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April 14, 2014

Even More Winds of Change Blowing for Whales

The latest pulse of good news for whales comes from an unlikely source – the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the site of whaling since 1875, when the immigrant Scotsman William Wallace launched a whale hunt there.  But recently, a number of whalers led by Orson 'Balaam' Ollivierre have decided to lay down their harpoons and join the whale watching industry as an alternative.

Whale tail
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Whalers now realize there’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This sort of personal transformation is driven by the forces of economic progress and opportunity.  There’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This is the latest in a cascade of decisions and actions that are bringing us considerably closer to the end of whaling on our planet.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Southern ocean was in violation of the global commercial whaling moratorium which has resulted in a suspension of Japanese whaling there and created great uncertainty about Japan’s future whaling.  On April 2, President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment for trading in whale meat, just as eight Icelandic members of parliament proposed a resolution asking the finance and economic minister to assess whaling from the perspectives of Iceland’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its impact on Iceland's global position and stature with other nations.

And when it comes to the plight of whales in captivity, we’re seeing dramatic progress too.  On Friday, by a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected SeaWorld’s appeal of the 2012 OSHA regulatory safety finding that resulted in a prohibition on contact with whales in the water at SeaWorld.  The panel ruled that SeaWorld had violated its obligations as an employer by exposing its trainers to the "recognized hazards" of working with killer whales, and rejected the claim of a SeaWorld attorney that physical contact with killer whales was critical to his client’s core business.

Orca 1
iStockphoto
As people begin to appreciate the opportunity to see whales in their natural environments, an enterprise like SeaWorld that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market. 

While SeaWorld is going to fend off California legislation, at least for some time, to ban the use of orcas in entertainment displays, the federal court ruling is a blow to the mega-entertainment company which must decide whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But before SeaWorld officials look to the nation’s highest court for a bailout, they might take a good hard look at the sweep of events concerning the protection of whales in the wild.  Whales, majestic creatures of the nation’s oceans, are meant to swim free, wild and unmolested. As more and more people throughout the world begin to appreciate and value the opportunity to see whales and to protect them in their natural environments, an enterprise that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market, just as the commercial whalers realize that there’s almost nobody who wants to eat whale meat.  Courts, parliamentarians and onetime whalers are all building a new consensus that ensures a square deal for whales in the coming decades. 

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