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BREACH– A Film Review

BREACH–a must see film about Icelandic whaling by Jonny Zwick

Breach is an independent documentary film by LA-based filmmaker Jonny Zwick, narrated by Billy Baldwin, which recently premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. Breach takes a thoughtful look at the heated issue of Icelandic Whaling, which sits at the heart of the island nation’s biggest controversy. The film examines the politics of whaling, their killing, and conservation through the thoughts and opinions of Icelanders themselves.

Notable among the interviewees are several whalers, some of who expound on the pleasures of the hunt and others who consider whaling just another kind of fishing job. Zwick gives us a rare and real insiders look, with whalers explaining the mechanics of their boats and harpoons as well as their views—seldom heard outside of whaling nations.

Despite the subject matter, Breach is not a gory or offensive film, offering gorgeous cinematography of the Iceland’s stark and rugged landscapes, amid snapshots of islander life. A short scene of a minke whale struggling in its death throes with a harpoon lodged in its body, reminds us however that concerns over the inherent cruelty associated with whaling are well founded.

The two whale species currently under fire are the often curious and relatively diminutive minke whale (around thirty feet long), and the fin whale, which at around 85 feet is the second largest living creature on our planet. Due to the hunting excesses of former decades, fin whales still remain on the endangered species list, but this has failed to protect them in Icelandic waters.
(credit J. Zwick)

Iceland has come under intense international criticism for being in violation of international laws that have been in place to protect whales from commercial hunting since 1986. In fact by the early 1990s Iceland had stopped whaling completely, as there was little market or interest. And thus matters stood for nearly 20 years. The current commercial whaling revival all seems to come down to one man: Krisjtan Loftsson, a powerful business tycoon affiliated with the Icelandic seafood company HB Grandi. Loftsson inherited the whaling company Hvalur and recommenced Icelandic whaling in 2006. Despite international and scientific outcry, Loftsson seems bent on continuing the hunt, no matter the cost.

This brings us to another peculiarity of the issue: One might assume Loftsson continues his whaling business because of profitability, yet it turns out this is not the likely case. We find out domestic interest in eating whale is diminishing in Iceland, with only 10% of the population partaking occasionally. In an effort to develop a market for the unwanted product, whale meat has been finding its way into luxury brand pet food. Endangered fin whale meat is not even eaten in Iceland, all of it being shipped overseas to either Norway or Japan, even at great cost, as European ports do not allow the illegally harvested endangered fin whale meat to dock. When the meat finally makes its way to Japan, it ironically ends up joining other surplus in cold storage there, as Japan is also experiencing low public interest in eating whale. But the killing continues. Between 2009-2014 Loftsson’s company killed 544 whales.

All this may leave viewers wondering why such a glaringly unprofitable venture persists and while part of the answer may lie between the not unusual connections between the interests of big business and politicians in key decision-making positions, whaling is currently supported by nearly sixty percent of Icelanders. By accident or design, a connection has been formed in the minds of the islanders between their fierce independence as a sovereign nation and a national identity that has become entangled with the whaling issue.
Science student Iris Bjork Gurnarsduttir, gives a valuable youthful voice on this complex issue, struggling between concerns over conservation and a sense of national pride and identity. However, views from the general Icelandic public are mixed and some feel that whaling damages the market for Icelandic fish and products, causing un-wanted political problems for the country, and raising questions about how this can be justified by the agenda of just one business man.

Whale-watching popularity is on the rise in Iceland

(credit: Discover World).

Meanwhile, tourism in Iceland is growing swiftly, its breathtaking natural wonders drawing increasing crowds and some 25% of these visitors come to experience whale watching, making Iceland one of Europe’s premiere whale watching destinations. In fact, 2013 marked the year that tourism surpassed fishing as Iceland’s largest export. Unsurprisingly the growing popularity of whale watching has created tension with the whaling industry, as increasing demands are made to create marine sanctuaries in coastal areas where whale watchers can operate without crossing paths with the whaling ships dragging their grisly catch ashore. Both are also aware that the more curious or “friendly” whales, most likely to approach whale-watching boats—are also the most likely to be harpooned.

The plot twists and thickens further as it is revealed that the primary consumers of whale meat in Iceland appear to be visiting tourists, including some who also go whale watching. Many local restaurants offer whale meat for curious tourists to sample, much to the distress of certain local whale watching tour operators. In response, nearly 60 restaurants now proclaim themselves “whale friendly” and refuse to serve whale meat in their establishments, understanding that eating up a source of good revenue is perhaps not the best idea.
(credit J. Zwick)

A thoughtful and eye-opening journey, Breach stands to encourage useful discussion among Icelanders regarding this complex issue. This timely and balanced film gives voice to many different Icelandic opinions and also begs the would-be visitor to consider the role their sampling of exotic mega fauna may have on the precarious lives of Icelandic whales and the associated politics. Meanwhile the killing continues, with a 5-year kill quota of 1145 more minke whales and 770 endangered fin whales having been issued in 2013. The whalers have now further set their sights on Humpback whales, hoping to see this species added to the whaling hit list. If the fate of whales is of any concern to you, then Breach is 45 minutes very well spent.


Dolphins: A Japanese Plea for Help!

photo Sakura Paia

Around 250 bottlenose dolphins trapped in Taiji killing Cove, among them a rare white baby.

Taiji Japan: Its the middle of the dolphin hunting season and a massive catch of some 250 bottlenose dolphins have been driven into the infamous killing Cove. Among this is a very rare white, albino dolphin, who until yesterday was swimming closely at its mother’s side. Right now, dolphin trainers are working alongside the dolphin hunters selecting young and unmarked dolphins to be sold into captivity and the little albino dolphin was the first to be taken, forcibly separated from its mother, never to see her, or freedom again. Each captive dolphin will be worth up to 150,000$. This current large capture operation will be worth millions and it is this money that will continue to subsidize the killing of the remaining dolphins which will soon be sold as steak to locals. That the meat is full of toxins is never addressed by authorities.
Japanese experts decry such cruel killing of dolphins, the selling of their toxic meat for human consumption and especially the captivity industry which fuels the whole thing. Please read, sign and share the information below. (photos credit Sakura Paia)

Photo by Sakura Paia

Taken from its mother who may be killed and eaten, this rare baby albino dolphin now faces a life of imprisonment at the Taiji Whale Museum

An Open Letter to Dr. Gerald Dick, Executive Director
of the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium (WAZA)
17th January, 2014

Dr. Gerald Dick, Executive Director
Executive Office of the World Association of Zoos and Aquarium ( WAZA )
IUCN Conservation Centre
Rue Mauverney 28, CH-1196 Gland

Dear Dr. Gerald Dick,

Thank you for your reply to our petition. In our previous petition we asked you to take strong action to make the Japan Association of Zoos and Aquariums (JAZA) comply with the WAZA Code of Ethics and require that all JAZA-affiliated facilities immediately stop obtaining dolphins through the drive hunts in Japan.

To our regret, your reply didn’t include any concrete measure to answer our petition, and completely contradicted WAZA’s statement that “cruelty to any animals is not acceptable.” We, the following three Japanese organizations, have been waiting for WAZA’s practical action for nearly ten years since the WAZA took a position against dolphin drive hunts in Japan, noting that: “the catching of dolphins by the use of a method known as ‘drive fishing’ is considered an example of such a non-acceptable capture method.”

In your recent reply, you mentioned that “As you know, in some Japanese communities these drives have been part of the culture for centuries.” This claim is incorrect. The drive hunt in Taiji was and is not Japanese culture. It is a shame that this erroneous reason/excuse is the rationale for WAZA not to take an action based on “the Code of Ethics.”

In fact, the history of dolphin hunting in Taiji is short. According to “The History of Taiji,” edited and published by Taiji town in 1979, the first recorded dolphin drive was in 1933, with subsequent hunts occurring in 1936 and 1944. It was not until 1969 that dolphin drives have been conducted on a large scale. The history of the dolphin drives spans not so-called 400 years, but a mere 45. Furthermore, in 1969, the main goal of the dolphin drive was to capture pilot whales as prized showpieces for the Taiji Whale Museum. In other words, the dolphin drive was purely for profit, having nothing to do with cultural history. Since 1969 a close relationship began building between the drive hunt and aquaria as financial activities.

Considering WAZA’s Code of Ethics, we believe that even culture and long history should not be acceptable reasons to inflict pain and agony on wild animals. Though you replied that “WAZA member facilities place animal welfare at the forefront of all animal acquisitions,” JAZA still allows its members to acquire dolphins from extremely cruel drive hunts, and, as we wrote you in previous petition, the number of dolphins caught using these unethical capture methods has only been increasing.

Our request:

We sincerely request again that you take urgent action to make JAZA stop its member aquariums from buying and trading dolphins obtained from the drive hunt. Please reply, indicating to us what you will do to implement our request. What we heartily request is your concrete plan to support the conservation and ethical treatment of dolphins by ending your member aquariums’ procurement of dolphins from the Taiji drive hunts. As we explain in detail above, the drive hunt is not Japanese culture or tradition, so there is no need to refrain from acting against the drive hunt as a matter of cultural sensitivity. We previously petitioned JAZA to abide by the WAZA Code of Ethics. However, JAZA replied to us that they did not recognize any problem as long as JAZA follows the laws of Japan. Clearly, JAZA has no intention to observe WAZA’s Code of Ethics. If JAZA continues to violate the WAZA Code of Ethics, JAZA should be disqualified from remaining as a member of the WAZA, and should be expelled from the WAZA. On the other hand, allowing JAZA to remain a part of WAZA weakens WAZA’s authority and credibility.

Yours sincerely,

Sakae Hemmi, Elsa Nature Conservancy

Yukari Sugisaka, Help Animals

Sachiko Azuma, Put an End to Animal Cruelty and Exploitation ( PEACE )

We ask you to send your reply to our petition in written form by February 20th to the following address.

Yukari Sugisaka, Help Animals
Mail Box No.45, Tokyo Voluntary Action Center,
Kaguragashi 1-1, Shinjyuku-ku, Tokyo, 162-0823, Japan
Fax: 81-3-6701-2187


Personhood: Beyond the Human @ Yale University

Cetacean Personhood: Implications and Applications

Pilot whale (photo credit Raffa Herrero)

*I might not be here speaking to you today, if it weren’t for dolphins. Back in 1992, while I was swimming off the coast of Hawaii, dolphins saved my life and escorted me back into shallow water. These wild creatures offered me help when I needed it, they put themselves between me and danger and considered my life worth saving. I’ve dedicated my life’s work to trying to help them. I bring my skills as a writer, a photographer, a videographer, a researcher and an educator to bear on diverse projects in different parts of the world—often in places where some of the worst things are happening to dolphins and whales.

*Over the last twenty–odd years of research and conservation work, I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours observing different cetacean species in very close proximity. These long years of first hand experiences taught me that dolphins are indeed richly aware, thinking, feeling, beings—Persons.

*Back when I started this work in the late 1980s, a conference on the topic of non-human personhood at an Ivy League university would have seemed like an impossible dream. So it is VERY exciting to see different branches of science, study and thought bringing this matter into the public and academic arena here today.

*Millions of people around the world have been inexplicably touched by close encounters with wild whales and dolphins. When asked, they usually they find it very difficult to articulate exactly why seeing these creatures close up in their natural element is so deeply exhilarating. People lucky enough to look into the eye of a dolphin or whale, may be profoundly struck by what they glimpse there. Is this what happens when a human being comes into contact with another non-human Person?

eyes are the windows to the soul (photo credit Ute Margreff)

*Are Dolphins and whales Special? How this question is answered is key to the way we treat them. Currently we use cetaceans in all sorts of ways to advance our own interests and legally they are classified as property rather than persons. The present assumption is that we are entitled to use cetaceans for our purposes, whether as research subjects, as entertainment at marine parks or simply as flesh and blubber to consume.

*Whale Like Me has overcome infamously difficult cultural barriers, to invite whaling cultures to experience another way of regarding cetaceans. It is a delicate matter, introducing ideas that may run counter to cultural blind spots that have existed for a very long time… Some of it is very basic and practical, demonstrating that most coastal communities around the world that once engaged in whaling, have since discovered that interest in whale watching is booming and now worth billions globally. These days, whales and dolphins are worth much more alive and free, rather than dead.

The Grind: Faroese pilot whale hunt

*The men of the Faroe Islands up in the remote North Atlantic, currently regard whales and dolphins as a traditional source of meat and blubber, to be violently butchered and consumed, salted, dried or cooked. The Faroese enjoy one of the highest standards of living in all of Europe and have easy access to life’s modern conveniences. Our work there revealed that despite centuries of whaling, the Faroese know next to nothing about the rich complexities of whale societies or the emotional and intellectual sophistication of dolphins. They see killing and eating cetaceans as no different from killing and eating any other animal and perhaps can be forgiven for viewing most foreign condemnation as being hypocritical. Like other whaling cultures, they insist dolphins and whales are NOT special.
*Those engaged in exploiting cetaceans, in North America and elsewhere, would prefer to ignore the growing body of scientific evidence to the contrary and dismiss it all as irrelevant, fringe theories cooked up by over-emotional, whale hugging hippies. But this is in the process of changing. When presented in an engaging and non-combative way, the facts about cetaceans’ impressive capabilities begin to inspire interest and curiosity. Whale Like Me offers a vehicle so compelling, that even whalers themselves have come on board to cooperate in exploring cetaceans in a new light.

Whales are worth more alive than dead (credit Raffa Herrero)

*One of the great challenges is helping people to understand that despite an outward shape that is undeniably “fish-like”, these creatures are harboring minds of such sophistication, that the facts can no longer be responsibly ignored—however inconvenient they may be.

*When the question is asked, just how intelligent are dolphins and whales? It often translates into: how much are they like us. Such bias can make it difficult for us to recognize, measure or convey intelligence in cetaceans, who lack hands and vocal cords and living in water, would be unable to develop technologies based on fire and electricity. Obviously cetaceans don’t build skyscrapers or write anything and have no need to, yet their neurological hardware compares with ours more so than any other species. Science has demonstrated that dolphins have accurate memories, an ability to grasp abstract concepts, a capacity to understand the fundamentals of language, solve problems and demonstrate self-awareness. Most occidental experts recognize them as conscious, conceptualizing creatures of impressive intellect.

Science recognizes cetaceans’ impressive intellect (credit Raffa Herrero)

*Whale Like Me seeks to help those we work with to realize just how strong the case for recognizing dolphins and whales as Persons really is, so they can begin to take the concept on board seriously. Particularly in first world nations, the infusion of ground-breaking scientific evidence shouldn’t be halted by outdated cultural bias.

* People are often amazed to discover that cetaceans possess such complex and diverse societies, demonstrating different cultures, dialects and social quirks. Their long life spans, advanced cognitive abilities and prolonged periods parental care form a repository of experience and traditions unique to different species and regions. Grandmother pilot whales may play essential roles as experienced leaders of their families and communities. Twenty five percent of an adult female’s life may be post-reproductive which is extremely rare in mammals. Such individuals may hold important cultural knowledge and carry exceptional significance in their communities, far in excess of their reproductive value. Take away Grandmother whale—and the rest of the tribe suffers.

Whales and dolphins have different cultures (credit Raffa Herrero)

*Both Japanese and Faroese whalers argue that killing dolphins and whales is acceptable because the species they target (like pilot whales) are presumed not to be endangered. Such argument, focusing on the status of stocks, has to date, effectually stalled all efforts to erect even the tiniest umbrella of international protection for dolphins and small whales. To be recognized as Persons, rather than “marine resources”, means the suffering of each individual cetacean becomes a matter of concern, NOT just activities that threaten the extinction of entire populations.

*We humans imagine ourselves as separate, set above and against other species; we imagine other animals exist primarily for our use, amusement, consumption or disposal. When change is demanded, conflicts arise, as those untouched by increasing compassion, or perhaps benefiting from its absence, try to maintain the regime in place. Most people initially experience difficulty in accepting they may be involved in something wrong, cruel or exploitative. People protect themselves from painful realizations by dismissing or ignoring evidence—even the though the facts may be staring them in the face. The parts of our humanity that should normally connect us to those we harm have been cut off. Our empathies have been deadened, or we would naturally recoil at the thought of causing such harm.

Faroese children play on the bodies of slaughtered pilot whales

*The obstacles to rectifying this situation are major and very real, yet we have made the same kinds of profound moral shifts in the past, even when they conflicted with strong religious beliefs and even stronger economic interests! Ending human slavery in America required a profound revision of human moral perceptions. Now in the 21st century, we find ourselves setting out upon a similarly perilous and controversial road regarding our treatment of certain non-human species.

*Historically the evolution of our ethics has come from the inclusion of other races or genders into our community of moral concern—and thus, has our own humanity grown and improved. Faced with the dawning realization that other species have intrinsic worth—and that our morality ought to include our relationship and dealings with them—our humanity is again struggling to evolve ethically on a deep level. Choosing compassion over utility or profit appears to be one of the most profound choices we are struggling with as a species. Some people appear unable, or perhaps unwilling to grasp this concept, or move towards the necessary kinds of change. For a long time, much human morality has been mired in narrow self-interest. But as our ethical understanding evolves, what once appeared reasonable, may no longer seem that way.

Captive dolphin in Taiji

*Respected psychologist and professor of neuroscience from Harvard, Dr. Howard Gardner has developed the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, recognizing a number of distinct categories of intelligence beyond the typical mathematical-logical-linguistic type most commonly measured on standard IQ tests. He has also speculated on the concept of what he terms Moral Intelligence. Advanced Moral Intelligence may involve a strong sense of enduring commitment to uphold justice, truth, compassion and the sanctity of life in the world. Those displaying Moral Intelligence show a heightened awareness and concern for the effects of their actions on others.

*At present, such “Moral Intelligence” appears to have manifested only incompletely in our species. Portions of humankind are striving to reach a kind of moral maturity, while others appear insensible to any such ethical evolution. We seem caught in the middle; a dual species, with some individuals becoming cognizant of profound truths, opposing unjust laws and harmful or destructive practices—and others remaining steadfastly self-absorbed, unconcerned with any larger fate. Each seems incomprehensible to the other.

Who are these minds in the waters?

*It is our own self-awareness that should allow us to recognize other sentient beings when we meet them. Many people appear able to recognize dolphins and whales as fellows immediately—others seem to lack this ability. Interestingly, despite all our differences, dolphins seem to recognize humans in this way, as beings similar to themselves—beings who are intelligent and curious about other intelligences. Throughout thousands of years of recorded contact, dolphins, despite being large, powerful predators, have normally behaved towards humans in a respectful, non-aggressive fashion. The record (and my personal experience) would seem to indicate they think our lives are worth saving, yet we have failed to return the favor. So, which species is more ethically evolved and morally mature?

Funghi of Ireland visits lucky boaters

*Cetaceans have had their large sophisticated brains for something like 15 million years longer than we. We are a young species, and our science is younger still.

*There are of course those who would argue against cetaceans qualifying as non-human persons—particularly among whaling nations. However, such is the growing diversity of scientific evidence already complied—and such is the gravity of the case and its implications (when we are at this moment, killing many thousands of whales and dolphins on an extraordinarily vast scale) –logic would seem to dictate our moral obligation as human beings would require that we “do no more harm” until the situation can be fully clarified.

*In 2010 a panel of international experts convened in Helsinki, and codifed the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. The Declaration outlines a set of protective guiding principles in support of the intrinsic rights of whales and dolphins. These principles include the rights to life, liberty and wellbeing, independent of human utility. We collaborate with and work alongside leading experts endeavoring to realize these changes; organizations like the Nonhuman Rights Project, Cetacean Society International, Ocean Care, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation society, are working on multiple fronts armed with the best scientific evidence to advance a credible case for the formal recognition of basic rights for whales and dolphins, while promoting the protection of individuals as well as populations.
To view and sign the Declaration, please visit
*While Law, Science and Academia work diligently and rigorously to catalogue and prove what millions of people have already experienced to be true, it remains an unimaginably tall mountain to climb: even my computer’s spell-check attempts to correct me, when I refer to dolphins as a Who, rather than a What.

Its ones’ own self-awareness that should allow us to recognize it in others

*This conference marks an amazing historical moment in time. From the perspective of intellectual history, interspecies ethics are nothing short of revolutionary and arguably, the most dramatic expansion of morality in the course of modern human thought!

*By engaging in this very process today, in wrestling with these concepts, their implications and their applications—we embrace the potential to become better beings, better Persons.

Faroese whaler meets sperm whale (photo credit Ingi Sorensen)

*My years among cetaceans have brought me perspective; shown me that the powerful and privileged status humans enjoy on this earth entails not a right to exploit, but a responsibility to protect and initiate positive, restorative changes. Dolphins and whales are a supremely apt symbol for the polarized human relationship with Nature and the internal struggle we are at this critical point in time facing within human nature itself. Cetaceans are a test: a test of OUR intelligence, of OUR awareness, of our courage and of OUR humanity.

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