IWC 66 Day Two

A blast from the past

And a rude awakening

Sidney Holt has saved more whales than anyone. It’s a bland but totally true statement. Were it not for Sidney, the blue whale would probably be gone from the face of the Earth. Extinct. Fin and humpback whales would not be far behind. Hundreds of thousands of deaths, possibly millions.

The IWC was formed in 1946. The assessment rule of thumb of the day was the “blue whale unit” and quotas were set accordingly. A blue whale unit equaled one blue whale, 2 fin whales, two and a half humpback whales and six sei whales. It was all about oil. The more whales killed, the more oil produced. The whalers went on their merry way until profits started going down. Less oil was being produced year by year. Worrisome. The Commission didn’t trust the advice coming from its scientific committee, so it decided to call in an independent group of scientists, who formed “The Committee of Three”. Sidney was one of them, the others being Doug Chapman of the USA and Kay Allen of Australia. Their conclusions in the early 1960s rocked the IWC and put the brakes on commercial whaling. Sidney, who worked for the FAO as a fisheries biologist, did the math that showed how dire the situation was. We and the whales owe a huge debt of gratitude to him. He is now 90 years old and a little frail, but his mind is as sharp as a razor. And he is here, regaling anyone within earshot with tales from the past that bring hoots of laughter and moments of reflection. A few lucky among us have a hot off the press copy of his book: SAVE THE WHALE! Memoirs of a whale hugger. It’s hard to know what the delegates at this meeting make of Sidney’s presence, but he is very visible and I suspect some of them recognize him as the enemy who won. The moratorium on commercial whaling, the Indian Ocean Sanctuary, and the Southern Oceans Sanctuary would almost certainly not exist without Sidney. We are blessed by his presence as we try to turn the page.

Reflections aside, this has been a very difficult day. It began with yet another rejection of SAWS, the proposal to establish a sanctuary for whales in the South Atlantic Ocean. The vote in favour was about 60%, so it didn’t come close to achieving the ¾ majority it needed. Hopes dashed, the proponents led by Brazil and Argentina press on. Brazil has offered to host the next IWC meeting, in 2018, so perhaps the ambience of that land of beaches and beauty will be enough to put Japan’s acolytes under their spell. We can only hope. Hope aside, the spectacle of country after another casting votes according to Japan’s script was enough to turn strong stomachs.

The next blow came when a resolution about trying to save the vaquita from extinction stalled under the stony (read heartless) gaze of Iceland and Norway. Mexico’s tiny dolphin is being drowned in gill nets being set to catch totoaba, a fish in the northern Gulf of California that is being caught for its swim bladder, which fetches big bucks in China and Hong Kong. The totoaba is itself endangered, and the trade is illegal, but none of that matters. A year ago, the vaquita was down to less than 100 individuals; now, with three recent deaths, it is just 59. The situation cries out for urgent action. Mexico is trying. CITES and the IUCN have taken up the vaquita’s cause at their recent meetings, so it seemed a no brainer that the IWC would too. Not so. Instead of passion and action, what we got was mean spirited whining. I tell you, if Iceland and Norway persist in claiming that the IWC has no business dealing with small cetaceans because they weren’t mentioned in the 1946 Convention, I might just throw up more than breakfast. What on Earth are these guys playing at? What do they not understand about the word extinction? Do they not remember the baiji?

Onward, we entered another dark tunnel, aboriginal subsistence whaling. I doubt whether anyone in the room objects to the principle that aboriginal people in the Arctic, who have depended on cetaceans for centuries should be deprived of an important source of food. But what we heard was a claim of rights that amounted to open season, and a report from an “expert panel” that offered a blank cheque as a solution. No need any more for a “needs “ statement. Just fill in the blank with a number, any number, and go right ahead. I may be exaggerating, because the IWC will still have to approve quotas, but that’s what it sounded like. Some words of caution were heard, and we shall see before this week ends how the wind is actually blowing, but it feels a bit in the face at the moment.

By Paul Spong,

Portoroz Slovenia,

October 25, 2016






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