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Help the Whales!
by Libby Eyre
Introduction
All eyes peered hard into the watery depths below, breaths sucked in anticipation.
Just below the surface a faint shape in glowing aqua could be seen moving under the boat. Moments later, the mammalian submarine surfaced with a mighty “phfooof”, and there were cheers and cries from those on board.
The example of Humpback Whales
Each year many coastal areas in the Southern Hemisphere are visited by Humpback Whales, as they make their way from icy feeding grounds in the Antarctic to tropical mating and calving grounds.
They are a species that favours relatively shallow water, making them ideal subjects for land-lubbing humans to observe and enjoy.
Whale watching is big business in many countries, with daily boat trips organised during the peak of the migration period, or whilst the whales are on their calving areas.
For poorer nations, such as those in the South Pacific, taking tourists out to spend time with whales is a relatively low-cost operation with valuable returns. And the benefits do not stop with the economy. A greater sense of awareness concerning marine conservation, and a heightened sense of connectedness with our aquatic subjects can produce a desire to protect marine areas and learn more about these amazing creatures.
Whale Watching Vs. Whaling
Erich Hoyt, who has produced many literary works on the global benefits of whale watching, puts whale watching worldwide as worth some US$1 billion in revenue each year, more than 20 times the net revenue of commercial whaling activities.
Killing whales brings in a small profit to a very small number of people, and is costly to set up and maintain.
The Japanese whaling industry is heavily subsidised by the government. It is quite obvious that whales are worth much more (to many more) alive than dead, which brings us to the latest threat of whaling and Southern Hemisphere whales.
Scientific Whaling
Media reports have abounded during the last two weeks of a Japanese proposal to expand its "scientific" catch quota in the Antarctic.
The target of 440 minke whales will be increased to over 800, and there is now the plan to include fin whales and humpback whales.
The reasoning for this, says the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, is that these three species are increasing, and the Japanese need to research the Antarctic Ocean ecosystem and find a way of managing whale resources.
These so-called whale resources are not the sole property of the Japanese to take as they wish. Whole livelihoods, from South America to Tonga depend on healthy stocks of whales to support their tourism industries.
Scientists have not agreed on the numbers of these species, which is why commercial whaling poses such a danger to whale populations which are still recovering from last century’s commercial whaling.
Mechanised whaling, in any form or guise, is not sustainable, and recent history shows us this.
Endless slaughters and protection attempts
Humpback whales received protection in 1962, after they were almost exterminated by commercial whaling.
For some populations, such as those that pass New Zealand and calve in Tonga, their numbers have shown little sign of increase.
These highly migratory animals do not belong to any one government or nation.
In 1994, The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was developed, in order to protect whales in these waters.
The Japanese proposal will very likely fall within Australian Antarctic territorial waters, which under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 is part of the Australian Whale Sanctuary.
This is an argument the Australian sector of Humane Society International has been seeking to argue in the Federal Court of Australia.
Current threats to the whales
Whales worldwide face many threats, in the forms of overfishing of their food resources, habitat degradation, heavy metal bioaccumulation, increased noise and stress, and global warming.
Throw commercial whaling into the mix, and many stocks will not be able to cope.
There is no humane way of killing whales on the high seas, and it is common knowledge that the Japanese use the name of science to cover what is essentially a harvest for human consumption.
The meat from the scientific catches is sold to Japanese markets and restaurants where only a small portion of the community can afford to dine.
Non-Lethal Research Methods
Whales can be researched using non-lethal means. This includes small biopsies of skin, faecal samples and photo-identification.
With rapid advances in the technology used to observe and track animal populations, we will see valuable information obtained on animals such as whales, which can be logistically very hard to study.
Killing whales produces limited information from only those animals that are dead. Observing living whales, throughout their life history, provides continual returning information on individuals and populations at the very least.
The next International Whaling Commission meeting
The precise plans of the Japanese proposal will be laid out at the upcoming International Whaling Commission meeting in Korea in June.
Here, it is expected that the increased pressure by the pro-whaling nations will force the lifting of the moratorium that was created to give whale stocks time to recover.
It is insulting to think that some of those countries that will be voting to resume commercial whaling are land-locked, or have had no history of whaling, yet have been offered aid and financial incentives by the Japanese in what is termed vote-buying.
However, moratorium or no moratorium, it is highly likely the Japanese will push ahead with the plan to target more whales in the Antarctic this coming summer, including the friendly humpback that came alongside the boat and raised it long white flippers, as if in a gesture to say "hello" as you and your children excitedly waved back.
Help the Whales!
If you are interested in helping whales, contact your local Greenpeace, Humane Society International, Project Jonah, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) or International Fund for Animal Welfare office.

Author: Libby Eyre
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