3. A sad provisional Appraisal
It is estimated that 2,7 million whales were killed between
1890 and 1990. This means: Until today humans have “succeeded”
in destroying 90 to 95 percent of the most commercially used
whale species by whaling and pollution of the oceans. Other species,
like the Atlantic and the Okhotsk-Korean gray whale, as well as
the North Atlantic right whale are already extinct.
The current population of blue whales is estimated to be less than
8000 animals. The future of the right whale looks even bleaker:
There are maybe 1500 whales left world-wide – from the
“right whale” to the “raided whale” …
The continuous existence of the current whale population would
still be threatened, even if no more whales were shot. The pitiless
hunt of larger breeding-age males has lead to an imbalance in the
male-to-female ratio, leaving many of the still living without a
partner. Pollution of the oceans and the ruthless use of drift nets
are doing their part, so that according to the “International
Whaling Commission” IWC annually over 300,000 whales,
bottlenose dolphins and other dolphins die an untimely death.
The facts are tragic enough but they become inconceivable with
the knowledge that there is not a single product derived from whales
that could not be substituted by an alternative product. Jojoba
oil, synthetic lubricants and plastics have made Spermaceti, Ambra
grisea, or whalebone superfluous as raw materials.
So why are the whales still slaughtered? Not taking into account
the internationally regulated aboriginal subsistence whaling, it
is claimed that whales are hunted for “scientific purposes”.
However, the fact is that more often whale meat can be found as
an expensive delicacy on Japanese plates as opposed to in laboratories.
Or, as reported at the 55th meeting of the IWC, in tins of
animal food …
4. Protection Measures
The “International Whaling Commission” IWC was founded
on 2nd December 1946. Oddly enough, first, as a lobby for several
whaling nations. The purpose of the amalgamation was the regulation
of international fishing quotes – but not so much to protect
the whales but to protect the interest of the fishing industry.
Currently the IWC has 49 member states.
In the past decades the IWC has orientated itself more and more
towards the protection of species. There has been a continuous tightening
of catch limits, and the permitted quotas have been reduced accordingly.
Unfortunately the IWC has had little influence on the uncooperative
whaling nations, due to lack of control- and sanctioning mechanisms.
Example: the IWC “Moratorium”. This ban was voted on
in 1982 and came into force in 1986. Although whaling was banned
internationally, some countries like Japan, Norway, the former USSR,
Korea and Iceland soon took up whaling again. Norway still ignores
this decision. After a short break, Norway took up whaling again
in 1993. To this day they especially target the population of mink
In 1973 the “Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species” (CITES) was ratified by 121 countries, which
also prohibits the import and export of products derived from whales.
However, more than 1,7 million whales were killed between 1946
and 1986 and not a small portion after the ratification of the CITES
At present mostly private organizations are concerned about the
protection of the remaining whale population. In the past few years
efforts were successful in bringing the alarming situation of these
sea mammals into the public eye.
Organizations like “Greenpeace” helped, also the “World
Wildlife Fund” (WWF), the German organization GSM, who are
fighting for the conservation of marine mammals, the “International
Fund for Animal Welfare” (IFAW), the “Sea Life Resources
Institute”, the “International Union for Conservation
of Nature and Natural Resources” (IUCN) as well as other organizations.
At a convention of the IWC in 1992 members upheld the existing
Moratorium. The European Parliament also repeatedly formulated resolutions
to ask IWC-member states to keep to the Moratorium and to create
appropriate sanctioning mechanisms.
There are many non-political ways to support the protection of
the whales. Books, exhibitions, TV reports (and even Comics ;-›)
can make people aware of the need to act with a view to conservation.
On a more personal level: “Whale-Watching Tours” give
people the opportunity to experience these amazing giants of the
sea close-up, to touch and look them in the eye. Such direct contact
helps to foster appreciation for the beauty of these animals.
The rule is: What humans care about they protect.
Photos (from the top): Jens F. Ehrenreich (illustration); IMSI Masterphotos, USA (2);
Paul Bauer, by kind permission of Gottfried Bauer, Germany (5); IMSI Masterphotos, USA;
Picture archive (2); IMSI Masterphotos, USA