IWC 66 Day One

IWC 66 Day One

Once more

Ever since the International Whaling Commission moved to biennial meetings, the drama that was played out every year for decades has diminished in intensity, but it is still there. This year’s meeting is in Portoroz, Slovenia, the same venue as last time. Everyone liked it so much they decided to come back. Besides, there were no other offers. It’s mid October, so the balmy Adriatic isn’t quite so inviting, but it is still a comfortable land of palm trees and pizza. Not quite so is the scene inside the Gran Hotel Bernadin, where the delegates sit in rows listening to the to and fro of debate through earphones that offer translation in 4 languages. There are 46 national delegations here, and everyone is looking at the empty Panama chair and counting votes for and against the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (SAWS). A vote by Panama for or against could tip the scales one way or the other. A few abstentions could make it a reality. Tomorrow morning, we will know.

The SAWS was first proposed in 2001 by Brazil and Argentina. Establishing it made eminent sense, as it would join two existing sanctuaries, in the Indian Ocean and Southern Oceans, thus ensuring that the entire southern hemisphere was protected. The proposal went down easily, defeated by Japan and its allies. It has come back again and again in the years since, gradually obtaining more support, and depending on who you are talking to, this time it has a good shot at succeeding. The objections of the opponents have been addressed one by one until all that stands in the way is Japan’s obstinacy. The proposal has been reviewed by the Scientific Committee and the Conservation Committee, a management plan has been created, and every range state that is a member of the IWC is a co-sponsor. In the debate today, Japan’s argument sounded hollow. It was basically a refusal to give up the prospect of killing whales sometime in the future, a dim prospect at best, if not impossible. Still, Japan will not let go of its opposition, and its acolytes won’t either.

SAWS is by no means the only big ticket item in this show.   Japan is once again on the firing line over its refusal to give up killing whales in the Antarctic. Having declared the International Court of Justice irrelevant and its decision against Japan’s Antarctic whaling meaningless, it went its own merry way last year and killed 335 minke whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Many members of the Commission were outraged by this blatant refusal to act as a decent world citizen. At the last IWC meeting in 2014, a resolution was passed telling Japan it has to get approval from the Scientific Committee before resuming Antarctic whaling. It did not, and went ahead anyway. The upshot is a new resolution by Australia and New Zealand, telling Japan that it has to have Commission approval first. That’s a much higher barrier, one that is unlikely to be breached. At first glance, it seems like a winning approach to the problem, but given the tricky turf the IWC sits on, it may not. The biggest problem I have with the resolution is that it will give Japan 3 more years of essentially open season in the Antarctic – 2 years before the Commission meets again, and another to act on any decision it might make at that meeting. Many delegates and observers at this meeting think Japan will just go ahead regardless. An alternate view is that the next Antarctic whaling season will be Japan’s last, because Sea Shepherd’s new vessel will be able to outrun the Japanese fleet. Tomorrow, we will know that results of the resolution, which will give us a clue about the outcome of this meeting.

There is already one very positive development. NGOs are being given a greater voice, not quite being able to participate in debates as they please, but allowed to speak to agenda items after delegates have spoken, and without preapproval. The IWC is not yet where other international bodies like CITES have been for ages, but it is getting closer to meaningful civil society participation.  That is good news for whales, and good news for those of us who have become accustomed to scurrying around in dark shadows.

By Paul Spong,

Portoroz, Slovenia

October 24, 2016





OrcaLab assistants 2016 – Tomoko


Momoko scope IMG_5918

[Orcalab Japan]


This is my 18th summer here at Orcalab.

There are two different reason why I keep coming back here every summer.

One reason is that I just can’t stop my passion to learn more and more about Orcas!

After 18 years I possibly know a little bit about them, but every year I feel like I still don’t know about orcas. They are such an interesting creature!

Another reason why I am here is for Paul and Helena. When I came here for the first time, I just fell in love with Paul and Helena’s vision. I respect them so much and I really wanted to help in spreading their vision.

I grew up with nature.

When I was little, I played in the old shrine in the deep forest every day. I met lots of animals and insects, I was so happy whenever I saw something alive.

However, when I entered the school in a big city, I noticed that “animals” for other people means pets or others in zoos. People pay money to see animals in captivity,

But “animals” for me means wild animals around my hometown. I can see one if the timing is good.

I knew that many people felt like wild animals are living in a totally different world. But they only know about captive ones. I thought that it is sad that people don’t have the chance to know about nature.

Then I came over to Orcalab and met Paul and Helena.

Paul says on the Orcalive website that:

“Years ago, as I stood on the deck of my home at Hanson Island looking at the full moon hanging in the sky above the mountains, spilling a great pool of liquid light across the ocean towards me, I felt so utterly at peace that the thought suddenly came “If only I could share this moment with the world, it would know peace too.”


When we study orcas at Orcalab, we try not to disturb them. We are land-based, and use a hydrophone network to keep track of the orcas. Sometimes identifying orcas by acoustics is clearer than visuals because each family has their own dialect.

Orcalab doesn’t only study orcas, as Paul’s message on the Orca-Live website says. Paul and Helena share this beautiful view of nature with the world on the internet.

Orca-Live started in 2000, supported by NTT DATA, a company in Japan. The project was planned for 3 years but continued for 5 years. And now, we have Explore cameras. Anyone who has internet access can see wild orcas living in nature, and can enjoy their natural habitat. There are also other creatures like Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Sea lions and lots of birds. And the beautiful views of sky, ocean, forest…the computer can be a window to enjoy and observe nature even for people who are living in the big city. And it’s free!!


Paul has had a connection with Japan since a long time ago. He visited Japan many times, and was on Japanese TV several times too. In 2006, both Paul and Helena visited Japan and made presentations in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka (big cities). So they have a lot of fans all over Japan!

Since 2006, we haven’t had the chance to invite Paul and Helena to Japan. Almost at the same time, the tours to Orcalab from Japan ended. Media in Japan became fewer, so the ways to convey Orcalab updates to Japanese people became fewer.

If all the people in Japan were energetic enough to learn English, maybe they could follow what is happening here. But if you see Japanese characters down below, you may understand that learning other languages is very hard.

I became concerned about this situation. I am at Orcalab every summer, and also I can speak Japanese. Is there anything I can do to keep sharing Paul and Helena’s idea?

Since last year, another Japanese assistant Momoko Kobayashi and I started a not for profit organization called “Orcalab Japan”.



We are so lucky that Momoko and I have different skills!!  So we can cover lots of things.

Momoko is very good at finding out what’s going on and managing the Lab, can be ready for things, and can help out in many ways that make Paul and Helena’s life on Hanson Island easier.  She is also a great photographer!

I am good at keeping track of orcas, and am pretty good at writing and teaching.  I love taking photos too!  I’ve published a book (in Japanese…!), enjoy making presentations and getting peoples’ attention, to spread Paul and Helena’s vision to Japanese people.

So Momoko can help the Lab function and make Paul and Helena’s life easier, and I can work spreading their vision for the future. Together, we will build Orcalab Japan. I think, we are very good combination!!

To share and spread Paul and Helena’s vision, I kept doing Japanese daily updates for 10 years. On the blog, I write a summery of the orcas’ movements, about the work in the lab, and about other creatures and special moments. I also put some small sized pictures on it.

Also, I’ve introduced Orca-Live, Explore, and Orcalab 100.

The access counter is nearly 160,000 in 10 years. In the summer, 50 to 200 accesses per day. I know it’s not a big number,  but I can see that people keep reading and keep having interest in Orcalab even in all situations and changes (disasters, politics, economy etc.) in Japan in recent years. I can feel there are still lots of people who admire and respect Paul and Helena, and keep thinking about and supporting them as much as they can.

But we can’t be satisfied.

For the Orcas, for humans, and for nature’s future, we should spread Orcalab’s vision more than this. We are trying, and will find a way. Paul and Helena’s dream is our dream.


In the end of this blog;

This season, Orcalab Japan has received messages from friends and fans who are thinking about Hanson Island from Japan. I am going to introduce some.

●From: Kayo Kikuchi

I always enjoy the Japanese blog. I love Paul and Helena, I love Orcas and Hanson Island so much! I’ve visited Orcalab in 2005, 2007, 2009 by Maple tour. I am thinking about Orcas and Hanson Island even when I am living very far away from there. Thank you Paul and Helena, thank you Orcalab Japan!  Please take care. If possible I want to bring my kids to Hanson Island someday.

●From :Aki Goto

Thank you for the daily update. It was 2004 when I was at Orcalab last. I want to visit Hanson Island again with my husband. The time on Hanson Island was one of the best days and gives me energy for my life.  Thank you Paul and Helena!!

●From: Maki Ichihara

I want to help Helena’s cooking. I want to be there again!!

●From: Akiko Watanabe

I am enjoying the updates every year! I feel my heart beating whenever I see pictures of Orcas and Hanson Island. I miss Helena’s bread. Kurt’s salmon dish was amazing. I want to be there again…

●From: Hideki Nagao

I was a volunteer at Orcalab 20 years ago. last year I found this website and since then I am reading. I feel nostalgic. I think the boat is still the same as when I was there. I am wondering how their daughter is doing. I will keep supporting.

●From: Nobuko Mori

I’m always happy when listening and watching your world. I want to say thank you to everybody at Orcalab all the time! I would like to feel the atmosphere once again on Hanson Island.

With love.

●From: Mayumi Ouchi

I am enjoying this. I would be happy if there were more photos of Paul and Helena. I want to see them. I want to go there next year!

●Naoko Takahashi

I am enjoying twitter, Orcalab100, Explore cameras, and Orca-Live. I love orcas and Orcalab so much. I went over to Telegraph Cove in 2003, saw Orcalab from the Lukwa. My English ability is poor so I am always watching from Japan, but it is so amazing that I can listen and see orcas on Orca-live. Thank you for sharing this! Paul, Helena, please take care and please continue this study as long as possible. Thank you Tomoko for the Japanese info.

●Kiyo Tanikawa

I got my interest of orcas because of Orcalab.  I hope I can be there someday. Now I am frequently go to Rausu (in Hokkaido) where  I can see wild Japanese orcas and other marine mammals.

Watching and listening to Orcas on Orca-live became a cue to think about orcas, ecology and nature.  Recently I saw Paul’s interview about Corky.  If there was no Orcalab or if I didn’t know about Paul, maybe I wouldn’t have the chance to care about orcas.

There is identification work starting in Rausu. Maybe it is just one small step for them but because there are forerunners like you we can learn and change, and it will be the foot in the door.

I can’t leave a lot of messages often but I am always enjoying and supporting.

Thank you everybody, we will keep trying to give Japanese people a chance to see and learn about wild orcas and their natural habitat.

Someday, Japan and the world would know peace.

Tomoko Mitsuya

September 24th, 2016

the same text in Japanese from here…
















































●Aki Gotoさん

ともちゃん いつもオルカラボのレポート大変感謝して読んでいます。一番最後に行ったのは確か2004年あれから12年経ちました。もしも、可能であれば、今度はうちの夫を一度ハンソン島に連れて行きたいと思っています。人生振り返ってもハンソン島の日々は最高に輝いていて、そして、今も人生のエネルギーの源になっている時間です。ポール、ヘレナ、アナ本当にありがとう!



●Akiko Watanabeさん


●Hideki Nagaoさん



●Nobuko Moriさん

I’m always happy when listening and watching your world.

I want to say thank you to everybody in Orcalab anytime!

I would like to feel atmosphere once again on Hanson island.

With love.

●Mayumi Ouchiさん



●Naoko Takahashiさん







オルカラボがきっかけで、オルカに興味をもち水族館通いから今は、羅臼通い(オルカや他の鯨類に出会えます)をしています。ラボへは行けなくてもいつかはカナダで野生のオルカ達に会いたいと思っています。漠然と聞いているコールや風景をみながら、オルカを中心に自然や生態のことを考えるきっかけとなっています。先日もポール博士の Corky のインタビューを見ました。オルカラボがなければ、ポール博士のことを知らなければ気になることもなかったと思います。 羅臼も個体識別を初めているそうです。先達がいることによって、小さな1歩でしょうが、色々と変わっていくきっかけや布石となるのでは、などと思っています。 なかなかコメントを残せませんが、応援しつつ楽しませて頂いています。





September 24th, 2016



OrcaLab assistants 2016 – Shari


I really don’t know where to start – I think that anyone who reads this, who hasn’t themselves been to the Johnstone Strait it will all sound too far fetched, too romanticised and exaggerated, and, those that have witnessed the unrelenting majesty that this region exudes will know that there are no adjectives that could really do it justice. I am unsure who if anyone is likely to read this, but just remember I’ve been forced to make attempts to put my time here into English words. I mean for goodness sake I’m siting here writing this and a ruddy great big eagle has just swooped down and caught a fish! It’s just madness.

Both this year and last year I have had the privilege of traveling to Cracroft Point “CP” after being invited by Dr Paul Spong and Helena Symonds to help my very talented and wholly inspirational friend, Megan film and photograph the incredible animals that reside here during the summer months. While Megan is here for the entire summer I have stayed here, both times, for the month of August. Without even mentioning the encounters we have had with the cetaceans I feel I could fill a tome on the sunsets. I could ramble on and on about the seemingly always suspicious sea-lions that swim by the platform, snorting and wheezing as they travel. Sometimes I will go for a walk along the rocky intertidal zone on route to the little beach around the corner from the platform. On every walk, without fail, I have found something different and intriguing, that inspires me to go back and pester google in an attempt to understand what it is or who it might have belonged to. I have found Urchin teeth and Chiton armour as well as many curious inhabitants (who I leave be but not before taking a picture). I have been treated to more magical moments here than I could have possibly imagined. Each and every time the weather changes here it is interesting and beautiful in its own way. We’ve enjoyed baking hot days where it felt as though we were on a platform in the tropics to days like today when it’s cold and damp with moody bruised skies, and we have bunkered in for torrential rain and wind. We have woken to fog so close that we can barely make out the rocks that the platform is built upon. Those days have often cleared to be bright and beautiful days, with mirror like water.


The superstars of the Strait and the whole reason this platform and the rest of the infrastructure is here is of course the Orca. The incredible beings who spend time here in the summer months. Just as Henry Beston says, they truly are other nations. They move through this territory from dawn till dusk, being followed, unbeknownst to them by a series of stealthily placed hydrophone and cameras. Last year the team from began the process of attaching cameras, both land and underwater ones to sync in with the hydrophones. If, on the off chance, you haven’t been to their website yet then its best you stop reading this and just go now, and check it out. These sneaky cameras in their strategic locations along the Johnstone Strait (including one at CP) give us increased insight into Orca behaviour and really are just plain awesome. Orcalab’s ethos of non invasive, land based research is maintained and now everyone across the globe can watch these beautiful individuals in their element, doing what they do. So where ever you are – in the office (be stealthy so the boss doesn’t catch you), on the loo ( be careful not to drop your phone) or waiting for a bus (maybe spread the good views with the human beside you?) you can watch the beautiful live footage of what’s going on here. I feel like this is the kind of progress that really will help put an end to the captive cetacean industry. When you see an orca as peaceful as a can be seen on these cameras, it’s hard to imagine that we still keep some captive in tiny concrete, sterile tanks. But we do and it is sick! So if you hear of a friend or colleague who maybe intends to pay money to see those “shows”, stear them towards the website and let them see the real deal FOR FREE! And if they still pay to see those crappy shows then have a grave dug for them because they are very clearly dead inside. One of the most beautiful encounters I’ve was also bittersweet. As I watched through the camera lens one clear afternoon, the group, it was the the A30’s and I15’s, came south through Blackney Pass, I was on the rocks to the left of the platform where I sit – far enough away so that the video camera doesn’t pick up on the sound of the shutter clacking away. They came out through the current and then proceeded to swim, very slowly East up the Strait past us. They frolicked about, tail slapping , spy hoping and just generally lazing around. It was so beautiful. Then they grouped together and turned and headed back in towards the Pass. Why they decided to go back we can never know. These non-human persons decide where they will go and what they will do and that day they decided to change their mind and swim back towards where they just came from. The gravity of how special that simple decision is, when there are dolphins in tiny little concrete tanks being forced to do unnatural tricks for frozen fish makes, makes me so sad and so mad. It is so wonderful to see these groups but it is also painful to think of the individuals we still hold captive in the name of selfish entertainment and human greed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it is sick.

There isn’t really an average day here as the whales dictate timings, but usually we wake up to the distinctively dulcet tones of two particular fishermen who chat to each other over the VHF about all manner of things as well as how their morning fishing is going. I’m afraid I must report that this year it doesn’t sound as though its been a good one. We lay in our bunks laughing and wondering why they don’t just go fishing together, but, they are helpful to us as we normally get a weather report, of sorts, from them. Then, as we check out the updates from the lab and listen as the reports build up from the kayakers and the whale watching outfits, I get up, put the kettle on and make us some coffee. We set up the scope and get the video camera set up on its tripod. We usually have some oatmeal and maybe another cup of coffee. If there is a humpback in the vicinity then I identify who it is and note down, what its up to and what direction it is traveling in and anything else of interest. That has been a big part of my time here, this year especially. Identifying the Humpbacks who frequent the entrance to Blackney pass is very satisfying. So far we have encountered 18 adults and 1 calf.


So, assuming the whales are not arriving anytime soon, we have a small exercise routine to some of Mobys songs that we get on with. We both agree we most likely look like nutters to anybody who should motor on past, but it is probably necessary and defiantly funny and sets us up nicely for yet another wonderful day ahead.

After our attempt to not turn into hulks of lard, Megan and I just have to wait until the Orca swim by the CP platform so that she can film and I can take photographs of them. The photographs are used to ID the individuals but most of the time – thanks to the brains at the lab who can recognise a group by their acoustics – it is already known, so my pictures are a back up, or confirmation. The Orca pass by very frequently, and when they are not within filming distance, we keep a watch out. We continue to monitor the radio chat, and between the Wardens of the Bight to the East and the Whale watching vessels who predominantly come from the West, and the smattering of kayaking groups in between there is a great network of people looking out for them. Actually, listening to the very often hysterical conversations between the men of the whale watching vessels really is heart warming. There seems to be not one drop of rivalry or competition. They look out for each other and maybe it’s just the Canadian way but it is genuinely lovely to listen to. It’s certainly more entertaining than most TV shows I can think of. If it’s hot out we feast on watermelon and try to make the most of the sun on our pasty skin. If it’s cold we drink tea and play cards. It’s all immensely stressful.

If the Orca are around however it is very different story, and whilst still not exactly stressful, we don’t stop filming or photographing them until they are gone. An exception to this rule happened one evening I will treasure forever. I had been preparing some food, when we got word from the lab that there were incoming Orca, so I turned off the gas and got prepared. I scooted off down the rocks and sure enough they came around the point and remained with us while the sun set. As the light dropped too low for photographs or filming Megan called from the platform and I went back to join her. I put the food back on and once it was hot we sat down on our platform; two best buds from good old ‘Blighty listening to the blows and occasional above water vocalisations as they continued to forage and socialise just away from the little platform. Unforgettable. Then as dusk gave way to night we had the stars to keep us company. This place, man ohhhh man.

Once we’ve had our food and maybe just maybe a beer, (normally this coincides with watching the redonkulous sunsets that always inspire many adjectives interspersed with a healthy smattering of profanities), we wash up, get everything ship shape, upload files, put batteries on to charge and choose a movie to watch with some popcorn.

We have our scanner on 24 hours a day, it is linked with the hydrophone down to the right of the platform. Pretty often we hear Pacific White Sided dolphins, and at night if we hear Orca vocalisations we get up and listen to them pass by us. One night we had retired to our respective bunks and as we lay there we began to hear what sounded like someone tuning a violin and then a full on humpback song came blaring through the scanner; we lay there in the dark laughing at how adamant that whale seemed about something. It really went on for some time and was very special because although we see humpbacks every day here, they normally won’t sing and other than the occasional trumpet at some pesky dolphins are silent.

One of my most treasured memories not involving the whales is of a quiet, warm and still afternoon, beautifully blue and completely vast. The orcas had past by us early in the morning and even the humpbacks were feeding elsewhere. Megan and I were working and chatting as usual. Actually, I had just put the kettle on for tea and all of a sudden I saw a small, blue skiff pull up some ways off the platform. Then just as I was asking Meg if she knew who it was or if we had been expecting a visit the tremendous sound of a trumpet pierced the air and blasted away the silence. Megan jumped to her feet exclaiming “It’s Jerry!” We went out and he was, by this time, a verse into “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Looking down the straight there was not another vessel on the water and both Megan and I were laughing uncontrollably at the utterly surreal nature of this spectacular concert. It was truly hilarious. Once he had finished and after a great round of applause from the two of us we invited him over for tea. Jerry obliged and talked to us about what he does as “The Alert Bay Trumpeter” . For some fifteen years he has been driving alongside the gigantic cruise ships that rather obnoxiously parade through the waters here, and entertaining the passengers on board is his sole mission. I like imagine he does so to highlight the absurdity of their presence in those sterile, floating hotels that are really so detached from the spectacular beauty all around them, but actually I think it is just that Jerry loves to preform and having the chance to do so in front of hundreds of people and bring them such unexpected happiness suits him perfectly. He had come down to Cracroft that afternoon because he was tracking one of the cruise liners on by listening on his VHF and so after talking for sone time we actually got to witness him in all his glory. The thing is that from his vantage point, playing his trumpet while skilfully trying to keep up with those massive and noisy engines, he cant even hear the rapturous applause, hoots and whistles that echo across the Strait after each of his renditions. He can make out the smiles however and that, it seems, is all he’s after. Jerry made it all look easy, and with the sun gleaming off the dolphins riding and jumping through the bow waves it was a delight to watch and listen.

Orcalab and this area in general is full to the brim with exciting, talented people who do what they do for the love of it and not for recognition or applause and with no ego. I’ve learnt so much about the incredible lives that inhabit the Straight and I know that the glimpse I’ve had is only the tiniest fraction of the tip of the iceberg. This place, the humans here and the other animals make me so immeasurably happy. I can really never thank Paul and Helena enough for the opportunity to come here. Both they and CP will always have a seriously massive chunk of my heart.


by Shari Manning