In 2009, I worked as a volunteer for 8 months with local communities in the Ha'apai Islands of Tonga. We motivated over 3,000 locals (from a total population of 4,500) to remove 50 tonnes of rubbish in a one-day island-wide clean-up.
Days later, we were lucky enough to be taken out into the ocean on a sailboat and get in the water with a humpback whale and her calf.
It was an unforgettable experience - they stayed with us for over an hour, completely relaxed. Our guide was in tears, despite having spent 10 years doing this, as it was so special. It actually felt like they were thanking us for the months of hard work.
Last night the New Zealand whale watching industry and conservationist groups got the welcome news that the International Court of Justice in the Hague has ordered Japan to stop whaling in the Southern Ocean.
This has occurred "with immediate effect" and left the hard-core activists - like Sea Shepherd (who's boat the Bob Barker was in Wellington last week) and Pete Bethune who have been fighting whaling, feeling vindicated.
I still find it amazing that this took so long to happen.
The court held that Japan's commercial whaling was outside the scope of the scientific research that it claimed to be. This decision wasn't because whale meat is readily available on supermarket shelves, but that the scale and methods of capture did not meet the test of being legitimate scientific research.
The fact that the people of Japan still eat whale and dolphin meat is incredible. In 1999 a team of international scientists found mercury, methyl, cadmium, DDT and PCBs in whale and dolphin meat. These animals are at the top of the food chain, so toxins bioaccumulate (getting thousands of times more concentrated) as they go up the ladder. More than 91% of the samples in that study exceeded the limits for one or more pollutants. One sample had over 1,600 times the maximum permitted amount of mercury.
Such can be the toxicity of marine mammals that in Canada, when washing up dead on the beach, they have been classified as toxic waste for disposal. These pollutants are, of course, human caused.
So today, finally, there is a win for the whales and for those of us that wish to have the chance to see or spend time with these wonderful creatures in the future.