Over at the Envirohistory blog is my article on The Soviet whaling industry and the end of whaling in New Zealand. In short, post-World War II, New Zealand whalers were taking about 100 humpback whales per year, the huge Soviet fleets cruised past in 1960 & 1961, took 25,000, and that was the end of whaling in New Zealand.
A random topic, I know, prompted by reading a translated memoir of a Soviet whaling scientist, reprinted in a dusty copy of Marine Fisheries Review found in a pile at the back of someone else’s office. If you want a moral from this tale, here’s three:
1) Short term industry goals – whaling industries the world over were free to destroy their own resource base, to the point where the industry drove itself to the brink of extinction.
2) Ineffective regulation – for most whale species, hunting was only banned after the species was so rare that it was no longer viable to hunt. The industry was able to resist regulation until there was almost no industry.
3) Shifting baselines – what is considered a healthy ecosystem (and a viable resource) changes over time. There used to be enough whales in the three miles of sea between Kapiti Island and Param that you could catch them from row-boats, enough to make a business that employed two thousand people. Of course, that was in 1820, and we’ve forgotten, or become used to, the rareness of whales, fishes, and pretty much every form of megafauna. Fishing in the North Atlantic is much the same, with prettier graphics in the Guardian.