20-Ton Canaries: The Great Whales of the North Atlantic (Panel)
author: Jeremy Firestone, College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware
author: Robin Craig, College of Law, Florida State University
author: Richard Max Strahan
author: William C.G. Burns, Journal of International Wildlife and Policy
author: Alison Rieser, College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii at Mānoa
author: Don Anton, College of Law, Australian National University
published: June 4, 2013, recorded: October 2008, views: 3187
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These legal, environmental and policy experts don’t converge on a dominant strategy for saving whales, but make the case in their own ways that we are fast approaching a moment of no return for the great cetaceans, and quite possibly the oceans we all rely on.
“Every time you take a piece out of the ocean without knowing what you’re doing, you’re creating future problems,” says Robin Craig. With whaling and current fishing practices, we simply don’t know what we’re losing in terms of biodiversity and larger ecosystem functioning. Craig is also concerned about the Navy’s use of lower frequency sonar, and the decade of litigation that in one case ended up in the Supreme Court.
Jeremy Firestone has investigated the physics of shipstrikes on whales, looking at whether speed or mass are most important in determining damage. This is particularly important where the endangered right whale is concerned. Firestone is trying to determine quantitatively how particular strategies, such as slowing down ships, or shifting vessel routes, might reduce these destructive encounters, and which might be more acceptable to the different stakeholders.
“Climate change is rapidly emerging…as the primary source of imperilment” for ocean species, says Wil Burns. Sea ice has receded, permitting ship travel in previously safe Arctic regions; algae and krill populations, whale ecosystem mainstays, are shrinking. Whales face extinction by a variety of synergistic factors now, and for better or worse, says Burns, the legal and regulatory response must center on the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Alison Rieser discusses the current gnarled politics of the IWC. Japan exploits a loophole in a global whaling moratorium to take hundreds of Antarctic and Pacific whales, arguing that populations permit sustainable catch quotas. Other countries vehemently oppose this whaling, and are trying to modernize the IWC, to make it address near and long-range threats to cetaceans. Rieser wonders if, under U.S. leadership, the IWC “can be salvaged” in order to take collective action “around climate change and the other proximate causes of whale demise.”
Don Anton assumes at the outset that “dysfunctionality won’t go away” in world whaling politics. He looks in particular at Australia’s efforts to end Japanese whaling by establishing a whale sanctuary off Antarctica. Anton doesn’t believe this unilateral approach will work. “I come at this (conclusion) awkwardly and uncomfortably” as a “tree-hugger,” he admits. Instead, he thinks Australia and New Zealand should plead the whales’ case before an international tribunal.
“I think whaling should stop absolutely,” says Max Strahan. We have an ecosystemic relationship to them, he says, and the fact we’re killing whales symbolizes our destruction of the oceans as well. The reason why the treaties don’t work, he says, is that “under the real law that matters, whales are still fish,” managed like hunted animals, and under this paradigm, there’s no possibility of saving them. Strahan wants the end of commercial whaling and of the IWC, and demands environmental reviews of fisheries.
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