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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

February 11, 1994

Air Date: February 11, 1994


Norway's Artic Whalers / Simon Dring

Simon Dring travels to Norway's Lofoten Islands for a closer look at the local whaling industry. For residents of the islands’ small fishing villages, whaling is a valuable and sustainable part of their livelihood. Local fishermen and their families offer their perspective on new whaling restrictions, anti-whaling groups, negative stereotypes of bloodthirsty whalers, and on the whales themselves. (10:28)

Sea Shepherd Sinks Ships So Cetaceans Still Survive?

Host Steve Curwood talks with Paul Watson, captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Watson's group takes credit for sinking two Norwegian whaling ships in defense of an international ban on whaling. While whalers refer to the Sea Shepherds as terrorists, Watson claims he is legitimately enforcing the law, and will continue to do so. (04:37)

Los Angelenos Get out of their Cars, Into the Streets ...and Onto the Trains / Stephanie O'Neill

Stephanie O'Neill reports on how the earthquake's destruction of Los Angeles highways has car owners turning to public transportation in record numbers. Cynics say the trend will last only until the roads are rebuilt, but proponents of the city's new Metrolink rail system are more optimistic. (05:22)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

Copyright (c) 1994 by World Media Foundation. No portion of this transcript may be copied, sold, or transmitted without the written authority of World Media Foundation.

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Doug Johnson, Mary McNeill, Simon Dring, Stephanie O'Neill
GUEST: Paul Watson

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.

Last year, in defiance of an international ban, Norwegian Whalers killed more than 200 minke whales. There are hundreds of thousands of these whales, and many Norwegians say the ban is based on misleading environmental propaganda.

BLIKFELD: Good whales, kind whales, painful whales, it sells better than if you try to tell people the truth: that they are quite stupid, like a cow, for example.

CURWOOD: Norway's defiance has so angered Paul Watson's militant Sea Shepherds, they're taking the law into their own hands. They've already sunk two Norwegian whaling boats and have more in their sights.

WATSON: As long as Norway continues to kill whales in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling, then every single one of those whaling vessels is a target.

CURWOOD: That on more this week on Living on Earth. First this news.

Environmental News

NUNLEY: I'm Jan Nunley with this week's environmental news.

President Clinton has issued an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to ensure their environmental programs do not unfairly burden poor and minority communities. Many civil rights groups say the most polluting industries are often located in minority and poor neighborhoods. The President's order calls for stepped-up research on environmental justice issues. A number of civil rights leaders applauded the President's move as a first step, but called on the White House to take additional measures.

US Forest Service chief Jack Ward Thomas has decided to allow the nation's largest pending sale of Federal timber to go through. In a setback for conservationists, Thomas says there is no legal reason to block the harvest of thousands of acres of virgin rainforest from Alaska's Tongas National Forest. That comes as welcome news to the region where the logging company Ketchikan Pulp is the largest employer. Conservationists had hoped Thomas would revise the company's 50-year timber contract, which they say promotes unsustainable cutting of the Tongas.

Researchers studying the Great Lakes Basin say the area is much richer in plant and animal species than previously thought. The findings are part of the most extensive biodiversity study ever conducted in North America. From Michigan Public Radio, Doug Johnson reports.

JOHNSON: The report was released by the Nature Conservancy, a resource conservation group, using data compiled by the governments of the 8 Great Lakes states and 2 Canadian provinces. Conservancy researchers identified over 130 individual species, or ecological communities, considered rare or imperiled, almost half of which exist solely in the Great Lakes Basin. Report coauthor David Rankin says the report underscores the need to protect the wealth of resources found in the region.

RANKIN: We hope it's used by decision-makers that are trying to one, understand the biodiversity features of the Great Lakes and second, undertake activities to protect those unique features.

JOHNSON: Michigan and Wisconsin already have laws to manage the land for the protection of biological diversity. For Living on Earth, I'm Doug Johnson in Lansing, Michigan.

NUNLEY: A Federal appeals court has removed a roadblock in New York's drive to institute tougher clean air standards. The new rules, based on California laws, require mandatory auto emissions testing and the use of non-polluting electric cars. The court set aside a challenge by car makers who claim that electric vehicles won't be ready for sale to the public by the deadlines imposed by the states.

A Minnesota power company under the gun to find a home for its spent nuclear fuel has reached a tentative agreement to store the radioactive waste on tribal lands in New Mexico. The Northern States Power Company and the Mescalero Apache Tribal Council agreed to investigate establishing a privately-owned nuclear waste dump because a federally-run facility won't be ready in time. Under a new Minnesota law, the company may have to close its nuclear plant if it fails to find offsite storage for its spent fuel. The plant has encountered strong opposition from other tribal members and New Mexico's governor.

This is Living on Earth.

Cancer rates among baby boomers are far higher than those of their grandparents. A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association says men born just after World War II are three times more likely to have certain cancers than previous generations. Overall, women of the same age face a 30% increase, although breast cancer rates have jumped nearly threefold. Dr. Debra Lee Davis of the US Department of Health and Human Services led the research team. She says risk factors like smoking and old age don't account for the increases.

DAVIS: It's time now to move on to identifying social factors, such as exposure to toxic materials, pesticides, and other pollutants, that might be linked to some of these increased rates.

NUNLEY: Critics have questioned some methods used in the study. An editorial that accompanies it says, "Smoking, age, and diet are still the key factors for more than half of all cancers."

The Clinton Administration and six former Surgeons General have endorsed a bill to ban smoking in nearly all public places nationwide. The measure would require building managers to prohibit smoking or restrict it to separately-vented areas. Violators would face fines of up to $5000 a day. The EPA says several thousand lives are lost every year to second-hand smoke.

They're trading wild turkeys for river otters in two midwestern states. Mary McNeill of Illinois Public Radio reports the unusual wildlife swap will benefit both Illinois and Kentucky.

McNEILL: The state of Illinois struck a deal with Kentucky. Illinois will give the bluegrass state 75 wild turkeys in exchange for 150 river otters. Illinois has a surplus of turkeys, after re-establishing them in all but 11 of the state's 102 counties. Kentucky is trying to reintroduce wild turkeys, and it has plenty of river otters to trade. The otters will be released into Illinois waterways in hopes they will reproduce. River otters were nearly wiped out in Illinois by 19th century fur trappers and 20th century pollution. For Living on Earth, I'm Mary McNeill in Springfield, Illinois.

NUNLEY: That's this week's environmental news. I'm Jan Nunley.

Back to top

(Theme music up and under)

Norway's Artic Whalers

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

This week, the eyes of the world are turned toward Norway and the Winter Olympics. While the games are being played, there will likely be some small, but no doubt vociferous protests heard from environmental activists who object to Norway's decision to resume whaling in defiance of an international ban. The International Whaling Commission prohibits commercial whaling. Norway honored the ban for a while, but then last year, under considerable domestic political pressure, the Norwegian government turned its back on the IWC and told its citizens they could again hunt minke whales, which number over 80,000 in the North Atlantic. For the second of our series on Norwegian whaling, we sent reporter Simon Dring to the far north of Norway.

(Sounds of the sea: ocean waves, seagulls)

DRING: A biting, bitter wind sweeps down from the North Pole and cuts like an ice cold knife through the deserted snow-packed streets of an island fishing village. High above the Arctic Circle, where the pale blue glimmer of midwinter daylight lasts for little more than two hours, the people of Rena are sheltered from the pounding seas of the northeast Atlantic by a towering wall of dark black rock. There's no place better on a night like this than to be crammed into the cheerful warmth of Mariot Bergquist's kitchen, tucking into her Saturday special: a sizzling hot dinner of boiled potatoes and whale meat.

(Cooking sounds, conversation)

M. BERGQUIST: To be honest, it's really very good. And it's worth fighting for, you know.

DRING: They're fighters by nature up here. Hardened fishing folk who eat whale in the same way we might eat bacon and eggs or pork chops. Hard for me to refuse, really, even though Fred, Mariot's husband, makes no secret of the fact he prefers dried cod, mushy peas, and jam. But whale is still her younger son Martin's favorite dish. Well, it could have been elk burgers.

M. BERGQUIST: When you live in with and out [word?] Nature, as we do here, then it's very natural for you to harvest from the nature.

(Continued cooking and serving)

DRING: That's the theme of everybody's argument in villages like Rena, where minke whaling has been a small but important part of the local economy for several generations. And catches of all marine species are strictly monitored. Greenpeace and the other environmental groups maintain the Norwegian government should encourage the whalers to diversify, but the truth is there's little else to do in the Lofoten Islands except fish. And it was Norway's resumption of commercial whaling last year that has given them their best harvest in years. In fact, it saved several of the whalers from bankruptcy.

M. BERGQUIST: I feel more certain now that we are going to manage, that really I'm going to be allowed to stay here.

DRING: The storm of international protests that descended on their heads surprised and dismayed the 1,400 people of Rena. There's only 40 whalers and their families in this village, and 380 people throughout Norway who depend on whaling for a living. But not surprisingly, it's almost impossible to find anybody in these close knit communities who will speak out against whaling. Fred certainly isn't one of them. With his huge, harpoon hands and his rasping, weather-worn voice, he must be everybody's idea of a character out of Moby Dick. He doesn't take kindly to eco-watchers or journalists, but loves talking about whales.

F. BERGQUIST: [Speaks in Norwegian]
M. BERGQUIST [Translating]: Going whaling again was just like coming to heaven. (Laughs)

DRING: The tradition of minke whaling in these islands has certainly been abused in the past, with catches often deliberately exceeding quotas. But rigorous controls now govern the lives of the men who work the Atlantic waters and land their cargoes at the key in Rena. Bjorn Blikfeld is organizer of the High North Alliance, a partly government-funded group formed to promote the fishermen's interest.

DRING: What are they catching at this time of year?
BLIKFELD: They got some extra cod quotas, so it's cod. The long line takes some haddock.

(Fish processing plant)

DRING: Knee-deep in fish heads and innards, Jans Swenson grasps a huge cod, gutting and washing them in seconds as they slither down the chutes into the ice barrels of the fish plant. Jans is one of those who is affected by the gradual regulation of whale hunting in the 60s and 70s, and the complete ban finally imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1987.

SWENSON: [Speaks in Norwegian]
TRANSLATOR: He is saying that he used to have a boat, with a permission for minke whaling. But, you know, in the early 80s when they started to cut the quotas because of uncertainty about the size of the minke whale stock, then people had to choose, you know, between different kinds of permissions. You weren't allowed to have both the shrimp permission and a minke whaling permission. So he had to give up the minke whaling.

DRING: Even with Norway's decision to ignore the moratorium, it's unlikely fishermen like Jans will ever bring out their harpoons again. While the quotas on most fish are way below the capacity of the boats, 50 tons of cod a season, for example, against a need of 200 to make ends meet, proportionately, the government quotas on the minke whale have deliberately been set even lower.

TRANSLATOR: Norway has obliged itself to use this quota calculation model that is developed by the International Whaling Commission scientific committee. It's a very precautious model.
TRANSLATOR: So quotas, if they increase, they will increase very, very slowly.

(Continued fish processing)

DRING: Put in perspective, with an estimated minke population of 87,000 in the northeast Atlantic and 900,000 worldwide, the 31 whaling boats of the Lofoten Islands, 7 of them from Rena, and other fishing ports down the coast, caught a total of 226 whales last year. It's still good news for whaling families like the Andersens, who could afford a refit to their boat this year, but it also means the protests will continue.

(Boating sounds)

ANDERSEN: This is a new investment.
DRING: It looks like a James Bond device. you have an alarm.
DRING: Why is that?
ANDERSEN: Because there are crazy people in this world. (Laughs)
DRING: So this is because of the protests, you mean.
ANDERSEN: No, because of the terrorists from Paul Watson.

DRING: Paul Watson is from a California-based activist group that specializes in sinking whale boats, rather than just stopping them. As a result, in an island community, where crime is almost unheard-of, all the boats are now fitted with burglar alarms. And some are even kept under 24-hour guard.

(Phone ringing, boat motor)

DRING: The fax machine in the high North Alliance office in Rena is rarely silent. Bjorn Blikfeld not only lobbies on behalf of the whalers, but he also monitors the press from around the world. He accuses Greenpeace of blurring the truth in their reports, and cynically campaigning with a close eye on attracting new membership and fundraising.

BLIKFELD: As Patrick Moore, the former director of Greenpeace Canada, said, you know, is that people won't understand ecology. Therefore, we have to make them save the whales. We have to tell them that whales are good. Good whales, kind whales, faithful whales, it sells better than if you try to tell people the truth: that they are quite stupid, like a cow, for example. And that they are, except for their size, they are not very different from other animals.

DRING: But whether whales are stupid or smart, tasty or profitable, is not the only part of the debate. In the past, many whales were hunted to the verge of extinction before IWC controls were established. Greenpeace will argue that to allow the continuation of commercial hunting in any form will only serve to undermine the ability of the IWC to protect the world's whale stocks.

(Children singing)

DRING: They were all there the night Rena had one of its liveliest parties for years. The whalers and their wives and families. Yes, whalers have children, too, says Mariot Bergquist. Although you wouldn't think so if you read what Greenpeace and some of the other groups are writing about us.

M. BERGQUIST: The whalers are brutes and murderers. Whalers are barbarians. Whalers like to see blood. Whalers are - you know, all the worst things you could say about a human being are said about whalers.

DRING: The eventual recognition of Norway's right to whale has become an overriding point of principle in these islands, as it has with the Norwegian government. The history of whaling here has not always been as honest and romantically traditional as some of the fishermen would like to make out. But some parts of the environmentalist message have been heard. Whaling here will never be the same again, officially sanctioned or not. But it's doubtful that anybody could ever persuade Mariot or Fred or Bjorn or his father or his uncle, and the many others like them, in the remote and rugged beauty of these Arctic lands, that it should not, in some form or other, be a part of their lives in the future.

(Group singing)

DRING: For Living on Earth, this is Simon Dring in the Lofoten Islands.

Back to top


Sea Shepherd Sinks Ships So Cetaceans Still Survive?

CURWOOD: As Simon Dring reported, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society takes credit for sinking two Norwegian whaling ships, and the group claims to have sunk as many as seven whaling vessels since 1979. Paul Watson is captain of the Sea Shepherds, and he joins us now on the line from Vancouver, British Columbia. Mr. Watson, how can you justify these acts of violence?

WATSON: Well, I don't look on them as acts of violence. We take every precaution to ensure that we don't cause any injuries. We've never caused any injuries. We don't believe that we're actually committing any crimes, because none of the nations involved have laid any criminal charges against us, although we've tried to get them to do so. We're dealing with criminal, pirate, whaling operations here. How can they justify what they're doing, which is ignoring international regulations and continuing to kill whales? And having a very serious impact on the survival of many whale species.

CURWOOD: Now you say no one has filed charges against you, but we talked to the Norwegian consulate. They say there are charges pending against you in Norway.

WATSON: Well that's very interesting. They tell the media that. But we've been in daily contact with the FBI on this matter, and we have had no verification of charges. In fact, I got a letter from the Norwegian authorities a week ago saying, in response to my question as to whether there were charges, and did they want me to come to Norway? And the letter was very vague, and it said, we will decide whether there will be charges at a future date, at which time, if you come to Norway, we can let you know. All I want is a straight answer from them: are there charges, what time do you want me to appear in Norway, and we will appear.

CURWOOD: If you were to turn yourself in to the Norwegian authorities, what would be an appropriate punishment for what you've done?

WATSON: I'm not there to address any punishments for myself. I'm there to use their courts as a forum to expose their illegal whaling activities. And to me, it's a political forum. And our defense will be that Norway is acting outside of international laws and regulations. They know that; that's one of the reasons that they're very reluctant to get me into Norway into one of their courts.

CURWOOD: Now no one's been hurt so far, but aren't you worried that some day, that somebody will be caught in one of your explosions?

WATSON: We don't use explosives. We sink the ships by going into the engine room and opening up their cooling systems and flooding the engine room. The monkey wrench is our tool, not any bombs. We have been very meticulous in our plans so as to ensure that nobody is injured. The killing's being done by these criminal whaling operations. Last year they killed 300 minke whales. That is a crime.

CURWOOD: You're upset with whalers who go out and kill whales.

WATSON: No, I'm upset with criminal whaling activities. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society does not protest whaling. We uphold the moratorium, which is in effect protecting whales. That's simply all we're doing, is enforcing the law, because there is an absence of a law enforcement agency with the jurisdiction in order to uphold these international regulations. And until such an organization comes into existence, we are doing that job.

CURWOOD: So if the International Whaling Commission decided to approve some whaling, you'd go along?

WATSON: We have to; that is the way we're set up.

CURWOOD: Well, let's carry this another step. Governments certainly do engage in illegal activities, don't they?

WATSON: Unfortunately, they do.

CURWOOD: Now, what if we were to look at the government of - oh, for argument's sake - Serbia, today, which is engaged in illegal activities against the people of Bosnia. Do you think you should go in and enforce international law there?

WATSON: Well, I think the difference between us and, say, the United States governments, is we actually do something while these governments just talk about doing things about it. There's been a lot of rhetoric about Bosnia and Serbia and very little action. The same with whaling. There's been a lot of rhetoric about protecting whales and very little real action to save them. I think that we are one of the few organizations that is through talking and has started acting. In fact, we started acting a long time ago.

CURWOOD: Are you done with Norway? Do you think you've made your point? Or are there more boats that you are planning to try to sink there?

WATSON: Oh, we're absolutely not finished with Norway. As long as Norway continues to kill whales in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling, then every single one of those whaling vessels is a target. Our real objective here is to increase their insurance costs, increase their security costs. That's where we're really going to hurt them economically. And as long as we keep them guessing as to where we're going to strike next, then all of the vessels are going to have to pay those costs. And therefore, all of their profits are going to be diminished.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us. Paul Watson is captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

WATSON: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and over)

CURWOOD: We'd like to hear what you think about the debate over whaling, or about anything else you hear on our program. Call our listener comment line at 1-800-218-9988. That's 1-800-218-9988. Or you can send your comments to Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. That's Living on Earth, Box 639, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02238. Transcripts and tapes of the program are also available for $10 each.

(Music up and under)

Los Angelenos Get out of their Cars, Into the Streets ...and Onto the Trains

CURWOOD: The major earthquake that rocked the Los Angeles region last month has forced a change that many believed was impossible. It got Angelinos out of their cars. Broken highways and agonizingly long commutes have made many city residents more receptive to official calls for carpooling and riding mass transit. But as Stephanie O'Neill reports from LA, it may not last.

O'NEILL: Here at the California Transportation Agency's Traffic Management Center in downtown Los Angeles, the slow crawl of freeway traffic shows up on a huge lighted map of the region. The congestion has grown worse over the years. The transportation officials have had little success in their long-term attempt to change LA's solo commuting habit. The more than $2 billion spent so far for a new light rail and subway service had attracted few riders. An effort to encourage ridesharing had fallen flat, and carpool lanes were ditched long ago. But the violent earthquake that knocked out portions of the central roadways may be changing that. Within days of the quake officials, with the support of grateful commuters, brought back carpool lanes, added new bus lines, and rerouted traffic around broken freeways. But the drive is still bad. Along the most heavily-traveled routes, commutes that used to take a half hour are taking three, and those who can get off the roads are doing so in record numbers. Franklin White is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority chief.

WHITE: The most important change that has occurred is that the commuters from long distances on the affected routes have decided, if they can't get there on the highway, will get there on the train.

O'NEILL: The new Metrolink commuter rail line is just over a year old. Two days after the quake, White implemented a $100 million crash program that extended the line 75 miles north of Los Angeles, added 4 new stations with 3 more on slate for February, and created new parking spaces for the glut of commuters. The Antelope Valley Freeway collapse affected some 200,000 drivers from the Santa Clarita area, making that Metrolink station among the most popular places in town.

WHITE: They have gone from a ridership of 1,000 a day before the earthquake, on that line alone, to in excess of 20,000 in a period of about 10 days. I am advised that it is the greatest single increase in rail ridership in the history of the country.

(Train pulling into station)

O'NEILL: Here at the Burbank Metrolink station, dozens of private shuttles, taxis, and municipal buses are parked every which way around the small outdoor station. As the shiny, blue and white double-decker train pulls in, well-heeled commuters begin scanning the crowd of placard-carrying drivers who will deliver most of them to work. New rider Sue Kucluck says she's been pleasantly surprised by the Metrolink and plans to become a permanent rider, even though the train takes longer than a normal car commute.

KUCLUCK: I think everybody should start doing it, and get all the traffic off the freeways. It's convenient just having to sit there, it adds about an hour each way to my commute, but I just feel better about doing it.

O'NEILL: But others, such as Toni Serelli, miss the convenience of their car. Serelli says her train commute also takes her longer each way than her pre-quake commute. But, she admits, the train has made life easier since the earthquake.

SERELLI: Well it's more relaxing. I drove it one day, it took me three hours to get in and three hours to get home, so it's definitely more relaxing than that drive. If the drive starts to ease up, like I said I'll probably start driving again.

O'NEILL: And despite the best efforts of transportation planners, many believe that's what most commuters will do.

MOORE: They'll behave pretty much the same way after the freeway facilities are repaired.

O'NEILL: Jim Moore is an associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Southern California. He expects Angelinos who have stepped out of their cars for now will eagerly climb back in when the roads are back to normal. He says that's because the rail and buses simply aren't as flexible as the automobile. Low gasoline prices and often faster commutes add to the car's attraction. Still, he believes the disaster can bring about more desirable car-based alternatives. The reintroduction of the carpooling is one example. Already, the newly-opened rideshare lanes are stealing some of the train commuters. What's more, he believes it's possible the disaster could breed support for more radical ideas, including private alternatives to public transportation.

MOORE: If we were to introduce additional competition into the market for urban transit, then we would see a number of innovations that are currently absent from the landscape. We would see low-cost, demand-responsive transit. We would see jitney operators. We would see more owner-operators out there.

(Commuter rail sounds)

O'NEILL: But LA area planners haven't given these kinds of ideas much thought in the past, and so far it doesn't appear the earthquake is changing that. In fact, while the quake has, at least temporarily, caused LA commuters to think differently about how they'll get around the city, it's only reinforced what planners have been thinking for years. That the solution to LA's highway congestion will come with more public transit and more high-tech traffic management. For Living on Earth, I'm Stephanie O'Neill in Los Angeles.

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(VOICE: On schedule?)

(Music up and out)

URWOOD: Our coordinating producer is George Homsy, and our director is Deborah Stavro. Peter Thomson is editor and producer. Our production team includes Kim Motylewski, Chris Page, Colleen Singer Coxe, Jan Nunley, John Rudolph, Jessika Bella Mura, and engineers Laurie Azaria, Mark Navin, and Rita Sand. Our theme music was composed by Michael Aharon.

Living on Earth is a project of the World Media Foundation, in cooperation with the Public Media Foundation and WBUR, Boston. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer.

ANNOUNCER: Major contributors to Living on Earth include the National Science Foundation, for coverage of science and the environment; all-natural Stonyfield Farm Yogurt - Stonyfield Farm Yogurt, made with milk from family farms to feed the local economy; the Pew Charitable Trusts and the W. Alton Jones Foundation. Additional contributors include the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Jennifer and Ted Stanley.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid transmission and distribution deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against tape.


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