by each individual as well as any distinctive behavioral or physical qualities, (2) carefully designed, but nimble and quickly-implemented protocols tailored for each circumstance to mitigate risks to the cetaceans (and sometimes humans), and (3) early implementation of research (including aspects of communicative, cognitive, psychological and emotional complexity) feeding back directly into the second aspect, risk management and promoting wellbeing -.
In the past, scientific documentation of sociable interactions with cetaceans has almost entirely been with odontocetes and typically with members of the family Delphinidae, particularly bottlenose dolphins (Figure 1). However, notable exceptions have been documented in the lone, sociable beluga whales (family: Monodontidae) observed annually for the past ten years under the Whale Stewardship Project and TerraMar Research ,  and for two orcas (see various contributors in both , ). These studies are the first in the world of their kind for orphaned and solitary individuals of these species. In the intensive research efforts for the belugas, it was found that the interactive behaviors of these individuals with humans, boats and other objects were complex and numerous. Frohoff and Kinsman have, to date, collected approximately 500 hours of videotape data for seven individual belugas over a decade. Previously, orphaned and solitary belugas were considered demographic and behavioral anomalies, but their more commonplace occurrences have brought attention to their importance in conservation. With the marked increase in the number of orphans spotted over time, uncertainty about the cause of these orphanings, and a deepened understanding of the role of sociality in overall odontocete population viability, the study and protection of these individuals is of critical conservation concern . The proximal objectives have been to study and support the factors important to each beluga's physical, psychological, and behavioral health and then apply this knowledge to long term conservation.
Figure 1. Free-ranging dolphin in the Irish Sea initiating what became a collaborative “choice” study.
(Photo: Ute Margreff).
The beluga whale named “Q” is one of several orphaned whales who Frohoff and Kinsman have studied over the past decade. This beluga has not only been monitoring the researchers in turn (as interpreted by frequent approaches and often sustained proximity to us, with prolonged visual and acoustic observations,) but has displayed an astonishing array of interesting behaviors that can be explored to study cognition (Figure 2). For example, Kinsman reported a behavior of interest when reviewing footage from a remotely-operated underwater video camera beneath the boat. She noted: “When you see the beluga looking into the extra-wide lens of the camera, he is apparently watching what is a reflection of himself in that reflective lens.” (C. Kinsman, personal communication 2010). Presentation with a mirror (or playing sounds resembling those made by other cetaceans) to an isolated cetacean individual may mislead them into thinking they are not alone and could potentially therefore be undesirable and unethical. Yet, mirror self-recognition tests may be perfectly reasonable choices for dolphins and whales who are already in the company of conspecifics in the wild.
Figure 2. Beluga “Q” observing occupant of boat.
(Photo: Catherine Kinsman).
ICR Research with Cetacean Groups
In addition to the study of cognition and other aspects of individual psychology, ICR has also been developed through ongoing efforts to study habituated groups of wild cetaceans. One such example is that of The Wild Dolphin Project, led by Denise Herzing. This research, in its 25th year, involves observations and interactions with a habituated group of wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the Bahamas. These spotted dolphins also frequently swim with bottlenose dolphins affording the opportunity to observe natural inter-species dolphin behavior. The goal is to develop a two-way communication system between humans and dolphins and to accomplish these studies with the least amount of invasiveness possible and, importantly, on the dolphins' own terms. This research uses the psychological model of distributed cognition, using observable and measurable phenomena to infer the flow of information in a group of cetaceans. Anticipating a watershed change in cognitive research on dolphins. Herzing and Johnson (2006, p.554)  wrote:
“Data from observational settings may be critical… when the cognitive laboratories of the past no longer exist or no longer conduct experimental cognitive work.”
Another example of ICR that combines protection and research in the wild is that of the Orca Research Trust, lead by Ingrid Visser in New Zealand and other parts of the world where orcas are found. This work provides proof of concept that important research can be done with individual as well as groups of wild orcas. This research project led to recent detailed reports of a special type of cooperative hunting among orcas in which they work together to create waves to displace penguins and seals on ice floes . These findings, along with other similar reports, provide insight into the cognitive capacities of orcas. Much of the research done by Visser involves interaction with habituated individual orcas as well – an approach made possible by engaging the orcas in their familiar natural habitat.
ICR presents unprecedented opportunities for studying cognition and psychology in mysticetes (baleen whales) as well. In some parts of the world, gray, minke, and humpback whales are well known for their “friendly” behavior towards humans; although the degree and form of attraction and sociability towards humans varies widely across whale individuals, species, and locations. In the Baja lagoons in Mexico where the northwest Eastern Pacific gray whales migrate annually to breed and give birth, a tradition of sorts has developed over the past few decades in which some whales often initiate prolonged visual and even tactile interaction with boaters , . After having documented aspects of this unique type of interspecies communication, Frohoff has been exploring the potential for cognitive and psychological studies; including carefully implemented mirror response studies with the whales who approach the small boats; a rare opportunity for looking into the minds of mysticetes in a minimally intrusive way and one that may yield results supporting their increased protection (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Frohoff studying cognitive and communicative aspects of "friendly" gray whale behavior is an example of the unprecedented research opportunities for collaborative research in mysticetes (baleen whales).
Photo: Toni Frohoff.
The potential for collaborative research between the two species is beautifully illustrated in these lagoons; particularly when regulations honoring the need for space and privacy for the whales are judiciously self-enforced by the boat operators and whale watchers. Also, one of the best examples of the benefits of wildlife-tourism dollars on wildlife conservation can be found here given the notable influence of these funds on the government protection of these lagoons for the whales . The need for reciprocity inherent in research, let alone in whale-watching, is perhaps no more clear than when mother whales bring their calves and initiate and seem to encourage gentle touch and even play with boaters. Also warranting respect are situations in which humpback whales and minke whales in other parts of the world not only tolerate, but sometimes approach humans in the water. Frohoff (in progress) is currently documenting the in-water interactions that are occurring between humans and humpback whales and analyzing them alone and also relative to in-water human interactions with free-ranging groups of odontocetes she has studied (including spotted, spinner, and bottlenose dolphins). Accordingly, while studying the cognitive and communicative aspects of these interactions, the concordant research goal is to assess the differential impacts of contact with humans and to encourage the amelioration of any identified negative effects and expanding on those that may be positive for these “friendly” cetaceans.
Caveats and Precautions
Despite the range of potential direct benefits to the cetaceans studied, this new research paradigm is not without its need for stringent precautionary measures for their protection. The same risks inherent in direct or indirect recreational interaction with these cetaceans need to be carefully considered and mitigated. For example, care needs to be taken that habituation, or the positive reinforcement of increased habituation, of free-ranging animals does not occur (except in unique circumstances) given the clearly demonstrated dangers that such misplaced trust in humans can have for cetaceans. And exposure to humans can also increase susceptibility to pathogens ,  just as there are health risks for marine mammal workers handling diseased cetaceans . But Geraci and Ridgway (1991) stated that microorganisms introduced into a pre-existing microbial pool – such as would naturally exist in the wild – would have “no particular benefit or harm to a healthy, immunologically competent animal” [77, p. 192]. Common sense suggests that disease transmission risks for dolphins in the wild are much less than in confined quarters due to the dispersal of microorganisms in an open environment. Also, risks of brief tactile interactions would be mitigated by healthy human investigators who would avoid mucus membranes and other inappropriate touching such as is often observed when these lone sociables interact with the general public . Taken together, although there is always a risk of disease transmission and injury, well-controlled interactions between professionals and cetaceans in open waters represents the least risky scenario when compared with those in captivity where micro-organisms are more concentrated and cetaceans are stressed and confined.
In addition, the integrity of the research methods themselves needs to be maintained through creative procedures that will render meaningful data in the wild. Methodological and logistical challenges to the human researcher working in the natural environment can be intensive anytime, but especially so when responding respectfully to the often unexpected choices and timing initiated by the cetaceans. Such spontaneous events (some involving real-time participation) require that researchers be flexible, and highly prepared for the rapid and unexpected changes that occur in the natural setting. Because no aspect of the situation is controlled, copious detailed records must always be maintained in order to preserve the validity and reliability of the observations.
Just as the psychological and emotional wellbeing of solitary and orphaned individuals is likely much more fragile and precarious than that of any other type of free-ranging cetacean (see above mentioned ethical concerns about mirror self recognition and auditory experiments), so is their vulnerability to serious injury and early mortality, especially in the case of young individuals and solitary belugas and orcas (who seem to be particularly susceptible to injuries from boat propellers) , . Therefore, implementation of judicious precautionary welfare measures should take priority in these contexts. Yet because of the unique needs of these individuals, they may be in the most need for the potential benefits of enrichment and support that collaborative research may provide for them. Regardless, precautionary measures in any context are always good practice if such research is to yield benefits for the individuals, let alone the species.
Moving Forward: Integrating Research with Ethical Responsibility
There is no single and comprehensive prescription for the design of protocols for ICR, yet some commonalities have been observed across species and situations that can inform this approach. In groups of cetaceans as well as solitary individuals who interact closely with humans, research has shown that successful efforts are directly related to early implementation and consistency of on-site, pro-active protection and research programs , . Studies on lone, sociable cetaceans of various species such as bottlenose dolphins and beluga whales , ,  have shown that ongoing, systematic research integrated with responsible decisions about protection and conservation provide vital feedback on how our interactions with cetaceans affect their welfare.
The suitability and feasibility for the release of various dolphins to the wild has been debated also and almost as much as has the conservation and welfare related ethics of capturing free ranging dolphins for captivity. Yet if some dolphins are considered unequivocally to be non-releasable to the wild once captive (for health or survival reasons), the question of what is best for them should be at the forefront of consideration. Sanctuaries exist for virtually every type of animal, both domestic and wild, except for small cetaceans. A true dolphin sanctuary, defined as being created and operated primarily for the benefit of the dolphins rather than for the gain of people, has not yet been formally created. Sanctuary-living would be preferable to the stresses of being maintained in the confinement of artificial tanks. Any knowledge gained about dolphins and whales while in sanctuary is of value and importance but, as with wild individuals, collected on the cetaceans' terms.
Limited Resources for Critical Needs
Resources have been severely limited for ICR programs. Only about 20% of the videotaped data on solitary, sociable belugas have been quantitatively analyzed to date and the researchers … “have been unable to capitalize on numerous unique opportunities to implement wild-based studies in areas such as cognition and acoustics” (66 pg. 27). Attempts by Frohoff and others to implement protection and enrichment programs coinciding with research, such as was in the case of an orphaned and solitary orca named “Luna” (who was subsequently killed by a boat's propeller), as well as for various belugas and other habituated cetaceans, have been thwarted by outdated policies and limited funding. But with an infusion of support, ICR is poised to open up new avenues of understanding between humans and cetaceans.
When conducted responsibly, ICR is a collaborative endeavor with other species that creates a two-way lens of observation, i.e. it is the humans who are also being observed and the other species are afforded at least as much choice in participating as the researchers. This approach can open up unparalleled opportunities for obtaining data about normative aspects of cetacean behavior, lifestyle, culture, and some of the more subtle and nuanced, yet vital, aspects of cetacean cognition, communication, emotion, sociality, and behavioral ecology. Moreover, this method also allows for cognitive research on the larger sociable mysticetes which has been, up to now, almost nonexistent. When conducted in its best, most rigorous, and most conscientious form, interspecies collaborative research with free-ranging cetaceans can deliver methodological innovation and invaluable new insights without the ethical and scientific compromises that characterize research in captivity. Researchers may be surprised at what we can learn not only from cetaceans and other animals, but also about ourselves as a species, particularly as we relate to the natural world.
The authors would like to thank Catherine Kinsman and Ken Petersen, Ann Smith, Wildquest, Tom Conlin of Aquatic Adventures, Ute Margreff, Baja Discovery, Baja Expeditions and all of the supporters of TerraMar Research & Learning Institute and Whale Stewardship Project.
Author Contributions Top
Conceived and designed the experiments: TF. Performed the experiments: TF. Analyzed the data: LM TF. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: TF. Wrote the paper: LM TF.
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Wednesday, 22 February 2012
“A French court on Monday (13 Feb 2012) declared U.S. biotech giant Monsanto guilty of chemical poisoning of a French farmer, a judgment that could lend weight to other health claims against pesticides.
In the first such case heard in court in France, grain grower Paul Francois, 47, says he suffered neurological problems including memory loss, headaches and stammering after inhaling Monsanto’s Lasso weedkiller in 2004.”
That is an extract from : « Monsanto Guilty: Paul Francois, French Farmer, Poisoned By Biotech Giant’s Chemicals (in English) », a very complete story on the case in the Huffington Post Site.
Tuesday, 21 February 2012
No life can measure what we have achieved
By whaling and slaughtering, so much to be grieved
It’s time to support the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans
Protect dolphins, whales and porpoises as "non-human persons"
Intelligent beings should have a legally enforceable right to life
How can anyone not support this glorious plight?
We have the same intelligence and we are self-aware
This is why we should all care
They recognise themselves in a mirror in a short blink
Lori Marino has found that dolphins also think
Whales are very clever – and they sing beautiful songs
Listen to David Rothenberg's interspecies communication
Try to sing along
But we also know cetaceans are suffering – something is wrong
They have chronic stress – shipping traffic is to blame
With military nuclear breaching – whales end up beaching
Whales and dolphins captured for Sea World tortures
Nature’s intelligence - massacred in Taiji by ignorance
If you want to know more – watch “The Cove” and see all that gore
Japanese whaling in the name of research, whales are left in the lurch
It’s irresponsible and only for business gain
Save beautiful beings like dolphins and whales
Stand up and fight for the Declaration of Cetaceans Rights
We know that when we disrespect and harm nature
We diminish ourselves and impoverish our future
“Mother Earth is a living being”
We’re part of her indivisible breathing
Intrinsically interlinked complex ecosystems
We need them for resilience and our future existence
“All life forms have the right to exist”
That’s what the Declaration insists
“A human right to life and dignity
Is meaningless without water and wilderness”
Remember, what your life means to you
And give back that love to our Earth Mother too
For cetaceans to thrive like you and me
I wrote this song for you to see
Imagine a world with peace and no crime
We could all be having a whale of a time!
Poem written by Irene Schleining
Whale of a Time - www.whaleofatime.org
The Guardian, Tuesday 21 February 2012
Fishermen drive bottle-nose dolphins into a net during their annual hunt off Taiji, Japan. Photograph: Kyodo News/AP
Campaigners who believe that dolphins and whales should be granted rights on account of their intelligence are to push for the animals to be protected under international law.
A group of scientists and ethicists argues there is sufficient evidence of the marine mammals' intelligence, self-awareness and complex behaviour to enshrine their rights in legislation.
Under the declaration of rights for cetaceans, a term that includes dolphins, whales and porpoises, the animals would be protected as "non-human persons" and have a legally enforceable right to life.
If incorporated into law, the declaration would bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, and marine parks, aquariums and other entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.
"We're saying the science has shown that individuality, consciousness and self-awareness are no longer unique human properties. That poses all kinds of challenges," said Tom White, director of the Centre for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
"Dolphins are non-human persons. A person needs to be an individual. And if individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being. The captivity of beings of this sort, particularly in conditions that would not allow for a decent life, is ethically unacceptable, and commercial whaling is ethically unacceptable," White said.
The group spoke at the annual meeting in Vancouver of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, to raise support for the declaration among scientists and the visiting public. The 10-point declaration sets out a framework to protect cetaceans' "life, liberty and wellbeing", including rights to freedom of movement and residence in their natural environment, and protection against "disruption of their cultures".
"The next step is taking the science and advocating for law in different places, from a regional point of view, from a national point of view, and eventually from a multinational and international view," said Chris Butler-Stroud of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Decades of research on cetaceans, and dolphins in particular, has revealed that their brains, while markedly different from humans, are large, complex and capable of sophisticated behaviour. Observations of dolphins have shown that they can recognise themselves, use tools and understand symbols and abstract concepts.
In 2001, Lori Marino of Emory University in Atlanta, who is promoting the declaration, tested whether dolphins recognised themselves by drawing temporary marks on different parts of their bodies and watching them check the mark by swimming up to an immersed mirror. "When we did that with two dolphins they passed with flying colours," she said.
Orcas off Patagonia displayed a seemingly extraordinary act when an aged member of the group suffered jaw damage and could no longer eat properly. The whale's companions kept the animal alive by feeding it. "The animal, we would say, was past its sell-by date, an older creature. They must have conceptualised that if it wasn't fed, something would have happened to it, and they were able to work out what was needed to keep it alive," said Butler-Stroud.
At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, a dolphin named Kelly outwitted its human keepers and passed on some of its tricks to its offspring. Dolphins at the centre were rewarded with fish if they collected litter from their tanks and carried it in their mouths to the staff but Kelly found a weakness in the scheme. When people dropped paper into her tank, she hid it under a rock on the bottom. When a keeper next approached, she swam down and tore a small piece off, and returned to the surface to claim her reward. She worked out that a small piece of paper earned the same reward as a big piece, and so maximised her meals.
Then one day, Kelly managed to grab a gull that flew into the tank. When she delivered it to her keepers, she got an especially large fish reward. The next time Kelly was fed she hid the fish at the bottom of the pool, and later brought it to the surface to lure more gulls into the pool. The strategy proved so successful that she taught her offspring, who went on to teach others.
Though much of the declaration is intended to bring pressure on whaling nations and venues that keep cetaceans in captivity, the document has major implications for conservation programmes and environmental assessments that impinge on communities of dolphins, whales and other cetaceans.
As an early step, the special rights for cetaceans are being considered by the UN as part of its convention on migratory species, which aims to protect migrating species over their entire ranges.
Enshrining the rights in law could be some time, though. "If we are lucky it could take 10 years," said White. "We are at the stage of climate scientists 20 years ago. This is the first step."
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
Sunday, 12 February 2012
Simon Dale is a family man in Wales, the western part of Great Britain. His interest in self-sustainability and an ecological awareness led him to dig out and build his own home—one of the loveliest, warmest, most inviting dwellings you could ever imagine. And it cost him only £3,000, about $4,700 American dollars!
Can you imagine a more charming entrance than this?
Simon gives two reasons for building the home. The first elegant one, from his website, is:
It’s fun. Living your own life, in your own way is rewarding. Following our dreams keeps our souls alive.
His second reason is a plea for sustainability, in which he states that “our supplies are dwindling and our planet is in ecological catastrophe”. You can read the full and passionate statement here.
Simon is also a photographer, and as you can see throughout this article, a talented one.
A beautiful view in another home that Simon is helping build for someone else. (Originally, this was mistakenly identified as a photo of the home he and his family are living in.)
The tools are fairly simple. The main concession to modernity was a chainsaw, which he used to cut down about 30 small trees. No old growth forest fell to his family’s needs. He focused on tools that used his own energy, like shovel, chisel, and hammer. Yet it took him only four months to produce this lovely home.
The home is constructed from wood, stone, straw, and has a sod roof. It’s heated with a wood fireplace and has a solar panel for power. Most materials were scavenged. The effect, though, isn’t of a run-down get-by-with-second-best sort. It’s creative, artistic, elegant, and cozy.Most amazingly, the home didn’t require years of training or experience. Simon had none. He’s not an architect. He’s not an engineer. He’s not a carpenter. He started from scratch in every sense. He told the Daily Mail:
Being your own have-a-go architect is a lot of fun and allows you to create and enjoy something which is part of yourself and the land rather than, at worst, a mass-produced box designed for maximum profit and the convenience of the construction industry.
Building from natural materials does away with producers’ profits and the cocktail of carcinogenic poisons that fill most modern buildings.
He was fortunate in obtaining the land for his home. The plot, a bit of a large piece, was given to him in exchange for its caretaking.
Simon Dale, his wife Jasmine Saville, and their two children in front of their completed home just 4 months after starting it! This and all photos on this page are by Simon Dale (http://simondale.net).
The attention to making the home eco-friendly extends to a compost toilet, the use of straw over a plastic layer for insulation, and a refrigerator that’s cooled with air that flows from under the home’s foundation. Cement is a high carbon emitter, so the interior walls are finished with lime plaster instead of cement plaster.
Simon is now involved in building another home for the Lammas Project, an organization dedicted to low-impact building. Focus is not only on the homes themselves, but also on planting trees and gardens, and on low impact living in general. Here’s how he sums up his view on his home and the Lammas Project:
This building is one part of a low-impact or permaculture approach to life. This sort of life is about living in harmony with both the natural world and ourselves, doing things simply and using appropriate levels of technology. These sort of low cost, natural buildings have a place not only in their own sustainability, but also in their potential to provide affordable housing which allows people access to land and the opportunity to lead more simple, sustainable lives.
I cannot imagine a home more lovely, appealing, and livable than this one. This could be and should be the wave of the future in home building.
For more information about Simon Dale’s home, plans, and more photos, please go to his website, A Low Impact Woodland Home.
By Irene Schleining
Whale of a Time
The birth of the Occupy movement stirs sleepy nations
Crying out for environmental, social and economic liberations
While the G20 summit is in the red zone to resolve the Eurozone -
Greece, Italy and Spain are zoned out in deprivation
While governments search for a deficit cure
Budgets are cut for society’s poor
While climate change in Durban struggles to find an ear
Farmers are struggling to keep crops alive amid droughts in fear
While the Occupy Movement is expanding to all lands
People are joining in global conversation to take matters in their own hands.
With the Occupy Agenda seeking referenda with some extra time
Ideas issued in the “Bank of Ideas” are paving the way for a new paradigm
The campaign against the injustices of the global financial system calls for “an end to tax havens and tax avoidance”
The small tax payer is looking for condolence
“More transparency over business lobbying”, no more space for bargaining!
Clear calls to prosecute executives, a legal reform, that should be the norm
Our fundamental message is that we are all affected. We’re all connected - Entangled in the web of life
Stand up for justice in our fight!
Occupy for Nature’s Right!
Corporate Executives are having a laugh, but enough is enough!
As we all know from Annie Leonard’s “Story of Stuff”
Corporations need limitations, to avoid people’s and nature’s deprivations
Democracy has been kidnapped by global corporations, with insufficient regulations
Banks without social nor environmental responsibility, exploitation without taxation nor liability.
It’s the “End Of The Line” in 2009, with fish stock decline
Whales and dolphins captured for Sea World tortures
Nature’s intelligence - massacred in Taiji by ignorance
Rainforests – the green lungs of the planet, more than half already vanished -
Traded for oil, soya and paper in vain
It’s irreversible and only for short-term gain
Billions of years of evolution lost!
Half of the world’s biodiversity at super low cost!
Environmental regulations needed for future generations
Climate protocols aren’t binding, while world temperatures are rising
And the icing? Our polar bears are dying!
If you think the situation isn’t dire
Think about “The Revenge of Gaia!”
We need a new system recognising ecological and moral worth
So support the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth!
We know that when we disrespect and harm nature
We diminish ourselves and impoverish our future
No business interests come first, and nature, communities and ecosystems will be reimbursed
Bolivia and Ecuador are in the lead, they saw the threats and urgent needs
Ecuador rewrote its Constitution, the people of Ecuador found the best solution
Ratified by people’s referendum, this is where democracy comes from.
Treating nature as property is daylight robbery
“Mother Earth is a living being”, we’re part of her indivisible breathing
“All life forms have the right to exist”, that’s what the Declaration insists
Intrinsically interlinked complex ecosystems, we need them for resilience and our future existence
“For nature to persist, maintain and regenerate”, people need to congregate
If we can enforce Mother Earth’s Right, then maybe after all - there is some light.
Stand up and fight! Occupy for Nature’s Right!
We recognise that Genocide is a crime against peace
So why not recognise the crime of Ecocide and kill that beast
“A human right to life and dignity is meaningless without water and wilderness”
We are part of Nature and Nature is part of us
A self-regulating community should live in unity
Let’s redefine our human relationship with Mother Earth
Just in time for 2012 for planetary rebirth
Remember, what your life means to you
And give back that love to our Earth Mother too
Imagine a world with peace and no crime
We could all be having a whale of a time!
Stand up and fight! Occupy for Nature’s Right!
The obvious truth of the Rights of Nature, is implicit in the Occupy Agenda
This message is transparent and this message is clear, that’s why we are here
Nature needs a voice in our democracy, the 99% includes nature too, and you and me
We can’t cure the symptom of bankruptcies, by bailing-out banks that created these
And paying with endangered species, leaving a planet devastated in pieces
The cause of much destruction and war is a psychotic disease, created by money and greed.
Let’s reset our democratic system, play a new melody with a different rhythm
With laws in force that are 100% for people and nature
For a peaceful foundation to thrive in healthy nations and for all future generations
Stand up and fight! Occupy for Nature’s Right!
Read the complete Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth at
If you agree that Nature has rights, like the right to exist, then please encourage the UN and heads of state to accept the Declaration by signing this petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/yes-to-rights-of-nature
Poem written by Irene Schleining, Whale of a Time - www.whaleofatime.org
With thanks to Melanie Strickland (Wild Law UK) for her valuable feedback.
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
The Guardian, Wednesday 8 February 2012
New evidence shows for the first time the harmful effect of shipping noises on whales. Photograph: Barrett & MacKay/Corbis
Shipping noise causes chronic stress to whales, scientists have shown for the first time, after using the halt in marine traffic after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to conduct a unique experiment.
The effect on whales of propeller noise, military sonar and explosions set off in the search for oil and gas is highly controversial. Environmental campaigners claim the noise interferes with the singing of whales, or even kills the animals, and are currently suing the US government over the navy's use of sonar.
The research, published on Wednesday, provides the first evidence of physical harm, according to Rosalind Rolland, a researcher at the New England Aquarium, in Boston, US.
"We showed whales occupying oceans with high levels of ship noise have a chronic stress response," said Rolland, who led the study. "We knew whales changed the frequency of their calls to adapt to the ship noise, but this work shows it is not merely an annoyance – it is having a physical effect."
She had not originally set out to study the effect of noise on the animals. The hormone data was part of a study of the whales' health and reproduction but Rolland realised many years later it could be combined with data on noise levels from shipping to draw conclusions about how the whales are being affected.
Whales use sound as their primary sense, just as humans use sight, and their singing enables them to find food, mates and to navigate. They are believed to be able to communicate over hundreds of kilometres. But the frequencies they use largely overlap with the frequencies generated by human activities in the oceans, which have increased tenfold in volume since the 1960s, disrupting their ability to communicate.
A separate study published in January showed the singing of humpback whales was disrupted by sonar noise caused over 200km away while measuring fish stocks.
Rolland was at sea in the Bay of Fundy on 11 September 2001: "There was a dramatic reduction in ship traffic that day. It was like being on the primal ocean." The noise levels from shipping fell by half, as transport was shut down in response the terror attacks. Rolland's team also collected faecal balls from the whales, which float, and analysed the levels of stress hormones present. They found a "highly significant" decrease in stress hormones coincided with the drop in shipping noise.
"Instant responses to stress – like running away from a tiger – can be life-saving," said Rolland. "But if it becomes chronic, it causes profound depression of the immune system, making them vulnerable to disease, and it depresses reproduction."
The northern right whales Rolland studied are one of the most endangered whales, with 475 in the world and a population growing at just 1% a year. In contrast, the southern right whale numbers 8-10,000 and a growth rate of 7-8% a year, as they recover from the decimation of whaling. Rolland dubbed the northern right whale "the urban whale" in a book she co-authored, because its territory is close to the busy eastern seaboard of North America. She said damage caused by noise is very likely to be a factor in the population's slow recovery, and may also affect other whales. Beaked whales, which Rolland is now studying, are particularly sensitive to sonar she said, and are frequently the species involved in mass beachings.
"The positive aspect to this particular issue is that it is a solvable problem," Rolland said. The noise is largely down to engine inefficiencies, she said, which is possible to remedy and doing so would reduce fuel consumption in return for upfront investment. The International Maritime Organisation and the European Union are both investigating how to reduce marine noise. But with 50,000 large ships travelling the oceans on any given day and a ship lifespan of about three decades, changing the fleet will not occur overnight.
Danny Groves, at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said: "Not enough is being done to reduce noise in our oceans Very little is known about its long-term effects and more research is needed.
"Amazingly, there are currently no accepted international standards regarding noise pollution in our seas."
Asked how the whale faecal balls were found, Rolland said: "We find the pellets opportunistically, but we do also use trained scent-detection dogs. They are phenomenal. They work off the bow and can detect the scent up to 1km away."
January 26, 2012
Fact Sheet: "West Coast Marine Life and the Navy's NW Training Range"
Video: Orcas and Navy Sonar
San Francisco, CA — A coalition of conservation and American Indian groups today sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for failing to protect thousands of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and sea lions from U.S. Navy warfare training exercises along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.
Southern Resident orcas. (Kelly Balcomb-Bartok)
Fact sheet: "West Coast Marine Life and
the Navy’s NW Training Range"
Video: Orcas and Navy Sonar
Earthjustice, representing InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, Friends of the San Juans, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and People For Puget Sound, today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California challenging NMFS’s approval of the Navy’s training activities in its Northwest Training Range Complex. The lawsuit calls on NMFS to mitigate anticipated harm to marine mammals and biologically critical areas within the training range that stretches from Northern California to the Canadian border.
“These training exercises will harm dozens of protected species of marine mammals—Southern Resident killer whales, blue whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and porpoises—through the use of high-intensity mid-frequency sonar,” said Steve Mashuda, an Earthjustice attorney representing the groups. “The Fisheries Service fell down on the job and failed to require the Navy to take reasonable and effective actions to protect them.”
The Navy uses a vast area of the West Coast for training activities including anti-submarine warfare exercises involving tracking aircraft and sonar; surface-to-air gunnery and missile exercises; air-to-surface bombing exercises; sink exercises; and extensive testing for several new weapons systems.
“Since the beginning of time, the Sinkyone Council’s member Tribes have gathered, harvested and fished for traditional cultural marine resources in this area, and they continue to carry out these subsistence ways of life, and their ceremonial activities along this Tribal ancestral coastline. Our traditional cultural lifeways, and our relatives such as the whales and many other species, will be negatively and permanently impacted by the Navy’s activities,” said Priscilla Hunter, chairwoman and co-founder of the InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council. “Both NMFS and the Navy have failed in their obligations to conduct government-to-government consultation with the Sinkyone Council and its member Tribes regarding project impacts.”
In late 2010, NMFS gave the Navy a permit for five years of expanded naval activity that will harm or “take” marine mammals and other sealife. The permit allows the Navy to conduct increased training exercises that can harm marine mammals and disrupt their migration, nursing, breeding, or feeding, primarily as a result of harassment through exposure to the use of sonar.
“The Navy’s Northwest Training Range is the size of the State of California, yet not one square inch is off-limits to the most harmful aspects of naval testing and training activities,” said Zak Smith, staff attorney for NRDC. “We are asking for common-sense measures to protect the critical wildlife that lives within the training range from exposure to life-threatening effects of sonar. Biologically rich areas like the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary should be protected.”
The Navy’s mid-frequency sonar has been implicated in mass strandings of marine mammals in, among other places, the Bahamas, Greece, the Canary Islands, and Spain. In 2004, during war games near Hawai’i, the Navy’s sonar was implicated in a mass beaching of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay. In 2003, the USS Shoup,operating in Washington’s Haro Strait, exposed a group of endangered Southern Resident killer whales to mid-frequency sonar, causing the animals to stop feeding and attempt to flee the sound.
“In 2003, NMFS learned firsthand the harmful impacts of Navy sonar in Washington waters when active sonar blasts distressed members of J pod, one of our resident pods of endangered orcas,” said Kyle Loring, Staff Attorney for Friends of the San Juans. “Given this history, it is particularly distressing that NMFS approved the Navy’s use of deafening noises in areas where whales and dolphins use their acute hearing to feed, navigate, and raise their young, even in designated sanctuaries and marine reserves.”
“Whales and other marine mammals don’t stand a chance against the Navy,” said Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Navy’s mitigation plan for sonar use relies primarily on visual detection of whales or other marine mammals by so-called “ watch-standers” with binoculars on the decks of ships. If mammals are seen in the vicinity of an exercise, the Navy is to cease sonar use.
“Visual detection can miss anywhere from 25–95% of the marine mammals in an area,” said Heather Trim, Director of Policy for People For Puget Sound. “It’s particularly unreliable in rough seas or in bad weather. We learn more every day about where whales and other mammals are most likely to be found—we want NMFS to put that knowledge to use to ensure that the Navy’s training avoids those areas when marine mammals are most likely there.”
The litigation is not intended to halt the Navy’s exercises, but asks the Court to require NMFS to reassess the permits using the latest science and to order the Navy to stay out of biologically critical areas at least at certain times of the year.
Marcie Keever of Friends of the Earth noted, “It has become increasingly clear from recent research that the endangered Southern Resident killer whale community uses coastal waters within the Navy’s training range to find salmon during the fall and winter months. NMFS has failed in its duty to assure that the Navy is not pushing the whales closer to extinction.”
Read the complaint.
Read the fact sheet: "West Coast Marine Life and the Navy’s NW Training Range"
Watch B-Roll and narrated video of orcas and Navy sonar.
In May 2003, a group of about 20 killer whales and dozens of porpoises were forced to flee the waters near the San Juan Islands in Washington State after a Navy ship passed by with its active sonar blasting. The incident was captured by whale researchers from the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, narrates this video. (Read related press release and NMFS's report on this incident. B-Roll footage is available for use by reporters and editors.)
Steve Mashuda, Earthjustice, (206) 343-7340, ext. 1027
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 632-5308
Hawk Rosales, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council, (707) 489-3640
Marcie Keever, Friends of the Earth, (415) 544-0790, ext. 223
Kyle Loring, Friends of the San Juans, (360) 378-2319
Jessica Lass, NRDC, (310) 434-2300
Heather Trim, People For Puget Sound, (206) 351-2898
*Brussels, 7 February 2012 ˆ *Annual industry figures to be released on
Tuesday are expected to confirm the commercial failure of genetically
modified (GM) food in Europe, said Greenpeace. Only around 0.06% of the
EU‚s agricultural land was used in 2011 to grow GM food, the report by the
International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications
(ISAAA), a group funded by the biotech industry to promote GM crops, is
expected to say.
Total used agricultural land in the EU amounts to around 179 million
hectares. The biotech industry figure for overall cultivation of GM food in
Europe in 2011 is expected to be just over 110,000 hectares .
Widespread public opposition and environmental concerns expressed by
several European governments, scientists and farmers have made GM food a
commercial flop in Europe, said Greenpeace . Only Spain saw a noticeable
rise in cultivation in 2012, slightly increasing overall figures for Europe
after three consecutive years of decline .
The publication of the annual ISAAA industry report follows an announcement
in January by BASF, the world‚s biggest chemical company, that it was
abandoning plans to develop and commercialise GM food in Europe due to
opposition from „the majority of consumers, farmers and politicians‰ .
Cultivation of BASF‚s flagship antibiotic-resistant potato, known as
Amflora, has been negligible since its controversial authorisation in March
2010, under 20 hectares in 2011 .
The only crop that will still be grown in Europe in 2012, Monsanto‚s
pesticide-producing GM maize MON810, is still banned in seven EU countries
because of environmental and health concerns . In January, Monsanto
announced that it would no longer seek to sell its GM maize in France,
saying that „favorable conditions for the sale of the MON810 in France in
2012 and beyond are not in place‰ .
*Greenpeace EU agriculture policy director Marco Contiero said: **„There is
no escaping the hard facts: GM food has flopped in Europe, is increasingly
opposed in Asia and is retreating to the Americas. Public rejection and
market failure have already forced BASF to scaling back in Europe, while
Monsanto is holding on by its fingernails. Crops that are only grown on
0.06% of Europe‚s agricultural land can only be described as a failure.‰*
After 16 years of aggressive commercialisation, over 80% of global GM crop
production is still restricted to only four countries in the Americas: the
United States, Canada, Brazil, and Argentina. Recent attempts to introduce
GM food to China (GM rice) and India (GM aubergine) have failed .
Notes to editors:*
 See: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/agrista/2010/table_en/C5-2-3522.pdf.
In comparison, the organically farmed area in the EU is almost 7.8 million
 61% of Europeans reject GM crops, according to EU polls (Special
Eurobarometer 341 - 73.1 on Biotechnology:
 In 2010-2009, cultivation of GM crops in Europe declined by 13%. In
2009-2008, the ISAAA also reported a 12% EU-wide decline (see: ISAAA,
global status of commercialized biotech/GM Crops: 2009. By Clive James,
ISAAA brief 4, pp. 181-182).
 BASF press release: www.basf.com/group/pressrelease/P-12-109.
 See: http://www.foodprocessing-technology.com/news/news109205.html.
 Countries with a ban on MON810 are: Germany, France, Austria, Hungary,
Greece, Luxembourg and Bulgaria.