The President's Letter

An insider's look at what's going on at Earthtrust.

Sixth Edition - Summer '98

Dolphin-Intensive Issue

WELL HELLO AGAIN, and welcome to the Summer '98 issue of my irregularly-published "insiders" newsletter exposing the inner workings of Earthtrust and the issues it's working on. The fact that you haven't gotten one of these for months underlines the only real drawback to having me write it, lay it out, and duplicate it (or, in this case, create a web page with it): I must write it and lay it out late at night. Of course, events at Earthtrust continue on at the usual exciting pace, and I'll do my best to bring you up on some of the high points in this letter.

 

In this issue, we'll talk about an ET strategy that may be the "last hope" for millions of dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific; a new "Japan initiative" to save dolphins which are being falsely sold as whalemeat; an amazing breakthrough at Project Delphis with the "underwater touchscreen"; new program directors for the Video Production program and Endangered Species program; ET's growing intern program; a high-tech alliance to give dolphins access to the internet (really!); an introduction to our new CITES manager, a description of ET's expanded offices and staff, ET involvement in the courts on the whales' behalf and much more.

 

One Last Chance for the ETP Dolphins

If you've followed these newsletters, you have heard a number of dire predictions about the gutting of U.S. dolphin-protection law over the last few years. These predictions have been frankly at odds with the U.S. adminstration and its group of five "big green" "helpers" (Greenpeace USA, Center for Marine Conservation, World Wildlife Fund, and two others) who together gutted the dolphin-protection provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act last year in the guise of "free trade and environmental protection". ET and more than 80 other pro-dolphin organizations were beaten by outright lies and a coordinated "free trade" bail-out of dolphin-killing fisheries, primarily in Mexico and Venezuela.

 

The bad news is, we were right again about the impacts. The good news is that we may - possibly - still have one chance to keep the fleets from resuming unrestricted net sets around dolphins, and ET is leading the movement on this strategy.


Like the dolphins, endangered sea turtles have now fallen victim to a "free trade" sellout by the U.S.administration


Turtle Soup: The fabrications of the anti-dolphin forces are now well-established as such; even as the precedent which was set is causing other U.S. laws to fall when challenged by the World Trade Organization (WTO). The latest casualty is Sea Turtles: the administration did a repeat of the dolphin sellout, and will now apparently be paying reparations to foreign vessels which violated turtle-protection regulations and have killed huge numbers of endangered turtles in shrimp nets. U.S. consumers will now be forced to buy shrimp caught by killing turtles, or boycott net-caught shrimp altogether. These continuing sellouts are alarming, because there is no wildlife-protection convention in the world - even CITES - which is not illegal under WTO rules! Bluntly put, the deal is this: U.S. consumers have no choice but to buy products which destroy endangered species. This unbelievably bad idea is fully a product of the Clinton/Gore administration and - at times - its small coterie of brown-nosing "big green" groups.

 

On the dolphin front, the false promises have disappeared into hot air: the "side agreement" which the administration promised would protect dolphins, simply didn't. The promise that the U.S. taxpayer would no longer have to foot practically the whole bill for the toothless IATTC program has been declared by the state department to be "advisory only", meaning that other nations don't have to pay their fair share. and U.S. taxpayers won't even have legal access to the information they're paying to have falsified! (in the latest data available, the US paid over 91% of the total IATTC budget, with only 7% of the boats!) The side agreement has been signed, and it contains NO provision for "bycatch" reduction of turtles, sharks, or any other species as had been promised; there is NO provision for lowering dolphin kills and there IS a provision for raising them; the ridiculously low "kill quota" of 5,000 dolphins per year for the whole fishery is being allocated so that vessels may trade in "dolphin death certificates" in the second half of each fishing season, to make sure all 5,000 are killed. Of course, ET and its scientists have worked on this fishery for years, and know the actual kill will be orders of magnitude higher and higher still once tuna vessels move from the western pacific back to the ETP to set on dolphins, which they have now publicly stated they are going to do. The new "observer" program is best summarized as a "don't ask/don't tell" policy, and will upon its inception be the largest-scale marine environmental fraud since Japan and the former USSR conspired to eradicate most of the world's large whales in the 50's, 60's, and 70's. (That fraud was only discovered when the USSR fell and honest men in Russia dared tell the truth Japan never did). And Mexico, the largest dolphin-killer, has inserted language into the side-agreement which makes its citizens immune from sanctions even in the event they are caught cheating!. For the first time since 1990, dolphin-deadly tuna is heading for U.S. supermarkets; and by March '99 the U.S. plans to phase in its "new definition" of "dolphin safe" for all tuna cans. This new policy, which in essence defines a dead dolphin as a "safe" dolphin, foreshadows the "public relations" nature of the environmental fixes planned by this administration as it guts species-protection laws in favor of trade.

 

So - no surprise - we were right.

 

Ironically, just as the world moves closer to eradicating the remaining dolphins of the ETP, Earthtrust research is discovering the intricate family structure of spinner dolphins like those killed in the millions there. (see the story on "Ocean Acrobats"). There is also research planned by the U.S. government, but it is not designed to be useful. A series of cruises known as the "spam" trips - for ("stenella population assessment monitoring") will be made to determine whether dolphin populations are suffering, and whether netting and killing them causes them high levels of stress. There are good people involved, but it's important to look back and remember where these studies came from: these studies were obtained by Senator Boxer in the last desperate minutes, when Gore's cloture vote collapsed the organized opposition to the "dolphin death bills". The studies were a way to buy 18 months or more before the fraudulent new "dolphin safe" definition went into effect, and were acknowledged as such at the time. Simply, the timing of the trips is such that they cannot report anything meaningful in time to stop the fraud; and the burden of proof is on these trips to prove that dolphins in the ETP are depleted and stressed, which they will not be able to do with the thin level of data coverage possible. These trips simply will not be able to discern population variations on the order of magnitude which would be considered relevant. The U.S. studies are a political artifact of last year's congressional wrangling, a sideshow; the fix is already in on the policy level.


Deafened dolphins in a purse-seine net: "SAFE" by the new U.S. Definition!


 

So there is a short window of time before the bogus new U.S. "dolphin safe" definition becomes law, putting the fishery into a permanent stable state of dolphin-massacre, hidden behind an impenetrable international treaty organization. We have plans for that window of time; and hope to create a new framework of international protections for the dolphins, turtles, and other species, which will be immune to the WTO's draconian powers, and immune to congressional sellout. (I realize that, coming from anyone but ET, this would sound like hype; but this is no time to think small, nor have we ever).

 

This initiative would not even be possible if not for our previous improbable success: ET and Sen. Inouye's office amended the "death bills" in the last hours before passage to keep true labels legal in the USA.

 

I regret that the nature of this initiative is such that I can't make it all public without endangering its success; but at its core it is based on international contract law, the framework that holds together the international business community. Beyond national law and international treaty, we will be "programming in the same language" as the world of business.

 

It is the central contention of this initiative that the objectives of "dolphin-safe tuna" - and many other environmental and social causes - may be directly, rigorously, and practically addressed by the intelligent use of contracts to bind segments of the industry to high standards under the flexible aegis of international contract law, setting into motion a chain of events governed by existing market forces which will make conservation goals achievable.

 

This is not standard conservationism - this is entirely new territory; and frankly it is so outside the conventional wisdom that we will be very lucky if we receive the grants to properly attempt it. But ET has the credentials. It is the only nonprofit group ever to bind a major tuna firm to contractual standards under an accreditation mark, and has explored this "contract law approach" for the last 15 years internationally; notably with its "Flipper Seal of Approval". "Flipper" may or may not be used in this current initiative, but one thing is clear: the ET strategy is the best hope.

Breakthrough at Delphis: Scientific Team Establishes Dolphin Interface

 

The multi-talented Delphis team achieved a milestone this Spring when the one-of-a-kind "dolphin touch-screen" became usable for a wide range of dolphins and not just "computer nerds".

 

The touchscreen, built to ET specifications by CarrollTouch Inc, is the only flexible interface of its kind: It allows dolphins to interact visually, tactilely and sonically with a potential infinitude of computer programs, and is in theory as unlimited as a computer keyboard. It is entirely "dolphin safe"; the only thing that enters the water are invisible infra-red light beams, transmitted through an ingenious path of mirrors to allow a dolphin, immersed in pressurized seawater, to have direct and immediate control over a high-voltage monitor and high-power computer. Like human "computer games", the only "reward" to a dolphin for playing with the TS is the experience itself: no food reward or other classical conditioning methods are used. The interface is provided to enrich the environment of the SLPH dolphins, and the dolphins alone decide when, and whether, to use it. If we are clever enough, we can learn new things about the dolphin mind and communications system by the games we offer them to play. Moreover, the design has the unprecedented ability to present fundamentally the same cognitive challenges across taxa: to gorillas, chimps, humans, and pretty much any other species with a mind.

 

The touch-screen has been operational for several years - surviving various floods, leaks, and challenges. It had proven of interest to some of the young dolphins, who would interact with it; but not all. This presented a formidable challenge, since Earthtrust does not take any part in the operations of the oceanarium, and thus has no control over which dolphins may be in the large tank at "Bateson's Bay" adjacent to the submerged Delphis lab. For a prolonged time, the only dolphins in that tank have been old females (25 years and up) who were quite uninterested in the high-tech gizmo in the tank window. And since they're the bosses in this work, that has meant no progress with the TS.

 

So the challenge was in programming. How do you program a computer game in a compelling enough way to attract and hold the interest of an old, disinterested dolphin? It cannot be through sound volume: we use a unique piezo film as sound transmitter both for its incredible frequency range and for its self-limiting volume level: detectable to a dolphin nearby but low in volume compared with other environmental sound sources. No, the breakthrough - if one was to occur - would be in advanced programming.


Puna puts the Touchscreen through its paces....


This occurred during early April when ace programmer Jim Suhre worked with Ken and new Delphis bioacoustician Jon Ross during an intense programming session. Jim programmed in a high-level computer language called Director, and used extremely dynamic programming, with multiple types of movement, visual and sonic feedback to dolphin interest, and material of special interest to dolphins, such as their own digitized sounds and images. Ken Marten, Director of Research, was frankly skeptical: he had seen these dolphins ignore the TS for years.

 

But it did, in fact, work. The team was able to elicit extended interaction time at the dolphins' own behest. Said Dr. Marten: "The programs were "stacked" to keep up with the dolphins' perceptions; coming fast, furious, and varied as the dolphins interacted. Puna led the way; she had been beside Laka when she did thousands of touches but had never touched it herself."

 

So it appears that the theory of the TS is in fact sound; and in making it work we have learned much about what dolphins find to be interesting. Any hurdles to making this the premier heuristic tool for studies of dolphin cognition and language will now be imposed by humans and technology, not by the dolphins.

 

During this work we found ourselves for the first time using the new Lilly-Delphis connection, in that it was John Lilly website programmer Jim Suhre who provided the incredible programming skill needed to implement all the crazy ideas that were necessary for success. Jim visited the lab for several weeks of intensive work with Ken in October '97 and April '98. Jim is now a project fixture, working remotely from New York.

 

In addition to these team members, Dr. Fabienne Delfour and Bruno Megessier have returned from France and will be working on the project until the end of the year, in research and programming respectively. In additions, we have had a constructive visit from Dr. Denise Herzig, a collaborative research project with Alan Rosen, a student of Dr. Gordon Gallup, and intern Katie Hadfield, from Oxford University, England. Top this off with ten interns from Kwansei Gakuin University near Kobe, Japan, and you may get an idea of the level of work focused on the lab.


Delphis contributing Physicist Karim Shariff, relaxing at home


Delphis is at work on four scientific papers and an additional methodological paper on the touchscreen. In May, the lab's varied extensive contributions were highlighted by the international program Beyond 2000, with a viewing audience of 200,000,000; it should air in the USA in late summer or fall - watch for it! Other media - like the cover of Japan's GEO, (shown here) - are literally too numerous to mention.

 

So stay tuned - check out web site for updates between newsletters. All of this is taking place as Sea Life Park Hawaii completes a renovation and Delphis has lost several of its long-term funders; and in the context of rising dolphin kills in the pacific. Literally, we can't afford to keep going but we can't afford not to. And can dolphins on the internet be far behind? Check the last page.


ET's New DNA Initiative
Focuses on Dolphins in Japan

If you've followed the DNA story, you know that our high-tech work has revolutionized the whaling issue, and has led to a decline in the number of endangered whales showing up in Japan's markets. However, this is only half a victory, because at the same time we have shown that the percentage of "dolphin sold as whalemeat" is rising fast. Already, one in every 3 "whalemeat" buys in Japan is dolphin meat, and dolphins are not protected under IWC or CITES treaties. Thus, we have discovered a huge new threat to dolphins. We also have the solution: DNA technology that can quickly distinguish between dolphin and whale meat. However, getting this implemented in Japan will take art as well as science. Even though Japanese consumers are being gypped and in some cases poisoned, past experience has taught us that you can't go into Japan to directly change the laws: you have to work with what they have, positively, and encourage them to make the change themselves. This is difficult, but ET has historically been one of the most-successful organizations at affecting long-term change in Asian marine-mammal law, and we believe we can make a difference in this issue as well. We're starting with a positive push to establish ET's research in Japan's popular media, such as the cover of last month's GEO shown here. This underscores an important fact about the seemingly disparate programs of ET: they are designed to give us the most possible flexibility and credibility in many seemingly-intractable situations. Millions in Japan have thrilled to documentaries of our research at Delphis and in the wild; and we have a feeling that - if the issue is properly presented - we can encourage "truth in labeling" of whalemeat. (After all, who wants to eat someone he's just played a computer game with on the internet?) This is a new project and currently unfunded; but an exciting one. The DNA and Cognition work are converging to attempt saving hundreds of thousands of dolphins per year. Perhaps we'll do even better, and help change the image of dolphins internationally, forever. No sense in starting to "think small" now....

Dolphins of many species are being served up as "whale" in Japan, driven by prices of up to US$3000 per dolphin. ET has plans to bring this commerce 'way down


 

Spinner Dolphin Study Featured in Award-Winning Documentary - and the discoveries continue..

 

Congratulations are in order to Suchi Psarakos and Ken Marten for playing a large part in the award-winning Hardy Jones documentary "Ocean Acrobats: the Spinner Dolphin"

The documentary focused heavily on their work, and on Ken's experiences as a tuna/porpoise observer for the U.S. Government in years past. As one of the two species most heavily impacted by the merciless ETP tuna fishery, this first-ever glimpse into the lives and social structures of these beautiful little dolphins is an important one. No one seeing it could fail to be moved by the apalling waste which is being perpetrated on their families in the name of "cheap tuna" and "free trade".

In addition to this international attention, the Spinner study is continuing its discoveries, and its advocacy on behalf of Hawaii's dolphins. In March, Suchi and Ken took part in a "brainstorming" meeting at Hawaii's Dept of Land and Natural Resources to discuss the welfare of the Makua dolphins with state and federal agencies. It seems that direct protection of the area is not feasible, so the emphasis will be on educating the public to give them enough space. One hopes this will be enough... time will tell.

 

April saw Dr. Denise Herzig returning to continue the collaboration which has been ongoing between this project and her study of Spotted dolphins off the Bahamas.

 

By May, Suchi had finalized negotiations with a local colleague which will allow her to go out on a research boat on a weekly basis in July and August to take dorsal fin ID photos of spinners on the West and South shores of Oahu. Initial results show that they are indeed largely the same dolphins; so there may be fewer than people think. Suchi consideres this a terriffic opportunity to observe the dolphins in a different environment and observe how they're utilizing the coastline.

 

The Spinner Study was accepted to give a poster presentation at the 1998 Hawaii Conservation Conference in July. The conference is attended by people actively involved in the protection and management of Hawaii's native species and ecosystems, and facilitates interaction among natural resource managers and the scientific community. As a part of the preparation, the Spinner Study web page on ET's site was updated.

 

More recently Suchi traveled to the Bahamas, to work with Dr. Denise Herzing for 16 days on board her research boat. Suchi assisted Dr. Herzing in the new phase of her research which is exploring the development of potential channels for two-way communication between humans and Atlantic spotted dolphins. Suchi participated in the in-water work, as well as by designing a computer program which will allow Dr. Herzing to use a computer to play selected sounds to the dolphins through an underwater speaker.

 

Discussions are underway with a French television producer, to include the Spinner Study in a science program for French public television on dolphin intelligence, language and social behavior. Look for a greatly-expanded story on this research program in the next newsletter!

 

ET Welcomes New Director for Endangered-Species Program!

Linda at the United Nations as part of the ET team, in the successful push for a global deep-sea driftnet moratorium


From tigers to rhinos to endangered seabirds to endangered whales, ET has long been a leading group in the fight to halt the trade in endangered species products. Towards that end, it co-founded the international Species Survival Network (SSN) in 1994 to unite the good work of conservation organizations and individuals in common strategies against the forces which would destroy species and biodiversity for profit.

 

We are enormously pleased, then, to announce that Linda Beeler Paul, the highly respected Hawaii conservation activist who authored our definitive Driftnet Briefing Document and helped win the world's largest environmental victory, has accepted Earthtrust's place on the board of SSN (while I step down). This newsletter is 'way too short to do justice to Linda's accomplishments, but she is a practicing attorney, a fisheries expert, and in fact is one of the prime movers of Hawaii Audubon.

 

Linda has taken on the daunting task of steering the international SSN organization as the only representative from the Pacific region, and of representing ET's plans and concerns in setting global strategies for the conservation movement. It may be a role she was born to play: I expect Linda to have a big effect on the direction of SSN; and hence on CITES and the survival of myriad species.

 

She will fly to London in September to attend SSN strategy meetings, and will present ET's proposals for the proper development of DNA protocols as the 21st century's premier tool for monitoring the trade in endangered species, among others. Knowing Linda, she may well wind up involved in several dozen other issues as well: she has one of the best minds in the conservation movement, and isn't afraid to use it.


New Video Department Director, Expanded office, and new staff members....wow!

 

With no funds to speak of, broken air conditioners and copy machine, and all officers and many staff unpaid, it seems that ET might have few options. Be that as it may, we're expanding; and have some great new team members, facilities, and plans.

Jon Ross is rebuilding the video department, from the tubes up....


One very prominent addition to the mix has been Jon Ross, (also of Delphis bioacoustics fame), who has taken on the job of rebuilding ET's video-production facilities into a world-class nonlinear editing facility for the production of educational videos, briefing pieces, and broadcast documentaries. Jon comes to ET with a rich background in computer programming and the music industry. Already, he has overseen the move of the vid room into its own office at Aikahi, and has taken delivery on a Casablanca edit system purchased for us by Norcross Wildlife Fund.

 

Other New additions include bookkeeper Radford, WorkHawaii trainee Leena Lovell, and graphics designer Cynthia Carter, who has moved to Hawaii - dog and all - to join the ET team. Intern James Nelson rounds out the list of new faces at ET's Aikahi Headquarters. Historically, ET has done good work even in times of scarce funds, through the quality of people we attract. Nice to see the tradition continuing.

Hula dancer Leena is also at home managing a database at the ET office: the hands tell the story


Hi-tech Alliance to bring Super-Speed to ET Outreach

Earthtrust has always been one of the highest-technology conservation entities in the world: doing the "impossible" on a limited budget often means adapting concepts, science and technology to the issues in ways never tried before. ET also plans at least 5 years ahead in any of its work - and doesn't understand why everyone doesn't. Continuing this philosophy, I began discussions with Oceanic Cable's new "Road Runner" subsidiary years ago as soon as the technology was announced with Oahu a test market, and ET is now engaged in a technological partnership with them.


Road Runner Hawaii President Mike Meyer and I take a light-hearted step into the future together... (note the ET web page in the background on their humongous monitor)


Typical modem speeds these days are 14.4, 28.8, or rarely 56 thousand bits of information per second. Using fiber-optic cable, Road Runner can achieve speeds up to 23 million bits per second. Go ahead, do the math. But it's a qualitative difference, too: it should mean real-time full-resolution video-on demand. This will start by giving ET the coolest web site around, and is planned to connect to some proprietary ET technology - the dolphin touchscreen - to actually get dolphins interacting on the 'web; with other dolphins and even humans. Stay tuned.....

 

ET Sues to Safeguard Whales

 

The short and long-term effects of bombarding the oceans with noise pollution are yet unknown, but many sea creatures make use of sound in their feeding, mating, territorial, and navigational behaviors. Among these are Hawaii's endangered humpback whales. Thus, when the Navy announced tests designed to intentionally bombard these whales with sound, we were concerned over the tests themselves and the actual sonar arrays these tests presage - which could be much louder. We felt that an end-run was being done around species-protection law.


Humpbacks like this one are already swimming through a cacaphony of human-produced sounds; they deserve the benefit of caution


Thus, ET joined as a plaintiff on the whales' behalf when on Feb. 23, the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund filed a temporary restraining order in federal court. The other plaintiffs were Ocean Mammal Institute (which had brought the issue to the attention of ELDF), Earth Island Institute, Greenpeace Foundation, and Animal Welfare Institute. The ELFD argued that the Navy had violated federal law by not preparing a full environmental impact statement (EIS) for the study. The U.S. District Court ruled that the tests could go on, which they did - despite in-water protests by some Hawaii citizens, legal appeals, and continued media pressure. The study was ultimately shortened due to protests and technology problems.

There were some people who feared that the noise would liquefy the whales outright; and they were derided by proponents of the LFA sonar arrays as naive. However, I'm a former seismologist, and understand the physics - as well as the biology and the politics involved. There are serious issues at stake here.

Earthtrust speculates that advances in computer power will soon make the brute-force approach of the LFA method unnecessary, enabling the military to extract necessary intelligence data from ambient sounds - as long as the US isn't invested in a costly and intrusive "boombox" program by then. We continue to believe that humankind must "err on the side of caution" in this case, and the case of other intrusions into the ocean environment which are NOT available for public scrutiny...


Miscellany: Malibu firm changes its name to end any confusion

For some years, there has been an unaffiliated organization using the name "Earth Trust Foundation" in Malibu. It has now changed its name to EarthWays.



The "President's Letter" is produced entirely by Don White. All opinions expressed here are his own.


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