Over the last few weeks, a certain 'T. Leonard' has been writing to a local newspaper demanding that the Irish government follow the example of Iceland & Japan and turn the Irish fishing fleet over to whaling as a salvation to our economic woes. As far as he was concerned, the Save-the-Whale activists are nothing but a bunch of sentimental hippies out of touch with reality.
Not being a hippie, a sentimentalist or someone that lives in a fool's paradise, I decided to reply to him using arguments based on science and economics. Thankfully, today's Galway Advertiser published my letter which I include below with some of my youngest son's artwork of whales & dolphins.
In his letters, T. Leonard wonders why people are so obsessed with protecting whales. It is because these creatures are in so many ways the pinnacle of life on Earth.
Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) include the largest (blue whale) animal that ever existed, with a heart the size of a motorcar; the longest migration (humpback) and the deepest swim (sperm) of any mammal; the beautiful ‘songs’ or vocalisation of whales have inspired music, literature and science; dolphin sonar is more advanced than human technology and can even be understood by other species.
Letterfrack Youth Playing Music Inspired by Marine Life
They have been on the planet for 55million years. Yet in just over a century, many of the largest whales were driven close to extinction by the destructive technology of commercial whaling. Blue whales decreased from 300,000 to less than 1,000. The Atlantic Gray Whale actually did disappear.
Thankfully, concerned campaigners persuaded most states to end the bloodshed. But survival has not yet been guaranteed as whales only give birth to a single calf once every 2 or 3 years. In spite of a ban on the hunting of blue whales since 1966, there are still possibly only 5,000 in existence.
Yet the killing goes on. Japan annually slaughters tens of thousands of dolphins, and at least 1,000 whales supposedly for ‘scientific research’. The 2.5metre Baiji dolphin entered the Yangtze River 20 million years. But it was recently declared extinct after being wiped out in a in a few short years by rapid built development, pollution, overfishing and shipping. The UN declared much of China’s longest river a ‘dead zone’, as it now lacks sufficient oxygen to support fish. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will have a catastrophic impact on local Cetacean species.
T. Leonard says whaling should only be viewed as a ‘business’. If so, then it is an unnecessary, unwanted and unsustainable enterprise. There are alternatives to products once made from whales, and whale watching represents a growing profitable industry worldwide.
Furthermore, as someone that lived in Iceland, I know that there is no popular demand there for whale meat. Likewise in Japan, where public apathy and ever-growing stockpiles of frozen whale meat led to the government introducing it into school menus in order to force demand. Japanese scientists have warned though of the risks to human health due to the high levels of mercury in whale meat, brought about by humanity’s dumping of toxic waste into the oceans.
The 10,000 scientists of the World Conversation Union believe 40% of all species are now threatened by extinction due to habitat loss, mono-agriculture and human-induced climate change. Protecting large majestic endangered mammals positioned at the top of the food-chain such as whales, tigers and polar bears symbolises humankind’s attempts to finally reverse millennia of destructive behaviour on the very thin fragile surface membrane of Planet Earth that supports life. If we fail, then mankind’s own existence is threatened as all species are interdependent.
T Leonard gives the impression eco-campaigners do nothing themselves to clean up the huge amounts of waste dumps whose existence they exposed in the Pacific and elsewhere. Not so. In fact he is welcomed to join the hundreds of Galwegians that regularly clean up the ever-increasing rubbish that destroys the beaches, waterways, forests and parks that is home to wildlife and a prime leisure environment for humans. The next monthly community clean-up takes place along Salthill’s beaches on Saturday September 18th, starting at 12.00pm from Atlantaquaria.