La Gazette de Naturaliste

Les Nouvelles de dame Nature Mettent à jour pour les Défenseurs des ressources naturelles par le Défenseur des ressources naturelles...

Friday, February 03, 2006

International Whale Shark Project

Project AWARE recently launched an international eco-tourism initiative to promote conservation of one of the most beautiful and impressive marine creatures: the Whale Shark.

This project incorporates a Whale Shark Awareness Distinctive Specialty that gives divers essential knowledge and skills to dive or snorkel responsibly with Whale Sharks and to obtain valuable information or photographs. To compliment this project, a Whale Shark Photo Identification web site has been created to which divers and snorkelers are encouraged to report their sightings. It has been designed to help divers to contribute vital information to researchers studying whale shark migrations and producing the information that is essential for the protection of these huge, harmless animals. Each photo submitted will make a genuine contribution to the understanding and future conservation of these magnificent creatures.

By taking part in this project, you will learn more about the biology, behavior and distribution of the world’s largest fish. You will become familiar with the proper techniques for recreational diving whilst encountering whale sharks with minimal impact on the sharks’ habitat and behavior, enabling you to plan, organize and execute a dive with whale sharks in a safe and passive manner. Your help with this project will aid conservation and management of whale sharks, as you will recognize the importance of whale shark monitoring activities. Through the Whale Shark Photo ID web site, you will have the unique opportunity to participate in whale shark conservation by reporting your sightings.

Visit to find out how you can help be a part of this project.

Whale Shark Code of Conduct

Many thousands of divers get the opportunity to see the magnificent whale shark in its natural environment every year, but if future generations of visitors are to have a chance to see these animals for themselves we must ensure that visiting the sharks is done with the minimal disturbance. In order to protect whale sharks and to ensure the safety of the shark watchers, some organisations have produced strict protocols that must be followed. Divers need to make sure that they are aware of any local regulations regarding behaviour around whale sharks before entering the water. Regardless of whether any regulations are in place please ensure that you follow these general guidelines, both for your own safety, and for the safety of the shark.

Swimmers and divers:
· Do not attempt to touch, ride or chase a whale shark
· Do not restrict normal movement or behaviour of the shark
· Maintain a minimum distance of 3 metres from the whale shark
· Do not undertake flash photography
· Do not use underwater motorised diver propulsion

Friday, January 27, 2006

Not only for dogs, 2006 is also Year of the Turtle

First posted 04:46am (Mla time) Jan 03, 2006 By Blanche Rivera Inquirer

THE United Nations has declared 2006 the Year of the Turtle in an effort to save the gentle species.

Twenty-five countries in the Indian Ocean Southeast Asian (IOSEA) region, including the Philippines, have signed a memorandum of understanding dedicating 2006 to the protection of sea turtles, known locally as pawikan.

"The conference represents a symbolic turning point and the first time the problems of marine turtles were seriously discussed among so many governments with a common commitment to take action," said Douglas Hykke, head of the UN Secretariat overseeing the implementation of the IOSEA agreement.

5 of 7 species here in RP Of the seven known species of marine turtles in the world, five are found in the Philippines: The loggerhead, leatherback, olive ridley, hawksbill and green turtle.

The Turtle Islands off the coast of Palawan are identified as among the most important conservation sites for the endangered marine turtles.

The Turtle Islands, named so because of their rare marine inhabitants, straddle the border of Malaysia and the Philippines.Of the nine islands belonging to this group, six-Boan, Taganak, Bakkungan, Lihiman, Langaan and Baguan-are managed by the Philippines while three are managed by Malaysia.

The Philippine and Malaysian governments established the Turtle Islands Heritage Park (Tihpa), declared a sanctuary for the marine turtles, in 1996. The Tihpa is jointly managed by the two countries.

The Tihpa is Southeast Asia's largest remaining nesting site for green turtles. About 80 percent of the turtle nestings in the Philippines are on the six islands, according to the World Wildlife Fund, which has been doing conservation efforts on the Turtle Islands for almost two decades.

Some 1.2 million turtle eggs have hatched on the islands over the past 15 years, but many of these ended up being sold by fishermen, according to the latest WWF case study on the Turtle Islands.

The turtle egg trade has been a source of income for people of the Turtle Islands, a sixth-class municipality relying mostly on coastal resources for livelihood.

The eggs are popular as a delicacy-with some believing it to be an aphrodisiac-and turtle shell is considered a choice material for eyeglass frames, lighters, combs and decorative items.

Southeast Asia is considered the world's biggest consumer of turtle eggs, with those from the Philippines finding their way to Hong Kong, Singapore and Brunei.

"Having survived natural hazards for millennia, sea turtles are now under severe threat from human activity," the WWF said.

The biggest threats come from dynamite fishing, indiscriminate harvesting of eggs, conversion of the sandy areas where turtles nest to resorts and other commercial facilities.

Mundita Lim, assistant director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau, said the IOSEA agreement was crucial to the protection of marine turtles because it required parallel and intergovernmental measures.

"The Philippines is a major pathway of the pawikan," Lim said. "It would be useless to protect the migratory species if the other range states do not protect them."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stray whale in London river died of convulsions

Whale in River Thames Dies
By The Associated Press

posted: 21 January 2006
3:34 pm ET

LONDON (AP)—The lost and distressed whale stranded in the River Thames died Saturday as rescue workers attempted to ferry it out to sea for release, an animal rights group said.

The 20-foot-long Northern bottlenose whale had been lifted onto a barge by rescuers and was being taken downriver toward the North Sea when it suffered convulsions and died, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said.

The whale struggled with the effects of being out of the water as it was ferried toward the Thames Estuary, officials said.

Swaddled in blankets on the rusting salvage barge, the marine mammal—watched by thousands in London as it spent two days swimming up the river past some of the capital's most famous landmarks—had shown signs of increasing stress and stiffening muscles, an indicator it was in serious difficulty.

"We understand from the vet onboard the salvage vessel that the whale suffered a series of convulsions at around 7 p.m. (2 p.m. EST) and died,'' RSPCA spokeswoman Katy Geary said.

Earlier, the whale was hoisted out of the river and onto the vessel to be sped toward the North Sea.

A crowd of 3,000 people at Albert Bridge in south London had cheered and applauded as the whale was tethered to a sling and lifted by a crane onto the barge Crossness.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

World's Biggest Fish "Shrinking"

By Richard Black
Environment Correspondent, BBC News website, Darwin

Whale shark, Image: Rachel T Graham
The data is described as "very worrying" (Image: Rachel T Graham)

Whale sharks spotted off the coast of Australia are getting smaller, researchers have said.

In a decade the average size has shrunk from seven metres to five metres.

Whale sharks, the world's largest fish, are caught for food in some east Asian countries and Australian researchers suspect this is causing a decline.

The fish is listed as "vulnerable", and one of the authors of the new study has described the new finding as "a very worrying sign".

The data comes from ecotourism companies which run expeditions to watch whale sharks and swim with them in Ningaloo Marine Park off the north-west coast.

"The eco-tourism industry logs the position and size and sex of every shark it swims with," said Mark Meekan of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (Aims).

"We have obtained those datasets and analysed them over time," he told the BBC News website, "and essentially what we have seen in the last decade is a decline in average size of shark from seven metres to five metres.

"Now if you consider that the sharks probably aren't sexually reproductive or mature until they're six or seven metres long - that's a very worrying sign."

Looking for options

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are filter feeders, eating small marine organisms such as krill.

They can live for up to 150 years, attaining lengths of up to 20m, and are believed to reach sexual maturity around the age of 30.

Whale shark
The fish are placid filter-feeders (Image: Rachel T Graham)

Under the IUCN Red List of threatened species, they are categorised as "vulnerable" to extinction.

"Whale sharks, like many other shark species, are highly vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their long lifespan and low reproductive rate," commented Callum Roberts of York University in the UK, who has researched whale sharks extensively in the Caribbean.

"They have been added to CITES list of species threatened by international trade," he told the BBC News website, "but this will not protect them if they are caught by, for example, Taiwanese vessels and then consumed in Taiwan.

"So whale sharks are at risk, and the decline in size might be due to capture of large sharks."

There are also indications that the number of sharks visiting Australian waters may be decreasing, which would be additional evidence for a decline prompted by over-fishing.

Playing tag

Aims researchers are running a tagging programme in an attempt to plot whale shark migration routes between Australia, Asia and the eastern coast of Africa.

Specimens tagged in Australia have swum to Asian waters; last month a tag transmitted for days from the same location in Indonesia, apparently on land, leading researchers to suspect that the shark had been caught and the tag removed.

Either the meat is eaten, or the giant fins used as advertising boards for restaurants serving shark fin soup; livers are used for oil, and cartilage in traditional Chinese medicine.

Finding migration routes could help pinpoint areas where they are being caught.

"Many of the people doing the fishing are just local villagers with no other option," said Mark Meekan.

"If we know who they are, we can give them another option, and that option is very lucrative; the ecotourism industry in Ningaloo generates AU$70m (£28m; US$50m) a year, enough to support an entire town."

Longer term objectives of the Aims programme include finding out more about the life cycle of the whale shark.

The biggest mystery concerns breeding and reproduction; males and females live in largely segregated communities, but must come together somewhere to breed.

They are believed to bear live young, but sightings of pups are extremely rare.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Johor's Bigfoot - Remnants Of Pre-Historic Apes?

Southern Region News

January 04, 2006 17:56 PM
By Mohd Haikal Mohd Isa

JOHOR BAHARU, Jan 4 (Bernama) -- Could Bigfoot, believed to have been spotted in the jungles of Johor, actually be a pre-historic animal which had gone extinct over hundreds of thousand years ago?

Based on the Bigfoot-Giganto theory, researchers claimed that Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch, Yeti or Mawas was probably a pre-historic giant ape which lived during the Middle of Pleistocene age.

The animal is believed to be living in several parts of Asia including China and Southeast Asia, as well as North America during ancient times before facing extinction from the earth some 200,000 to 500,000 years ago.

The question of whether Bigfoot was a pre-historic animal had long been discussed by researchers across the world but until now, they have failed to reach any definite answer to it.

This raised questions whether the Bigfoot sightings by several individuals, including Orang Asli villagers at the 248 million year old Endau-Rompin National Park, may be the remnants of the Gigantopithecus Blacki (or 'Giant Ape' in Latin) species.

At the same time, there were similar physical traits between Gigantopithecus and Bigfoot, which according to the Orang Asli folks, the giant animal, which was said to be 10 feet tall, with brown hairy body, was sighted in several jungle spots in Johor.

Before this, several animal species believed to have gone extinct, were later found to still exist. For example, the Coelacanth fish, known to have existed about 360 million years ago and believed to have gone into extinction, was caught by fishermen in 1938.

According to the US-based Bigfoot Field Research Organisation (BFRO), researchers on the animal generally accepted the Bigfoot-Giganto theory.

The BFRO which claims itself as the most credible Bigfoot research organisation on its website, said the issue of Gigantopithecus had caught the interest of many anthropologists and primatologists.

Johor National Park Corporation (JNPC) Director Hashim Yusof when asked by Bernama on the link between Bigfoot and Gigantopithecus, said that the possibility is there, given the park's huge space and age.

"The Endau-Rompin National Park covers 48,906 hectares or 800 sq. km and aged 248 million years. We only have information on half of the flora and fauna inside it," he said. Recently JNPC organised a one-day expedition at Endau-Rompin to trek Bigfoot but failed to find any traces such as its footprints.

Hashim said, his party would organise another expedition to track down Bigfoot at the Endau Rompin National Park probably next month, where they will stay for a week inside the forest.

Meanwhile, another Johorian environmentalist Vincent Chow said the Bigfoot-Giganto theory that Bigfoot could be the remnants of the Gigantopithecus Blacki species might be the most accurate.

He said the theory had its grounds as it was based on experts' findings such as those in anthropology and other related fields.

Chow, an adviser of an environmental association in the state, said that the Endau-Rompin National Park's age matched that of the era of the giant ape Gigantopithecus which existed in the face of the earth.

At the same time, the virgin forest of the National Park makes it conducive for the giant animal's habitat.

"Bigfoot should be protected and regarded as the state's heritage," he said.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bigfoot Sightings

Villagers' close encounter with Bigfoot

KLUANG: It looks human but has fur the shades of dark red and black covering its face and body, stands about 4m tall and lets out a loud roar.

That is how the orang asli villagers from Batu 25, Kampung Punjat Sungai Nadik, in Kahang, about 190km from Johor Baru, described a creature known as siamang or better known as Bigfoot.

One of the villagers supposedly even had a 15-minute standoff with the creature and has stopped going into the jungle alone.

A 40cm to 50cm footprint of the Bigfoot discovered in Mawai, Kota Tinggi, recently. The print was found in mud after a group of workers tracked down the creature to a river.

Recalling his horrifying experience four months ago, Amir Md Ali said he was catching frogs in the Gunung Panti jungles to sell when he stumbled upon the creature.

"I was heading to my favourite spot when I suddenly saw this tall creature about 30m away."

"I was trembling with fear as the creature stared at me," he said, adding that he did not move for about 15 minutes.

Amir, who initially thought the creature would leave, decided to run when the creature continued to stare at him.

"I did not look back and continued running until I reached my village," he said, showing a clearing in the jungle where the standoff occurred to some 50 people who took part in an expedition to gather information on the Bigfoot sightings in the state.

The one-day expedition, led by Johor National Parks director Hashim Yusof, comprised park officials and press members.

Another villager, Herman Deraman, 21, or better known as Along, had a closer encounter with the creature in the woods.

"I was resting one night in a wooden hut on stilts after a long day of collecting bamboo strips.
Suddenly, the hut started shaking violently," he said, adding that soon after that, he heard a loud roar that sounded like that of a wild beast.

That incident kept him awake the whole night.

The next day, he encountered the creature again but this time at the place he usually gathered bamboo.

"I thought I saw a tree shaking but after a while, I realised there was a huge creature sitting down and rubbing itself against the tree. Luckily, the creature did not see me as its back was facing me," he said.

Kampung Punjat Sungai Nadik is home to about 30 orang asli families who earn a living by gathering and selling produce collected from the jungle.

Hashim said the expedition was aimed at ascertaining the truth on the existence of the Bigfoot.

"We want to uncover the truth about this creature and also quash any rumour that can scare away visitors to the national park," he said, adding that some 124,000 people visited the parks annually.

Hashim said they were also compiling a database on Bigfoot or orang mawas sightings at various spots.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Return Of Commercial Whaling

Whales under threat again

03.01.06 1.00pm
By Michael McCarthy

Twenty years after the introduction of an international whaling moratorium the great whales face renewed and mortal dangers in 2006.

A double threat is looming for the world's largest mammals, many of them endangered species, in the coming year.

In the biggest whale slaughter for a generation, more than 2000 animals are likely to be directly hunted by the three countries continuing whaling in defiance of world opinion: Japan, Norway and Iceland. And in a crucial political move, this year the pro-whaling nations look likely to achieve their first majority of votes in whaling's regulatory body, the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The first development will be brutal, bloody and shocking to many people who might be under the impression that whaling is a thing of the past. But the second may be even more significant for whale welfare in the long term, for it would pave the way for an eventual resumption of commercial whaling, which the 1986 moratorium put on indefinite hold.

Japan is leading the way on both counts. Its whalers are currently in the Southern Ocean where they plan to kill 935 minke whales, more than double the number they took last year, all of them under the guise of "scientific" whaling - killing the animals allegedly for research purposes. This label is a fiction which fools no one, as whale meat, popular with Japanese consumers, is sold on the open market.

It is also hunting 10 endangered fin whales - the second-largest animal on earth, after the blue whale - and over the next two years will seek to harpoon 40 more fin whales, and 50 humpbacks, the big whales whose spectacular "breaching" - leaping from the water - delights observers on whale-watching cruises.

Norway, which is pursuing commercial whaling openly by simply declining to adhere to the moratorium, is following close behind, with another leap in its planned kills in the coming year. Four days before Christmas, the Norwegian government announced it would increase its 2006 whale hunting quota by a further 250 animals to 1052, following a unanimous recommendation by the Storting (Norwegian parliament).

Iceland, which resumed whaling three years ago, also under the "scientific" label, killed 39 minkes last year and is expected to hunt a similar number in 2006.

That all adds up to by far the bloodiest bout of whale slaughter since the days of full-scale commercial whaling and has greatly angered environmental campaigners.

"People should wake up to the scale of what is happening this year," said the whaling campaigner for Greenpeace UK, Willie McKenzie. "Politicians who are supposed to be anti-whaling especially need to wake up to it, and press their governments to put as much effort into saving the world's whale populations as the whaling countries are doing to exploit them."

Greenpeace has sent two of its ships to the Southern Ocean to try to hinder whaling operations directly. In actions strongly reminiscent of those which first made the group famous in the 1970s, activists in small inflatable boats have been trying to block the harpooners' line of fire and, on a number if occasions, have succeeded.

Joining in the pursuit of the Japanese whalers is the US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which says one of its ships, Farley Mowat, was nearly rammed by the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru on Christmas Day.

What especially angers environmentalists is the fact the Japanese hunt is taking place in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary, an area encompassing 21 million sq miles of sea around Antarctica which the IWC declared off-limits for whaling in 1994. Japan ignores it.

Some campaigners are now calling for the anti-whaling countries - the so-called "like-minded" group, led by New Zealand, Australia, the US and Britain - to take legal action against Japan over the "scientific" whaling issue.

"Scientific whaling needs to be stopped, and legal action needs to be taken against Japan in the International Court," said Joth Singh, director of wildlife and habitats for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"We believe there is, in fact, an opportunity to do that, and we have contracted a lawyer in Australia who has done an evaluation of the possibilities of legal action. We think the like-minded countries should look at them.

"They need to take this issue to the International Court, because international pressure is required. Trade sanctions should certainly be a possibility." Mr Singh added: "I have been attending IWC meetings for years, and a number of resolutions which have been passed aimed at stopping scientific whaling have had no effect whatsoever. Diplomatic demarches, notes to Japan, have had no effect either.

"If there is any seriousness in terms of saving whales, this seems to be the way."

But time is pressing if the anti-whaling countries want to act, because in June, at the IWC meeting to be held in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean, the whaling nations seem likely to secure a voting majority for the first time.

It would be the result of an intense diplomatic campaign by Japan to get small developing countries to join the IWC and vote in its favour, by offering them substantial aid. Over the past six years, at least 14 nations have been recruited to the IWC as Japan's supporters, most of which have no whaling tradition. Some of the newcomers, such as Mongolia and Mali, do not even have a coastline.

Mark Simmonds, international director of science for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, believes the Japanese already had their majority at last year's IWC meeting in South Korea but administrative hitches meant they were not able to exercise it. This year, he thinks, they will.

"This would be the most enormous setback for whale and dolphin conservation," he said. "People don't realise how significant it is and how close it is. The world needs to be alerted to it."

The whaling moratorium, voted through at the IWC meeting in Brighton in 1982 and brought in four years later, has been a rare environmental success story. It was intended originally, not as an outright and permanent ban on whaling, but as a pause to give whale stocks time to recover while their numbers were assessed comprehensively, and new ways of managing whale killing were introduced, based on the close study of whale population dynamics.

Most anti-whaling countries, including Britain, are now firmly of the view that commercial whaling should never resume. Britain's original position was to be "guided by the science" but that view has hardened over the years, and the UK now believes "that properly regulated whale watching is the only truly sustainable use of whales and other cetaceans [dolphins and porpoises]".


Common Minke Whale

Balaenoptera acutorostrata. The smallest of the great whales, usually about 10m long and weighing about nine tonnes. This is the main target of the summer whale hunt by Norway and Iceland.

Antarctic Minke Whale

Balaenoptera bonaerensis. Slightly larger version of the North Atlantic minke. Because it was the smallest, it was targeted last during the centuries of commercial whaling, so it is still relatively abundant. The main target of the Japanese whale hunt, for "scientific" reasons.

Fin Whale

Balaenoptera physalus. The second-largest of all the whales, exceeded only by the blue whale. Can be 22m long and weigh 75 tonnes. Despite its classification as an endangered species - the result of commercial whaling, especially in the southern hemisphere - it is now being hunted again by the Japanese.

Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae. Medium-sized whale, typically 13m long and weighing 30 tonnes, widely distributed from the Arctic to the Antarctic. This species is probably the best known, and most photographed, because of its habit of making spectacular leaps out of the water. Heavily exploited in the past, it is now recovering in many places thanks to the whaling moratorium, but it is again being targeted by the Japanese.