May 2012

Are tribal hunting rights more important than whale lives?

Many native tribes once used whaling as a traditional way to support themselves.  Over the years, the lack of stable populations has forced government regulations that prevent these old customs from being practiced.  Still, once a particular population reaches a level whereby they are no longer considered endangered, is it more important to protect the continued growth of that whale population or to restore the hunting rights of the tribes who wish to maintain their old ways of life?

Several tribes have voluntarily abandoned the old practices in favor of helping the whales, but not all of them.  Recently the grey whales of the Pacific Coast have come into the spotlight as a tribe based out of Washington state, the Makah, wishes to return to harvesting them.  The numbers that were proposed as acceptable to hunt are actually quite small, only numbering 20 over the course of five years.  Still, NOAA has concluded that there may be an exception that prevents the whales from being viable targets of a harvest.

Lawsuit to Save Alaskan Beluga Whales is Underway

Declining whale populations are nothing new and several species of these animals suffer from the threat of going extinct if this trend is not reversed.  In recent news, conservation groups are taking measures to protect one particular endangered species, the Alaskan beluga whale, by filing a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to block a permit they recently issued that allows seismic oil exploration in the critical beluga waters of the Cook Inlet.

Belugas in Alaska have seen a consistent drop in population over the last 25 years.  Where once they numbered over 1300, estimates now put them closer to 275.  Much of this was the result of native whale hunting, but due to the declines the tribes responsible have voluntarily ceased their activities to preserve the whales.  The Apache Alaska Corp., however, has no such intentions of halting its oil exploration activities if it can help it.

Whales Learning and Spreading New Songs

While doing some reading, I stumbled upon an interesting bit of research that some scientists had done regarding the transmission of whale songs among humpback populations.  Apparently, whales switch up their songs and spread them around, replacing the old songs with the new and creating a trend that affects all the populations involved.

Humpback mating songs are singular in nature, with only one song dominating all populations at any given time.  Inevitably, however, the songs change.  The study shows that the new songs almost always start with populations in Australia and then travel eastwards until they reach French Polynesia.  This is believed to be a result of populations being higher in western regions than in the east.  By the end of a breeding season, the new song dominates and eventually the old one dies out.

Iceland Continues to Slaughter Whales

Iceland is one of the few remaining countries that make a big business out of the slaughter of whales.  The targets of these killings are fin whales and minke whales.  Fin whales happen to be critically endangered, which makes these activities even more appalling.  Despite international conservation agreements, Iceland continues to hunt and has, in fact, actually increased their killing of whales.  They butcher hundreds of whales every year and have been warned by conservation groups that these numbers are way beyond sustainable levels.