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Don't pander to hysteria over whale calf's death, say scientists
Some Australians have apparently been quite upset about a decision made by professionals to put down a humpback whale calf, which had been named Colin until people later realised that the whale was of the female sex.
The whale was apparently without it's mother (which may have already died), and no specialists seem to think Coleen had a chance of surviving under the circumstances.
While there are also questions over whether the most appropriate method
to put the whale down was used, it's the decision to put the whale down at all
that seems to have been drawing most criticism from some in Australia.
Cetacean experts of both Australia and New Zealand have been speaking out against the criticism. Here are some of the quotes from the linked article:
"People have to accept a lot of whale calves will die in the wild, and it's not pleasant, and there is nothing that can be done".
"This isn't a cute and cuddly world and people have to think about the reality of wild animals."
"I don't think we should be moving towards doing things to keep animals alive in cruel circumstances just to make us feel good".
Young animals fresh into the world are naturally prone to high rates of natural mortality, and without a mother to take care of them they are without food and thus almost certainly a goner.
For several years we've been hearing about booming rates of growth in the populations of humpback whales
that migrate up the east and west coasts of Australia each year (even the IUCN has taken them off their "Red List" of endangered species). With these increasing numbers of animals you not only have a higher probability of humans seeing whales along the coast (whale watching), you're also going to see increasing instances of whale deaths along the coast as well. Furthermore, at some stage the populations will increase to the point where they reach and exceed the capacity of their environment to support their numbers. Exactly what happens at that point in time remains to be seen, but one explanation in other places is that you end up with a lot of whales in poor health and observe sudden die offs, or unusual mortality events.
Australian scientists seem to have a preference for talking down the current levels of abundance, and it's true that they are unlikely to be at their carrying capacity yet, but they are approaching it quite quickly.
I've long been thinking that it will be interesting to see what changes in the Australian mindset come about as these whale numbers continue to increase, and the realities of nature are observed more amongst the urbanites living along the East coast of Australia. This incident is very unlikely to be the last like it. Particularly, whether any change in the prevailing attitude towards the acceptability of sustainable whaling occurs in the coming years will be worth watching. Commercial anti-whaling industry groups will be doing their best to ensure that this isn't the case, but with an increasing recognition that some whales species are not threatened with extinction and can support sustainable whaling, they will find themselves facing a steeper uphill battle, but still there would be few in Australia to assert that the protectionist stance be replaced with a more conservationist one.
Labels: humpbacks, unusual mortality event