19 July 2005

WDCS opposes moving grey whales to the UK

It has been widely reported in the UK press over the last few days that two British scientists are proposing moving wild grey whales from California to the UK coastline and thereby hoping to boost the local whale watching industry.

WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, does not believe that this plan is currently feasible or sensible, and is particularly concerned that it may cause people to believe that whale conservation is more simple than it really is.

The plan – which will be presented at the 19th annual meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology, which is being held in Brazil this week - comes from two academics based at the University of Central Lancashire. They claim that "within 10 years the most dramatic species reintroduction ever attempted could stimulate a lucrative whale watching industry, create hundreds of jobs and help to regenerate devastated fishing communities around the British Isles."

However, whilst it is true that grey whales have been extinct in the waters of the Atlantic for many hundreds of years, they cannot simply be replaced by moving whales from the East Pacific. Even disregarding the issues of moving such huge animals from a logistical and welfare perspective, both of which raise huge and unexplored difficulties, the Pacific grey whales are adapted to live in a certain sea in a certain way. They are dependant on seasonal migration routes and times to enable them to move between breeding and feeding ground. We cannot just assume that they will be able to navigate successfully and survive in the Atlantic. In addition, it is not actually entirely clear why the Atlantic grey whales became extinct and whilst whaling has been implicated, the initiation of their demise seemed to have preceded major whaling activities.

The grey whale is a highly migratory species undertaking one of the longest migrations of any animal species and would not simply sit off the coast of Cumbria for people to admire. The proposal also suggests that there is a 'harvestable surplus' of whales in the East Pacific population and WDCS does not believe this to be a simple truth either.

Mark Simmonds, the UK-based Director of Science for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society comments: "At WDCS we can well appreciate the enthusiasm for trying to replace the whale species that we have lost here (the right whale also appears to be extinct in the North East Atlantic) but the notion of taking whales from one place and reintroducing them somewhere else is far more complex than it might appear and very unlikely to be in the best interests of the animals."

For more information on watching whales and dolphins in the UK and elsewhere, click on the links to the right.

Source: The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society


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