Category: Oceans


Why is Japan still killing whales in Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

In My Last Continent, when the fictional tourist ship Cormorant arrives at Whaler’s Bay on Deception Island in Antarctica, Deb observes …

 

…a shantytown of enormous oil containers and abandoned buildings—relics of the Antarctic whaling industry—so old and suffused with rust that they blend into the lava-blackened cliffs behind them. This reminder of whaling’s gruesome past makes me shudder: the whalers removing the blubber on the ships, then bringing the remainder of the bodies to shore, where they’d boil them down to get every last bit of oil. And the whaling industry isn’t even history—though the International Whaling Commission banned whaling in 1986, the Japanese have continued hunting in the Southern Ocean, killing minke and fin and even endangered sei whales under the guise of “research,” even though they haven’t published a paper in years and continue to sell the whale meat commercially.

 

It’s true that whaling has been banned by the International Whaling Commission since 1986 — and it’s also true that Japan is still killing whales in Antarctica. That’s because there is indeed an exception for “research” — but the slaughter of hundreds of whales a year by Japanese whalers can hardly be considered research.

In 2014, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program did not meet the research qualifications, and Japan was ordered to stop whaling. But this only lasted one year — and, as this NPR story reports, Japan just returned from its 2016-2017 season with more than three hundred whales, all needlessly slaughtered.

It’s not enough that the whales are vital to the ecosystem in the Southern Ocean and should not be taken at all — but the methods are barbaric. Whaling vessels go after the calves, because they know the mothers (the real target) will not leave their babies. A member of Sea Shepherd Australia describes the way the whales are killed: They are “hit with an explosive harpoon that goes straight into their body; hooks come out, and shrapnel is sent through their body; it’s a terrible, bloody death… these whales can take up to 30 or 40 minutes to die.”

As Humane Society International Executive Vice President Kitty Block tells NPR, “It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end.”

Visit the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to learn more about how this organization helps protect the oceans, especially from those who violate international law.



“Data as Art” from the British Antarctic Survey

By Midge Raymond,

I was delighted to discover this project from the British Antarctic Survey.

Data as Art shows sea ice, krill (seen below), the ozone hole, and other scientific data as works of art.

In keeping with the British Antarctic Survey‘s mission to “engage a wide range of people in science through a variety of methods,” these works of art — which use real Antarctic data sets that explain important scientific research — are wonderful to look at. Even more important are the stories they tell about this continent and how important it is to fight climate change and increase conservation.



Should we stay home to save the oceans?

By Midge Raymond,

“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop asks in her poem “Questions of Travel”—the same question I asked myself upon learning, when I was in the Galapagos Islands last year, that more than 200,000 tourists visit this small archipelago every year. These islands, virtually undiscovered until the sixteenth century, are now bursting at the seams.

For all who venture to the Galapagos, it’s the trip of a lifetime—yet it’s also resource-intensive: I had taken 10 flights in 8 days to reach a place that is among our world’s most affected by climate change. And right now another travel season is wrapping up  in Antarctica, another remote and increasingly popular travel destination. Antarctica, which 20 years ago saw fewer than 10,000 tourists, will likely have counted upwards of 40,000 this season, more than 90 percent of whom travel on ships.

According to the World Tourism Organization, international travel increased in 2015 for the sixth year in a row, to a record 1.2 billion tourists, with 1.8 billion forecast for 2030. Only a week after a long-awaited marine protected area was established in Antarctica, the United States elected a president who has called climate change a hoax and seems intent on dismantling the EPA. Can the planet’s most vulnerable places handle much more? Perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves whether should do our part for the planet and leave a few of our bucket-list destinations in the bucket.

Instead of traveling to Antarctica—which can be as extreme financially as it is environmentally—perhaps we can get glimpses in other ways. Web-based citizen science programs like Zooniverse offer virtual experiences—a chance to count penguins and identify individual humpback whales in Antarctica, in addition to myriad other adventures. From our computers, we can “travel” the world, see incredible sights and creatures, and contribute to ongoing research efforts.

And even if we do travel to these fragile environments, we can help the oceans by playing a role in conservation and research. The website iGalapagos.org depends on travelers’ photos of the elusive and endangered Galapagos penguins to further their research toward protecting this species. And those of us who love the oceans can reconsider the role of seafood in our diets, as nearly 90 percent of the oceans’ stocks are extinct or depleted.

Not all travel is inherently bad, of course, and if you’re like me and you can far more easily give up seafood than a trip, how we travel can make a big difference in minimizing the impact of our presence—by choosing green hotels, using public transportation, buying local. Even the little things, like packing a reusable water bottle and shopping bag to minimize plastic, help a lot. Those traveling on ships can check out Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card before booking a trip (in its latest report, in 2014, no major cruise line earned a grade higher than a C; most grades were Ds and Fs).

Sometimes it takes visiting a place to fall in love with it and become inspired to help save it—and this may well justify our carbon footprints in the end. Which brings me back to the question: Should we stay home? There is no easy answer. But those of us who have the luxury of asking the question might consider that, for the sake of the planet, the oceans, and for future generations, the road less traveled—or not traveled at all—does make all the difference.



The sounds of Antarctica

By Midge Raymond,

Among the most amazing things about Antarctica (and there are so many) are the sounds. You can listen to the sounds of icebergs rubbing together here. It sounds a bit like furniture breaking apart, and then a little like a penguin colony from far away, and finally it becomes something completely otherworldly.

This wonderful article from Huffington Post offers a few sounds as well — including the voices of an Adélie penguin colony and the wind sweeping across the ice — as well as gorgeous photos and a glimpse of what life is like as a researcher on the continent.

These Antarctic sounds are incredible, but perhaps what’s most remarkable about Antarctica is the silence. The sounds of no human presence at all. It’s impossible to capture in a video or audio, but I did try to capture the feeling in My Last Continent:

” … we listen to the whistling of the wind across the ice and the cries of the birds. I savor the utter silence under those sounds; there is nothing else to hear—none of the usual white noise of life on other continents, no human sounds at all… “



The Most Important March of the Penguins

By Midge Raymond,

Last weekend, the least-populated region of this planet held a women’s march. For the penguins, this was the most important march of all.
The women’s marches taking place around the world last Saturday eclipsed the presidential inauguration in numbers and passion. The most far-reaching protest took place in Antarctica—and while this shipboard protest boasted only 30 marchers, it was one of the biggest in that this number represents the highest percentage of the continent’s population.


There should be so surprise that the protests extended this far south. As I write this, the President of the United States has been in office for only  a week, having already removed any mention of the environment from the White House website and having signed orders to move forward with the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines. He not only does not believe in climate change, he has picked Scott Pruitt—who likewise doesn’t embrace the unequivocal science behind the reality of climate change but also has a longstanding reputation against regulating pollution—to head the Environmental Protection Agency (which, by the way, he has sued no fewer than 14 times). And meanwhile, for weeks the world has been watching (or should be) as the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica threatens to break off into the Southern Ocean, which in the short term will change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula—and in the long term will leave the Antarctic glaciers vulnerable to flowing into the ocean, potentially raising sea levels by several feet. (And this is only the new administration’s environmental offenses…when it comes to human rights, it gets even worse.)

Environmentally, Antarctica is becoming one of the most important regions in the world. And this is why scientists and travelers held “Penguins for Peace” signs in Antarctica last week.

The number Adelie penguins on the Antarctic peninsula have already decreased by 70 to 90 percent. Climate change, pollution, and the fishing industry are all factors, and unless each of these is controlled, the penguins will not survive. The new administration is poised to ensure that these birds become extinct.

What can we do for the environment? Keep protesting. Write our representatives. Donate to causes that are on the ground working to protect the environment and its creatures (such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society). And don’t forget that we can each can make a difference for the environment (check out Cowspiracy for the very best individuals can help). And, of course get ready to get out the vote next time around—2018 is right around the corner (and can’t come soon enough).



Tourism in Antarctica: How many visitors are too many?

By Midge Raymond,

With the Antarctic travel season upon us — the austral summer, from November to February, is the only time the sea ice allows tourist vessel access — the increasing numbers of travelers to this region raise many questions. How many tourists are too many before the region is compromised?

Antarctic tourism began in 1966 with fifty-seven travelers. Now, upwards of 40,000 tourists visit the continent every year. Most tourism is, in fact, concentrated in a two-square-kilometer region on the Antarctic peninsula — which means a lot of feet on the ground for such a fragile environment.

And Antarctic tourism shows no signs of slowing down — quite the opposite, in fact. Beginning in 2018, Argentina will offer commercial flights to Antarctica. And while the U.S. and Australia comprise the majority of Antarctic visitors, Chinese tourists are now visiting Antarctica in large and growing numbers.

Most travelers to Antarctica travel by ship, and thanks to IAATO (the International Association for Antarctica Tour Operators), tourism in Antarctica is well managed — for now. But tour operators are clearly adapting to the demands of travelers and will likely continue to do so. IAATO expects the number of visitors to jump 14 percent this season, with increasing numbers of landings on the islands; last year, cruises that included landings increased by more than 10 percent.

With IAATO being a voluntary membership organization, there is reason for concern — Antarctic tourism needs to be managed well, and already Antarctic treaty members have raised concerns and called for more regulation. Just yesterday, the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced that Princess Cruise Lines will plead guilty to deliberately dumping oil-contaminated waste into the ocean and covering it up in incidents dating back to  2005, resulting in seven felony charges and a $40 million penalty, the biggest fine yet in the history of criminal cases involving vessel pollution. While these ships were not in Antarctica, this is alarming given the increase and expansion of ship travel, as Reuters notes: “Cruise ship travel has generated concern among environmental groups and governments over water contamination and waste as the industry adds passengers, routes and larger ships.”

I’m often asked how many times I’ve been to Antarctica (once) and for how long (less than two weeks) and whether I will ever return. Even though it’s my favorite landscape on earth, I’m not sure I belong there, especially having already had the privilege of going once. In her poem “Questions of Travel,” Elizabeth Bishop asks: “Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” When it comes to Antarctica, I lean toward yes.

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Is long-term peace possible in Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

Among the most amazing things about Antarctica — and there are so many — is that it is a place of peace. And this refers not only to its quiet, unspoiled beauty but to its lack of human activity for any purposes other than good.

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No one owns or governs Antarctica. It is one of the few places in the world that has never seen war — or any military activity, for that matter. It is a place whose only permanent inhabitants are wild animals (penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales among them) and whose human inhabitants are scientists and those who support their work.

The Antarctic Treaty, entered into force in 1961, stipulates that the continent be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. Currently, mining, drilling, and any military activity is banned on the continent. Yet with the treaty up for review in 2048, there is concern that this may change.

China is stepping up its presence in Antarctica, with four research stations, a new air squadron, and plans to build another station, raising concerns about its intentions in Antarctica for exploiting natural resources, which include fish, oil, minerals, and perhaps even diamonds. As this article notes, “Beijing has made it ‘loud and clear to domestic audiences’ that these natural resources are its main interest in the region.” China is already fishing for krill, as are South Korea and Russia, countries that also have their eyes on securing their stakes on the continent. And the Japanese have long conducted illegal whaling hunts in the Southern Ocean under the guise of research.

Currently in Hobart, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting in hopes of establishing a marine protected areas in the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean. Russia is the one nation that, after blocking conservation attempts five times in the past, delegates hope will come on board this year. If CCAMLR can establish the three marine protected areas it hopes to this year (in the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea, and East Antarctica), this will limit commercial fishing and help protect the entire ecosystem.

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Antarctica is one of the few places on earth where animals can roam without any human predators, and where everyone works together for the common good. Unfortunately, the continent cannot fully escape what goes on in the rest of the world — the entire region is suffering the effects of climate change, and the Antarctic peninsula is among the fastest-warming places on earth — but right now, Antarctica the only place on earth where peace reigns. And we need to make sure it stays this way forever.

 



The dangers of polar travel

By Midge Raymond,

As the ice melts in the Arctic, tour companies are taking advantage of the ability to bring tourists to the region like never before. As I noted in this article for The Daily Beast, “despite all our technological advances, a ship is only as safe as her captain—and the capricious nature of ice and polar weather means even an experienced captain isn’t immune from human error.”

And due to these new opportunities, tour companies like the one that owns the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity, are taking advantage. Yet when it comes to polar cruises, bigger is most certainly not better. This article in The Guardian (titled “A new Titanic?”) made the point very clearly: “If something were to go wrong it would be very, very bad.”

And another article, in the Telegraph (titled “The world’s most dangerous cruise?”) reported: “In 2010 it took a Canadian icebreaker 40 hours to evacuate just 120 passengers from the 330ft Clipper Adventurer when it ran aground on an underwater cliff. At times, Serenity will be 1,000 miles and at least 11 hours’ response time from coast guard assistance.”

In other words, this cruise was extremely risky — and while its voyage was successful, the risks will increase if this type of tourism becomes a trend.

In the last 15 years, cruise-ship tourism in Norway has grown from 200,000 to almost 700,000 visitors. Canada’s fleet of passenger vessels was 11 in 2005 and rose to 40 in 2015. Iceland’s foreign tourists have more than tripled since the year 2000, to nearly a million visitors a year—about three times Iceland’s population. And in Antarctica, the number of visitors this season is expected to be upwards of 40,000—more than double what it was in 2004.

Can the planet’s most vulnerable places handle much more tourism?

As the Antarctic tour season begins next month, the concerns are similar to those of cruises in the Arctic; it’s an unpredictable place where there are not enough resources to rescue large numbers of passengers and crew were something to happen. Last year, a small tourist vessel was damaged by ice and, while all on board were safe, the company had to cancel its next voyage. It’s worth noting that this happened in the South Shetland Islands, which is pretty far north on an Antarctic cruise; in other words, ice is unpredictable even farther north and can wreak havoc on ships anytime and anywhere.

While Antarctic travel is considered safe (unlike these new uncharted voyages in the Arctic; as this Guardian article notes, “even before the Crystal Serenity began planning its voyage, the coast guard and local communities were raising concerns that the Arctic was not ready for the sharp rise in traffic through the Bering Strait”), all travelers should carefully vet their tour operators, most of which follow the guidelines of IAATO, and choose a company with vast experience in ice-filled waters. The Southern Ocean is highly unpredictable, and an experienced captain, crew, and staff makes all the difference — not only for the safety of passengers but for wildlife as well.

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On naming animals

By Midge Raymond,

I’m delighted to have a short essay appearing in the brand-new issue of Zoomorphic, a beautiful online magazine dedicated to writing that deepens our connection with wildlife and the more-than-human world. A brief preview: the story involves penguins.

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Check out the new issue here, and you can also explore previous issues for more essays, poetry, and art about the animals we share our planet with.

 





Join me tonight for an Antarctic adventure & film screening

By Midge Raymond,

I am delighted to be speaking at the Tierrasanta Talks Adventure tonight at 6:15 p.m. This event, by the fabulous Adventures by the Book, is $10 and supports the Tierrasanta Village of San Diego — a nonprofit, grassroots membership organization that enables its members to age in place in a caring community setting — which will receive a portion of tonight’s proceeds.

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Join us for drinks at 6:15, followed by a reading and discussion of My Last Continent — as well as all things Antarctic and penguin! — and then stay for a screening of the Academy Award-winning film March of the Penguins. I look forward to seeing you there!

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Join me at the Women’s Museum of California on July 10!

By Midge Raymond,

Join me on Sunday, July 10, at 4 p.m. for a the Women’s Museum of California’s Second Sunday Author Series: Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories.

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I am delighted to be part of this fabulous series, curated by Wild Women, Wild Voices author Judy Reeves and supported by San Diego Writers Ink and Point Loma Tea. And I am looking forward to an afternoon talking about My Last Continent, as well as women in science, women artists and writers, and so much more!

Click here to RSVP – I look forward to seeing you there!



Scenes from the book tour

By Midge Raymond,

The first two weeks of the My Last Continent book tour have been incredible — it was such fun to visit Boston, New York, Portland, and Seattle, as well as to celebrate here in Ashland.

As many of you know, my travel companion is Admiral Byrd (those of you who have read My Last Continent will know why he’s so named), and he’s the one who’s been photobombing all my book tour photos. The most frequent comment I get when people see Admiral Byrd in person is, “I thought he was so much bigger.” In fact, he’s a tiny little thing, given to me by a dear friend just before My Last Continent was published. It seemed so fitting that he should join me on the tour.

I’m heading to Southern California soon for another month of events (check them out here!), and in the meantime, here are a few scenes from the past couple of weeks. Join me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter to follow Admiral Byrd’s (and my) adventures as the tour continues!

Below: Admiral Byrd in the city of Boston and at Papercuts J.P., for a fabulous event with Mark Beauregard and Rachel Richardson….

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New York included visits to my brilliant agent and the amazing team at Scribner before a reading at Shakespeare & Co. that evening…

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The Ashland event at Bloomsbury Books was so festive, with an overflowing crowd of more than 60 friends and readers…

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Powell’s City of Books was especially fun as the crowd included a group of young writers whose energy and great questions made it a lively evening. (And if you’d like a signed copy of My Last Continent, you can order it here!)

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And at Seattle’s iconic Elliott Bay Book Company, I saw plenty of friends and met readers who came in from a gorgeous Seattle evening. (And Elliott Bay also has signed copies of My Last Continent…)

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Seattle: See you tonight at Elliott Bay!

By Midge Raymond,

I was so privileged to have read at Elliott Bay Book Company years ago, when Forgetting English was published, in its former location in Pioneer Square.

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Elliott Bay’s new Capitol Hill location is different in appearance, yet the spirit of this incredible store and its dedicated booksellers remains. I look forward to seeing you all tonight at 7 p.m.!



Join me at Powell’s tonight

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so looking forward to being at Powell’s City of Books in Portland at 7:30 tonight!

Thanks to the amazing Kat von Cupcake, I’m traveling with these sweet cookies, enjoying a lovely sugar high, and so this evening promises to be one of high energy.

See you soon, Portland!

 

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