Whaling is an immoral, senseless and completely inhumane activity, which, in addition to that all, poses threats to whale populations and should therefore be strictly regulated or terminated.
I. Duncan, Jancar-Webster and Switky offer several arguments why whaling should be perpetuated:
A. Most whale stocks in the world ocean are safe and large enough to hunt.
B. Trade in whalemeat and other whale products can stimulate ailing economies.
C. Samples should be obtained from internal organs of whales to ensure accurate results in scientific studies.
II. When explaining rationales for the prohibition of whaling, Stoett speaks economic inexpediency of this activity.
A. Whale watching as an innocuous alternative to whale hunting has generated about $1 billion in 2010 alone.
III. Duncan Jancar-Webster and Switky offer two main reasons against whaling.
A. Culling whales for scientific purposes is only a scam used to cloak commercial purposes.
B. Whales breed slowly and it takes them several decades to recover from depletion.
IV. According to Kalland and Persoon, arguments against whaling have changed since the movement gained momentum in the 1970s.
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A. They were purely ecological 50 years ago; now they are based on morality.
Despite the 1986 whaling moratorium issued by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), whale hunting still poses a formidable challenge to the international community. The three greatest whaling nations – Iceland, Norway and Japan – are believed to have slain more than 16,000 whales between 1986 and 2013, but some commentators opine the number is even higher. Oftentimes, these nations try to cloak their defiance of the IWC ban and the international opinion in platitudes about the need to hunt whales for scientific research. At other times, they do not even care to explain their behavior and simply carry on whaling. By doing so, they thwart global whale conversation efforts.
The present paper posits that whaling is a nefarious practice inimical to environmental sustainability and offers a range of reasons to maintain – solidify, even – the ban on whaling to prevent the repetition of the tragic history of commercial whaling. To insure objectivity and impartiality, the paper also presents the most commonly used arguments in favor of allowing whaling. A robust, thoroughly researched paper on whaling should include the history of whaling, IWC bans and moratoriums, efforts on the part of some nations to resuscitate the industry, violations of IWC bans, international opinion on whaling, and an analysis of ethical considerations of whaling. While this paper tries to discuss all these issues, it is focused mainly on the arguments for and against whale hunting. The bottom line is that whaling is an immoral, senseless and completely inhumane activity, which, in addition to that all, poses threats to whale populations and, therefore, should be terminated.
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The history of whaling traces as far back as 3,000 BC and, perhaps, even to earlier times. At the time, whaling provided a lavish quantity of food for daily sustenance, but little else. With time, however, people learned to use whale products for a variety of other purposes. The earliest applications of blubber – that is, the fat – were for lighting, while whale bones were used as a solid material to make some tools. In the Middle Ages, whale products acquired a variety of other uses. Baleen, teeth and other whale bones came to be used in the manufacturing of corselets, which came into fashion in the late 18th century, and some other garments, because they could be easily converted into a flexible fabric. The fabric made of whale bones was similar in its properties to modern plastic. Many plastic items seen on the shop shelves today were made of whalebone throughout the late 19th century. Whaling nations stocked whale teeth and baleen for the similarly ridiculous purposes that European colonial powers stocked ivory in Africa. For instance, piano keys, chess pieces, billiard balls used in cue sports and other items were all made of ivory and/or whale teeth. The two materials were valued for their hardness and resilience.
However, as the Industrial Revolution swept the world in the 20th century, the rationale for using whale products to fabricate these and other products vanished. There was simply no explicit need for it. Indeed, as oil wells were discovered in the early 19th century, oil extracted from the bowels of Earth became a decent equivalent to blubber, thereby demolishing any rationale for the use of blubber in industry. Plastics and steels invented during the Industrial Revolution, too, were promising in their blinding magnificence for the industry and could be used to replace baleen, teeth and whale bones. However, the commercial hunting of whales did not stop; nor did it scale down. It may not be surprising that people embarked on their whaling barks centuries ago, when the choice was limited, but what motivated them after the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution remains a question. Perhaps, they simply did not want to give up this well-established activity, which became sacrosanct in some places over time. For example, in Faroe Islands, located halfway between Iceland and Norway and belonging to Denmark, the whale killing festival, with people gathered on the shore to slaughter the beached whales, takes place annually even today. Other examples of massive whale killing abound.
Although the first cautious attempts to ban whaling were made as early as in the 1910s, the fight for the conservation of whale populations and prohibition of whaling did not start in earnest until the early 1970s. The International Whaling Commission, founded in 1946 to coordinate the conservation efforts and enforce related international treaties, was largely effete at its basic function for the first several decades. It was at this time that the outcry against whaling reached hitherto unprecedented global levels and the IWC made genuinely bold attempts to end whale hunting. In 1986, the commission imposed an indefinite moratorium on legal commercial whaling, making some reservations, which supposedly does not endanger whale stocks.
According to Kalland and Persoon, the current anti-whaling campaign is more complex than it was three decades ago and includes “a number of NGOs fighting under different banners and using various strategies” (Kalland & Persoon 32). Some, such as World Wildlife Fund, simply circulate anti-whaling rhetoric; others, such as the Earth Island Institute and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, boycott whaling nations and whaling advocates; and the most vehement among them, such as Greenpeace, commonly harass whaling ships and destroy hunting equipment right in the open sea.
Arguments in Favor of Whaling
Whaling nations and supporters work at a frenetic pace to prove the international community that there must be some whale products on the market. At the forefront of the pro-whaling campaign are Iceland, Japan and Norway, where whale meat has become a staple over the centuries. It may not be the most savory dish for foreigners, but it certainly satisfies local finicky palates. Likewise, fishermen have caught whales and other cetaceans for centuries because of their blubber – that is, their fat. Blubber is valuable, as it can be used for lighting purposes. Historically, it has also been used as an industrial oil to lubricate machines and components. By the same token, it is still used – to a certain extent, at least – in the production of paints, varnishes, soaps, ropes and textiles. Although most of these uses have been consigned to history already, they still persist in some indigenous communities not only in Japan, Norway and Iceland, but also in Australia, Canada and some other states. It is not surprising then that indigenous artisans and simply hard-core whaling advocates adduce this evidence to buttress their point of view.
Just as arguments against whaling, arguments in favor of whaling have metamorphosed with time. Few diplomats or entrepreneurs broach the subject of whale products being indispensable in cuisines and manufactories. On the contrary, they shifted their reasoning toward scientific purposes. Even the IWC specialists agree that samples should be obtained from internal organs of whales to ensure robust scientific research and accurate results (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 226). Internal organ sampling supposedly gives a more precise identification of the condition of the world ocean. Owing to this research, it has been found repeatedly that whale organs contain abnormal amounts of mercury (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 226), which suggests that all marine life may be in peril. One way or another, whaling supporters argue that the situation should be monitored [read whales should be killed] constantly to observe how the situation changes with time. The IWC adopts a similar position on the issue and approves whaling for scientific purposes, consciously conniving at massive whale killings.
Economic expediency is yet another argument commonly used by pro-whaling advocates. Pro-whaling economists and politicians alike, especially those living in the whaling nations, opine that trade in whale meat and other whale products can give a powerful fillip to the ailing economy (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 226). This argument was most eagerly embraced by some politicians in Iceland in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. Responding to the accusations of whaling opponents, they often reiterate that most whale stocks in the world ocean are safe and the number is large enough to hunt (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 226). Supporters of whaling in Ireland, for example, “have pointed out that according to most recent estimates, there are over 40,000 common minke whales in the Icelandic coastal waters and almost 26,000 fin whales”, arguing that “controlled hunting would not put these species in any danger” (Halfdanarson 229). The Japanese say that there are 760,000 whales in the Antarctic (Kalland & Persoon 32).
The big whaling nations grumble because they cannot hunt whales, whereas Alaskan Inuits and some other indigenous populations around the world have received a dispensation from the IWC to catch “bowhead whales believed to be among the most endangered of all cetaceans” (Kalland & Persoon 32). Indeed, the bowhead stock decreased to somewhere between 1,800 and 2,900 in 1979, down from the original population of nearly 18,000 (Kalland & Persoon 32). The explanation for this is simple: commercial whaling is covered by the moratorium, whereas Inuit whaling, classified as “aboriginal subsistence whaling”, is exempted from the moratorium. However, there is much cynicism in the remonstrations of the nations engaged in commercial whaling. Whaling for scientific purposes often serves as a mere pretext for illegal commercial whaling.
Moreover, pro-whaling advocates often intone insincere pieties about the morality of whaling. From their perspective, killing whales is not a bigger crime than killing a cow, chicken, deer or other animal. Surprisingly, similar beliefs are held by many common people in the historically whaling nations. According to Halfdanarson, commercial whaling has enjoyed overwhelming support in Iceland and other whaling nations “because the opinions of those who opposed whale hunting were branded as unscientific and overly sentimental” (229).
Arguments Against Whaling
As mentioned in the previous sections, “arguments against whaling have changed since the movement gained momentum in the 1970s” (Kalland and Persoon 32). Back at the time, the arguments were purely ecological. However, after an ever-growing cascade of literature had shown that not all whale species were endangered and could be hunted, anti-whaling advocates began to inveigh against the killing of whales on the grounds that the practice was immoral and unethical. Among other commonly adduced arguments against whaling is that whales breed very slowly and uncontrolled hunting in fact drives them to the verge of extinction. Below is a detailed analysis of these arguments.
Rebutting the argument that whaling is economically expedient, whaling opponents aver that whales have higher economic value when they are alive. In addition to making their indelible contribution to ecological sustainability, which can also translate into economic well-being of maritime nations, the international community can also generate revenues from the increasingly popular whale watching. The “Meet Us, Do Not Eat Us” campaign, launched in 2010 to encourage tourists to observe whales in their natural environments instead of ordering whale steaks in recherché restaurants, has generated about $1 billion in its first year (Stoett 85). Now countries like Norway and Iceland and their maritime neighbors beckon tourists not only because of their traditional attractions, but also because of a possibility to go whale watching. Hence, if these governments decide to develop whale watching business instead of hunting, it will potentially yield greater revenues than whale hunting without decimating these poor creatures. Whales have few natural foes. They can only be stranded ashore or killed by humans. The argument eagerly embraced by whaling opponents is that whale watching industry will develop friendly relations between whales and humans.
Staunch opponents of whaling also assert that culling whales for scientific purposes should end, because there is no need for it (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 227). Indeed, in the age when scientific progress is mesmerizing, killing whales to obtain samples seems a retrograde, if not barbaric, measure. Instead of catching and disemboweling whales, scientists could use tiny projectiles to collect samples of blubber and skin tissues. Such projectiles only hit the skin and do not inflict as much pain on whales as exploding harpoons do. Moreover, the sampled whale stays alive. There is extensive footage on the Internet of genuine marine life researchers taking samples from whales without hurting these peaceful creatures. The scientists could also devise a way to collect samples from internal organs of whales without killing them. Likewise, they could examine hundreds of whales that are annually washed ashore instead of killing new ones. Most important, however, there are fears in anti-whaling quarters, that permitting whaling for scientific purposes opens loopholes in the regulations, as the whaling countries hunt whales for commercial reasons in the name of science.
The use of the so-called catch quotas issued by national governments and international organizations in some instances creates another loophole in the whaling regulations. Countries have no compunctions about exceeding the imposed quotas and hiding evidence of their misdemeanor thereupon.
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Ethics is perhaps the most favorite argument of whaling opponents. As whale meat, baleen and whale teeth are all replaceable nowadays, whaling is more often seen as immoral and unethical. Scientific research also has little value to whaling opponents as ethical substantiation of hunting whales. Moreover, many whaling opponents claim that the industry itself has become corrupt and highly immoral. Duncan, Jancar-Webster and Switky highlight “the unethical tactics used by pro-whaling states in the international arena” (227). Japan, for example, commonly resorts to bribery to win the support of some states in the IWC (Duncan, Jancar-Webster & Switky 227).
However, the strongest argument of whaling opponents is, of course, the deadliness of this activity. Whaling administers an irreparable blow to whale populations, and it may take them several decades to recover from “any depletion” (Duncan, Jancar-Webster and Switky 227). It is also a matter of conventional wisdom that, while not all species of whales are endangered, the overall whale stock is much smaller than it used to be two centuries ago. Because whales breed and mature slowly, whale hunting needs to be, at least, seriously restricted.
Currently, the prospects of banning whaling become persistently positive. Even in Japan, where whaling has been generally considered as a normal practice by broad masses, whale watching is gradually becoming a more popular pastime and whale meat is not considered as palatable delicacy as it once was. Nevertheless, despite all IWC moratoriums and the growing public outrage at whale hunting, the practice still thrives in some areas of the world. Large whaling vessels belonging to companies and small whaling barks belonging to entrepreneurial individuals still traverse oceans in quest for whale meat. Even small barks are equipped with the tools to kill, flense and disembowel whales. They often cross international borders to reach hunting grounds. Apparently, commercial whaling is lucrative, but it is also illegal, corrupt and immoral. As this paper has shown, arguments adduced by whaling supporters are weak and based on fraud. Whaling for scientific purposes is a scam and economic benefits of whaling are doubtable. While the IWC has taken adequate measures to end legal commercial whaling, it has done little to prevent illegal commercial whaling. The future of sustainable whaling is threatened by the activities of illegal businesses and intransigence of national governments.