Local gray whale conservationists protest international hunting compromise.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
On Earth Day, April 22, the International Whaling Commission will receive a draft proposal to overhaul international whaling regulations – a move negotiators say could reduce hunting by up to 50 percent, end the illegal whale meat trade and enforce long-ignored international whaling laws.
But conservation groups, including the California Gray Whale Coalition, say the deal merely legitimizes slaughter of an embattled species.
Sarah Graham, the coalition’s West Coast director, is upset the draft allows the continued killing of grays by indigenous tribes. She says the proposal would set the gray whale hunting quota for the next 10 years based on 2006-07 population data, despite what appears to be a four-year drop in the number of calves born in Baja California.
“THE MARKETING IN THIS AREA HAS ALWAYS BEEN AROUND THE GRAY WHALES.”
“Our group is trying to get [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service] to do a proper count,” she says. “What we believe they’ll find is that these animals need to be protected again.”
But Doug DeMaster, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center and part of the IWC’s U.S. delegation, says that’s not what’s being proposed.
The draft may expand the hunting quota from five to 10 years and allow indigenous hunters to continue killing about 124 California gray whales per year, he says. But the annual take can be reduced if new data indicate it’s too high. “It’s not in stone; it’s an upper cap,” he says. “All of these catch limits, both the indigenous and non-indigenous, are expected to be well within sustainable limits.”
Graham, a former orca researcher now employed by a Monterey Bay whale-watching company, says continued gray whale hunting could severely impact the Central Coast economy.
California’s whale-watching industry grossed an estimated $83 million in 2008. Monterey Bay alone has six whale-watching businesses, she says, several of which use gray whale logos.
Graham says local whale-watching boats average a 95 to 98 percent sighting rate for gray whales during the Central Coast migration from December to April. “If it goes down to 50 percent, we could go out of business,” she says. “The marketing in this area has always been around the gray whales.”
Coalition CEO Sue Arnold says climate change is pushing grays farther north to find bottom-dwelling prey fed by algae from melting sea ice. “This means their energy budget is pushed to the limit,” she says, leaving pregnant females too weak to make the journey from their Bering Sea feeding grounds to Baja California calving lagoons.
Arnold wants the U.S. to call for an IWC moratorium on all gray whale hunting until scientists have finalized their gray whale counts for this year. Locally, the cities of Seaside, Pacific Grove, Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea have passed resolutions in support of a comprehensive California gray whale study.
Wayne Perryman, who leads gray whale abundance surveys for NOAA Fisheries, confirms early indications of lower calf counts in recent years. But with NOAA’s 2010-11 survey well underway, he doesn’t expect the final tally to be far off from 4-year-old data counting about 19,000 California gray whales. “We did a survey this year; we’re doing another one next year,” he says. “We’re not exactly sitting on our hands.”
IWC member nations will consider the draft proposal at their annual meeting in Morocco in late June.