We are having a bit of a debate on the BBC website at the moment. Richard Black has a very good blog that he writes on environmental issues, and we are trying to bottom out some points on the current push in the IWC on commercial whaling. If you want to take part have a look at Richard's piece and the comments. You'll see what we have been saying, and you may agree or may disagree. Have a look and join in the debate .
Someone asked me today what were the five biggest threats to cetaceans today and I had to think about the answer. Its not that I cannot list you a dozen threats, but actually the question made me reflect a little in terms of what I would say if asked again. I actually said that over fishing, prey depletion and bycatch were some of the biggest direct and indirect threats, but that these are doubly compounded by the fact that rapid climate change is causing these man made impacts spin out of control in very different ways that become hard to predict. That’s four threats. And whilst whaling and directed takes of cetaceans is nowhere near the impact of bycatch, politically the threat of whaling is even greater.
How so? you ask. Well if we allow commercial whaling to be legitimized, we are saying that this group of animals is just there for exploitation. How can we tell a developing country not to consume cetaceans caught in bycatch if they can point to developed rich countries that have no need to kill whales and dolphins, being supported by government subsidies to do so?
A pro-whaling lobbyist once told me that the reason his country was still supporting whaling was that they needed to stop the world from deciding that mankind could not manage the marine environment; to keep attention off the subject of other fisheries and keep us wrapped up in a debate that they don’t even think is worthwhile fighting for apart from they don’t wish to surrender a principle.
I should have said to the person who posed the question to me today, ‘what are the five top threats to cetaceans?’ The top two are - Poverty and Ignorance.
Ignorance allows mistakes to be made, and Poverty allows those with power to exploit that ignorance. Poverty is sometime a legitimate excuse for not being able to deal with some environmental problems, but it is regularly exploited in others who should know better. For example its regularly exploited by Japan economic imperialism to buy support for its policies. Those who dance to Japan’s tune, plead poverty to justify their ignorance, but the countries that are pursuing the current compromise strategy have no excuse. Their ignorance is a conscious choice, and for that they should be ashamed.