Could there be an economic solution to stop the whale wars? An economist and two marine biologists have suggested that a market-based trading system may be the answer. Something that would “be economically, ecologically and socially viable for whalers and whales alike.” Whilst this is not a new proposal, it is gaining the interest of the Obama administration and a number of environmentalists. For those passionate about the protection of whales, it is difficult to think of these magnificent creatures in the form of economic units. At Wild Focus, we have had the pleasure of working with so many wonderful species of whales in Antarctica and British Columbia, including orca, minke, fin, and humpbacks. When you meet these incredible whales in person, it really is hard to fathom why anyone would want to destroy them. These animals are such a gift to our planet. On each Wild Focus photography adventure, we look forward to the thrill of seeing a guest overwhelmed with emotions when a humpback surfaces just meters away.
The Obama and Bush administrations previously attempted to form an international arrangement that would allow the whaling nations to continue their hunting activities if quantities were reduced. However the deal failed in 2010 and so today Sea Shepherd ships are once again attempting to patrol the Antarctic waters and put an end to whaling. With the international political storm that has erupted over the three Australians that recently boarded one of the Japanese whaling vessels, people are again asking what it will take for this issue to be resolved. If you have ever watched an episode of Whale Wars on Animal Planet, you know the extreme risks faced by the Sea Shepherds and the whalers. So what are we to do??? Leave things as they are and await the horrible news that someone has finally died as a result of the whale wars?
So perhaps this concept of a “whale-conservation market” needs to be given more attention. The primary author behind the theory recently published in the journal Nature on Wednesday is Christopher Costello. He has criticised the current system as totally ineffective because “everyone thinks they either have a right to whale or let whales live.” Considering the extreme actions taking place in Antarctica each whaling season, and the deeply passionate manner in which both sides argue their case, it seems unlikely these two vicious adversaries will ever see eye-to-eye.
Costello suggested, “somehow you have to come up with a way to allocate whales between the two visions”, where “both sides have something to gain, and fewer whales will be killed.” So Costello and his team propose an arrangement similar to the carbon-trading scheme. Countries that are IWC members would receive allowances to hunt whales at sustainable levels. Each year the IWC member can elect to harvest its quotas, hold onto the quota for a year, or permanently retire them. Applying this theory to the current market, we would likely see the anti-whaling nations such as Australia retiring their quota, and whaling nations such as Japan harvesting their quota and then seeking to purchase additional shares.
This is where the market-trading system becomes ugly. Unlike carbon trading where the units being auctioned off are cubic tones of pollution, the trading units would be living creatures. The whales would effectively be auctioned off, and the highest bidder would win the right to slaughter them. Whilst the economists suggest this dismal scenario is lightened by the sale proceeds going to conservation efforts, one has to wonder whether this sort of commoditisation of a wild, and in many cases endangered, species is right. Who are we to determine their value?
Many environmentalists have already criticised the plan as undermining the current whaling ban. One major concern raised by Greenpeace is that it would become difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal hunting if whaling were legalized again. Given the deceptive techniques used by the Japanese in characterizing their commercial whaling as research, it is easy to see how illegal whaling would again flourish if a legal whaling trade was implemented. Just imagine you are the captain of a Japanese whaling vessel, you’ve reached your legal quota for the season and then suddenly two beautiful humpbacks surface at your bow. Surrounded by hundreds of miles of ocean, the whaling vessel is completed isolated. With financial incentives tied to each whale, why would the captain hesitate to slaughter just a few more?
Some suggest that given the dollar figures involved in this battled and the uncompromising character of the opposing views, calls for an economic solution were inevitable. It is estimated that total global profits from whaling are around $31 million, and the amount of money currently raised by conservationist reaches a similar figure. However even more disturbing than the financial data is the kill numbers. In just the last three years the three whaling nations of Japan, Norway and Iceland have slaughtered around 5000 whales. With annual kill figures that have doubled since the 1990’s, something needs to be done.
Individuals on either side of the whaling debate can make very passionate arguments, however both sides agree that a solution is needed. Ultimately we all know that the Japanese are not vicious murderers and the Sea Shepherds are not terrorists. But if a viable solution cannot be found, then eventually someone will be fatally injured in Antarctica. So what do you think about the proposed market-trading system?