Friday, June 25, 2010

Save The Whales

A Blue

The Mighty Humpback

The Blue whale is the largest known animal to have ever existed on this planet by volume (they can reach up to 108 feet in length, weighing up to 180 metric tons or more, although it is difficult to get them on a scale). Bigger than those brontosauruses you saw in Jurassic Park. Much bigger.
Like me, Blue whales like to eat shrimp, although they eat tiny little ones called krill. I once had a shrimp eating contest with my lovely case manager, Erin. We each had about twenty to twenty five shrimps to eat, and I ate all of mine, and she couldn't finish hers, so I won that contest. "This isn't over," she wrote ominously to me afterwards. Big talk for one who hasn't set a date for a rematch yet. But compared to a Blue whale Erin and I are little chumps. Adult Blue whales can eat up to 40 million shrimps, or krill, each day! That's like 7,900 pounds of the little crustaceans.
That's a lot of shrimps! I wouldn't even try to eat that much. Fortunately there is a lot of krill for them to eat, which they do so by swimming around and filtering the shrimps through giant strainer like appendages in their mouths called baleen plates, after which they swallow em up.
Like all other living things on the Earth, whales are our cousins. But whales share a characteristic that makes them much more closely related than let's say a fungus, tree, or insect. Whales, along with dolphins and porpoises, are mammals, just like us. What that means is that they are warm blooded, generating their own body heat, like us. They breathe air, like us, and have to continuously come to the ocean's surface to breathe (which must make it rather hard to sleep. It seems they are conscious breathers, meaning they choose when to breathe and are never fully unconscious when they sleep, allowing only half of their brains to shut down at a time). They bear their young internally, like us. And they possess a neocortex in the brains, like we do, which is responsible for higher functions such as sensory perception, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thought and language. In other words they are very smart (I won't say like us, as they don't go around killing each other).
All whales used to live on land about 50 million years or so ago. They didn't like it there so they went back to the ocean where all life originally came from.
I've got an idea for a short story concerning a Blue whale, a little girl, and her father, which I've been wanting to write for the last 30 years or so. I'll get around to it one of these days.
Blue whales used to be abundant in all of the worlds oceans until the 20th century when they were hunted almost to extinction. In 1966 the International Whaling Commission (IWC. The agency was created after World War II to oversee the hunting of tens of thousands of whales a year but gradually evolved into a body at least partly dedicated to keeping whales from vanishing from the Earth's oceans) banned the hunting of Blue whales, but the Soviet Union did so illegally until the 1970s. by which time 330,000 blue whales had been killed in the Antarctic, 33,000 in the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, 8,200 in the North Pacific, and 7,000 in the North Atlantic.
Since the ban and the end of the illegal hunting best estimates show in the Antarctic a significant increase at 7.3% per year, but numbers remain at under 1% of their original levels. In 2002 the total world population was estimated to be between 5,000 and 12,000.
I've restricted my attention here to the Blue whale because I happen to like Blue whales. But many species of large whales have had their populations decimated by the systematic hunting by humans for whale oil, meat, baleen (whalebone formerly used to make buggy whips, parasol ribs, and corset stays), and ambergris (the stuff used to make perfume from Sperm whale guts). the IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986, however that ban was not absolute and some whaling continued, mainly by Japan, Norway, and Iceland, through a loophole which allowed continued whaling for scientific research. About 1,500 animals are killed each year by the three countries. 1,500 whales killed each year for scientific research?
Last May, the 23rd to be exact, I attended a rally on the pier in Santa Monica to "Save The Whales." About forty or fifty of us showed up for the event which was just one rally of 16 being held in California coastal communities. The purpose of the rally was to protest the United States plans to end the 1986 moratorium on commercial whale hunting, which would have allowed limited hunting for the next ten years, which also seemed to be in direct contradiction to what Barrack Obama promised while running for President. We protesters wanted to "ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on international whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable."
Well yesterday morning I was all excited to get the news that the IWC, which is currently meeting in Agadir, Morocco, had dismissed the attempt to end the moratorium. "We won!" I thought to myself. I was happy that my attendance on that cold windy pier in May had made a difference.
Actually that is what the "Save The Whales," folks wanted, and that's what they got.
But upon closer examination it seems that nothing was solved. Other news stories described what happened at the 88 nation member meeting of the IWC as a "collapse," not a dismissal. Japan (the biggest offender), Iceland, and Norway are happy as hell the so called "moratorium," will still be in effect, because many member nations, specifically Australia and Latin American countries, wanted to ban whaling altogether, zip, zero, nada, which would have been fine with me. In my mind, in this day and age, using these magnificent creatures for a source of food products is nothing short of barbaric.
Countries like the U.S. and New Zealand wanted to set specific quotas that whale hunting nations would have to adhere to, which would have allowed the three countries to resume commercial whaling but at significantly lower levels and under tight monitoring. Japan balked, and no agreement could be reached, hence the "collapse" reference. This turn of events, or non-turn which is more like it, keeps the moratorium in place, at least for the next year until the commission meets again. With the moratorium in place, Japan, Iceland, and Norway can continue to utilize its loopholes, thereby setting their own quotas, hunting hundreds of whales under the guise of doing "scientific research."
I don't know... call me crazy, but closing those loopholes might have been a worthy priority of the commission.
Whales are some of the grandest, most magnificent creatures on this planet. They cause humans no harm, are in fact beneficial to us by eating all of those krill. They care for their young, they talk to each other, they know they exist, yet we hunt them to the point of extinction. This is not being a good Shepard of the Earth's resources. Like oil, whales are a finite entity, once they are gone they will not return. It is our job, our responsibility to care for and protect them... especially against ourselves.

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