Outposts

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Category: Whale-watching

Japan's new government stands by whaling, not eager for bout with Sea Shepherd

Sea Shepherd crew members are blasted by water cannons from the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 1 as the Sea Shepherd helicopter flies alongside during last year's campaign against the Japanese effort.

Japan's new government this week urged Australia to help thwart the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's effort against whaling and at the same time implied that it supports the nation's longstanding tradition of hunting whales.

The conversation Tuesday at the United Nations was between Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who was appointed last week after Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was sworn into office, and Australian foreign minister Stephen Smith.

As one might expect, Smith answered that he'd like to resolve the issue through dialogue without straining relations. That could be construed to mean Australia, which is a whale-friendly nation, will not physically prevent Sea Shepherd from using Australia as a base for pursuing Japanese whaling vessels into Antarctic hunting grounds this winter (their summer).

If in fact Japan's new government supports the annual slaughter of about 1,000 minke whales -- that was Smith's perception -- it comes as distressing news to environmental groups around the world. The hunt is carried out within a loophole in a 1986 international moratorium against whaling. The loophole allows whales to be killed for research purposes, but whale meat is sold commercially.

Though few outside of Japan believe lethal research is necessary or legitimate, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research has posted some scientific findings on its website.

Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd is promising a stepped-up effort this season under the campaign slogan "Operation Waltzing Matilda." An Animal Planet crew will  be aboard filming for a third season of the popular series, "Whale Wars." 

Last year's record-setting series included dramatic footage of whale kills, vessel-ramming and tense confrontational measures and countermeasures. Surely, Sea Shepherd Capt. Paul Watson will be expected to provide more theatrics this time around.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Sea Shepherd crew members are blasted by water cannons from the Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru No. 1 as the Sea Shepherd helicopter flies alongside during last year's campaign against the Japanese effort. Credit: Stephen Roest / Sea Shepherd

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter visit @latimesoutposts.com

'Whale Wars' season finale sets viewership record; third season announced

The Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin collides with the stern of a Japanese harpoon whaling ship in the Antarctic during last season's campaign.

A record 3.2 million viewers tuned into the season finale of Animal Planet's "Whale Wars" series last Friday night and, to no one's surprise, the network announced there will be a third season.

The second season of "Whale Wars," which profiles the exploits of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it campaigns against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic, was Animal Planet's second-best performing series in network history. The shows were viewed in an average of 779,000 homes.

The series pits an unwilling subject -- Japanese whalers -- versus Capt. Paul Watson and a ragtag vegan crew that engages in disruptive techniques such as tossing bottles of rancid butter (butyric acid) aboard the whaling vessels. Last season there were collisions and numerous other dicey situations.

Japan's annual whaling effort is legal, thanks to a loophole in the wording of an international moratorium. The primary targets are minke whales, which are not endangered. Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research has labeled Watson and his crew terrorists.

This winter's campaign (summer in the Antarctic) is called "Operation Waltzing Matilda" and will be an escalated effort sure to further rile the Japanese but please the show's producers.

Said Marjorie Kaplan, president and general manager of Animal Planet: “It’s been terrific to see the success of this groundbreaking series, and its growth creatively and with audiences from the first to the second season. I'm proud to be able to announce the third."

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: The Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin collides with the stern of a Japanese harpoon whaling ship in the Antarctic during last season's campaign. Credit: Sea Shepherd
 

Humpback whales off Santa Barbara are big on people watching

If you appreciate marine mammals and you have not taken a trip this summer aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara, you're missing out.

Not only are majestic blue and gregarious humpback whales concentrated in the same area in the outer channel, some of the humpbacks seem to truly enjoy the company of the vessel's passengers.

In fact, veteran Capt. Mat Curto is sure of it.

"They just want to be friendly with the boat," he says. They will stay with you up to two hours at a time, circling the boat, looking up at you while they turn on their side.

Humpback whales mingle with passengers aboard the Condor Express.

"They have a real big interest in whale watchers and I seem to find that the more the whale watchers react to the whale, the more the whale will react to the whale watchers. If you get people clapping and yelling and whistling and cheering for the whale, the whale just feeds off of it."

Continue reading »

Sea Shepherd's Paul Watson bides time in calm before anti-whaling storm

Watson

The L.A. Times Dish Rag blog today breaks news that many already know about: Capt. Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society runs a vegan ship. DR also provides Sea Shepherd recipes for those interested in learning how these anti-whaling operatives dine.

Another bit of Sea Shepherd news: The controversial skipper and his ragtag crew will be at the Riverside Municipal Auditorium on Aug. 29 for an art auction fundraiser entitled "Sea No Evil." It will begin at 7 p.m. and feature more than 60 works of art, including original pieces from Shepard Fairey and Jeff Soto.

A $5 donation is required and proceeds will benefit Sea Shepherd, which is in off-season preparations for yet another campaign -- and perhaps another Animal Planet "Whale Wars" series -- against Japanese whale hunters in the Antarctic.

To be sure, that's what people want to know about. All this blase news about fluffy vegan pancakes and art shows does is whet the appetite for the meat-and-potatoes activity that includes dramatic confrontation and what the Japanese refer to as outright terrorism.

Watson will have more and faster boats for what he promises to be an escalated campaign. Those who followed last season's campaign may recall the collisions and other close calls. Surely, Japan and its Institute of Cetacean Research (Japan suggests to the world its minke and fin whale hunts are in the name of research) are plotting countermeasures for when both groups take to the whale grounds in about four months, during the Antarctic summer.

Many of the few hundred people who have commented on Outposts about this issue -- Watson has lots of supporters, but as many critics -- claim it's only a matter of time before someone is killed or seriously injured during these confrontations. Will this be that kind of season? Stay tuned....

-- Pete Thomas

Photo of Paul Watson courtesy of Sea Shepherd

Note: To follow this blog on Twitter visit @latimesoutposts.com

Migaloo the white whale sighted for first time in two years off Australia

Migaloo the white humpback whale, perhaps the world's most famous whale and one that has attained iconic status among Australia's passionate whale-watching community, was spotted this week near the Great Barrier Reef by two researchers with the Maui-based Pacific Whale Foundation.

The Cairns Post reports that Migaloo, a humpback whale estimated to be in his mid-20s, had not been seen since 2007. To view photos visit the Post's website.

The researchers first located Migaloo a mile northwest of Snapper Island, with the guidance of a dive-trip vessel. They lost sight of him but found him again four hours later, about four miles west of the island.

“I honestly had a dream last night that we would see Migaloo today, and had a strong premonition in the morning that today would be the day we would see him again,” researcher Greg Kaufman said in a report posted Thursday on the group's website.

Fellow researcher Annie Macie added: "Seeing Migaloo was inspirational. The word that kept coming to my mind was majestic. It was like seeing the eighth wonder of the world.

"Just before it surfaced, you could see a halo effect from the white body against the blue sea. Then its body would shine as it rose from the ocean. Overall, it was really an amazing experience, the best day of my life."

Dozens of whale-watchers, many of them aboard dive boats, were on hand as well, and can now say they've seen what is considered to be the world's only all-white humpback whale.

Sadly, though, Kaufman said Migaloo appears to have developed a lump on the side of his head, which might be a tumor. Hopefully, it's just a bump and Migaloo, whose aboriginal name means "white fella" will be thrilling whale-watchers for years to come.

-- Pete Thomas

Magical times for whale-watchers in Santa Barbara Channel

A blue whale fills its gaping mouth with krill.

Blue whales lunged across the surface with mouths fully agape, not wanting to miss one tender morsel of krill (they can consume 8,000 pounds of the shrimp-like critters per day).

Humpback whales swarmed the 88-foot vessel, as if craving attention. Sea lions barked and leaped, likewise wanting to be recognized, but they were essentially ignored because the larger mammals were stars of this show.

It played out on a gray Tuesday before about 100 passengers aboard  the Condor Express, which runs from Santa Barbara and plies the outer portions of that city's namesake channel. 

I'll write a larger story on this remarkable congregation of great (and endangered) leviathans, to run, hopefully, next week in the newspaper and on the website. But meanwhile I'd like to suggest to those who read Outposts, if they're interested in marine mammals, that they might wish to book one of these once-in-a-lifetime adventures at their earliest opportunity. (The Condor Express is closest to the whale congregation and usually the only vessel there.)

Continue reading »

Blue whale-watching trip departs Saturday morning from Santa Barbara

Blue whales have returned to the Santa Barbara Channel, where the majestic leviathans are now teeming -- and revealing their flukes as they dive for food -- near Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands.

Blue whales have returned to the Santa Barbara channel and are presenting an amazing opportunity for whale-watchers.

To take advantage of the majestic leviathans' pause in the area during the summer months to feed on krill, the American Cetacean Society Los Angeles chapter is offering an all-day whale-watching trip on Saturday aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara's Sea Landing.

The boat leaves at 8 a.m. and returns about 4 p.m., and is one of only a few all-day whale-watching excursions.

Heading toward the Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands 20 miles offshore, there is abundant marine life to be seen.

While sighting the mighty blue whale will be the main focus, humpback, minke and killer whales also frequent the area, as do various dolphin, seals and sea lions.

The fare includes a continental breakfast plus entry in a raffle. Food and beverages are available for purchase on board. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

Cost is $88 for ACS members and $99 for nonmembers. Visit the ACS-LA website or call (310) 548-7821 for information.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Blue whales have returned to the Santa Barbara Channel, where the majestic leviathans are now teeming -- and revealing their flukes as they dive for food -- near Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. Credit: Condor Express

Whale War between Japanese hunters and Sea Shepherd to escalate

Earthrace, which is powered by biodiesel and can reach speeds of 40 knots and deflect harpoons, will be used in Sea Shepherd's campaign against Japanese whalers next season in the Antarctic. News item: Japan requests that Australia prevent the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship Steve Irwin from leaving port this December to harass its whalers in the Antarctic.

Reaction: Isn't a similar request made every year, to no avail? Japan may not like it, but Capt. Paul Watson and his ragtag band of whale-loving vegans will remain a proverbial thorn in Japan's side as long as it has funding and, thanks to the popularity of Animal Planet's "Whale Wars," there appears to be no shortage for next season's campaign.

And that Southern Ocean campaign, which will launch Dec. 1, figures to  resemble something out of this world, thanks to a swift new boat that looks like a space vessel, can travel at 40 knots and plow through waves and deflect harpoons.

The boat is named Earthrace and its New Zealand owner/skipper, Pete Bethune, told the Sydney Morning Herald he was lending his support because he can't stand the thought of whales being slaughtered in "my backyard."

When I talked to Watson recently he said he had something special up his sleeve and was planning a seasonlong, rather than partial campaign against Japan, which annually targets about 1,000 minke whales in what it claims is a research effort.

With the extra boat (Sea Shepherd plans on using three vessels for the campaign) the group does not have to worry about leaving the whalers on their own while returning to Australia for a lengthy refueling process. Of course, the escalation might be dangerous because Japan is weary of what it refers to as acts of piracy against its fleet.

At a recent International Whaling Commission meeting, Japanese delegation member Jun Yamashita said, "It can only be described as a miracle that there has been no death or large-scale accident to date."

Yamashita added: "We cannot tolerate such audacity. We ask for all appropriate measures, including a ban on the ship from leaving port, so that we can prevent these acts from being repeated."

In case you're wondering, a film crew from "Whale Wars" will be with Sea Shepherd shooting for Season Three of the series.

-- Pete Thomas

Photo: Earthrace, which is powered by biodiesel and can reach speeds of 40 knots and deflect harpoons, will be used in Sea Shepherd's campaign against Japanese whalers next season in the Antarctic. Credit: Sea Shepherd Conservation Society

'Whale Wars' is back and so is controversial Capt. Paul Watson

Paulwatson

Capt. Paul Watson, whose Sea Shepherd Society has drawn praise and harsh criticism for its sometimes confrontational encounters with Japanese whalers, says of the second season of the Animal Planet series, "Whale Wars," which debuts tonight at 9 p.m.: "It ought to be 10 times more dramatic and exciting than last year."

That's because last year's shows, which were based on the 2007-08 exploits of Watson and crew, contained very little drama and excitement. This year it'll be different because Watson's 2008-09 campaign against whalers in the Antarctic included numerous confrontations -- including three collisions and a very dramatic pursuit through ice -- with Japanese crews that regard Sea Shepherd as a terrorist group.

"They were very aggressive toward us -- the most aggressive I've ever seen them -- so it's a far more dramatic season for that reason," Watson said in an interview this week.

Sea Shepherd's tactics are to disrupt the months-long hunt and any efforts by whalers to transfer harpooned whales onto the processing ship. 

Japan employes a research loophole in the wording of an international whaling moratorium to justify the hunts, which annually target nearly 1,000 minke whales and 50 endangered fin whales. Minke whales are not endangered and the country for generations has sold whale meat at market. Whaling, Japan has argued, is deep-rooted in the nation's culture.

Watson, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, is either revered or despised for the controversial methods he employs. Greenpeace and other whale conservation groups consider his efforts too confrontational and potentially perilous. Watson counters that Sea Shepherd doesn't violate laws and has not injured anyone. He has lots of critics and does not care.

Continue reading »

Humpback whales anything but shy off Santa Barbara

A breaching humpback.

Capt. Mat Curto of the Condor Express said he has had difficulty this past week reaching the blue whales far into the Santa Barbara Channel — but only because the humpback whales won't let him get beyond about six miles from port.

As many as nine humpbacks, including three calves, have been intercepting the 88-foot vessel and putting on a close-quarters show that has left passengers spellbound.

"We can't even sneak by them," says Curto, whose trips depart daily at 10 a.m. from Sea Landing in Santa Barbara "They've been breaching, pec-slapping ... at one point we had three calves in the air at the same time."

That's a young humpback breaching in the accompanying photo, snapped by Brian Kot last Saturday during a "Humpback Adventure" excursion hosted by the American Cetacean Society's Los Angeles chapter.

This is a remarkable time of year in the Santa Barbara Channel. The seasonal presence of playful humpbacks and gargantuan blues — which should remain through most of  the summer — is unknown to many Southern California residents.

The Condor Express and Island Packers out of Ventura and Oxnard offer the best means by which to view the great leviathans (fast boats). And there seems to be a small pod of humpbacks that eagerly awaits your presence.

— Pete Thomas

Photo: A breaching humpback. Credit: Brian Kot

Humpback whale adventure on tap Saturday out of Santa Barbara

Humpbacksearth

Alisa Schulman-Janiger says, "If you've seen Disney's movie 'Earth,' now come and see the actual humpback whales -- close up and personal."

The whale researcher issued the statement as part of an invitation for the public to participate in the American Cetacean Society's annual "Humpback Adventure" on Saturday aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara's Sea Landing.

Humpback and blue whales are presently in the Santa Barbara Channel, along with many other species of marine mammals. Schulman-Janiger and other experts will be on board to identify mammals and seabirds. If the marine layer lifts, this should be a highly entertaining journey as humpbacks often literally rub against the boat, or come very close and mug for photos.

And the Condor Express is arguably the premier whale-watching vessel in Southern California.

The odyssey is one of only a few all-day whale-watching excursions held annually. The boat leaves at 8 a.m. and returns about 4 p.m. Cost is $93 for ACS members and $104 for nonmembers. Visit the website or call (310) 548-7821 for details. Hope you enjoy the show!

-- Pete Thomas 

Photo: Humpback whale and calf from Disney's "Earth."

California's humpback, blue whales focus of free program Thursday

Whale-watchers aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara are greeted by a blue whale in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Marine mammal enthusiasts are invited to trek inland Thursday night for a free program focusing on humpback and blue whales. The program, at 7:30 p.m. at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, is called "New insights into the status of humpback and blue whales off California and the threats they face."

John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research will give the presentation. Calambokidis has conducted extensive research on both species. He recently appeared on National Geographic Channel's "Kingdom of the Blue Whale" and was featured in the March issue of National Geographic magazine.

The program, co-sponsored by the American Cetacean Society/Los Angeles Chapter, will be enlightening for anyone interested in these graceful leviathans, which are being encountered sporadically off the Southern California coast and soon will arrive in greater numbers.

Calambokidis is a leading authority and an entertaining speaker. He'll provide a progress report on the multiyear, multigroup Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks (SPLASH) survey, and discuss a troubling issue regarding blue whales and fatal ship strikes off California.

Calambokidis also has been part of a research effort that suggests blue whales, the planet's largest inhabitants, are beginning to extend their migration routes beyond California to their historic waters in the Pacific Northwest and Gulf of Alaska.

To be sure, this program represents a timely primer for those who will be venturing out of Southern California ports this summer to cruise alongside these amazing mammals. For parking information and details call (310) 548-0966.

---Pete Thomas

Photo: Whale-watchers aboard the Condor Express out of Santa Barbara are greeted by a blue whale in the Santa Barbara Channel. Credit: Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times

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Outposts' primary contributor is Kelly Burgess.



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