My sense is: no.
This is a very complex subject. And while I applaud all efforts to create and enforce “dolphin-safe” practices, every time I read about how tuna are fished across the oceans, and the regimes used to try and protect dolphins, it just seems apparent that the problem of dolphin bycatch (along with bycatch of many other types of fish), as well as holes in the various dolphin-safe regimes and their enforcement, are significant.
For example, here is the Washington Post, on Mexico’s argument that US dolphin-safe regimes unfairly burden Mexican tuna fishermen:
Mexico’s challenge is an attempt to increase its $7.5 million share of a U.S. tuna import market worth more than a half-billion dollars. But it also raises questions for U.S. consumers about whether the tuna they eat is truly “dolphin safe” — not sold at the expense of a mammal Americans cherish.
There is no sure way to catch tuna without harming other marine life. Dolphins, as well as sharks, turtles and other animals, are unintentionally killed as bycatch in the quest for tuna.
The central question facing governments, corporations, environmentalists and consumers is how much is too much, and whether using a huge net to catch tuna in one part of the ocean is any worse than using them to catch it in other parts.
The World Trade Organization recently agreed with Mexico’s claim that U.S. regulations in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, where the Mexican fleet fishes, are far more restrictive than they are for the western and central Pacific where the U.S. fleet fishes.
In response to the WTO ruling, the United States proposed a new rule to strengthen protections for dolphins wherever tuna is fished. The comment phase for the rule closed last week.
The proposal, drafted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has one change that irks Mexico — allowing captains in the western and central Pacific to self-certify they are not taking dolphins as bycatch.
“The objective . . . was to assure no dolphins were injured, and you’re not doing that,” said Mark J. Robertson, president of Potomac Global Advisors, which advises companies and governments in international disputes. “How practical is it to trust captains to say how many dolphins they harmed?”
There is no question that the dolphin-safe regimes, and efforts to improve them, save dolphin lives. But there is also no question that eating tuna currently (and probably always will) involves the death of dolphins and other fish species. So anyone who truly cares about dolphins, or wants to eat ethically, should simply stop eating tuna (and, yes, I believe that true ethical eating requires not eating ANY fish, but I find the moral cost of tuna, likely involving hundreds of thousands of dead dolphins every year, to be particularly egregious).
Some ecologists are arguing that humans and alien species have been churning up ecosystems far more intensively, and for far longer, than we assume:
We like to think that most nature was pristine and largely untouched until recent times. But two major studies in recent weeks say we are deluded. In one, Erle Ellis, a geographer at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and colleagues have calculated that at least a fifth of the land across most of the world had been transformed by humans as early as 5,000 years ago — a proportion that past studies of historical land use had assumed was only reached in the past 100 years or so.
The human footprint was huge from the day, perhaps 60,000 years ago, when we began burning grasslands and forests for hunting, according to the Ellis study. It extended further with swidden “slash-and-burn” agriculture, and became more intense when farmers began to domesticate animals and plow the land.
And if that is right we should change the way we think about stewardship:
Far from reaching some equilibrium state with niches filled, ecosystems have always been in a constant state of flux, says Stephen Jackson, of the Southwest Climate Science Center in Arizona, in Novel Ecosystems. “Change, including rapid and disruptive change, is a natural feature of the world.” Humans may have dramatically speeded that up, but novelty is the norm.
In that light, we need to look afresh at conservation priorities. Novel ecosystems cannot be dismissed as degraded versions of proper ecosystems, nor can alien species be demonized simply for not belonging. If novelty and change is the norm, Hobbs and colleagues ask, does it make sense for the growing business of ecosystem restoration to try and recreate static historic ecosystems? By doing that, you are not creating a functioning ecosystem; you are creating a museum exhibit that will require constant attention if it is to survive.
Ecosystems can be hardy, and no doubt have always been in a state of flux and evolution. The big issue now is that humans are turbo-charging the rate of change. And that will be a severe test of how fast ecosystems and the species within them can adapt. No doubt some will, but it could get ugly.
The more we see and learn, the more we have to rethink our assumptions regarding animal emotions, and the more we have to attribute real feeling, and real suffering, to non-human animals. For example, Marc Bekoff comes up with a powerful and surprising story of cross-species mourning:
I’ve written a number of essays about grief and mourning in nonhuman animals (animals) and just today I learned of a most heartwarming video of a dog named Bella deeply grieving the loss of Beavis, her beaver friend.
Here’s a brief description of Bella and Beavis’s close friendship.
“Before Beavis passed away, he and Bella were inseparable. They ate together, played together, and even shared living quarters. Beavis passed away in 2012, but the pair’s story resurfaced after a video that the owner shot of the two appeared on Reddit.
“In the heartbreaking video, Bella lies by the side of her deceased companion and appears to cling to the idea that Beavis might just sleeping. As Bella seems to realize that her friend is not coming to life, she whimpers, nuzzles, and licks her friend as if trying to say goodbye.”
If that doesn’t help change your moral calculus regarding the lives of animals, then I’m not sure what will.
For once I am grateful for all the distractions of modern life, because they are diverting the next generation of Norwegian whalers from the industry:
It isn’t a scarcity of whales that is bringing down the curtain, or even the complicated politics of whaling. It’s something far more prosaic and inexorable: Norwegian kids, even those who grow up in the seafaring stronghold of Lofoten, simply don’t want to become whalers anymore. Nor do they want to brave storm-tossed winter seas to net fortunes in cod, as their forebears have done for centuries. Instead, they aspire to land safer, salaried jobs in distant cities or with the offshore oil industry, and they have been leaving their island communities in droves.
There is irony in this turn of events. For most of its history, Lofoten exerted a gravitational pull on the young and ambitious. In his 1921 coming-of-age classic The Last of the Vikings, Norwegian novelist Johan Bojer described the legendary island chain as “a land in the Arctic Ocean that all the boys along the coast dreamed of visiting some day, a land where exploits were performed, fortunes were made, and where fishermen sailed in a race with Death.”
Smart kids. Haunting photo gallery here.
This is pretty fascinating. A paper in Science on killer whale menopause reveals some interesting parallels with menopause in humans, and adds to our understanding of the incredibly tight mother-offspring bonds in killer whale society.
Dr. Emma Foster has provided a brief summery of her paper that recently came out in Science:
“Adaptive Prolonged Postreproductive Life Span in Killer Whales”
1. The key finding: We have discovered that female killer whales have the longest menopause of any non-human species so they can care for their adult sons. Our research shows that, for a male over 30, the death of his mother means an almost 14-fold-increase in the likelihood of his death within the following year.2. The relevance/link to humans: Biologically-speaking, the menopause is a bizarre concept! Very few species have a prolonged period of their lifespan when they no longer reproduce. Like humans, female killer whales buck this trend and stop reproducing in their 30s-40s, but can survive into their 90s. The benefit of a menopause to both human and killer whale mothers is in spreading their genes. The different ways this has evolved reflects the different structure of human and killer whale societies. While it is believed that the menopause evolved in humans partly to allow women to focus on providing support for their grandchildren, our research shows that female killer whales act as lifelong carers for their own offspring, particularly their adult sons.3. Why this is important: The menopause remains one of nature’s great mysteries. This research, which involved studying 36 years-worth of data, is the first ever study of its kind and is an exciting breakthrough in our understanding of the evolution of the menopause.
A fascinating set of images, which show the impact humans have had over time reworking the surface of the Earth:
Since the 1970s, NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey have been amassing satellite images of every inch of our planet as part of the Landsat program. Over time, the images reveal a record of change: of cities expanding, lakes and forests disappearing, new islands emerging from the sea off the coast of rising Middle East metropolises like Dubai.
If you could thumb through these historic pictures as if in a flip book, they would show stunning change across the earth’s surface, in both our natural environments and our man-made ones. Now, the digital equivalent of that experience is possible – three decades of global change as GIF – in a project unveiled today between NASA, the USGS, TIME, Google, and the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.
Landsat images taken between 1984 and 2012 have been converted into a seamless, navigable animation built from millions of satellite photos. As Google wrote this morning on its blog: “We believe this is the most comprehensive picture of our changing planet ever made available to the public.”
Sorry, this makes me think of locusts.