For the first time since its launch in 2014, UN World Wildlife Day (3 March) switches its focus from creatures on the land to the world beneath the waves with the theme ‘Life below water: for people and planet’.
As well as a celebration of the myriad treasures and wonders of the deep, this day is also an opportune time to remind ourselves that the world’s whales are still a long way from saved.
In January, the threat level facing whales from Japan, perhaps the world’s most notorious and aggressive whaling nation, was stepped up when the country confirmed it was taking its ball and not playing any longer with the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The decision followed repeated exposures of its phoney ‘scientific’ whaling and, most recently, the defeat of its attempt to undermine the IWC’s global moratorium on whaling.
It seems Japan would rather go it alone as a pariah than honourably admit defeat in the face of the overwhelming majority of world opinion on the issue of whaling.
And Iceland, too, looks set to escalate its whaling activities after an effective two-year hiatus when multi-millionaire rogue whaler Kristján Loftsson and his company Hvalur hf stayed ashore, citing issues with whale meat exports to Japan, the primary market for the protected, endangered fin whales it slaughters.
Despite mounting opposition to whaling from Icelandic businessmen and politicians concerned about the international damage being done to the otherwise progressive country’s image as a tourism destination, the Government last week issued an annual quota of 209 protected fin whales and 217 minke whales for the next five years, a move which could see the slaughter of up to 2,130 baleen whales during the period.
The vital role played by whales in ocean ecosystems is increasingly appreciated and their loss would be catastrophic.
As well as the renewed impacts of Japanese and Icelandic hunts, whales are already facing a number existential threats from a variety of sources, particularly climate change and plastic pollution of the oceans as well as the harm done by noise pollution from oil and gas exploration and fatalities caused by ship strikes.
‘Save the whales’ was one of environmentalism’s earliest and most successful slogans – on this UN World Wildlife Day, please spread the word that they’re not in the clear yet.