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“Ask a marine biologist” response (whaling)

Are whale populations endangered by whaling? – Could they become extinct?

Whales are endangered due to many factors, and whaling is one of them. With the populations in such a delicate balance (due to low numbers and environmental pressures, among other things), even small-scale whaling could lead to extinction. One of the issues is that we do not understand the balance and how resilient the populations can be.

What effect does a reduced whale population have on their ecosystem?

When a population – whale or otherwise – becomes very small, there is less diversity which can lead to less adaptability to changes in their environment. Whales are top predators, and so changes in their populations affects their usual prey. Also, they interact with the environment in other ways – making sounds, migrating, serving as hosts for other organisms – and these interactions will also change and consequently the rest of the ecosystem. Again – we do not know the extent of the role that whales play in the ecosystem, and have no way of predicting short or long term changes, except that there are many.

Do you think Wailing is cruel and what can be done to stop it?

Whaling does not necessarily have to be considered cruel in order for it to be a good idea to stop it. Whaling is bringing whales closer to extinction and disrupts ecosystem balances – that is enough. That is also a kind of cruelty. While we shouldn’t have to put it this way, also, humans will be negatively affected by it.

Scientists are generally against the measures being considered by the International Whaling Commission – this includes the IWC’s own scientific advisers. Science magazine recently published an article about this, including interviews with scientists who discuss how the new proposal to allow commercial whaling is not based on scientific information and is a bad idea. So what can be done? Science is a great tool, and can help in finding win-win solutions. Scientific outreach, education and research are very important. As Sylvia Earle says, you can’t care about what you don’t know. Scientific perspectives should be taken into consideration in addressing whaling policy. Scientists should continue to speak up and contribute. Non-scientists should inform themselves, and speak out. Concerned, knowledgeable voices, even or especially from young people, can actually make a real difference.

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