A Global Whale Stranding Network?

This is a great Indiegogo idea to harness smartphone technology with the need to respond as fast as possible to whale and dolphin strandings:

We are looking to create a worldwide network for sightings of beached and stranded whales and dolphins. Developing the app for it however, is the most expensive part of the project. We are therefore appealing to all IT experts to step forward and volunteer their design services. If we can achieve donated help with this aspect of our project then our costs will drop significantly. Funds can then be used instead, towards a public awareness campaign.

This will be helpful for strandings that might otherwise go unreported (such as in countries where there is no stranding network in place), and also it will save researchers valuable time by having the data available in one place.

Candace Calloway Whiting, one of the creators of the project, explains further how a smartphone enabled network could help save whales and dolphins, particularly in an era of intensifying seismic exploration for undersea energy:

Although a half a world apart – one in the Philippines, the other in the British Isles – these stranding events have some things in common.

In both situations an usual variety of normally deep water species were involved, and both involved animals that looked battered and behaved unusually. (Please see “Panicked Whales Are Stranding in Area of Seismic Exploration” for information on the Great Britain strandings).

Both occurred in areas of intense exploration for oil. While the North Atlantic region has a longer history of offshore exploration, some areas of the South China Sea are just opening up. The Philippines is poised to exploit anticipated offshore sources of oil and gas, and is in a hurry to do so – the region is plagued with power shortages and has financial incentives to encourage foreign oil companies to perform seismic surveys of the seabeds.

Go to Indiegogo to learn more about the project and the different perks you can earn via a donation.

Economists Want to Save The Whales

“Quotas? I don’t want your stinking quotas!”

By setting legal catch quotas:

study of 11,135 fisheries showed that introducing catch share roughly halved the chance of collapse. The system caught on in the 1980s and 1990s after decades of other well-intentioned efforts failed. Economist H. Scott Gordon is usually credited with laying out the problem and the solution in 1954.

Modern environmental economists accuse their predecessors of forgetting about incentives. Catch-share schemes issue permits to individuals and groups to fish some portion of the grounds or keep some fraction of the total catch. If fishermen exceed their share, they can buy extra rights from others, pay a hefty fine or even lose their fishing rights, depending on theparticular arrangement. The system works because it aligns the interests of individual fishermen with the sustainability of the entire fishery. Everybody rises and falls with the fate of the total catch, eliminating destructive rivalries among fishermen.

Environmental economists have lately turned their attention to Atlantic bluefin tuna and whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service has just proposed new regulations that would for the first time establish a catch-share program for the endangered and lucrative bluefin. And a group of economists is pushing for a new international agreement on whaling.

In both cases the problem is overfishing. The bluefin tuna population has dropped by a third in the Atlantic Ocean and by an incredible 96 percent in the Pacific. And whaling, which is supposedly subject to strict international rules that ban commercial fishing and regulate scientific work, is making a sad comeback. The total worldwide annual catch has risen more than fivefold over the last 20 years.

Ben Minteer, Leah Gerber, Christopher Costello and Steven Gaines have called for a new and properly regulated market in whales. Set a sustainable worldwide quota, they say, and allow fishermen, scientists and conservationists alike to bid for catch rights. Then watch the system that saved other fish species set whaling right.

The idea outrages many environmentalists. Putting a price on whales, they argue, moves even further away from conservationist principles than the current ban, however ineffective. They’re wrong. “The arguments that whales should not be hunted, whatever their merits, have not been winning where it counts — that is, as measured by the size of the whale population,”says economist Timothy Taylor, editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

This is logical in economic terms. But it is utilitarianism divorced from morality, and fails on moral terms. Economists could also reduce the overall rate of child kidnapping, or murder, with catch, or kill, shares. But societies are not prepared to sanction kidnapping or murder, because kidnapping and murder are morally repugnant. So is slaughtering sentient, intelligent, whales without true need (we could argue about whether hunting and killing bluefin tuna is morally repugnant, as well, but let’s leave that aside for the moment).

The goal, as with kidnapping and murder, needs to continue to be to eradicate the act itself–not to legalize and sanction the act in return for some reduced rate of violence and death.

Australia Takes Japan Whaling To Court

This could be a big deal. Australia is challenging before the International Court Of Justice Japan’s claim that it’s Antarctic whaling program is scientific research (which is what makes it technically legal).

Whale and Dolphin Conservation is there to monitor the proceedings:

Australia’s Solicitor-General Mr. Gleeson explains why JARPA II [the Japanese whaling program] fails to exhibit essential characteristics required for it to be called science but rather qualifies its whaling as commercial:

The sheer scale and repetition speak of an operation commercial in nature and defeats the objects and purposes of the 1946 convention. Furthermore he highlights the fact of continuity: Japan continues to carry on the commercial operation it previously embarked upon with similar boats, similar crews and techniques and provides the same supply of whale products to the market. Also, Japan didn’t seem to have a great need for lethal research prior to the moratorium on commercial whaling from 1986 and no other nation before or since has found the need for scientific research on this scale.

Mr. Gleeson furthermore highlights that even though the demand for meat in Japan is falling the political goal remains to maintain a whaling industry through production of products for sale and such sales are used to fund the ongoing operations. “To service a market is evidence for commerce”, he concludes. Also, lethal research methods should always be a matter of last resort, not a first option as Japan holds it.

Bears watching, for sure. An ICJ ruling, even if Japan ignored it, would further isolate Japan over its whaling.

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