Tag Archive: conservation

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
E-mail: gerald.dick@waza.org

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

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