A simple reason to
stop whaling: it's cruel
unite to highlight horrific impact of harpooning
By Michael McCarthy,
Animal welfare groups
from around the world presented a report on whaling yesterday that
aims to take the argument back to basics: the cruelty of the kill.
The report, likely to
be seen as one of the most significant contributions to the
whaling debate for many years, is a detailed scientific study of
how much violence is needed to slaughter the world's largest
animals in the open ocean.
Its premise is that
much of the argument in the annual conferences of the
International Whaling Commission (IWC) now tends to be about whale
population statistics, and this has obscured the main issue - that
the act of killing the great whales, usually by explosive harpoons,
Waters, comprehensively reviews the animal welfare
implications of modern whaling activities. It has been produced by
142 animal welfare organisations from 57 countries, including
several from Britain, who have come together in a new
coalition,Whalewatch. Its avowed purpose is to bring the issue of
cruelty back to the fore at the next IWC meeting in Italy in July,
and maintain the international moratorium on commercial whaling.
The moratorium has
been in force since 1986, but is increasingly being challenged by
the three main pro-whaling nations - Japan, Norway and Iceland.
Since it was introduced, more than 20,000 whales have been killed
by the whaling countries - by Japan and recently Iceland under the
guise of "scientific" whaling, and by Norway as a simple
commercial hunt. In this coming year they are likely to kill more
than 1,400 animals between them, mostly minke whales.
But the new report
does not concern itself with numbers. It sets out to demonstrate,
in extensive technical detail, that the great whales are so big
and powerful that the amount of force needed to dispatch even one
of them is unacceptably inhumane.
naturalist, Sir David Attenborough, stresses the point in his
foreword to the report. "The following pages contain hard
scientific dispassionate evidence that there is no humane way to
kill a whale at sea," says the broadcaster.
"Dr Harry Lillie,
who worked as a ship's physician on a whaling trip in the
Antarctic half a century ago, wrote this: 'If we can imagine a
horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach
and being made to pull a butcher's truck through the streets of
London while it pours blood into the gutter, we shall have an idea
of the method of killing. The gunners themselves admit that if
whales could scream, the industry would stop for nobody would be
able to stand it.' The use of harpoons with explosive grenade
heads is still the main technique used by whalers today."
Sir David suggests
that any reader of the report should "decide for yourself
whether the hunting of whales in this way should still be
tolerated by a civilised society."
Peter Davies, director
general of the World Society for the Protection of Animals, one of
the leading groups in the coalition, said: "The cruelty
behind whaling has become obscured in recent years by abstract
arguments over population statistics. The fact is that, whether it
is one whale or a thousand, whaling is simply wrong on cruelty
The technology used
for killing whales has altered little since the 19th century, when
the grenade-tipped harpoon was invented. The penthrite grenade
harpoon, the main killing method today, is fired from a cannon
mounted on the bow of a ship. It is intended to penetrate a foot
into the whale before detonating. The aim is to kill the animal
through neurotrauma induced by the blast-generated pressure waves
of the explosion.
However, if the first
harpoon fails to kill the whale, then a second penthrite harpoon
or a shot from a rifle is used as a secondary killing method. But
given the constantly moving environment in which whales live,
there are inherent difficulties in achieving a quick clean kill,
the report says, and despite its destructive power, the whaler's
harpoon often fails to kill its victim instantaneously, and some
whales take more than an hour to die.
The difficulties in
hitting a whale with any degree of accuracy can be seen in the
margin for human error. For example, despite similar killing
methods being used, Norway reported that one in five whales failed
to die instantaneously during its 2002 hunt, while Japan reported
that the majority of whales - almost 60 per cent - failed to die
instantaneously during its 2002-03 hunt.
Tests to determine the
moment of death of a whale are inadequate, the report says, and
the question remains whether whales may in fact still be alive
long after having been judged to be dead. The full extent of their
suffering is yet to be scientifically evaluated.
Link : http://news.independent.co.uk/world/environment/story.jsp?story=499374