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26 August 2011

Whaling

Whaling is the hunting of whales. Whales are an important part of the marine ecosystem because they feed off of krill and plankton and maintain homeostasis in their environments. In the Antarctic, populations of Antarctic birds and pinnipeds have tripled due to reduced whale populations and the resulting larger availability of krill.

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BACKGROUND

Whaling is the hunting of whales. Whales are an important part of the marine ecosystem because they feed off of krill and plankton and maintain homeostasis in their environments. In the Antarctic, populations of Antarctic birds and pinnipeds have tripled due to reduced whale populations and the resulting larger availability of krill.

There are about 80 species of whales, which vary in size. Whales belong to the phylum chordata and order cetacean. Cetacean comes from the Greek word "ketos," meaning whale or sea monster. There are two suborders of cetaceans, the baleen whales (Mysticeti) and the toothed whales (Odontoceti). Baleen whales may be further divided into rorquals, right whales, gray whales and pygmy right whales. Toothed whales are divided further into sperm, beaked, narwhal, and beluga whales, as well as dolphins and porpoises.

There are currently two whale species, the blue whales of Antarctica and the gray whales of the northwest Pacific, that are classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). There are five more whale species that the IUCN classifies as endangered; these species are the blue whale, fin whale, north Pacific right whale, north Atlantic right whale, and the sei whale. It is currently illegal to hunt these whales due to the international moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986.

Modern whaling: Pelagic whaling, or modern whaling, began in 1946. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) of 1946 (attended by 19 whaling nations) placed great emphasis on resource management, conservation, and the establishment of international cooperative whaling standards. The IWC was created at this convention, with the original goals being the safeguarding of whale stocks for future generations and the protection of whales from over-fishing and extinction. The IWC is made up of three main committees: the Scientific Committee, the Technical Committee, and the Finance and Administration Committee.

International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium: The IWC met in 1982 and imposed a moratorium (suspension) on commercial whaling, which it began enforcing by 1986. The whaling that takes place today, post-moratorium, falls into one of three recognized categories: aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) by native peoples, scientific whaling (conducted by Japan), or under an official objection to the moratorium (submitted by Norway).The moratorium bans all other forms of whaling around the world. Scientific whaling is whaling in order to conduct research. An objection to the IWC moratorium means that the objecting nation does not recognize or agree with the policy.

Commercial whaling: Commercial whaling is illegal today because it is banned by the IWC's moratorium on whaling. Commercial whaling traditionally focused on larger whale species, such as the blue whale, which is the largest living mammal on earth. Whales were originally hunted for their fat, meat, bones, and baleen (keratin plates in whales' mouths that are used for filter feeding). Earliest whaling efforts had traditionally been restricted to coastal regions due to the nature of the activity; catcher boats (whaleboats) originated from the coast and the catch was processed in land stations.

As the whaling industry grew, whales were hunted for their oil; whale oil was used for three centuries as a fuel source for lamps, until alternative lamp fuels such as kerosene made whale oil supplies less necessary. Oil from sperm whales was generally preferred as it glowed brighter than the oil from other whales, and it lacked the unpleasant odor that was known to come from right whale oil. When the petroleum industry began in 1859, the sperm whale was the main species of whale sought for its oil. Although the Dutch and English led the way in the creation of the whaling industry, by the early 19th century the United States had the most productive whaling industry in the world. Beginning in 1861, however, the American Civil War almost completely stopped the whaling ships of New England. A large number of ships were captured and sunk by the Confederacy. By this time, kerosene made from petroleum was beginning to replace sperm whale oil as affordable lighting fuel in both North America and Europe.

Aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW): Aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) is a legal practice under a longstanding policy of the IWC. This policy allows indigenous people to hunt otherwise protected whales, in order to meet their peoples' subsistence needs. ASW is poorly defined under the ICRW: There is no definition of "aboriginal," "aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW)," or "needs," leading to abuse of the policy and leaving ASW quotas and the operation of hunts controversial. ASW uses methods of killing that tend to be less accurate and efficient than those of commercial whaling, leading to greater injury to the animal and a longer time to death. There are two provisions necessary in order for the IWC to allow an indigenous people the right to ASW. First, whaling must be central to the culture of the claimants and second, they must have a long and uninterrupted history of whaling. The second provision became controversial when the Makah tribe of Washington State tried to hunt gray whales, because they had not done so for over 70 years. This lapse in traditional whaling led many IWC members to argue that an uninterrupted tradition could not be claimed by the Makah in order to gain ASW rights. According to current federal law, the Makah are legally allowed to hunt and kill one baleen whale each year.

Local consumption in aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW): All ASW allowances require that the meat and products of whales be used only for local consumption. The sole exception to this rule is in Greenland and St. Vincent, where the quotas do not require aboriginal-only consumption. As a result, all residents (not just the Inuit population) are permitted to consume whale meat distributed in Greenland. The IWC does not provide a formal definition for "local." However, in 1980, an IWC panel suggested that it be described as: "the barter, trade, or sharing of whale products in their harvested form with relatives of the participants in the harvest, with others in the local community, or with persons in locations other than the local community [with] whom local residents share familial, social, cultural, or economic ties..." Currently, Greenland is allowed to catch 212 minke whales, 19 fin whales, and two bowhead whales annually.

North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO): NAMMCO was founded in 1992 by Norway, Greenland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. The founding nations were unhappy with the IWC regulations and believed that whaling should be more extensively allowed. Since its creation, NAMMCO has been successful in establishing cooperation in the management of north Atlantic marine mammal populations. Studies conducted by NAMMCO and scientific surveys of marine mammal populations are well regarded in the international community, and NAMMCO member nations have followed the advice of leading scientists in order to preserve these marine mammal populations. The major difference between NAMMCO and the IWC is that NAMMCO generally supports larger catch limits and does not support the IWC whaling moratorium. Some nations (such as the United Kingdom) remain opposed to whaling and do not recognize NAMMCO's claim to the management of whale stocks in the north Atlantic. As a result, these nations continue to support only the IWC.

Regulation: There are two main viewpoints that drive the regulation of the whaling industry. The first viewpoint is that regulating the whaling industry is necessary to avoid an oversupply of whale products, which would decrease the value of these products in global markets. The contrasting environmental or preservation viewpoint is that whales should be protected in order to sustain the species. Preservation proponents expect that the regulation of whaling will allow sustainable development, or provide a mechanism of resource use, that will meet the needs of the human population while preserving the environment. It would protect whaling resources for both present and future generations. The preservation viewpoint is more prominent in the United States and in most non-whaling nations. The opposing viewpoint is more prominent in whaling nations, such as Japan, Iceland, and Norway.

Development of the International Management System: During the 1940s, Norway, the former USSR, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Japan engaged in pelagic, or modern, whaling. Until the early 1970s, the international management system of Antarctic pelagic whaling was based on the blue whale unit (BWU). One BWU equaled one blue whale, two fin whales, two and a half humpback whales, or six sei whales. Although whalers were free to catch any of these species to fill the quota, they focused on the largest whales. Throughout the 1950s, the Antarctic whaling quota of baleen whales was far above any sustainable measure, at 14,500-16,000 BWU. It is difficult to ascertain what quota would have been more appropriate and sustainable, though, as different nations disagreed on quotas. Whaling expeditions had to report regularly on their catch to the International Bureau of Whaling Statistics in Sandefjord, Norway.

At the end of the 1950s, the IWC was unable to agree on a quota and nearly disbanded. Driven by global competition, whalers exceeded quotas and whale populations declined. With declines in whale populations, countries with older whaling fleets or without a strong economic connection to whaling (like Norway and the Netherlands), were forced to leave the IWC. By the time Norway and the Netherlands returned to the IWC in the 1960s, the IWC had reduced the quota; in 1964-1965, the IWC quota was further lowered. This set into motion a process of further reductions, facilitated by agreements among whaling nations on the distribution of catching rights. By 1972, the BWU was abolished, and the New Management Procedure (NMP) was adopted in 1974.

New Management Procedure (NMP): The NMP ruled that an automatic ban would be placed on the whaling of any severely depleted whale populations, by requiring that the maximum sustainable yield level be set at 60% of the estimated population size before any whaling could take place. The moratorium on commercial whaling began in 1986, and by 1994 the IWC declared that Antarctica would be a whale sanctuary for the next 50 years.

Revised Management Procedure (RMP): When the RMP was initiated in 1985, it indicated that it would be possible to authorize a catch for the year. However, the 1986 moratorium was not lifted despite the RMP indications that it was possible to sanction a catch for the year. This led to allegations from pro-whaling nations such as Norway that the IWC was making decisions based on emotional and not scientific factors.

After it imposed the moratorium on whaling in the 1980s, the IWC's Scientific Committee experimented with computer simulations of 100 years of whale behavior to determine catch limits. One hundred years was chosen due to the long life expectancy of the species, which can be up to 100 years. Without computer-simulated behavior modeling, it would take too long before any feasible results would be possible from actual specimen testing.

The Scientific Committee stated that catch limits should remain relatively constant. They also recommended that animals that were below 54 percent of their estimated capacity not be caught. A major component of the RMP is the Catch Limit Algorithm (CLA). The CLA specifies the way in which catch limits are calculated, by recognizing that the true status of the whale stock is poorly known and that any estimates may be biased. As more information accrues from sighting surveys, the estimates are redefined; this provides a useful self-monitoring mechanism to ensure that the procedure is as accurate as possible. Catch limits are set for five-year periods.

Catch Limit Algorithm (CLA): This is a conservative algorithm used in whaling, and it is a component of the RMP. It does not allow any harvest of whales if there is any chance of whale stock falling below the protected level. The CLA also reduces harvest limits by 20% each year, if eight years pass without a population survey being conducted. In addition, the CLA has a large "uncertainty estimate" for its model, which translates into lower catch limits than if the parameters were better known. To ensure that surveys are done in accordance with the RMP, the Scientific Committee of the IWC has guidelines for how sighting surveys are to be conducted and how data is to be analyzed. If the surveys do not follow these guidelines, they are not considered of high enough quality to be used in the CLA and the results are not used in the algorithm.

Scientific whaling: In the 1980s, some countries, including Norway and Japan, issued permits for scientific whaling, but some environmental groups claimed that these countries were hiding their commercial activities under the guise of science. Such scientific whaling has remained very limited, however, with at most a few hundred whales (mainly minkes) being taken per year. Japan's first research program was called the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA 1); it lasted for 18 years and had several important discoveries. For example, JARPA 1 found that minke whales in the Antarctic were very healthy with many young calves, meaning that their populations would thrive in the future. JARPA 1 also found that there were very low levels of contaminants in minke whales. Critics argue that over the course of 18 years, JARPA 1 used lethal methods to obtain samples from 6,800 whales, but only produced 55 peer-reviewed papers; of these 55 papers, only 14 demonstrated program relevancy to the goals of the research. Unlike Japan, Australia and many other countries use non-lethal data collection techniques, such as "knicking, "where a crossbow is used to fire darts with special tips towards the side or back of a whale. The dart travels a few centimeters into the skin and penetrates the blubber of the whale before it pops back out; the skin can be used for biopsy samples in order to determine DNA and toxin levels.

Another non-lethal scientific technique is the analysis of feces, which is the most accurate way of determining a subject's diet. Tagging whales with data sensors and tracking their movements is also used to study their behavior. A research project called the Years of the North Atlantic Humpback (YONAH) uses non-lethal methods such as photo-identification techniques and molecular genetics, along with biopsies, to map migration patterns and estimate the abundance of Humpback whales.

Failure to provide vital scientific data: The Scientific Committee depends on whaling nations to conduct surveys of the whales they hunt and to collect data (such as DNA samples) to provide the information needed to set quotas. If a whaling nation fails to provide this data, it can result in the country losing its whaling rights.

Strike and landing limits: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) is concerned that landing limits (how many whales can be taken) fail to provide compelling incentives for hunters to land all the whales that they strike; this is an issue with serious conservation implications. Harpoons and rifles used in whaling inflict a broad range of wounds that may not be lethal, but may prevent whales from communicating, migrating, feeding or reproducing normally. Non-lethal injuries may also cause premature death in these whales due to predation, infection or starvation.

TECHNIQUE

Harpoons: The modern harpoon gun was invented by a Norwegian named Sven Foyn in 1856. The modern harpoon has an explosive head that ensures the whale dies immediately. Current whaling harpoons are re-usable. They consist of a long shaft that goes into a barrel and ends with four large hinged barbs into which one fits the explosive harpoon head. After use, a new explosive head is re-fitted into the barbs. The barbs of the harpoon are held back by wires that break off when the harpoon has hit a whale, subsequently causing the explosive charge to detonate. The shaft of the harpoon is manufactured of high-quality steel, measuring roughly six feet long and weighing 120 pounds. Early "modern" harpoons were launched from a gun using a charge of about 14 ounces of gunpowder. A later modification allowed the harpoon to deliver compressed air into the whale so that it would not sink in the water before being secured. Prior to this modification, whalers were not able to hunt the large baleen whales, because they sank to the ocean bottom and could not be retrieved.

Scientific whaling: There are two main types of scientific whaling, lethal and non-lethal. Japan is a major proponent of lethal scientific whaling. Japan's first research program, sponsored by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), was called the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA 1); this program lasted for 18 years. The ICR has progressed to JARPA II, which started in 2005. In the 2007-2008 whaling season, Japan proposed taking up to 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 humpback whales for its JARPA II research program. Japan claims that in order to conduct its research, the stomachs of the whales must be cut open in order to remove the contents, to record the whales' weight and to determine the species and size. The ICR also maintains that killing whales is the only way to reliably establish a whale's age. Age is determined by examining the earplugs of whales; these earplugs accumulate growth rings every year, much like a tree. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has a fact sheet on scientific whaling in which it condemns lethal scientific whaling and states that sufficient information on whale populations and their structure can be obtained by non-lethal means. Non-lethal options include visual and acoustic surveys, satellite telemetry, and biopsy and feces sampling. Other non-lethal methods include knicking (used for biopsy), tagging, and photo identification.

Pelagic whaling: In the 20th-Century pelagic whaling, or modern whaling on the high seas, became possible. During pelagic whaling, whaling is conducted by expeditions, consisting of a floating factory for processing whales, accompanied by several catcher boats. Factory ships made it possible to catch more whales since whalers were no longer confined to whaling only in coastal regions in order to bring back their catches to be processed on land. This modern innovation made it possible for whalers to exploit the vast baleen whale resources in Antarctic waters.

Regulation: The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the main regulatory body in place to prevent commercial and pelagic whaling. In addition to the 1986 moratorium on whaling, it uses the conservative catch limit algorithm (CLA) to ensure that whale stocks are adequately preserved and not exploited by aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) and scientific whaling.

THEORY/EVIDENCE

Current situation: The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) sets quotas for ASW (aboriginal subsistence whaling) on relevant whale stocks. The IWC (International Whaling Commission) has recognized that indigenous groups are permitted to hunt whales from these whale stocks. In order to obtain an ASW quota, seekers must first submit a "needs statement." The Scientific Committee of the IWC will then assess the status of current whale stocks and perform calculations specific to the species in question in order to advise if the catch limit is safe. The Commission must then decide by a three-quarter majority vote whether to set the requested catch limit. The IWC places a higher weight on human need in ASW than on survival of the stock when determining catch limits. Therefore, it is important that aboriginal whaling be managed by the IWC to preserve whale stocks and avoid abuse of ASW quotas. The Scientific Commission is developing an Aboriginal Whaling Management Scheme (AWMS), which will be similar to the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) that is used to manage commercial whaling. ASW quotas are set for five year blocks. The current quotas set in 2008 expire in 2012 and must be renewed in May of that year.

Iceland: Iceland, a North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO) member state, dropped out of the IWC when NAMMCO was created in 1992, but rejoined the IWC in 2002. Although whaling is banned in all European Union (EU) territorial waters, whaling continues in the waters of non-EU Iceland and Norway. In May 2008, Iceland started the commercial whaling of minke whales, and in 2009, announced that it had quadrupled its whaling quotas. In May 2008, for the first time since the early 1990s, Iceland and Norway exported whale meat to Japan. Diplomats from 25 nations delivered a letter of protest to Iceland's government over its resumption of commercial whaling. The Humane Society International, along with other organizations, sent letters regarding the increased quotas to retailers in the United Kingdom that carry Icelandic fish products. Some retailers, including Marks & Spencer, publicly declared their opposition. Although whaling was authorized to continue in 2009, Iceland's Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture, Steingrimur J. Sigfusson, stated that there was no guarantee that whaling would carry on under the new Icelandic government. This came after the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Finland, and Sweden called on interim Icelandic Prime Minister Sigurdardottir to drop Iceland's whaling operation. There is hope among anti-whaling nations that the new government in Iceland will slowly phase out its whaling operations in the coming years. It is not clear if Icelandic whaling is sustainable, and the impact on whale stocks is still uncertain.

Japan: After the IWC's moratorium in 1986, Japan replaced commercial whaling with scientific research hunts, hoping to provide a basis to resume sustainable whaling. According to The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), a privately-owned, non-profit institution in Japan, Japan's research program in the Antarctic (now known as JARPA 1) began in 1987, and was conducted for eighteen years. JARPA 1 has substantially increased the knowledge of whale biology and whale stocks and this knowledge continues to increase annually. Based on the results of JARPA 1, Japan began a new and expanded program called JARPA II in 2005. The ICR's main claim is that scientific research of whales is of vital importance to the IWC, since the ICRW mandated that regulations adopted by the IWC be based on scientific findings. The ICR further states that the ICRW specifically provides for IWC members (notwithstanding any measures adopted) to issue special permits for the killing of whales for research purposes; it also requires that the by-products of the research (the meat) be utilized. The IWC, however, claims that Japan is exploiting this loophole in order to conduct commercial whaling under the guise of scientific whaling.

Norway: Norway has a registered objection to the IWC moratorium of 1986. Thus, Norway is not bound by the moratorium and can legally continue its whaling operations. Initially Peru, Japan, and the former USSR also lodged objections to the moratorium. Japan subsequently withdrew its objection. Peru and the former USSR are not considered whaling nations and only take part in ASW, which leaves Norway as the only remaining nation with a moratorium objection. According to Greenpeace International, Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 as an attempt by the political party in power at the time to gain popularity in the country. Norwegian scientists tried to justify their catch by saying they were conducting a whale population estimate; however, this estimate was later found to be much higher than that supported by available data. The scientific controversy surrounding Norway's population estimates for minke whales continues today. Greenpeace claims that there is little market for whale meat in Norway; as such, the real goal of Norway's whaling is export of the products to Japan, where prices paid for whale meat are several times higher than in Norway. The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) currently lists the trade of whales in its Appendix I, under which the international trade of whale products is prohibited. Norway, along with Japan, is lobbying to downgrade the listing of whales from Appendix I to Appendix II, thereby re-opening legal trade. In early 2001, the Norwegian government announced that it would allow the export of whale meat and blubber to Japan, although such trade is prohibited under CITES. The Norwegian Parliament passed a resolution in May 2004 to increase the number of minke whales hunted each year.

Greenland: In Greenland, the whale quota does not require the sole consumption of whale products by aboriginals. As a result, all Greenland residents, and not just the Inuit population, may consume whale meat that is distributed in that country. Whale meat also is exported to Denmark for the noncommercial use of Greenland citizens living abroad. Greenland is presently allowed to catch 212 minke whales, 19 fin whales, and two bowhead whales each year under IWC provisions. In the summer of 2008, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) made international news when it placed hidden cameras to probe Greenland's whaling industry; it found that whalers were selling to foreigners catch that was intended only for local consumption, and that at least 15 tons of whale meat caught over the past two years went unsold. At the 2007 and 2008 IWC meetings, Greenland, represented by Denmark, requested an additional annual quota of 10 humpback whales. This request was denied by the IWC due to a lack of demonstration for need, as well as the existence of commercial hunting that was already in place. In 2008, the fisheries ministry of Greenland sent a letter to Denmark's foreign ministry, asking that Greenland formally withdraw from the IWC. If Greenland were to withdraw from the IWC, it would be able to expand its whaling without any international oversight. To date, Greenland has still not withdrawn from the organization. It did, however, help to found NAMMCO, an organization that was developed in 1992 because north Atlantic whaling nations were unhappy with the international regulations of the IWC. NAMMCO concluded that Greenland should have an annual quota of no more than 10 humpback whales. Greenland currently adheres to IWC regulations and does not hunt humpbacks.

Antarctic whaling: In 1904, a whale processing station was built at Grytviken, South Georgia, marking the beginnings of large-scale whaling in the Antarctic. In 1925, the first "factory ships " were built, thus taking the entire whaling industry out to sea. Because whalers were no longer operating within the territory of any one country, regulations on catch size or species taken were no longer applicable. Regulations regarding age or sex of the catch were also nonexistent, so even nursing mothers and calves were taken. Initially, humpback whales were the catch of choice for whalers because they swam slowly and stayed close to land. However, as whalers began to operate away from port with faster boats, blue whales became the preferred catch. As the number of blue whales began rapidly declining, the fin and then the sei whales were hunted, although they were less profitable than the blue whale due to their smaller size. In 1974, an international agreement known as the New Management Procedure (NMP) banned the whaling of fin and sei whales, and whalers turned to the much smaller, less-profitable minke whales.

Whale watching: Whale watching is the practice of observing whales in their natural habitat for recreation; it is most often done for commercial profit. Japan, Iceland, and Norway all have growing whale-watching industries. Many conservationists argue that a whale is worth more alive than dead, hoping to persuade whaling nations to focus more on whale watching instead of whaling.

HEALTH IMPACT/SAFETY

Humans: Whale meat is consumed as part of the diet of Faroe Island natives. An independent study documented the effects of whale meat on Faroese children who were exposed to methyl mercury as fetuses. The results suggest that, overall, these children had reduced cognitive function even when pregnant women decreased their intake of whale meat below the tolerable weekly intake levels set by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Prolonged mercury exposure may cause irreversible neurologic damage to fetuses, infants, and young children. Faroe Islanders also consume cod fish; however, when examined for mercury content, cod was found to have about 95% lower methyl mercury content than whale meat. Thus, researchers concluded that the high level of methyl mercury in the diet of Faroe Islanders was from the consumption of whale meat; they also estimated that in order for the mercury intake of the Faroe Islanders to fall below the WHO tolerable weekly intake levels, the flow rate of mercury into the environment would need to be reduced by 50%. The WHO currently states that in order to sufficiently protect a developing fetus, the maximum methyl mercury level ingested by pregnant women should be no more than 1.6 micrograms per kg body weight per week.

Between 2000 and 2002, a team of scientists purchased whale meat samples from markets across Japan. The researchers measured the total mercury levels and performed genetic analyses to verify the species of each sample. On average, the total mercury level of false killer whale samples was 46.9 parts per million, with a high of 81.0 parts per million. In contrast, north Pacific minke whale samples contained an average of 0.10 parts per million. The researchers concluded that pollution levels in the ocean were substantially high, as even filter feeders like whales were accumulating contaminants. In a separate study, the team measured the mercury and essential heavy metal content in mixtures of boiled internal organs that were sold in retail stores. High mercury levels were found in these samples, with researchers stating that the levels were a thousand times greater than the most contaminated samples obtained from predatory fish in the United States. The researchers noted that acute mercury intoxication could result from a single meal of a whale's internal organs, with serious side effects like nervous system damage, coma, and even death. In June 2003, further studies suggesting that fetal exposure to methyl mercury could harm the developing nervous system led the Japanese health ministry to issue a warning to pregnant women to limit their consumption of certain whale products to no more than 60-80 grams per week.

Whales: Whales reproduce slowly, so the small number of whales being born each year is not able to keep up with the pace at which they are being killed. This has resulted in an overkill of the whale population, leading to the endangerment of many species of whales. Affected species include the blue whale, gray whale, fin whale, north Pacific right whale, north Atlantic right whale, and the sei whale.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), collisions with ships are known to injure or kill whales. The endangered north Atlantic right whale is at particular risk because it does not avoid large ships; as a result, ship/whale collisions cause 90 percent of known north Atlantic right whale deaths. In addition to collisions, the noise produced by shipping also disturbs whales and disrupts their natural habitats.

Impact on the environment: One controversial viewpoint states that over-whaling in the north Pacific has triggered a complex ecological chain reaction, leading to the decline of populations of harbor seals, fur seals, sea lions, sea otters, and kelp forest ecosystems. Hunting baleen and sperm whale populations is thought to have removed a major source of food for killer whales; it has forced them to prey on other marine mammals, disturbing the balance of the entire ecosystem. Many scientists are cautious in accepting this theory as the sole explanation for the problem; they do, however, agree that the timing of events, the diet and foraging behavior of both predator and prey, and feasibility analyses provide evidence to support the hypothesis.

FUTURE RESEARCH OR APPLICATIONS

There are still many uncertainties concerning the size and the growth rate of minke whale populations in northeast Pacific waters. Up to 1,015 minke whales are thought to inhabit the coastal waters of California, Oregon, and Washington, according to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Similar estimates have been made for blue and humpback whales in the same area, even though these whales are targeted by commercial whalers. This raises questions about the underlying reasons for the rarity of minkes: Minke populations should have grown dramatically when commercial whaling significantly reduced the numbers of other baleen whales, thereby reducing competition for food resources. Since this did not occur, minke whales may be part of a different ecological community from other baleen whales, an idea that could be explored in future research. Further research is also needed to determine the size and range of the minke whale population in Canadian waters.

Further research by environmental groups against lethal scientific whaling is necessary in order to contest this form of whaling. If newer, better methods to determine the age of whales can be developed, then countries like Japan would not need to continue their lethal scientific research. This would possibly stop their exploitation of the loophole in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) regulations.

More research on the methyl mercury levels in whale meat samples is warranted, especially as whaling nations like Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to consume whale meat that could possibly be polluted and dangerous to the health of their people.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

  • Booth S, Zeller D. Mercury, food webs, and marine mammals: implications of diet and climate change for human health. Environ Health Perspect. 2005 May;113(5):521-6. View abstract
  • Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. www.environment.gov.au
  • Fridtjof Nansen Institute. www.fni.no.
  • Humane Society International (HSI). www.hsus.org
  • International Whaling Commission (IWC). www.iwcoffice.org
  • Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. www.naturalstandard.com
  • Petroleum History Institute. www.petroleum history.org
  • Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS). Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling. www.wdcs.org


Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
 
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