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TROUBLED WATERS - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

TROUBLED WATERS - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

2 A background to

2 A background to whalingPhilippa Brakes, Marine Consultant, c/o WDCS (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society),Chippenham, UK.6A REVIEW OF THE WELFARE IMPLICATIONS OF MODERN WHALING ACTIVITIESAn introduction to the history of whalingIn the age of modern technology and communication, it is difficult to imagine the lives of the earliestwhalers, or the perils that they faced setting sail into unknown waters in search of their quarry.Humans from many regions of the globe have long been exploiting cetaceans (whales, dolphins andporpoises) for the food, oil and ‘whale bone’ (baleen) they yield. Some aboriginal peoples, such as theInuit, of Greenland, arctic Asia and North America have an extensive history of whaling. EvenNeolithic people from the coast of Denmark, are believed to have consumed cetaceans as asupplement to their predominately shellfish diet, through opportunistic takes of stranded cetaceans(Harrison 1988). As far back as 1100 BC, it is believed that the Phoenicians operated shore-basedwhaling for sperm whales in the eastern Mediterranean (Sanderson 1956). However, it was not untilthe 1600s that the true ‘industry’ of whaling, as we now know it, began to evolve. By this time, thepursuit of whales was being executed beyond the reach of coastal communities and out into the deepsearegions. Long range whaling was first undertaken by the Basque whalers, who had been catchingnorthern right whales in the Bay of Biscay since the early 1100s.By the 1700s the Basques were travelling across the Atlantic to exploit the concentrations of whalesfound around the Grand Bank area of Westfoundland and the English, Dutch and Germans wereexploiting the right whales they had discovered around the coast of Greenland. The most popularmethod for catching whales at this time was to harpoon the animals with a multi-barbed harpoonfrom a small catcher boat. The whale was then ‘played’ on the rope attached to the harpoon, whichwas slowly fed out as the whale attempted to escape. The aim was to exhaust the injured whale andthen, as the opportunity arose, further wound it using a hand thrown lance. The lance was tippedwith sharp blades, which were designed to sever a major blood vessel and induce death throughblood loss.The advent of ship based ‘tryworks’ (brick ovens in which blubber could be rendered into valuableoil) during the 1760s, increased the economic efficiency of whaling operations and intensiveexploitation proliferated across the globe during the following centuries, as various whale populationswere discovered and utilised. It was not until the 1870s that it became possible to exploit the fastermoving rorqual whales, such as the blue, fin and sei whales. This was brought about by the almostsimultaneous advent of the motorised whale catcher and an explosive harpoon that could be firedfrom a cannon.These innovations facilitated the exploitation of the dense numbers of whales that occurred in theAntarctic, due to the springtime bloom in productivity in this region. These first forays intoAntarctica were led by the British and Norwegians but, by the 1930s, the Japanese and Germanswere also whaling in Antarctica. The advent of more efficient means of catching whales brought

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