Biology text books portray the largest mammal on earth by placing the image of an elephant next to a whale. The students drop their jaws in awe when they observe the palpable difference in their size. Almost everyone would be surprised to learn that the largest mammal on the planet faces a threat to its very existence. It is not from any environmental catastrophe, but from the biped called the homo sapien.
It is noted that despite international regulation on whaling, 5 of the 13 known whale species are already listed as endangered. What is of significance is that international treaties have been almost unsuccessful in preventing the massacre of the gentle leviathan. Trade in whale bye-products has been more than lucrative.
International Whaling Commission (IWC) had voted for a moratorium on whaling in 1986, but enforcement has been ineffective. Norway hunts the endangered Minke whale relentlessly, while Canada has not acceded to the moratorium. Iceland walked out of IWC in 1992, before rejoining it in 2002. Since then, Iceland has continued ‘scientific whaling’, which has met with least approval with the conservationists. Japan, under threat of international sanctions, hasn’t walked out of IWC, but their JARPA (Japanese Research Program in Antarctica) initiative claims the life of 945 whales in the icy continent. The Japanese initiative has been anything but scientific and the primary motivation of their ‘research program’ has been to provide cheap whale meat to their population.
The duplicity of the whalers, primarily from the developed world, can be gauged from a major bid to end the moratorium was won by a margin of one vote in 2006. The only saving grace was the clause which stated that 75% of the member states needed to support the end of moratorium for it to be effective. As a result, the gentle giant may be reduced to a mere picture in a school textbook.