Some people think that whales are not smart. All they do is have fun. They live at peace with their habitat. Maybe that is the point. Many humans do not seem to be at peace. Perhaps we can learn something from the humpbacks. But first, we must make sure that they stay alive.
Humans Hunt Humpbacks
Humans have killed and hunted the humpback whale for over a thousand years. The Indians of North America were among the earliest whalers. Coastal Indians chased the whales in canoes. They killed them with spears called harpoons. They ate every single part of the whales. They ate the meat and burned the oil for heat and light. Whale bone made a good framework for materials. For many years, humans hunted the whale for its blubber (fat) The was burned in oil lamps. The humpback whale is an easy target, and it is not scared of humans.
Humpbacks Slide Towards Extinction
Whalers from other countries also hunted them. Since they were not easy to find, the whaling trips took two years or more. Any whale would do, but whalers found the humpback very easy to kill. These slow moving giants never learned to stay away from humans’ harpoons. The killing went on and on. In the winter, whalers followed the groups of whales called pods southward into warmer waters. When summer came, the killing began again in cold water areas. Between 1904 and 1939, whalers killed over 100,000 humpbacks in southern waters. Thousands more were killed in the north. In the Pacific, Maui in the Hawaiian Islands became a whaling port. In the Southern Hemisphere, Australia was an important whaling center.
Since Humpbacks Are Easy Targets….
Of all the whales taken by whalers, the humpback whale was the unluckiest of all. For one thing, their oil does not burn as well as that of other whales. Old-time whalers made up for that by killing a lot of them. To make it worse, all of the humpbacks customs or habits make it easy to hunt them. Whalers or whale hunters would wait for the herd or group of whales to get back to their feeding grounds. They could also hunt the whale at their warm water mating areas. To make it even easier the humpback whales are usually near the shore. If the killing had kept on going then they would be extinct by now. People started saying "Save the whales" just in time.
Nations Join to Limit Whaling
In 1946, a number of countries formed the international Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC made rules to try and save the whales. One rule limited the months that whales could be hunted. Whalers were also told to stay away from mating waters. They were also asked not to kill small whales. The IWC made good rules but some whaling nations would not obey them. In 1961, the IWC tried to stop whaling in the Antarctic. Japan, Russia, and Norway refused to stop. If a whaling ship killed a protected whale, the IWC fined its captain. The fines were too small. Despite these defeats, some victories have been won. In 1966, the IWC gave humpbacks special protection and most hunters stopped hunting them. Further, the United States scrapped its whaling fleet in 1971. Countries that still killed whales could not sell the products; Great Britain, Iceland and Holland have also stopped killing whales. In 1973, the United Nations (U.N.) asked all nations to stop killing whales. The IWC also voted for a total end to whaling by 1988, but the killing still goes on. The U.N. and the IWC can’t enforce or make their laws stronger. The failure of the IWC and the UN has lead the non-whaling nations to take action. The U.S. ,for example, has told Russia and Japan to get rid of their whaling fleets. If they don’t, U.S. fishing grounds will be closed to them. In addition, non-whaling countries may refuse to buy goods from the whaling countries. If no one buys their products, Japan and Russia might obey the IWC’s rules, but very few Americans want to stop buying Japanese cars and other products. Whaling is finally dying out! If laws will not save whales, perhaps money will. A whale is worth about $ 10,000, but whales are hard to find. Hunting the few that are left doesn’t mean big profits anymore. Even so, Japan says that her people need whale meat. Only a few countries including Russia, Norway and Japan still allow whaling. Why does the hunting go on? There are several reasons: Whaling means jobs for whalers and whale products for people who like them. The whaling countries have a lot of money invested in ships and equipment. It is also hard to give up old customs.
Private Groups Join the Battle
Private citizens have joined the fight to save the whales. Some of these conservation groups include Green Peace, Friends of the Earth, Project Jonah, and the American Cetacean Society. These groups make people aware of the problem. They raise money and write letters to lawmakers. This puts pressure on their governments. Green Peace goes a step further. Its members believe in action. The group sends out boats to make sure that whalers do not kill protected whales. The Green Peace sailors steer their small boats between the whales and the whalers’ harpoons. Green Peace even landed in Siberia and handed out anti-whaling packets to workers at a whale products’ plant. The Russians were not amused. This put the Green Peace people in jail for a week. These stunts made headlines. Green Peace hopes this will help save the whales.
Do They Have a Future?
People who love the whales are working hard to help them. Many people want to save them for the future. Experts say we must give the humpback a hundred years. That is how long it will take for the population to grow back to its full size. Given that time they believe the gentle giant will survive and win its battle for survival.