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.

The Wonder Of Whales (And Nature)

A beautiful homage to the infinite complexity of Nature, and a reminder that it is hubris to act as if we understand the most subtle workings of the planet.

From the summary:

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

When whales were at their historic populations, before their numbers were reduced, it seems that whales might have been responsible for removing tens of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Whales change the climate. The return of the great whales, if they are allowed to recover, could be seen as a benign form of geo-engineering. It could undo some of the damage we have done, both to the living systems of the sea, and to the atmosphere.

Everything we do has implications for the planet and its regulatory systems. Tread lightly, lightly…

(h/t Cetacean News Network)

Economists Want to Save The Whales

“Quotas? I don’t want your stinking quotas!”

By setting legal catch quotas:

study of 11,135 fisheries showed that introducing catch share roughly halved the chance of collapse. The system caught on in the 1980s and 1990s after decades of other well-intentioned efforts failed. Economist H. Scott Gordon is usually credited with laying out the problem and the solution in 1954.

Modern environmental economists accuse their predecessors of forgetting about incentives. Catch-share schemes issue permits to individuals and groups to fish some portion of the grounds or keep some fraction of the total catch. If fishermen exceed their share, they can buy extra rights from others, pay a hefty fine or even lose their fishing rights, depending on theparticular arrangement. The system works because it aligns the interests of individual fishermen with the sustainability of the entire fishery. Everybody rises and falls with the fate of the total catch, eliminating destructive rivalries among fishermen.

Environmental economists have lately turned their attention to Atlantic bluefin tuna and whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service has just proposed new regulations that would for the first time establish a catch-share program for the endangered and lucrative bluefin. And a group of economists is pushing for a new international agreement on whaling.

In both cases the problem is overfishing. The bluefin tuna population has dropped by a third in the Atlantic Ocean and by an incredible 96 percent in the Pacific. And whaling, which is supposedly subject to strict international rules that ban commercial fishing and regulate scientific work, is making a sad comeback. The total worldwide annual catch has risen more than fivefold over the last 20 years.

Ben Minteer, Leah Gerber, Christopher Costello and Steven Gaines have called for a new and properly regulated market in whales. Set a sustainable worldwide quota, they say, and allow fishermen, scientists and conservationists alike to bid for catch rights. Then watch the system that saved other fish species set whaling right.

The idea outrages many environmentalists. Putting a price on whales, they argue, moves even further away from conservationist principles than the current ban, however ineffective. They’re wrong. “The arguments that whales should not be hunted, whatever their merits, have not been winning where it counts — that is, as measured by the size of the whale population,”says economist Timothy Taylor, editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives.

This is logical in economic terms. But it is utilitarianism divorced from morality, and fails on moral terms. Economists could also reduce the overall rate of child kidnapping, or murder, with catch, or kill, shares. But societies are not prepared to sanction kidnapping or murder, because kidnapping and murder are morally repugnant. So is slaughtering sentient, intelligent, whales without true need (we could argue about whether hunting and killing bluefin tuna is morally repugnant, as well, but let’s leave that aside for the moment).

The goal, as with kidnapping and murder, needs to continue to be to eradicate the act itself–not to legalize and sanction the act in return for some reduced rate of violence and death.

Australia Takes Japan Whaling To Court

This could be a big deal. Australia is challenging before the International Court Of Justice Japan’s claim that it’s Antarctic whaling program is scientific research (which is what makes it technically legal).

Whale and Dolphin Conservation is there to monitor the proceedings:

Australia’s Solicitor-General Mr. Gleeson explains why JARPA II [the Japanese whaling program] fails to exhibit essential characteristics required for it to be called science but rather qualifies its whaling as commercial:

The sheer scale and repetition speak of an operation commercial in nature and defeats the objects and purposes of the 1946 convention. Furthermore he highlights the fact of continuity: Japan continues to carry on the commercial operation it previously embarked upon with similar boats, similar crews and techniques and provides the same supply of whale products to the market. Also, Japan didn’t seem to have a great need for lethal research prior to the moratorium on commercial whaling from 1986 and no other nation before or since has found the need for scientific research on this scale.

Mr. Gleeson furthermore highlights that even though the demand for meat in Japan is falling the political goal remains to maintain a whaling industry through production of products for sale and such sales are used to fund the ongoing operations. “To service a market is evidence for commerce”, he concludes. Also, lethal research methods should always be a matter of last resort, not a first option as Japan holds it.

Bears watching, for sure. An ICJ ruling, even if Japan ignored it, would further isolate Japan over its whaling.

Young Norwegians Don’t Want To Go Whaling

Raymond Nilsen and his father, Eilert, butcher a minke whale aboard the Nordfangst—Norwegian for Northern Catch. Over a typical summer whaling season they catch 20 to 30 minkes. In winter they fish for cod. (Photograph by Marcus Bleasdale)

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.

William Hogarth On The Four Stages Of Animal Cruelty

There’s a fantastic post over on Our Hen House, about the graphic work of Hogarth relating cruelty to animals to the human condition:

Specifically, Hogarth used visual imagery to underscore his belief that cruelty to animals would lead to other forms of social ills. In other words, Hogarth did not see the mistreatment of animals as a distinct issue but, rather, understood it to be part of a larger pattern of social problems. Hogarth’s series, entitled The Four Stages of Cruelty, was released in February 1751 and was comprised of four separate prints, each furthering the narrative of a fictional character named Tom Nero. Of this series, Hogarth noted that he created these images “in hopes of preventing in some degree that cruel treatment of poor Animals which makes the streets of London more disagreeable to the human mind…the very describing of which gives pain.”

You can imagine what Hogarth might think of a factory farm, the Taiji slaughter, or the ivory trade. But these days he’d probably tackle it on Vimeo.

His series of drawings on the four stages of animal cruelty are still worth looking at, though, because they make a powerful point that I think it is critical to understand: cruelty to animals (and cruelty to the environment, for that matter), is not an isolated problem. Instead, it is just one consequence of a chronic human failure, which is a lack of wisdom or enlightenment. So addressing these problems is not simply a matter of trying to end animal cruelty, but trying in the first place to cultivate a completely different understanding about the human role on earth, and human relationships with other species–one that moves away from profit and exploitation, and toward compassion and stewardship. Do that, and lots pf problems are open to solution.

Let’s take a look (click images for full resolution, and Wikipedia has more detail on the scenes):

From Our Hen HouseIn the first image (appropriately titled “The First Stage of Cruelty”), we are introduced to Tom Nero as a young boy. He is on a London street with several other children, most of whom are engaged in some form of cruelty: a pair of cats are suspended from a lamppost, a stray dog has an object tied to his tail, a bird is being blinded by a hot object inserted in her eye. Tom Nero, Hogarth’s protagonist, is in the center of the composition torturing a dog by sticking an arrow in the animal’s anus while another friend pulls harshly on a rope tied around the dog’s neck. While this scene of unchecked cruelty is bad enough, the artist hints at worse to come through the inclusion of a compositional device foreshadowing Tom Nero’s mounting violence: a young man sketches Tom Nero’s eventual demise on the brick wall that the children cluster around.

Our Hen House:

In “The Second Stage of Cruelty,” Tom is no longer a child, and in this print he is shown beating a horse who has collapsed on the street from exhaustion and Continue reading “William Hogarth On The Four Stages Of Animal Cruelty”

The Story Of Whaling And The US Economy

A fascinating look at whaling, innovation, and the 19th century American economy. With lessons for America in the 21st century! How’s that for a daily double?

The standard explanation for the decline of whaling in the second half of the century is a pat two-parter consisting of falling demand (from alternative sources for energy) and falling supply (from over-hunting). But according to Leviathan, the standard explanation is wrong.

To be sure, energy preferences had been flowing to another source of oil: petroleum. In 1859, the US produced no more than 2,000 barrels of the stuff a year. Forty years later, we were producing 2,000 barrels every 17 minutes.

But demand doesn’t tell the whole story. In the middle of the 19th century, whale oil prices increased, which should have led to more production. But output never recovered after the 1850s even as whaling continued to grow around the world. Why did Americans give up?

The answer from Davis, Gallman, and Gleiter will also look familiar to a modern business audience: US workers got too darn expensive, and other countries stole our share of the whale business.

Thanks to the dry-land industrial revolution, “higher wages, higher opportunity costs of capital, and a plethora of entrepreneurial alternatives turned Americans toward the domestic economy,” the authors write. Meanwhile, slower growth overseas made whaling more attractive to other countries. “Lower wages, lower opportunity costs of capital, and a lack of entrepreneurial alternatives pushed [people like the] Norwegians into exploiting the whale stocks,” they continue.

Of course, whaling has little to do with economics anymore. It’s much more about cultural identity, nationalism, and a bankrupt view of man’s dominion over the planet. The true innovation here would be to treat whales as if they had a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A Market Solution For Saving Whales?

Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd confrontations with whaling fleets make for good television. But despite their efforts lots of whales still die every year (some 2000, in fact).

A minke whale is processed in Hvalskurður, Iceland. (Via WIRED. Photo: Dagur Brynjólfsson/Flickr

Environmental economists Christopher Costello, Steve Gaines, and Leah Berger think that market incentives might be a better way to reduce the numbers of whales killed every year. Writing in the January 11 issue of NATURE, they propose the equivalent of a cap and trade system for whales, which would allow conservationists to spend money on purchasing whale shares (and saving the lives of whales) in stead of spending money on chasing whaling fleets around the world’s oceans.

Here’s how WIRED describes the plan:

The proposed market would be patterned after a system known best known from fisheries management as catch shares: Sustainable harvest levels are quantified, a maximum quota established, and catch allotments put up for sale by the International Whaling Commission. Costello’s proposal would add the crucial wrinkle of allowing activists to buy shares, too. If they did, a corresponding number of whales would be removed from the quota. (Indigenous groups would receive a set number of shares to be owned in perpetuity, apart from the market — though those could conceivably be sold, too.)

According to Costello’s estimates, global whaling profits amount to $31 million, and likely less when government subsidies are removed. Mainstream anti-whaling groups — Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the World Wildlife Fund — spend about $25 million to fight the hunts.

“This money could be used to purchase whales, arguably with the same or better effect,” write the researchers in Nature.

There is pushback over the idea that whales would continue to be treated as commodities to buy and sell, instead of exempted from human harvest because they are intelligent, social creatures.

But until humanity achieves a more enlightened and ethical understanding of the relationship between humankind and the other species on Earth–and can agree to leave whales alone–it makes sense to try any approach that actually reduces whale kills. Right now, money is what motivates mankind, so it’s an intriguing proposal.

Must-Read Book Club: “The Sounding Of The Whale”

For anyone interested in whales and dolphins, this book looks fascinating: “The Sounding Of The Whale: Science And Cetaceans In The Twentieth Century.” It’s a masterwork by D. Graham Burnett, a professor of history of science at Princeton that explores the extensive–and sometimes brutal–history of humanity’s interaction with, and understanding of, cetaceans.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

From the Bible’s “Canst thou raise leviathan with a hook?” to Captain Ahab’s “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee!,” from the trials of Job to the legends of Sinbad, whales have breached in the human imagination as looming figures of terror, power, confusion, and mystery.

In the twentieth century, however, our understanding of and relationship to these superlatives of creation underwent some astonishing changes, and with The Sounding of the Whale, D. Graham Burnett tells the fascinating story of the transformation of cetaceans from grotesque monsters, useful only as wallowing kegs of fat and fertilizer, to playful friends of humanity, bellwethers of environmental devastation, and, finally, totems of the counterculture in the Age of Aquarius. When Burnett opens his story, ignorance reigns: even Nature was misclassifying whales at the turn of the century, and the only biological study of the species was happening in gruesome Arctic slaughterhouses. But in the aftermath of World War I, an international effort to bring rational regulations to the whaling industry led to an explosion of global research—and regulations that, while well-meaning, were quashed, or widely flouted, by whaling nations, the first shot in a battle that continues to this day. The book closes with a look at the remarkable shift in public attitudes toward whales that began in the 1960s, as environmental concerns and new discoveries about whale behavior combined to make whales an object of sentimental concern and public adulation.

A sweeping history, grounded in nearly a decade of research, The Sounding of the Whale tells a remarkable story of how science, politics, and simple human wonder intertwined to transform the way we see these behemoths from below.

This finback whale, found dead in the Baltic in 2006, was pulled from the sea by Greenpeace and dumped in front of the Japanese Embassy in Berlin as an anti-whaling protest. (Credit: Danny Gohlke/Agence France-Press — Getty Images)

And here is a passage from the New York Times review, which featured the above image, that in particular caught my attention:

From the likes of Hjort and Harmer and others, Burnett leads us to the superhumanly curious American A. Remington Kellogg, “the Prince of Whales.” Kellogg is perhaps the book’s most intellectually intriguing character, acting as a bridge between the gentleman scientists of the 19th century who had the luxury to leisurely catalog the world’s natural abundance and the conservation-minded biologists of the 20th who could see their research subjects vanishing before their very eyes. For Kellogg, the process of awakening to cetacean exceptionality was a grisly one. He was among the first to commission “vivisections” on porpoises even though, in his own words, “a live porpoise can be handled about as readily as a satchel of dynamite.” This did not deter the intrepid scientists who “fell to the unlovely task of restraining the furiously squealing animal in order first to expose the skull and then to saw into it to expose the brain.” When these operations were performed, Kellogg was witness to “a strangely large brain, one with elaborate patterns of convolution such as were generally thought to be more or less unique to human beings.”

Kellogg’s cruel-sounding investigations into cetacean morphology were paired with truly kind and selfless lobbying on whales’ behalf. In tracking Kellogg’s journey from naturalist to activist, Burnett makes good on his promise to show that “a history of whale science can shed considerable light on the changing understanding of nature in the 20th century.” Not only did Kellogg operate in a policy sphere, lobbying to create the Council for the Conservation of Whales, he also assiduously wooed the popular zeitgeist, most notably by working to produce the National Geographic article that would start to shift the general public’s perceptions of what had been largely maligned creatures. For any writer who has ever dealt with that hallowed magazine’s combination of nitpicking and bluster, the record of Kellogg’s editorial squabbles with National Geographic is worth the price of admission. “Left and right, he fought off editors’ desires to sensationalize cetacean ‘monstrosity,’ ” and at one point wrote to a colleague, “ ‘The publisher has the idea that all the pictures should be exciting, such as a whale running its head though a steamer and then winking its eye at the astonished crew.’ ” When the editors wanted to call the piece “Whales: Lions of the Sea,” Kellogg responded: “ ‘Whales are very distantly, if at all, related to the cat tribe. . . . Except when mortally wounded,’ they ‘are inoffensive and noted for their timidity.’ ”

The Story Of Whaling (In A Cool Online Graphic)

Fantastic representation of the whaling situation, in a series of interactive graphics from the Humane Society Of The US, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

WDCS, AWI and HSI have launched an animated online-tool to provide all the facts and figures the public needs to know about whaling. Whaling in the 21st Century and Before shows the total number of whales killed since 1946, the enormous success of the international ban on commercial whaling and continued whaling activities by Iceland, Norway and Japan.

The graphs show how whaling countries are manipulating the quotas, effectively blackmailing the international community. It sheds light on the ‘deal’ being proposed for adoption at the end of June.

Goto Whaling in the 21st Century and Before and find out the truth about whaling.

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