IFAW heads out to look for right whales

James McLeod
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Members of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) were in St. John’s briefly Monday afternoon, but in a break from tradition, they didn’t have anything to say about the seal hunt.

The Song of the Whale, IFAW’s purpose-built whale research vessel, was in St. John’s to fuel up and get supplies before heading for Greenland and Iceland to look for right whales.

Historically, right whales were hunted in the area, but after the harvest decimated their population, they’re rarely seen.

On the European side of the Atlantic, they’re even more rare.

“They’re basically so rare that there’s about a sighting every 10 years on (the European) side of the Atlantic, and no one has any clue whether they’re recovering or not, no one has any clue whether these are just stray right whales that have just gone across by accident,” said Vassili Papastavrou, whale biologist working aboard the Song of the Whale.

IFAW boasts that as a sailboat, the vessel is among the quietest maritime research vessels in the world, and it specializes in “passive research.” Its main function is to tow hydrophones — underwater microphones that hear whales communicating with each other.

It’s a technique for tracking whales that the IFAW has been using for 25 years, and it’s passive in contrast to the way other people research whales, Papastavrou said.

“Japan, particularly, argues that the only way to study whales is to kill them, and has a big program of scientific whaling,” he said. “Part of what we’re doing is to show the kinds of techniques that can be used to study live whales.”

One of its big successes was a series of acoustic buoys outside Boston harbour which listen for whales and help route traffic away from whales, to stop animals from getting hit by vessels.

Papastavrou said he wasn’t too worried about the IFAW’s seal campaign reputation preceeding the research group when they arrived in St. John’s harbour. He said they’re just interested in doing passive research, but they’ve faced a hostile welcome before.

“When we first turned up in Iceland, it wasn’t just our reputation that preceded us, it was mainly the reputation of another organization — Sea Shepherds — which actually sank four whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour,” he said.


Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: IFAW, International Fund for Animal Welfare

Geographic location: Iceland, Greenland, Japan Boston Reykjavik

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Recent comments

  • David
    July 17, 2012 - 13:21

    Send them out whale-watching in July....the same kind of "corporate perk" as when ReMax give its own high-sales used car sslesmen...er, realtors....a trip to Honolulu in February. "Remember, if you protest at least 3 government legislatures, and get your mug on the evening news, you get an all-expense paid July boondoggle in St. John's...so keep up the shameless charade!"

  • Adam
    July 17, 2012 - 09:03

    As usual IFAW has no idea what they're talking about. Right Whales in the North Atlantic are recovering slowly, but they are recovering at a rate of 1.5% a year.

    • Vassili Papastavrou
      August 02, 2012 - 06:03

      Dear Adam, Thanks for your comment. Yes, of course IFAW is aware of the debate as to whether the modest population increase in Western Atlantic right whales over the last decade constitutes a recovery. Dave Mellinger, Phil Clapham and others say that "despite recent increases in Western North Atlantic calf production, this population does not appear to be recovering with anthropogenic factors, notably vessel strikes and fishing gear entanglement responsible for significant numbers of deaths" (Mellinger et al, 2011). But my quote referred to the Eastern Atlantic, "they are basically so rare that there's about a sighting every 10 years on (the European side) of the Atlantic, and no one has any clue as to whether they are recovering or not...." Given the very small number of sightings, it would of course be entirely impossible to determine any trends. Again the Mellinger et al (2011) paper is well worth looking at if you want to know more. Hope this helps, best wishes Vassili Mellinger, DK., Nieukirk, S., Klink, K., Klink, H., Dziak, R., Clapham, P., Bransdottir, B. 2011. Biology Letters. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2010.1191

  • Jeremiah
    July 17, 2012 - 07:51

    Those carpet baggers should not be allowed in our port. Their dishonesty and scurvey ways have painted us in a poor light in the international stage. They are in it for the money, nothing else.

  • Ford Elms
    July 17, 2012 - 07:18

    Yeah, right. They were tarnished with Sea Shepherd's image. Let's not forget that IFAW is the company formed by Brian Davies, who pioneered the use of animal snuff films in animal rights attacks when he paid a man who wasn't a sealer to skin a seal alive for the cameras so he could use the footage to falsely accuse sealers. Let's not forget that it was this kind of dishonesty and hypocritical animal cruelty for propaganda that made IFAW a tidy profit in it's early years when slandering and defaming innocent sealers was their major source of income. If IFAW wasn't welcome in Iceland, it was because of their own dishonesty and exploitation of innocent sealers, not because Sea Shepherd uses the same tactics. IFAW is just one of a number of dishonest and hypocritical animal rights companies that exploit innocent worklers for profit. Thuis is cynical media manipulation, just like everything else they've done for attention and profit i the past half a century. They shouldn't be welcome here either, after what ehy did here.