Welfare Aspects of the Commercial Slaughter of Whales

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Recently, the method by which Japanese and Norwegian whalers kill minke whales has come under scrutiny on welfare grounds. Whales are still caught with a grenade tipped harpoon fired from a cannon. The harpoon is targeted to strike the animal in the thorax, though the pattern of harpoon strikes is variable and some can even be struck in the tail. Once the whale is harpooned, it is winched to the ship and if not dead, attempts are made to kill it either by electrocution or with rifles. Some studies indicate that less than 30 per cent of animals are killed instantaneously, though best practice can achieve 50 per cent of animals killed instantaneously but with wounded animals surviving for up to one hour. To kill airy wild animal humanely, immediate insensibility must be induced. Whilst in principle the methods used on whales could induce immediate insensibility, there are indications that neither harpooning nor the secondary killing processes, like electrocution or rifle bullets, are achieving this in an acceptable proportion of the animals taken. Comparison of the killing processes used on minke whales with killing processes used on other animals, indicated that there are several areas where improvements could increase the proportion of whales killed instantaneously and reduce the suffering of wounded animals. Whilst harpooning may remain the favoured method of taking whales, and some improvements have been made in the number of whales killed instantaneously, the equipment has evolved little from that originally developed by the Norwegians in the Nineteenth Century. As currently practised few people would consider the current methods employed by the whaling industry to be humane.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 1995

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