The President's Letter


Summer '99


Well hello again and welcome to the Summer '99 issue of my irregularly-published "insiders" newsletter. You may notice that instead of my own face on the masthead above, I've substituted our faithful dogs Bippy and Bing the border collies. (They really ARE more photogenic than I am, and you already know what I look like.) You may also notice that when the issue of dolphin-safe tuna heats up nationally, these letters come further apart. No mystery involved: since I write, scan, and lay out these letters myself, they don't happen as often when I'm up to my eyebrows in alligators.


Moreover, since ET doesn't have a "fundraising staff" but is pure programs, it means that whenever I'm needed 100% for program work, I'm probably not doing the outreach which is needed to keep funds flowing in. This means finding ways to keep the work going anyhow, until the "crisis du jour" is over for the whales, dolphins, or other threatened species. For that reason, I'll be starting to include a "Needed Resources" list at the end of these letters. You may personally have a contact or a suggestion that will help us accomplish a part of the mission. As this letter is only sent out to people I know who have stayed involved on an ongoing, core level, this list is a personal invitation for you to scan it and see if you have advice on how to obtain some thing or service ET needs, to accomplish something. Or you can decide to sponsor something. Hopefully it'll provide a way to save more wildlife by tapping into your ideas and contacts. Give it a look.





commerce dept. vs. dolphins


In past issues of this letter, you've heard me predict some cynical-sounding things about the U.S. administration with regards to the "dolphin safe" issue. As you'll recall, it was in late '97 that the so-called "dolphin death act" passed Congress, when Al Gore led a pressure campaign against Senator Barbara Boxer and her fellow pro-dolphin legislators. When that collapse occurred, it was a near-total defeat for the dolphins and their friends; and a near-total victory for "free trade at all costs" legislators, dolphin-deadly central american tuna fleets, and their drug-cartel owners.


The only two things which were salvaged were (1) Earthtrust and Senator Inouye's office striking language which would have made other dolphin-safe labels (like our Flipper Seal of Approval) illegal, and (2) Senator Boxer obtaining a concession: that 18 months of federally-funded studies be conducted to assess the health of dolphin populations and determine the affect of chasing and setting nets around them.

Those studies were conducted - although not in all aspects, since Mexico didn't cooperate - and The U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) prepared a "secret report" which was then reviewed by a "secret panel", to be the basis for the Secretary of Commerce's decision on "issuing a finding" on whether or not fishing this way causes a "significant adverse impact" to the dolphins. Unfortunately, the weak wording which passed Congress made its result a foregone conclusion: if the research did not conclusively show both a failure of dolphin populations to recover AND prove that it was BECAUSE of chasing and netting them, there would be a finding of "no adverse impact".


In fact, the secret report was reviewed by the secret panel, and - of course - it shows dolphins are in terrible trouble. They are not recovering from decades of tunaboat-caused mortality. There is, of course, no doubt why they are depleted in the first place: tunaboats killed them by the millions. Ah, but according to the U.S. administration, there is no ABSOLUTE PROOF that CONTINUING to do this to them is what is CAUSING the OBSERVED DECLINE.


It's obvious to anyone even minimally lucid and honest that this continued chasing and encircling is, in fact, the reason dolphins are not increasing in numbers. There is no other reason they should be in decline, and they are being chased, bombed, and encircled every day by the very boats and nets that killed them off in the first place. But since we can't totally discount factors like "alien abduction" or "they all went away somewhere", our government is fine with letting these deadly chases continue.


What's more, the tuna sold by these boats is now "dolphin safe" by federal definition! That's right, under this new law ALL tuna in a given set is dolphin-safe unless a lone observer on the boat sees a dolphin die and reports it. If a thousand dolphins are drowning and the fellow goes to the restroom, it's dolphin safe. If 500 dolphins are hacked in pieces from the nets in a given set, and the observer doesn't write it down, it never happened. (and once this "safe" tuna in onboard, it can be mixed in with officially "deadly" tuna below decks where no observer would be).


This is an interesting dynamic on a couple of levels. For one thing, Mexico - by far the largest participant in the fishery - has inserted language into the international treaty which prevents its own citizens from being punished if they violate the treaty by, say, falsifying an observer report. Mexico also gets to hire its own citizens as observers. Now let's imagine the pressures on this observer. If he actually sees a dolphin die and writes it down, none of the tuna from that set can wear the "dolphin safe" label, and it may bring only half as much when sold. This may mean the arduous work of an entire day is worth only half as much money to every member of the crew.


The odds of an honest observer actually being hired, looking in the direction they are dying, writing down dolphin kills, and making it back to port alive are nonexistent.


(Even the observers for the old U.S. monitoring program - such as Dr. Ken Marten, who has testified about this before congress - had their lives threatened, their data destroyed, and had bombs throw at them to keep them from seeing the dolphins. This was on American-owned ships, before the term "dolphin safe" existed.) Now, a boat will lose it's dolphin-setting privileges for the rest of the season if the observer reports even a few dead dolphins. In other words, there was much less reason to harass or kill an honest observer than there is now.


So under the new regime, it is not possible that there will be a single honest observer. Purse-seining inherently kills dolphins, period. An honest observer, allowed to survive, would cause any given boat to have to stop fishing within a week of the beginning of the season. Such a previously-unseen phenomenon - an honest captain setting on dolphins while urging the onboard observer to do his job well - would put itself out of business. So under the new regime, utter dishonesty is not only not punished, it is required. No wonder the nations of the ETP have agreed to a "dolphin safe kill quota" of only 5000 per year, despite the fact that the real kill will be 20 to 50 times that level due to the inherent nature of surrounding deafened dolphins with a mile-long net and pulling it shut. The "5000 kills" provision will be met because nobody will report any dead dolphins if they want to keep fishing!


It is not surprising that

crusty commercial fishermen and

drug dealers would put together

a system like this. But it is

astonishing that this system

is now the law of the land

for the USA.


In case you think I have been at all reticent in stating my opinions on this, let me be clear: I now think that Al Gore is reprehensible for his knowing sellout on this issue and I regret having voted for him. He is no more a conservationist than he was the inventor of the internet. I have also lost respect for the groups GreenpeaceUSA and Center for Marine Conservation, who have pushed to sell the dolphins out in this manner. CMC reportedly has received millions in grants from the administration, so it's perhaps unsurprising that they will act as puppets for the administration's free-trade agenda. In the case of GreenpeaceUSA, (which I co-founded in 1980, not forseeing this), it seems to be a matter of "trading away" the dolphin issue in exchange for political chits on the "waste dumping" issue; this is taken from public statements by their former Executive Director. The upshot of these "respected" individuals and groups selling out the dolphins has been to largely negate the work of dozens of responsible organizations and the wishes of millions of American consumers.


But even though the 2 years Barbara Boxer bought for the dolphins is now over, there is still one more hope: the Earthtrust changes made to the dolphin death act. It is still legal to use labels other than the "dolphin safe" label which will soon be exposed as fraudulent. This means that, over the long term, there is still a chance that an honest label like "Flipper" may be adopted as a standard, and we are working behind the scenes to do that. The truth is not yet illegal in America, only hard to find.


Over short term, the big U.S. tuna companies are not changing to the bogus new U.S. "dolphin safe" standard; because they already have truly dolphin-safe procurement contracts in place and they know that consumers aren't stupid. The danger is not so much that the tuna industry will immediately adopt the bogus new standard, but that it will be legal for them to do so if other factors make it practical. Thus, although the law has already fallen, Earthtrust's analysis of the situation is that the real danger to dolphins will lie in the coming months and years. If disruptions in the tuna supplies of existing firms occur for biological, climatic, or political reasons; the dolphin-deadly tuna of the ETP will be the fallback source. Since disruptions always eventually occur, it behooves us to take steps now to prevent the permanent slide of the industry into a regime which dooms the pacific's largest dolphin populations.


In fact, I have worked on a concept for a new sort of technology to harvest the ETP yellowfin tuna, and written a paper on dolphin parasitism by Ahi tuna... let me know if you'd like to see it.... The upshot is that there IS an alternative that will allow us to catch the tuna sustainably with no bycatch, and no dead dolphins. Playing for these stakes, we have to try.


Whaling Commission Meeting goes Carribean


The peripatetic IWC meeting was this year held in Grenada, and the agenda was dominated by regional politics as well as by the usual issues. Specifically, Japan is buying the votes of non-whaling Caribbean nations to try stacking the vote in favor of whaling.


With this in mind, Earthtrust this year established Ms. Kim Derrick, noted conservationist from Antigua, as our official observer. Conditions in Grenada were very basic and communications almost nonexistent; and it wasn't until the end of the meeting that we learned that Ms. Derrick was hired by GreenpeaceUSA at the last moment and did not attend to represent us. Hopefully, the whales were well served anyway....


We've learned our lesson, though: Earthtrust has been represented at the IWC for all except 2 meetings since 1979. We'll be at the next one in person, in Australia in 2000. And we'll have a lot to say....


In its cynical backdoor dealing to claim a grey whale kill quota , the U.S. delegation is allowing Russian mink farmers to kill five endangered bowhead whales each year from the "unused" American native quota. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.

(bowhead painting by ET advisor Richard Ellis).


U.S. now a pirate whaling nation


Dismayingly, the USA - previously a strong pro-conservation voice at the IWC - has become a pirate whaling nation. The U.S. Coast Guard aided members of the Makah tribe of native americans in a "traditional" hunt.


We have met with Makah representatives - both the whaling crew and the elders who oppose the hunt, and are not unmoved by their feelings. However, it was hard to see much traditional in the hunt: powerboats towed the traditional kayak into position, and after the whale was stuck with a hand-thrown harpoon it was blasted with .50 caliber anti-tank shells.


The whale first killed appeared to intentionally swim up to the kayak, raising the disturbing possibility that it was one of the "friendly" whales of Baja, which have learned to interact with humans in boats and be petted by them. If true, as it seems to be, this makes the kill especially tragic:


the "friendly" whales which have decided to interact with humans, and which make up the bulk of the Baja whalewatching industry, will be the first to die.


The reason the U.S. must now be numbered among "pirate" whaling nations is that the IWC has NOT granted the U.S. a quota for these whales to be killed: the Makah do not meet the nutritional subsistence requirements of the IWC, and IWC Secretary Ray Gambell has confirmed that the U.S. is not permitted to take these whales.


This is not just bad news for the friendly grey whales and the Mexican whalewatch industry. In its double-dealing with IWC whale quotas, the U.S. "traded away" five "excess" bowhead whales which were not expected to be killed by the Alaskan native subsistent hunt, in exchange for "extra" grey whales which the Russian mink farmers had applied to kill. Therefore, these five highly-endangered bowhead whales will now die when they otherwise would have lived.


On a larger scale, having the U.S. delegation join - even partially - the ranks of "pirate whalers" seriously alters the dynamics of IWC politics in the whalers' favor. Without the moral high ground, the U.S. cannot object to questionable whaling practices of other nations. And around the world, tribes and nations goaded by Japan are seeking to follow the U.S. lead and resume whaling, to sell the whale meat to Japan. What a bad deal for everyone. Earthtrust agrees with the Makah elders: this was the wrong thing to do.


Earthtrust: just a part of Nature

As you can probably tell, this is a

maximum-parsimony analysis of

DNA relationships between known

whale and hybrid genetics.

JE 93-4 is the sample in question.

(As published in Nature)

Once again, Earthtrust's work has appeared in one of the worlds most respected scientific Journals. In the January 28 NATURE, an article by Earthtrust's salaried staff DNA scientist describes a fascinating part of the ET campaign: using genetic techniques, we managed to trace a specific whale from the Japanese supermarket where we bought the meat to the place in Iceland it was killed (even though it's a "protected species"). We know that the whale was an infertile male who had a fin whale for a father and a blue whale for a mother (possibly due to the lack of blue whale males for breeding). He was born in 1965, and killed on June 29, 1989 near Hvalfjordur, Iceland. How this whale ended up in an Osaka department store in 1993 is a damned good question, and points up the fact that even "protected" species under a global whaling moratorium can end up as sushi.


Japan Dolphin Campaign:

saving a million dolphins over the next 5 years


As you may recall, Earthtrust DNA research into illegal whalemeat sold in Japan's markets not only exposed the widespread trade in "protected" whale species, but - in the years since our first findings were announced in '94 - have caused this trade to decline drastically. The entire politics of whaling infractions, and oversight of Japan's domestic sales, are based on a DNA standard. Once again, we have fundamentally transformed a global issue.


However, there was something else in the whale DNA data. Dolphin meat, a lot of it, marked up to caviar prices and passed off as whale meat in Japanese supermarkets. Now that the endangered whales are getting some relief, we are turning our attention to their smaller cousins which now bear the brunt of illicit traffic.


Consumers in Japan don't know they're eating dolphin meat. Indeed, they'd have good reason not to. In addition to the fact that the dolphin is considered a funny, beautiful, and popular animal by a growing segment of Japan's community, the meat of dolphins carries a toxic load of contaminants which is many times what is found in minke whalemeat. Moreover, there is the "rip off" aspect: such mislabeling of dolphin as whale is like selling dog meat labeled as Kobe beef. The unsuspecting Japanese consumer is being simultaneously cheated and poisoned.


The meat from a single dolphin can be worth US$3000, creating an international market for dolphin meat which is not limited by treaty as is the trade in whale meat. Clearly, something must be done; and Earthtrust is so far the only entity to attempt it.


Earthtrust is one of the most-experienced organizations in affecting Asian cetacean-kill issues, and its breakthrough DNA technology offers authorities in Japan a same-day genetic test with which to enforce tougher labeling laws. So we're not only pointing out a problem, we're providing the answer. This should be a face-saving opportunity for Japan's enforcement authorities. There has already been interest expressed by some of Japan's top media.

Christian Riese Lassen will serve as a goodwill ambassador for the dolphins in Japan. Earthtrust plans to get dolphin meat removed from the market, just like we did for endangered whales


Moreover, we have a very positive vehicle and spokesman for the campaign. Images of dolphin cognition and communication research at Project Delphis are very popular in Japan, and have appeared widely. This will give us a way to raise the dolphin issue - and the related issue of mislabeling - without being seen as protesters. Hawaii artist and international legend Christian Riese Lassen is an advisor to Earthtrust and is serving as the pro-dolphin spokesperson in Japan, where he is quite famous. Earthtrust has been involved in negotiations for television productions to be shown within Japan which will present the lives, and plight, of the dolphin in clear and positive ways. Earthtrust's goal is to drastically cut down the selling of "dolphin" as "whale" in Japan, saving an estimated 1 million dolphins in the next 5 years; bring an end to fraud and a public health problem in Japan, and helping change the way this influential nation interacts with dolphins.



Talking to dolphins: Delphis to seek the Holy Grail ?

As is always the case, the world-famous research of Dr. Ken Marten and the Delphis team continues to be a magnet for international television documentaries and popular magazines. The list of these interviews would fill many pages, and constitutes one of the front lines in the global effort to understand and conserve dolphins. In just the last several weeks, we have been interviewed for German TV, and for a Survival Anglia special to premier in October on Discovery Channel.


But all is not glitz and glamor at Project Delphis: in addition to multiple avenues of ongoing research, the team has spent the last 6 months pulling together research, advisors, and equipment to attempt the "holy grail" of comparative psychology: abstract communication with a self-aware non-primate. This attempt will be the closest humans have yet come to realizing the "close encounters of the third kind" type communication with an alien race.


If that sounds like science fiction, it should: such an attempt has been the subject of science fiction for decades. Before that, the unattainable goal was a trip to the moon. It was unattainable only until the technology and the will to accomplish it were gathered.


At this point in history, we arguably have the tools needed to make the attempt. We build upon decades of research, much of it our own. We can bring to bear computing power and software which makes that of the Apollo moon lander look primitive. We have analytical tools which those before us could only dream of. We have the beginnings of understanding of how dolphins communicate with one another. And we are the world leaders in spontaneous, self-motivated dolphin-computer interaction.

Dr. Ken Marten, Director of Research for Earthtrust's Project Delphis, aligns the touch-screen interface while young "pinball wizard" dolphin Paliahu watches in anticipation. The collective name for the communications initiative is "The Delphis Interlink", and it is bringing together experts in many fields from around the world.

As this is being written, a team is being slowly assembled to make history. Consisting of physicists, programmers, bioacousticians, comparitive psychologists, and linguists, it is contemplating the audacious undertaking in full knowledge of its difficulty, and of the deadly danger dolphins will continue to face as long as the world sees them as fish. A quote from Senior project Advisor Sir Arthur C. Clarke seems appropriate here:


"Fishermen sometimes amuse themselves by spearing mantas and letting the terrified beasts tow their boats - often for miles - before they are exhausted. Why quite decent men will perpetrate on sea creatures atrocities which they would instantly condemn if inflicted upon land animals (has anyone ever harpooned a horse to make it tow his car?) is a question not hard to answer. Fish live in an alien element, and many of them have outlandish shapes; therefore we feel none of the sympathy , none of the kinship, for them which often links us to the creatures of the land. Few of us ever overcome the reaction that classes anything strange as automatically dangerous. 

Let us hope that we will not always retain this primitive behaviour, and will ultimately learn to base our judgments on something more than mere appearance. For one day, when the frontiers of space are down, we may meet creatures who are much more hideous than the manta - and much more intelligent than Man."



Help ET via stock donations - or for free while shopping online!


You may be wondering how the heck ET is going to do all this stuff. Frankly, I do too. Having spent our financial reserves on years of effective but expensive whale-DNA studies, ET faces the future with no financial resources other than what it can attract through its program excellence, and the commitment of its core supporters.


As you can tell by reading what's going on, now would be a good time to invest in the future. It's easier than ever.


ET offers a wide range of planned-giving services that can let you get seriously involved in creating a safer future, while paying less in taxes.


One simple tip is the donation of appreciated property like stocks: by giving it to ET you get to take the full current value as a deduction, and entirely avoid paying capital gains taxes on the appreciation. (You don't get taxed for our appreciation, either!). This is as easy as a phone call to your broker or an internet transfer to the Earthtrust Schwab account, and it's a smart way to do your giving.


(The transfer information for ET's Schwab

account is: DTC 0164, code 40, Account

#3024-7212, EARTHTRUST). As soon as it's

transferred, we'll provide you with the tax

documents you need.


In the meanwhile, there's another way to help ET without paying a cent: do your online shopping through ET's new web-shopping service. By entering through the ET portal, anything you buy generates an automatic gift to Earthtrust by the merchant. You pay nothing extra! This works on sites like and many others. Give it a try! Go to with your browser, and go nuts! Tell your friends about it too.


needed by earthtrust:

can you give a suggestion or a hand?


To do the work it has planned, Earthtrust needs about a thousand things. Here are some of the ones which come to mind:


* A place for Don and Sue, or an ET program manager, to stay for a week at a time in key cities while seeking grants, to avoid hotel costs: New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston.


* An "intern house" on Oahu where we can provide free temporary housing to students who come out to apprentice as conservation and science professionals.


* A Graphic Designer or Design firm to donate services in updating our print materials


* A national public-relations firm or publicist, to work "pro bono" to help us get our programs known.

I've had to skip a lot of great stuff, like the wild spinner research being done by Suchi Psarakos, the Japan Intern program being done by Dr. Fabienne Delfour, the collaborative research we're doing with other scientists, the "Dolphin Bubble Ring" videotape being produced by ET's John Ross and his staff, and senventy-'leven other things. Call me, or e-mail me at to find out more - and I'll write another one of these things sooner than later...maybe.

All best! - Don White

I seem to be showing up a fair bit in German media lately. Here Paliahu and I are interviewed for an upcoming special program. Of course, both of our voices will be overdubbed in German.