For centuries, whaling vessels relentlessly chased aquatic leviathans across the world’s oceans, hurling harpoons into the giants’ flesh so their corpses could be processed and sold for
meat, oil and perfume. Unchecked whale warfare ultimately pushed cetaceans to the brink of extinction, but they were pulled back by a global moratorium on commercial whale hunting declared in 1986.
While this international treaty is far from perfect (having since allowed the killing of 35,000 whales for “scientific” purposes), it did set an important precedent that recognized humanity’s ethical obligation to protect endangered species from the excesses of industrial exploitation. But now, the commercial whaling ban is in danger of being overturned in the name of saving whales from eventual obliteration—and it is the U.S. government that today stands at the helm directing this controversial course of action:
U.S. Leads New Bid to Phase Out Whale Hunting
By JOHN M. BRODER, April 14, 2010
WASHINGTON — The United States is leading an effort by a handful of antiwhaling nations to broker an agreement that would limit and ultimately end whale hunting by Japan, Norway and Iceland, according to people involved with the negotiations.
The compromise deal, which has generated intense controversy within the 88-nation International Whaling Commission and among antiwhaling activists, would allow the three whaling countries to continue hunting whales for the next 10 years, although in reduced numbers. Read Full Story
Many whale species remain endangered, but President Obama apparently believes that the best way to save them in the long run is to legalize commercial whaling for a decade, and he will advocate for this agenda at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in June. Unfortunately, neither the New York Times nor the Administration* explains exactly how this plan will realistically protect whales now and in the future. The proposal’s proponents claim that compromising the moratorium will end up saving thousands of whales from slaughter through enhanced enforcement mechanisms and buying negotiators time to secure a permanent hunting ban down the road, but they offer no guarantees that whaling nations will be forced to stop whaling after the decade is up.
Given the information vacuum trailing in the Administration’s wake, Obama’s plan seems more than a bit fishy to me, and leaves them vulnerable to valid criticism from concerned citizens who feel they’ve been shut out of the discussion. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), for instance, calls the government’s proposal “a whaler’s wish list” that would open the Antarctic Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and North Pacific to Japanese whalers, and allow Norwegian and Icelandic whalers to continue violating scientifically-based conservation policies. IFAW also pointedly asserts that Obama’s proposal directly contradicts the promise he made during his candidacy to strengthen the international commercial whaling ban—not suspend it.
Will We Never Learn?
From shipping collisions and pollution to climate change and Navy sonar experiments, whale populations face graver threats today than ever before, and yet world leaders still refuse to take a strong stand for their preservation. If not now, then when will the international community forcefully confront whaling nations by shouting “enough already”? It’s the 21st century—and we should have stopped coddling this cruelly destructive industry decades ago.
Only a miniscule number of people actually work as whalers or consume whale meat, and yet somehow, society as a whole enables this tiny minority to decide whether or not whales will survive. Hunters obviously don’t care about the suffering of individual whales, or whether they eradicate any number of majestic and irreplaceable species, as long as they keep profiting from their deadly trade. Their bottom-line mentality is that they will continue slaughtering whales as long as there are whales left to slaughter—morality, sustainability and sanity be damned.
But is this attitude really so different from that held by the vast majority of Americans who refuse to stop eating meat, despite the suffering and death it brings to billions of animals a year and its role as the primary driver of global warming? No, not really. It is the same indifferent, shortsighted belief system rationalizing human domination over other species that is at the root of both behaviors—and will someday lead to our own annihilation if not reversed.
1) Call or email the White House and tell President Obama to reinforce rather than compromise the moratorium on commercial whaling.
2) Congress is currently considering a bill called the International Whale Conservation and Protection Act that would maintain and strengthen the commercial whaling ban and promote other worldwide cetacean protection efforts. Urge your elected officials in the House and Senate to co-sponsor and support this important bill.
* The White House website contains no mention of Obama’s position vis-à-vis commercial whaling, and their press agents have failed to return my phone and email inquiries as promised. This is the second time the White House has ignored my requests for information about their handling of animal protection issues: last month, a press officer personally assured me that someone would call me back the following day regarding the President’s position on shark finning for a post I was writing, but three weeks have now passed, and no one has responded.