Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You eat kangaroo, why can't we eat unicorn horn?

Thankfully, the Japanese were recently blocked by the IWC in their preliminary bid to extend so-called “scientific” whaling. This debate isn’t over yet but I wanted to tackle one of the statements that have been put forth in defence of whaling.

In this Sydney Morning Herald article, Japanese ambassador Hideaki Ueda told reporters;

"We [Japanese people] cannot imagine kangaroo sometimes being eaten in order to protect your farms or cattle or sheep," he said.

"So when our people realise sometimes kangaroos are to be eaten it is a shock."

What isn’t mentioned by Mr Ueda is that in 2003, the four species of kangaroos in Australia that are commercially harvested had a population of around 23 million. Depending on seasonality the population of the three largest species can vary from 15 million to 50 million. Furthermore, kangaroos breed year round, which means that they are able to increase their population by four fold in just five years.

Compare this to the whale population. Of Blue whales, there are between 400 and 1400. Of Fin whales there are around 50,000. Of Humpback whales there are around 12,000. (Figures from IWC Office for 1980-2000. Current estimates unattainable.) The breeding cycle of a Minke Whale, which numbers around 800,000 according to figures from the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan (remember, it’s “scientific whaling”), is around a year, with larger whales such as Humpbacks taking three to four years.

So, it is true that Australian’s eat kangaroo, though not in great proportions. It is more so consumed as a game meat at restaurants rather than as something to put on the barbeque as a replacement to beef, and it is also exported to Europe and Asia. Yet whilst Mr Ueda and his fellow Japanese may be “shocked” that we eat kangaroos, they are not endangered. The population of kangaroos is must more easily estimated than that of whales. Their breeding profligacy is innumerably greater, and in fact the kangaroo can reach “pest” status. Furthermore, research by Steve Palumbi of Stanford University in California has shown that suggestions by the Japanese that the ‘growth’ in Minke whales population (remember who’s supplying those population figures) is hampering other whales breeding to be false. Strikingly, Mr Palumbi states

“They are not weeds that need to be pulled.”

The fallacy of Mr Ueda’s statement is that it creates a connection in people’s mind between Australian consumption of kangaroo and Japanese consumption for whale, justifying one with the other. In attempting to compare them he misleads not only those in the whaling debate but also damages our tourist industry by associating us with practices like these. Yet the statistics clearly show that whilst one is so abundant as to be a nuisance, the other has a population growth that is unknown and a total population size that is fewer by multitudes. Kangaroos may be cute and cuddly but “majestic” and “awe-inspiring” are not words usually associated with them.


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