Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Musings: One Thing Leads to Another

A friend called yesterday afternoon to report he was gazing at a perfect half moon so clear he could see its valleys and craters, and so of course I had to check it out, too, my binoculars enhancing the remarkable view.

It was long set by the time I rose this morning, not that it would have been visible anyway in the darkly clouded sky. The air smelled like rain, prompting Koko and me to cut our walk short, arriving home just as a shower fell in earnest.

I could hear the roar of the eastside surf all through the night, and it made me think of the chapter in Isabella Bird’s “Six Months in the Sandwich Islands” that I’d been reading before I fell asleep.

She wrote of staying at Waimanu, a remote and beautiful Big Island valley that I have walked through, where the surf thundered continuously. It seemed to me she unwittingly summed up the Western contributions to the Islands as she described cockroaches the size of mice, mosquitoes that pierced without warning, cannas from India growing riotously among the native flora, a native population that had dwindled from 2,000 to 117, two lepers and a Christian church.

Fast forward 135 years and it’s much the same scene, minus the monarchy, and with the addition of many more invasive species, timeshares, fantasy resorts with captive dolphins and other such nonsense, palatial private estates and the U.S. military.

And now there’s the Superferry to add to the list of scourges. As my little birds correctly reported on Sunday, Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge did indeed come through with an article on the Lingle Administration’s refusal to kick down various documents related to its decision, which the state Supreme Court later found incorrect, to exempt the Superferry harbor construction from an environmental review.

In choosing to withholding this information, which includes emails from the AG’s office, Lingle and state Attorney General Mark Bennett cited executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.

It may be their legal right to withhold the documents, but there’s no way they can put a positive spin on their secrecy. Kauai’s Sen. Gary Hooser nailed it when he said:

"It seems clear that there was a legal analysis and the Lingle administration needs to provide that," he said. "And, I would think, that if the legal analysis supported their position, they would have provided it already."

Yup, it seems they would have.

Rep. Marcus Oshiro, an attorney, also summed things up nicely:

"Either way, they [the Administration] really messed up on this one," he said. "If they did not ask for a legal opinion, they were negligent. If they did ask for a legal opinion and they did not follow that, they were grossly negligent."

And, as these things have a way of going, one negligent act leads to another. You may recall that as a condition of letting the boat run before an EIS is completed, Lingle came up with a list of operating conditions for the ferry, one of which allowed the big boat to speed through the breeding grounds of the endangered humpback whale.

Yet (uh, duh!) fast ferry travel isn’t compatible with whales, especially young animals, according to a scientific paper presented at the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee meeting now under way in Santiago, Chile. (Hat tip to Brad Parsons for sending it along.)

Titled “Increasing Numbers of Ship Strikes in the Canary Islands: Proposals for Immediate Action to Reduce Risk of Vessel-Whale Collisions,” the abstract of the paper written by Manuel Carrillo and Fabian Ritter states:

The Canary Islands, known for their extraordinarily high cetacean species diversity, have witnessed a rapid expansion of fast and high speed ferry traffic during the past few years. At the same time, ship strikes have been increasingly reported. 556 cetacean carcasses, found ashore in the Canary Islands (or being reported) between 1991 and 2007, were examined. 59 strandings (10.6%) were found to involve vessel-whale collisions, the great majority of strandings (58%) occurred on Tenerife. Species most affected were sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus, N=24, 41%), pygmy sperm whales (Kogia breviceps, N=10, 17%), Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris, N=7, 12%), short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus, N=6, 10%) and at least three baleen whale species (N=9, 15%). 26 animals (44%, N=42) were either calves or juveniles, and one was a newborn.

The temporal distribution of strandings indicated that lethal strikes have dramatically increased in recent years. Many ship strikes, assumingly by large and fast moving vessels, likely caused the death of the cetaceans as indicated by severe injuries like huge slashes, cuts or animals separated into halves. Given these numbers and the widely accepted fact that only a portion of ship strikes will be recorded due to lack of reporting and carcasses drifting away or sinking, ship strikes appear to be a major threat to at least some cetacean populations in the Canary Islands, and especially to sperm whales.

Moreover, the issue is a matter of human safety, as crew and passengers are at risk of being harmed, too. In this situation, a number of measures to mitigate the risk of ship strikes are recommended as a matter of high priority. These include the placement of dedicated look-outs on fast moving vessels, the shift of ferry transects where feasible, a speed limitation for a number of high-risk areas where cetacean abundance is notably high, the introduction of an obligatory reporting system of vessel-whale collisions and the conduction of detailed studies dealing with this pressing issue.

Lingle likely will continue to cover up so she can cover her ass when it comes to her Administration’s faulty decision to exempt the Superferry from an environmental review.

But she still has time before the whales return to revise the ferry’s operating conditions. By requiring the fast ferry to slow way down and completely avoid the sanctuary, she can perhaps minimize the likelihood of bloody encounters with our really important winter visitors — the ones that have been coming to Hawaii far longer, and more regularly, than even the most dedicated timeshare owners.


Ed Coll said...

Joan wrote;
"It may be their legal right to withhold the documents, but there’s no way they can put a positive spin on their secrecy."

Unfortunately the do not have to put "a positive spin on their secrecy" as any negative criticism can be accurately chalked up to unprovable "speculation". People may think something smells fishy but unfortunately they are unable to find the fish. Democracy sail on.

Mauibrad said...

Joan, in the last two OTF committee reports there are diagrams requested by the committee, idea of Uncle Les, that show as many as 40 to 50 whales sighted each one-way transit when HSF travels south of Molokai during whale season. North of Molokai the numbers are much less according to HSF. There were also 3 or 4 close encounters of less than 100 yards. Check out the reports. Aloha, Brad

Anonymous said...


All true, except the administration had agreed to the investigation into this very decision process, as part of the compromise bill in the special session.

So, sure, they can still not cooperate with the investigation they agreed to, but then it really does look like they have something to hide.

I think you mean Politics sail on, at least until the coming of the great Fan.

Anonymous said...

I just realized I'm conflating the legislature's special investigation with the newspaper's private investigation. So my argument doesn't hold up logically, even though I still think the sentiment is the same: the governor is hiding something.

Pete Antonson said...

Re: "Scientific Paper"
Everybody wants to be on the side of the whales, the choice to be is nearly automatic; nevertheless, there are some problems in using this information:

1. This is not a peer reviewed study. It's more of an editorial than a paper.
2. The main point useable by HSF opponents contains the words: "assumingly" and "likely."
3. Ritter (founder of MEER) and Carrillo are not just biologists, they are whale preservation advocates with an agenda. Ritter's stance includes opposition to the "Whale watching industry."
4. The main point is based on Sperm Whales. HI is all about Humpbacks. Humpback behaviors are very different than those of Sperm Whales.
5. On March 27, 1977, two 747s collided in the Canary Islands for what still is the world’s worst air disaster. Operations there are very different than in the USA.
6. The mitigating suggestions (or most of them), made by Ritter and Carrillo, seem to be already in place for HSF.

Other than that, it looks OK.

Anonymous said...

This 2004 DOT e-mail tells you all you need to know about the Lingle administration's subsequent actions regarding the Superferry harbor improvements:

"Our attorney ... feels that one statewide comprehensive document is necessary that would cover the improvements as well as the cumulative operational impacts," the design engineer wrote.

It's not an opinion, it's feelings, nothing more than feelings . . .

Joan Conrow said...

Um, somehow I just don't think the attorneys in the AG's office are paid to issue their "feelings."

Anonymous said...

Ah, semantics.

Opinions. Feelings. Call it what you want. It doesn't matter if it's not filed with the Lt. Gov.

Anonymous said...

The AGs are paid to give advice, even if it's ignored. Maybe that's why it's just their feelings, nothing more than feelings.