EarthTalk: What is the current status of whales?
How effective is the International Whaling Commission and
which countries are involved in illegal whaling?
-- Jonathan Wingate, Yulee, FL
larger whale species (including the Humpback, pictured
here) have been recovering since the dark days before
the whaling industry was regulated, but the majority
of cetaceans -– which include whales, dolphins
and porpoises -– are in decline, with some likely
headed for extinction in the near term.
© Stan Butler
larger whale species have been recovering since the dark
days before the whaling industry was regulated, but the
majority of cetaceans—that is, the distinct order
of marine mammals consisting of whales, dolphins and porpoises—are
in decline, with some likely headed for extinction in the
to data collected by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature (IUCN), which maintains a “Red List”
of threatened or endangered species, two of the largest
whale species, humpbacks and southern rights, have rebounded
since 1982 when the International Whaling Commission (IWC)
imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling. Based on IUCN’s
2008 survey of cetaceans, both species, while still threatened,
were upgraded from “Vulnerable” to “Least
Concern” status on the Red List. “Humpbacks
and southern right whales are making a comeback in much
of their range mainly because they have been protected from
commercial hunting,” says Randall Reeves, IUCN’s
assessment leader. “This is a great conservation success
and clearly shows what needs to be done to ensure these
ocean giants survive.”
other cetaceans haven’t fared so well. Almost a third
of the world’s 80-plus cetacean species had their
Red List status changed based on the IUCN’s 2008 assessment,
with the vast majority now considered at greater risk than
before. Overall, nearly a quarter of cetacean species are
considered threatened, and of those, more than 10 percent
(nine species) are listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered,
the highest categories of threat. Reeves says that the real
situation could be much worse, as researchers could not
obtain enough data on more than half of the world's cetacean
species to properly classify their status.
commercial whaling is what first put cetaceans at risk—the
IWC’s 1982 moratorium greatly reduced stress on many
species—other threats loom larger than ever: Whales
the world over withstand ship strikes, habitat deterioration
and declining prey. And the smaller cetaceans (dolphins,
porpoises and small whales) often drown in huge fishing
nets that trawl the ocean scooping up everything in their
of course commercial whaling still goes on despite the moratorium.
Norway, Even with its IWC membership, disregards the moratorium
and resumed commercial whaling in 1994. Iceland, which initially
withdrew from the IWC over the moratorium, began commercial
whaling again in 2006. Japan claims to hunt whales for scientific
research purposes—but critics say this is just a front
to obtain and sell whale meat under the false pretense of
species counts. Whalers from several nations, including
the U.S., hunt limited amounts of cetaceans for subsistence
purposes, but these numbers are very small.
IWC is a voluntary organization not backed up by any treaty,
so its ability to regulate whaling is limited. Perhaps the
biggest factor in nations’ willingness to honor the
moratorium is the court of public opinion; awareness of
the plight of cetaceans has skyrocketed since the 1960s
when environmental groups like Greenpeace first began publicizing
the threats faced by the largest creatures on the planet.
Today “Save the Whales” might seem like a cliché
from bygone days, but with so many cetacean species in decline,
it just might be a more needed environmental battle cry
than ever before.
EarthTalk: I’ve heard of extremely environmentally
friendly homes and communities called “Earthships”
popping up across the U.S. What are they exactly?
-- Kelsey Kuehn, Kirtland, OH
Earthship in Taos, New Mexico, where the concept took
© Annie & John, courtesy Flickr
is a kind of passive solar home—or community of homes—typically
made of natural and recycled materials such as old tires
and recycled cans. Such homes make use of non-polluting
renewable energy sources and smart design to meet most if
not all heating, cooling and power needs. The term Earthship,
coined by self-proclaimed “biotect” Mike Reynolds,
is derived from the homes being in and of the Earth—that
is, constructed responsibly out of earthen materials and
built into the ground. It also refers to living in a ship,
which requires inhabitants to be autonomous from outside
help (such as a power grid).
The concept has
spread well beyond from its roots in the desert surrounding
Taos, New Mexico. Besides being the headquarters for Reynolds’
Earthship Biotecture business, the Taos area is also home
to several Earthship communities which generate their own
power without contributing to the atmosphere's growing carbon
load and make use of local recycled materials to minimize
materials in Earthship homes vary according to what particular
recycled items are plentiful and useful in a given locale.
The New Mexico versions usually consist of exterior walls
made from earth-filled tires stacked like bricks and covered
in stucco or adobe. These thick outer walls employ “thermal
mass construction” to naturally regulate indoor temperatures.
Wintertime heating is provided primarily by the Earthship’s
layout and orientation, with windows on the sunny sides
of the building letting in light and heat. A properly constructed
Earthship can maintain a comfortable indoor air temperature
with plentiful natural ventilation all year-round with little
or no help from power-hungry heating or cooling equipment.
the website Greenhomebuilding.com, some other common features
in Earthship homes include: curving interior walls fleshed
out with recycled cans mortared together with concrete;
rooftop water catchment; reuse of so-called gray water for
landscaping irrigation and plumbing; composting toilets;
and other cutting-edge eco-friendly techniques and technologies.
makes available via its website several books and videos
outlining different perspectives on the Earthship concept,
as well as practical information on how to build one of
your own. The website also provides a wealth of information
on existing Earthships and helps those interested in the
concept connect with one another via a global network of
builders and enthusiasts. It is also a great place to find
an existing Earthship home for sale or rent. The firm also
offers internships with Michael Reynolds and other leading
practitioners in the emerging discipline.
be found in most U.S. states today, though New Mexico is
the leader, followed closely by Colorado. Several have sprung
up in England and France as well as in South Africa, among
other countries. And with more and more governments tightening
up their building codes to require increased energy efficiency
and smarter use of resources, Earthships are bound to become
even more popular.