The "President's Letter" is produced by Don White. All opinions expressed here are his own. This is primarily written to people who are "active volunteers", and is offered in this same sloppy format to those web viewers who don't mind Don's low-tech web publishing.

President's Letter 12/97

Well Hi again, and welcome to the winter '97 issue of my hodgepodge of a newsletter, thrown together for you and other members of the Earthtrust family. It has been a busy year - as usual, with some pretty amazing stories to tell. The picture of me above was snapped by my brother Mike as we canoe'd in Southern Indiana at the end of October, about the only moment in time I've been away from work since last you heard from me. The rest of the time, we have fought the good fight for dolphin-safe fisheries, maintained vigilance against illegal driftnet boats, invented new ways of scientifically detecting whale species in the marketplace in a single day, uncovered a growing dolphin kill, helped protect the habitat of the Spinner Dolphins we're studying, and learned more about the mind of the dolphin. All while spending to our last penny. So have a read about what's going on, and be proud.


ET Whale-Saving is Working! Report from the IWC!


(humpback iand 2-dolphin mage from Corel collection)

 

ET's DNA Work Continues to Set the World Standard

This year ET continued its global dominance in the use of forensic DNA technology to monitor whale and dolphin kills. Of particular interest has been the changes in the whalemeat marketing within Japan, the world's highest-priced whalemeat market and hence the place that whale meat usually ends up.

Earthtrust has now monitored that market for a 4-year period, from '93-'96, the longest and -by far - most scientifically complete survey of the world's big whale consumer.

At this year's Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, Earthtrust data was presented both at the Scientific Committee meeting in Bournmouth, UK; and subsequently at the Plenary session in Monaco by ET's Dr. Frank Cipriano.

One exciting development, invented by Earthtrust for field testing in Japan, is the first "same day" field test for a whale species. This method uses a custom-designed "DNA polymerase primer", a chemical which will amplify only segments of DNA which exist in a single whale population. In this case, the primer was designed for "Southern Hemisphere Minke Whales", the mainstay of Japan's bogus "scientific whaling" fleet. By quickly determining, in Japan, which whales were southern minke, additional attention could be paid to the other samples. All samples were exhaustively analyzed upon return, and the new primer achieved a 100% success rate. So we're moving quickly toward a day when investigative teams can check a nation within a week, not a year.

Perhaps even more exciting for you and us, our analysis showed what appears to be a definite trend AWAY from endangered whale species in the marketplace. (see graph). We already have long had anecdotal reports that Japan Fisheries agents have lectured the stores about "Americans with DNA machines", and told them to stop selling illicit whalemeat. In fact, this reason was sometimes given to our buyers to explain its unavailability. If this means that the world's most voracious pirate-whaling market is losing its appetite for endangered whales due to our DNA work, it may also mean that there are humpback, blue, and other whales now swimming which would have otherwise been under bubble-wrap in Japan's marketplace. The end-market does indeed drive commerce.

Another important finding of our genetic survey work is that Japan's previous excuse for humpbacks, bue whales, and fin whales in their marker no longer holds water. When the initial ET reports blasted onto the world scene in scientific journals, Japan insisted this meat had been in freezers since it had been legal. (In the case of the humpback, this would have been 27 years!). However, ET's analysis has been able to show that any given whale only remains on the market for a short time, with no significant overlap from year to year. In other words, meat is sold while fresh and not stored for decades. Our common-sense conclusion now has a scientific basis, and Earthtrust has challenged Japan to show its "whale meat stockpiles" which we contend are a fiction to mask a black market which has long been out of control.

However, amid this whale work is a chilling discovery about dolphins. Take a look at the graph (I promise this will be the only graph). The tall bars in back are minke meat, seemingly relatively stable in availability. The "non-minke mysticetes" are the whales which shouldn't be there, and are declining. The "Odontocetes" are the dolphins. (ALL this meat was labeled "whale" in the marketplace). Dolphin meat is increasingly being mislabeled as whale, and sold at high whale prices, making an individual dolphin worth as much as US$3000. Our data shows that this percentage is rising, and as of this writing, "small cetaceans" account for nearly 30% of whalemeat sales in Japan. Dolphin are NOT subject to IWC protection or management.

This is not just a "dolphin" problem - the consumer in Japan is being lied to, as though Kobe beef was really re-labeled dog meat. They are paying whale prices for a cheaper product which has higher levels of bioaccumulating toxins; in fact, they're being simultaneously swindled and poisoned. This may be the basis for our plan to (we hope) push for and end to mislabeling of dolphin meat in Japan in the coming year or years. Cheap and unpopular is how it should stay.

And, let's take a step back - NONE of this stuff would be known if not for ET's work. It is the world's main window into this othrwise hidden reality.

At this point, the main challenges are political, not technological. ET is poised to take a large step in its strategy: to have our work institutionalized as an IWC requirement, written into the IWC charter. This will be a difficult but necessary step if our work is to lead to permanent change, and 1998 will see diplomatic and scientific proposals by Earthtrust to IWC member nations to shift the analysis of market samples to national labs, so that the DNA work may continue indefinitely.

There are signs that this could occur. Norway this year began a DNA registry of all whales killed, keeping a promise made to Sue and me in 1994 in Puerto Vallarta by their head IWC scientist. And the IWC has now declared that this work has strong validity. ET continues to transform the global whaling issue... and it certainly needs transforming.


here's the expanded version of the data, a bonus to web users

Snatching partial victory from the jaws of Defeat:
ET saves the day on Dolphin Death Bills.

You've read about it here for the last year. The Dolphin Death Bills, a bailout of Central American dolphin-killing firms, was finally rammed down our throats, despite heroic efforts from most US conservation and animal-welfare organizations. These bills allow "dolphin deadly" tuna into the USA immediatedly, and will re-define the term "dolphin safe" in U.S. law to include dolphin-killing fishing techniques.

That's the bad news, and frankly it's pretty depressing. The good news?

Well, despite its small size, Hawaii location, and almost complete lack of funding, Earthtrust pulled off another surprise victory. This is the opinion of a majority of the conservation organizations which worked for the dolphins in opposing the bills.

Senator Barbara Boxer of California was holding firm: she would filibuster any attempt to jam through the "Dolphin Death Act", and she had other senators lined up to stand with her. However, a surprise call for a "cloture vote" by "Green Al" Gore - after a lot of back-room free-trade arm twisting - made it clear that there would be enough votes against the dolphins to override a filibuster, and Sen. Boxer's allied Senators pulled back from participation in a losing position. Of all the mitigating measures which had been proposed - including killing the damned thing entirely - only two had the strength to survive this assault. The first was that Barbara Boxer managed, at the eleventh hour - to obtain an 18-month delay in the imposition of the new "flatly untrue" federal dolphin-safe definition so that studies could be done to see whether setting purse seine nets around dolphins - which has killed on the order of 10 million dolphins historically - is stressful for them. (The delay is the important part, in my opinion; the studies are too thin to show anything useful, even if there was anything in doubt, which there isn't).

The other measure was Earthtrust's amendment, made through the office of Senator Daniel Inouye, which reworded the "Death Act" to keep true labels (such as the Flipper Seal of Approval and any others) legal. This was another very close thing, which had the fax lines humming between my office in Hawaii and the Commerce Committee in DC right as it was all falling apart. It really honked off the "Death Act"'s sponsors - Senator Breaux ranted and raved for some time on the Senate floor about it. But there were some important issues of US market sovereignty, prior restraint of protected educational speech, and consumer rights; and these were the logical arguments ET used to put a crack into the Death Act.

The situation is still pretty grim, but all is not lost. I flew to Washington DC in September to meet with the coalition of groups which had opposed the Death Deals. The first day there, I was invited to a Bar-B-Q and arrived hoping I would meet some of the heads of the other pro-dolphin groups there. To my surprise, the car delivered me to a circle of chairs on a well-manicured lawn, and I recognized the leaders of many of the world's leading conservation organizations. As John Fitzgerald of Environmental Solutions International showed me to my chair, he noted that "if any of you here don't know, ET is the group who saved the dolphin legislation for us all", which was followed by applause. I was floored to have Earthtrust so honored, and meetings throughout the following week established that ET's innovative (and secret) 1998 strategy to prevent a wholesale return to dolphin kills has a chance, has the support of the biggest names in dolphin conservation, and is the only strategy of its kind.

I'll let you know how it's going.

Meanwhile, at the IATTC, it is becoming clear to the deluded souls who supported the "Death Act" (Like Greenpeace USA) that we were right: the U.S. State Department is "giving away the farm" on dolphin protection, and is treating any dolphin-protection language in the Act as "advisory only"

So stay tuned. It appears that my huge investment of time in this issue - and I hate lobbying and legislation with a passion - may have paid a big dividend for the dolphins. As a supporter of ET, you have once again backed a group which has done the "impossible". I hope you can continue this support in 1998, when the fate of millions of dolphins will be determined.

IWC Meeting a Mixed Bag

ET was again represented at the International Whaling Commission this year, as it has been every year since 1979. (making it one of the longest-running pro-whale groups in this forum). As described in the DNA report, our work was once again crucial in defining some of the real issues. ET also co-sponsored the magazine ECO, produced in Monaco at the Plenary Session, which was the official "pro whale" daily newsletter of the meeting. (Our longtime UK friend and ET consultant David Rinehart was once again the editor, and ther good folks at Earth Island Institute were at the helm).

While Earthtrust did participate in the drafting and passage of some key resolutions at the IWC this year, I must report to you that all is not rosy for the whales, despite the gains of previous years. A few of the main issues:

The so-called "Irish Proposal" would decree a global end to deep-sea whaling - while opening up commercial whaling within the 200-mile EEZ's of individual nations. The intent is, ostensibly, to do away with all the bogus "research whaling" done by Japan and the illegal whaling done by Norway. While this sounds reasonable - covering most of the world's oceans with a kind of sanctuary, the fact is that most whales come within 200 miles of land at some part of their migrations, and these migratory patterns are well-documented in the historical records of whaling companies. In my analysis, it would lead directly to a resumption in the international commercial trade of whale products, whether intended to or not. The proposal was hotly debated and will reappear in Summer '98 in Oman at the next IWC meeting.

The "Makah" whaling issue also dominated the agenda for the second straight year; under treaty, the Makah tribe of native americans has been pushing for a grey-whale kill quota, which they would fill by shooting each whale hundreds of times with rifles and dragging it back to land. At last year's meeting, elders of the Makah tribe spoke against the whaling quota, while younger representatives spoke for it. The U.S. was busily pressuring other nations for a kill quota when an Act of Congress back in Wasnington DC stopped them in their tracks. (What follows is my own opinion, based on what I've surmised:) This year, they were a bit sneakier and accomplished what they were after. Russia had a quota for aboriginal take of grey whales, the U.S. had a quota for Bowheads. Each wanted both... which is a doubling of kill permits, any way you slice it. So each asked for larger kills in its existing quota, and then dropped the numbers while giving some of its whales to the other nation. This way they got away with pretending that the total number of whales to be killed was lessened, yet both nations now have a quota for both Bowhead whales and Grey whales; new whaling locations have been added in Washington state and in Siberia. So the Makah whaling issue was finessed by trading away an additional national Bowhead whale kill. If this is not reversed and repudiated by the next IWC meeting,the repurcussions may be felt by many more whales than that, as the precedent has now been set for coastal whaling where no nutritional or recent cultural need exists. Expect all sorts of whaling proposals from Canada in the future, and who knows where else. The U.S. government should have dealt with this matter internally by helping the Makah in more beneficial ways.

The industrial giant Mitsubishi is planning an enormous salt-production facility which will greatly impact the Grey Whales' breeding grounds in Baja California; and the fight over that continues to rage, with Earth Island Institute dropping hints that Mitsubishi is quite dependent on the good will of its whale-friendly consumers in the USA.

There is the general sinking feeling, I think, that the whales are losing ground, and that a resurgence of whaling may be around the corner as conservationists are increasingly barred from the decision-making process, and deals cut by nations far from the IWC itself. (This is true at CITES as well, for about all endangered species). Just another reminder that "saving" the whales is an ongoing process, and not a done deal. Let's all hang in - they are absolutely worth saving.


Keeping The Driftnetting
Nations "Honest"

As the group that defined the "driftnet" issue and ran a full-field touchdown with it - going all the way from the first underwater filming to an all-out push at the United Nations - ET retains clout among former driftnetting nations. This expecially true in Taiwan, which has seen many national wildlife policy changes from Earthtrust's presence and documentary evidence; from dolphin drive kills to rhino and tiger trade. One tangible proof of this is that once or twice each year since 1992, the Government of

Taiwan presents its "nautical police" vessels to Earthtrust in Honolulu for inspection, and a lively bi-lingual discussion of "what's going on" with Taiwan's ships and "pirate" driftnet vessels.

This year on July 10, the current patrol vessel was presented to Earthtrust's Director of Marine Programs, Sue White by its captain. Aboard the ship, Sue presented the ongoing problem of vessel re-flagging and pressed for patrols to be expanded to the Indian Ocean. (Unmonitored Taiwanese driftnet boats are reportedly operating there, and may - among other things - account for the largest Sperm Whale kill in the world, as many as 50 per boat per trip.) The meeting, which I also attended, lasted several hours, followed by the exchange of gifts and a tasty "Taiwanese" lunch wherein we ate a number of unidentifiable creatures.

The efficacy of these "patrol boats" to catch pirate driftnetters is very questionable, since they do not pursue a Taiwanese vessel which runs another flag up the mast. However, the ongoing process of meeting with them and politely applying pressure by holding the government of Taiwan accountable for infractions creates a climate in which large numbers of unrestrained Taiwanese pirate vessels are not allowed by their government. Earthtrust is alone in holding the line in this manner, despite limited funding (the only '96 or '97 "driftnet" funding came from Cyr Ann Castle's marvelous benefit events).

As they say on the "X-files" (Sue's favorite show), "the truth is out there". Since 1988, ET is still the main organization holding Pacific driftnetting nations accountable.


Delphis and Beyond:
To Know the Dolphin Mind

ET's "Project Delphis" Lab, at Sea Life Park Hawaii, has done some profound stuff over the years, and it is yet another program which underscore's ET's unique approach. Rather than protesting the rising kills of dolphins in Japan and the Eastern Pacific, we are doing something about it: in this case, helping humanity understand what is perhaps the most complex "nonhuman intelligence" it may ever encounter. Before Delphis, it was an article of scientific faith that only the most intelligent of the "great apes" (us and our close cousins) are self-aware beings in this universe. Delphis, under Dr. Ken Marten and Suchi Psarakos, showed convincing work that dolphins, too, are self-aware; meaning that this advanced aspect of cognition has evolved independently at least twice in the universe. The Nobel Prize committee has yet to beat a path to our door, but it can't be long now.

Delphis continues to go where no man, woman, or dolphin has gone before. There's some amazingly cool stuff in the works there that I can't tell you about yet - sorry, but it should be in my next letter to you - but the stuff I CAN tell you about is pretty special.

For one thing, there have been some great new faces at the project. Visiting programmer Jim Suhre of New York and three interns from Kwansie-Gakuin University in Japan engaged in a crash program of re-programming the underwater "touch screen", and Jim also created the "tuna/dolphn Hotline" on our web page (www.earthtrust.com). In addition, we saw a very fruitful visit from collaborator Dr. Denise Herzing (of the Wild Dolphin Project, in Florida). Katie Hadfield, an intern from Oxford University, has been a great addition. Two very capable new project scientists have been on site for many months, and will be returning as long-term Delphis researchers: Dr. Fabienne Delfour (France, psychology) and Bruno Megessier (France, Programming). And of course, Philip Goyal, formerly of Stanford and now teaching at Univ of Hawaii, continues in advanced project planning. The work is demanding, but the payoffs in new discoveries and dolphin conservation could be huge.


Fabienne, Katie, and Bruno after emergency pump repairs at a rapidly-filling Delphis lab.

There are many aspects of advanced cognition, perception, and communication, and these are being readied for testing by the Delphis team and its network of cooperating scientists and technologists. From enriching these dolphins' environment, to hatching experiments which may have dolphins playing computer games, to true cross-species comparitive cognitive testing, we're getting set up for breakthroughs.


Suchi, Annie & Ken Marten, Bruno and Fabienne at St. Stevens' Seminary

ET's dolphin research continues to be sought-after for many national and international documentaries, as well - three this last month alone. When you watch any show about dolphin intelligence or behavior, don't be surprised to see Delphis front and center.


The ET Wild Spinner Project
Special report by Suchi Psarakos

Stories are emerging from the ocean. Earthtrust has been studying the wild spinner dolphins which swim near Oahu for three years; in this third year, our glimpse into the lives of the dolphins has begun to assume a dimensionality that was not apparent early on. Heart, a young female known for three years, gave birth to her first known calf this summer; the vigorous baby was seen on two occasions and then not again. Heart, seen soon after her baby's disappearance repeatedly mating with two large males, al-most immediately beganattempts to renew the cycle.


electra

Electra, a gregarious adult female seen frequently over the last two years, stayed near Heart during the baby's first weeks, stepping in to make sure that curious, bold pacific spotted dolphins kept their distance. Double Decker and Bad Luck continue to visit the research site as they have for the last twenty years, always together, and nearly always with Low Notch, Moonfluke, and JJ in the near vicinity. A slender young unknown female was seen quietly swimming, surrounded protectively by members of her group, as the shredded remnants of a uterine membrane trailed behind her from her genitals. Relationships, personalities, and ocean life are all available for us to record. Because of our foundation of familiarity with these dolphins, growing stronger with every year, less energy is now spent identifying and more is devoted to purely and keenly observing. It is an exciting, rich, and rewarding time of research.

The benefits of our work fall into two categories: science and conservation. Scientifically, we are characterizing the Oahu population in general ecological terms: population size, movements, and relationships to adjacent populations, and by exploring the details of their social life: association patterns, modes of communication and eventually some of their cognitive characteristics.

Scientific data is critical and necessary for conservation. In order to best determine how to manage these animals, we must understand their way of life and their needs. Our swimmer-dolphin interaction shows that swimmers do have some effects on the dolphins, and that dolphin use of the bay is shifting: smaller groups of dolphins are spending shorter periods of time in the area. Further and continued analysis of our three years of data will allow us to provide recommendations for managing the swimming beach. Furthermore, we are in position with an ongoing database on the Makua population, ready to step in and protect these animals when needed.

Conservation in a larger sense is also served by the spinner study. Spinner dolphins are one of the two major species which have died by the millions in the tuna purse seine nets, lending an urgency to studies of their societies.

The Spinner Study recently won a small victory for the dolphins. In the fall of 1997, the dolphin beach was nearly used as an amphibious landing training area for the Marines. In the twelfth hour, the governor made a decision to relocate the training to an alternate beach. The Marines' science advisor has agreed to consult with us should there be any future plans of this kind.

The path of Earthtrust's spinner study is analogous to Jane Goodall's study of chimpanzees: at first she just saw chimps, then she grew aware of individuals, and finally, through the known individuals, learned about their everyday life. In this way, beginning to observe some of the "stories" described here is a milestone for Earthtrust's Spinner Study - and the start of the next phase of a truly exciting adventure that will ultimately help dolphins.



A Wonderful "Nite in Italy"

On November 1, magic happened at the beautiful St. Steven's Diocesan Center, due to the gracious hospitality of Cyr Ann and Chris Castle and the Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo. This incredible location - the former residence of the late H.K.L. Castle - was made available to honor the goals and ideals of Earthtrust in its 21st year of operations.

Impeccably planned by Cyr Ann,assisted by Eleanor Hagedorn, the evening was simply perfect, from the food, to the music, to the words of Chris as "Master of Ceremonies".

It was only made possible by the wonderful network of Earthtrust supporters - companies and individuals - who sponsored and volunteered for the event, and I'd like to thank all of you again for participating and showing such love... particularly our tireless Director of Outreach, C.A.C.


And more other stuff than will Fit

There are limits to an 8-page newsletter. Like who is this guy on the left, and what role is he poised to play for ET? (editor's note: he never did much)

What incredible stuff am I planning with Flipper now that it's still legal on tuna cans? What about Sue and my event-filled trip to Harvard right before the IWC meeting? Or the Species Survival Network board meeting I attended in Washington pushing expansion of the DNA protocols into other endangered-species issues? Or the great new line of art cards benefitting Earthtrust? Or the fact that we've been invited to do a presentation at the Whales Alive conference in January? And when will you see what Philip looks like? Just not enough space....

I DO want to mention, ahem, that we have spent ourselves blind and that most key staffpeople are working for free or nearly so. It's time for an ET Endowment Campaign to keep the work going, so do an end-of-year gift if you haven't already; and bear in mind that there are a lot of tax-saving ways to benefit the work - and your family - if you have appreciated property. Seriously, now's the time, folks.

 

My very best wishes and love to you from the rest of the ET family. Let's keep doing impossible things together. Happy Holidays, and I'll see you in '98!


EarthTrust

Windward Environmental Center
1118 Maunawili Road
Kailua, HI 96734 USA
(808) 261-5339