The Beacon

Blog Tags: Japan

One Woman Stands Up for the Dolphins

© OCEANA

Just a few weeks ago, an international campaign to stop the annual gruesome slaughter of dolphins in Japan was initiated by one Scottish woman hoping to make a difference. Shona Lewendon started a petition to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requesting that Japan be denied the right to host the 2020 Olympic Games until they ban the annual slaughter of dolphins in the cove of Taiji, a tradition that has been occurring for a long time.

Within just five days of posting her petition online, she received 10,000 signatures. Since then, the petition has continued to grow, gaining more and more support from people all around the world. Her campaign has even won the support of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.


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The Real-Life Kraken, Caught on Tape

After a decade-long hunt almost as obsessive as Captain Ahab’s search for Moby Dick, a team of researchers and journalists from Japan’s National Science Museum, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese broadcaster NHK have captured video of the mysterious giant squid in its natural habitat, about 9 miles from ChiChi Island and 600 miles south of Tokyo.

This three meter long creature is actually on the small side; giant squids can grow to eight meters (twenty-six feet)!

These real-life underwater giants are believed to be the inspiration for the Kraken, a mythical Nordic sea monster known for attacking ships in the waters off of Scandinavia. Having inspired numerous artists and writers over the centuries, it is no surprise that this fantastical animal has captured the imaginations of scientists as well. 


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Tuna Still Feeling the Effects of Fukushima

Bluefin tuna

Bluefin tuna are carrying radiation from Japan to California. ©Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen

It might seem straight out of science fiction, but this story is real – radioactive tuna could be swimming in an ocean near you.

new study found that after last spring’s Fukushima nuclear accident, Pacific Bluefin tuna caught off of San Diego appear to have been contaminated by radioactive materials from last spring’s nuclear accident in Japan.

The March 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami led to the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant in central Japan. Even now, the only way to enter the zone 20 kilometers around the plant is with special government permission. After the accident, tests showed that concentrations of radioactive Cesium in coastal waters increased up to 10,000-fold.

This study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found the same radioactive Cesium in 15 Bluefin tuna specimens caught outside of San Diego. The fish tested showed a 10-fold increase from normal Cesium concentrations, well below the safety limit established by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishes.

Bluefin are a highly migratory species – they spawn in the West Pacific near Japan, then, once they have matured, may travel more than 9,000 miles to the East Pacific and the California coast. They’re such strong swimmers that the trip only takes a few months.

During the course of this trip, the radioactive concentration fell as the fish grew and the Cesium decayed. If they had tested tuna from Japan, the radiation would be expected to be up to 15 times more concentrated, according to Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann, and Nicholas Fisher, the co-authors of the study.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch already lists bluefin as a species to avoid due to severe overfishing and high mercury levels. They’re highly valued as sushi fish, which has led to a steep decline in their populations in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Bluefin tuna are slow to mature, and are often caught before they have a chance to reproduce. Oceana is currently working to protect bluefin tuna from overfishing.


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Japan Plans to Build Floating Offshore Wind Farm

offshore wind turbine

© Oceana

The Fukushima nuclear disaster, sparked by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan last March, has led the Japanese government to embrace a safer energy source: offshore wind.

Japan seeks to expand its wind energy capacity and compete with European markets in the brand new field of floating offshore wind technology. The country plans to build a pilot floating wind farm with six 2-Megawatt turbines, and then scale up to 80 floating turbines off the Fukushima coast by 2020.

While offshore wind has begun to be used in Europe, to date, it has been dependent on shallow enough water to stabilize the foundation. There is currently an international race to develop floating offshore wind farms, which are the next big step in offshore wind energy as they will allow for offshore wind development even in deeper water.

Floating offshore wind designs are being field tested in the North Sea and Portugal. (Check out this video describing how one type of floating wind turbine is designed and deployed.)  Floating wind farms consist of large floating structures that support a spinning turbine, the base of which can be tethered to the ocean floor.

It uses a ballast system to transfer water between pillars to keep the platform stable even in very high seas. The floating farms are assembled on land and then can be towed out to sea to be placed in deeper water locations that have stronger and steadier winds. The ability to place offshore wind farms into deeper waters along with their lack of concrete bases and increased mobility reduces their environmental impact while increasing their production of clean energy.

Japan has responded to the Fukushima disaster in the way that the U.S. should respond to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster – by aggressively pursuing safer, more environmentally friendly energy sources that will allow us to phase out the older and more dangerous ones.


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Exploring the Human-Dolphin Connection

© Oceana/Carlos Suarez.

In his new book, “The Voice of the Dolphins” ocean conservationist, filmmaker and Oceana supporter Hardy Jones reflects on his decades of work to protect dolphins and whales around the world, from killer whales in Norway’s fjords to sperm whales off the Galapagos Islands.

In addition to fighting dolphin hunting in Japan, Jones writes of his more recent work to stop one of the greatest threats to dolphins and humans: the rising level of contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs, in the ocean food chain.

The issue hit close to home with Jones when he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2003, a form of blood cancer associated with chemical toxins. Blood tests revealed that he had highly elevated levels of chemicals such as DDT and flame retardants in his blood and tissues—the same chemicals found in ever-greater concentrations throughout dolphin populations around the world.


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Japan’s Radiation Leak Causes Fishing and Shipping Ban

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Since our first post about the impacts of Japan’s nuclear crisis on the oceans, a lot has happened, but many questions remain and the situation is constantly changing.

As the cooling systems for the injured reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station remain offline, the method used to avoid a fire and full-blown meltdown of the reactors has been the continuous pumping of seawater onto the fuel rods.

Much of the seawater is evaporated, but thousands of tons of radiated water runoff have filled the nuclear plant. Tokyo Electric, who runs the facility, has shown extreme difficulties handling the growing amounts of radiated water.

They began pumping over 10,000 tons of seawater with lower levels of radiation out into the ocean, to make room for more contaminated water. Shortly afterwards a large crack was discovered last Saturday in a pit next to the seawater intake pipes at the No. 2 reactor which began leaking drastically higher levels of radiation directly into the Pacific.

During the leak, Tokyo Electric reported that seawater near the plant contained radioactive iodine-131 that was 5 million times the legal limit, and cesium-137 levels at 1.1 million times the legal limit. 


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How Might Japan’s Nuclear Crisis Affect the Oceans?

Many of you have inquired via Twitter, Facebook and e-mail about how the Japanese nuclear crisis is affecting the oceans and marine life. There are still a lot of question marks, but here’s what our scientists have to say.

How it could affect marine life in general:

The greatest concern for marine life comes from the radiation from cesium, strontium and radioactive iodine entering the oceans via the smoke and water runoff from the damaged facilities. Small doses of radiation will be spread out over the Pacific Ocean, and monitors on the U.S. West Coast have even picked up slight traces of radiation from the smoke.

Although the levels of cesium and radioactive iodine in the immediate vicinity of the plant have increased and very small amounts of radiation have even been detected in local anchovies (1 percent of acceptable levels), it is not clear whether there will be any long-term or significant impacts on marine life off the coast of Japan or out to sea, according to researchers who studied the marine effects of fallout from nuclear weapons tests in the Pacific and the Chernobyl nuclear accident.


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Earthquake and Tsunami Hit Japan

The most powerful earthquake in recorded history to hit Japan struck on Friday, triggering a deadly tsunami that is destroying coastal towns and killing hundreds.

The quake also caused trouble for two Japanese nuclear power plants, causing a fire at one and issues with cooling at another.

Governments and aid organizations from around the world are already lending a helping hand and have pledged to do more in the coming days and weeks ahead.

If you would like to help too, click here for a list of organizations helping on the ground.

Events like this remind us that the oceans are a source of great power and mystery; while they bring peace and calm to many, they are also capable of great destruction. Our thoughts are with the people of Japan and coastal communities throughout the Pacific.


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Day 2 at COP16

Oceana marine scientist Ellycia Harrould Kolieb is at the COP16 climate negotiations in Cancun.

Even at this early stage in the negotiations, countries are proving unwilling to come to the table on some issues. Day two saw Japan announce that it will not, under any circumstances, inscribe targets in a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan is committed to killing the Kyoto protocol, which is kind of ironic since it was born in Japan.

Also on the agenda for day two was a discussion on whether the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) should undertake a review of the impacts of a 1.5oC temperature rise. This would bring forward the latest science and help to inform negotiations as to the real and immediate threats facing many nations from a less than 2 oC increase in temperatures.


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Wha? Wednesday: Bluefin for Sale

bluefin tuna

As you know, Wednesdays are normally devoted to blogging about the latest whale news. But I’ve redubbed today’s post in honor of yesterday's news about a certain sleek giant of the sea who continues to fetch exorbitant auction prices as it heads toward extinction. It makes you go, “Wha?”

Yesterday, a 513-pound bluefin tuna sold for $177,000 -- the most since 2001 -- in an auction at Tokyo’s famous fish market.

Ironically, the sale took place amid a decline in Japanese tuna consumption due to the nation’s worst recession since World War II.

So as Tokyo’s fish market representatives fret over how to keep c


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