Category Archives: ocean health

Some species do have a purpose on our planet but…

blue whale

An article on forced us to return our attention from the forest back to the ocean. It points to a recent scientific paper by the University of Vermont’s Joe Roman and nine other whale biologists from around the globe. Published in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment their study came to the unsurprising conclusion that whale populations play an important role in what amounts to the largest single ecosystem of our planet. Whales provide vital ecosystem services and are seen as a stabilizing force against the expected effects of climate change.

While Homo sapiens undoubtedly has the widest distribution of any species on earth, having spread out over all continents except Antarctica,  whales are no less omnipresent and found all over in the oceans . They are fellow mammals that evolved over the course of millions of years from land dwelling animals to inhabitants of the sea, which in fact represents one of the most dramatic transformations in evolutionary history. Their ancestors walked and hunted on land but now whales are found in all of the world’s oceans; each year they migrate long distances from their cold-water feeding grounds to warm-water breeding areas.

Like all mammals, whales breathe air into lungs, are warm-blooded and feed their young milk. Depending on the species their average lifespan ranges from forty to a hundred years but their rate of reproduction is slow. Whales spawn few offspring but calves do have a high probability of survival. Once a calf is born the mother whale will feed her new-born by producing a thick milk (which is about 35 to 50% fat) in her mammary glands; she will squirt it through the water into her baby’s mouth. The nursing period for baby whales lasts over a year and there is a very strong bond between mother and calf. Females mature in about five to seven years; males between seven and ten. Generally young whales do have a reasonably good chance of surviving to maturity since to them the only real predators are humans… Whales come in two varieties: baleen and toothed whales. Baleen whales have a comb-like strainer on the upper jaw, which is their system to filter plankton, small fish and crustaceans from the water. Generally they are the larger species. In fact the very largest living animal on earth is the blue whale which can grow to be over 100 ft. long and weigh 180 tons. Toothed whales are smaller. They have teeth and hunt fish, squid, and other marine mammals. They sense their surrounding environment through echolocation. Whales also communicate with each other using sounds. Depending on the species some of these ‘whale-songs’ can be heard for many miles underwater. The largest brain on earth belongs to the sperm whale, the same species as the main character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The adult sperm whale brain is about 8,000 cubic centimeters, six times the size of our own 1300 cubic centimeters. The large brain supports the complex intelligence required for a socially complicated and highly communicative lifestyle.

The recently published study now points to the crucial role whales perform towards ocean health and the state of fisheries around the world. Whales recycle nutrients by feeding in deep waters and releasing fecal plumes near the surface. This whale waste supports plankton—a cyclical phenomenon described as a “whale pump.” Whales also transfer nutrients thousands of miles by feeding at high latitudes and calving at lower latitudes. Finally there is the role they play in death. When their carcasses drop to the sea floor, they sequester carbon and support numerous scavenger species. The researchers argue that dozens, possibly hundreds, of species depend on these “whale falls” in the deep sea. As long-living species, a slowly recovering population of whales will assist in stabilizing  the oceans against the expected effects of climate change.

Of course it remains impossible to determine the total global population with any degree of accuracy but it is estimated that there are today still over one million whales swimming through the world’s oceans. Regrettably many of the eighty different species are now considered endangered. A ban on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986 with the establishment of the International Whaling Commission but there remain loopholes that allow some countries to carry on with commercial whaling and over the past thirty years, in spite of the ban, over 30,000 have been killed. Japan, Norway and Iceland still slaughter 2000 whales between them each year; the whalers from these ‘advanced’ nations operate vessels that are akin to warships and usually employ grenade harpoons. They subject their prey to a particularly violent and cruel death.

Commercial whaling is totally different from what has been practiced for hundreds oflamalerahunt years in places like Lamalera, on the south coast of Lembata in the Indonesian archipelago. Here hunts are still carried out in a traditional manner, with bamboo spears from small wooden outriggers, built without nails and with sails woven from palm leaves. The whales are killed by the harpooner leaping from the boat onto the back of the animal to drive in the harpoon. The preferred quarry is the sperm whale but catching these with hand-thrown harpoons from small open boats is no easy task and it is by no means an uneven contest between man and whale. The tail flukes of a whale can easily smash the hull to smithereens. Boats are often overturned by their prey and harpooners have been disabled or killed. After a successful hunt the traditional rules ensure that every part of the animal is used. About half of the catch is kept in the village; the rest is traded in nearby markets. Such traditional whaling also takes place on the island of Bequia in the West Indies, where a few diehard whalers still go out on wooden rowing boats with hand-held harpoons whenever migrating whales are spotted. Similarly such small scale subsistence whaling is carried out by various Inuit groups in Canada but their hunt is not intended for commercial purposes and the meat caught is for local consumption only.

We do not object to these aboriginal practices but the Japanese charade of‘scientific’whaling is a shameless lie and government subsidized commercial whaling by other advanced modern countries like Norway and Iceland does not make any sense either.     IT ALL HAS TO STOP !

Japan_Factory_Ship_Nisshin_Maru_Whaling_Mother_and_Calf (1)

This picture shows  the factory ship Nisshin Maru hauling in a Minke whale mother and a one year old calf . It  was taken in the Southern Ocean by agents from the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service vessel. The commercial hunting of whales is prohibited in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which was designated by the International Whaling Commission in 1994, but Japan catches the animals there under a “scientific research” loophole in the moratorium. The results of the research the program is carrying out are not readily available but Japan  makes no secret of the fact that they end up on plates and we do note that Japan’s whaling mother ship has been awarded a halal certificate to prove the whales it takes from the Antarctic Ocean are slaughtered in accordance with Muslim law.  (Agence France Presse – Huffington Post – 22 Jan 2014)

Some species do have a purpose on our planet but Homo sapiens does not seem to be one of them.

Join Mission Ocean

Today there are fewer fish in the sea than ever before…


On June 23 the Global Ocean Commission, an independent initiative made up of 17 leaders from around the world, released a blood-chilling report. In the second alinea of the introduction the authors come straight to the point:

“Our ocean is in decline. Habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification are pushing the ocean system to the point of collapse. Governance is woefully inadequate, and on the high seas, anarchy rules the waves. Technological advance, combined with a lack of regulation, is widening the gap between rich and poor as those countries that can, exploit dwindling resources while those that can’t experience the consequences of those actions. Regional stability, food security, climate resilience, and our children’s future are all under threat.”

The report describes in detail the madness that mankind has embarked upon in the last 25 years. Without subsidies, the high seas fleets would not make a profit. Citizens of countries providing subsidies to their high seas fleets pay twice for their fish: as tax payers and as consumers. According to the commission even Indonesia spends 235 million dollars a year in fuel subsidies to a tuna fleet that brings in 463 million dollars of catch (and then the Government officials call this ironically ‘the blue economy’..)

The full report, or a summary, can be viewed or downloaded on Most importantly the commission makes eight specific proposals that include calls for mandatory tracking of all vessels fishing in the high seas, a ban on the transshipment of fish at sea, measures to end pollution from plastic waste, and binding standards for the regulation and control of offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing on the high seas has significant negative ecological, economic and social impacts, and disproportionately affects developing countries. To effectively combat IUU fishing, the illegality of the practice needs to be uniformly established, the likelihood of being caught needs to be increased and market access for IUU fish needs to be cut off.

MY Sustainable Solutions urges you to join the mission and sign the petition that asks UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to propose new laws for high seas protection in September 2014

about the last wild animals we eat

For most of the time since modern man stood up up and walked out of Africa we have been hunters and gatherers but nowadays for most people fish is the last wild food they ever eat. Apart from mushrooms, that is…

Mankind has been foraging for food in rivers and off beaches for about 150,000 years and we developed the first actual fishing techniques some 90,000 years ago.  Roughly 10,000 years ago came the switch to farming and the domestication of animals but until the 20th century there remained a single source of animal protein that throughout the ages seemed absolutely inexhaustable: the fish we were able to catch in the wild.


The advent of the industrial revolution did have an early impact on fishing stocks but that was merely local. In the North Sea, steam ships equipped with trawling nets reported catches more than six times greater than those of sailing ships. It is now understood that industrial fisheries require only 10–15 years to reduce fish populations to one-tenth of their pre-fishing size.

Yet it is a relatively recent development of only the last 50 years that mankind engaged in a mad scramble to ruthlessly over-exploit all that has been living much longer than us in the oceans anywhere on planet earth. Despite warnings of a slowdown in the marine catch in the 1970’s and 80’s, the global industry has continued to increase fishing efforts and technology kept advancing.  Boats are more powerful, fish are located electronically through sonar, larger trawling nets are used and longline hooks are dangling at greater depths. Industrial factory ships are going further offshore and have now even extended their operations throughout the vast expanses of the southern ocean.

Of course this is purely driven by the economics and the rampant overfishing is a direct result of the huge demand from the seven billion potential seafood consumers who are alive today. Worldwide, per capita consumption of seafood  has doubled since the 1960s and the inhabitants of the US now eat almost five times more fish than they did 100 years ago. In Asia, about 1 billion people rely on fish as their primary source of protein.

However the realities of the global fishing industry are mind boggling and the inefficiences  are bordering on the absurd. Today fishing fleets  are twice the  necessary size. The industry could go back to the smaller, fewer boats of 1970 and still produce the same yield. The overcapacity is global: Norway’s fleet  is 60 percent  larger than necessary, while the European Union is 40 percent over the top.  Meanwhile European fisheries are so depleted that in several member states it has been estimated that the cost of fishing to the public exceeds the total value of the catches. That means that more money is spent to keep the industry afloat than comes in from the resulting yield.

In the old days fishermen would return to harbor mainly with the fish they had targeted. Some specialized in herring or cod; others in tuna. Modern fishing methods are much more random so there is usually a large bycatch of other species. Drift nets are a spectacular example. These monster nets (50 feet by up to 65 km) kill all that they encounter. They are banned by every fishing country within its own territorial waters. However the combination of Japanese, Korean, and Taiwanese drift nets cast every night in international waters reaches about 48,000 km–enough to encircle the globe.

The greatest paradox is in the fact that nowadays 36 percent of all captured wild fish is processed into fish meal. This in turn is partly used for fishfarming or other types of aquaculture  but ultimately the practice is inefficient. Farmed salmon consume more wild fish than they generate as a final product. Other negatives  regarding  the long-term sustainability of aquaculture include disease, genetic weakening of stocks and coastal habitat destruction. In the end the combined nonhuman appetite for fish equals our own. Chickens and pigs consume two times more seafood than the Japanese, six times more than the Americans…

The expansion of fishing activities into deeper waters is unquestionably one of the principal threats to the world’s ocean health.  Most deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable not only for target species but also for non-target fauna and their habitats. Unless some radical changes in governance and management are being made, damages to deep-sea ecosystems will soon be irreversible. The United Nations have recognized this issue and urged governments and Regional Fishery Management Organizations to assess the impact of deep-sea fisheries on vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Currently, more than 99% of the world’s oceans are open to fishing; this should be reversed, and the open ocean should be closed to industrial exploitation. The continental shelves and coastal waters should be the privileged reserve of the small-scale fishermen who use low-tech gear and are coast-bound.  It is estimated that the small-scale sector has the capacity to catch roughly the same amount as the industrial sector but it employs nearly 25 times more people.

Fishing should be the privilege of the poor rather than a right of the rich.

It is up to the Governments of the fishing nations to abolish subsidies and negotiate international agreements instead. Their common goal must be to downsize fleets and set catch limits. All we can do ourselves is to try and make a small difference by being well-informed consumers. Don’t buy species of fish that are over-exploited. If you have the time and patience for a long lecture on the subject  you will find it here: