A whale of a time in the Southern Ocean

As the Greenpeace vessels are skirmishing with the Japanese whaling fleet in the freezing Antarctic waters let us take a cool look at the issue of whaling.

greenpeace_whalers_lrg

I will start by declaring that I have a lot of time for the idea of vegetarianism. There are plenty of valid objections to the way we breed, farm and kill animals for the purpose of eating their carcasses. I am also not entirely convinced that humans must eat flesh to survive and stay healthy. I was on a vegetarian diet myself on two occasions, each time for a period of many months, without any adverse health consequences. In this post I will look at what practices may be somewhat more acceptable than others if we really believe we have to kill animals and eat their meat.

One concept of improving the lot of the animals we farm has to do with their living conditions. It is generally accepted that industrial farms are the worst possible arrangement, causing untold misery to animals before they meet their untimely end. A much better way is the “free range” farming, where the animals are free to roam a fenced patch of grass or scrub. This brings their situation a step closer to the wildlife which is able to move freely through forests or roam the oceans. If only all animals we end up killing and eating could experience this freedom before they become fillets or steaks on our dinner plates!

The second idea associated with more acceptable meat production I will dissect today is more ethical in nature. Since every life counts it matters how many lives are sacrificed to make a meal. A shrimp soup may require ten or twenty crustaceans per bowl. One chicken will be enough for dinner for a family. A cow will feed perhaps ten families for a month. To limit the number of animal lives taken we should try to eat large animals. Ideally, they should be large animals living free range or, even better, in the wild.

The last angle I will touch on in this post is even more subtle. Killing a predating animal will mean extending the lives of its prey. Shooting a lion will save tens of antelopes. One less grizzly bear will give hundreds of salmons a chance to get through the rapids. From this standpoint, killing and eating predators should be preferred over hunting herbivores. The more prey they kill and eat, the more animal lives will be saved when a predator is eliminated.

You should by now get a sense of where this argument is heading – whaling ticks all the three boxes. Whales live in the wild and have a great time until they stray into the cross-hairs of a Japanese harpoon gun. One whale carcass (frozen) will feed a village for a year. They are also voracious predators and each will during its lifetime devour many hundreds of tons of shrimps, squids and fish. In fact I have it on good authority that the extensive whaling in mid 20th century has led to the explosion in the population of sea lions and seals.

So, short of turning vegetarian, whaling appears to be the way to go. Can someone please tell Greenpeace?

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