July 4, 2013 12:00 am
If you talk to almost anyone about any subject there are pros and cons to it. And so it is with whaling and whale protection. To that end we’ve provided the following list of commonly asked questions as provided by the International Whale Protection Organization to help build knowledge toward any decision making process you may undertake. Don’t people need to hunt whales for food? There are certain groups of people who do, in fact, rely on whales for local nutritional subsistence such as the people of Lamalera (Indonesia) or certain Inuit communities in remote parts of the Arctic. However, whale meat is not necessary for food security in any of the nations that kill whales on an industrial scale (Iceland, Norway and Japan). Only a tiny fraction of the populations of these developed nations consumes whale on a regular basis. Much of the meat is stockpiled in cold storage or ground up into fertilizer and animal feed. The rest is sold as a luxury item in markets and restaurants. Don’t whalers need to work? In Iceland, Norway, and Japan whaling does not make up a significant part of the national economy. In fact, the whaling industries of these nations are propped up with government support including subsidies. While it is arguable that a number of small communities do depend on income from whaling, the undeniable reality is the demand for whale meat continues to decline while the business of whale tourism continues to grow. The whales are worth more alive than dead. Investment in the lucrative whale watching industry is an investment in the future success of men and whales. What makes whales any different than cows? The most common comparisons between farm livestock and whales are also the most flawed. Whales are wild animals and are not raised under controlled conditions for the human food supply. With many growing threats and slow reproductive rates, there is no guarantee that any species of whale will survive from one year to the next. There is also no quality control or safety oversight for whales as opposed to livestock. Toxic chemicals and metals such as mercury, chromium, PCBs and more accumulate in the body tissues of whales making some species extremely unsafe for human consumption. Unlike cattle, there is no way to observe whales for diseases (like a cetacean variant of mad cow disease) that could harm human beings. How is whaling inhumane? The methods for killing whales cause a great deal of suffering prior to death. A large cannon fired harpoon tipped with an explosive penthrite grenade is most often used by industrial whaling fleets. In many cases there is not an “instant kill” including strikes that do not result in a catch. Whales have been filmed struggling with gaping wounds from these harpoons from 15 minutes to an hour despite efforts by whalers to finish the animals off with high powered rifles. In some cases a second harpoon is utilized. In others, the whale is dragged backwards by its tail until it drowns. In documented drive hunts, entire pods of dolphins or pilot whales are corralled in shallow water and then collectively stabbed to death by hand. Some of the animals are left to bleed out after being hauled ashore or drown in a mixture of their own blood and sea water. Is whaling illegal? The legality of whaling is unfortunately a gray area of international law. The International Whaling Commission established a global moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1986 which remains in effect to this day. CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) also forbids the international trade of whale products. The IWC has established whale sanctuaries where the killing of whales is not permitted such as the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary which covers all Antarctic waters. However, Direct TV, due to the non-binding nature of international agreements, the industrial whaling nations have simply “opted out” of established regulations and continued to kill whales, including endangered species, and trade in whale products. How are whales important to the environment? Whales contribute to the health of ocean ecosystems in important ways. In any ecosystem, all creatures are inherently connected and interdependent with other animals in the food web. The great whales help to fertilize the oceans by distributing iron in their offal, which is important to algae and phytoplankton growth. When a large whale dies it becomes a bounty to all of the scavengers of the ocean from sea birds and sharks to hag fish, worms and bacteria. Recent observations revealed that a single whale carcass at the ocean floor will support an abundance of scavenger species for over a year. Is whaling a cultural tradition? History shows that whaling has been carried out by many peoples from ancient to modern times. Excepting the native communities permitted to hunt whales for nutritional subsistence, today whaling exists only as an industry for the profit of a select few. Iceland’s whaling past is entirely dominated by foreign companies depleting whale stocks for oil profits prior to the 1950s. Japan’s traditional whalers were put out of business when Norwegian modern whaling techniques were adopted at the start of the 20th century.