When the original authors of the Moratorium created what is now regarded as one of the greatest achievements of conservation, the intent was that we would have time to see what was happening with whales, without the pressure of whaling.
Putting aside the fact that some countries don’t like agreeing to such international rules, (Iceland, Norway and Japan), the idea was that we knew so little about whales and their lives, it would allow us a breathing space in which to be able to get to know the social structures and intricacies of these remarkable creatures lives much better. It was not all meant to be about counting them better.
Work just published in the Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology shows that female humpback whales develop friendships.
Dr Christian Ramp, one of the authors, speculates that humpback whales associating with one another may have made it easier for them to be caught in the past by commercial whalers. If that did occur, it would also mean that whaling may have removed social groups of humpbacks, and their preference to form friendships with other whales. "Maybe the social traits are re-evolving due to rebounding populations, or they are completely different to the ones before, due to changes in the environment." Ramp postulates.
This is the kind of thing that the Moratorium was meant for us to be able to find out, but we have been constrained from finding more because there has never been a true pause in whaling.
Japan and Greenland want to hunt humpbacks, yet this emergent evidence of social bonding should make us all stop and think carefully about such hunts. Not only does it reveal something about the complexities of cetacean life, but if this behavour has been rarely observed, maybe it’s telling us something about how long it takes whales to recover from previous hunting. And not just recover in numbers, but recovery in terms of their social learning and cultures. The wiping out of whole social groups may have had as dramatic effect as wiping out whole genetic groupings.
The legacy of previous whaling is still with us and may have been more dramatic than we first envisaged.
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