Thursday, November 13, 2008
If the subject of whales seems trivial in the current climate of economic destitution, uncertainty and war, American Cetacean Society’s Diane Alps says, think again.
“Whales are one of the sentinels of the sea, the canaries of the coal mines, if you will,” says Alps, a long-time volunteer for the San Pedro-based nonprofit. “They are bio-indicators and gauge the health of the ocean. There isn’t time to take a year or two off from being concerned about worldwide effects of an unhealthy ocean.”
Studies suggest the ocean is, in fact, unhealthy (see story, pg. 22). In August 2007, experts agreed that the Baiji dolphin is likely extinct. The 20-million-year-old dolphin, found in China’s Yangtze River, was one of the earth’s oldest living species. Over-fishing and environmental degradation are to blame for the Baiji sinking into history.
The United Nations says the world is facing the worst bout of extinctions since the vanishing of the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago.
“We need to care,” Alps says. “The health of the ocean is critical to us. The health of the planet relies on the health of the Earth. And the health of the Earth relies on the health of the ocean.”
This week, the Monterey Bay chapter of the American Cetacean Society hosts the nonprofit’s 11th international conference, “Whales in a Changing World,” in Seaside. The Nov. 13-16 event at Embassy Suites is open to the public.
“Our goal is to bring science to the general public, to take some of the latest important discoveries and make them understandable and accessible to anyone who is interested,” Alps says.
One of the weekend’s highlights will be a lecture by Ian Sterling and Steven Amstrup, two of the world’s leading researchers on the health and future of polar bears. The duo is currently in the Arctic studying the bears and will appear via satellite.
Also on the roster of guests: keynote speaker Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research. In 1976, Balcomb started “Orca Survey,” a decades-long study on population dynamics and demography of cetaceans– whales, dolphins and porpoises.
“What I hope to take away from this conference,” Alps says, “and what I hope our guests will take from this conference is: Are there things we should be doing differently? What kinds of life changes can we make? Where are we leaving our carbon footprint, and how can we impact the Earth less in our day-to-day lives? I want to see where we were when we started, where we are now, and where we can go next.”
Ironically, the American Cetacean Society got its start in September of 1967 when a group known then as “Meals for Millions” pondered farming whales as food sources for the world’s hungry. Researching the subject, members discovered that whales themselves needed saving.
Forty-one years later, ACS now boasts hundreds of members and six chapters spread up and down the West Coast. The Monterey Bay chapter meets at 7:30pm on the last Thursday of every month at the Hopkins Marine Station, across from the American Tin Cannery, in Pacific Grove.