A week ago I received an email that sparked this post.
An Appeal to the Public to Not Visit Iceland Until Icelandic Whaling Stops
Online environmental activist and CEO of FISH4TRAVEL, INC., Robert Bennett, is asking thousands of people every day not to visit Iceland until the country stops killing whales. A website named rescuethewhales.org was created to raise awareness of Icelandic whaling and the fact that endangered whales are being killed and the meat is being sold to Japan, in defiance of the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling.
The website is partnered with more than 100 travel websites that display thousands of advertisements to thousands of people every day stating “Iceland Kills Whales – I Will Not Visit Iceland”.
Resuethewhales.org [sic] finds irony in Iceland’s intractable actions which lie in their widespread attempts to attract tourism to their country for the purpo
se of whale sightings. The supporters of this campaign would like Iceland to understand that the public will not support Iceland’s whale sighting tourism while the country slaughters whales. With the support of well-known travel websites, such as pickatrail.com, the campaign aims to put an end to this cavalier attitude.
The public is encouraged to visit recuethewhales.org [sic] for more information regarding the killing of whales, and how the public can put a stop to these policies.
Two arguments against whaling exist. 1. Ethical–killing of any animal or more specifically a marine mammal is morally wrong. I won’t address this argument other than I find it hypocritical to protect whales for ethical reasons while simultaneously eating beef or pork. 2. Scientific–whales are endangered and takes of individuals are not only unsustainable but increase the risk of extinction.
From 1986-2007, Iceland took 562 whales (292 Fin, 70 Sei, and 200 Minke). Since 2003, Icelandic whale catches diminished considerably switching from Fin and Sei to Minke. For perspective, compare this to the reported 2,984 from the North Pacific and 9,409 from the Southern Hemisphere taken by Japanese from 1988-2009. Clearly, Japan and Iceland should be not be considered equals when it comes to whaling.
Of these three whales, Fin and Sei are endangered, occurring on the IUCN Red List. Minke are actually considered to separate species, Balaenoptera bonaerensis occurring in the Antarctic and Balaenoptera acutorostrata occurring globally. The Antarctic Minke are listed by the IUCN as Data Deficient, i.e. we do not have enough information on how many there are to make a statement about whether they are at risk. The other species, the ones taken by Iceland, are listed by the IUCN as least concern, i.e. not threatened. From IUCN…
There is no estimate of total global population size, but estimates from parts of the range in the Northern Hemisphere (totaling in excess of 100,000 individuals) show that it is well above the thresholds for a threatened category. While declines have been detected or inferred in some areas, there is no indication that the global population has declined to an extent that would qualify for a threatened category… The IWC recognizes four stocks of minke whales in the North Atlantic: Northeast Atlantic, Central North Atlantic, West Greenland, and Canadian East Coast. The last includes the US east coast. Population estimates were last reviewed by the IWC SC in 2003 (IWC 2004a), but a new estimate for West Greenland was accepted in 2006 (IWC 2007a). The best/most recent available estimates are listed in Table 1 in the linked PDF document (which constitutes an integral part of this assessment). These total about 182,000.
But here is key statement…
About 4,000 minke whales were taken off Iceland during 1941-85, but recent abundance estimates imply that this would have had no discernible effect on the population.
Nor would the current take of 20-50 per year. To summarize again, the North Atlantic stocks are well over 100,000 and a catch rate of one-two orders of magnitude higher than the current would be sustainable. Contrast this with the statement from above by RescueTheWhales
the fact that endangered whales are being killed
The problem here resides in the idea of passing an ethical argument off as a scientific one. I am for marine conservation but based on sound science not on morality. Conservation based on the later is weak and easily altered by our whims. Another issue also rises by confusing the two justifications for conservation. When people find out the actual truth, in this case that Minkes are not endangered, they target science as the culprit. The public starts to assume that science is inaccurate, capricious, or worse untruthful. When in actuality sound science was present throughout but ignored. You can see the danger in this first hand by looking at the post and comments section in Miriam’s recent piece.
Whether you choose to harvest or eat Fin or Sei is a scientific choice. We should not as both are endangered.
Whether you choose to harvest or eat Minke is an ethical question based on whether you choose to eat any animal, not just whales. And like I made the decision to eat domesticated cows or pigs or hunted animals like deer and rabbit, I so decided to eat Minke Whale on a recent trip to Iceland. Science says its ok.