Monday, April 13, 2009

Whaling - Black As It's Painted?

It has come to my attention in recent months that things are not always all that they seem, and also that there are two sides to any argument. And so it was with this attitiude I approached that most . . . conraversial of subjects.

For over 30 years now conservationists have shouted to anyone who will hear of the atrocious killing of whales and the greed of those that hunt them. In ribs and boats they have harried whaling fleets, and the fleets have in turn retalliated with concussion grenades and worse. The International Whaling Council have both issued decrees and detracted them since its inception in 1946. Countries have chopped and changed in their stance on whaling, and sometimes seeming on the verge of blows. And yet in all this time - more than a hundred and fifty years since the boom caused by the invention of the exploding harpoon - it seems no firm decision has been reached over the management of whaling activities.

This observation highlights a major flaw in environmental management. The startling lack of compromise. Conservationist heavyweights like greenpeace and WWF draw a hard line, but for all their education and 'research' offer no alternative for career whalers -no alternative to the commercial demand for whale meat in places like Norway and Japan. Governments too seem suck in their antiquated mentalities - refusing any notion of management or call for sustainability. And rightly so, as whaling is in many instances integrated in national heritage. But is simply withdrawing for discussion, taking a huff like a skelped child, a constructive approach?

The answer seems obvious.

As a person who has no moral objection to the well managed and efficient killing whales (just another resource being exploited) I invite both discussion and different perspectives, in the hope of solidifying some kind of view on this fascinating subject.


  1. This raises a very interesting point. Often in these circumstances the human impact is not considered by those most vocal in their objection. Strong conservationists are often too concerned with the Mighty Whale, Steward of Mother Ocean to stop and think that the whale is no more important to the grand scheme of things than any other organism. A balance must be reached in which economy, ecology and social impacts can all be satisfied.

    Good luck with that.

  2. While I agree that the whaling industry is simply exploiting another resource I have to question why the resource needs to be exploited in the first place. The main whaling countries cited in the comments above - Norway and Japan - are among the richest countries in the world. They do not need another source of protien in their diets and already have well developed fishing industries. They have no need for whale oil, having well developed energy infrastructures and other whale products traditionally used would probably go to waste.

    To my way of thinking, the only reason for exploiting a resource is to use it. If the resource is not used or needed then it sould not be exploited, instead left until it is needed. As the whale meat would not be used to feed malnourished people living in destitution, rather to feed the rich on products that they perceive to have a "luxury" status I can see no reason to further exploit whales as a source of food.

  3. When a debate contains so many no-brainer issues, the devil must be lurking in the detail. Those at either extreme of the whaling debate do their best to simplify the argument and so covertly propagate misconceptions. The cry “Save the whale!” spurred many in the western world in the 70’s and 80’s to demonstrate, write letters and support outspoken NGOs. But had the cry been “Save the bird!” the universal response would have been “which bird exactly, where and when?”

    As with most other conservation/exploitation issues, there are many shades to whaling and that is where the debates get complicated and where having a black and white viewpoint promotes further polarization rather than compromise and solution.

    At one extreme are the hunts of tiny numbers of whales (one a year) by indigenous townships to keep communities alive and sustain social fabrics. At the other extreme are purely commercial takes of hundreds of whales. Many would see more positives than negatives in the former and the opposite in the latter. But counter to that runs the conservation of the whales themselves – if the one-whale-a-year is of a species so vulnerable that that kill threatens a species and the hundreds-of-whales taken elsewhere come from another species so abundant that there are no measurable conservation implications at all, we might think the converse.

    Add to this mix welfare. A traditional hunter aiming from a skiff may take hours to kill a whale from the first strike but a large ship with an exploding harpoon might make that kill instant. And then there’s the issue of what happens to the product. Yes the majority of whale meat is simply a luxury but equally a vegetarian can reasonably argue that all meat is such. Is keeping a pig in the dark its whole life and then killing it more justifiable than letting a whale live free and then snuff out its consciousness in a fleeting moment?

    These are all debatable points and any community has the right to make up its own mind on the collective viewpoint. But what has happened in whaling is that the issue has become everybody’s business where different people are keen to inflict their views on others. It has been, probably rightly, argued that if the west had not argued so strongly that Japan stop whaling, they would have done so anyway. Now that Japans autonomy and cultural heritage has been so publicly threatened by outsiders their resolve to continue has been bolstered.

    Despite all the heated debate and media coverage, it is often forgotten that in terms of threats to whales, whaling is a long way down the list. Bycatch, ship strikes, and underwater noise are all much more imminent threats that we should be worried about.

    So if you hear “Save the whale!” don’t forget to ask, where, when and from what.


  4. I dont have a problem with whaling on the whole. If it is done sustainably and humanely then there is nothing wrong with another food industry.
    One area I do have an issue is the method of killing. The explosive harpoons, while effective in their killing of the whales do not always do so instantly. Whales are often injured and die slowly.
    If there was a way to ensure the whales died in the one shot then I think there would be less objection, despite the idealised image of a noble whale.

  5. An interesting stance, Pete. It is an unfortunate fact though that many resources exploited are not done so for those who might need them the most. Commercialisnm aside though, whaling is integrated with Norwegian and Icelandic cultures - what right do outsiders have to suggest simply cutting it out with no alternatives or compromise.

    Perhaps a less extreme socialist (and conservationalist or capitalist) approach and, as Alex suggested, a more balanced one.