National Geographic : 1996 Aug
EARTH ALMANAC Seals or Cod: A Raging Canadian Issue WHEN ATLANTIC COD numbers crashed in 1992, the Canadian government regarded the harp seal as an important culprit. This year officials encouraged sealers and out-of-work fisher men to hunt the species, which is not endangered, by raising the limit to 250,000. The quota will likely be met. Last year when it was 186,000, bad weather and ice conditions held the harvest to 65,000 seals, including this one in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Any seal with a gray coat may be killed; commercial hunting of young whitecoat pups for their pelts was halted in 1987 after widespread protests. But that campaign also dried up markets for other seal products, such as sealskin and oil, markets the government wants to rejuvenate. Meanwhile, hunters are paid a subsidy for seal meat, still eaten in eastern Canada. Conservationists charge that many male seals are killed only for their sex organs, prized as an aphrodisiac by Asians, including those in Canada. And oppo nents reject the government's contention that harp seals eat too much Atlantic cod. "Their diet includes more than 100 species-they rarely eat At lantic cod," says David Lavigne, exec utive director of the Interna tional Marine Mammal Association. "Basically, the cod industry collapsed because of overfishing." Whooping It Up RECORD HIGH, 158 endangered whooping cranes sailed into Aransas National Wildlife Ref uge and vicinity in Texas last winter. Conservation has helped this wild flock wing back from near extinction. Because of hunting and habitat loss, only 15 cranes were reported here in 1941. Last winter's count included 28 chicks, also an all-time high. From its summer nesting grounds in Canada, the flock will return to Aransas in October. -J OHN L. ELIOT NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, AUGUST 1996 SNoisy Skies Over the Wilderness PEACE AND QUIET is in a holding pattern over 130 national park sites - about a third of the system where noise problems caused by aircraft over flights have been reported. From Hawaii to North Carolina, tourists in the parks' friendly skies are causing angst on the ground. About 80,000 scenic flights a year now take tourists low over the Grand Canyon, for example, nearly three times the number in 1987, when the National Parks Overflights Act was passed. That act put nearly half of Grand Canyon National Park off-limits to flight-seeing planes and helicopters; those that legally buzz over are restricted to flight corridors. Solitude-loving back packers and other critics say the act isn't working. "Sound bleeds from those corridors into the flight-free zones-so they're not noise free," says Dave Simon of the National Parks and Conserva tion Association. Safety, more than aesthetics, concerns the Federal Aviation Administration, which may soon issue revised rules for Grand Canyon pilots. Since 1980, at least 60 people have died in flight-seeing crashes in or near the canyon.