Should we kill whales for food?

humpback-whale

Whaling, the practice of hunting and killing whales, is a controversial one. it is banned in many countries but others continue the practice. Notably Japan, Iceland and Norway. During my recent trip to Iceland I came face to face with the issue. Specifically, I want to look at the issue of hunting whales for food.

My initial reaction was to agree with the anti-whaling campaign. Whales are very cool. If you had asked me where they are on the endangered status, I would have probably said somewhere in the middle.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if the answer was obviously no. I am a pretty poor vegetarian, regularly eating meat. The animals I allow to be killed so that I can eat them include cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, fish, crabs, well, to be honest, the list just keeps going. Surely one should decide not to allow animals to be killed for food, or decide that it is okay? Why should whales receive special treatment?

Endangered status

One reason could be that we could seriously damage whale stocks. We do this with most fish already of course. However, since commercial whaling was banned in 1986, whale populations have been doing okay. The most common type of whale you find in Iceland, the minke whale, has never been considered endangered and continues to have a strong population.

Thanks to the low levels of hunting, it is now done at a very sustainable level. This would change if all countries started commercial whaling operations again, but for the moment there is no issue with the current level.

Hunting methods

It’s true that whale hunting has traditionally been unpleasant. They are harpooned. Japan now uses exploding harpoons that attempt to instantly kill the whale. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.

However, there is also a flip side. All whales are wild, freely roaming the sea until they are hunted. This could be preferable to the way we often factory-farm cows and chickens, kept in pens and cages for the sole purpose of our slaughter?

Intelligence

Some species of whales are very intelligent. This is less true of some of the more actively hunted species. However, it is also worth us taking another look at our current dietary choices. If we are going to say no minke whale, we also need to say no pig, because they too are an intelligent group of mammals.

Other dangers

Hunting is not the only danger that whales face. In fact, other issues are putting them under more threat than hunting. These include:

  • Pollution. There is so much crap in the ocean that whales are eating debris, finding it indigestible, and starving to death with a full stomach. A number of dead whales in Germany were found to have their stomachs full of plastic.
  • Reduced habitat. Some whales can only live in cold water. As sea level temperatures rise, their habitat becomes smaller and smaller. Changes to the acid levels also have an effect.
  • Change in eco-system. The changes in temperature also affect other critical parts of the ecosystem. Food sources may adopt different migration patterns and other predators may encroach into the whales’ territory.
  • Over-fishing. Whales eat fish, so when we take all the fish out of the sea, there is nothing for them to eat.

Conclusion

Should we kill whales for food? Probably not. But then, we should not be killing any other animals for food either. If we are going to continue to do that, then there does not seem to be a good reason why whales should be granted a special exemption. Currently whaling levels are sustainable, which is far less true of much of the fishing industry.

We should protect whales. However, the real threats to them are pollution, climate change and over-fishing. These are the most pressing issues for us to tackle.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 15th, 2016 at 10:15 am and is filed under Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.