Whaling is a big part of human history. The Norwegians have been whaling for over 4,000 years and the Japanese for even longer. No matter what your personal feelings and opinions of whaling, it is a historic practise that is still being used today.
Beginning in the 1960s there has been a sharp decline in the number of whales killed by hunters. This hasn’t been due to a lack of need for whale meat but, rather, as a result of there simply being fewer whales. Whales have gestation periods of 7-13 months and very rarely have more than one calf at a time. When you consider that thousands were once being killed each year, it’s easy to understand why they were unable to maintain their population numbers.
As fewer and fewer whaling ships were meeting with success, the International Whaling Commission was set up in 1946 to try and solve this problem. It tried to help by placing protection orders on certain species of whales that had suffered the most. All whale populations continued to decline though so, in 1986, the commission placed a complete ban on whaling for all its members.
This ban is still in place, however, due to loopholes, over 30,000 whales have been hunted
and killed since 1986 by members of the International Whaling Commission. This mainly comes from three countries – Iceland, Japan and Norway. Iceland left the Commission and then re-joined under a ‘reservation’ whereby it didn’t have to recognise the ban, although this has actually caused some countries to not recognise Iceland as a member.
Japan makes use of a loophole permitting hunting for scientific research, however they have just last year been told that at least one of these research programmes involved killing unnecessarily. Killing whales for research purposes may first appear to be more understandable than commercial hunting but in Japan, when the research has finished, the whale’s carcass is sold and a profit is made. Of course, not everything is as straightforward as it may first appear, but it really does seem to be a commercial venture that just has to allow the bodies to be first used for research.
Out of the three countries, Norway is the only one that appears to be upfront about its opinions. The Norwegians made it clear when the ban was coming into place that they didn’t agree with it and, instead of trying to use smoke and mirrors to hide their intentions, they have carried on whaling openly. This may not be agreeable but somehow appears a lot less morally dubious to my mind.
There is one final exception to the ban, which pertains to Aboriginal Substance Whalers. These are communities that hunt using traditional methods, carrying on the practises their ancestors began. The International Whaling Commission recognised the need to preserve this way of life and protect these communities’ culture. Therefore, in the terms of the ban, they are allowed to hunt whales if no profit is made.
There can be a lot found about whaling in the media, often from very extreme sides. It’s not just whales that are hunted in the oceans (think of all the fish in the fishmongers). Yet even species whose numbers are running low don’t receive nearly the same attention from the media as whales. Why? Well, simply because we are humans and can empathise with mammals more easily than with other animals.
This doesn’t mean that caring about whales is wrong, it just means we need to view the facts when it comes to the whaling industry. We need to think about which countries allow whaling, and why they do it. We need to think about the role the whales have in the ecosystem. We need to balance facts. You may be for whaling, you may be against it, but a clear fact is that hunting is possible without causing such a crash in the population numbers as has been seen in the case of whale species.
Post by: Jennifer Rasal