June 20, 2022

40 Years of the whaling moratorium: lessons for the future of the oceans (2/2)

amille Rondeau Saint-Jean

Forty years after the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on whaling, what can we learn from the factors that led to this conservation breakthrough at a time when we urgently need to find solutions to mitigate the impact of human activities on marine ecosystems?

We saw in the last post that public environmental awareness, scientific data, technological developments, and the economic reality played a role in the decision to abandon whaling in 1982.

Nowadays, when it comes to addressing the ongoing threats to whale populations, there is more public support than ever. People are overwhelmingly against whaling, are outraged and saddened when a whale falls victim to human actions, and are increasingly aware of the impact of pollution and industrial activities on marine ecosystems. Scientific data is also on hand, and there is no lack of solid publications showing the interconnection of species, the dire conditions of several cetacean populations, the importance of whales in marine ecosystems and their role in carbon sequestration. What remains to be done is to address the economic incentives surrounding the modern threats to whales, such as ship strikes, underwater noise, and bycatch from various fisheries and marine industries.

This time, it is not a question of curbing an industry that actively harms whales: no one profits from the death of a whale. What we must fight against is indifference: we must reverse the fact that the harm caused to whales has no direct consequences for those responsible, and is often not even detected. Industries therefore have no concrete interest in minimizing their collateral damage to marine mammals, even though the loss of a whale means the loss of an important element for nutrient mixing and carbon sequestration, the loss of a central member of its family group, and perhaps the loss of an individual crucial to the reproduction of a population on the verge of extinction. So how do we get stakeholders that operate at sea to take an interest in preserving whales?

Whale Seeker aims to provide technological solutions to this problem. Detecting whales more quickly and accurately allows the adoption of targeted solutions that promote the maintenance of maritime economic activities while minimizing their impact on natural populations. When accurate data on whale presence is available, harming whales is no longer inevitable but becomes avoidable with realistic efforts and decisive action. It then remains to encourage these positive actions through financial incentives.

The Whale Carbon Plus Project proposes to develop a blue carbon credit system so that efforts to keep whales alive and healthy translate into a positive impact on the bottom line of maritime economic actors. Companies will be encouraged to adopt detection technologies such as those developed by Whale Seeker, and to take actions to minimize the risks their activities pose to the survival and well-being of whales. In short, The Whale Carbon Plus Project aims to make it more economically viable to adopt whale-friendly practices.

In hindsight, while the end of whaling is now widely recognized as a major step forward for ocean conservation, many materials adopted as substitutes for whale products introduced new problems. Whale oil, once used for fuel, food, and household products, has largely been replaced by fossil fuels and palm oil, which contribute significantly to climate change and deforestation. Plastics have replaced baleen as a material for making everyday objects and are a major source of ocean pollution. Nevertheless, we can strive to make positive changes for whales without harming other aspects of the environment. To do so, we must learn from the lessons of the past, and take advantage of the tools and data available today to project ourselves into a better future: this is Whale Seeker’s mission.


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