Whales have lived in the seas for millions of years, but in an infinite fraction of this time they have been pushed to the very edge of extinction.
For 150 years the Southern Seas were bloodied by mass slaughter. Hundreds of thousands of whales were hunted and killed – mostly to oil the wheels of industry. But at the eleventh hour a reprieve may have come. In 1994 an international agreement designated the Antarctic seas a sanctuary for whales. This safe area joins with the existing Indian Ocean sanctuary creating a haven for 80% of the world’s remaining whales.
How has an agreement been achieved between so many nations to halt the killing of whales? From a western point of view whaling has become uneconomical to some extent, but to countries such as Norway, Iceland and Japan whaling is still potentially big business. t is public concern for the environment, and whales in particular, that has brought about this change in attitude. A concern fostered by the media of film and television showing images of animals in the wild to people who would never experience such animals in the wild.
Brilliant media manipulation by conservation groups such as “Greenpeace” brought the fight to save the whales into the spotlight of world attention. Whales came to represent a new concern about the state of the earth and finally a moratorium on hunting whales, initiated by public concern, came into effect in 1985. It was close to the end – in the blink of an eyelid in time, ninety percent of the great whales had gone. Are remaining populations large enough to enable survival and a recovery of the species? It may take over a century before this question can be answered. And now there is another threat to the survival of whales. Commercial fishing consortiums are now harvesting krill, a shrimp like creature and the main prey of many of the great whales, their super-trawlers swallow gigantic catches, processing them on-board, mainly for animal feed.
The threat is to the entire ecosystem, not just the whales – krill form the diet of many species, from squid to penguins. Without the krill, the wildlife of the Southern seas would certainly be in danger. If harvesting limits are not urgently set starvation for the whales will be just as lethal as an exploding harpoon.
“Whales” investigates the historical aspects of whaling and its demise as well as the nature of whales themselves. The human history of exploitation of the Earth’s creatures, and its resources, is a sad reflection on the human soul – but the singular collective act of creating a sanctuary may be one light in our attitude to the animals with which we share this planet. Providing that we reinforce the whaling bans, reduce pollution of the seas and limit the harvesting of krill – the future for most of the world’s whales in their new sanctuary may well be assured.
But now it is undergoing a process of natural recovery, threatened only by the insidious unseen pollution dumped into its fragile waters. A threat that could undermine the very basis of food chain causing a collapse in the ecosystem and starvation for many of its inhabitants.
The seas must remain under constant scientific scrutiny to ensure that human kind’s pollution does not cause such a devastating ecological disaster.
A commitment to maintaining the health of the oceans by all nations will help secure this fragile environment for all of its inhabitants.