Educational Series: It’s 2018 and Countries are Still Killing Whales

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Japan recently set out on their annual whaling mission to kill hundreds of minke whales in the name of scientific research. On these excursions, whales are shot with a grenade harpoon that is connected to a moving ship, causing them to die a slow and painful death. In 2016, 200 of the minke whales killed by Japan were pregnant due to the fact that they perform these hunts during the whales’ breeding season. Japan is only one of three countries that continues hunting whales after a moratorium on commercial whaling was put in place by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC was set up in 1946 to protect whales from extinction and to regulate the commercial whaling industry. They set catch limits for certain areas and species, designate areas as whale sanctuaries, protect mother whales and their calves, and control the types of methods used when hunting is allowed.

In 1986, the IWC, after observing a steep decline of whale populations due to hunting, created a moratorium for commercial whaling dramatically decreasing the number of whales killed every year. Norway, Iceland and Japan have all sought out workarounds in order to continue their own personal whaling industries. Whaling is extremely detrimental to whale populations due to long reproduction cycles, and Japan’s hunting season aligning with breeding season makes that even harder. Japan uses the scientific research loophole to allow them to kill hundreds of whales every year, claiming that their mission is to perform “research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea”. Norway and Iceland both whale under an objection to the moratorium, and they self regulate their own quotas.

The international community is not blind to Japan’s abuse of the loophole and has been meeting to solve this problem. The European Union, along with Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, New Zealand, Panama, Peru and Uruguay have all come out against Japan’s abuse of the system, pointing out that these hunts are not based on science and provide no new scientific value. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has agreed that they are merely hunting whales for their meat. In 2015, the ICJ’s ruling prevented Japan from slaughtering whales during that year’s hunt, and their crews were only able to take skin samples and head counts of the whales, but by the next year, they were back at it killing over 300 whales.

Whaling is not only unsustainable and cruel, but their meat is also extremely unhealthy and can be dangerous when consumed. Top predators such as large mammals like whales accumulate large amounts of heavy metals and organochlorines of the smaller fish they feed on. These toxins bond easily with fat, making the high blubber content of whales the perfect storage place for them. Metals like mercury and organochlorines such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB’s) and dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT’s) are the most dangerous of the toxins found in whales, and they can cause major health problems in humans when consumed in higher quantities. PCB’s have shown to cause nerve damage, reproductive and developmental disorders, immune system suppression, liver damage, and endocrine disruption. DDT exposure has shown to cause certain types of cancer, as well as neurological and reproductive disorders. Mercury consumption can also cause neurological and developmental problems.

The most contaminated meat comes from fish or mammal eaters such as dolphins, sperm whales, and beaked whales. Minke whales are known to feed lower on the food chain, making them safer to consumer, but they still contain unsafe levels of PCB’s and pesticides. Even worse for those consuming whale, studies have found that dolphin or beaked whale meat is often sold under the name of “kujira”, claiming to be minke meat.

Japan, Norway, Iceland and Canada are the biggest consumers of whale meat, with Japan serving it in schools and hospitals to encourage the practice. But, the whale meat industry as a whole has been on the decline in recent years. It is no longer a sustainable business unless heavily subsidized by their governments. A large portion of the meat is being frozen and stockpiled, while some of it is actually making its way into US and South Korean restaurants. In Denmark, it is suspected to be found in farm animal food. But it isn’t just the food industry that is supporting this business. The health and beauty industry is also a big supporter, with whale products turning up in cosmetics and health supplements. Norway and Japan continue to invest into research for the potential of utilizing whale oil for pharmaceutical products, nutritional supplements such as fish oil, and to feed farmed fish and livestock. There are currently thousands of patents on products containing whale, and the products range from golf balls to eco-friendly laundry detergents to bio-diesel. The research into these new uses has shown an increase over the last few years, causing concern for some that the whaling industry may be on the rise yet again.

February 18th is World Whale Day. Celebrate this year by joining in on a fundraiser, spread the word on social media, and help bring awareness to the fragility of our oceans and all of those giant creatures who inhabit them. We have to educate the public on the dangers of whale meat consumption, as well as protect these majestic creatures from extinction. Public awareness can make a big difference in keeping the whaling industry unsustainable. Speak up and celebrate all whales on February 18th.

Photo credit: Pacman

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