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Whale Hunting In Iceland, Japan, And Norway

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Introduction

Ever since the start of humanity, animals have played a large role when it comes to the survival of man. As stated in a review by Echeverri, A. , Karp, D. S. , Naidoo, R. , Zhao, J. , and Chan, K. M. A. (2018) titled Approaching human-animal relationships from multiple angles: A synthetic perspective, animals are ubiquitous to human lives. Animals have contributed a lot for humans, from companions in survival or modern pets as members of their family, gathering their products for commercial purposes, entertainment purposes, security, pest control, scientific research, and the most common purpose, consumption. It is a given that a lot of animals have been used by humans for consumption, be it in the form of raising them and getting the products they produce or by hunting and then consuming the animals themselves.

But then again, hunting animals does not only mean killing different animal species for consumption purposes. Hunting can also mean killing animals for other uses like medicinal properties from various parts, and even trophies or ornamental purposes. And while hunting is considered a normal part of life, it is also a very controversial topic for others. According to an article published by the website Scientific American (n. d), regardless of whether or not hunting is practical or ethical depends on the person in question. But regardless of whether or not one is in favor or against hunting, it can be agreed upon that excessive amounts of hunting can lead to the decline of animal population, and unfortunately for some cases, extinction. In a study by William M. Robinson (1986) titled The Case of Hunting, even though it is a minor worry due to being overshadowed by larger threats to the environment such as toxic pollution and landscapes being cleared, hunting still poses a threat to the environment.

Hunting comes in different forms and methods of implementation. Over the thousands of years in history, humans have learned to develop and improve their hunting styles and even got creative with their methods. From terrestrial hunting methods such as big-game hunting, to aquatic varieties like fishing, hunting have come a long way. This paper will be focusing on a larger scale of the latter method mentioned earlier. Whale hunting, or more commonly known as whaling, will be the main topic of this paper. A hunting method that has long been agreed upon by international countries to be banned, but sparked controversy as some countries still refuse to adhere to the banning of said method.

This paper also aims to discuss, in greater depth, whales and their importance and contribution to the ecosystem, whale hunting, or commonly known as whaling, and its different methods, and the international whaling ban and the different views and standpoints of the countries regarding this law, especially the three countries known for ignoring said law: Iceland, Japan, and Norway along with their reasons and circumstances for choosing to continue legalizing whaling.

Whales

Physical Characteristics of Whales

Whales are the creatures of the deep blue. They are a broadly distributed group of marine mammals belonging to the order cetacea, which compromises of other aquatic mammals such as dolphins and porpoises. The Defenders of Wildlife Website states that whales are divided into suborders called baleen and toothed whales. These suborders differ in characteristics and diet, the former possessing comb-like fringes on their upper jaws which they use for filtering plankton and small fish, while the latter are equipped with teeth which they used to prey on larger fish and marine animals, and even on other whales.

These animals, albeit living underwater, are mammals. Which means that these warm-blooded animals have lungs and breathe air into it through blowholes located in the top of their heads. They swim upwards the surface where they breathe, and come back down. Whales are also capable of producing milk for their calves. Whales come in all sizes, ranging from 9 feet (Dwarf whales, the smallest of their kind) to approximately 30 meters (Blue whales, the largest animals on Earth) in length. Their bodies resemble that of a fish, and they have paddle-shaped flippers, and most species have fins on their backs called dorsal fins. And like all marine mammals such as walruses and seals, whales are covered in a thick layer of fat beneath their skin called blubber. These fats serve as an energy source and insulators that keep their vital organs warm and functional when in colder waters. Whales are also capable of using echolocation as a means of navigation.

Whale Behavior and Reproduction

There exists a lot of whale species scattered across the globe, and many of these animals are known to travel long distances across the oceans to migrate. Whales migrate from their feeding grounds to warmer areas in order to reproduce, and these migrations cover long distances. According to a research article by Guazzo RA, Helble TA, D’Spain GL, Wellew DW, Wiggins SM, and Hildebrand JA (2017) titled Migratory behavior of eastern North Pacific gray whales tracked using a hydrophone array, the Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus Lilljeborg) take the longest migrations, ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 kilometers. These reproduction seasons vary from whale species, and often produce only one young, or calf. Whales often travel alone or in groups, depending on the species.

According to the Defenders of Wildlife Website, whales are also known to be active swimmers and communicate to their own kind using sounds with varying frequencies.

Roles in the Ecosystem

Whales plays a large role in the marine ecosystem. According to the World Wildlife Organization, widely known as WWF, these animals are located at the top of the food chain and is a vital factor for the environment. According to the National Geographic article by Carl Safina and Jessica Perelman (2016) titled The unseen significance of whales, scientists have recently found out that whales are significant to the stabilization of marine ecosystems. These so-called “ecosystem engineers” control the population of marine inhabitants because of their presence alone. Larger species of whales require massive amounts of food to keep alive which controls the population of small fish and plankton, while dead whales that fall to the ocean floor serve as a feast for underwater life. In a way, whales are major contributors that keep the cycle of deep-sea life running.

Factors that Threaten Whales

Unfortunately, even though these gentle giants are important for the environment, whales cannot escape the threats and problems that humans have caused. According to WWF, the population of North Atlantic right whales are on the brink of extinction, having only as few as 300 left. While other whale species are on the endangered list with 10,000-90,000 left, depending on the species.

One factor that threatens the existence of whales is the increasing temperature of the globe, in short, climate change. A thesis written by Amanda Shuman (2017) titled The Potential Impact of Climate Change on Blue Whale Migration in the Eastern Pacific states that the increasing temperatures and pH levels of the oceans are causing a shift in the migratory patterns of the blue whale. The quick changes in the oceans may prove to be quite difficult for whales and even their main food source to adapt to which causes their population decline.

Industrial factors also pose a threat to the whales. Large ships sailing on the seas emit noise that is loud enough to damage the animals’ hearing. Large-scale oil spills can also harm whales and force them to change their migratory patterns. Even ships colliding with whales have been an issue reported a number of times by the International Whale Commision, or IWC. These whale-vessel collisions harm and may even kill the animal, and the ships may be damaged. According to the IWC, injuries to passengers even happen during these encounters (n. d. ).

Lastly, one of the most major reasons that poses a great threat to the population of whales is the hunting of these animals for commercial purposes. Whale hunting, also known as or whaling, will be further discussed on the later parts of this paper.

Whale Hunting

Also known as whaling, it is a method used to kill and harvest whales mostly for their meat, bones, and other parts such as blubber and oil. Aside from human consumption, these materials are also usually used to produce items such as ornaments and candles. And according to the Whale Facts website, the act of whaling dates back to as early as 3,000 B. C. , while according to some researchers, evidence relating to whaling may prove that this history may even extend as far as 6,000 B. C.

Throughout the years, whaling have developed different methods in catching whales. From ancient nets, poisoned spears, to modern-day harpoons and even methods that involve the use of explosives. The advancement of technology further increased the amount and dangers of the methods used to whales.

While whaling has been observed to have started from thousands of years ago, it has only emerged prominently around the 17th century as the industrial methods appeared. And by the time of the 18th and 19th century, the demand for whale products have boomed which led to whaling being a competition among different industries around the globe. And according to Robert L. Friedheim (2001) in his book titled Toward a Substantial Whaling Regime, by the time of the 20th century, specifically on the years 1930-1965 where the whaling trade was on its peak, approximately thirty thousand (30,000) whales were killed annually. Different species of whales thought to have an innumerable number were being driven towards extinction.

The rapid decline in the population of whales due to excessive commercial whaling alarmed various organizations which led to the banning of whaling with the International Whaling Commission (ICW) at the helm with the intent to give better protection to marine wildlife and preserve the extremely low number of whale species remaining, with the hopes of slowly recovering their lost population. The agreement stood for years, and the countries involved abided by its rules or set limits while still practicing it, but as time passed by, a number of countries decided to separate from the agreement and continued the whaling business.

Up to this day, there are three countries widely known for ignoring the whaling ban and continue to legalize said hunting method. Iceland, Japan, and Norway still implement whaling. Discussed below are the different states of whaling in the countries, as well as the reasons and circumstances for their ignorance of the international agreement.

Whaling in Iceland

The country of Iceland has been a major country when it comes to whaling and whale-watching tourism. But due to the issues revolving around this method, whaling in Iceland was halted by 1989. And by the year 2002, Iceland once again declared their plans to continue whaling in 2006. This sparked another controversy as reports showed that the country continued whaling and stated that it was for “scientific purposes” which led to arguments about the coexistence of whale-watching and whaling.

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