Several months ago, I asked for your help to get 10,000 signatures on a petition to protect lemon sharks in Florida coastal waters. Thanks to your signatures and the hard work of dedicated activists in Florida, we have succeeded! The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has agreed to protect lemon sharks!
This month’s Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment has a brief article about a new proposed conservation strategy that seems perfect for a Southern Fried Science ethical debate. Northern spotted owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) are one of the most famous endangered species in the United States. While solutions to the destruction of their habitat by logging have been debated for years, a new threat has been recently identified- encroachment on their limited habitat by another species of owl (the barred owl, Strix varia). Some conservationists now believe that we need to kill barred owls to protect spotted owls.
This is the first entry in Crowdsourcing ConGen. This entry is meant to be half of an Introduction which lays out the framework for what conservation genetics is, its philosophical basis in population genetics, and why it’s a meaningful method of inquiry for conservation. This first section is meant to outline foundational concepts in population genetics. It is not meant to be a detailed summery of population genetics, but needs to be accurate and clear.
Almost a year ago, we discussed briefly the Krill Surplus Hypothesis. In this model, the removal of large baleen whales created a competitive release for Minke whales, Balaenoptera bonaerensis, exponentially increasing their food supply and and allowing their population to boom. By removing all other krill eating whale from the Antarctic, Minke whales were allowed to thrive, gorging on an endless supply of krill. The flipside to this hypothesis is that now Minke whales have become competitive excluders of other baleen whales, preventing their re-population post-whaling. Minke whale may be preventing the recovery of other whale species.
As promised, this week’s ethical debate deals with one of the most hotly debated issues in the marine conservation community- the tactics of “Sea Shepherd”.
Though “Sea Shepherd” is most famous (or infamous) for their work with the Japanese whaling fleet, which is featured in “Whale Wars”, they are also heavily involved with the shark finning industry.
Before we get started, I want to say something about the tone of this debate. I know from our own comments sections, even ones that don’t deal directly with Sea Shepherd, that there are strong opinions on both sides of this issue. See last week’s Deep Sea News, particularly the comments section, for an example of this. Here at Southern Fried Science, we recently came up with a new comments policy, which we will be enforcing strictly with this post. DO NOT personally attack anyone, DO NOT try to change the subject to something totally irrelevant, and DO NOT post under multiple names to create the false appearance of a majority (“sock puppetry”). Since the Deep Sea News post covered whale stuff pretty solidly, we will only be talking about shark finning here. WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT WHALING IN THIS POST.
Ok, now on to the debate.
You know, we have a history on this blog of criticizing Sea Shepherd. We frequently criticize their methods, motivations, and effectiveness (we also went out of our way to add opposing views when we raised such a contentious issue). For a select group of readers, criticizing one conservation organization is tantamount to criticizing them all. If we say Sea Shepherd has been ineffective in protecting sharks, inevitably someone will assume that we’re in favor of shark finning. I don’t understand that leap of logic, but I’ve seen it come up so often that I know to expect it, probably even on this post. I can also expect someone to say “At least they’re doing something!” That is, of course, completely missing the point, since our argument is that the ‘something’ they’re doing is making it harder to affect real, lasting, change.
So let me begin by saying this – assume Sea Shepherd’s motives are absolutely pure, assume they really are try to protect the oceans, assume their commitment is absolute, then our main argument is still sound – they aren’t doing a very good job and they are generating a lot of ill will in the process.
“Oh sure,” you say, “you can rag on Sea Shepherd ’til your face turns blue. Why don’t you show us someone who’s doing it right?”
I’m going to give a hat tip to the MarineBioBlog now, instead of at the end, since you really should go read their post before you continue. It’s very good and I’d hate to steal another blog’s thunder.
The discussion on the merits of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was incredibly heated and many good points were raised on both sides. Unfortunately, as often happens when comment threads approach 100+ comments, many of the strongest arguments get diluted in a sea of verbiage. I decided to invite one of our frequent commenters, Craig Nazor, to write a guest post on his views of Sea Shepherd. Enjoy!
~Southern Fried Scientist
The debate is whether the tactics of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) are helping or hurting the cause of shark conservation. A disclaimer: this is NOT an official response from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). Although I am a supporter of that organization, the thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Any debate that is not going to polarize the ranks of the good guys (that’s us, the conservationists) must be based on facts, and not on false assumptions and not just on emotional reactions. One common but illogical tactic often used to try to win a debate is to repeat a falsehood over and over, hoping to win for a lie the mantle of truth. A lot of time can be wasted refuting lies (or, more diplomatically, opinions disguised as facts). Another related tactic is to use words with unclear definitions but high emotional connotations. In its most simple form, this is what I would label “name calling,” as in recent uses on this blog of the terms “violent,” “criminal,” and “eco-terrorist.” Unfortunately, some of this response is going to have to be focused on addressing such unproductive tactics.