Social Question

josie's avatar

Are whales really worth saving?

Asked by josie (22422 points ) October 6th, 2010

I am a member of the Pacific Whale Foundation.
I figure human beings are pretty much the dominant species on earth, and it is what it is.
But I am a little uncomfortable about wantonly killing whales.

I know that once their oil lit lamps all over the world, and it is used as a lubricant in precision machinary, but this is the 21st century, and there are plenty of substitutes for that.

I know there is controversy about the Intuit and other tribes and their traditional whale hunt, the IWC etc. I don’t want to get into it with tribal cultures and some of their practices, unless they want to blow buildings up. That is not what I am talking about.

I am talking mostly about industrial style whaling, which does not make a lot of sense to me. It simply does not “seem right” to be slaughtering whales.

I have some friends who think I am a little inconsistent in my principles, since in just about everything else I am pretty much laissez faire, and in my warrior days I was ruthless.

But I am sypathetic to the whales, and I refuse to argue about why am so.
You may or may not agree.
Are whales worth lobbying to save?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

58 Answers

Qingu's avatar

Whales are among the most intelligent creatures on earth. (Dolphins are a kind of whale.) They communicate with sounds that travel through miles and miles of ocean. We have yet to figure out what they’re saying to each other. Many species live for more than a hundred years. One bowhead whale was found with a harpoon embedded in its flesh from the 1800’s. And there aren’t that many whales left.

People who hunt whales are savages, whether they’re from tribal cultures or greedy corporations.

JustmeAman's avatar

They are magnificent creatures and need to be saved. I watch the whale wars and get really upset when I see the Japanese boats that pull up the whales and kill them. One of the Star Trek movies was about going back in the future to bring whales forward so they could answer an alien ship that was looking for them. Good Movie.

I went whale watching up in Oregon last month and was able to see two of them. I have to say it has changed me some. I was so impressed by them and how easily they move through the water.

iamthemob's avatar

I’m wondering how this is inconsistent for you, @josie. I think it’s a fairly rational statement to try to preserve anything that’s rare, particularly if once it’s gone, it’s gone. The only time something should be eradicated is if it causes more harm through its existence.

So I don’t think that whether they’re worth saving is a relevant question – it’s life, it’s almost gone, and there’s no need for it to be destroyed. I, personally, don’t want to stand there holding the hose while the house burns down…

marinelife's avatar

Whales are so worth preserving. Their beauty, grace, intelligence and majesty alone argue for their preservation.

flutherother's avatar

We shouldn’t have to ‘save’ them. We should have left them alone in the first place.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

First of all, bacteria are the dominant species on Earth. They may not have the industry or economy that humans have (or the PR people, obviously), but they outnumber us by billions to one in sheer headcount (maybe trillions to one; I don’t know how accurate their census is), they outweigh us, and they beat us in number of species, too. Bacteria rule! (I think worms come in a pretty distant second.)

But I’m with you, that it doesn’t make sense to slaughter other intelligent animals wantonly and risk making them extinct.

We may need to ally with them someday to fight off the bacteria.

josie's avatar

@CyanoticWasp
Maybe that is our great mistake. Not making peace with the whales and joining forces to fight the bacteria.
All the whale lives wasted.
All the money on antibiotics wasted.
Where were you when we needed you?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

I’ve been right here all along, fighting a sort of holding action against some of the worms and a lot of the bacteria. (And the flies and mosquitoes in the summer, too. Things are pretty quiet on that front for now in this part of the Northern Hemisphere.) The molds are in there, too somewhere.

But I’m leaving the whales in peace. We haven’t always been known for that in Connecticut, but I think we’ve reached detente with them… for now. Maybe they’re just biding their time before they hunt us down, though, in league with the tuna and sardines.

You can never tell with inter-species politics. Keep your guard up, I say.

Mikewlf337's avatar

I am not one to impede on other’s culture. Tribal cultures such as the Iniuts have done it for thousands of years and I do not wish to make an arrogant self righteous attempt to stop them. I don’t agree with commercial whaling because they are an endangered species. If there where a great number to the point where whaling was necessary to keep the population in control then I would be for it.

Frenchfry's avatar

Yes.I like Whales. Good for you, worthwhile cause in my eyes.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, I don’t think it’s arrogant to stop savage cultures from behaving like savages. For example, I support the banning of female genital mutilation and human sacrifice, despite those things being part of some ancient tribal cultures. Human culture is not sacrosant and many cultural practices have no place in the 21st century.

Frenchfry's avatar

Have you watch whale wars on TV.Just thought of that.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu It is very arrogant to think one can tell another culture what to do. Calling a tribal culture savages is very arrogant and offensive to that culture. Just becaus they don’t behave like you doesn’t make you the better person. How do you ban something in another society? You don’t belong to that society and you have no say in their matters. You have the same mentality that the white men had for the Native Americans ( I’m white by the way). They lost their culture and their lands. They were almost completely whiped out because the white man saw them as savages and felt they had no place in their society. You don’t have the right to decide how everyone should behave. To think that you have the right to decide that many cultures have no place in the 21st century makes you a self righteous, arrogant person.

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

“It is very arrogant to think one can tell another culture what to do.”

Attitudes like this are cultural relativism, and I think they are not defensible. It is indeed appropriate to “tell another culture what to do” if that culture is performing an act that violates the rights of others. Someone’s rights aren’t negated because they belomg to a different culture.

If we accept that all lives are inherently valuable and everyone has an equal right to life and the pursuit of happiness, then, for example, murdering albino children to use their body parts in rituals is wrong.

There is a difference between following cultural practices that harm no one- which should not in any way be curtailed- and giving a free pass to acts of immorality that do hurt others.

This can be extended to whales. If whales are sentient beings who enjoy their lives and wish to go on living them,, then killing them for “culture” (when their meat is not needed for survival) is wrong. This is especially true when the claim is made that the whales are being killed for “cultural” reasons but the killers use high-powered rifles.

iamthemob's avatar

@crisw

Cultural relativism is defensible up until a certain point – e.g., it’s dangerous to bring cultural relativism into the picture when arguing about human rights (as shown by practices already referenced).

@Mikewlf337

I’m with @crisw on this one – you’re casting too wide a net. When a group is acting in a heinous manner, at times it may not only be a right but a responsibility to restrain them from acting in that manner. Considering the irreparable damage that industrial whaling is on the edge of causing, it’s valid to say the actions should be halted.

I just wish someone would stop our CAFOs….

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Just by the way, there’s a new Whale in town. Well, the next town over, anyway. Say hello to the Connecticut Whale.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@crisw Tribes that kill whales in a controlled manner and use their blubber and meat for food and fuel are not doing anything wrong. Wether they use high powered rifles or a harpoon is of no importance. BTW telling another culture what to do and how to behave is not appropriate. It doesn’t have anything to do with you and quite frankly it is none of your business. To think otherwise is just ignorant. What is worse is calling a tribe savages. An Inuit village killing a couple whales for food is not a bad thing. They are not savages.

iamthemob's avatar

@Mikewlf337

The OP was using the high powered harpoon to emphasize the image, again, of MASSIVE commercial whaling. What you’re referencing isn’t what we’re addressing – of course sustainable interactions with the environment, no matter how distasteful to someone else, should not be interfered with.

But stating that the actions of others outside our states/nations/whatever are none of our businesses is an oversimplification. The genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan should have been stopped earlier. The Holocaust should have been stopped earlier. Hussein’s Kurdish ethnic cleansing should have been stopped. And if a group is hinting an animal to the point of extinction, they should be stopped before that point.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure why you’re asking this question, or what you’re really asking. There’s no objective answer to this. It’s opinion and no one has any better standing on this than anyone else. Whales may be beautiful and graceful and intelligent and there are people who don’t give a shit.

So what are you looking for? Arguments to support the cause? Are you trying to figure out who here is on your side? Are you trying to show you have a soft spot for something? I think all these things are legitimate. I just wish I could understand your question better.

And for the record, the answer is yes.

josie's avatar

@wundayatta I am not sure why I am bothering to jusify the question, but then again why not.
If there is no objective answer, or if the objective answer is no, then the whales are not worth saving.
I think I can give an objective answer as to why they are worth saving. That is why I contribute to lobbying efforts to proctect them.
I was just curious if anybody else had objective answers, or if they, as you say, would only give subjective answers.
Maybe I haven’t been around here long enough and thus am unfamiliar with the some of the Fluther rules and regs-
Are we supposed to routinely explain why we ask our questions? Are we supposed to self analyze our motives or discuss it if we have some secret agenda? Are we obligated to make our questions understandable to all, or just those who might be willing to give an answer?
What is it about this question that is confusing to you?

BoBo1946's avatar

Dang right….Whales are very intelligent animals. I could have been a whale or you @Josie! By the laws of chance, we are who we are!

Leanne1986's avatar

Every animal is worth saving in my opinion. I hate the idea of species becoming extinct because of human interference and I too support foundations that works to save endangered species.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, every culture is savage in some way, including aspects of modern “civilized” Western culture. The idea that we ought to turn a blind eye to cruel and abusive practices because they are part of someone’s “culture” is absurd.

In ancient times, people had little choice to act like savages, because they didn’t know any better or lacked resources (as the Inuit once did). Now? No Inuit need to hunt whales for food and fuel. It’s purely “tradition,” and it’s a savage tradition that has no place in the 21st century.

wundayatta's avatar

@josie Why bother asking rhetorical questions? Oops ;-)

I’m not asking you to justify the question. I’m just asking for clarification. Perhaps we…. belay that… we seem to have very different understandings of the world. For me, there is no such thing as an objective answer. We can only answer from our own viewpoints. You apparently believe there can be an objective answer. Therefore you are asking a question I can not answer, unless that’s not really the question you are asking.

Now we have established you do believe in objective answers. So, in order for me to understand the question, I need to know the basis on which you base your notion of objectivity. From your answer to my question, though, it sounds like what you really want are more arguments to persuade others that whales should be saved. This suggests that even though you believe there is an objective reality, you understand that using subjective reality is necessary in order to get things done.

So there are lots of reasons why people might want to save whales. They might think whales are beautiful—aesthetic reasons. They might think whales are intelligent and that intelligence in other beings is valuable. They might think biodiversity is valuable. They might think that whales are mammals and feel a kind of warm, cuddly feeling about protecting mammals because they have many things in common with humans.

They might think that whales are part of traditions of various peoples and that there is some kind of sustainable harvesting of whales. They might hate the Japanese and the Russians. They might be horrified by pictures of whale killing and dismembering.

But down at the bottom of it, I think that deciding to save the whales is an emotional decision. All the rest of it is justification. There’s no objective reason to save whales. There’s no objective reason to save humans. We want to save ourselves because we like being alive.

Humans have it in their power to destroy many forms of life. In fact, we have, arguably, done so. In many cases, we did so unaware of what we were doing. Now we know, and we still continue many practices that will destroy many species. It’s not just whales, but cod and many other fish species that have been fished to the brink of extinction.

No one cares about fish so much because they aren’t very cuddly. They aren’t mammals. They are just food. There is other food. Whales are food, too. Some people believe that it doesn’t matter if you “fish” whales to extinction, just like people don’t care about cod.

Personally, I think biodiversity matters. I think that we are playing with fire when we make lots of species go extinct. I know that over time, new species will evolve to take the niche of the species we have killed off. But we could be extinct before that happens, perhaps because we killed off everything but tilapia and salmon. The problem with monoculture is that if something comes along that wipes out that species, it wipes out every single member of that species, or even only 50% of them, and then a lot of humans starve.

If something came along that takes out cattle at the same time as something came along that takes out pigs at the same time something comes along that wipes out salmon…. etc. We’d be in really bad shape.

We need whales because they are part of the biodiversity we depend on to be able to get us out of a jam. We need all kinds of tools in our toolkit because we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. We don’t know what obstacles we will face. Monoculture is dangerous. It’s dangerous with corn and wheat, and it’s dangerous with mammals and fish.

But that’s just us. There’s no objective reason that humans should survive. The planet really doesn’t care. If every form of life gets wiped out, this chuck of nickel and iron will still be orbiting the sun. Or it’ll be flying off somewhere in the universe. Or it’ll be conglomerating with some other, larger chunk of matter.

Humans don’t matter to anyone or anything other than humans. We treat the earth as our garden. Hopefully we like our garden and want to garden sustainably. Hopefully we want to leave the garden in good shape for our children and grandchildren and descendants for a long, long time to come. Or at least, that’s my hope for humanity. But I’m prejudiced.

josie's avatar

@wundayatta
I would love to discuss the whales with you, but when people start talking about “objective reality” and “subjective reality” there is just no place else to go. It is a game stopper.
It becomes an endless epistemological dog chasing its own tail.

Reality is. That is metaphysical.
There is no way to modify the concept reality with adjectives.

The concepts objective and subjective do not even arise until after we establish that reality exists. They are elements of epistemology.

It is not unlike saying “truth that is true” and “truth that is not or may not be true”. One is redundant and the other is a contradiction.

Anyway, thanks for the effort, and thanks for your support of whales.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@josie if I can help to find the middle ground between you and @wundayatta on the epistemology here…

I’m sure that you’re correct that “reality is”, but because of the lenses and brains we filter it through, and the words we use to describe it afterward, who know what reality really is?

So I would say (borrowing from Scientology, as a matter of fact, because it works here): “Reality is an agreed-upon apparency of existence.” And because we experience it “ourselves” and can only describe it imperfectly afterward, it more or less is “subjective”, isn’t it? If you and @wundayatta can agree upon what you each perceive and describe, then you’ve arrived at a common Reality… at least for the two of you.

wundayatta's avatar

Thank you @CyanoticWasp. That was helpful.

Perhaps we can agree on a reality that the earth doesn’t care about whales. Virtually all creatures don’t care about whales (except those that are eaten by them or that eat them). The only creatures that really care are humans, and most of them don’t care. The reality is, rounding to the nearest million, that no one cares about whales. The people who care about them don’t make a blip on the radar screens of just about everything else. That’s, in your way of thinking, an objective fact.

Worth is a subjective thing. But you don’t seem to be interested in that despite the fact it was in the title of your question. That’s why I’m so confused as to what you want.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu as long as the Iniut eat the whale then they are doing nothing wrong. Wether you like it or not is of no importance.

iamthemob's avatar

@Mikewlf337 – So…if the Inuit eats the LAST whale, that’s also a matter of no importance?

iamthemob's avatar

This is a little off-topic – but hey…those of us who appreciated the “Star Trek IV” reference will appreciate this step forward in science (you’ll need no other prompt if you’re as unrelentingly nerdy as I am…)

Mikewlf337's avatar

@iamthemob The Inuit are not going to eat the last whale. They don’t hunt them on a massive scale like commercial whaling does.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, it’s okay to kill extremely intelligent and social beings, as long as you eat them?

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu Yes it is. It’s called the food chain. In some part’s of the world a human being can find him/herself on the menu depending on what type of animals are nearby.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Mikewlf337 I think you’ve justified cannibalism then, haven’t you?

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

Ever heard the song Silver Spoon by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick? Might put things into perspective for you…

Mikewlf337's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Cannibalism is part of nature. Animals as well as humans have resorted to it when their survival instincts have kicked in when they are starving. If a party of human beings are stranded and have no food then I can understand cannibalism. Will I justify it? Yes depending on the situation. A person in a survival situation will do what is necessary despite how he/she felt before being in that situation.

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

You cannot use lifeboat ethics to globally justify a practice. What is moral in a life-or-death situation is not necessarily moral in another.

As I implied above, I would not be against killing a whale if it where the only way for a group to survive. But that does not mean I condone killing whales just because a group wants to, or because it sees it as a cultural tradition.

flutherother's avatar

We have to ask ourselves where this is leading. We may be saving the whale today, but tomorrow it may be the tiger. Where does it stop. Soon we won’t be allowed to exterminate anything!!

Mikewlf337's avatar

@crisw I was referring to cynanotic wasps cannibal justification comment. If a tribe hunts whales in a sustainable manner (wich they do because they don’t kill many, just enough to feed the tribe) then they are doing nothing wrong. It’s just the food chain in action.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, nobody needs to hunt whales to survive today.

And the laws of nature don’t make very good morals. The whole point of being a human is that we don’t act like animals. “The food chain” is not a moral system. If the food chain is the basis of someone’s morality, that probably means they’re a sociopath.

mattbrowne's avatar

Every ecosystem is worth saving.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu the laws of nature apply to all living things including human beings. Just because you live in a modern society doesn’t mean the laws of nature doesn’t apply to you. I have morals and nobody on a site like fluther or any other for that matter is going to tell me otherwise. BTW killing an animal for food does not make one a sociopath.

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, if you are starving and you need to kill an animal for food, then no, that doesn’t make you a sociopath. But as we’ve pointed out, nobody needs to kill whales for food anymore.

However, I think if “the laws of nature” are your only moral code, that would strongly imply you’re a sociopath. I’m assuming this is not the case with you (i.e. that you think things like rape and murder—common in nature—are wrong, that the weak should be protected from oppression by the strong, etc).

My point was that nature cannot and should not be your moral rubric.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu hunting an animal and eating the meat is not a bad thing. I myself hunt deer and fish for food. I eat the meat. Will I go whaling? No because whale is not part of my diet and I don’t know which species is endangered and which ones are not. I support sustainable hunting. It helps keep populations in check. As far as whaling is concerned I don’t think commercial whaling is good because buisness minded people only care about profit and would drive an animal to extinction if it profits them. Tribes eat the meat and use the blubber. They also hunt in a sustainable manner so they are doing nothing wrong.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Mikewlf337 you should look more closely at the logical conclusions of some of the things you state. Right now (since you justified cannibalism earlier), you’re saying, in effect, that commercial fishing is bad. (Not that that’s a hard argument to make; if we drive tuna and swordfish into extinction or even close to it because of poor fishing practice or any other method, I’ll be sorely disappointed.)

Qingu's avatar

@Mikewlf337, the intelligence of an animal doesn’t enter into whether or not you’ll hunt it?

Would you hunt chimpanzees for food? What about humans? We’re not endangered.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu Chimpanzees and humans are not in my diet. Funny how you immediately go to the extreme when arguing but that’s to be expected and is typical of you people.

Qingu's avatar

Why aren’t they in your diet?

Also, “you people”? What people?

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

“Funny how you immediately go to the extreme when arguing”

This isn’t extreme at all. It’s a perfectly logical question to test the boundaries and consistency of your ethic.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu stupid question that I won’t dignify with an answer
@crisw it is extremely stupid to ask why I don’t eat humans. My ethics are fine and doesn’t need to be tested.

Qingu's avatar

Just to be clear, your ethics are “I’ll kill anything as long as it’s not human and it gets eaten”?

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Qingu I think there was also a stricture against “commercial” raising / catching / killing, too, but he never followed up on that in my last comment to him. And I guess you’d have to replace “human” with “primate”.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@Qingu You don’t know me so you won’t understand my ethics. You obviously don’t approve of me killing anything and eating it. That’s something you are going to have to live with. To talk to you about it is pointless since you consider me a savage.

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

I don’t think you’re up to speed on how this ethics thing works :>D

You can’t just craft an ethic and say “This is what I do, it’s my ethic so live with it.” A moral system needs to be consistent and coherent. Without actually explaining how your moral system is derived, it’s impossible to know if you are “following the rules,” so to speak.

Mikewlf337's avatar

@crisw you don’t know me and you and others in this thread are questioning a man who you don’t even know. It is my life and I will do as I please. It is my point of view and you don’t have to agree with it. You are entitled to your views as much as I am. I am not dogging you to change. I will not go into detail every aspect of my views. Agree to disagree because I will not change my views just because you don’t agree with them. What I eat on my table and how I procure my food is my business. I hunt certain animals. Deer and turkey for the most part and I wanna try for boar. The last time I checked they are not on the endangered species list. Actually they have multiplied in numbers to the point where they encourage hunting to keep the population in check. To assume I have poor ethics is nothing more than judging a person you don’t know. I am not driving anything into extinction. I follow the rules. I am not cruel and I make sure I have a clean kill. I don’t trap because its inhumane. I don’t kill animals out of cruelty because its inhumane. If I kill an animal in a hunt I eat it because of my own ethics Outside of hunting season when I see a deer I watch it and am happy I saw it because I love nature. I do not abuse animals and I don’t see it as cruel and inhumane to hunt, kill, and eat an animal. I see tribal whaling in the same light. Tribal whaling is not done on a massive scale and they do not threaten their survival as a species.

crisw's avatar

@Mikewlf337

“To assume I have poor ethics is nothing more than judging a person you don’t know”

No, I am not judging you; I am attempting to judge your ethical system. And yes; I could make a judgment on it (if I knew the specifics of it) without knowing you, as its coherency and consistency is something independent of your personality.

As far as what you have said, without getting into a lengthy argument about the morality of meat-eating (I would be happy to do that in a separate question on the issue) and sticking to whales- if sentient beings have the right not to be eaten by humans, and whales are sentient beings, then whales should not be eaten by humans. Whether or not they are endangered really isn’t germane to the issue, as rights against harm accrue to the individual, not the species, as the individual can be personally harmed but a species cannot. We generally don’t condone eating chimpanzees, for example, even though they may be plentiful in some areas.

As mentioned above, lifeboat ethics cases are a different story- if it’s eat a whale or die, then eating the whale might be justified. But consumption of whales for cultural reasons is very different, and needs more justification than “They are not endangered.”

Mikewlf337's avatar

@crisw That’s your view as a vegetarian. My view as an omnivore is different. No living thing has the right not to be eaten. Even humans are eaten by other animals. The only thing keeping us from the food chain is the fact that we efficiently defend ourselves and others from being eaten by the few animals who are able to. When a wondering child is eaten by a tiger I don’t blame the tiger or the people. It is just the way it is. Chimpanzees are in fact hunted in certain parts of the world. I would never hunt one but that’s me. You and me obviously don’t agree and won’t agree so what point is there to even try? I do have ethics. I do have morals. Wether you agree with them or not is not important to me. I have no problem with you being a vegetarian. If you have a problem with me being an omnivore then that is your problem not mine. I don’t think there is a point of you getting into a lengthy argument with me because neither of us are going to change in the end. Agree to disagree and move one because this is leading nowhere but to more arguing.

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