Whale watching vs. Whaling

Whales and dolphins have been fascinating men for thousands of years. Ancient legends and drawings proove that. Therefore it is no surprise, that today people want to learn more about them, want to see the popular animals either in captivity or in the nature. One of the major wishes of people is to have the possibility to take part in a Whale watching drip and encounter cetaceans in the wild. It’s not seldom, that they are tear-filled when they finally see a whale or dolphin.
However, men have forever been using the animals as a resource. Record shows, that people in the area of today’s Korea had already been whaling some 7000 years ago. Over time, a commerical whaling evolved which just stopped in 1986 and some countries still continue their hunt.

Major whaling startet in the 17th century and peaked in the 19th and at the beginning of the 20th century. Giant whales such as Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis/australis) and Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) were chased mainly because of their oil, which was used as fuel and as industrial raw material. Other parts were used for cosmetics, candles and lubricants. The baleen of Mysticeti were used for clothings such as crinolines and corsets and for carvings.
In the course of time hunting methods were improved and whaling-vessels gained in size. At the beginning, men used small skiffs and harpoons. In the 1860s explosive harpoons were developed, which made hunting easier and safer. This made it possible to even hunt fast whales such as Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Hence to the advanced techniques more than 10’000s of whales were killed every year, cumulating in up to more than 100’000 and 6 different big species. Whaling because of the demand for the animals’ meat increased significantly in the 20th century. The Japanese Whaling peaked after the World War II, when the meat was needed to provide food for the population. In Europe some countries continued whaling in the Arctic for industrial resource reasons till the 1960s. Thus, five species were driven near extinction including Physeter macrocephalus and Balaenoptera musculus. The Northern Right Whale, had already been endagered in the 19th century and considerations about control of whaling were made in the 30s of the 20th century.
As people became aware of the threat to the cetaceans and when petroleum and plasticts began to replace the whale oil and the bones, first attempts of protecting the animals were made. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded on the 2nd December 1946 to regulate whaling. But it was until 1986 that the IWC set up a moratorium of international commercial whaling. Despite the general prohibition some continued to kill cetaceans, especially Minke Whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), but also big endangered species like Physeter macrocephalus and Balaenoptera borealis. Some whaling is allowed for indigenous purposes for the Inuit of Alaska and Greenland and some other traditional whaling cultures, though. Furthermore it is allowed to kill a limited number of whales for scientific reasons. That is the main argument for Japan, Norway and Iceland to contuine whaling. Conservationists accuse that eventually it is commerical, as more animals are taken than needed for research and that whale meat is still sold.
Although the main reason for whaling has always been an industrial one, some important scientific knowledge had been gained through hunting the animals and studying them afterwards. Thus knowledge about anatomy and some behaviour patterns such as migration retracing from ships logs was obtained.

Nevertheless the correlation between men and cetaceans began to change in the middle of the 20th century and conservational attempts to protect the animals were made. Furthermore the general interest of the puplic in marine mammals increased and finally lead to the creation of the first commerical Whale watching organisation in the United States in 1955. Whale watching gives people the possibility to encounter the famous animals in their natural habitats. Even though more and more tourists enjoyed such trips, for a long time Whale watching was only offered in twelve countries, especially the USA and Canada. Then in the 1980s Whale watching expanded and more than 45 nations provided the possibility with more than 4.5 million tourists per year. Since then, the commerical tourism boomed and still continues to do so. As whales and dolphins become more popular due to movies, dolphinariums and conservational projects, the general interest in the marine mammals increases rapidly. Thus many regions have specialised in whale watching, now, and it has become an important economic factor for them as well. People noticed how important it is to protect the whales. Many former whaling nations now carry out whale tourism. The Azores, being a region with a high diversity of cetaceans, were once an important whaling region and the hunt was one of the most important economic factors for the people. Today they have changed their point of view and a growing and important Whale watching tourism has emerged. Every year new organisations develope. Former whalers now work in this new branch and they get a completely different and new point of view towards the animals. Today for many tourists seeing the whales and dolphins is one of the main reasons to visit the islands.

The development of Whale watching led to many discussions concerning whaling. As the public interest and the general fascination, which has been there for thousands of years, increased, people do not want to see the animals being killed anymore. Thus the question emerged wether a whale is worth more if it is alive or dead. Besides the prohibition of commerical whaling, conservationists say there is no need to kill the animals nowadays. Blubber and bones are replaced by other materials and the demand of whale meat decreases, even in Japan where it is still very common and regarded as a delicacy. The need for scientific whaling is very low. Now scientists mainly relay on observation based research which can be perfectly combined with Whale watching. Due to this they can get more information about social and general behaviours.
Furthermore Whale watching developed in the countries still commiting whaling as well. Especially Norway and Iceland have a growing Whale watching industry and even in Japan it began to emerge. The demand for seeing the whales alive increases importantly and governments might soon see the significance of whale observation in contrast to the decreasing and in some points already lacking need of whaling, and that tourists are more interested in live than in dead animals.

Wikipedia: Walfang
Wikipedia: Whale watching
Wikipedia: Whaling
Wikipedia: History of Whaling
Wikipedia: Whale watching

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