Featured Image Credit: Dr Regina Eistert and Anthony Powell
By Laura O’Brien
In a research expedition to Scott Base, a marine mammal expert at the University of Canterbury, Dr. Regina Eisert, and her team caught extremely rare underwater footage of a minke whale. The footage of the whale is particularly special due to the perfectly clear Antarctic water that it was shot in.
Minke whales are the smallest of the “great whales”. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s page on minke whales, their name is said to be derived from an unseasoned whaling spotter named Meincke, who mistook a minke whale for a blue whale. Minke whales also have a unique call which sounds like laser guns being fired. Their distinct call is actually named Star Wars.
Turn up the volume:
The relatively small baleen whales’ size made them less appealing to whalers than larger species of whale for years. In fact, their size continued to help them escape the extreme population decline that other whale species saw due to whaling, until the other whales became scarce.
Though whales are currently protected by a moratorium on whaling that is implemented by the International Whaling Commission, a provision (which many call a loophole) still allows minke whales to be hunted. That provision in the moratorium allows the hunting of minke whales when they are being caught “for science”. The issue is that the meat of the whales that are supposedly captured for research purposes is still sold to markets and restaurants, so the provision allowing the practice has been a source of controversy. Aside from the loophole used by countries such as Japan, the International Whaling Commission’s page on commercial whaling states, “Norway and Iceland take whales commercially at present, either under objection to the moratorium decision, or under reservation to it”.
The moratorium on whaling was constructed in response to the devastating effect that whaling had on whale populations across the globe before it was implemented. The potentially shortsighted exceptions made in regards to minke whales have allowed extreme effects on their population in some regions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s page on minke whales states, “commercial whaling practices may have reduced minke whale populations in the western North Pacific and the northeastern North Atlantic may have been reduced by as much as half”. In March 2016, National Geographic reports, “Japan has killed 333 minke whales—including more than 200 pregnant females—as part of this year’s Antarctic whale hunt, according to the country’s Institute for Cetacean Research”.A new Norwegian documentary, Battle of Agony, found that about 90% of the whales killed by Norwegian whalers are females, most of whom are pregnant. The death of so many pregnant females is absolutely devastating. Losing reproductively viable females is particularly dangerous for animal populations, and the death of pregnant females doubles the death toll.
Minke whales are in trouble, and our current policies are not protecting them.