The leading British environmentalist Sir David Attenborough says there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea and questions whether whaling should "still be tolerated be a civilized society" in a report yesterday by scientists and major conservation organizations.
In a departure from his long-held stance of neutrality on political and conservation questions Attenborough makes clear his opposition to whaling in the report, Troubled Waters.
The issue of whalers' ability to kill humanely is central to the British and other conservation-minded nations opposing the resumption of commercial whaling. They say that, if it cannot be achieved, then whaling should not resume.
The report shows that instantaneous death cannot be guaranteed and, although the average time from being hit by an explosive harpoons to death is two minutes, many whales live much longer. Some are wounded and face an unknown fate.
In his foreword Attenborough says: "Whales are highly evolved animals with all the sensitivities that that statement implies. They have a complex social life. They call to one another across the vast expanses of oceans.
"They are the largest animals that have ever existed, far larger than any dinosaur. There is nothing in the body of a whale, which is of use to us, for which we cannot find equivalents elsewhere."
He says the report contains "hard scientific dispassionate evidence that there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea."
He quotes Harry Lillie, who worked as a ship's physician on a whaling trip in the Antarctic half a century ago: "If we can imagine a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck in its stomach and being made to pull a butcher's truck through the streets of London while it pours blood into the gutter, we shall have an idea of the method of killing. The gunners themselves admit that, if whales could scream, the industry would stop for nobody would be able to stand it."
Sir David continues: "The use of harpoons with explosive grenade heads is the still the main technique used by whalers today. I hope that you will read the following pages and decide for yourself whether the hunting of whales in this way should still be tolerated by a civilized society."
The report, produced by the World Society for the Protection of Animals, draws on academic research and the expertise of a New Zealand government ballistics expert, the Humane Society of the United States, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the UK Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Killing methods compare unfavorably to those imposed on the slaughter of land animals, the report says.
It says that claims by the whaling industry to be able to kill instantaneously vary widely between Japan and Norway, the two main whaling nations. The Norwegians claim to kill 80.7 percent instantaneously but the Japanese only 40.2 percent, although both are using the same techniques.