Whales and Big Business

At present two of the richest countries are still engaged in big-time whaling—Japan and Norway. Norway alone kills about 500 whales a year. Iceland is hopefully on way to ending commercial whaling. However other smaller offenders still remain. All this is still happening despite years of highly dedicated efforts by conservationists and all those who value life.

If it was not for these efforts, the scale of the cruelty would have been much higher. At the height of the slaughter, about a century back, nearly 50,000 whales were being killed in a year.

Earlier also the Japanese whalers had made their profits not just from whale meat but also more and more significantly from whale oil (sperm oil, train oil, melon oil etc. from various different species).

In the post war years the shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis also made huge money from whaling by ignoring regulations, but when he got into trouble the Japanese were quick to buy his whaling business, so that his whaling vessel The Olympic Challenger now made its appearance as the Kyokuyo Maru II. The Japanese too had hardly any inhibitions about breaking conservation regulations. In 2002 the World Wildlife Fund for Research published an open letter by an international team of scientists which stated that Japan’s whaling research programme had failed to meet minimum standards for credible science.

The International Convention on Whaling sought to check commercial whaling from 1986 onwards but whalers continued to exploit loopholes like allowing ‘research based hunting activities’! So all that the whale killers had to do was to get scientific papers written as a part of their killing sprees!!

Whales actually make a very important contribution to maintaining the balance of ocean life. When whales dive deep in the ocean and then come up, they bring with them important nutrients from the bottom to the surface. This circulation of nutrients helps to create conditions for the abundance of phytoplankton. In addition faeces of whales also contribute to this. Phytoplankton in turn provide the basis for the flourishing of a vast diversity of smaller forms of ocean life. In addition these also absorb carbon while releasing oxygen.

Hence apart from being extremely cruel, killing of whales is very harmful for environment and ocean biodiversity.

In any case whales face threats from ecological ruin and pollution of oceans, including chemical and plastic pollution. Hunting of whales adds greatly to these threats, particularly as more females and pregnant ones are killed.

Hunting of whales often leads to reduction of smaller fish catch for traditional fishers and their livelihood is therefore adversely affected. As a result several times conflicts have developed between traditional fishers and big whaling interests but big whaling interests have the power of money on their side.

[Contributed by Bharat Dogra]

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Vol 56, No. 52, Jun 23 - 29, 2024