A fascinating dissertation from a marine biologist-veterinarian who has devoted his entire life to developing methods to save wild whales in distress, especially the critically endangered North Atlantic right whales.
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Humans have hunted whales for over 1000 years. There was a time when landing one of these great beasts was enough to feed an entire village for several months. But since the 1890s, most nations have stopped actively hunting wild whales because they had nearly driven them out of extinction, especially whales from the North Atlantic Ocean. However, wild whales are still dying prematurely and as a result some species remain critically endangered to this day. The North Atlantic right whale, Eubalaena glacialis, is facing the most dire situation, with less than 350 people alive today.
The precarious situation of the North Atlantic right whale is directly attributable to man. Today we kill whales with collisions with ships or entanglements in fishing gear. The physical goods we buy often arrive at major seaports after traveling global sea routes that often cross waters where whales feed or rest, putting them at risk of collision with a ship. But entanglement in abandoned gillnets or ropes attached to commercial lobster or snow crab traps takes the most casualties, but only after the entangled whale suffered an excruciatingly painful and prolonged death. Additionally, ocean noise created by ships adds to the stress level of these animals to the point where they are unable to reproduce and may interfere with their ability to communicate with each other.
Killing whales is something we all participate in – even we vegans – and are responsible for, argues marine scientist and veterinarian Michael Moore in his new book, We are all whalers: the fate of the whales and our responsibility (University of Chicago Press; 2021: Amazon United States / amazon United Kingdom).
In this readable book, we follow the author through 40 years of fieldwork with a variety of whales – humpback whales, common whales, pilot whales and especially North Atlantic right whales, whose populations have declined further. by 20% since 2017. Readers stand on the beach next to the author as he performs autopsies on dead whales to find out how they died, we listen to conversations with lobster fishermen discussing their methods fishing and we watch whales being killed using explosive harpoons. (Cough, cough, uh, thanks, Iceland. Not really.) We also learn what attracted the author to whales when he was young, and we come to understand that the plight of whales is complex, confusing and disturbing. , and the results of poorly enforced conservation laws, as well as the endless quest of fishermen for profit.
This book was sobering read for me because the author details whale deaths and is quite gruesome. As a zoologist with much experience in teaching comparative anatomy and physiology at the university level, it was too easy for me to imagine the long, persistent and painful deaths that these magnificent animals endured at the following a collision with a ship or, worse, an entanglement. in ropes attached to lobster or snow crab traps. But understanding the pain that all whales (more than 300,000 to our knowledge each year) feel when drowning after being struck by ships or maimed by fishing gear as a direct result of our actions is essential. Without this information, neither readers nor consumers would care enough about forcing changes in the way their lobsters and crabs are caught and how their material goods are shipped long distances.
You might think this adventure is a very dark read, but in reality it is deeply optimistic. Dr. Moore shows us how new technologies for cordless fishing and acoustic tracking of whale migrations are making a huge difference, especially in preventing accidental collisions. We also see clearly that Dr. Moore took the suffering and death of every whale to heart and this motivated him to continually work to improve his methods, even when his own health was compromised.
“The purpose of this book is to help consumers understand what is going on and what they can do to fix the problem,” Dr. Moore writes of the Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography website. “Actively demand truly sustainable seafood. Tell your representatives how much you really care about purchasing products and seafood that have been obtained in a sustainable manner.
This passionate book is beautifully written and will appeal to a wide audience. In this book, Dr. Moore skillfully draws the fine line between anthropomorphism and anthropogenic responsibility. If we open our hearts and minds to the unnecessary suffering that wild whales endure for our convenience, and take responsibility for changing our actions, he argues, there is hope even for the Atlantic right whale. North, critically endangered.
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