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Soundings Archive

Good News about the Brazilian Humpback Whale
Brazilian biologist Mαrcia Engel has been studying Humpback whales for over 17 years. She is currently president-director of the NGO Instituto Baleia Jubarte (IBJ), and she has good news about Humpbacks in Brazil:

"We have taken a census by plane since 2001, when we saw 2,200 of them. In 2008, we saw 7,920. We are seeing a growth trend of nearly 7% per year, which for mammals is fantastic. I've just received some pictures by e-mail of two whales alongside an oil rig."

Engel discusses this dramatic increase in Humpbacks, and the primary current threats to them, in a two-part interview conducted by Center for Regulatory Effectiveness Brazil and available online at Part 1 and at Part 2.

She believes that the primary threats to Humpbacks are

"Ship traffic, either colliding with them or running over them and interruption of important activities liking nursing their young, due to noise. There is also chemical contamination as well as fishing nets."

Engel also speaks about the disagreements and tensions within the International Whaling Commission. She attributes the delay in establish a Brazilian Humback Whale sanctuary to conflicts within the IWC:

"And why has the South Atlantic Sanctuary not been created?

Because this would have to be approved by the IWC, and currently it is facing a huge impasse. The commission is divided between one block supporting the conservation of whales, which Brazil is a part of, and the hunting block, led by Japan and includes Iceland and Norway. Japan also buys votes from some countries in the Caribbean and Africa; it buys pro-hunting votes. Conservationists want to put an end to the so-called hunting for scientific purposes, which is done by these three countries. These alone want to bring down the prohibition of commercial whale hunting. "These are consolidated positions of the two sides, and with this, the discussion does not move forward. Japan is not able to increase its hunting quota and we cannot get the South Atlantic Sanctuary approved. There are not enough votes for either side. In recent years, IWC advances are getting smaller. So much that there is a discussion about changing the rules of the IWC itself. Next year, the meeting will be in Morocco, and it will be very interesting there because you have the Strait of Gibraltar, which is an area with a large concentration of cetaceans.

You were at the last IWC meeting on Madeira Island. Despite the impasse, was there anything relevant defined?

The most important thing to happen was Australia presented a proposal. It proposed a large, non-lethal research project in the southern hemisphere, the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. It will be a partnership among several countries, including Brazil, to show it is not necessary to kill whales to research them, thus leading to ending the fundamental basis for scientific hunting."

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