Whaling has plagued the oceans for centuries and although it has always had some impact on the ecosystem, since ancient whalers were mostly confined to coastal and near coastal waters the impact was somewhat contained and minimized. This all changed as whaling around the world exploded in the 17th century turning our seas red with the innocent blood of whales. Because whales are often slow moving and are forced to the surface for air, they became easy targets for ruthless hunters who made their fortunes of selling their oil, blubber, and meat taken from whales. Unfortunately, this is a brutal practice that, although it has been made illegal by many around the world, is still threatening the very fragile balance of the ocean and may lead to the complete extinction of many whales. This series will examine a history and impact of whaling both past and present.
Since the fishermen of ancient times were often limited by the level of technology and slow moving vessels that forced them to stay close to shore for the most part, the techniques that they used to trap and kill whales revolved around this limitation. Harassing the whales and running them inland towards the shore where the whales would become beached and unable to escape was the main technique of choice for slaughtering whales. This method was generally only used for smaller species of cetacean (whales and dolphin) such as porpoises, narwhals, belugas, and pilot whales.
Although the Basque are believed to be the first known organized whalers dating back as far as 1059, England gave birth to what may be the first large scale whaling fleet. Commissioned in 1577 by Queen Elizabeth I, the first major whaling fleet had a rather slow start, growing slowly; however, eventually they started taking over the arctic waters of Spitsbergen by the early part of the 17th century. While they made considerable efforts to claim this territory themselves and to keep other nations out of the whaling business, their efforts failed and whaling began to spread.
In 1611, Greenland introduced the first ship designed specifically for the hunting, killing, and processing of whales known as a whaler. The first whaler, named the Mary Margaret, weighed over 150 tons and was commissioned by the Muscovy Company and accompanied by other vessels. The introduction of the new whaling vessel helped Greenland to become dominant in the arctic whaling grounds.
Europeans were not the only ones who were engaging in this assault against whales, Japan to was beginning their long history of whaling. There are written references to the killing of whales for their meat in ancient writings of the 7th and 8th century. The Japanese first began employing a hand held harpooning technique to kill whales in 9th century and this hunting method became used in wide spread, organized whaling by the 12th century. Japanese whalers also used a netting method of capturing and killings the whales. These methods allowed the Japanese fleets to go after larger whales than many of the European associates and their hunts focused primarily on humpback whales, north pacific right whale, gray whales, and fin whales, although they did at times hunt blue whales and sperm whales as well. By the close of the 17th century, whaling was firmly established in most parts of the world with whale oil being used for lighting and lubricants in a variety of manufactured goods. The baleens and bones of whales were also in high demand and a few nations still used whale meat for food. The war was waged against the gentle giants of the sea and the future looked very bleak for them with no signs of the whaling industry slowing.
Last week in Long Beach the CA Coastal Commission, by a vote of 8 to 1, agreed to approve two years of proposed U.S. Naval exercises off of Southern California only if the U.S. Navy implements mitigation measures to protect marine mammals from the potentially lethal effects of mid-frequency sonar. Gray whales, humpbacks, blue whales, dolphins, porpoises and other sensitive species off the coast of California are at risk. According to the NRDC, the worlds leading whale biologists examined the link between navy sonar and whale stranding and concluded that the evidence of sonar causation is ˜very convincing and over whelming. Whales from all over the world have been found dead or dying following exposure to mid-frequency sonar.
Evidence of sonar effects on marine mammals began to emerge in 2000 when whales of four different species stranded themselves in the Bahamas after a U.S. Naval battle group used active sonar in the surrounding area. Investigators found that the whales were bleeding internally around their brains and ears.. The Navy denied responsibility but government investigators established with certainty that the standings were caused by active sonar. Since then, the areas population of beaked whales has disappeared.
Upon investigation, sonar stranded marine mammals had developed large emboli in their organ tissues. According to Nature, the animals suffered something akin to the bends, an illness that kills divers who surface too quickly. Whales stranded on shore are only the visible symptom of a much larger problem affecting huge numbers of marine life. Active sonar can also impact marine mammals and fish that use sonar to follow migration paths, locate individuals, find food, and care for their young. Naval sonar has been shown to alter the singing of humpback whales, which is essential for reproduction of this endangered species, disrupt feeding habits of orcas, and cause porpoises to panic.
The Australian Government has released evidence challenging Japan's claims that its hunt is the most efficient and humane possible. The images show "scientific research" that needed multiple rifle shots to finish off the mammal.
The Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, said there would be a diplomatic push to end what he said was the charade of scientific whaling, starting at an intersessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission next month.
As the customs ship Oceanic Viking's mission to gather evidence against whaling is extended in the Antarctic, the Government is being urged to fulfill its threat to take legal action against Japan. A sequence of images taken by customs officers was released yesterday showing harpooned minkes, including two hauled up the stern ramp of the factory ship, Nisshin Maru. Media claims that they showed a mother and calf were denied by the Institute of Cetacean Research, which said they were randomly taken sizes. "Both whales were female, and both were not lactating," it said.
But the images also showed a whale struggling on the end of a harpoon line under the bow of the catcher boat Yushin Maru, and then the same animal lifeless. Its head clearly showed entry wounds in a hunt where a high powered rifle is used to finish minkes that are still alive after being hit by an explosive-tipped harpoon.
"This disputes any notion that whales die instantly, and without suffering," said Darren Kindleysides, campaigns manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
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