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Eastern Caribbean whalers follow a 139-year-old tradition, now under siege

By Jacqueline Charles

jcharles@MiamiHerald.com

BEQUIA, St. Vincent — Standing on the rocky shore, the tall, graying man looks pensively through drizzling rain at the dark clouds, listens to the angry sea and wonders if nature will deny him a whale yet another day. 1,874 more words

Ocean

Denise N. Fyffe, Administrator reblogged this on THE ISLAND JOURNAL and commented:

"It’s whale-hunting season, and islanders are hungry for the savory meat they say tastes like beef, and the oil used in a variety of homemade remedies. But there have been only sparse sightings of the breaching humpbacks that routinely migrate south from their northern feeding grounds — and no captures."   Standing on the rocky shore, the tall, graying man looks pensively through drizzling rain at the dark clouds, listens to the angry sea and wonders if nature will deny him a whale yet another day. Don’t call him Ishmael. Call him Kingsley. Kingsley Stowe is among what could be the last in a long line of whalers from this tiny island. It’s whale-hunting season, and islanders are hungry for the savory meat they say tastes like beef, and the oil used in a variety of homemade remedies. But there have been only sparse sightings of the breaching humpbacks that routinely migrate south from their northern feeding grounds — and no captures. “I don’t think we’re going to go out today,” says Stowe, 54, a harpooner and proud defender of an ancient, daring trade on the verge of disappearing. Whaling was once a big and profitable business in Bequia (pronounced BECK-way) supporting at least a dozen whale boats. But that was before quotas and broad bans on commercial whaling made this hilly outpost off St. Vincent in the Grenadines the only place in the Americas to still allow Moby-Dick style harpooning. Now, islanders work under a quota that caps the take at no more than four whales during the four-month season from February to May — and so far this year, they’ve struck out, with the only humpback spotted and harpooned managing to escape. “It’s like carnival when you catch a whale,” says Stowe, standing next to his beached 28-foot whale sailboat Persecution, inspecting the brass tip of a hand-thrown wooden harpoon. “But we don’t kill whales for joke. We kill whales for food.” Long tradition Even before this season’s so-far failed hunt, whalers like Stowe were fighting an increasing tide of resistance to Bequia’s 139-year tradition — including from fellow islanders who once were some of its strongest advocates of the hunt. A former prime minister and one of the island’s whalers are among those who have joined environmentalists and marine mammal scientists pushing for St. Vincent to replace whale hunting with whale watching. “Harpooning whales in St. Vincent and the Grenadines should be a thing of the past. It doesn’t add anything to our economy,” says Gaston Bess, who after 20 successful whale hunts over the course of his more than three decades long career called it quits last year. “People should get excited and get their children excited in watching the whales in their natural environment and protecting them.” Bess decided to retire from harpooning during a whale watching expedition to the Dominican Republic last year. “Watching them took my breath away,” says Bess, 50, recalling the joy of seeing a whale for the first time as something other than prey. “Even though I had been around them, struck them and watched them die, now I was watching them ballet, caressing their young.” It was a far different experience from what usually happens here on this island in the eastern Caribbean when residents, from their front porches or a hilltop, spot a whale’s 10- to 15-foot water spout. After jumping in a boat and closing in on the whale, the harpooner would ready his position while the captain finessed the sails to bring the boat between the whale’s head and tail. Then, the harpooner, standing six to eight feet away, would make his throw. If it struck true, the whale would be hauled back to the whaling station on nearby Love Island and butchered. After years of being a second harpooner, Stowe purchased his own whale boat and recruited his own crew of young seamen to train this season. He is determined to keep up the chase. “Whaling is a tradition around Bequia,” he says. “We will continue to whale, and we’ll continue the tradition.” Comrades who once shared one of only three remaining authorized whale boats, Bess and Stowe personify the tensions in Bequia — a tiny part of a whaling industry that is under mounting worldwide pressure.

Postal Treats

The postman has been particularly kind to me this week. I received two different print publications in the post both of which include one of my shorts. 818 more words

Other Writers

Seamus Heaney Commemorative Reading

Last night we hosted a fantastic reading at the Ulster Hall. As Belfast Poet Laureate, Sinead Morrissey mentioned in her opening introduction, the Ulster Hall is no stranger to literary greats. 442 more words

Other Writers

Marijuana Growers Association Launched in Jamaica

In his article “Pot Growers Association Launched in Jamaica,” David McFadden writes that a group of influential Jamaicans gathered last Saturday to launch an association of future marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting pot on the Caribbean island. 396 more words

News

Denise N. Fyffe, Administrator reblogged this on THE ISLAND JOURNAL and commented:

[caption id="attachment_4689" align="alignright" width="300"]Marijuana Growers Association Launched in Jamaica Marijuana Growers Association Launched in Jamaica[/caption] In his article “Pot Growers Association Launched in Jamaica,” David McFadden writes that a group of influential Jamaicans gathered last Saturday to launch an association of future Marijuana cultivators as momentum builds toward loosening laws prohibiting pot on the Caribbean island. Some 300 people, including a few medical Marijuana entrepreneurs from Canada and the U.S. state of Colorado, assembled at a conference center in downtown Kingston to officially launch the Ganja Future Growers and Producers Association. Among other things, the group will lobby for creation of a regulated cannabis industry on the tropical island that is nearly as famous for its pot as it is for its scenic beaches and unique culture. The moderator of the Saturday event was Kingston Mayor Angela Brown-Burke, who is also a senator and a vice president of the ruling People’s National Party. Her husband, Paul Burke, is one of the leaders of the new association and also an influential PNP figure. Groups that spoke in support of the venture included the country’s scientific research council, agricultural society and the Jamaican campus of the University of the West Indies. “Jamaica has a prime opportunity to enter and revolutionize an industry that could have an enormous kickback on our growth and development potential,” said Rupert Lewis, a politics professor who spoke on behalf of the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Marijuana has been pervasive but outlawed on the island for a century. But as the pot legalization movement gains unprecedented traction across the globe, most notably in the South American nation of Uruguay and the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, there’s a growing push to lift restrictions in Jamaica to give the island’s long struggling economy a big boost.  

Are Lionfish Invisible to Prey?

Or in other words, do lionfish have ninja skills?

Lionfish have been called the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but “Ninjas of the Caribbean” might be a better nickname. 821 more words

Science

Denise N. Fyffe, Administrator reblogged this on THE ISLAND JOURNAL and commented:

Lionfish have been called the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” but “Ninjas of the Caribbean” might be a better nickname. Lionfish are predatory fish, native to the Indian and Pacific regions, that have invaded the Atlantic and Caribbean.  One of the main problems with invasive lionfish is that they are eating so many native reef fish. [gallery type="slideshow" ids="4681,4680,4682,4683,4684"] Are lionfish such successful predators because they are invisible to prey? A recent study published in PlosOne by O.M. Lonnstedt and M. I. McCormick (2013) investigated this very question. Set-Up Fish use both chemical and visual cues to sense their surroundings, similar to the way we use sight and smell. An important way fish use these cues is to identify a threat (like a predator) so that they can respond appropriately (hide, swim away, etc). Researchers wanted to see if prey fish responded differently to the chemical and visual cues of two common predators, compared to their responses to lionfish. They also tested if fish could “learn” to identify threats. The prey fish were juveniles of a type of damselfish called the blue green chromis (Chromis viridis). When a damselfish is injured, a chemical is released that signals to other damselfish to display “anti-predator behaviors” such as reducing their activity or finding shelter. In this study, there were four groups of prey. Three groups were “taught” that each of the three predators (one group per predator) are threats by being exposed to the cues from the predators (visual and chemical) combined with the alarm-signaling chemical. These groups are referred to as the “experienced” prey. The remaining group was “inexperienced” and was not taught to identify any of the three predators as a threat. The three predators used in the study were :

  • the freckled hind, a common predator in the Indo-Pacific
  • the zebra lionfish, a relative of the lionfish
  • the lionfish, specifically P. volitans that has invaded the Caribbean.
Researchers observed how the prey (both experienced and inexperienced) behaved towards these three different predators, and also if the prey survived the encounter.

UK sternly resists paying reparations for slave trade atrocities and injustices

12 Years a Slave. William Hague described Britain’s role in the trade as ‘shocking’, yet the UK is resisting reparation claims. Photograph: Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar… 857 more words

Jamaica

A little piece of paradise

Yesterday I went on a road trip with a load of the 4th year medics I’d met on A&E at UWI. An amazing day out, we hired a minibus and went to The Blue Hole near Ocho Rios. 204 more words

Denise N. Fyffe, Administrator reblogged this on THE ISLAND JOURNAL and commented:

Yesterday I went on a road trip with a load of the 4th year medics I’d met on A&E at UWI. An amazing day out, we hired a minibus and went to The Blue Hole near Ocho Rios. These stunning freshwater waterfalls and azure pools are a relatively hidden gem and certainly a far cry from the tourist trap of the nearby Dunn’s River Falls. The journey from Kingston was spectacular in itself, traversing up the gorge of the Rio Cobre (and stopping to look at a local highlight – a rock formation resembling female genitalia known affectionately as Pum Pum Rock) and across Mount Diablo. Then, whizzing round blind corners, we drove through Fern Gully which is a marvel of unspoilt tropical vegetation. Spent a good few hours at the waterfalls themselves. ImageThere are various jumping points into the deep blue pools, some more adrenaline pumping than others, or you can just chill in the cool water with the sunlight dappling through the trees. Most of us also climbed clambered and waded our way up the waterfalls to reach the topmost pools, partly for the view up there and partly for the hell of it. There’s really nothing better than chilling in a little piece of paradise with good company and a rum and soda in hand. Understandably the bus journey back was a little more spirited than on the way out… Thoroughly enjoyed the party bus!