Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

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Did Iceland not get the memo, or what?

They just broke a 21-year international moratorium on commercial whaling by killing an endangered fin whale. Last week Iceland announced that it planned to resume commercial whaling (Norway and Japan already are doing it), flouting the ban put in place by the International Whaling Commission in 1985.

Now, they aren’t going to be just harpooning willy-nilly; they will only take in 9 fin whales and 30 minke whales each year. This is in comparison to Norway’s quota of 1052 minke whales per year, and whatever Japan catches for “research” purposes. What’s the point of whaling anymore, really? Any product that was previously taken from whales (meat, oil, whalebone, ambergris, etc) now has a cheap synthetic alternative.

Here’s a cool guide to different whale species. In case you wanted to know what they were skewering.

Comments

  1. #1 Ignignockt
    October 23, 2006

    To be fair, they withdrew from the commission and are no longer bound by its decisions. Sort of like countries that have withdrawn or never ratified the NPT. Technically legal, but definitely not cool.

  2. #2 Dennis
    October 23, 2006

    Synthetic whale meat? Sounds tasty.

  3. #3 Shelley Batts
    October 23, 2006

    Ha Dennis. Meant more like “cheap or synthetic alternative.” I wonder what whale meat tastes like anyway……

  4. #4 Sean Foley
    October 23, 2006

    I wonder what whale meat tastes like anyway.

    I seem to remember reading in a book on the Faeroes that it tastes like very rich, very fatty prime rib.

  5. #5 Brandon King
    October 23, 2006

    I just visited Iceland in September, and I can say, because of my experience, the Iceland hotties can do whatever they want. The discussion would go like this:

    “You cannot whale!”
    “We are so hot, how can you say no?”
    “Because it is wrong.”
    “But we are hot.”
    “Hrm, you’re right. Carry on. btw-can I get you number? For official purposes, of course…”

  6. #6 david@tokyo
    October 23, 2006

    The europeans and their colonies just need to get over this.

    Most of the world doesn’t see a problem with whaling.

    What is the big deal? Today everyone knows that whale species are doing very well in many parts of the world, not just in Iceland’s waters. We have to remember that, due to over-hunting by the oil whaling industry, the IWC protected many species back in the 1960′s (blue whales, humpback whales) and more in the 1970′s (sei, and fin whales).

    Back until the 1970′s, catch limits were set based on the demands of the oil whaling industry, which was slowing dying out because of it’s stupidity. In the early 1990′s, the IWC adopted a new catch limit setting algorithm, which actually produces catch limits that are based on scientific knowledge about whale stocks and what level of whaling will actually be sustainable.

    Today’s whale meat whalers just want to allow a resumption of whaling under these conditions. Japan says it, Iceland says it – they want to protect species that the truely in danger of extinction (such as the Northern Right Whale – no one it hunting that), but for species that are abundant or increasing in numbers rapidly, they want to take a very small percentage in accordance with the IWC’s catch limits, and sell the meat as food.

    Where is the problem?

    Meanwhile, North Korea tested a nuclear device the other day. Perhaps there are bigger fish to fry than the whales?

  7. #7 Andri
    October 23, 2006

    Greanpeace is having a blast with this, 9 Fin Whales and they go nuts. Paul Watson of Sea Shepard fame has even declered war against Iceland.

    I think Iceland should focus on whale-watching instead. At least we could make some money from that.

  8. #8 david@tokyo
    October 23, 2006

    Iceland can make money from whaling as well. And apparently their fishermen think they could make more money if whale populations are controlled as well.

    I don’t think tourism will suffer. Iceland has been hunting whales for science in recent years anyway. Most people will quickly forget about this distinction.

  9. #9 Andri
    October 23, 2006

    Well, the keyword here is “think”. We don’t really know that but it’s better to be save then sorry I guess. I’m just worried that this whole thing will blow up and harm the tourism industry we have.

    Also, there is another side to this.

    Some members of the Icelandic media have hinted that the decision to start commercial whaling at this time is nothing but a ploy to take focus of other and more serious issues facing the Icelandic government, cold-war spying has been a big topic for last weeks until this whale BS hit us. And with the elections coming up in spring 2007 you have to wonder.

    It would be much smarter for us to focus on whale-watching. There is no market for whale meat and the first Fin Whale was even declared unfit for consumption for the local market by the captain of Hvalur 9, the boat used to capture the first whale. It’s unknown if the meat can be exported to Japan at this time.

  10. #10 david@tokyo
    October 24, 2006

    > There is no market for whale meat and

    There is a whale meat market in Japan. 1,700 tonnes of whale meat was shipped in July this year alone – a record in recent times.

    By the way, you seem to have the wrong end of the stick with regards to health concerns:

    “Kristjan Loftsson, managing director of Hvalur, operator of the whaler that harpooned the 18-metre long fin whale Saturday off Iceland’s west coast, said the tests were to be conducted at “independent laboratories in Europe” and “would likely take a few months.”

    “I don’t expect anything dramatic to come of it,” Loftsson told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview about the tests that were for mercury and PCBs.

    Pending that, the remainder of the meat and blubber from the whale that was landed Sunday at a whaling station near Reykjavik would be stored in a frozen condition.”

    http://rawstory.com/news/2006/Iceland_to_test_whale_meat_before_s_10232006.html

    I don’t see why focusing on whale-watching would be “smarter” when you can allow your people to participate in both industries, rather than just one. Economic diversification is wise.

    Also, the IWC Secretariat has just posted a page, essentially confirming all the facts that Iceland has stated in it’s press:
    http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/iceland.htm

  11. #11 Shelley Batts
    October 24, 2006

    Andri- I agree that Iceland would be much wiser to exploit whales through whale-watching rather than whale-killing. For one, its a renewable resource.

    But seriously, the problem isn’t whether or not there’s a demand for whale products. The problem is furthering that demand, which in turn fuels more whaling, and so on. Whale products have been replaced with alternatives (except whale meat which is far from a necessity). This is not a new problem. Consider ivory from elephants and rhinos. Poaching pushed them to extinction, which more rigorous conservation slowed. Ivory was made illegal to traffick, which decreases the demand. But even if there were lots of elephants, could we justify slaughtering them for something as trivial as an ivory trinket? Can we rationalize killing intelligent whales in a cruel manner for something equally as trivial?

    If, truly, most of the world has no problem skewering intelligent beings with no safeguard for their pain and suffering, so that we can savor their tasty flesh, I am disappointed with the world.

    I disagree with a lot of animal slaughtering practices, but am not against killing animals for food. However, studing neuroscience and the intelligence of species other that my own has forced me to realize that our pain receptors, nerves, pathways, and ligands are generally identical to many other species—including whales. Whales are also highly social, and somes have extremely high brain-to-body ratios (a crude measure of intelligence).

    For those of you that object, thats your right, of course. But do me a favor and do a search for “whale kill” on http://www.youtube.com. If you can get through the entire 10 minutes, we’ll talk.

  12. #12 david@tokyo
    October 24, 2006

    Whales being a renewable resource means that whaling is quite possible, just like fishing.

    > The problem is furthering that demand, which in turn fuels more whaling, and so on.

    This is why whaling needs to be regulated. This is why the IWC needs to be regulating whaling – which is precisely Iceland’s point. At the moment, the world is just trusting the whaling nations not to do anything unsustainable. Clearly this isn’t satisfactory – the IWC MUST implement and RMS and regulate whaling properly.

    > whale meat which is far from a necessity

    As is any meat product. Necessity is not the issue. Whale-watching isn’t necessary either.

    > Consider ivory from elephants and rhinos. Poaching pushed them to extinction,

    Only in some places like Kenya.

    Elephant populations are booming in places like Zimbabwe and South Africa.

    > Ivory was made illegal to traffick, which decreases the demand.

    No, it decreases supply. Demand remains – and creates the potential for black markets. Since when did prohibition ever work?

    What needs to happen is people in places such as Kenya need to conserve their resources properly. This includes protecting them against poaching. These activities can be paid for with the proceeds from ivory sales.

    > could we justify slaughtering them for something as trivial as an ivory trinket?

    We justify killing lambs for tasty dinner where I come from (New Zealand), so I don’t see why not.

    Yes, I have seen whales being hunted. It’s only in exceptional cases that they take significant amounts of time to die.

    For example:
    http://icrwhale.org/eng/GPAS3.mpg

    Bang – instantaneous death. And these activists who foolishly got themselves caught on the harpoon line were lucky that it was instantaneous, or they may have found themselves freezing to death in the drink.

  13. #13 david@tokyo
    October 24, 2006

    Just some further information on the concept of using proceeds of animal product sales to aid conservation efforts. This is broadly in conformance with the IUCN’s Policy Statement on Sustainable Use of Wild Living Resources:

    “Use, if sustainable, can serve human needs on an ongoing basis while contributing to the conservation of biological diversity.”
    (http://iucn.org/themes/ssc/susg/bgrnd/supoleng.html)

    This goes for elephants, whales, you name it.

  14. #14 csrster
    October 24, 2006

    I believe that in Norway you can get T-shirts that read

    Whalemeat
    Intelligent Food
    for
    Intelligent People

  15. #15 Chance
    October 24, 2006

    I have to agree with Shelley on this one. Some animals are simply not as highly developed as whales nor have their intense social structure.

    This leads me to think a distinction should be made and that whaling should be banned completely. It seems to me that Africans who seek bush meat that includes gorillas and chimps could make a similiar sustainable use argument and it would be equally faulty.

    Sustainable use works for some animals, particuarlly some species of reptiles but there are larger issues to deal with when we are talking about more cognitive species. I find the people who would dine on whale knowing the animal was self aware rather disturbing personally.

  16. #16 Steinn Sigurdsson
    October 24, 2006

    FYI: I believe Iceland rejoined the IWC recently, with an explicit caveat that they would resume whaling under the IWC science committee quota guidelines, and they were readmitted under this condition.
    And then they did. Resume whaling. Much to everyones surprise, including I think the Icelanders.

  17. #17 Shelley Batts
    October 24, 2006

    Bang – instantaneous death. And these activists who foolishly got themselves caught on the harpoon line were lucky that it was instantaneous, or they may have found themselves freezing to death in the drink.

    David, I’m baffled that you posted a video of humans being harpooned–tantamount to murder by those whalers, really–as part of an argument that the method is instantaneous and humane. If anything, it just highlights further, and IMHO horrific, cruelties of the business. It makes no sense to say that since a human instantly died from a harpoon that a whale 100x bigger would. You quote the IRC saying that they don’t suffer, but I could easily quote Greenpeace saying they do. Both are interested parties whose data and statistics mean absolutley nothing without independent review. However, the callous way you speak about the death of those activists is chilling but speaks volumes as to why you may find little moral fault with whaling.

    We justify killing lambs for tasty dinner where I come from (New Zealand), so I don’t see why not.
    For one, slaughtering methodolgy in general leaves a lot to be desired. However, it is much much easier to control the pain and death of an isolated land-based animals that an enormous free-swimming whale. Sheep and cattle are also not endangered, and not nearly as socially and cognitively aware as whales. Futhermore, a lot of whale meat contains high amounts of mercury, dioxin, and other toxins which make it unfit for human consumption. Sure, some is ok, but that is only revealed after the fact. This testing is costly, takes months, requires the meat be frozen in the meantime—not to mention many whales will be killed for no usable meat products.

    Can we justify that amount of wastfulness and wanton slaughter, when many other healthier forms of meat exist? Especially when a thriving industry in whale-watching could also provide jobs and income? Whales take many years to mature and reproduce very very slowly. Therefore while they are a renewable resouce in the strictest of terms, humans have repeatedly abused the timeframe which whales can be hunted. Whale watching on the other hand needs no such restrictions, as you can watch the same whale forever as a source of $$$ but can only kill it once.

  18. #18 SirPink
    October 24, 2006

    >Sheep and cattle are also not endangered, and not nearly as socially and cognitively aware as whales.

    First of all, whales are not one species. You probably know that but by saying this you are implying that they are. Whales are not on the brink of extinction either. Look at official numbers from IWC (see http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/estimate.htm), which is the most reliable source on the matter. If they doubt the numbers tiny bit they would reject them immediatly. IUCN redlist is based on global numbers of whale. The Icelandic Fisheries institute have agreed on that the stocks around Iceland have reached 70% of their all time high (25.800).

    They also admit that e.g. the fin whales are increasing 10% annually which kind of contradict what you are saying (see IWC Scientific committee report from 2006). Icelanders are hunting 9 whales this year. That is 0,04% of the stock around Iceland. Anyone can see that this will not decrease the growth of the stock at all.

    Secondly, Iceland didn’t brake the moratarium and they didn’t brake any international laws. Not even moral laws. They joined 2003 with the terms that if IWC wouldn’t start to put some management system in place for hunts before 2006 then they would have the right to start hunting whales. As the anti-whaling body of the IWC have always opposed to any hunt at all, it just meant that Iceland had now the right that IWC agreed when they joined to start commercial whaling.

    The arguments are in place to support the whaling of Iceland. The best thing about the whaling in reality is to get the discussion going because IWC has failed to set up the management as it has promised to do since 1994. All nations of the world must admit that regulated whaling under management system set by IWC is the far best way, instead of each nations deciding for themselves how much they should hunt. This is a world of different countries and different cultures. That means that there are a lot of opinions on the matter and the solution should be negotiated. Why not meet in the middle?

  19. #19 Shelley Batts
    October 24, 2006

    Thanks for commenting SirPink. Yes, I do know that what we generally term “whales” consist of many different species. I was making more of a statement as to the general intelligence of the category rather than attesting to one specific species (like birds, etc). Certainly some species, such as orcas and sperm whales, are thought to be highly intelligent while much less is known about the cognition of, say, blue whales. Much of that is due to the amount of human interaction with certain species, and not others. I also agree that not all whales are on the brink of extinction, however I again must question the statistics of an interested party. An independent analysis needs to be done. Also, I was dismayed at the age of the info you directed me to. Much was 6-10 years old, and some data was from the 80s. How can this be considered accurate today? And the fact that the Iceland fisheries have agreed that the population of resident whales is high enough to hunt is less that impressive, as they too are an interested party. They, as well as the IWC, represent the business side of the whaling industry—in science, we term this a “conflict of interest.” You are correct in stating that Iceland did not break any legal laws. But whether whaling is moral or immoral, in the year 2006 when products from these intelligent animals have all been replaced and very little need for whaling exist (especially given the toxicity concerns), well I suppose thats a matter of personal opinion.

  20. #20 SirPInk
    October 24, 2006

    IWC is not an interested party that is in favour of whaling. IWC constitutes of around 70 nations that is split 50/50 on the issue of whaling. You can see that it took 5 years to get the scientific commitee to agree on these numbers (http://iwcoffice.org/conservation/iceland.htm) as they had to go through a long process of verification and validation. As stated before have fin whales increased by 10% annually from 1989-2001. There is no common sense reason to think that this has stopped suddenly and the numbers of fin whales have decreased. The icelandic marine research institute have continued the research and they show only increase in stocks (done by same methods as the official IWC numbers) but as you said before, you would not believe the numbers that they give. That’s also why i used the IWC numbers as that is a unbiased source. As noted before are their findings done by independent researchers and verified and validated by other independent researchers.
    Of course you don’t look at the numbers from the 80′s and say that they are a fact today. They are only old reference points. For some types of whales they don’t have research data. There will be a meeting in december of this year were the Scientific commitee will review new estimates so some of those figures should be on their way.

    >And the fact that the Iceland fisheries have agreed that the population of resident whales is high enough to hunt is less that impressive, as they too are an interested party.

    Of course! But if you know a species is growing by 10% each year and you decide to allow hunting of 0,04% of the stock, then their decision sounds pretty sensible. The species is still growing with the rate of around 9,96%. And you are not going to drive a species to extinction that is growing by that rate…

    If Iceland think that it is profitable to hunt from a sustainable stock of fin whales I just can’t see what is wrong with it. It’s just like any other animal, intelligent or not intelligent. Why don’t we stop the africans from hunting monkeys and eating them? They are supposed to be very intelligent…

    P.S.
    IWC states the facts quite clearly on this page here:
    http://iwcoffice.org/conservation/iceland.htm

  21. #21 david@tokyo
    October 25, 2006

    Chance,

    > This leads me to think a distinction should be made and that whaling should be banned completely.

    So, where do you draw the line then? What are the criteria, on which everyone can agree, that such lines can be drawn?

    Shelley,

    The video doesn’t show humans being harpooned. It shows a whale being harpooned, and then Greenpeace activists speeding forward in their inflatable, and getting the line tangled on their boat.

    The point is that because the whale died, it did not struggle, and the activists came to no harm. Had the whale not died instantly and struggled, it could have been very dangerous for the Greenpeace obstructors.

    I suggest you watch the video for yourself :-) I hope you’ll revisit my comments, now that I have explained what the video shows in more detail.

    Hope you realize now that I’m not some crazed monster :-)

    > You quote the IRC saying that they don’t suffer,

    I haven’t quoted the IRC anywhere.

    > However, it is much much easier to control the pain and death of an isolated land-based animals that an enormous free-swimming whale.

    True. On the other hand, whales live free lives. We don’t pen them up and have them sit / walk around in their own muck.

    Serious question: Given the choice of being reborn as a whale or reborn as a cow (or any other farmed animal), which would you choose? You are free to consider all aspects of your life, including the cause of your death, in making a choice.

    I think human treatment of whales is far far better than human treatment of other animals.

    Also another note – killer whales between 4 and 6 hours to kill Gray whales when they hunt them off the west coast of North America. Human methods are clearly far more efficient. Whalers do do a good job, all things considered.

    > Sheep and cattle are also not endangered

    The whales that are being hunted are not of a population that is “endangered” by any stretch of the imagination. The IWC Secretariat has prepared some information about the confusion over the IUCN global classification and the status of the North Atlantic fin whale:
    http://iwcoffice.org/conservation/iceland.htm

    > and not nearly as socially and cognitively aware as whales.

    Even if you could actually quantify this claim with scientific evidence, I don’t feel it is relevant. Pigs are known to be relatively intelligent – yet they are still consumed by us.

    > Futhermore, a lot of whale meat contains high amounts of mercury, dioxin, and other toxins which make it unfit for human consumption.

    Such meat needs not be sold for consumption, and from a conservation perspective, this is irrelevant anyway. Conservation is about sustainability, and on this point Iceland can not be faulted.

    > Sure, some is ok, but that is only revealed after the fact. This testing is costly, takes months, requires the meat be frozen in the meantime

    Well, only if you wish to test every part of every single whale taken.

    This is not really necessary, as studies have shown trends in contamination depending on habitat / species / part of the whale.

    For example, baleen whales that feed on plankton in the Antarctic have extremely low levels of pollutants.

    I heard Iceland is testing the fin whale they just hunted – makes sense, since such data on contaminants in the species in their waters is not known at this stage.

    > —not to mention many whales will be killed for no usable meat products.

    Really? I’ve heard nothing about that.

    > wanton slaughter,

    Iceland’s whaling activities are relatively conservative. I don’t know how it could fairly be described as “wanton”.

    Surely the best grounds on which to argue this point is numbers.

    9 fin whales.
    25,800 fin whales in the North Atlantic.
    10% annual growth in recent decades (from pg 13 of the IWC Scientific Committee report for 2006 – it’s on their homepage: http://www.iwcoffice.org)

    The figures speak for themselves.

    > Especially when a thriving industry in whale-watching could also provide jobs and income?

    Whaling activity does not prevent whale watching activity.

    There are whale watching businesses in all of Iceland Norway and Japan, despite their whaling businesses. They activities are not mutually exclusive.
    I’m actually planning to go whale watching myself in Shikoku next month.

    > Whales take many years to mature and reproduce very very slowly.

    Yes, and such knowledge of natural rates of reproduction and natural mortality is considered when deciding on sustainable catch limits.

    People aren’t suggesting that whales be caught at the same rate as fish. People do recognise that whale quotas need to be set in line with whale biological parameters, not fish biological parameters.

    > humans have repeatedly abused the timeframe which whales can be hunted.

    Humans in some places. To give a little perspective, Australia killed 17,000 humpback whales in the southern hemisphere in the decade to 1962. In 1963, hunting of humpback whales in the southern hemisphere was banned. On the other hand, Iceland plans to hunt just 9 fin whales from a stock agreed to number around 25,000.

    Comparing historical overhunting with today’s hunting is comparing apples with oranges.

  22. #22 david@tokyo
    October 25, 2006

    Shelley,

    > I again must question the statistics of an interested party.

    The IWC Scientific Committee is not the “Iceland Scientific Committee”, it is the “International Whaling Commission” Scientific Committee.

    It includes scientists from all around the world – including many from anti-whaling nations.

    > I was dismayed at the age of the info you directed me to. Much was 6-10 years old, and some data was from the 80s. How can this be considered accurate today?

    It’s not meant to tell us about today, but common sense tells us that with say, Humpbacks around Australia increasing at 10% for decades, the population will increase.

    When new abundance estimates have been produced, they have invariably be found to be consistent with prior trends in population growth that has been observed.

    The North Atlantic Fin whale abundance estimate was just agreed at the latest IWC meeting, this year, in 2006.

    > They, as well as the IWC, represent the business side of the whaling industry

    That is not an accurate understanding of the IWC.

    The IWC has two mandates:
    1) Conserve whale stocks. This is why various whale stocks were protected from whaling in the 1960′s and 1970′s due to overhunting for oil.
    2) Allow for the development of whaling industry.

    Clearly, the IWC is neutral. It has to ensure that whales are conserved so that whaling industry can develop, but it also has to ensure that the whaling industry is regulated so that whales are conserved.

    > we term this a “conflict of interest.”

    The IWC in no way benefits from whaling. It is an international organization set up to make for co-operation amongst a group of nations that are interested in conserving and utilising whale resources.

    > But whether whaling is moral or immoral, in the year 2006 when products from these intelligent animals have all been replaced and very little need for whaling exist (especially given the toxicity concerns), well I suppose thats a matter of personal opinion.

    This, unfortunately, was one of your only statements with which I could agree to some extent. :-)