I was very concerned to learn of the recent comments made in Cebu City at the Tanon Strait Protected Seascape Stakeholders’ Summit concerning possible culling of marine top predators in Philippines’ waters. There appears to be concern about falling fisheries catches in this region and the belief that this decline is being created (or perhaps exacerbated) by the presence of whales, dolphins and sharks. That is most unlikely to be the case.
For many years I have followed similar claims and they are typically based on an assessment that is unscientific and unsubstantiated. Culling could, in fact, be counter-productive to fisheries and other local and national interests. The simple equation that predators eat x tons of fish or squid (perhaps based on a calculated metabolic need) does not mean that this quantity would otherwise be available to fishermen if the predators are removed. These matters need to be viewed through a wiser lens and several questions considered, including what exactly are the predators eating and where are they feeding?
The top predators may be eating different prey to those taken by the fishers or may not actually be feeding in the same places as the fisheries occur. The first step in assessing why a fishery is in decline would be to look at the status of the fish stocks targeted and the scale of the fisheries concerned and assess whether human removals are likely to be sustainable.
We also now live in a world where marine environments are changing and this too needs to be taken into account. In addition, marine food chains and ecosystems are complex and removals of predators may, in fact, create a negative impact on species being targeted. Generally, a healthy and balanced ecosystem is one where all the living components are present in good numbers.
Direct competition between fishers and marine top predators is rare and even where it does exist it may be addressed in ways that do not include killing the predators. There is also the fact that many locals and tourists enjoy the experience of watching these remarkable animals and this form of ecotourism must also be factored into any calculation. Dolphins, whales and sharks are inspiring species.
Japan is one of the very few countries that continues to kill dolphins and whales for profit – an activity that is robustly condemned by most countries. It would be a mistake for those in authority in the Philippines to believe that these takes have anything to do with fisheries management.
The killing of these animals also has a very negative affect on the view taken of Japan by people from all around the world. The dolphin hunt at Taiji in particular has become justifiably notorious and widely abhorred. The treatment of these sentient and social animals in this hunt is very cruel.
All of us at the Humane Society International hope that the Philippines will back away from any culling of marine mammals and, instead, we encourage you to make a full and scientific investigation of why fisheries are in decline and celebrate the fact that you have whales, dolphins and sharks in your waters.
Senior Marine Scientist
Humane Society International
Earth Island Institute Philippines