Global environmental challenges
Emotive debate resurfaces as whale meat exports resume
Thar she blows! An emotive and familiar but very important debate.
News that Iceland and Norway have resumed whale meat exports to Japan for the first time since the early 1990s despite a U.N. ban is the latest twist in a saga that stirs passions in the conservation and animal welfare communities like few others.
The bottom line: Norway, Iceland and Japan hunt and eat whales despite a 1986 International Whaling Commission moratorium on these practices and condemnation from many countries.
There have been predictable howls of protest from various green and animal welfare groups.
The United States has also voiced its displeasure and urged Iceland and Norway to cease exporting whale meat to Japan.
Most countries are officially opposed to the practice of whaling. But critics like the United States also allow the trapping of wild fur-bearing mammals for the fashion trade; non-whaling Canada has an annual and controversial annual seal hunt.
South Africa is staunchly opposed to killing whales but some wildlife officials there would like to resume elephant culls to contain its swelling population of the massive pachyderms.
This list could be endless but the broader point is that we seem to pick and choose some animals for preferential treatment.
Some environmental groups say whale populations are too low and that a resumption of sanctioned hunts could lead to unsustainable pressures. The whaling trio respond that stocks of species such as the minke whale are abundant and the animals are far from endangered.
But at the end of the day opposition to whaling seems to be mostly ground in the suffering inflicted on an iconic “poster animal” which many humans admire for its size, intelligence and perceived ability to experience emotions.
In short, something with human-like qualities. Wildlife biologists even have a term for the creatures who seem to get more attention: charismatic megafauna. Not something you want to see writhing at the end of a harpoon.
What do you think? Do you think whales and a few other creatures get special treatment that coyotes and crocodiles don’t get? And is their iconic status exploited by animal-welfare groups for fund raising purposes?
Or do we have a moral duty to protect intelligent mammals, who have traits which raise ethical questions about how we treat them? And are whale stocks still too low or uncertain to begin hunting them even if you have no problem with their commercial exploitation?