Peter Dykstra: Of whales and men
(Credit: Martin Robertson/flickr)

Peter Dykstra: Of whales and men

Charismatic megafauna is the mouthful of a phrase used to describe the big lovable beasts the world wants to save – or at least cast as stars of our cartoons.


Two recent setbacks with saltwater giants illustrate how being big and adored doesn't always get the job done.

Compared to other more daunting environmental challenges, ending commercial whaling was thought to be easy. The industry was already on its heels due to lack of demand, not to mention, lack of whales.

Global public opinion helped chase whalers out of all but a few nations. And the conservation movement focused its strength on ending commercial whaling everywhere to seal what seemed a major victory.

In 1984, a ban on commercial whaling took effect, over the objections of Japan, Norway and Iceland. With a few exceptions for subsistence whaling by native communities, whaling was dead.

Or so we thought.

Almost immediately, Japan's whaling fleet leveraged a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's decree, allowing for limited whaling to continue for scientific "research."

Hundreds of whales per year, mainly minke whales, gave their lives for this research, the premise of which was so shabby that opponents described it as "more sushi than science."

Whale meat found its way to Japanese markets, just like in the good old days.

Norway and Iceland chipped in and whaling hung on, albeit at far lower levels. Last month, Japan announced it was quitting the IWC after decades of battling its decisions.

Instead of steaming to the Antarctic, their fleet will stay close to home to kill minkes and two other species, Bryde's and Sei whales.

Frozen Bluefin Tuna ready for auction at Tsukiji Market in Tokyo. (Credit: Matt Saunders/flickr)

Similarly, much has been written about the bluefin tuna, a half-ton torpedo of a fish whose value has skyrocketed as its numbers have plummeted. Again, Japan is the eco-villain.

In December, a single bluefin sold in Tokyo for $3.1 million – a perverse free-market incentive to catch the last one. The fish, relatively small at 612 pounds, was one more withdrawal from a Pacific bluefin stock estimated to be 96 percent down from its original population.

And if our global imagination isn't stoked by saving big fish, and even bigger whales, what about more ephemeral challenges like rising CO2 levels? In 2017 and again last year, our output of the dominant greenhouse gas increased, despite the torrent of warnings about our climate death wish.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the Antarctic Treaty and Montreal Protocol, two international agreements that succeeded in protecting a frozen continent and the ozone layer.

They're examples of how international cooperation can work. But if we can't come together on protecting charismatic megafauna, or even achieving modest gains in CO2 reduction, they're examples of the tough battles ahead.

How our difficulties protecting big wildlife could be a bad omen for protecting humanity.

Study: Methane emissions may be five times higher than previously thought
thehill.com

Study: Methane emissions may be five times higher than previously thought

Global emissions of methane from existing gas infrastructure may be up to five times higher than had been believed, a new study has found. Existing measures to burn off the powerful greenhouse gas …
Sunrise in the woods

Get our Good News newsletter

Get the best positive, solutions-oriented stories we've seen on the intersection of our health and environment, FREE every Tuesday in your inbox. Subscribe here today. Keep the change tomorrow.

What SF's nearly normal rainfall over last year means for drought
www.sfchronicle.com

What SF's nearly normal rainfall over last year means for drought

Rainy months at the end of 2021 were followed by some of the driest months on record.
Conservation communication: Time to rethink the word ‘poacher’?
therevelator.org

Conservation communication: Time to rethink the word ‘poacher’?

Killing an endangered species is a heinous crime, but the language around the act requires a refocus away from colonialization.
Marco Rubio, Rick Scott urge Senate leaders for money to rebuild state.  Then don't vote for it.
www.tallahassee.com

Marco Rubio, Rick Scott urge Senate leaders for money to rebuild state.  Then don't vote for it.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rick Scott sent a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee chairs to get more funds to recover and rebuild Florida after Ian.
California’s water emergency: satisfying the thirst of almonds while the wells of the people that harvest them run dry
www.forbes.com

California’s water emergency: satisfying the thirst of almonds while the wells of the people that harvest them run dry

Broiling heat in the middle of the worst drought in 1,200 years has strained the state’s underground water supply, pitting the Central Valley’s $20 billion agriculture industry against many of its own workers.
Ian will 'financially ruin' homeowners and insurers
www.politico.com

Ian will 'financially ruin' homeowners and insurers

The storm inundated the homes of thousands of Floridians who don't have flood insurance, exposing weaknesses in the nation's effort to address the rising costs of extreme weather.
From our Newsroom
Chemical recycling grows  along with concerns of its impacts

Chemical recycling grows — along with concerns about its environmental impacts

Industry says chemical recycling could solve the plastic waste crisis, but environmental advocates and some lawmakers are skeptical.

Failure of the universities: The culture gap is now near lethal

Universities are failing us

Our educational systems are failing to prepare people for existential environmental threats

Shell's new petrochemical complex in southwestern Pennsylvania

The Titans of Plastic

Pennsylvania becomes the newest sacrifice zone for America’s plastic addiction.

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Ruth Greenspan Bell: Wealth and the climate dilemma

Developing countries that increase their fossil fuel production are at a crossroads: securing their own long-term well-being or earning revenue to finance programs to support immediate economic growth.

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Solving the climate crisis will help both ‘sacrifice zones’ and ‘cute’ puffins

Curbing pollution for families in Chicago calms the climatic conditions that drive fish away from puffins half a continent away.

puffin tern recovery climate change

Good news: A good year for puffins and terns, despite climate change

A visit to a remote Maine island finds puffins and terns rebounding despite climate change

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.