A whale of a problem

There was moral outrage in the media this week after a ship, Sapphire Princess, arrived in port in Alaska with a dead whale wedged on its bulbous bow.

Sapphire Princess in Alaska

The investigation into how the poor whale died is still going on, although a similar event last year, disturbingly, involving the same ship, ended with the post-mortem concluding that the whale had already been dead when it was scooped up on the bow.

I’m not saying in any way that it’s acceptable for a cruise ship to be involved in the death of a whale. Most of the reporting has been responsible, but Friday’s Evening Standard was plain wrong, screaming “A cruise ship killed a whale after ploughing into it off Alaska”. We don’t know that yet.

The Belfast Telegraph isn’t much better, insisting that “A cruise ship operating in Alaska fatally struck a whale”. The Daily Mail, meanwhile, stirred it up online with the headline “Killer cruise liner strikes again”.

What disturbs me personally is the perspective of the case. One whale killed (or not) by a cruise ship so far this year is one too many. But according to the World Wildlife Fund, nearly 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed every day as by-catch in fishing nets.

And according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society  (WDCS), 30,000 whales have been killed by Japan, Iceland and Norway since a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986. Japan alone has slaughtered 17,000 whales, using a technical loophole of ‘scientific research’ to get round it.

Everybody who goes on cruises can do their bit for whales.

  • You can demand ethically caught fish, for a start – responsibly farmed, or line-caught. Mind you, only Crystal Cruises has so far formalised this with an ethical fish buying policy.
  • Ask your chosen cruise line about their whale-avoidance policy; Costa Cruises this week has announced new technology on one of its ships that will help the vessel to plot whale movements.
  •  If you book a whale-watching excursion, you can ask first whether it complies with WDCS recommendations. 
  • Possibly the most important, you can boycott any attraction involving captive whales and dolphins; marine parks, dolphin ‘encounters’ , performing orcas and so on.  Cruise lines offer these as shore excursions but there’s very little in the whole experience for the orcas and dolphins, as this WDCS report points out.

Small steps, but they all add up. SJB



Filed under Opinion

5 responses to “A whale of a problem

  1. I just love that you gave simple tips for helping whales (and other sea creatures!) that everyone can use. Thanks for sorting out the facts and shining some light on positive ways to make a change. Kudos.

  2. Rachel

    I was on the Sapphire Princess last week. Everybody on the ship was saddened by what happened.

  3. R Jacob

    It’s really hard to imagine a healthy whale colliding with anything. A curious whale getting too friendly with a screw propeller is maybe something else.

  4. nicole

    Whales that are missing fins and jaws are typically dead because they have been killed by killer whales(Orcas) they like to eat the tongues of other whales torture and kill them that is what probably happened.either way still sad!

  5. Doc Ian

    A ship hitting a whale is not as rare as you might think, and certainly not deserving of such sensational headlines. It’s happened a number of times before.
    But as one respondent said, it’s hard to imagine a healthy whale getting hit – they would get out of the way. Certainly dolphins will cavort all around a ship and manage to stay out of trouble very successfully.
    The flip side to this story is that the cruise companies are very cautious around whales. One cruise I was on encountered a large pod of killer whales- the ship slowed and came to a complete stop for about an hour and a half. The passengers enjoyed watching the whales greatly, but the whales also seemed quite entertained by the experience.

    PS most Orcas do not attack other whales. It’s just a sub-population of transient whales that have shown that type of behaviour. (‘outside agitators’, in the parlance)

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