Well, welcome to the 20th anniversary issue of the President's Letter. If you're lucky enough to be attending our 20th anniversary benefit dinner at Washington Place, you'll be given a copy there. Despite the importance of the occasion and the beauty of the celebration, we've decided to keep this letter just as plain and un-fancy as ever, printed with the same old low-resolution scans on my inexpensive desktop printer. It's an accurate reflection of who we are and what we do: positive conservation work without the frills
A lot has gone on since I sent you the last issue, written as we were setting off for the IWC meeting in Scotland. A narrow victory, a harrowing whaling meeting, and a lot more. Read on:
When last I wrote you, things were looking pretty bleak for
the dolphins. A terribly-worded pair of congressional bills were
crushing all opposition due to the unholy alliance of interests
which supported them. House Resolution 2823 had passed by a 3-1
margin, leaving only Senate Resolution 1420 to be passed for the
entire dolphin-safe concept to unravel in the USA.
However, in an eleventh-hour reprieve, the alliance of pro-dolphin groups which had worked for many months against this legislation managed to keep S. 1420 from being passed! This was the result of motivated schoolkids visiting Washington, nationwide letter-writing, national publicity, and good strategy in pointing out the inherent flaws of the "dolphin death bill". ET was heavily involved right up until the last minute, and continues to work to achieve true dolphin-safety.
The provisions of the bills were hard to believe, they were so bad. Not only would the USA permanently give up its rights to monitor and enforce dolphin-kill standards, to a non-functional treaty organization, but: (1) the bills would immediately allow dolphin-deadly tuna to flow into the U.S. market, rewarding the biggest dolphin-killers and reversing U.S. embargoes; (2) the bills would re-define the term "dolphin-safe" fraudulently, to allow the chase and encirclement of dolphin populations with purse-seine nets, the technology which has killed 7-10 million dolphins since the 1950's; and (3) the bills made it illegal for firms subscribing to a "higher standard" of true dolphin safety to say anything about it on their labels! This "prior restraint" of the freedom of speech would, among other things, make independent label accreditation marks like ET's "Flipper Seal of Approval" illegal in the USA!
As screwed-up as these bills were, the list of supporters was an even greater surprise. It turned out that many people had a vested interest in selling out the dolphins. The World Trade Organization opposes any U.S. "environmental" standards as unfair barriers to trade. Mexico and Venezuela chafed at the embargoes, and extracted promises from the U.S. administration to make them "go away". Major central-american cocaine cartels, which have been reported to be majority owners of the embargoed canneries (apparently canning more than "tuna" for export), were reported by the DC watchdog group MONITOR to be a main source of the estimated $10 million which hired top Washington PR firms to lobby for the changed laws. The "big 3" tuna companies stayed annoyingly silent, since they have no real problem with buying cheap tuna as long as they can call it dolphin-safe. VP Al Gore led the charge to gut the laws, with support from 5 "big green" groups which endorsed the change. Free-trade Democrats, "Wise-Use" Republicans and anyone who believed the glut of press releases, all made S.1420 into a juggernaut which seemed sure of passing.
The facts on these bills should have quickly consigned them
to oblivion, but major confusion was sown by the endorsement of
five renegade "Green" groups: Greenpeace USA, Center
for Marine Conservation, World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife
Federation, and Environmental Defense Fund. Generally speaking,
these are the richest, best-known, and largest-mailing-list groups
around, and if they had endorsed reincarnation as the new solution
for endangered species, many people would have taken it seriously.
Why would groups like these endorse a gutting of U.S. dolphin-protection
law, in light of past good work on other issues?
I can't read their minds; and I'm tired of reading the self-contradictory bafflegab they belatedly released to justify their positions. But as a founder of one of those groups, and a person who has worked on the issue for almost 22 years, I have a few observations. (1) Nowadays, these enormous groups tend to have very few people actually working on the issues, often with little expertise, finding they can coast along on their name recognition; (2) they tend to stick together; (3) they tend to favor global-scope compromises over unilateral national sanctions - even environmentally successful ones. (4) They tend to strike deals on paper and declare victory, avoiding involvement in the thorny questions of enforcement. In this case, the decision was to sacrifice dolphins to make the market more "fair" for Latin American nations. Unbelievable? Yes, but don't take my word for it:
Greenpeace USA President Barbara Dudley, reported in the LA Times on July 25, ("Big Greens' Double-Dealing Dooms Dolphins") stated "The current dolphin-safe tuna laws represent a kind of green protectionism. We need to give Third World countries incentives to protect the oceans." Of course, most Greenpeace members Like the idea of green protectionism; that's supposed to be the idea. But contrary to Ms. Dudley's blandishments, a main feature of the "dolphin death deal" is to dismantle the strong incentives for marine protection which already exist! So I hereby apologize, again, for founding Greenpeace USA and getting it into the dolphin issue. The five groups which supported this deal will have a lot to answer for if their members ever wise up.
With support like this measure has, it will come up again, and soon. ET will be working on the dolphins' behalf to keep current laws, and dolphins, alive.
My strongest praise for the more than 70 other groups of the Dolphin Safe/Fair Trade Campaign, including Earth Island Institute, Humane Society of the U.S., AWI, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Fund for Animals, ASPCA and others, as well as to individuals Sam LaBudde and Bill Detwiler, and Ellie Bottomley of "Tree of Life" tuna. Also appreciated was the active involvement of Senator Daniel Inouye's office... and of course the heroic leadership of California Senator Barbara Boxer.
A Very Special thanks to Elisabeth Anderson And Bill Detwiler, who organized a trip of 200+ high school kids to go by bus to the Capitol steps where they met with key Senators. The kids carried our "Flipper Seal of Approval" banner, handed out Flipper stickers and Flipper-labeled cans of "Tree of Life" tuna; and delivered copies of a letter from Earthtrust to the Senators. It appears that the support thus gathered may have made an important difference in preventing the attachment of S.1420 onto the "Continuing Resolution" which funds the government between congressional sessions. Such attachment would have guaranteed the bill's passage, and in the dark days before the victory that seemed to be exactly what would happen.
Mexico has already publicly stated that it will bring renewed pressure to bear when Congress returns, and there is a serious concern about facing a renewed onslaught with our "dolphin" funds exhausted. For now, though, it is still illegal to bring dolphin-deadly tuna into the USA, the term "dolphin safe" means what it says, the "Flipper" mark and other "high" standards remain legal, the U.S. fleet is NOT moving back to the eastern pacific to set on dolphins, and many dolphins which would otherwise be perishing in nets may be having a good day. Hope you do, too.
And speaking of divisive situations, the IWC meeting was a pip, too. Held in the scenic granite-walled city of Aberdeen, reknowned as "the most expensive city to hold a convention in Scotland", the meeting was 'way outside town in a peculiar and cramped "Convention Center" which seemingly married a "Motel 6" to a freight yard. It cost $180 per day for each tiny room, and strategy meetings were held in unheated cargo shipping containers full of folding chairs. Temperatures ranged from "too cold" to "too hot", and the cuisine was so cholesterol-choked that many attendees were seen running for the McDonald's a mile away, the only store within walking distance which sold other than oilwell parts.
The weirdness of the overall situation stemmed from more than the 11-hour time-zone difference, the fact that it only got dark for 2 hours each night, or the fact that a large percentage of the attendees came down with viral illnesses. In addition to the customary weirdness of hanging around with the world's whalers, there was the added weirdness of working closely on the whaling issue with the same people who were trying to undermine dolphin protection in the USA. Weirder still, the USA delegation, long the staunch advocate for the whales, had an albatross around its neck: it was directed to obtain a whale-kill quota for the Makah Indians of Washington, and was unable to push whale conservation as strongly as usual. In fact, most of the pro-whale groups spent most of their time attacking the U.S. position.
In addition, David Phillips of EII, who traditionally edits the conservation magazine ECO to keep the world informed about what's happening at the meeting, was unable to come; so Craig van Note stepped into the breach and there followed a lively week of ECO production. (for the first time ever, ECO was available in real-time to people around the world via the ET web page. It was still there the last time I looked - check it out!)
The Earthtrust DNA initiative had its results reported to the
Scientific Committee by Dr. Scott Baker three weeks before we
arrived, so it would be a reference-able document. The global
media was quite interested in the demonstration that virtually
all whales are still available on Japan's market, and particularly
interested in the finding of "blue whale" meat in both
years sampled. However, the global media left early in the week,
and the coverage was more spotty than usual. (The genetic possibility
of the "blue whale" samples being from a blue/fin hybrid
whale confused a few of them; we plan to have this resolved by
the next meeting through further testing).
The Makah whaling issue was as interesting as it was divisive. The Makah themselves were attending the meeting - on both sides of the issue! The younger generation was pushing for rights to kill California grey whales. The Elders were pushing for conservation, against whaling, and the whole thing was pretty emotional. The conservationists at the meeting were all highly sensitized to native rights and broken treaties, but worried about the potentially large "domino" effect if a kill quota were granted without a "nutritional" requirement. This could result in a new catagory of "small coastal whaling" springing up in many places around the world. The U.S. delegation was resolute, but at the last minute the U.S. Congress ordered the delegation to NOT request a whale-kill quota. So the issue will come back next year, again dividing the U.S. delegation and most pro-whale groups, which is a shame. Progress for whales in general often gets short shrift in such situations.
It was good getting to see the people in some of the UK groups, such as Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society, which has given key support to our DNA work. We attended with a discount airfare which made our participation possible but which didn't allow much sightseeing. What wse say was beautiful: some day we hope to go back there and actually see the country. The 1997 IWC meeting is in Monaco, and we may just send a member of the DNA scientific team to that one; the 1998 meeting is in Oman.
ET is honored to be doing some of the first-ever research on
Hawaii's resident dolphins. Directed by Ken Marten and Suchi Psarakos,
this work raises the possibility of protecting these dolphins.
What follows is a report of the project's work over the last several
This long-term study focuses on the habits and populations of the societies of spinner dolphins that swim in the shallow coastal waters around the Hawaiian islands. Identification of the animals is achieved through underwater photography and video; the research follows the natural history of the dolphins through recording their behavior and use of their swimming areas.
In recent years increasing numbers of people have discovered these dolphins and avidly pursue trying to swim with them. As this type of activity becomes more popular, it may become critical to the welfare of the dolphins to define guidelines for appropriate behavior. This research is the baseline scientific study which is necessary to evaluate these impacts, and others, on the dolphins.
In May, Suchi Psarakos, Field Research Director for the project, visited respected colleague Dr. Denise Herzing of the Wild Dolphin Project in the Bahamas, learning her research and data collection and archive methods in order to implement them in our Hawaiian study. They spent three weeks on a research/dive boat seeking out the Atlantic spotted and bottlenose dolphins that roam Bahamian waters.
In August, Suchi coordinated a month-long intensive study of the Oahu spinners. Twelve hours a day, seven days a week, Suchi and four other naturalists collected photo and video data of the dolphins, as well as extensive shore-based observations on such things as number of dolphins, number of swimmers, and dolphin aerial behavior. From days starting at 4:30 am, twice-daily transporting of research gear from headquarters to the research site, centipedes amid 95 degree heat, to erecting and breaking down the research tent on a daily basis, field conditions were grueling. But there were many resightings of dolphins seen last summer, as well as some very good new I.D.'s. Suchi shares the details of one afternoon:
"It was a hot afternoon mid-month, and the research team was paralyzed with the lethargy a 2pm Hawaiian summer sun induces. After two weeks, we had yet to see any dolphins past noon - making the data watch from noon to 6 pm interminable. We had lapsed into silence after discussing the possibility of shortening the length of our data day on these days when dolphins simply left after their morning visit. It was a tempting thought, and one we likely would have adopted - had Darshan not sighted dolphins 30 yards from shore on the 3pm scan of the bay. Darshan and Risa stayed on the beach to record data using binoculars, and Chris and I grabbed our underwater cameras and snorkel gear and headed out. It was an unusually small pod - one group of ten adult males, followed by a group of four juvenile males. The adults were uninterested in me, but tolerated my presence as I swam and dove near them to take their pictures. They swam in unison slowly and quietly, but periodically erupted into bouts of what seemed like an animated, loud game of tag - lots of chasing, nipping and vocalizing that ceased as abruptly as it started. I suddenly became aware that the adults' outbursts were being mimicked by the young juveniles. Although even their "calm" periods had the slightly hyperactive quality that is distinctive of younger dolphins, their swimming was also punctuated by frenzied bursts of acrobatic chasing - clumsily but clearly copying the big tough guys. The juveniles were less welcoming to my approach - I felt as if I were blocking their view - so I held my distance and observed. I had been with them for 45 minutes when I noticed one of the adult males beat his tail imperceptibly faster - and in seconds he and his cohorts had vanished in a cloud of bubbles, as often happens. "
It was a memorable swim for several reasons. First, we tend to see the spinners traveling in groups of 50 to 100 animals, which makes it hard to follow the behavior of specific individuals over an extended period of time. Large groups also make it difficult to assess the gender makeup of a given group, and thus to put observations in a more than vague social context. And second, we usually see them in the morning, when they are winding down from a long night of feeding, socializing, and avoiding predators - in short, they have their thoughts on rest. In contrast, by the afternoon they have slept and are starting to ramp up for the night ahead, and so their social activities and interactions have a markedly different quality.
"Needless to say, we continued to maintain an afternoon watch for the rest of the month."
So where have we been - and where are we going? For more than
20 years now, Earthtrust has seemed stretched to the limit; yet
has remained a stable organization while many others have come
and gone. It has refined it's own special mix of cogent strategy,
high-tech knowhow, scientific credibility, and field derring-do.
Most of all, it has attempted the "impossible", and
while so doing has re-defined many global issues.
I've thought better of including, in this newsletter, a complete line-item listing of ET's accomplishments; there simply isn't room to begin. It's an entertaining list, though. It ranges from being the world's first group to purchase a direct-action environmental campaign ship (in '76) to being the first group to field an environmental presence in Kuwait during the Gulf War. From organizing the saving of a beleagered Sun Bear in Indochina to ending the mass dolphin-kills of Taiwan. From aerial surveys of endangered Hector's dolphins to undersea studies of Hawaii's spinner dolphins. From replanting a devastated native Pahutakawa forest in New Zealand to blocking the delisting of the Siberian tiger at CITES. From undercover work exposing trade in tigers and rhinos which helped achieve the first-ever U.S. economic sanctiosn on this issue, to award-winning video productions and research briefings. The list goes on...
Earthtrust was created to be a tool for saving species. To provide accountability and effectiveness for donors. To be a vehicle which scientists, scholars, schoolkids and volunteers of all kinds could use to change the world.
And although it has worked on a myriad of issues, there remains an unmistakable focus on whales and dolphins.
This is no coincidence. ET grew out of an initial preposterous notion: to save all the whales and dolphins in the world. This, and nothing less, was my initial goal for the organization. Seen from the perspective of the late '70's and early '80's, this was daunting: there seemed to be no reason to expect that the largest whales would not be exterminated within our lifetimes; and dolphins were being killed even faster, by the millions.
So, pragmatically, what needed to be done was:
(1) The world needed to end commercial whaling somehow. And this had to be realistically enforced. (2) the massive kills of dolphins in the tuna industry had to be stopped and enforced. (3) the spreading menace of deep-sea driftnetting had to be exposed and ended somehow. (4) the diverse cultures of the world needed to change the way they thought about whales and dolphins.
And once we got that done, we could save the rest of the world!
Perhaps the only thing more preposterous than this list of impossible goals is the reality of just how successful this small Hawaii-based group has been at achieving them.... (though they are still works in progress)
On whaling, we reached people around the world with our '77 expedition to confront Soviet whalers, carrying the first network TV crew to the killing grounds to expose the realities of the whaling industry. We became one of the few international groups fighting for the whales at the IWC, and helped reform it from a "whaler's club" to something approaching a conservation body. (ET has been represented at the IWC every year since 1979). With others, we fought the long fight which culminated in a commercial whaling moratorium in 1986. After that, ET became the principle organization monitoring Asia and the pacific for illegal whaling, sending investigators right to the sites of pirate operations. And most recently, we have changed the nature and scope of the whaling debate through our DNA survey strategy, working to make illegal whaling a thing of the past. We enter 1997 in a ground-breaking alliance with Harvard University, as the acknowledged leaders in this field. We still aim to end whaling.
On the tuna/dolphin front, we helped define the issues as the public knows them today. The decade-long development of the Flipper tuna-accreditation program led to a meeting with Jerry Moss of A&M records, who in 1990 presented the Flipper materials and strategy - along with materials from other organizations - to his friend Tony O'Reilly, CEO of Heinz foods, owner of Starkist tuna. That meeting and others led to O'Reilly's announcement of "dolphin safe" tuna, revolutionizing the U.S. market and causing dolphin kills to drop precipitously. (I must note here that most credit for this victory goes to our friends at Earth Island Institute, who created and maintained the tuna boycott that made this decision possible.) By 1992, Starkist signed with ET as a contracted "Flipper" company, in a New York ceremony where Starkist president Keith Haugy and I announced the new pro-dolphin collaboration to the world. ET then worked with Senator Barbara Boxer's office in helping word new laws to make ALL tuna in the USA dolphin-safe; and ironically making Flipper less of a necessity. As you've read, this fight still goes on; but the kill has been reduced by orders of magnitude - the dolphins have a chance. ET continues to play a surprisingly large role in the global outcome.
As for driftnets, magic happened. ET magic. With no paid employees, no assets, a few cameras, and a borrowed 40-foot boat, we mapped out a multi-year stepwise campaign against the world's largest and most destructive fleet. It took only 3 years from conception through U.N. moratorium vote, and still stands as the largest single conservation victory in the world's history. (yes, read that last line again, no misprint.). It is so improbable that this happened at all, much less the way we planned it, that it's a good thing it's all recorded on videotape. From the raised fists of the crew at the dock at Keehi Lagoon as the Sea Dragon left on its longshot mission, to the triumphant faces of the ET team at the United Nations, this remains one for the ages. In addition to giving us lifetime bragging rights, this stands as a reminder that no problem is too big to attempt solving.
As for changing the way the world's cultures feel about whales and dolphins, that's a real long-term challenge; but we've made some inroads. Programs like our whale naturalist program educated thousands of people; our Asian outreach teams changed laws and ideas in other nations, including teaching Taiwanese students to dance like dolphins. Our timely 1985 award ceremony in Japan to Odawara villagers who had saved a dolphin made national and international news, and immediately presaged Japan's final agreement to support the IWC whaling moratorium after years of refusal. Our stranding teams saved individual whales and dolphins in scattered locations around the world, while our sponsorship of stranding workshops and re-floating demonstrations promoted the ethic that these creatures are - even individually - worth saving. ET produced the first Chinese-language environmental journal to be distributed in Taiwan, and involved local firms in conservation efforts. And our "worldwide web" page offers educational resources which have reached millions of people in Japan through newspaper reprints.
These are somewhat piecemeal approaches, though, compared with the attempts of Project Delphis. One of the few dolphin-research projects ever conceived with dolphin conservation as the prime motivation, this lab has excited the imaginations of a decade of people around the world. It has appeared in countless international documentaries, helping showcase the unique minds and abilities of the dolphins. Its published research includes the first strong case indicating self-awareness in a non-primate, a profound finding which I expect will eventually make the history books. For the first time in history, a race of beings unrelated to man has been scientifically demonstrated to share an advanced cognitive trait with us. This means that intelligence has evolved more than once in our solar system. Like this year's discovery of past life on Mars, this is revolutionary and still somewhat controversial. And it is, to me, no less compelling than the martian discovery; for in much the same way it widens the limits we previously understood about life and intelligence in the universe. (Indeed, if we found creatures as intelligent as dolphins on Mars, the world would invite them to join the United Nations). The work continues, and we may be lucky enough to successfully interface our advanced computer technology with the large brains of dolphins, creating amazing demonstrations which will change the way humans relate to them. (Who wants to eat someone he's just played a computer game with on the internet?) It sounds like science fiction, but it's happening.
So ET remains a little-known group whose work has in some way affected almost every person in the world - including those who live in the ocean. Is it a scientific research organization? An international policy think-tank? An international espionage agency? An enforcement tool for conservation treaties? A global environmental network? An educational institution? Yes, and then some. Not bad for a bunch of dreamers from Kailua.
The goals remain; the constant work and occasional victories continue, all as preposterously ambitious as ever. So as we head toward the next millenium ET remains stable, and stretched to the limit. Some things are worth stretching for.
Yes, our dolphin-cognition research has been exposed... and
it's a good thing, too. The August issue of that august journal
featured the Delphis lab - specifically, the air-ring sculpture
of dolphins. Our phone hasn't stopped ringing since.
The ring-bubble work is now appearing in literally scads of magazines around the world, and is much sought-after by television programs. Who knows where this will lead?
Here's one tip: watch "Secrets of the Internet" on the Discovery Channel November 18 or so. The work must be good since it has almost nothing to do with the internet.
There's also what looks to be an EXcellent half-hour program devoted to our dolphin self-awareness work done by Dutch Public Television. It will be showing in Europe soon and in the U.S... um, some day. There's also a new Japanese program which will run in Japanese hotels around the world for the next 6 months. An episode of Beyond 2000 will soon highlight the underwater dolphin touch-screen computer, the tuna/dolphin problem, and an interesting experiment in dolphin communication done just for that program. (they claim a global audience of 200,000,000 people). And so on - it's a rare month when a new documentary doesn't film here.
Delphis' most active work in the last several months - as you read earlier, has been the wild spinner and spotted dolphin research sponsored in part by Homeland Foundation.
And in addition, to Suchi learning field techniques from Denise Herzing,, Suchi has in turn been teaching her "supercard", the language we're using to program for the dolphins.
Meanwhile Dr. Ken Marten, Senior Researcher, has been working with volunteers to put together our catalog of images.
In fact, the volunteers and interns at Project Delphis make it all possible. These talented and dedicated people include Alex Nyman of Barcelona, Spain; Ericka Neely,NMFS intern, Univ of Long Island (Southampton); Katie Wallace, Duke University; Kerri Danil of Marine Mammal Education Center, Dana Point, CA; Risa Daniels of University of British Columbia; Darshan Wright of U.C. Santa Cruz; Chris Ing of Univ. of Prince Edward Island, and Brett Weidoff.
And a SPECIAL Welcome to Philip Goyal from England via the Stanford Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Philip is a valuable new long-term addition to the research, and will be coordinating a global network of programmers joining the dolphin research. Also contributing to the work is Ann Fu from China via Stanford Materials Engineering.
Work going on at the lab now, and coordinated by Dr. Ken, includes the 2-tank experiment: approximately 100 10-second sonograms of a whistle "telephone conversation" between dolphins will be analyzed and written up for scientific publication. The research will focus on the "signature whistle" hypothesis, a search for syllabic content, and consideration of non-syllabic music-like communication. Philip and Ken will also be working on touchscreen innovations.
The wild-dolphin research project has spread to Kauai, where Jeanne Russell is now working to compile a "mug book" of specific dolphins; new Earthtrust ally Byron Fears will be doing photos and video on Kauai as well as making a donation for every passenger who rides his boats.