Planet Raves: Reconciling whales and humans

News that 15 endangered North Atlantic right whales – three per cent of the total population – died this past summer and fall off New Brunswick’s coast really got me thinking.

The question was posed to us: “What would we do if it was us making decisions about the circumstances involving the right whales,” which are threatened by the shipping, fishing and cruise line industries.

I was intrigued by this question because I come from a fishing village which relies on the fishing and tourism industries. I can see how any restrictions made on the use of fishing gear and the speed of fishing boats and cruise ships would greatly impact the town’s economy. For most people living in towns like my own, it is very common for many families and businesses to depend upon the fishing industry for their own well-being. Because of this dependency, I understand the frustration that would occur if major restrictions were put in place to stop the fishing industry in its tracks, put limits on the distribution of fishing licenses or downsized fishing zones. Such restrictions have the ability to completely alter the lives of entire families, business owners and employees.

However, I don’t only sympathize for families potentially affected by these restrictions. I also believe it is important to recognize the danger the fishing industry poses to the whales and the efforts of the people trying to help them. I think one of the main issues regarding the right whale crisis is that people do not understand the importance of whales to the environment and the chain reaction their extinction would cause.

The environment is connected and the extinction of whales would not simply rid the ocean of them, but of numerous species of fish and plankton. What many fishing and tourism industries do not understand is the extinction of the whales could potentially damage them more than it would to simply put an effort into aiding their survival.

Another thing to keep in mind is people in the tourism industry make money through whale watching, and without any whales to watch, more tourists will be lost. In a small community, such a loss could have a great impact.

If I had any say in the decision to save the whales or the industries, I would take the measures necessary to help protect the whales. I believe the outcome of the extinction of the whales will have an even bigger impact on the economy than the restrictions made to save them. If these measures were to have any dire effects on the tourism or fishing industries, I would take extra steps in making sure that they are given lots of time to prepare for the changes. Communities would be fully informed on why such steps are mandatory, and help would be available for those majorly affected.

Planet Raves is The Aquinian’s environmental column, featuring reflections from students in environmental studies classes.

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