Dr. Andrew Venter Blog
Whale of a time
May 7, 2012
The ongoing onslaught against our rhino continues to make headlines, with little obvious sign of any let up in the pressure. 200 Rhino have already been poached this year and in the face of this onslaught it is hard to remain positive and to have confidence that we’ll “win this war”. So I thought that I’d spend time reminding us all of an amazing success story that should inspire us all to continue fighting for what is right.
In 1986 the nations of the world formally banned all commercial whaling. This followed centuries of increasingly unsustainable whaling, which peaked in the 1930’s with over 50 000 whales being harvested annually. The first South African whaling station opened at Beacon Island in 1806, followed by the establishment of a number of land based stations along the coastline. By the middle of the 20th century it was apparent that whale stocks were no longer being replenished and global populations were declining. South Africa had depleted its populations of Fin, Sperm and Sei whales, ultimately ticking along by hunting the much smaller and less profitable Minke whale. At the same time offshore whaling was decimating southern hemisphere populations of the Southern Right Whale, Humpback Whale and Sperm Whale. By 1976 the South African whaling industry had effectively died and in 1979 the South African government was one of the first countries to comprehensively ban whaling in its waters.
The figures are staggering. Estimates are that over 725 000 Fin whales, 255 000 Sei whales, 200 000 Humpback whales and 150 000 Southern Right whales were harvested globally over two centuries. The hardest hit were Southern Right and Humpback whales with less than 300 and 5000 animals respectively left by the time whaling was eventually banned. The ban followed decades of intensive lobbying and advocacy. Since then the majority of whale populations have shown strong recovery and there are currently estimated to be around 12 000 Southern Right Whales and over 45 000 Humpback whales.
We’ve been privileged in South Africa to have been able to personally share in the recovery of these great creatures. Whaling tourism is an anchor industry in many coastal communities, and Hermanus is recognised as the whaling capital of the world, drawing visitors from across the world for an up close and personal experience with Southern Right Whales. Even Margate is developing a reputation for wonderful shore based whale watching during the Humpback migration season.
Human greed could have driven all the large whale species to extinction. However, a few courageous and visionary individuals managed to mobilise a global campaign that has saved these magnificent creatures. Right now we need to do the same for another species that is threatened by human greed and ignorance, our rhino. We need to find a “rhino solution”. This is not necessarily a ban, as regulated trade could well be part of this solution. I have been heartened by the incredible way in which South Africans are mobilising to stop the scourge of rhino poaching. There are some great websites that provide information and platforms for you to get involved, including www.projectrhino.org, www.stoprhinopoaching.com and www.rhinoconservation.org. I want to challenge you to get angry and to stand up for what is right. Let me know what you’re going to DO: andrewventer.wordpress.com.Go back