by J. Feliz (JFillustrations)
This article has been lying quietly in one of my folders for a few months. With the sad news stories that have been published this week regarding the under-reported death of whales and dolphins in the Gulf oil spill and Tilikum's return to doing tricks for unsuspecting tourists after months in isolation, I thought that today might be a good day to publish this (with permission from EtsyVeg) in memory of all those lives lost and that will continue to be lost due to human choices and actions.
Here's my voice on behalf of cetaceans everywhere...
Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are grouped under the term “cetacea”. About eighty-five species of cetaceans are further divided into two main groups. The first includes whales that lack teeth and instead, have structures known as baleens. They use baleens to filter food from the water. Examples of baleen whales include minke, humpback, and blue whales, the largest animals on Earth. The second group is made up of the toothed whales; these whales actively hunt and have the ability to echolocate (the use of sonar through sounds made by an animal) to find food. Toothed whales include the sperm whale, orca whale, dolphins, porpoises, and over 70 other species. Like humans, cetaceans are mammals. They are warm-blooded, give live birth, nurse their young, have remnants of hair, and breathe air at the surface.
Like many from my generation my first experiences with cetaceans included the show “Flipper” and an anticipated trip to Sea World as a child. However, as I grew older I realized that these types of experiences simply do not reflect the realities of the world in which we live in and the real effects that humans have on these species. Whales are continually slaughtered by
Iceland, Norway, and despite an international moratorium that banned whale hunting. Thousands of dolphins are killed and stolen from their natural habitats so they can perform tricks on television and entertain tourists. Others are simply slaughtered under false pretences that include their being blamed for the collapse of fishing industries. Others are simply killed because of human greed and an unsustainable taste for sea food. On average, 308,000 cetaceans are killed each and every year because of by-catch (deaths while fishing for a target species), which is a byproduct of the fishing industry. To put it into perspective – that amounts to about 1,000 individuals per day! These figures do not include deaths due to other man-caused threats, such as pollution, boat collisions, habitat destruction, whaling, climate change, and capture for imprisonment within theme parks. This figure also ignores the affected victims of events like the most recent oil spill in the Gulf, which scientists confirm may have killed more than 50 times the number that was initially reported. Japan
In early 2010, a news report proclaimed that scientists called for dolphins to be treated as “non-human persons” due to their high level of intelligence. The scientists argued that their research confirmed the immorality of keeping “such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing.” However, the fervor to protect a species due to its intellectual abilities is irrelevant when compared to the moral responsibility we have towards all species on our planet. Is it not unethical to force all species into confinement, blindly diminish their populations, and lead them towards extinction regardless of intellectual capability? We are currently responsible for the largest mass extinction our planet has ever seen – on average 3 species disappear every hour. This is not a natural phenomenon and is due to human activity. We have already witnessed the extinction of cetacean species, such as the Baiji, also known as Yangtze River Dolphins, which quietly disappeared through the years and have not been seen since 2002. More species are set to disappear within our lifetimes if we do not take responsibility for our actions.
The good news is that it is still not too late. Everyone can get involved to help cetaceans and other species in peril. It is also never too early to start protecting species that are yet to be Red Listed. Here are some actions that everyone can take:
-Educate yourself on issues that affect cetaceans and the oceans. A great place to start is through a simple Google search, a visit to a nearby library, or by watching films that are widely available on issues affecting cetaceans. One such film includes the Academy Award and Oscar winning documentary, The Cove.
-Share what you have learned with others. There’s no use in having knowledge if you don’t pass it on!
-Pledge to boycott the fishing industry. Entanglement and drowning in fishing lines is by far the largest killer of cetaceans. Unsustainable sea food and destructive fishery practices are just not worth the death of hundreds of thousands of species, especially since you can gain all the nutrients that you would get from sea food by consuming plant-based sources.
-Pledge to boycott marine parks, aquariums, and zoos. These establishments do not help the real issues that need to be addressed and are even responsible for the detriment of wild animal populations. Remember that as long as you keep buying a ticket, these animals will continue to live in barren prisons far from their natural homes. Opt to enjoy marine animals in their natural environment. As an adult, I have been able to delight in encounters with dolphins and whales in the wild. Many of my encounters have occurred when I least expected them out while at the beach, river, or on a boat. I also had close encounters with marine mammals through my volunteering with marine mammal strandings. These experiences have meant more and taught me more about cetaceans than any paid trip to a marine park, where these animals are held against their will, ever could.
- Write to government officials and decision makers to let them now that you care about these issues and ask them what they are doing to protect marine species and the oceans as a whole.
-Join/Support groups that are fighting for the causes that you care for.
One such group that is avidly working to conserve the oceans and marine mammals is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). The SSCS has campaigns dedicated to help dolphins and other whales. For the past 30 years, SSCS has taken a stand against the illegal slaughter of all cetaceans and has established campaigns, which still continue today. Through their actions, the society has saved thousands of lives. “The Whales’ Navy”, part of the SSCS, has documented illegal slaughter activities, has challenged illegal whalers head on, and have shut down whaling fleets through direct action. The SSCS has further applied direct action methods against the slaughter of dolphins in
Japan and the Faroe Islands, . Denmark
-Lastly and most importantly, continue to lend your own voice to those without a human voice – if you don’t, who will?
Article copyright 2010 by J. Feliz
Ocean: The World’s Last Wilderness Revealed, Published by DK
Endangered Animals by W. Dolder & U. Dolder-Pippke