Minister of Fisheries, Saboto Caesar, has denied giving a whaler permission to kill orcas, a species which is protected internationally.
The whaler, from the Central Leeward town of Barrouallie, where pilot whales are normally caught, made the claim live on radio on Sunday as he explained their decision to kill two orcas on March 30.
The killing of the orcas in the presence of some 40 cruise passengers on a whale watching tour resulted in a lot of negative press for St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in the international media.
“No. No. No. Never. Never gave permission for two orcas to be killed. In fact, I don’t know if the person spoke to somebody else, but they didn’t speak to me,” Caesar told iWitness News on Wednesday.
The call was reportedly made during an earlier hunt in which no cetacean — neither orcas nor pilot whales — were caught.
The fisheries minister, who does not have ministerial responsibility for whaling, said that a whaler had called him during their hunt at sea regarding killing an orca.
“But I want, in the context of the discussion, to say that on an occasion, a whaler was in front of an orca, about to kill and he called from on the sea and we identified that we did not want him to kill the orcas and he didn’t — because no catch was reported.
“He didn’t and we were already celebrating and we thought that this was a new dispensation and it was very shocking news to us when it got to our attention about that activity because some persons were already complying,” Caesar told iWitness News.
The whaler did not identify himself by name when he called into We FM on Sunday.
However, the details he presented in the call suggest that he is Samuel Hazelwood, who has been whaling since he graduated secondary school with passes in mathematics, English and biology.
He said that earlier this year, Caesar, Chief Fisheries Officer, Jennifer Cruickshank-Howard, and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Transformation, Raymond Ryan, met with a few whalers in Barrouallie.
“They … asked us to do an experiment for one month by not catching the bottlenose dolphin and the very orca itself. Mr. Saboto Caesar, one of the guys in the meeting told him, but if you tell us not to catch them, it is going to make life more difficult for us. Even before the meeting finished he told him so,” the whaler said on radio.
The whaler recounted what he said was the circumstances in which Caesar gave permission for orcas to be killed.
He said that in a previous whale hunt, they were in search or pilot whales for some time but repeatedly came up on orcas.
“Being that they say that we must not take any during the month because we are going to do an experiment, the other guy who normally captain the boat for me, he has Mr. Saboto Caesar number, he (whaler) … called him (Caesar) and spoke to him in relation to the orcas we meet because we weren’t studying them.
“He (Caesar) … called him (whaler) back and told them that we can take two in order to help out situation,” said the whaler who told listeners when orcas are around it is more difficult to catch pilot whales.
He, however, said that they did not catch any orcas that day.
“Eventually, the orcas would have made a dive and we did not catch any that day,” the whaler said.
However, Caesar told iWitness News that in preparation for the Budget, a meeting was held in Barrouallie that some 100 persons attended.
He noted that the meeting was prior to the March 30 incident in which the orcas were killed.
The minister said that in the meeting they gave diagrams and photos of orcas and also did a PowerPoint presentation of what the orcas look like.
“Even though we know it is easily identifiable, we also place someone from the Ministry of Fisheries to work with the fisherfolk so that we will basically continue in line with our international obligation.”
He said he got the call from the whaling boat the following week, in which the whaler told him he was in front of an orca and wanted advice on what to do.
“I said to him, ‘We have our international obligations, leave the orca alone.’ And he said, ‘Okay. I’ll leave it alone.’ In fact, the very evening, there was a mini celebration in the office. Everyone was elated and this sentiment was expressed to the international authorities that from one meeting in Barrouallie, persons were complying.
“I never received another call after that from anybody. That was the only call I received,” Caesar told iWitness News.
“I don’t know if the person spoke to somebody else but they didn’t speak to me,” he told iWitness News.
Caesar told iWitness News that with the call from the whaler, “We thought that this was a new dispensation and it was very shocking news to us when it got to our attention about that activity (the March 30 killing of the orcas) because some persons were also complying.”
He said that the whalers were told in the meeting earlier this year that there would be a follow-up meeting after a month.
“I don’t know if it is the same person we are talking about because there were many persons in the meeting. But it was identified in the meeting that the boats will wish to be equipped with hydrophones and that we should donate two boats for whale watching as something that would augment the livelihoods, should it be that they were going to stop kill the orcas. So I don’t know if it was interpreted –but you can’t interpret out of your international obligations. That is the long and short of it.”
The government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines announced on April 5 that it will pass laws to ban the killing of orcas and bottlenose dolphins.
Pilot whales have been caught in Barrouallie as part of a decades-old tradition.