But why do they keep killing the whales? Questions from a six year old child

I have encouraged my son to ask questions. Sometimes I feel uncomfortable with the questions he asks. Tonight he saw a news item on TV about Japanese whaling. He asked some very interesting questions. As the saying goes – from the mouths of babes.

pilot whale mother and baby


Child:  Look Mum, they’re killing a whale! Why are they doing that?

Mum: They say so that they can do research.

Child: What is research?

Mum: Research is studying something to learn about it.

Child: But why do they want to kill all of the whales in Antarctica?

Mum: They are not killing all of them, just some. The whales aren’t necessarily in Antarctica. The whales move north when it gets colder and have their babies in the warmer water. When the babies are stronger, they move back to Antarctica.

Child:  But that’s not fair! I don’t understand why they want to do that.

Mum:  Nor do I sweetheart.

Child: But why don’t the whales just swim away?

Mum: Because the ships are very fast. Also the whales don’t expect someone to shoot a harpoon at them.

Child: But I’ve never seen a real whale!

Mum: I’ll show you some one day. I like whales too.

Child: I know what they could do. They could catch them on a big hook, but they’d need a really strong line. Whales can breath air. So they could catch them like fish.

Mum: (Realising child has seen fishing shows where they always let the fish go gently.) And then let the whales go again?

Child: Yes, like fish.

Mum: That’s a good idea.

Child then proceeds to design and build a ship that catches whales, takes them inside to study them (because whales can breath air like people do), and then lowers them back into the sea in special boats to let them go again.

Don’t you wish the problems of the world could be solved that easily? Hmmm. Maybe they could.

These questions tugged at me because I have had the totally awesome experience of swimming with whales that happened to cross the path of the live aboard dive boat I was on. The dive boat tender dropped us as snorkellers in the path of the pod of whales and then retreated. Another swimmer and I were only metres apart and a baby whale swam right between us, checking us out and talking in whale song – under the watchful eye of his mother only about 10 metres away. The photo was taken by a friend – I didn’t have a waterproof camera on that trip.

I have read that only one or two tests that researchers want to do on whales can only be done on dead whales. In industry it is called destructive testing.