The crew of the Esperanza scrambled to grab cameras and binoculars this morning to get a glimpse of so many humpback whales, maybe 40 of them blowing and diving by us, as we made our way through Unimak Pass crossing from the Gulf of Alaska into the Bering Sea.
Serendipitously, as we snapped pictures of these majestic giants swimming through water peppered with hundreds of seabird’s scouting for leftovers, an took in the rich and peaceful sounds of their massive exhaling blows, other Greenpeace activists in Panama at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) were trying to end to whaling, for good.
Between climate change, the industrialization of our seas and continued whaling, whales need saving today more than ever. A few countries, Iceland and Norway, refuse to abide by the International Moratorium on whaling passed in 1986, and Japan sneakily skirts the rule under the guise of conducting scientific research. No matter that their kill ends up on store shelves in the market place. A proposal at the IWC this year to create a permanent whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic was the best hope for whales in years. Sadly, we have just received news that while a majority of delegates voted in favor of the new sanctuary, too few showed up to vote altogether to get it passed.
The industrialized world is an even greater threat to whales around the planet today. The global shipping fleet now tops 95,000 and all those vessels, especially the monster-sized container ships and tankers, create a lot of ocean noise pollution as they motor through the ocean. And drilling for oil and gas is noisy business too. Marine mammals depend on sound to survive – for navigating, locating food and mates, detecting prey, and maintaining social groups – in their darkened marine environment.
Ships run over whales too and ship strikes on whales are a leading cause of whale deaths in the modern era. Scientists believe that at least ten times more whales die at sea this way than all the casualties we actually see because most whales are negatively buoyant and sink before they are discovered.
Whales are our ambassadors on this journey north. They have been with us since we sailed out of Seward with Orcas porpoising off the bow of the Esperanza in Resurrection Bay. Now we are keeping our eyes peeled for the most endangered whale species on earth, the North Pacific right whale. There are only about 30 individuals left of a population that once numbered up to 30,000, and these waters are their critical habitat. Ship strikes and entanglements in fishing gear are the biggest threats to these whales today.
I don’t want whales to go extinct on my watch. This journey north to the save the Arctic – to confront Shell and other big oil and fishing industry interests who want to exploit Arctic resources for their profits – is giving us a million reasons from whales and seabirds to polar bears and people not to industrialize this untouched wonder. What happens in the Arctic will not stay in the Arctic, it will touch everyone across the planet. Let’s save it.