A recent essay published by Dr. Michael Moore in ICES Journal of Marine Science, chronicles the horrendous suffering experienced by large whales which become entangled in fishing gear. The graphic image of a dead critically endangered North Atlantic right whale that was “dissected” by gillnet gear while it was still alive, is horrific. But the image does not adequately depict the five months of suffering the whale experienced until its agonizing, and, undoubtedly, welcomed demise. With fewer than 500 North Atlantic right whales remaining, entanglement remains a serious threat to continued survival of this species. Research indicates that 82.9% of North Atlantic right whales have been entangled at least once and 59% have been entangled multiple times. According to Dr. Moore, these data suggest that right whales are more frequently restrained than animals in a zoo which certainly puts this issue in perspective.
Yet it is the perspective of comparing commercial whaling for profit (“commercial whaling”) to entanglement (“whaling by default”) that clouds these significant issues. Dr. Moore refers to the Oxford English Dictionary definition of whaling as “the action, practice or business of catching whale.” The fundamental premise in using this definition is to include all human related mortalities of whales under one umbrella. A premise similar to arguments we have made to the International Whaling Commission as to why they should be addressing ship strikes and fisheries bycatch. However, Dr. Moore’s statement that “(T)he idea that individuals should judge another nation’s motivations and methods of killing whales, struck and strikes me as being far from clear ethically” suggests that we cannot criticize one ‘evil’, if another ‘evil’, closer to home, exists.
We should not ever excuse the fisheries by catch welfare issues, and WDC is one of the few organizations’ that has published on this issue. We commend Dr. Moore for raising its profile in his essay but there is an order of ethical judgment. Combining directed takes (commercial and ‘scientific’ whaling) with elected takes (placing nets where we know by catch will happen) and incidental takes (accidental, where we did not perceive a risk) implies an equivalence to these issues creating a false “ethical” economy.