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Sifting through turbid waters Words Chris Del Moro. Images Nick LaVecchia

“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free.” – Jacques Yves Cousteau Environmental work can leave you feeling deflated and overwhelmed. Sometimes the wind in your sails has been sucked dry by droids who prey on the value of fiscal progress, care not for our planet and chuckle as they eat endangered species for their so-called “ magical powers” . Then there is the uplifting side of the work that keeps us coming back, year after year, fighting to end the many senseless acts of cruelty faced by creatures who send infinite waves of love into our global atmosphere. I can’t think of a more emotional week in my year than the time spent in and around the International Whaling Commission’s shady delegations and death sentences. These few weeks direct the eyes of the world onto the fate of our friends in the sea, exposing a landscape ripe with ups and downs, mismanagement, back corner mafia influence and a small handful of whaling nations getting away with murder. With Captain Paul Watson currently under house arrest in Germany on charges from Costa Rica, the whaling issue continues to be a volatile battlefield. Aside from the saddening quotas, shamefully served up against the cetacean nation, this year’s IWC 64 held in Panama City saw some triumphs and victories in the name of Planet Ocean. Surfers For Cetaceans’ main objective for travelling south was to maintain the front line of ocean conservation activism, in the name of ocean lovers around the world. We were blessed to work alongside groups such Women For Whales, Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, Whales Alive and IFAW. As usual Howie Cooke, who started S4C alongside Dave Rastovich, acted as our group’s catalytic heart beat, with more than 35 years of cetacean activism he’s a wealth of knowledge, artistic talent and non-stop energy focused on defending our seas. Over the course of the last few years the Buenos Aires group, comprised of 11 Latin nations, has taken the helm in the fight to protect whales and small cetaceans around our globe. As the US, the EU and Australia buckle when put under pressure, the Latin block are championing the sea like no other. They are a wonderful case study of how former whaling nations can change their ways, take a conservation-minded stance and create lasting, global change. The first two days of delegations were ripe with troubling decisions. Day one saw the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary defeated by a mere four votes. Sadly many South Pacific nations like Palau, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru and also the Caribbean islands have been persuaded by pro whaling nations and casted crucial votes against the sanctuary. Day two went straight into the highly-contested aboriginal whaling issue, which was presented as a disturbing bundle package. The quotas for the Makah tribe of Washington State, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (Japanese puppets) as well as the outdated Russian whaling passed through by a landslide. This means that whales will for the first time since in decades be hunted off the coast of North America and humpback mothers with calves will continue to be targeted in Caribbean waters. As first time IWC attendee Chadd Konig reflected, “ At this moment that group of humans is huddled together in a conference room at Hotel El Panama using the youngest language and laws to rule over the lives of some of the most ancient animals on earth. Additionally, many countries are attempting to claim aboriginal whaling rights, with documentation proving the majority of the meat is being sold and consumed by nonaboriginal people. It is simply commercial whaling concealed with nice wordage.” On a positive note, for the first time in many years NGOs were given a voice within the meetings and the ability to present the truth, acting as an emotional wedge into the hearts of anyone within delegations walls. On the last day of delegations we found ourselves surrounded by a highly charged group of local uni student protestors, thousands of car honking Panamanians, international media, a 60-foot long blow up humpback and Howie Cooke’s celebrated whale tipi. Later that night we continued the celebration when news that Greenland’s aboriginal quota to take over 1300 whales was flat out denied. It was also agreed upon that the IWC will now be held bi-annually. With this news the IWC came to an end and Chadd, funny man Pat Millin, lensman Nick LaVecchia and I caught a puddle jumper to hunt down a solid pulse of swell and good winds heading towards the Caribbean. There was a certain enchanted feeling to the way the days and surf got continually more enjoyable. Our amazing guide Scott helped us sample everything from thundering beach breaks, sloth packs, mystic reef passes, jungle points and finally a day spent surfing a remote island that none of our crew will soon forget. After an hour of navigating a thundering sea storm, the clouds cleared, the canyons opened and the island swallowed us whole. Gringos don’t make their way out to these parts very often, which made our small group’s presence turn a mellow jungle walk into a into a small town parade. As we rounded the last hill, we saw offshore emerald peaks breaking on a large bit of open beach. For the next few hours we shared flawless tubes in solitude. Sessions like that are a great reminder to be grateful for the ability to dance on water. After many hours in the sea, we spent the afternoon eating with the locals in their beautifully hand-crafted homes, playing with the children and soon thereafter saying our goodbyes. The whole journey to Panama seemed surreal. After my first night back home I awoke to the news that South Korea’s bid to begin scientific research had been canned after the government received a massive backlash of bad PR from around the globe. This victory helps me to believe that we can make a difference, that our individual and collective voice is a powerful tool, a tool that can turn action into change. On behalf of the sea, Chris Del Moro


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Sifting Through Turbid Waters  

Chris Del Moro and Co. report from the International Whaling Convention.