Whales: Preventing the Clear-Cutting of the ‘Forests of the Ocean’
Today, a number of officials are gathering in Florida to discuss the ongoing issues with whaling. Things appear to be split at least 3 ways amongst them and right now it’s hard to tell what direction the meeting will go in.
First, you have the IWC (International Whaling Commission), which is responsible for slapping a 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Since Japan uses “lethal research” as a loophole, while Iceland and Norway completely ignore the ban altogether, the IWC is hoping to strike up a compromise. Part of this compromise includes more control over the whaling done by those nations, required DNA samples from any “research”, and cutting quotas over the next 10 years. There is also talk of setting up another whale sanctuary, this time in the Southern Atlantic.
Then, you have Japan, who wants to ultimately lift the ban completely and get right back to commercial whaling. Considering that much of their “lethal research” kills go to restaurants and stores anyway, that seems pretty commercial to me already. Claims are made that they “will be flexible” at the meeting, while they still bring up the same old argument that whaling is part of Japan’s culture. That’s all very well and good, but the fact that something is part of a culture does not make it okay to do.
Finally, you have the Australians, who refuse to compromise or let Japan get their way. They’d much rather have Japan stop whaling completely—at least in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. A number of environmental groups, including Greenpeace, seem to be backing this side more than the others. However, the stance of certain nations (particularly the US) remains to be seen.
Negotiators will come to some form of decision on Friday; however, this meeting is only a preview of what’s to come. Nothing decided this week will put any compromise or ban lifting into effect; that won’t officially happen until the main IWC meeting, which will be held in Morocco, in June. Now, while all the negotiators are fighting it out behind closed doors, there is one other rather interesting piece of new information they should seriously consider.
A recent study shows that whales have an important role when it comes to carbon and global warming. Conducted by Dr. Andrew Pershing and fellow colleagues from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, they calculated the carbon-storing capacity of whales throughout their lifetime. What they discovered may shock you.
You see, whales can store a vast amount of carbon in their bodies. When they die, that carbon has to go somewhere, but it depends on how they die. If they die of natural causes, their bodies sink and the carbon is released back into the ocean. However, if they are killed from whaling, that carbon is released into the atmosphere. According to the scientists, a single century of whaling could have released over 100 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of burning 130,000 sq km (nearly 81,000 square miles) of temperate forests. Although this amount is minimal compared to all the CO2 produced by humans every year, it does not diminish the importance of the whales’ role in storing and transporting carbon throughout the world’s oceans.
Describing them as the “forests of the ocean”, Pershing has an interesting idea on how to handle both the whaling and CO2 emission problem. He suggests allowing large groups of whales to live and grow, thus allowing more carbon to be stored in them and the ocean. A system of carbon credits would also be applied to the whales in order to protect them and rebuild their stocks. The idea is quite similar to ongoing reforestation projects. Pershing goes further to explain:
“The idea would be to do a full accounting of how much carbon you could store in a fully populated stock of fish or whales, and allow countries to sell their fish quota as carbon credits. You could use those credits as an incentive to reduce the fishing pressure or to promote the conservation of some of these species.”
Other scientists certainly seem interested in this study and idea of his. Professor Daniel Costa noted that “So many more groups are looking at the importance of these large animals in the carbon cycle. And it’s one of those things that, when you look at it, you think: ‘This is so obvious, why didn’t we think of this before?’”.
Whether whaling stops for personal reasons, conservation reasons, or global warming reasons, one thing remains clear: it needs to stop, once and for all.
By Heidi Marshall