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August 22 2012


Managing the Ocean for Humans and Whales

Researchers seek the most protection for the North Atlantic's humpback whales at the least cost to the fishing and tourism industry.

August 20 2012


A Whale, a Tag, a Mission

Chugging behind a whale in an inflatable vessel, researchers may have only a precious second or two to affix an electronic tag to its glistening back. The tag precisely tracks the animal's movements.
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February 14 2012


From 9/11, a Lesson on Whales, Noise and Stress

A brief halt to shipping after the terrorist attacks appears to have lowered whales' stress levels, an ocean experiment suggests.

January 20 2012


June 22 2011


Eureka! A Roaming Bowhead Whale

An Arctic research expedition spots its first bowhead off the Greenland coast and captures an image and acoustic recordings.

June 09 2011


Small Boat, Big Mission: An Arctic Whale Survey

An eight-member expedition sails toward Lancaster Sound, described as one of the most vulnerable yet biologically richest places in the Arctic Ocean.

May 12 2011


House Passes Third Drilling Bill

May 12, 2011 Washington, D.C. — By a vote of 243-179 the House of Representatives passed a third drilling bill that aims to increase oil production in the Outer Continental Shelf, leaving southern California, all of the Atlantic Coast, Bristol Bay in Alaska and the Arctic Ocean vulnerable to a BP oil spill disaster. Sponsored [...]

April 13 2011


Follow the Krill: A New Theory on Penguins' Decline

It's not simply about sea ice: growing competition for the tiny crustaceans that penguins like to eat is a factor in the birds' population decline, a new study suggests.

November 11 2010


On Our Radar: A Proposed Gas Tax Hike

Tom Carper of Delaware, a Democrat, and George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican, suggest that 10 cents of the increase go toward paying down the debt and the rest toward transportation infrastructure.

September 29 2010


June 26 2010


What, you thought it was only Japan?

Greenland wins back right to kill humpback whales | Reuters.

Yes, bad news:

Greenland has won back the right to hunt humpback whales for the first time in a quarter-century after it threatened to leave the world’s top whaling body if other nations reject its ancestral traditions.

“We cannot wait any longer,” Ane Hansen, Greenland’s Minister for Fisheries, Hunting and Agriculture, said just before the consensus vote by the 88 nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco on Friday.

“Greenlanders are whale eaters but our subsistence needs have been cut down and cut down,” she told Reuters.

Subsistence or culture? Possibly both, maybe none.

Whaling opponents say Greenland’s whale hunt is big business, the meat sold in supermarkets for ten times the price in traditional markets and whale steaks served in luxury hotels.

“Greenland must withdraw its humpback quota request until it can demonstrate that all currently available whale meat is used to meet genuine subsistence needs,” the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said in a statement before the vote.

All fair points. There is probably a bit of all that: lobbying by the fishing industry, culture, commercial interest. I don’t however, buy the subsistence argument, since it assumes these people have no alternative but to hunt and eat whale or die. No, that is incorrect. In today’s globalised world, people from Greenland can access foodstuffs from anywhere in the world just as easily as anyone else.

The point here goes back to economics, valuation and good old Total Economic Value: for me, as for so many people in other parts of the world, whales have non-use value: existence value, bequest value, option value; for people in Japan or Greenland, whales have a definitive use value, dictated by the market (and apparently, that value is going through the roof as a result of scarcity). So… how much is the existence value of whales? In other words, how much are you willing to pay Japanese, Green-landers and other whaling nations to forego fishing? As long as it is above the returns to fisheries, there will be whales.

Punchline: one nation breaks the consensus, other immediately jump into the breach.

June 18 2010


The Dead Gulf Whale

A dead whale has been found in the Gulf of Mexico less than 100 miles from the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

June 04 2010


On Our Radar: The Admiral and the C.E.O.

BP's Tony Hayward dines on gulf shrimp with Adm. Thad Allen of the Coast Guard -- and the Democratic strategist and oil spill gadfly James Carville joins them for a cocktail.

May 12 2010


May 05 2010


April 30 2010


And don’t you dare being right!

Japan targets anti-whaling chief for arrest | Reuters.

In the struggle for conservation, being right can land you up a well known creek…

Japan’s coastguard has obtained an arrest warrant for the head of radical anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd for allegedly ordering members of the group to obstruct Japan’s whale hunt, domestic media said on Friday.

Paul Watson, the 59-year-old Canadian founder of Sea Shepherd, will be placed on the international wanted list via Interpol, Kyodo news agency said. A coastguard spokesman said he could not confirm the report.

… especially when you do succeed:

Japan caught only about 500 whales this season in what it calls “research whaling” in the Antarctic, little more than half its target of more than 900, due to skirmishes with Sea Shepherd.

Japan’s ongoing stalling attitude regarding whale-hunting and tuna fishing seems to be driven by a sort of certainty that this is a struggle for its culture, more than for resources or conservation. This is not Commodore Perry’s black ships… The fact is it is escalating into a terribly embarrassing diplomatic incident, that makes neither Japan, its fishermen, its consumers or the people boarding ships look good. And the sort of horse trading Japan is trying to engage the rest of the world in would be hilarious, were it not for how serious the situation is.

It also provides a nice vignette of the power of small lobbies. The agricultural lobby usually wields disproportionate power in OECD countries, and it seems the fishery lobby does so as well in Japan (it does not seem so pronounced in Europe or the US, as far as I can tell).One for the political economy guys to look at.

Somehow, this is being blow out of all proportion, and you have to start wondering where will it end – probably with some species of whales extinct, at the rate things seem to be going.

Punchline: how about changing culture willingly, before reality catches up with you?

April 26 2010


Unexpected crap news of the day

Whale poo could help oceans absorb CO2 | Reuters.

From the amazing world of geo-engineering: every time a whale takes a crap, the world is a better place.

New research from the Australian Antarctic Division suggests whales naturally fertilize surface waters with iron-rich whale excrement, allowing the whole eco-system to send more carbon down into deep waters.

“The plants love it and it actually becomes a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere,” Antarctic scientist Steve Nicol told Reuters, adding the droppings appear as a plume of solids and liquids.

Disturbing level of detail there. But hang on, what are the consequences

A larger population of baleen whales and krill would boost the productivity of the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.

Iron is a limited micronutrient in the Southern Ocean, but recent experiments have found that adding soluble iron to surface waters helps promote much-needed phytoplankton algal blooms.

He said it was not yet known how much poo it would take have a significant impact on the Southern Ocean.

This sounds like a pub theory to me.

the idea to research whale droppings came from a casual pub chat among Antarctic scientists in Australia’s island state of Tasmania.

Ah, good.

Punchline: unexpected findings form original research. Ig-Nobel award, here we come.

April 15 2010


From the Sea to a Sushi Plate, a Trail of DNA

Researchers are already tracking DNA in restaurant offerings to figure out how the market in whale meat works.

August 16 2009


An Interesting Way to Educate Mexicans About Endangered Species

I’ve been in Mexico City this past week for a UN Development Programme (UNDP) consultation on biodiversity and ecosystem services (more on that in a future post).  Every time I visit Mexico City I like to stroll the Paseo de la Reforma, the City’s beautiful answer to Paris’ Champs-Élysées.  One of the reasons (besides people [...]
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