Monthly Archives: June 2012

Greenland kills whales to feed tourists

Firstly let me say that I am against whaling, and I work as a marine conservationist.  Therefore my opinion may be a little bit biased.  However, I also believe that I am not in the minority, and that there are many substantial arguments against whaling.  With that in mind…

Whale being pulled into ship. Image: WDCS

Greenland is killing whales to feed tourists – and wants more

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has conducted an undercover investigation in Greenland, where they found that whales caught under subsistence hunting rules (hunting by local people for their own food needs) are being served in dishes for tourists.

Restaurants were targeting visitors to the country with menus of bowhead and other whale meat. Supermarkets were also openly selling endangered fin whale and other whale meats, freely available for tourists to buy.  (By the way, if you buy whale meat for export and bring it back to the UK, EU or US, you risk arrest for importing an internationally protected species.  So you shouldn’t do it anyway.)

There is an international ban (via the International Whaling Commission, IWC) on commercial whaling.  But Greenland (a Danish overseas territory) has basically undermined this ban by selling whale meat to tourists, from whales it is allowed to kill solely for the nutritional needs of local indigenous people .

I’d like to just highlight this a little more.  The phrase “when the meat and products of such whales are to be used exclusively for local consumption” is understood by the IWC to mean:

(1) the personal consumption of whale products for food, fuel, shelter, clothing, tools or transportation by participants in the whale harvest; (2) the barter, trade or sharing of whale products in their harvested form with relatives of the participants in the harvest, with others in the local community or with persons in locations other than the local community with whom local residents share familial, social, cultural or economic ties. A generalised currency is involved in this barter and trade, by the predominant portion of the products from such whales are ordinarily directly consumed or utilised in their harvested form within the local community; and (3) The making and selling of handicraft articles from whale products, when the whale is harvested for the purposes defined in (1) and (2) above. Source

The selling of whale meat to tourists clearly isn’t covered by this definition.

Anyway… At the IWC meeting in Panama in July, Denmark wants to demand an increase to its whale catches in Greenland, to meet the needs of the local people.  But WDCS chief executive, Chris Butler-Stroud, said:  “The Danish government’s claims that Greenland needs to kill more whales for nutritional and cultural needs is laughable.  Who is this meat really for?  Greenland’s native-born population has increased by around just 9.9% in the last 24 years and yet, the request for more large whales by Greenland in the same period has increased by 89%!  Even the number of licensed subsistence hunters in Greenland has declined between 1993 and 2010 by a massive 49%. Our investigation report shows that this demand for more whale meat is clearly driven by the commercial consumer market, not by aboriginal needs.”

The proposed increase would include catching up to 19 endangered fin whales a year (almost double from current levels) and increase the number of humpbacks killed without a review for at least six years.

But there clearly isn’t the level of subsistence ‘need’ in Greenland that both Greenland and the Danish government are trying make a case for.

“We believe that this, together with the findings of the WDCS investigation should result in any request for the killing of even higher numbers of whales by Greenland being rejected and the situation thoroughly reviewed by the IWC,” said Butler-Stroud.

The research by WDCS and the Animal Welfare Institute found that 24 out of 31 restaurants visited, contacted or researched online offered whale meat to tourists. The groups said that meals available to tourists included whale burgers, buffets with whale meat for cruise ship passengers, whale pasta and Thai and sushi dishes. They said a significant proportion of the estimated 200,000 meals served to tourists in the country each year contained whale meat.

See more details at WDCS.

Fin whale on sale at Uummannak braettet (local market). Image: WDCS

But you shouldn’t eat whale meat anyway

It makes me angry to hear that more whales are being killed to feed tourists.  I can see why some subsistence whaling is allowed for cultural and nutritional needs.  But I still have a lot of issues with it, not least due to the kinds of corruption of the practice that has been seen here in Greenland. Subsistence hunting is difficult to control, controversial and basically assists commercial whaling interests.  See this article by WDCS on the main issues.  That being said, if the Inuit have excess whale meat, then I don’t see a problem with them selling it on.  They are probably not the drivers of this commercial industry; the danger comes from giving excess whale meat a commercial value that extends beyond what can be consumed by indigenous populations.  Also from the blurred line between local, aboriginal and visitor.

Secondly, I don’t get why people coming to the country are eating whale meat at all.  Travellers like to try out the local cuisine, yes.  But whale meat is not eaten by the greater proportion of Greenland’s population, so is it really ‘local cuisine’?  It is eaten only because it is the best nutrition that some indigenous peoples can get.

Most people prefer not to eat whale meat, and I don’t blame them.  Whether it’s for moral, cultural or health reasons, whale meat is generally not top choice on the menu.  If whale meat was on the menu back home, would you eat it?  I suggest probably not.  It’s the novelty of the thing that convinces people they should try it out, just once.  Even a good friend of mine with a Biology degree tried whale in Iceland.  As I expressed my shock, she explained that it was because “…you have to try everything once.  It’s part of visiting other places.  And they’re either going to ban whaling or run out anyway so I wanted to try it before it’s gone.”

I turned away in disgust.

This is why there is still demand for whale meat, and why whaling nations can still sell it.  Even when their own population doesn’t eat it. Tourism dollars are on the increase as more people travel, and more travel to ‘exotic’ destinations as well (i.e. different from home).

But if you just came back  from a safari, would you want to eat lion, cheetah or elephant?  Would you want to eat orangutan, or panda?  Whales are protected under international law.  Even those in reasonable abundance – like the Minke – I still wouldn’t want to eat, for many reasons (cruelty of hunting, toxin accumulation, unsustainability are some).  Why would you want to step off a whale watching boat and eat whale?

Eating whale meat as a tourist is supporting whaling.

It something that I cannot understand, and I cannot approve of anyone eating whale that doesn’t require this food in order to live.

So please, please, don’t believe that just because you are visiting another country, you need to try everything that’s on the menu.  You don’t.  You will survive just fine without it.

Unlike whales.

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Goodbye Lonesome George

Lonesome George

The last known Pinta Island tortoise, Lonesome George, died yesterday (24th June 2012, local time in Ecuador) of unknown causes.

The event marks the total extinction of this Giant Tortoise subspecies, Chelonoidis nigra abingdoni, also known as the Pinta Island Tortoise or Abingdon Island Tortoise.

World’s Rarest Animal

Lonesome George long held the record for World’s Most Endangered Animal and another for being the Rarest Reptile.  He was discovered in 1971 and subsequently placed under protection at the Charles Darwin Research Station.

Scientists had been trying to get George to mate since 1993, when they introduced two female tortoises of a different subspecies into his pen.  They laid eggs twice, but they were infertile.  George didn’t make a great dad, it seems.

The Pinta tortoise was pronounced functionally extinct because George was in captivity and breeding was unsuccessful.

He was a major icon of conservation efforts and the Galapagos Islands.

Last of his Kind

There are still around 20,000 giant tortoises living on the Galapagos Islands.  But of the twelve subspecies, four are extinct or extinct in the wild; one is critically endangered; four are endangered; and four are of vulnerable conservation status.  This sad state is due to hunting for their meat by sailors and fishermen, and the reduction of habitat – eaten away by goats introduced from the mainland.  Conservation efforts have reduced the number of goats so that habitat can return, tourism brings in much-needed money, education and awareness in the community are helping the government manage the Islands more sustainably… But sadly for George and his subspecies, it was just too late.

Old Age?

Lonesome George was believed to be over 100 years old when he died.  Edwin Naula, Director of the Galapagos National Park, has said he suspects George to have died from natural causes due to his age.  After a necropsy to confirm this, the Park is also considering embalming George’s body for display.  So don’t worry if you didn’t get to see him yet – the last Abingdon Island Tortoise may still be around for years to come.

One hundred years may may sound old to you… but Giant Tortoises are thought to live for up to 200 years, and George had a long way to go before he could break any more records.  The Aldabran giant tortoise Adwaita may have been 255 years old upon his death in 2006.  Tu’i Malila was given to the Tongan Royal family by Captain James Cook in 1777, and was believed to be 188 years old upon his death by natural causes in 1965.  The third oldest tortoise ever authenticated was Harriet, a Galapagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra porteri – Indefatigable Island Tortoise).  Harriet was thought to have originally been brought from the Galapagos Islands by Charles Darwin himself.  She died in 2006 in Australia, aged 176.

So perhaps Lonesome George could have lived a few more years.  That seems to make his passing even more sad, to me.

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Giant fish sculpture made from plastic bottles in Rio

Saw this and just had to share:

Giant fish sculptures in Rio made from plastic bottles

These sculptures are made from discarded plastic bottles, on Botafogo beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) .  See more at Giant Fish Sculptures and Flickr.

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