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The Whale: An Object of Concern in Human-Environment Relations (Essay Sample)

Students will be asked to choose a ‘thing’ or a material object and interpret it as a human-environment relation, in a similar manner to our overall class approach. Students should use a minimum of 2 of the human-environment perspectives that we have developed in class to analyse their chosen ‘thing’. The second half of the textbook provides numerous examples of how to do this. source..
The Whale: An Object of Concern in Human-Environment Relations Student’s Name Instructor’s Name Institutional Affiliation Course Date The Whale: An Object of Concern in Human-Environment Relations A Conscious Force of Nature The 2015 feature film In the Heart of the Sea was a picturesque depiction of the tragic sea voyage that saw a crew of Nantucket whalers nearly wiped out by a sperm whale’s fit of fury. The film recounted the horrors that befell whales in the 1800s in the cruel hands of whale hunters who would capture and butcher them for their blubber. People living in the late 1800s depended on whale oil for all their industrial and household needs, which meant the slaughter of thousands of these beautiful sea creatures every year. In the film, Tom Nickerson sets sail aboard a vintage vessel named “The Phoenix” in the accompaniment of 19 other men. The whalers initially targeted a popular fishing spot off the coast of South America. Much to their dismay, the crew arrived to a desolate fishing zone whose resources had been depleted through overfishing. Nickerson and his men decided to sail out to distant whaling grounds further away from any shores. It was a wise decision, but one that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. The crew came eye-to-eye with what has arguably remained the most iconic sea monster in modern aquatic history. The so-called “white whale” was an albino sperm whale marred by broken harpoons lodged in its thick skin, a telling sign of its past encounters with other whalers. The whale was bigger than average, and had a unique feature which took the 20-men crew by utter surprise: it had an almost human-like conscience and was seemingly out for blood. The whale used its flukes to destroy “The Phoenix” and kill 12 men despite having suffered several injuries during this brief but brutal bloodbath. The film bore a sense of extreme urgency and a call-to-action for the protection of whales. Moreover, it was also a display of the horrors of whale hunting in the 1800s and the utter disregard for natural splendor and magnificence of whales through crude human activity. Although the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has illegalized commercial whale hunting since 1986, much hangs loose for aquatic life today as human activity continues to invade and disrupt the natural order of life in our oceans. In Japan, Norway, and Iceland combined, close to 40,000 whales have died in human hands since the commercial ban—this averages to about 1500 whales each year (Whale and Dolphin Conservation, 2021). Humpback whales, for instance, encounter several human-incited hazards during their annual natural cycle, including collisions with ships during migration, immobilization and injuries by fishing gear, and oceanic pollution. A Brief History of Whales Zoologists use the designation ‘whale’ to refer to any one of the larger members of the order Cetacea that includes whales, dolphins, and porpoises. The classification into these three mammalian groups depends on body size, with a whale being any cetacean measuring over 10 meters in length. A few species are exclusive to this categorization, such as the pygmy right whale, which grows to a maximum of seven meters. The mammalian order Cetacea further classifies into suborders based on methods of feeding (Bannister, 2008). Baleen whales (mysticeti) use a filter-feeding system to separate food from water and include the blue whale and humpback whales, while toothed whales (odontoceti) possess teeth, some of which are highly modified for adaptability—they include the Orca, sperm whales, and the narwhal. The odontoceti suborder is the more diversified of the two categories consisting of eight mammalian families, 34 different genus, and 73 whale species in total. In comparison, the mysticeti contains only four families with 16 species in total. Australian waters bear the largest of this diversity, being home to eight of the 12 whale families accounting for about 44 of the 87 species (Bannister, 2008). While all baleen whales are true whales, only a small percentage of toothed whales are truly so—the rest of the species are all porpoises and dolphins. Further comparisons have emerged between the two whale suborders, with mysticeti being grazers and odontoceti active predators, the former living in smaller groups and the latter having an active social life, and the baleen species being less intelligent compared to species in the odontoceti suborder such as dolphins and killer whales. The famous Greek philosopher Aristotle expressively wrote about the mammalian attributes of the whale—its mammalian respiratory system and the fact of giving birth and feeding its young on milk. Despite this ancient wisdom, most people still thought of whales as mythical creatures of the deep. Jonah in the Bible was swallowed by what was described as a great fish, while the term Leviathan was used to describe any extraordinarily large sea creature, with whales fitting the depiction. Thirteenth-century Scandinavian philosophers wrote broadly about whales, with some like the minke whales helping fisherman gather shoals for easier fishing (Bannister, 2008). To date, whales are still thought to be mysterious majestic creatures which, even with the rise of modern technology, remain concealed in a world largely unexplored. Of Whales and Men One of the earliest recorded encounters between man and whale was in a book about Greek history written in 100AD, about three centuries after Alexander the Great’s journey to India. Whaling activities only began after several sightings of stranded whales on beaches, prompting humans to experiment on the use of whale meat as food and its blubber as fuel. No one seems to understand why whale stranding occurs, but this behavior has been identified as having been the inspiration for whale hunting by the earliest whalers, the Basques, a Southern European ancestral community (Newton, 2012). The oil harvested from whale blubber was used in the manufacture of paint and soap, Lenten fat, and for wool processing. By the 1500s, Basques had sailed as far as Newfoundland in search of the Southern right whale which had disappeared in their home waters due to excessive hunting. The Red Bay in Newfoundland became the headquarters for Basque whalers up to the 1800s. The more shocking fact was that whaling did not have much economic benefit for the Basques, but it was the long and daring 4500-kilometer whaling voyage to Newfoundland, performed annually, that was the token of pride for these hunters (Newton, 2012). In the 500-year period that the Basques hunted whales, over 40,000 right whales were slaughtered. An embargo on whale oil exportation from New England was sanctioned in 1775, although intensive whaling continued in other oceans, with participation from countries like Australia and the United States. Richard Melville explained how a fleet of 700 ships would reel in an estimated $7,000,000 in whale products each year. Figure 1. An illustration of sperm whale portioning among the various stakeholders in the whaling practice. Redeeming an Order The Cetacea order had agonized greatly for thousands of years over cruel human acts of slaughtering for economic gain. Since 1986, however, the whale market has slowly morphed from being a barbaric movement to a more conservative and humane cause. Whale-watching tourism has seen a dramatic expansion over the past three decades and has grown into a $ 2.1 billion industry. Conserving any of the 86 species of whale as a watching attraction can be considered a form of ecotourism, characterized by a maintained natural habitat, education on conservation, and support for local economies (Mallard, 2019). The oceans are the largest ecosystem in nature and therefore the most important carbon sink and source of protein in the world. International bodies such as the United Nations have acknowledged the importance of marine life as a framework for the advancement of human wellbeing through incentives such as Goal 14, Life below Water, in the list of Sustainable Development Goals (Cook et al., 2020). While numerous resources have been committed to the advancement of ecosystem services to enhance human benefit from the aquatic ecosystem, much has been done to conserve whale populations at large. As new trading routes continue to threaten the existence of whales in the deep oceans through physical disturbances, shipping noise, and chemical pollution, agencies have stepped in to offer temporal yet effective solutions. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has used ecological data on whale migration and habitation to enforce mitigation during certain times of the years in zones where whale activity is predicted to increase (Pirotta et al., 2019). Shipping lane relocation and Traffic Separation Schemes have been adopted to help reduce physical collisions between humans and whales. Further, recognition of the potential harm of shipping noise propagation into whale habitat has prompted the IMO to formulate guidelines that reduce underwater acoustics associated with ships (Pirotta et al., 2019). Such measures have advocated for quitter ship designs and avoidance of new marine road formation. The Political Economy of Whaling The stated reason for the 1986 moratorium was to allow overexploited whale species to recuperate in number. The IWC then fashioned the Revised Management Procedure (RMP), an incentive that has generated critically-divisive views owing to the possibility of permitting the resumption of whaling. Many countries have declined to adopt the RWC, and some have made further efforts to promote the conservation of all whale species. A recent proposal to the IWC suggested a DNA registry to track all whale products to control the illegal hunting and sale of such stock. The sanction of initiatives such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) a...
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