Thursday, July 07, 2016

Talking of Entanglements with the CBC: The Tangled Politics of Whale Rescue

Re Humpback entanglement interview with Chris Walker

by Ingmar Lee

July 7, 2016 

Dear Almanac; just now I was interviewed by Chris Walker regarding our recent rescue of an entangled Humpback whale in Lama Passage near Bella Bella BC.

I am thankful that Almanac was interested in our story, however, I am feeling very frustrated to have been very clearly and deliberately prevented from discussing a serious aspect of the story.

Chris Walker cut me off, stating that he "had to get to the callers," which is a regrettable new Almanac euphemism (since the days of Mark Forsythe - which whom I was able to speak freely with on numerous occasions on Almanac) for allowing several comments from " the callers," but with the actual intention of then allowing the currently "acceptable" (to Almanac") propagandists to expound at length on the issue at hand.

The issue I wished to mention, is that DFO, and its favourite propaganda organization, the Vancouver Aquarium jealously guard their BC-wide monopoly on whale disentanglement services. Unlike virtually everywhere else in the world where locally trained and equipped citizen groups take on the responsibility of rescuing whales, in BC there is only one single "certified" DFO- employed whale disentanglement "expert," Paul Cottrell. Currently, even professional DFO agents out on the water are not qualified to do actual whale rescue, but instead, may only deploy one of a very few tracking transmitters into the net trails of entangled whales, after which Mr Cottrell may then fly in several days later from his Vancouver office to attempt the disentanglement.

As your Vancouver Aquarium spokesperson mentioned, there are estimated to be at least 400 pinipeds currently entangled in various gear along the BC coast, and who knows how many cetaceans. One single Vancouver-based trained and "certified" person, no matter what his skill and experience, is absolutely not sufficient, given the increasing scale of the problem.

Two years ago, while working at the Koeye River Sanctuary in Fitzhugh Sound just south of here, two Humpbacks, which we had been observing for weeks bubble- net feeding below our work site were promptly netted after DFO allowed a gillnet opening at Uganda Point near Koeye. It would have been utterly obvious to anyone with the slightest awareness that allowing at least 30 100 metre-long nets to be extended perpendicular to the shoreline along which numerous Humpbacks were feeding would guarantee entanglements, and it happened.

Needless to say, this was very outrageous and disturbing to everyone working at Koeye, and I decided to get involved in getting trained and certified to perform disentanglement services.

But when I got in touch with Mr Cottrell, he told me that, no, no training was being offered, and that "it was highly dangerous work, only to be undertaken by trained and certified operators." I asked him where he had obtained his "certification" but he could not answer that. He said that under no circumstances would anyone other than himself be permitted to undertake the service.

Here around Bella Bella, almost everyone is an extremely experienced boat operator, many of whom are, no doubt far more experienced than even Mr Cottrell. Many of us are eager to be trained, certified, and eager to acquire all the equipment, -boats, tools, knives, floats to conduct these rescues.

Certainly, in the case of our recent disentanglement, the guaranteed timelag for the whale had we deferred to DFO and waited for "professional" help would have been lengthy, - if they even bothered to show up at all. They certainly weren't interested in responding to that incident. We took that into consideration, as well as the perfect conditions, the state of the animal and the tools at hand when we undertook to disentangle that whale. I am very glad to have done what we did, and will do it again when the opportunity presents itself, - a very likely scenario. Meanwhile, I will continue to accumulate tools to do this work, and will seek training from my Alaska volunteer counterparts.

It is extremely and especially disturbing to see CBC resorting to such controversial propagandists as the Vancouver Aquarium for the bulk of any commentary regarding our local sea and its inhabitants. Here, and everywhere along the BC coast, DFO and Vanaqua are not respected institutions, in fact amongst virtually all the mariners and conservationists I know, they are held in outright contempt.

Mark Forsythe was always generous in allowing me to air my respectful, but often institutionally iconoclastic environmentalist views, and we sorely regret the milquetoast, corporate-lackey, business-as-usual Almanac which has replaced him. We were expecting some more progressive refreshment from CBC after the Harper years, but alas, this just doesn't appear to be happening.


Ingmar Lee
Denny Island, BC

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