Baby Whale – time to get real, not reality tv

August 28th, 2008 · 5 Comments · Guest Viewpoint


Picture courtesy, South West Rocks Dive Centre

Story by Nicky Hammond, Marine Programs Manager, NSW National Parks Association

The mass public outcry to the baby humpback saga on Sydney’s northern beaches last week was striking. Not just in its sheer magnitude, but also striking in its contrast to the reaction to other wildlife issues. Making headlines across the world, this lone whale created more of a stir than any of the important marine wildlife campaigns NPA has ever worked on.

Do we really only care if a suffering creature swims into the visible shallows or is given celebrity status by the media during a slow news week? What about all the thousands of other suffering creatures at risk out at sea, far from the watchful eyes of TV cameras, journalists and letter writing locals?

Ask for support for key marine wildlife issues that can help protect hundreds of thousands of marine creatures, and there is barely a blip on the media monitor with only dedicated conservationists stirring into action. Is generating long lasting and widespread protection from human pressures really less appealing than stopping one creature dying from natural causes?

Out at sea, critically endangered Grey Nurse Sharks continue to swim around in pain, with hooks lodged in their mouths or stomachs from accidental hooking from the fishing that continues to be permitted at their key habitat sites. This hooking can lead to infections, an inability to feed, long-term pain and often death. Considering that less than 500 remain along the eastern Australian seaboard, and the population is predicted to go extinct in our lifetimes, shouldn’t the campaign to protect these sharks be of key concern? Where is the mass outcry to this issue?

Likewise, I’ve barely noticed anyone flinch in response to humans having destroyed about 50% of NSW’s seagrass beds which act are the nursery grounds for our next generation of fish. Blood pressures don’t seem to be rising about the overfishing of large predators transforming kelp covered seafloors into barren sandy deserts covered with kelp-consuming urchins which can now thrive through a lack of predation.

At whatever level, the public are aware we are overfishing our oceans, destroying its habitat and sending species towards extinction. They’ve heard about fish numbers declining, habitats being lost, food webs becoming unbalanced and biodiversity decreasing. They know climate change will place our oceans under even more pressure.

Helping overcome these problems doesn’t involve creating bizarre looking animal feeding devices, towing whales to Antarctica or new scientific breakthroughs. It doesn’t involve unrealistic expectations of being able to protect creatures one at a time. We simply need to use existing legislation, science, community effort and government processes to provide a marine sanctuaries network that will help build the strength of our oceans to withstand the pressures humans place on it.

If only the public would get so emotional about supporting the bigger picture issues we could provide real and long lasting outcomes to help ensure all our marine creatures – big and small, cute and not so cute – are properly looked after for the future.

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5 Comments so far ↓

  • mitchell

    This is a really profound issue; we are incredibly anthropomorphic in our view of the world: our main way of understanding living things seems to be to treat them like people. A related problem is how we deal with scale: relating to or sympathising with one suffering person is easy; but a million suffering people is too much. These two shifts seem related and both equally necessary – to treat all living things as intrinsically valuable, and to feel for the many, as much as the one. I think I’m talking about “deep ecology”? Some would argue that these tendencies are evolutionarily hardwired or “human nature”, but people working in conversation, like Nicky Hammond here, demonstrate the alternative.

  • Gelligo

    Nicky & Mitchell’s points are all valid. Here are two more:
    1. Media coverage of the ‘Colin the female whale’ fiasco was typically emotive and stupid. I doubt most people – especially anyone who has any experience working with animals – would have believed all the crap peddled, hushed tones, melodramatic faces and sombre strings in the background. The standard of current ‘current affairs’ shows, especially on the commercial networks, is so woeful it beggars belief.
    2. NPWS (or whatever they are currently called) have a habit of mismanaging left-field issues – who can forget Guy Fawkes? Same with this – they faffed around for far too long and made a saga out of a simple, unfortunate issue.

  • fiona

    I agree….and I think the anthropomorphisation of the whale was extreme, and also a pretty irresponsible move by the media. I note though, that for all the media are being pilloried for naming the whale to engage people in its plight, they gave themselves plausible deniability by naming it Colin.

  • Ross

    Anthropomorphisation of any animal creates good news, especially an animal as Disney-cute and cuddly as a juvenile Cetacean. Look at what old Walt did for the Deer, Squirrel and Lion species.
    Sadly, most people either don’t want to know or understand that the real world for the likes of Colin or Colette (I really hate this animal naming thing) is inevitably to become part of the food chain. In other words, getting torn to bits by predators, which happens every minute of every day. Imagine if that had happened in Pittwater, with the cameras rolling. I suppose the poor old national parks people would have also been torn to bits by our commercial media and its dumbed-down audience…..again!.

  • Rob

    I agree with that the overattention on the whale was bordering on the ridiculus.

    However, misinformation given to the public to facilitate selfish gains such as those nicky hammond has a habit of doing are even more destructive.

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