35 Whale Wars  2 June 09


“All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.”

Moby Dick, Herman Melville

Not every whale has the rage and hate of the world piled on it as did Captain Ahab with Moby Dick.

To the contrary, the whale is widely regarded as one of the most intelligent, communicative, musical, and social animals on the planet, and one whose future is in doubt because of slaughter that has gone on since before Ahab’s time and continues to the present day.

Tonight our topic is “Whale Wars,” and our guest is Simon Avery, who is a member of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He and other members of the Society patrol the seas looking for violators of international whaling treaties and confronting them, directly, and even violently. The Sea Shepherd Conservation society has been featured on Animal Planet in a series called “Whale Wars,” and we’ll be talking with Simon not only about his work at sea but with the making of the Discovery Channel series.

News and Information on Cetations

We’ll start with a few facts about whales from Softpedia:

  •  Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) appeared 50 million years ago (the oldest known whale being Pakicetus), having (as revealed by DNA) a common origin with the hippopotamus (!). 40 million years ago whales  divided into baleen whales and toothed whales. Baleens are  fringed plates hanging from the roof of the mouth, which can be up to 4 m (13 ft) long and weigh 180 kg (450 pounds). They work like a sieve: the whale sucks at once up to six cubic meters of seawater: the water is filtered though the baleens’ stitches while the food items (crustaceans, fish, mollusks) are retained by the baleens. Blue whale has 320 baleens. Despite their enormous size, the pharynx of the baleen whale is so narrow that they cannot swallow preys bigger than a herring (that’s why they can be asphyxiated if they swallow birds hovering around their mouth while catching krill and fish). calling into question the stories of Jonah and Pinocchio.
  • The largest whale (and ever existing animal) is the blue whale: up to 100 ft in length and 181 tons, with an average size iof 81-84 ft in length and 150 tons. The smallest balleen whale is the Pygmy Right Whale, 20 ft long and 3 tons heavy. The largest toothed whale is the sperm whale, which can reach 60 ft in length and 50 tons in weight. 
  • Whales give birth every 2-3 years. They need waters with temperatures of 22-25 C to do this, that’s why offspring are born in shallow tropical waters (Caribbean, Hawaii, Australia and others). After a 10-12 months gestation, whales have just one calf, which suckles for 5-12 months. The lactating female delivers 200-570 quarts of extremely fatty milk: Sucking lasts for a few seconds, 30-40 times per day. 
  • Whales are slaughtered for their blubber oil (used for lamp illuminating or making candles, soap, margarine), meat , skin (for handbags, bicycle saddles), baleens (once used for making corsets and umbrellas), liver (rich in vitamin A and D), tendons (for racket strings or surgery threads), bones, blood (for fertilizers), teeth (in the case of the sperm whale, used for making carvings, dice, buttons).
  • Between 1835 and 1872, about 300,000 were hunted worldwide. The invention of the trans-harpoon cannon in 1868 started the massacre. The new fire power harpoon was carrying a grenade exploding when hitting the animal. Fast moving whales, like the blue whale and its relatives  could be hunted, not just the slower right whales, gray whales and sperm whales.
  • Between 1930 and 1931, 28,325 blue whales were hunted, just 20 between 1964 and 1965 and from 1965 to 1966 just 4! Overall, in 1950, 55,795 whales were killed worldwide, in 1975 – 37,000; and in 1981 – only 15,000. 
  • Since 1986, an international ban on whaling has been ratified, but two of the so-called most civilized nations, Japan and Norway, refused to sign it and keep on hunting whales (in Japan under the mask of a  “scientific” program, while whale meat is delivered to Japanese restaurants). The whale populations are recovering now, but the slow process is hampered by continuing activity of the international whaling fleet.


There is positive news about the reported May 30 by Science Daily: Blue Whale Discovered Singing In New York Coastal Waters:

For the very first time in New York coastal waters, the voices of singing blue whales have been positively identified. Acoustic experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Bioacoustics Research Program (BRP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) confirmed that the voice of a singing blue whale was tracked about 70 miles off of Long Island and New York City on Jan. 10-11, 2009, as the whale swam slowly from east to west. At the same time, a second blue whale was heard singing offshore in the far distance.

 New York State’s DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis [said], “This is a very important moment in the environmental history of New York State. Blue whales were almost hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th Century, and the fact that now we’re finding them migrating not far off our shores is truly remarkable. Although whaling no longer occurs in U.S. waters, whales still face numerous threats including vessel strikes and marine debris, and this latest finding will enable DEC and its partners to develop science-based management plans to protect these magnificent creatures.”



And an encouraging May 18 AP story by Mary Pemberton reports that Blue Whales Are Returning to Alaska:

Blue whales are returning to Alaska in search of food and could be re-establishing an old migration route several decades after they were nearly wiped out by commercial whalers, scientists say.

The endangered whales, possibly the largest animals ever to live on Earth, have yet to recover from the worldwide slaughter that eliminated 99 percent of their number, according to the American Cetacean Society. The hunting peaked in 1931 with more than 29,000 animals killed in one season.

The animals used to cruise from Mexico and Southern California to Alaska, but they had mostly vanished from Alaskan waters.

But several sightings of California whales in recent years off the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia suggest that the massive animals are expanding north again in search of tiny shrimp-like krill to eat, scientists contend in a recent article published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.


However, whales are still seen as valuable economic game, as shown in this New York Times editorial published in January concerning Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and the endangered Beluga whale:

In October, while Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska was campaigning to be vice president, the federal government added the beluga whales in the state’s Cook Inlet to the endangered species list. At the time, Governor Palin opposed the listing, saying it would be “premature.” (She said the same thing about protecting polar bears.) Now Ms. Palin has announced that she will sue to remove the whales from the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

In Governor Palin’s view, what is really endangered is Alaska’s economic growth. Cook Inlet, the long arm of water that reaches toward Anchorage from the Gulf of Alaska, is one of the busiest and fastest-developing regions in the state. There are plans for gas and oil development, an expansion of the Port of Anchorage, as well as a possible new bridge.

Ms. Palin argues that the state has already taken adequate measures to protect the belugas. The numbers certainly argue otherwise. The beluga population in Cook Inlet last year was estimated at 375, down from a high of 653 in 1994.

In explaining her intent to file suit, the governor has challenged virtually every aspect of the listing decision — including the scientific finding that these belugas are a separate and distinct genetic population seriously at risk. Former Senator Ted Stevens went so far as to call the listing “a deliberate targeting of an area vital to the Alaskan economy.”

There is no doubt that Cook Inlet is vital to Alaskans. But it is also vital to the species that live in its waters. Listing the belugas does not mean shutting down the economy of the Cook Inlet. It means adjusting it to accommodate species that cannot adapt or survive any other way.


Our Questions for Simon Avery:

Part I

1. Tell us about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. How did it come into being? What’s its relationship to Greenpeace? (I saw one video, I think on the Sea Shepherd site where someone accused Greenpeace of taking money under false pretenses, of feathering their personal nests, of being passive in their work to save sea life.) We may ask follow up questions about its history, etc. I’d like to know more about Paul Watson.


2. In looking at the Sea Shepherd website, I thought that it claimed some relationship to the UN. Does it work with the UN? Does the UN approve its operations?

3. What sorts of treaties are in place to protect the whales? Why aren’t those treaties enforced?

4. Where does Sea Shepherd carry out it operations? What are some particular “hot spots”?  What sorts of equipment does it use? What are its strategies? How many people work with Sea Shepherd? And many of them are volunteers?

5. What have been some of the successes of Sea Shepherd? What sorts of changes or effects are you seeing? Have there been failures as well?  Of what sort?

6. Some have called Sea Shepherd “eco-terrorists,” and at least one person I know called them vigilantes. How would you respond to that  characterization?

7. Can you describe a typical operation?

Part II

1. Can you tell us a little about how you became involved in Sea Shepherd?

2. I’ve watched some of the videos of Sea Shepherd operations. The work seems really scary. Have you ever been in danger? Have you ever been afraid? What’s the scariest work you’ve been involved in?

3. Sea Shepherd has now become famous through a series on Animal Planet called “Whale Wars.” Can you tell us a little bit about the  television program?

4. Apparently “Whale Wars” has been a bit controversial. What makes it controversial? Do you know why Animal Planet wants to take on this kind of controversy?

5. What are your colleagues like on your crew? What’s a typical day like? I saw/heard on one video that the crew eats vegan food. Is that a requirement? Or are all Sea Shepherds vegans?

6. How does the filming crew of Animal Planet do a film session? Do they go out on a typical outing? How long are they with the crew? How does the television crew work with the Sea Shepherd crew? What sorts of trips do they go along on?  Are they ever in danger?

7. We noticed from your bio on the Sea Shepherd website that you had a  number of jobs before joining up with Sea Shepherd, including working with the Nature Conservancy . . . was that here in Chico? What’s your training? What other sorts of activist work have you done? What motivated you to join up with Sea Shepherd? Any ideas how long you think you’ll do this work?

Do-It-Yourself: Helping the Whales

The New York Times Science Section Archives has great stuff on whales and whaling, stories over the years.


They also have a great list of resources for learning more about whales and for activism:

 Whales Navigator

 A list of resources from around the Web about whales as selected by researchers and editors of The New York Times. As you can see, Sea  Shepherd is among them.

 Government Resources

           o Marine Mammal Protection Act

           o Text of U.S. law protecting whales.

           o International Whaling Commission

           o 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

           o Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act

           o U.S. law protecting whale habitat.

           o National Marine Mammal Laboratory

           o U.S. government research organization.

           o Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary

           o Federally protected whale habitat off Hawaii.

       Whale Research Societies

           o The Society for Marine Mammology

           o Marine mammal research society.

           o European Cetacean Society

           o Whale conservation organization in Europe.

           o American Cetacean Society

           o Whale conservation organization in U.S.

           o Hawaii Whale Research Foundation

           o Information about humpback whales.

       Whale Advocacy Groups

           o Greenpeace Whaling Campaign

           o Updates on Greenpeace campaign to end whaling.

           o Save the Whales

           o Non-profit dedicated to marine mammals.

           o Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

           o Activist marine wildlife conservation organization.


           o Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America

           o By Eric Jay Dolan

           o Melville: His World and Work

           o By Andrew Delbanco

Kidsbiology.com is a great kids’ learning site for all animals.


 Science News for Kids has lots of resources for learning more about whales:



Playlist for WhaleWars


 1.  The Whale Song           2:25    Hoagy Carmichael  Hoagy Carmichael: The First Of The Singer-Songwriters

2.  Song Of The Whale – Part One: From Dawn …         8:20    Tangerine Dream    Underwater Sunlight                       

3.  Song of the World’s Last Whale          2:39    Pete Seeger   At 89  

4.  Solo Whale                      9:29    Humpback Whales   Songs of the Humpback Whale               

5.  Calypso    3:49    John Denver  Earth Songs 

6.  Weave Me the Sunshine          4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary         The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary   

7.  Who Is She / Song For The Whales   5:12    Petra Haden and Woody Jackson       Ten Years