Mankind has a long history of exploiting animals for its own use, with one of the most destructive forms of this being hunting. Hunting can often jeopardise the survival of certain species’ and cause them to become endangered. According to the IUCN’s ‘Red List of Threatened Species’, many whale species, such as Right Whales, are among some of the most critically endangered. This can be seen to be a direct consequence of whale hunting, also known as, ‘whaling’.
Whaling goes all the way back to the 11th century, commonly used by Basque populations around the Bay of Biscay. During the 17th century, the Bay experienced a decrease in whale populations, causing the practice to expand northwards as it became adopted by colonized territories in North America as well as other European nations. Whales were commonly used commercially for their meat and fat reserves in the form of oils, which became important for the developing industrial sector. Some other commercial uses included the incorporation of whale bone or baleen in the supporting material of carriage springs, umbrella ribs and even female corsets; a role that plastic has today. Use was even made of whale stomach excretions, as it was thought to help balance vapor pressures of raw materials in perfume oils.
However, whale numbers then began to deplete at an alarming rate. The implications of the Right Whales’ possible extinction were presented to policy makers and the issue of commercial whaling was finally granted international attention. In 1946, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded and published the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The main aim of this document was to legally enforce the sustainable use of limited whale stocks to ensure the continued benefit for future generations. Nevertheless, some countries, including Japan opposed implementation of the proposed measures, which raised concern within the international community.
Japan, however, appeared to reach a hopeful compromise in 1985 as it signed the ‘Commercial Whaling Moratorium’, banning all forms of commercial whale hunting, with only the exception of the use of hunting for scientific purposes. International relief, however, proved short-lived, as the Japanese government was accused of killing up to 1000 Right Whales annually. Japan responded alleging the requirement of the whales for demands in scientific research. Australia and New Zealand, however, appealed to the International Court of Justice in outrage for the revocation of Japan’s remaining whaling permits. Later still, in December 2018, Japan officially announced their resuming of commercial whaling policies in July 2019, further supporting their disregard for anti-whaling policies.
If whale hunting continues at the same rate, the predicted effects we can expect to see on ocean life will be disastrous. For example, it has been predicted that, by 2040, Right Whales will become extinct within the North Atlantic, with only 430 of the animals left and only 100 of these being female. Further still, with the Japanese pursuit of unrestricted whale hunts, there is no reason to believe the same outcome may not apply to Right Whale populations in the Pacific.
Such an extinction would destabilize vast marine ecosystems. The removal of one of the ocean’s largest predators from the food chain would lead to a surplus of the certain species upon which the whales feed. This could further cause a dangerous depletion of essential food for other species through an increase in competition. Therefore, with the extent of further changes still largely unknown, it’s high time we stopped ignoring the consequences. Commercial whale hunting is menacing our oceans. If Japan doesn’t change its policy, it will have to be made to.