News Stories

Be Careful if You Go Whale Watching

Almost no one in the US wants to EAT whale meat, but lots of us like to go out in a boat and try to spot these wonderful creatures. To see a huge eye rise up out of the water when a whale breaches and slaps its tail loudly on the ocean surface is one of the thrills of a lifetime.

Marine biologist Nancy Black used to lead such tours until she was arrested for feeding whales. The Economist reports that, One day Black was in her research boat with assistants when killer whales attacked a pod of grey whales and killed a calf. Its blubber floated to the surface, and the killer whales were about to feed on it. Seizing this opportunity to film their behavior, Black threaded ropes through some pieces of blubber, then lowered a camera underwater. For this, Ms Black might now face up to 20 years in prison and half a million dollars in fines, after a federal grand jury indicted her this month."

It turns out that Black violated a 1972 federal law called the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which was intended to save dolphins, seals and whales from being killed and harassed. The law also banned feeding these animals, on the theory that doing so might compromise their ability to forage naturally in future.

Federal laws are often poorly written and vague, so they are easy to break without realizing it, even by a professional marine researcher. This means that prosecutors tend to apply them haphazardly: One prosecutor might overlook something that another one has someone arrested for. Since prosecutors can be either political candidates or appointees, they are often trying to please their party bosses or the electorate, when it comes to the cases they choose to pursue.

As we know, the laws that are passed are not always in our best interest. The Economist quotes legal author Harvey Silverglate as asking if charges like these are reasonable when they run "counter to all human instinct and experience."

The news that's reported is not always the truth, especially when it comes to things like climate change (You can now get Whitley and Art Bell's famous book, that was made into a major motion picture, from the Whitley Strieber Collection (and it will come with a FREE autographed bookplate, especially designed by Whitley).

Thanks to the Sea Shepherds and Greenpeace, we may continue to enjoy these great creatures. A few weeks ago, I swam with the whale sharks in La Paz, Baja Calif. Sur. Mexico. This was really an incredible experience and I'd recommend it to anyone in decent physical shape. Mar y Aventura in La Paz makes it easy. Protect the ocean as our lives depend on it!

For heaven's sake, the woman didn't kill the calf, the whales did! As a scientist she did what made sense; the animal was dead and it was an opportunity to learn something about the feeding habits of Grey Whales. This was not a case of 'chumming' and she certainly was not 'feeding' the whales. This is what happens when 'political correctness' trumps common sense! Shame on the prosecutor.

I happen to live near the birthing bays of the Southern Right Whale in South Africa. It is one of the most awe-inspiring experiences one can have to witness the birth of a whale calf as I have been privileged to do twice. I have sat up all night watching the females swimming in circles as they labour and the males patrolling on the outer perimeter of the bay, slapping their tales and spouting water loudly to announce their presence. The awareness of these wonderful animals is unmistakable. They look right at you as they rise up in a breach and I have seen them chase yachts that came too close and even coast guard cruisers that crossed their paths. I have stood as close as three metres from a birthing female as her calf slipped into the sea and been astonished as the males a good 200 metres out slapped their tails at that instant! These animals deserve our unqualified respect but when they do what is natural for them - like hunting in a pack - we, as a sentient species, can learn much by recording the behaviour so long as we do not harm the animals. As any fisherman of large species will tell you, sometimes you have tie the carcass to the side of the vessel and make for port quickly because sharks will swarm in minutes and feed on the carcass as long as they can.The fisherman's intent is not to feed the sharks; it is to transport his catch! The point is that the Grey Whales would have fed on the dead calf regardless of what Ms. Black did or did not do. Her action was irrelevant to the hunting whales who were just being themselves!

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