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Captain’s Log: Fishing an End to the End of Whaling

Lifting 24-year moratorium an ill-advised approach to controlling commercial hunting

A reader asked for my opinion on the movement within the International Whaling Commission — championed by the Obama administration — to end the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling to the benefit of three countries (Japan, Norway and Iceland) that still hunt whales.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

I am against ending the moratorium at this time. My reasoning is not because whales are so adorable (which they are) or because they are vulnerable (which they may be). I do believe in managing species for healthy abundance and sustainability. We humans are in the whale management phase of striving to bring them back to abundance.

I see no need to reinstate commercial hunting until the population of whales becomes so big that ecosystems are paying too great a price to sustain them. At that point, I believe we need to carefully manage the population. I suspect we are already at a point of needing to look at managing the population of California sea lions (also adorable and vulnerable), but we are a long way yet to being at that point for any species of whale.

Countries using loopholes in the moratorium to continue commercially exploiting whales under the guise of science but whose underlying purpose is the commercial sale of whale meat and parts are obviously going against the wishes and intentions of the 88-member International Whaling Commission.

The intention of ending the moratorium is not necessarily to allow and endorse commercial hunting, but to limit and control it. Limits and controls don’t seem to work, however, when it is being done through legal loopholes. So I do appreciate that the plan is a strategy to implement controls over the practice, but I believe it’s an ill-advised approach that may lead to other countries — that may or may not be members of the commission — sharpening their harpoons and refitting hunting vessels.

My advice is to hit whale-hunting countries where it hurts — in their pocketbooks. I believe that the member countries involved in the International Whaling Commission should impose strict economic sanctions against those few countries. I’m thinking that if our next ballot were to have a measure on it asking whether we wish to place economic sanctions against countries that hunt whales commercially, the vote would tally overwhelmingly in favor of sanctions. We do love our whales.

But then if we do that, the next ballot might contain something similar about some critter that may actually be in need of management (maybe California sea lions), but voters are influenced by the adorable and vulnerable factors rather than the importance of carefully managed ecosystems and populations. At that point, we might find ourselves on a slippery slope of management by popularity.

That’s a whale of a problem for political columnists to ponder. Me, I’m casting off to go wave at whales on our Santa Barbara Channel. Want to come along?

— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.

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