The Canadian government opted last week to allow the killing 500 narwhals trapped beneath ice rather than calling in icebreakers to free the animals, claiming the process would have been too stressful for the whales.
Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and star of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars, wrote a lengthy condemnation of the Canadian government’s decision. He noted that the government provides millions to fund ice-breaking for the annual baby seal hunt, but rejected the idea when proposed in order to save the whales.
Canada allowed Inuit hunters to shoot the whales as they swam one-by-one to the one hole in the ice where they could come up for air. If minimizing stress was the goal, they miserably failed.
Watson believes the decision was made purely for economic reasons: breaking ice costs money, while killing narwhals makes money.
“Where Canada could have delivered the gift of life, they have instead unleashed a torrent of violence that has spewed the hottest of blood into the frigid seas of the high north,” wrote Watson, who is a Canadian citizen.
“Narwhal tusks sell for thousands of dollars and this bonanza was 4 times [the Inuits’] allowed ‘legal’ kill. This was an opportunity to put hundreds of valuable ‘unicorn horns’ on the market and to bring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the economy of the far North,” he continued. “Every Canadian should hang their head in shame at this atrocious environmental crime.”
Correction: Narwhals are in fact merely a threatened species, not endangered. However, there appear to be around 45,000 still in existence, meaning this killing spree wiped out a large chunk of the population. Narwhals also happen to be considered the animal most threatened by climate change, even more so than polar bears. It is also worth noting that the number of narwhals killed in this incident is actually now approaching 600.