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Commentary by Sea Shepherd Captain Alistair Allan of the M/Y Sam Simon

Why a Calm Day on Patrol is a Good Day on Patrol

Liberia, West Africa – It’s another cloudless day and the blue water shimmers under the relentless assault from the sun. There’s hardly a breath of wind to interrupt the endless turquoise plateau as I stare out my porthole. The internal phone rings in my cabin. An excited voice is on the other end: ‘’ORCAS! Orcas outside!’’ I hastily climb the stairs to the bridge and look  out the starboard side.

As I’m scanning to find them, a huge dorsal fin slices out of the water right near the ship. It’s the largest of the pod, the matriarch.  I realize that they’re all around the ship, a family of twelve or so. The crew delights as they swim around the ship, with younger members of the pod splashing and jumping.

The Sam Simon has been on patrol in Liberia for a month now, and on this particular encounter we’re positioned on the far eastern border of Liberia shared with Cote D´Ivoire. The Cavalla River empties out to sea here and the area is a hub of biodiversity. Just prior to the commencement of Operation Sola Stella in 2016, local artisanal fishermen in this area were complaining about daily incursions by foreign industrial trawlers in this exact area. They were coming across the border every single night, running over their nets, running over their canoes, and stealing the fish that they depend on for their livelihood. Fast forward to today, almost three years later, the Liberian Coast Guard, assisted by Sea Shepherd’s M/Y Sam Simon and M/Y Bob Barker, have completely halted these incursions.

It didn’t take three years to stop illegal ships crossing into Liberia’s waters. In fact, the incursions stopped almost immediately on the first ever patrol with the Bob Barker. But we remain vigilant and ever-present. Patrols at the moment are quiet. Our ever-spinning radars don’t show a vessel for miles, bar a few local canoes. When I stand out on the bridge wing at night, the fluorescent lights of industrial fishing vessels are now replaced by the stars. With one trawler able to catch up to five-to-ten tons of fish in a day, the absence of one vessel would be considered a victory, let alone the empty dark ocean I see now. Gone are the nights when unscrupulous operators used to plunder with reckless abandon.

With four illegal vessels having been arrested in this area alone and a total of thirteen arrests throughout Liberia’s waters, the foreign industrial trawlers now know if they dare cross into Liberia, the Liberian Coast Guard will be waiting. The lack of illegal activity is our proof of success, and -- more importantly -- that activity has been replaced by something else entirely: wildlife.

The sea here is teeming. We see massive pods of dolphins, sometimes numbering as many as 500; we see schools of tuna, we see whales, and on special days like today we see orcas. What was once an area full of illegal trawl nets and fishing boats has once again become a haven for life. Local communities report fish numbers returning to the spawning grounds close to shore. Life, both in the sea and for those who depend on it, is returning to normal.

Captain Alistair Allan. Photo: Sea ShepherdCaptain Alistair Allan. Photo: Sea Shepherd

When I started with Sea Shepherd, I joined in the days of our Antarctic whale defense campaigns. I was used to the high-octane engagements and constant clashes. I was proud of our mission; I wanted to save the whales from the harpoons. Eight years later, as I stand on the bridge deck of the Sam Simon and watch these orcas swim past, I feel the same sense of pride. With up too 300,000 whales and dolphins caught annually as bycatch due to industrial fishing, I feel that these campaigns to stop illegal fishing are the natural progression of what I started doing all those years ago. Only this time it’s not just whales that are protected: countless species of fish, sharks, rays and turtles also benefit from an ocean free of illegal fishing vessels.

So despite the lack of action, my crew and I take solace every day -- as we watch the pods of dolphins play, or the schools of tuna swim by -- that life in Liberia is returning, life in Liberia is protected and life in Liberia has security, both for animals and humans who both rely on a healthy ocean.

Guided by a sperm whale, Operation SISO 2018 finishes with 130 km of illegal FADs (Fishing aggregating devices) removed from the sea. Commentary by Director of Sea Shepherd Italia, Andrea Morello.

In 2017, crossing the Aeolian Islands archipelago, a young sperm whale remained entangled in an illegal “squadrara” fishing net. The Coast Guard spent many hours struggling to free him but couldn’t save his life. SISO was found dead along the coast of Milazzo Cape, with the net still coiled around the tail fin and with the stomach full of plastic, by the marine biologist Carmelo Isgrò who still today is conserving the skeleton to show it as a warning for all of us and the future generations on the damages we are causing to the environment. Carmelo decided to call the sperm whale with the name SISO in honor of the dear friend who helped him retrieve the sperm whale, and who died in a car accident in those same days.

The death of SISO due to an illegal drift net, is a clear signal of the presence of illegal fishing gear in the Aeolian archipelago. Moreover, the 2018 data from the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, updated as of 15th September 2018, confirm that 180.815,79 kg of illegal catch have been confiscated with a total of €7.649.914,8 sanctions applied.

It becomes clearly impossible for Sea Shepherd not to intervene, with the support of the Aeolian Islands Preservation Fund and Smile Wave.

The strategy of the operation provided for two Sea Shepherd vessels to be used: the M/V Sam Simon and a ship without logo on an undercover mission. The latter reached the area earlier beginning the monitoring of the eastern area of the archipelago, while the M/V Sam Simon was arriving from North and going towards South-West.

We left aboard the M/V Sam Simon from the Molo Italia in La Spezia on October 2nd with a purpose: to locate the illegal fishing gear and driftnets in the Aeolian Islands. The vessel was ready after 4 months on dry berthing, yet on day two it has been through the ringer: an increasing Sea State 5 that made it test a violent storm coming from North-East.

It was dawn when we reached the area north of the wonderful Alicudi and we have been welcomed by a pod of dolphins coming to cheer us and bringing a calmness to the sea that allowed us to promptly locate the first plastic jerrycans tied and anchored to a 3000mt deep seabed: the illegal FADs (Fishing Aggregating Devices).

In agreement and coordination with the Coast Guard, direct action sprang immediately: at 8.45am we hoisted aboard the first illegal FADs. From that moment on we started to locate and map on the GPS dozens of FADs which represent a real danger, even for turtles that most of the time remain entangled without the chance to break free, heading to certain death.

After two days of unrelenting efforts, the sea reinforced taking us inside the archipelago in the marine area in the South of Filicudi, a new area to patrol. At 9am something unexpected happened: in our binoculars, ready to spot potentially illegal fishing gear, a strong and recognizable puff appeared and then another! A wonderful sperm whale came to visit us, as if he wanted to join us in our search for SISO and the nets that killed him. It was him that brought us to the immediate sighting of dozens of other illegal FADs.

These illegal FADs threaten both the life in the Mediterranean and the local legal fishing. The local management plan of the Aeolian Islands archipelago regulates the use of the “cannizzi”: “In the area to be managed, specific zones will be identified in which the “cannizzi” can be anchored, and the number (maximum of 20), position and implementation (measure 1.4 of the European Fisheries Fund 2007-2013) will be planned. They will be assigned by draw to the fishermen and signed as to make them recognizable. Furthermore, to tackle the recent but progressive anticipation of the capture of the common dolphinfish, the posing of the “cannizzi” is established starting from September 15th and the beginning of the catching activities on September 30th.” The non-detectability and the complete lack of traceability of the FADs make them part of the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU).

The results of 12 days of unrelenting direct action are 130km of polypropylene line and 1500 mt of fishing line of big thickness without hooks removed from the sea, and a total of 68 illegal FADs confiscated and several plastic bottles, some of them still containing polluting material inside.

The strategy of the Operation revealed to be successful when two fishing vessels, at the sight of the M/V Sam Simon, tried to distance themselves in order to fish illegally using the FADs. Our undercover sailing boat intercepted their route and, using the most powerful existing weapon, the camera, filmed them. Thanks to the documentation of the identifying details of the vessels and of the position, the Coast Guard and the Financial Guard have been able to intervene with investigations still going on.

With the arrival of the sailing boat in Anzio harbor, Operation SISO 2018 ended with the typical Sea Shepherd success and effectiveness, and it confirms the huge estimated presence of illegal FADs: over 5000 in the South Tyrrhenian Sea for an estimated total of 10.000km of illegal fishing gear that every year are put into water.

Thanks to the support of the Aeolian Preservation Fund and Smile Wave, the interaction with local communities has been perfect and during the stops at Lipari and Salina a lot of children and students came onboard. We also received onboard the representatives of the Aeolian artisanal fishermen that will cooperate with Sea Shepherd in order to increase the effectiveness of the next campaigns, and to defend with us this heavenly archipelago, with the purpose of creating a protected marine area which may lead to total protection, opening also the path towards the sustainable Blue economy in an ecological coexistence among species.

In memory of SISO, reinforced by the passion of our volunteers and the support of all the people who will help us, we will come back to the South Tyrrhenian against the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and against the use of plastic. Lining up with the “bow toward the sea” with the biggest private fleet in defense of the life of those we call “our clients”, the inhabitants of the Oceans, our thirteen ships are positioned in almost all the seas of our planet.

The most important weapon that makes the difference is the passion of the individuals, the passion that encourages to not turn the back in front of illegality and cruelty but to fight them with direct action, without leaving neither plastic nor cruelty behind, but the sense of sharing and respect for all lives.

Help us by visiting www.seashepherd.it

Andrea Morello

Sea Shepherd Italy Director and Operation Siso Campaign Leader

Sea Shepherd Italy Director and Operation Siso Campaign Leader on board the M/V Sam Simon. Photo by Emanuela Giurano/Sea Shepherd.Sea Shepherd Italy Director and Operation Siso Campaign Leader on board the M/V Sam Simon. Photo by Emanuela Giurano/Sea Shepherd

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson

On Thursday 21st June Iceland killed their first endangered Fin whale since 2015 and Sea Shepherd crew were in place to document the whaling ship 'Hvalur 8' dragging it back to be butchered just before midnight and through the early hours of Friday 22nd June.

First fin whale at whaling stationFirst fin whale at whaling station

Way back in 1986, Sea Shepherd sank half the Icelandic whaling fleet and shut down their illegal whaling operations for 17 years.

So why don’t we do it again?

Iceland is illegally killing endangered Fin whales and they are the only nation on the planet doing so.

The two ships we sank never went whaling again and now sit on the beach rusting away. But the other two ships remain, and it would be a simple matter to scuttle them. Or it would be simple to mount a high seas blockade of their two ships with our boats.

We could do it and we would dearly love to do so. But we can’t.

Not because it’s not tactically possible.

No, the problem is that it does not work strategically.

If we wanted to generate a ton of publicity and solicit donations for an Icelandic Whale Wars, I am confident we could raise the support.

Unfortunately, there is one very important consideration that prevents us from doing so.

It’s because that is exactly what Kristjàn Loftsson, the owner of this horrific industry wants us to do.

Since our action in 1986, opposition to whaling in Iceland has increased from a mere 2% to 34% and 31% that hold no opinion. Only 34% support whaling down from 98%, 32 years ago.

This 34% who support whaling tend to be older poorly educated Icelandic men. As they die off the pro-killing numbers are shrinking.

As recently as 2013, an Icelandic poll stated that 60% of Icelanders support whaling. From 60% down to 34% in just five years shows incredible progress and corresponds to a diminishing older population.

A Sea Shepherd action at this point would be cause for Icelandic support for whaling to increase due to the nationalistic fervor such an action would initiate.

Back in 1986 with practically a 100% pro-whaling population (98%) in Iceland the whales had nothing to lose and everything to gain with a straight out physical attack on the ships and the whaling station.

Illegal commercial whaling was shut down for 17 years and thousands of whale lives were saved.

Not a single person was injured but two whaling ships were permanently removed from action and the whaling station was heavily damaged.

This summer Iceland has a Fin whale quota of 161 Fin whales plus the Icelandic government will allow the killing of 30 more carried over from the unused 2017 quota. They also have a quota of 209 Minke whales but have only managed to kill 63 over the last two years. Our sinking of half their fleet in 1986 has slowed down their operations considerably.

There simply is not enough profit in whaling anymore to justify the replacement of the two Loftsson’s ships we destroyed in 1986.

These kills today are illegal and violate the International moratorium on commercial whaling established by the International Whaling Commission.

Butchering the first fin whale 22 June 2018 at 1amButchering the first fin whale 22 June 2018 at 1am

Iceland is actually a more notorious whaling nation than Japan and Norway because only Iceland targets endangered Fin whales. Sea Shepherd and the International Court of Justice put an end to Fin whaling by Japan.

The United States, Australia, Europe and other members of the IWC could invoke sanctions in accordance with international law but have all refused to do so.

The slaughter continues because of demand by 19% of Icelanders and 12% of tourists and the number of tourists each year nearly outnumber the number of Icelanders, so tourism is a driving force keeping this atrocity going.

Americans and Europeans eat whale meat in Iceland primarily because it is forbidden where they live. If tourists stop demanding whale eating thrill meals, the number of whale kills would decline. Twelve percent of 300,000 tourists each year represent 36,000 whale eating individuals indulging in this disgusting cuisine porn.

Kristjàn Loftsson is the sole reason this barbaric industry continues. This one man has been responsible for the killing of over 35,000 whales. The good news is that he will be dead in a few years and hopefully commercial whaling will die with him.

Unless the Icelanders find reason to become enthusiastic about whaling and the only reason they would do so is if an outside group physically and dramatically intervened as we did before in 1986.

With commercial whaling dying and with whale watching in Iceland being a growing industry the writing is on the wall and although I would desire nothing more than to send the remaining two whalers to the bottom, such an action would not be productive for our clients.

Yes, there are many people who want us to intervene and have told me they want to donate to any intervention campaign. However, I have to put the long-term interests of our clients first, and our clients are the whales.

We have not abandoned them. Our crews are in Iceland and they are watching and documenting. The illegal actions of Iceland do not go unnoticed and we continue to try to convince member nations of the IWC to invoke economic sanctions. Unfortunately, we live in a world that lacks economic and political motivation to enforce international conservation law.

Personally, I can attest that it is very difficult for us to not intervene. I passionately want to destroy these killing ships and so do my fellow Sea Shepherds. But we must operate within the boundaries of the bigger picture.

In 1986 our courageous crew did the right thing with positive results. Since 1986, the social environment has changed. In 1986 whale killer Kristjàn Loftsson was 43...now he is 75. In 1986, this Icelandic Ahab had 98% support of the Icelandic people. Now that support is down to 34%.

Our ally now is simply time. When Loftsson dies, so does Icelandic whaling. Loftsson has sons but it is highly unlikely they will invest in new ships and equipment.

Icelandic whaling is dying and hopefully it won’t be long.

Iceland is an extraordinarily beautiful country with progressive peoples and exemplary social programs. They have only one blatantly disturbing black mark on their entire nation and that is the criminal whaling operations that Kristjàn Loftsson smears across the face of their national identity.

Commentary by Perkunas campaign leader, Reinhard Grabler

Pressures on Baltic Harbor Porpoises

With only 500 animals left, the Baltic harbor porpoises have been declared critically endangered. Being killed as bycatch in fishing nets is the major threat for the animals, yet fishing is still permitted, even in Marine Protected Areas. In Sea Shepherd’s Perkunas campaign, the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner documented and monitored deadly gillnets in protected areas of the Baltic Sea. But accidental death in fishing nets is not the only human-caused threat for these animals. Eutrophication, underwater noise, marine debris, overfishing, and bottom trawling are also damaging the Baltic Sea ecosystem, affecting both harbor porpoises and the local populations that depend on it.

 Giant liquid manure lagoons from a German pig farm around 3km away from the Baltic coast. Giant liquid manure lagoons from a German pig farm around 3km away from the Baltic coast.

Eutrophication
Surrounded by nine northern European countries, the Baltic Sea is a brackish inland sea, vulnerable to a process called eutrophication. Excessive input of nutrients, primarily caused by industrial agriculture runoff, leads to a growth of algae that causes reduced light conditions in the water, as well as oxygen depletion. As a result, 97% of the Baltic Sea is considered eutrophied, causing some of the largest low-oxygen areas on Earth, so-called “Dead Zones”, where no life is possible. This ultimately affects not only the Baltic harbor porpoises, but the fishing industry as well.

Underwater Noise
Underwater noise is a particularly dangerous threat for cetaceans. Harbor porpoises have excellent underwater hearing abilities and depend on sound for their orientation, communication and foraging. The deadly effects of underwater noise pollution on marine wildlife include mass strandings and disrupted feeding. Sources of continuous noise are offshore wind turbines, shipping, boating, bridges, and tunnels. The planned Fehmarnbelt Tunnel seems absurd: the underwater tunnel planned to connect Denmark and the German island of Fehmarn will go directly through the Fehmarnbelt Marine Protected Area, an important migration area for harbor porpoises. The beneficiaries of this project are unclear, but the losers are certain: the wildlife of the Baltic Sea that will suffer from the destroyed seabed, the continuous noise, and the vibrations. Additionally, sudden bursts of noise, such as military testing, are of particular danger for the animals. If there was the political will, this additional noise could be reduced or even prevented by tactics such as air bubble curtains, yet they are barely used. The best option would be to prevent noise altogether, such as the demolition of the retired Karlsruhe frigate in the Schönhagen military area off the German Baltic coast planned for this fall. A shockwave from such an underwater detonation can lead to loss of hearing, serious injuries or even the death of porpoises up to seven kilometers away. Moreover, there is no need to dump more ammunition to the Baltic Sea, while ammunition from World War II is still causing water pollution due to corroded containers that release mercury into the marine environment.

Marine Debris
Marine litter in different sizes and materials causes damage to the ecosystem. Some of it can be easily seen, some of it is hiding on the seafloor, slowly degrading, increasing its impact by entering the aquatic food chain. Larger pieces of marine debris deteriorate the quality of the habitat and can cause injury or death of many species when they get entangled or ingest the debris. Around 70% of the litter documented in the Baltic Sea comes from plastics used by humans. Plastic materials can last for decades on the sea floor, and can travel long distance on the water currents or in the bodies of migratory species. Abandoned, lost or discarded fishing gear, so-called ghost nets, are worthy of special concern as they are not only made of plastic, but they continue catching non-targeted or even protected species for hundreds of years.

 The injuries around this harbor porpoise’s mouth may have been caused by a gillnet during the animal's fight for survival.

Overfishing and Bottom Trawling
Excessive fishing is a major problem in the Baltic Sea. More and more fish stocks are considered overfished, which means targeted species can’t naturally reproduce fast enough to replace the numbers caught. What seems like a profitable practice actually reduces fisheries profits and threatens the existence of other marine species that depend on fish for food. To avoid the collapse of fish stocks, quotas for catch are decided every year by the European Union. Unfortunately these quotas do not always take into account the advice of scientists, leading to numbers that are not sustainable. Also, history has shown that fishermen do not change their practices if there are not sufficient controls, leading to an unknown number of illegally caught fish. A decline of fish stocks ultimately means a decline in food sources for harbor porpoises. In addition to all this, the common practice of bottom trawling is destroying the sea floor, which is important for the spawning of many species.

A Call for Action
Disturbances of the marine ecosystem are not only a threat for wildlife, they are also a threat for humans. Not only do millions of people rely on the Baltic Sea as a food source, but a healthy ecosystem is the basis for life in this region. It’s not one person or activity that has serious impact on the environment, but the multiplication of these activities several million times. There are issues that can only be addressed in small steps, and there are issues that can be tackled right now. The two top priorities for the protection of the harbor porpoises in the Baltic Sea are to stop the risk of being killed as bycatch and to reduce noise pollution. Both can be done easily, if there is the political will. Sea Shepherd therefore demands a ban of gillnets and other destructive fishing gear in protected areas and calls for the stop of the Fehmarnbelt Tunnel project and the demolition of the retired Karlsruhe frigate.

Commentary by Perkunas Campaign Leader Reinhard Grabler

Governments Allow Exemptions for Killing of Protected Species in the Baltic Sea

In early June five gray seals were found dead in the Gulf of Gdansk, Poland. All of them had suffered several massive injuries, without a doubt caused by intentional human impact.

 Gray seal pups in the marine station of the Polish town Hel. Photo by Sea Shepherd. Gray seal pups in the marine station of the Polish town Hel. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

While the crew of the M/V Emanuel Bronner was patrolling these areas as part of the Perkunas Campaign to document and monitor gillnets which are threatening the critically endangered Baltic harbor porpoises, we learned about another protected species in danger: the gray seals. They fall under the scope of the EU Habitats Directive, just like the harbor porpoises, and often end up as bycatch entangled in the deadly gillnets or suffer injuries from other fishing gear. Additionally, recent cases show intentional illegal killings of gray seals in Poland and Germany.

The little town Hel in Poland is a popular tourist destination. It is not only the beauty of the cozy old town that attracts thousands of tourists to spend their vacation there; Hel also hosts a marine station where visitors can observe one of the natural inhabitants of the Baltic Sea: seals. The station was founded with the aim of recovering the population of seal species in their former natural habitat, the Gulf of Gdansk. Unfortunately, despite all their efforts, there has always been the resistance of local fishermen slowing the growth of the seal population.

 The seal in the front left has marks of a net around his neck. Photo by Sea Shepherd. The seal in the front left has marks of a net around his neck. Photo by Sea Shepherd.

Fishermen blame the seals for the decline of their catch and therefore the loss of their profits, as well as for destroying their fishing gear. They claim that the seals have become lazy over the years and instead of hunting in open waters, they learned how to feast on fish caught in set-nets, such as gillnets, without getting entangled. In fact, there are numerous reports of fish found in nets that have without a doubt been “damaged” by seals. But the reason is simple: the nets are set in areas with a high density of fish. It is the natural instinct of the seal to hunt where there are fish, leading to a competition between fishermen and the natural predators in these areas. The reactions on the sides of the fishermen vary. Some say they would never hurt an animal despite their anger; others are expressing their wish for the permission of legal seal hunts, following the example of Sweden and Denmark. The governments of these countries made exemptions to valid conservation laws which protect the seals from being intentionally killed. Due to the pressure of the fishing industry, they were permitted to shoot 40 gray seals on the Danish island Bornholm in 2016. Since 2001 Sweden allows the killing of 400 seals each year, and local fishermen now call for a ridiculously high annual quota of 15,000 seals.

Unfortunately, some fishermen go as far as to kill the otherwise protected seals, although no special exemptions exist. The recent cases in Poland show that the war between the fishermen and seals has had its first victims. For Poland’s largest seal colony, which counts only 300 animals, every loss has serious impact. Further west, on the German island Rügen, 23 gray seals were found dead in late 2017. None of them showed signs of external injuries. Experts determined drowning as the most possible cause of death. It is very uncommon that gray seals drown without intervention from humans. Whether the colony, which only counts around 100 individuals, can recover from the loss of a quarter of its size is uncertain.

Seals fall under special protection by European law, where any exemptions are unacceptable. In the beginning of the 20th century, around 100,000 gray seals populated the Baltic Sea. Legal hunts and other human activities brought them to the brink of extinction once already. The EU law was drafted to prevent this from happening again, and the population slowly gained a size of around 40,000. The fishing industry is in fact not profitable anymore, but the seals are not the ones to blame. Eutrophication and excessive fishing has caused the dramatic decline of fish stocks, and with the return of the seals it now also has to be shared.

We are calling for more controls and protection measures, as well as for in-depth investigations on the deaths of seals and to bring their offenders to justice. Animals under the status of special protection may not be killed or disturbed in any way. The gray seals are just claiming back their habitat, and they are only at a fraction of their historical population size.

 

 

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Sea Shepherd Commentary & Editorial articles from 2012 and earlier.

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