Monday, February 16

A Moment with Pilot Whales: Sea Shepard volunteers dive at Paradise


“Sometimes we see pilot whales this time of year," the divemaster explained, "but there is no promise we will see them today.” 

No sooner was it said then the dark silhouettes of a pod of pilot whales presented themselves.  We approached slowly while E.B. and Sarah excitedly scampered to the bow to get a better look.  They’ve spent the past few months volunteering for Sea Shepherd, a conservation group who’s mission it is to end the slaughter of wildlife in the world’s oceans.  Sea Shepherd has three vessels with which it takes direct action to expose and confront illegal harvesting of marine life on the high seas.  They are most famous for their efforts in the Great Southern Ocean to stop the harvest of whales by Japanese fishermen, doing whatever it takes to force fishing vessels out of their hunting grounds.  But, in fact, Sea Shepherd has campaigns all over the world including the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic Ocean where pilot whales are slaughtered by the hundreds.  Thus, it is a relief for E.B. and Sarah to be able to see pods of these lovely creatures peacefully laying in the sun with their young calves. 

“Can we snorkel with them?” Sarah asked.

“You can try, but they will probably run away.”

Slowly, the couple slid into the water, careful not to make a splash and calmly began to swim towards the pod.  I expected them to disappear under the surface immediately but they continued to lay undisturbed, so I grabbed my own mask and snorkel and followed behind.  The visibility wasn’t good.  We kept swimming closer but couldn’t yet see them, popping our heads above the water intermittently to check that they were still there.  It wasn’t until we were within a few meters that they became visible hanging just beneath the surface, the faint outline of their eye watching us.  We lay limply, exhaling deeply, imitating their behavior naturally.  The big bull scrutinized us seeing we meant no harm.  We believe the pod stayed because it had a young calf it would not abandon.  We stayed for a little while and then swam back to the boat ensuring it didn’t get too close and resumed our day of diving on a new high.

Sea Shepherd has had a lot of success yet still has a lot of work ahead of it as well.  The Japanese fishing fleet announced that it would not be hunting whales this year, giving Sea Shepherd a chance to focus on the illegal fishing of Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea, more commonly known in restaurants as Chilean seabass.  Little is yet known about the toothfish that lives in the world’s coldest waters.  It has anti-freeze in its blood and matures very slowly.  The Ross Sea was once called the ‘Last Ocean‘ because it was the only sea where fishing had yet to be performed, but now that is changing drastically and fast as toothfish off the coast of Chile are being fished out and fishermen are turning southward.

To learn more about Sea Shepard and all of their efforts go to: http://www.seashepherd.org

 

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