Friday, December 30, 2011

2011-12-30 "Klamath River: Whale's death blamed on infection" from "Associated Press" newswire
Klamath, Del Norte County — Klamath, Del Norte County -- The wayward gray whale that died last summer after swimming from the sea into the Klamath River and attracting hundreds of well-wishers along the way suffered from a fungal skin infection caused by the river's freshwater, scientists said.
Sarah Wilkin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told the Times-Standard of Eureka that the mother whale's skin was weakened by her lengthy stay in the freshwater river, which allowed the fungus to get into her body.
The whale, called MaMa by locals, garnered national media attention when she entered the river with her calf on June 24. The pair were migrating north with other gray whales when they made their unexpected foray upriver.
Three weeks later, the calf made it back to the Pacific Ocean, but the mother whale stayed behind.
It was the end of a story that captivated many of the 800 people who live in the small coastal town. People crowded on a highway bridge over the river to see and photograph the whale. Some even waded into the river to serenade the creature.
MaMa died before dawn on Aug. 16 after beaching itself on a sandbar in the river. The whale was buried by members of the Yurok Tribe along the riverbank.

A baby gray whale swims with its mother in the Klamath River in July.
Credit: Ashala Tylor
2011-12-30 "Zapotec Indians recreate village fiesta in California" by GOSIA WOZNIACKA from "Associated Press" newswire
MADERA, Calif.—A group of Zapotec Indian women dug a hole with their hands, building an oven out of mud to roast hot peppers, garlic and onions in the backyard of their home in Central California.
At dawn, they cooked enough thick, chocolaty sauce—called mole negro—to feed hundreds of farmworkers who would stream in from across California and as far as Washington and Oregon to celebrate St. John the Evangelist, the patron saint of a Mexican village more than 2,000 miles away.
Zapotecs who worked in California once travelled back home to Coatecas Altas and other villages in Oaxaca to attend these fiestas. But as border security tightened and illegal crossings turned expensive and dangerous, many of them found a way to honor their saint stateside, in the small farmworker town of Madera.
For the third year in a row, Zapotecs gathered in Madera in the days after Christmas, cooking and eating mole, building an altar, parading giant paper-mache dolls and dancing into the night to brass bands belching out traditional chilenas. The fiesta takes place over several days, simultaneously with that in Oaxaca.
"This is about community service, about coming together to help and support each other," said Alfredo Hernandez, a volunteer from Madera who helped organize the celebration. "It's important for us not to lose our culture. And since we can't go back, we do it here."
Zapotec is one of the two largest linguistic Indian groups in Oaxaca, and its people are among the newest wave of U.S. migrant workers. In California, an estimated 30 percent of farmworkers are now indigenous, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
In Oaxaca, the Zapotecs lived for more than 2,000 years cultivating corn and beans, adhering to a practice of mandatory community service and specializing in crafts. Tucked in the mountains, Coatecas Altas known for intricate baskets and mats hand-woven out of wild palm leaves.
But over the past few decades, their way of life collapsed. Facing an economic crisis in their country, a flood of cheap American corn brought about by the free trade agreement and declining government support for small farmers, Zapotecs began to migrate for better opportunities, said Sara Lara Flores, a sociologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who has studied Zapotec migration.
Those who moved north of the border prior to the 1980s settled mainly in Los Angeles, but the past decade saw Zapotecs streaming into rural Central California to work in the fields.
Juan Santiago, a student at California State University in Fresno, started the fiesta in Madera to help organize his community. Santiago, 23, came to the United States with his mother when he was 11, joining his farmworker father and four brothers in Madera. He is the first member of his family to graduate from high school and go to college.
Life in California poses tremendous challenges to his people, Santiago said.
In Madera, where 77 percent of the 61,000 residents are Hispanic, the Zapotecs have faced a double language barrier with English and Spanish, and experienced a double culture shock.
Many of area's 5,000 Zapotecs are young people who lack basic education and live in poverty, having few job options without legal immigration documents, Santiago said. In the fields, Indians often get paid less than other Latinos.
Three years ago, Santiago organized the Zapotecs' first community assembly in Madera and was elected its president.
One of his first orders of business was to transplant the practice of community service. That volunteer work, he said, gives young people something productive and positive to do and encourages leadership.
Community work is key to the survival of the migrants, Flores said.
"This celebration allows for the ties of solidarity and mutual help that characterize indigenous people to be reinforced," she said. "It helps them face the atmosphere of hostility and intolerance that many encounter."
The fiesta, which included a run from Fresno to Madera and a basketball tournament, also promotes the Zapotec culture and language among the youngest generations, which are quickly becoming Americanized, Santiago said.
On the day of the fiesta, after attending mass, more than 1,000 Zapotecs crammed into a rental hall at the Madera Fairgrounds. They prayed, lit candles and placed bouquets of flowers before a mobile altar of St. John the Evangelist, made to look just like the one in Coatecas Altas.
Giant paper mache dolls danced under a ceiling filled with papel picado, colorful wafer-thin paper banners hand-cut into elaborate designs. Platefuls of mole and cups of tepache, a fermented pineapple drink, were handed out to the crowd.
At the end, in a special ceremony, Santiago and fellow committee members passed four ceremonial staffs to newly elected committee members and volunteers, who will continue the tradition of community service for the next three years.

In this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2011, Zapotec Indians from the village of Coatecas Altas in Oaxaca, Mexico dance with giant paper mache dolls in front of a church in Madera, Calif. The dance of the dolls celebrates the patron saint of the Mexican village where a pre-Hispanic language and culture still thrive. (AP Photo/Gosia Wozniacka)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Non-Human Nations: Beluga Whales

2011-12-15 "Breaking News: 100 Beluga Whales Trapped In Bering Sea" by Sharon Seltzer
Russian authorities have launched a massive rescue to save more than 100 Beluga whales that are trapped by giant pieces of floating ice in the Bering Sea. Fear is rising that they will soon die of exhaustion or starvation.
Local hunters discovered the whales on Wednesday in the Sinyavinsky channel, in the Chukotka region. They are trapped by a “wide belt of 10- to 15- centimeter- thick ice,” (33 feet to 50 feet) [].
Fishermen say the whales have two areas where they can surface for air, but have little access to food and are so boxed in, they cannot swim to open waters.
Local residents reported the crisis to Russia’s Transport Minister and Emergencies Minister asking them to send an icebreaker as soon as possible. Advancing ice and extreme frigid waters are increasing the size of the icebergs, which will eventually reduce the amount of space the whales have to swim.
A rescue tug called the Ruby was dispatched to the area []. It was in the Bering Sea helping a Korean cargo ship that ran aground, but it is being hampered by a “high wind and a heavy swell.” It cannot break through the ice until the weather gets better.
Beluga whales are listed as “near-threatened” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list. Unfortunately it is a relatively common phenomenon for them to get trapped by icebergs in the Bering Sea, but most of the time people are not nearby to notice the tragedy or call for help.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a fan of Beluga whales [], and heads Russia’s program to protect them.
2011-12-15 "The Day They Saved a Whale"
Saving the life of a young Humpback Whale – all captured on tape.
If you haven’t seen this – watch.  Actually, even if you have.
2011-12-15 "Nearly Extinct Bird Blown Out of Nest During Storm: Rescuers Lend a Hand" by the Saint Francis of Assisi Foundation of Zarzal, Colombia
During a windstorm, a very rare CoclĂ­ pigeon fell out of his nest perched at the top of a tall palm tree. We made him comfortable in a special cage, and because his beak was slightly injured, we hand-fed him carefully with small worms for the next week.
When he was able to eat on his own, we at the Foundation made contact with the firemen who came with their very long ladders and were able to put him right back up in his nest, where his parents and sibling were anxiously awaiting his return.
We were very pleased to have been able to do this successfully, because this bird which is indigenous to our area has been hunted almost to extinction — in fact, it has already been placed on the extinct list. To our knowledge, in the last seven years only 38 baby birds have been born and we are hoping that they will re-populate other rural areas as well as ours.  More photos of the rescued CoclĂ­ pigeon [].

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011-12-08 "Nightclub-Loud Noise Threatens Marine Mammals" by Kristina Chew
Life under the sea is wetter but it’s not exactly getting any better for marine animals and especially for cetaceans, large aquatic mammals like whales and dolphins. Octopuses and squids are also affected []. Human activity has raised the noise level of the ocean by 20 decibels over the last 50 years [] and it’s likely to get ever noisier. While we might imagine the deeps of the ocean to be silent, the reality is that military testing, freighter propellers and seismic oil and gas exploration — which uses air cannons to create tremors in the sea bed — have combined to create an “acoustic fog” that scientists compare to living in a nightclub where you have to shout to be heard.
We’re not only polluting the ocean with plastic bags, syringes and all manner of refuse. We’re creating so much din in the ocean that the very survival of many animals is in question, as cetaceans depend on their hearing to travel long distances to find food and shelter.
Mark Simmonds, the international director of science at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), says that, for cetaceans, “hearing is as important as vision is for us,” so all the ruckus we’re creating is most likely affecting their communication with each other, as well as their sense of direction. Just basic small boat traffic at low speeds in shallow waters can lessen the reach of sounds by 26 percent for bottle nose dolphins and by 58 percent for pilot whales. 15 beaked whales in the Canaries died in 2002 after a NATO exercise using anti-submarine sonars []. A number of whale strandings have also been linked to military sonar use [].
In particular, animals whose long-time habitat is in the arctic are finding their way of life threatened as humans venture north drilling for oil and gas:
[begin excerpt]
“Narwals for example have a narrowly defined habitat,” explains Simmonds. “They are very adapted to that cold environment. If it gets too noisy, where will they go?”
The same problem applies to the highly sound-sensitive beluga, or white whale, that migrates to Canada’s northern shores.
These mammals, which are capable of detecting ships 30 kilometers (18.7 miles) away, will struggle to maintain their migration route through the narrow straits circling Baffin Island as shipping in the area risks increasing sharply to accommodate a new large-scale mining project.
[end excerpt]
Offshore wind farms are environmentally-friendly, but building them means using a hydraulic hammer to drill the sea bed, so a monopod can be affixed to it:
[begin excerpt]
This so-called pile-driving can emit noise levels up to 250 decibels, which is a deadly dose for nearby marine mammals, though experts say it’s easy to diminish the threat by creating a curtain of air bubbles surrounding the drill site.
But on top of pile-driving, ship traffic linked to maintenance, cable-laying and the expansion of port infrastructure are also shrinking sea mammals’ habitats.
[end excerpt]
Michel Andre, a French researcher at the Laboratory of Applied Bioacoustics at Barcelona University, says that we actually know how to reduce the sounds made by boats. The European Commission is financing an initiative, Ships-Oriented Innovative Solutions to Reduce Noise and Vibrations, or SILENV [], to create an “acoustic green label” for ships. The European Union itself has undertaken a directive to reduce noise levels in its waters.
The adverse effects of offshore oil and gas development on the ocean’s marine life providesmore evidence for why we need to protect arctic waters from industrial development. While such efforts can provide new economic opportunities, they also bring new problems in the form of “stresses to local indigenous communities and .. pressure on a fragile ecosystem that is adapting to profound environmental changes,” including noise in places that once never knew of such a thing.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maya [Republic of Belize]

2011-11-23 "Belize Government Defies Supreme Court Ruling; Grants Oil Company Permit to Maya Lands" by Intercontinental Cry    
The government of Belize has quietly granted an American oil company drilling rights to protected Maya lands inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in the Toledo District of southern Belize. The surreptitious move is in defiance of an historic Supreme Court ruling that confirmed Belize's obligation to adhere to the international standard of informed consent, says the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM).
SATIIM, a community-based indigenous environmental organization that co-manages the STNP, found out that Belize had granted a permit to US Capital Energy only after it learned that the company had suddenly returned to the protected lands.
The company isn't wasting any time, says SATIIM. "A truck equipped for seismic drilling has already arrived along with a drill-ready tractor. Trees were cut for two seismic lines in Sunday Wood village, with rumors of plans to cut more in the village of Crique Sarco."
SATIIM points out with great concern that the government failed to inform them--or anyone else--that a drilling permit had been issued, adding:
[begin excerpt]
This is merely the latest 'surprise' in a shameful history of secrecy that began one morning in 1997. Five Indigenous communities in Southern Belize woke up to learn that the government had declared their ancestral land a national park in 1994. Ever since, these communities have struggled to defend their land at every turn.
Notably, in 2006 they won a temporary injunction against seismic testing in this protected area, where an entirely new ecosystem was recently discovered. Another ruling from the Supreme Court confirmed Maya rights to land and resources and Belize’s obligation to conform to international standards of informed consent established when it signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.
Nonetheless, the government has kept all dealings with US Capital Energy secret. SATIIM asked for information in several letters to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Forest Officer. The government has ignored each one.
[end excerpt]
SATIIM is now demanding that the government respect: 1) the rule of law; 2) environmental justice; 3) economic equality; and 4) its obligations under UNDRIP and legal rulings by Belize's highest courts.
Most of all, SATIIM is demanding an end to the government secrecy surrounding US Capital Energy's new operations in southern Belize.
SATIIM and the Indigenous communities have also agreed to use "any means necessary" to make the government and the oil company comply with national and international law.
For updates on the situation, keep an eye on []