The U.S. Navy has conscripted pilot whales for active duty, and Dr. Serena Serghetti, the U.N.’s Goodwill Ambassador to the Environment, is using Earth Day to call for a halt to the practice.
“It’s time to end the whale draft,” Serghetti said.
The Vatican’s top linguist, often called “Mother Earth” in the media, has worked with pilot whales in the past. “The pilot whale is whip-smart, equal in intelligence to the bottlenose dolphin. That intelligence, unfortunately, makes them extremely social and trainable, traits that the U.S. Navy has been exploiting.”
Some captive pilot whales have been trained by Navy scientists to retrieve beeper-attached objects from the ocean floor at depths of over 1,600 feet. They can even carry clamping recovery devices in their mouths and attach them to located objects, allowing the objects to be raised to the surface by compressed air balloons.
“It may seem benign on the surface, but we’re talking about the military here,” said Serghetti, who has gone on record as blaming increased naval activity in the Southern Ocean for recent mass whale strandings.
Hundreds of pilot whales washed ashore New Zealand’s South Island in February in an unprecedented mass stranding. Half were dead on arrival and most of the survivors succumbed to injuries and euthanasia.
The cause is still a mystery. But Serghetti says there’s evidence that sonar used by naval ships could impact whales’ migration, driving them into shallow waters.
“The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California already has ruled that the low-frequency active sonar (LFA) systems used by the U.S. Navy for training missions violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act and negatively impacts whales, dolphins, and walruses who rely on sound to navigate the seas. But the Navy hasn’t stepped up to address this issue following the court ruling.”
The Navy maintains that it already has systems in place to avoid harming marine mammals. They are required to turn off sonar systems if animals are in the area, and they are banned from using pulses higher than 180 decibels within 14 miles from coasts, especially coastlines belonging to biologically important areas.
Serghetti says the measures are not doing enough to protect the sea’s creatures and that new rules and guidelines need to be put in place. “The repeated challenges in court and subsequent rulings prove as much.”
Of the more than 650 pilot whales stranded in New Zealand in February, officials and whale-rescue organizations managed to send 100 whales back to sea. The next day, however, most washed ashore again.
Reports at the time placed Sister Serghetti on the beaches, attending to whales and sending out a worldwide call for more volunteers. One volunteer who answered the call was in tears at the sight of 300 decomposing carcasses.
“The authorities are cutting holes into the dead ones, popping them like balloons to avoid them exploding as they decompose,” the woman said. “As for the ones clinging to life, Sister Serghetti is attending to them. It’s like she can do a Mr. Spock-like mind meld with them. She was Mother Teresa, only with dying whales, comforting them in their last moments.”
In the end, however, only a few whales were rescued.
To raise awareness of the global plight of whales, Dr. Serghetti has released the short eBook THE VIRGIN SEA: The Confession of Moby Dick and Other Tales in time for Earth Day. The eBook debuted at No. 1 on Amazon in the categories of Conservation and Prophecy.