Tourism based on ecological ideals like whale watching and economical perspectives like whaling, as in the killing of whales, do not mix.
The largest animals to have ever lived on planet earth, particularly in our oceans are, once again under serious threat. The IWC (International Whaling Commission) will meet once again this year in Alaska to discuss commercial whaling and other issues pertinent to these animals preservation and well being. This year the IWC will not have the support of some nations.
Japan and Iceland are a few of the countries that have resumed whaling defying the rulings and bans implemented by the IWC. Things have never been so dire for the whales of our oceans. I will not go onto the details of the IWC and the reason why these nations choose to revert to these practices.
Please go directly to the IWC website for more information.
However, I will address a more personal perspective of this issue, one I have witnessed and been part of for a few years now. Whaling and whale watching do not mix.
At this year’s Beneath the Sea there was a little controversy on the stance of the Caribbean island of Dominica regarding whaling. Dominica is a poor island nation in political chaos and without much direction, at least in matters pertaining to tourism, as tourism still plays a small part in their overall economy. Dominica like other poor nations is most vulnerable to financial aid and favors from countries like Japan that offer incentives in exchange to access to its waters and its natural resources- its whales. Resident sperm whale populations (as well as other species) live in the shadow of Dominica’s rainforest. Whale watching here is still new and a relatively untapped resource. The whales and the essence of Dominica as an eco-friendly nation are priceless, so why would Dominica gamble with its future - unless the future included whaling?
Even after speaking to Dominica’s Deputy Director of Tourism while at BTS, I am not quite sure where Dominica stands. It seems that Dominica has sold its soul to the Japanese allowing them to resume whaling in their territorial waters. If not immediately, soon. All this while promoting whale watching and eco-tourism in US Dive trade shows.
Other nations have gone through the transformation from whaling to whale watching - particularly notable are the Islands of the Azores off Portugal. They were actively hunting here into the early 80’s. Then they successfully transformed their islands into the worlds best place to experience whales on the surface and underwater.
The Dominican Republic has, for many years, protected its whales and encouraged responsible encounters in Silver Bank, Samana Bay, and other protected harbors. These are success stories that require our admiration as well as our patronage. We should travel to, dive, promote and experience these islands that are protecting their resources and not selling out to the pressures of indiscriminate killing. The days of whaling are over and we must throw away the key.
We, as divers and travelers, have the power to at the very least encourage these islands to take a hard look at their policies and to let them know that we are watching. Their actions will not go unnoticed and we will, at the very least, not be visitors in their country.
This is indeed a very touchy subject. Your effort and mine, therefore, need to be very targeted.
I recently had a conversation about the seal pup killing in Canada - the hunt began, again, today. It is the largest slaughter of mammals on the planet and it goes mostly unnoticed. 300,000 seal pups will be clubbed to death and in many cases, skinned while still alive. All for the value of their pelts. A targeted boycott of seafood products from Canada has sent a message and has already taken its financial toll on the same fishermen doing the killing.
Whaling needs to be addressed in the same way.
I would like all of us as a Wetpixel community of photographers, writers, travelers, explorers and thinking individuals to make a difference. We cannot just stand and let the very own animals that we love to photograph be at risk of a resumed hunt. This is no longer a dress rehearsal. Act I has passed, Act II and III are underway, and the curtain is closing quickly on the way we have all experienced planet Earth. Things are changing and quickly.
As a virtual community, we need to look into this and put some pressure on Dominica and other islands - letting them know that it is not in their best interest to associate themselves with global whaling practices. I for one am doing this - it is no longer for me but my children and my children’s children.
I have seen the great whales underwater. Eye to eye. It changes you. I cannot imaging the day that man’s greed and stupidity will leave the oceans barren of these creatures. Then, we will indeed only have macro as a subject of discussion in our forums!
Make your voices heard.