The Sea-gram
November, 2009
Humpback Whale
               Humpback Whale Photo (c) by Paul Mila, Tonga, South Pacific
Paul in Cozumel

Greetings from Cozumel, and welcome to
Sea-gram . . .
the newsletter for ocean lovers, divers, and "deep-thinkers" 
I wrote most of  November's Sea-gram afternoons, after morning diving on Cozumel's spectacular reefs. Daily writing was followed watching colorful Mexican sunsets and sipping tangy margaritas, on the rocks with salt. Very cool!
This month, Sea-gram focuses on whales and the increasing dangers they face.
The headline photo above, a 50-foot humpback whale "flying" over my head, illustrates the derivation of their latin name: Megaptera Novaengeliae. Translation: Giant Winged of New England, named from observations by 19th century Yankee whalers. Humpbacks have the longest pectoral fins of all whale species; in fact, the longest "arms" of any mammal. 

This month, author/photographer Judith Hemenway shares her Story Behind The Photo, her gray whale encounter in Baja California; a great whale tale!
If you have a good photo with an interesting story, email me at and I'll be happy to feature your story in the "Story Behind The Photo" section. 
In Conservation Corner, don't miss Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert's article, Death Of A Whale. On assignment with Greenpeace International in the Southern Ocean, Jeremy risked his life in front of the Japanese whaler Yushin Maru's deadly harpoons, taking the photos for his dramatic story.
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I hope you enjoy Sea-gram !
 Paul J. Mila
The Story Behind The Photo . . .
           By Judith Hemenway, Del Mar, California
 Touching a Gray Whale  



        Judith Hemenway photo; Baja, California 

In mid-March, passengers on the panga Susana get up close and personal with a baby California Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus) in Laguna Ojo de Liebre, Baja California Sur. 

This baby and its mother had approached the Susana as we sat at idle on our panga, the Tonina, in the middle of the lagoon.  Nearby we watched enviously for a few minutes, and then our boat driver cautiously moved us closer toward them.  We spent about an hour sharing this pair with the Susana, as the whales kept moving back and forth between our two boats.  Baby would come up for contact while Momma would lurk underneath. 

 Momma was huge! I estimated 35 to 40 feet in length, and Baby was 18 feet, about as long as our panga. She came very close, but we had no contact with her. Sometimes she pushed Baby toward us, and sometimes she lifted him up on her back.  At one point, Momma swished her tail flukes very close to our boat as she moved toward Susana - but it really did look like she was deliberately careful in her movements, to avoid endangering the boat.  Someone in our group said "Oh, she was just fluking around."  So of course, "fluking around" became our Phrase-of-the-Day.
California Gray Whales ply the waters off the western coast of North America, from their summer feeding grounds in the Arctic, to their winter breeding lagoons in Baja.  Laguna Ojo de Liebre, and Laguna San Ignacio further to the south, are the favored breeding grounds for the whales, and are carefully protected by the Mexican government.  The town of Guerrero Negro, named for the whaling ship Black Warrior, sits on the shore of Laguno Ojo de Liebre, and marks the dividing line between Baja California and Baja California Sur, a line which is also the northern boundary of the Desierto de Vizcaino and the one million acre Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve.  
Charles Melville Scammon, captain of the whaling ship Boston, discovered the lagoons in 1857, and for decades thereafter, the birthing lagoons became a deathtrap and a slaughterhouse for the whales.  The whalers called them Devil Fish, because of their power and the ferocity with which they defended their young when attacked.  From an estimated population of 30,000, the grays were hunted nearly to extinction.  However, since whaling was outlawed, the whales have made a remarkable come-back, with their population now estimated at about 26,000.
Then in February of 1972, something magical occurred!  Two Mexican fishermen in Laguna San Ignacio found their panga surrounded by hundreds of whales.  For an hour they were afraid to move for fear of disturbing the whales and provoking an attack like the one that had killed several fishermen a few years earlier.  Then, for reasons that he cannot explain, Pachico Mayoral reached out his hand and touched the whale that hovered beneath his boat, and a new era in human-whale relations began.  In the 30+ years since then, word has spread, and the number of "friendlies" (both whale and human) visiting the lagoons in the winter has steadily increased.
Twice now we have made the 5-day bus trip down to the lagoons, with Andiamo Travel as our guides, and a representative from Scripps Institute of Oceanography to educate us on the ways of the whales.  The opportunity to interact with, touch and gaze eye-to-eye with these amazing, intelligent creatures is extraordinary!
Photo info:  Taken with my Canon Photura 135, shooting 35mm slide film -  Kodak Ektachrome E100, no flash.
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Conservation Corner . . .
Whales, Dodging Those Deadly Harpoons!
Humpback DiveWhales, already endangered from years of ruthless hunting, are facing new threats to their very existence on our planet. Japan, Norway and
Iceland currently lead efforts to subvert, and ultimately overturn, the current commercial whaling ban.
All species, including humpback, fin, and minke, are slated for attack by Japan, Iceland, Norway, and several other whaling countries. Somehow, even severly threatened blue whales end up in Japanese meat markets, identified by DNA analysis. Although the United States currently supports the International Whaling Commission commercial whaling ban, the U.S. unfortunately permits subsistence-level whaling of bowhead and gray whales by Alaskan Native Americans. 
Attempting to overturn the IWC ban on commercial whaling, Japan has even resorted to bribing small island nations, through "economic development grants," to gain their votes on the IWC.  In the case of Tonga, the attempted bribery has a more overt purpose:  to gain permission to slaughter humpbacks in the Tongan whale sanctuary, where humpbacks give birth and mate. To its credit, Tonga has resisted. 
To influence more economically developed nations, Japan resorts to political and diplomatic, as well as economic, pressure. Japan's most recent success in this area has been cowing the Australian Government into inhibiting Sea Shepherd's ability to fight Japanese whaling in Australia's own backyard, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
When all else fails, Japan simply exploits a loophole in the IWC ban, permitting limited whaling for "scientific purposes."  Legitimate scientists, however, conduct non-lethal research on whales.
Noted commercial photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert contributed the photo below, to support the whales.
It shows Japanese "scientists" aboard the Yushin Maru, preparing a Minke whale for their brand of "scientific research", which is nothing more than an obscene ruse to cover up Japan's commercial whaling.
Click on the title below, to read Jeremy's gut-wrenching first hand account of witnessing this bloody carnage, up close and personal: 
Example of Japanese Whale Research
 Photo courtesy of Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
1. First, the obvious: don't purchase whale products, or support organizations that traffic in whale products.
2. Contact your local Congressional Representative and let him/her know your feelings on this issue, and that you want the U.S. to vote in favor of extending the IWC commercial whaling ban.
3. Let the whaling nations know your thoughts about their actions. Google a country name (Japan, Norway, or Iceland), along with the word "Consulate" or "Embassy". You'll get a list of cities having consulates or embassies, with contact information. Select one near you and send a message. Better yet, forward Sea-gram !
4. Support anti-whaling conservationist organizations, such as Greenpeace,
and Sea Shepherd,
Sea Shepherd Conservation Organization, headed by Captain Paul Watson, is more confrontational than many conservationist organizations. Japan has proclaimed the Sea Shepherds are international outlaws, pirates, and terrorists, even as it slaughters endangered whales in the designated Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Sea Shepherds interfere with Japan's illegal whaling activities using various aggressive tactics, such as ramming Japanese harpoon vessels conducting whaling operations.
In Conclusion, some good news:
 A November 11, 2009 Online New York Times article by Jonathan Leake reports that blue whales might be coming back! These 100-foot giants of the sea numbered between 350,000 and 400,000 in 1900, but human whaling reduced their population to approximately 5,000 by 1960, with almost no recovery during the past 50 years. Recent blue whale sightings in areas where they had not been seen for many years have given scientists reason for optimism. However, the story indicates it is still premature to draw a final conclusion regarding the blue whales' prospects. But one point is certain: for the species to recover, the commercial whaling ban must continue.
Click below to read the full article:
About is your home for exciting dive adventure novels (DANGEROUS WATERS, WHALES' ANGELS and FIREWORKS), and exciting YouTube videos featuring sea dwellers. 
I'm keeping busy writing a fourth novel (still untitled), and also taking a first crack at non-fiction: BUBBLES UP! co-authored with Judith Hemenway. We'll keep you posted on our progress.
Thanks for visiting, and we'll see you next month!
Paul J. Mila 
 Paul in Cozumel

75 Titus Avenue
Carle Place, New York 11514
 To forward Sea-gram to a friend, please click the "Forward email" link below.
In This Issue
The Story Behind The Photo: CONTACT, WITH A BABY GRAY WHALE!
Follow-up comment on October's shark articles, submitted by
Dr. Jerry Garber:
 "Hi Paul,
  October's SEA-GRAM was really interesting, and brought back memories for me on the shark dive I did several years ago with UNESCO in Grand Bahamas, Freeport. The only difference was that our male-mesh-suited dive master actually and literally "hypnotized" one of the large Caribbean reef sharks by consistently rubbing his snout as he passed by for a hand-out. He then carried this huge fish over to ALL the divers kneeling in a semi-circle, and let us TOUCH the skin. He then laid the shark down on the sand, and in a few moments the shark "awoke" and swam off. FRANKLY, IT BLEW MY MIND, AND IS SOMETHING TO EXPERIENCE FIRST HAND !"
Thanks for sharing, Jerry; Great story!
* * * * * * * * * *
Jamie Pollack, Founder & Creative Director of Shark Savers,
is very active in shark conservation.
Please visit
for more information about this organization, and how you can help.
For additional information about Jamie and her work, please click the link below:
Thanks for letting us know about Shark Savers, Jamie. 

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Featured Article in this month's  Conservation Corner: Whales, Dodging Those Deadly Harpoons!  The title was inspired by a line from a Jimmy Buffett tune about respecting the ocean, Treat Her Like A Lady.
Whales worldwide will head for the deep, like this diving Tonga humpback, as they attempt to evade Japanese, Icelandic, and Norwegian harpoons over the coming months.
Humpback Diving
Paul Mila photo; Tonga Islands

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In Conservation Corner, internationally acclaimed photographer
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert kindly contributed his photo of a harpooned minke whale, and a link to his incredible story, Death Of A Whale. For additional information about Jeremy and his work, please visit his website:
Many people, myself included, thought killing a whale was a quick proposition with an explosive harpoon. Jeremy shows through dramatic photos and moving words, this is not always the case. 
As you read Jeremy's account of whaling's brutal reality, consider  that the suffering creature on the end of the harpoon is an intelligent, sentient being, possessing a brain
more complex than a human brain, which lives in social groups with family bonds.
Setting aside arguments over the debatable validity of "sustainable whaling" (estimating a theoretical number of whales that can be killed annually without extincting the species), ask yourself whether it is morally and ethically permissible to kill such an advanced being.
Take a look at how friendly Tongan humpbacks interacted with our divers. At the end, one actually attempts contact with video-grapher Rob Barrel, owner of the world-famous, Fiji-based NAI'A dive
Quick Links:
Visit our website, where you can purchase exciting beach
reads, such as WHALES' ANGELS, featured below.
The story behind the story:  
 On a Scuba Network dive trip to Bonaire in 2004, I met a diver from Holland who told me where it was possible to swim with giant humpback whales. I had published DANGEROUS WATERS the previous year, and was looking for a new story idea for my fictional dive duo, Terry Hunter and Joe Manetta.
So, the next year I visited the Dominican Republic's Silver Bank, where North Atlantic humpbacks snowbird during the winter, mating, giving birth, and relaxing in the tropics.
We spent a week at sea, aboard the Bottomtime II,  venturing out each morning in 15-foot Zodiacs to interact with humpback mothers and their newborn calves. Only snorkeling and free-diving were allowed. SCUBA is not permitted in whale sanctuaries. Young, "teen-age" males made some quick fly-bys, but were too busy playing with each other to visit us.
We were amazed that mother humpbacks trusted us so near their very curious and playful newborns. We were like new toys for the 12 to 14 feet long, 3,000 pound babies, who were seeing humans for the first time. My close-up photo of a baby humpback swimming between another diver and me became the book's cover shot.
Whales' Angels Book Cover
 The whales were respectful of our space in the water. As long as they knew where we were, they always took care not to hit us with their massive pectoral fins or giant tail flukes, where an accidental blow could mean broken bones, or worse.
Contrasting the gentle behavior of these intelligent giants toward us against humans' brutal treatment of whales, I knew I had found a story. So I decided to write an anti-whaling novel, which became WHALES' ANGELS, dedicated to those who risk their lives saving whales on the high seas. 
The story integrates a seagoing murder-mystery with actual events, and the politics surrounding international whaling. Readers come away with an appreciation for the issues, and for the need to save these highly intelligent beings from needless slaughter. 
 WHALES' ANGELS is available at , , all other online booksellers,
or can be ordered in any bookstore.
For a personally signed copy, contact me directly, at 
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