Is caring about whales frivolous?

02006-09-04 | Uncategorized | 17 comments

Is caring about whales frivolous? | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist
Earlier this summer Japan, Norway, and Iceland announced that they planned to dramatically increase the scope of whaling, extending it to species that currently aren’t hunted. (They were eventually rebuffed by a small margin.) Upon learning this, I remember experiencing a strong sense of anger and frustration. Part of this was due no doubt to my recent trip to Hawaii and the opportunity I had to get up close to humpback whales, which were slated for slaughter by the Japanese. These magnificent creatures pose no threat to humans, are highly sentient (their famous songs are as complex as symphonies), and every year take part in the longest migration on the entire planet.

Great post about caring about animals versus caring about people. Click on above link to read the whole thing.


  1. Carol

    Seeing the way the porpoises played on the Outer banks, surfing along with my sons and swimming and jumping so close to our boat, so friendly like they’d like to get to know us better. They have so much to teach us I do believe.

  2. Mixalis


    Every living organism on this planet deserves our love and respect, especially, the humpback whales.

  3. ottmar

    I hope you read the whole article, because that’s the conclusion.
    If I look at the big picture, I have to say that humans are not threatened with extintion. Therefore I am more concerned with those species that are.

  4. david@tokyo

    It’s important to recognise that the whale species that are hunted today are not threatened with extinction, and that those species that are being hunted are being hunted in extremely small numbers relative to the size of their populations.

    For example, Japan is currently hunting approx 850 minke whales each austral summer. The IWC Scientific Committee estimates there to be hundreds of thousands of Antarctic minke whales. The number hunted each year does not even approach a single percentage point of the most pessismist abundance estimates.

    Humpback whales from the Antarctic are also slated to be hunted from next year – 50 from each of the ‘D’ (west Australian) and ‘E’ (east Australian) stocks each year. The abundance of humpbacks in the Antarctic is estimated to be more than 40,000 whales today. Again, 50 whales does not even approach a single percentage point of the estimated abundance.

    Truely endangered whale species such as the North West Pacific Grey whale, the Northern Right whale, and the Blue whale are not hunted by the whalers, and they have no plans to hunt them while they are at such low levels. The main threats to these species today is not whaling, but the threat of entanglement in fishing gear and ship strikes.

    Under resumed commercial whaling, the IWC Scientific Committee would set very conservative catch quotas, and any stock of whales that was believed to less than 54% of it’s estimated carrying capacity would be fully protected, always. This is far far higher than the “critical depensation” level of whale stocks. Over time, the IWC would set catch limits such that whale stocks would be maintained at optimally productive levels of around 70% of their estimated carrying capacity – higher than is the norm for fish stocks, which are usually depleted to around 30%-60% of their carrying capacity for maximum productivity.

    In short, scientists at the IWC have confirmed that whaling under their new procedure would be sustainable.

    The argument today about whaling is not about science but simply one of whether you believe whales should be seen as a valid source of food such as cows and fish, or whether you believe that they are “special” and should not be placed on menus.

    Those believeing that whales are too good for eating need to have convincing arguments if they are to change the views of peoples who see whales as just another source of food.

  5. ottmar

    How many dolphins get killed while hunting tuna, and how many endangereded whales get killed while hunting plentiful whales? And David, what do you do? You seem to be working for the whaling industry in some capacity, because it is a main subject in your blog. It would be fair to declare that.

  6. david@tokyo


    I’m not sure how many dolphins die while hunting tuna, although I hear that most by-catch is because of the purse-seine style of fishing.

    It is extremely rare for whalers to kill a whale and then discover that the got the wrong species. This happened once in 1998:
    And once in 2001:
    Thankfully despite this mistakes, which were acknowledged by the Government of Japan, both species were actually quite plentiful anyway, and are in fact included in the current JARPN II research program.

    DNA databases have also been establised in both Japan and Norway in recent years, so that the products found on the market can be tested and checked for legal origins. All whale meat sold in Japan has to be labelled down to the common species name now, as well (it used to be possible to sell dolphin meat as “kujira” (“whale”), but this is no longer permitted).

    I am not working for the whaling industry in any capacity, thus I’m in no position to declare such a thing. It is the main subject of my blog because I am very interested in matters surrounding whaling (as you have observed) and more generally the sustainable use of natural resources – as introduced by the IUCN (who publishes the Red List of endangered species each year):

  7. ottmar

    Those believeing that whales are too good for eating need to have convincing arguments if they are to change the views of peoples who see whales as just another source of food.

    Eating whale is certainly not like eating pork, chicken or cow. It is more like hunting deer, elk or bear.

    And I’ll take your word for it for now, but I am not convinced that you are not connected to the whaling industry. After all, it is very common for major record labels to hire people to whip up support for a certain artist by commenting on blogs, writing in forums… I would not be surprised if other industries have caught on to that by now.

  8. david@tokyo

    > Eating whale is certainly not like eating pork, chicken or cow. It is more like hunting deer, elk or bear.

    Or fish. And you are quite right. The vast majority of whales live their lives in freedom, with far less than a single percentage point of them dying at the hands of humans. Animals born into captivity will almost without fail die at the hands of humans.

    Unfortunately even fish such as Tuna are farmed in parts of the world today, artificially fattened by humans.

    From an aesthetic point of view I much prefer organically produced animal food. The food is “natural”, and I can eat in the knowledge that the animal lived a better life than a farmed animal
    (I don’t endorse this site, but it provides food for thought:

    Of course, when hunting animals it’s not as easy to control the killing, but I would still rather be born a wild animal than a farmed one. There is also the high probability of dying naturally.

    > And I’ll take your word for it for now, but I am not convinced that you are not connected to the whaling industry.

    OK :-) By the way, I had the same discussion elsewhere with another previously, if you are really interested:

    (By the way, the Tumeke blogger is now continuing his blog from his prison – but I digress).

  9. yumiko

    I think, “Is Caring about Whales Frivolous”, has many good points. The conclusion was very good:

    “In summary, there are dozens of problems deserving of our attention, and perhaps some of the energy spent on environmental causes would be better spent on directly ending human suffering; but in the end, the moral deficiencies that lead some to shoot elephants for sport, others to kill whales, and others to kill people are more intimately linked than many of us probably realize.”

    here is a recent article about whaling. the last sentence again is something that I believe has merit:

    Isn’t it sad that such beautiful creatures are positioned into being made a product?

  10. david@tokyo


    I’m not so convinced by the conclusion myself (nor most of the article to be honest). If killing whales for food is a “moral deficiency”, then surely the same can be said of killing pigs for food (I’m talking about abundant whale stocks here of course).

    The last article of the New Scientist article also does not impress me: “There’s no scientific proof that stocks are high enough for any whale hunts to be sustainable” – Claire Bass, of the EIA.

    On the contrary, IWC scientists today recognise that safe catch limits for whaling can be set. The IWC Scientific Committee unanimously agreed on this way back in 1992, 14 years ago. Here’s what some of them have been saying about it:

    1) Judy Zeh talking to Australia’s ABC a few years ago when she was Chair of the IWC Scientific Committee:
    “it’s certainly true that if commercial whaling were resumed under the revised management procedure, it could be managed safely”

    2) Greg Donovan, Head of Science at the IWC, commenting earlier this year:
    “From a scientific perspective, the IWC Scientific Committee has developed probably the most rigorously tested way to estimate safe catch levels for any marine species.”

    3) Doug Butterworth (fisheries management expert) on the “Revised Management Procedure”:
    “it is so risk averse that the only real scientific basis for questioning its immediate implementation is that it is so conservative that it will waste much of a potential harvest.”

    On the other hand, Claire Bass seems to be more interested in flashy headlines than proper scientific evaluations. I did a piece about some of her recent PR at my blog:

    On your last comment – do you feel that whales any more beautiful than nature’s other creatures?

  11. Mixalis

    Both the individual and societies have the moral responsibility of protecting and enhancing life…all life

  12. marijose

    From a public health standpoint, it’s hard to believe that whale meat can be sold despite the known risks of ingesting the mercury and other contaminants that are found in it.

  13. david@tokyo


    Some people see nothing immoral about taking the lives of animals to sustain themselves, so long as they do not extinguish these (what they see as) resources.

    Their morals differ from yours.

    What can you do? Can you convince them that your morals are the right ones and that theirs are wrong?

  14. ottmar

    For an Inuit hunting is life, but for us it is not. I do not find your arguments at all convincing. Most of them do not hold up at all and, if I get around to it these last couple of weeks before I leave, I will write a new diary entry. In fact because I am still doubtful as to your position in the whaling industry I am closing this forum to you. If anybody wants to continue this discussion with you they can go to your blog, but I am done with you.

  15. yumiko

    my, my, my….

    While I enjoy anyone’s passion to express themselves, the fine points of communication seem to be missing here. Restating, driving a point, challenging, expanding an opinion without conceding to other person to encourage a fair exchange are absent here.

    My Uncle E (he was born in 1917) when faced with these types of verbal skills would say:
    “…if you have that much to say….you must be right.”
    followed by:
    “…go ahead, continue. I’ll be right back.”

    My Uncle E was a very wise man and at this point in my life I measure others to him in their character.

    Upon writing this I say to david@tokyo:
    “…go ahead, continue. I’ll be right back.”

  16. Mixalis

    I must say, David@tokyo had me a little confused. I actually had to read his blogs twice. My feelings on the subject were very clear…we need to be more aware of our enviroment and everything in it. In some way all living-beings are connected so eliminating any of them disconnects us.

  17. Tricky-woo

    WOW! David@Tokyo you seem to have more than a passing whaling fetish! I wonder if you ever have time to nip out for the odd sake?!

    Just wondering what your thoughts were about the welfare aspects of whaling – Greenpeace presented footage of whales taking over half an hour to be killed, and then drowning, to the IWC recently. You gotta admit that that’s not as ‘nice’ as how pigs and things are killed..? Do you defend that as a method of killing a sentient animal? As a vegan I don’t condone/support killing any animals, not just whales, but it does seem that whales get a particularly rough ride in the slaughter department, though I do agree with you that until that point they have much better lives than – say – factory farmed pigs (who may well be more intelligent than whales).

    My belief is that the strong (humans) exploiting the weak (animals) is to be avoided at all costs. If people can get by without killing whales (and pigs and everything else) then they should, and Japan doesn’t need to kill whales does it? As humans evolve we should be doing our best to decrease the amount of animal suffering in the world, not adding new species to the list.



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