In the latest issue of Nature, through a feature entitled "Conversation Science: A market approach to saving the whales," three researchers have proposed a system that would give countries permits to catch a certain number of whales. In theory, the permits could then be traded among stakeholders so that ‘customers’ in one country – governments, whalers, conservation groups and any others that could afford the trade – could purchase permits from the whalers in another country.
The proposal suggests that permits be issued by the International Whaling Commission and capped so that populations are not endangered. Christopher Costello and Steven Gaines of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Leah Gerber of Arizona State University, Tempe are “convinced it would work," as per Costello, who says he's received positive feedback from the whaling industry and environmental groups.
Whales are sentient beings
WSPA criticized the proposal on grounds that it ignores a fundamental reality: that whales are conscious, intelligent animals who suffer slow, agonizing deaths when hit by the whalers’ exploding harpoons.
WSPA’s Oceans Campaign Leader, Claire Bass, said “This proposal is based on the archaic notion that whales are simply stocks – like corn or rice - that can be traded and bartered. Whaling is cruel, outdated and unnecessary. The last thing whales need is an initiative to resuscitate the dying whaling industry and encourage other countries to see it as an attractive money-making scheme.”
The researchers estimate that whaling generates about $31 million a year in profits, while environmental groups spend about $25 million campaigning against whaling. That investment would have a bigger payoff if used to buy permits from whalers, Costello and colleagues argue. The price tag could range from $13,000 for a minke whale to $85,000 for a fin whale, they calculate.
Better money in humane alternatives
“It would be a far better use of researchers’, economists’ and governments’ attention to focus on and support projects that conserve and protect whales,” concluded Bass, “In market terms, there is no better argument than to support the growing whale watching industry – the most humane and lucrative use of whales in the 21st century.”
Read more about whale watching, including how to distinguish a responsible tour operator from one that puts whales at risk.