COVID Silver Linings: Is Iceland Getting Out Of The Whaling Business?

The pandemic is making whaling a difficult business, and that is squeezing Icelandic whalers hard:

Icelandic whaling company IP-Utgerd announced April 24 that it is stopping whaling completely, while the country’s largest whaling firm, Hvalur hf., says it won’t be hunting any whales for the second year in a row.

IP-Utgerd, which mainly targeted minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), cited financial difficulties after no-fishing zones were extended off the Icelandic coast, forcing its boats to go further and further offshore. Hvalur, which hunts threatened fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) as well as minke whales, is ceasing operations because of stiff competition with Japan, among other reasons, according to Kristján Loftsson, the company’s CEO.

One company down. Another teetering.

Med Whales Enjoy The Shutdown Of Humanity, Too

The latest evidence: two fin whales enjoying the waters off the port of Marseilles.

The graceful pair of fin whales was filmed Tuesday in waters off the Calanques national park, a protected reserve of outstanding natural beauty next to the usually bustling but now locked-down Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

Didier Reault, who heads the park board, says it is “very, very rare” for fin whales to be spotted and filmed at such close quarters in the reserve’s waters. The whales usually stay further out in deeper Mediterranean waters but seem to have been drawn in by the lockdown-driven freeze on maritime traffic, water sports, pleasure fishing and pleasure craft, Reault said.

“The absence of human activity means the whales are far more serene, calm and confident about rediscovering their playground that they abandon when there is maritime traffic,” Reault told The Associated Press.

It must be such a strange time to be a marine mammal, and to suddenly enjoy oceans mostly free of human ship traffic and noise. It will  be equally confusing when all the noise and intrusion suddenly starts up again.

If only we could be inspired by what we seeing with flourishing wildlife, and reductions in carbon and pollution all over the planet, to do everything just a bit (well, alot) differently.

Slaughtering Endangered Whales For….

…specialty dog food.

…sold in Japan.

This would be the perfect parody–mixing naked profit-seeking under the cynical guise of sustaining a retrograde whale-hunting culture, with insane cost-benefit tradeoffs, with the pet fetishism of a nation that itself is a leading killer of whales and dolphins. If it were a parody. Which apparently it is not:

ICELAND is to resume commercial whaling next month, killing up to 184 endangered fin whales over the coming summer partly to supply a burgeoning Japanese market in luxury dog snacks.

Could South Park or The Simpsons do any better? I doubt it.

Whales vs. Ships

Keeping them out of each other’s way is a complicated business:

A first-of-its-kind study matching whale habitat to Southern California shipping lanes shows that two species, humpback and fin whales, might suffer fewer ship strikes if a new lane were created.

But the solution is not quite so simple for blue whales. These giants of the sea appear to be in the most trouble from ship strikes, and would be unlikely to benefit from any change in the four shipping lanes the study considered.

The scientists who conducted the study also estimated that more blue whales are being struck off the Southern California coast than their population can sustain without raising the risk of depletion.

“At best, the blue whale population is remaining steady,” said Jessica Redfern, a marine ecologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service and the study’s lead author. “Of the three, we’re probably the most concerned about blue whales.”

All three species examined in the study are listed as endangered. The scientists used data on conditions in the marine environment, along with whale sighting records, to map out the most likely habitat for each species.

Four shipping routes were then superimposed over the habitat maps. The result: the clearest picture yet of the places on the Southern California coast where ships and whales are most likely to collide.

The findings reveal the intricate interweaving of ocean corridors used by humans and the massive sea mammals.

The route that presents the least risk to humpback whales, for example, poses the highest risk for fin whales. The reverse also is true.

Humpbacks tend to concentrate farther north, fins farther south.

“Something in the center there seems like it may be good for ameliorating the risks for both species,” Redfern said, though the study does not make specific recommendations about shifts in shipping lanes.

Blue whales, however, occur throughout the area along all four shipping routes, spread so evenly that concentrating shipping in any one of the four routes seemed unlikely to reduce their risk.

Here’s how it looks on paper:

Moving shipping lanes around, especially if it costs shipping companies money, is not an easy ask. Whales–dead or alive–don’t show up on a shipping company’s balance sheet. But shipping slowdowns and re-routing on the Atlantic coast have helped reduce some right whale deaths.

When whale populations are so fragile, and whales are so majestic and intelligent, each life saved is especially important. Shipping companies might resist, but they can pass the incremental cost on to customes. And if that induces people to buy less stuff shipped halfway around the world, then that’s not a bad thing, either.