Aug 222008

I’m in total agreement with Darryl Mason, and fail to understand the outpouring of anthropomorphises from Sydney-siders, and other sentimental souls across the nation over the fate of an abandoned baby humpback whale.

The sentiments are surely honourable, but once a human name is applied – in this case, clearly erroneous – all common-sense seems to vanish like fog under a hot Sun. Clearly, the orphaned calf was alone for a reason. Either it’s mother had rejected it for reasons which only natural instinct can answer, or the mother had met with a fate which left her unable to care for the calf. It appears the latter is the most likely as a female humback carcass has washed up on the southern NSW coast, and may be the calf’s parent. Either way, these events occur completely outside the sphere of influence of humanity, as should always be the case. As is often offered, it’s ‘Nature’s way’. So be it. Apportioning human sympathies to such situations, while indicative of the emotion we human beings feel for other living creatures, is hardly a rational approach, especially in the case of a cetacean.

Yes, the Yanks had managed to save the life of a Gray whale ten years ago in similar circumstances, however it’s important to realise that Gray whales and Humpbacks are different species with different rearing methods. Whales don’t suckle a nipple, but ingest mother’s milk – a very special mixture purpose designed to increase growth within particular species – through a complicated issue and sieving process between mother and off-spring. The process of tube feeding J.J. the Gray whale by the San Diego Seaworld was complicated, involved and plain lucky to have succeeded. When the whale was eventually released into the wild, after more than a year in captivity being fed by humans, all trace of the animal was lost after three days. No-one could say whether she would survive or not. Gray whales may be close to humpbacks genetically, but in size and behaviour, entirely different. The humpback which rolled up at Pittwater was no more than three weeks old, and starving to death. Consider the difficulty which Seaworld San Diego encountered when they took on J.J. From an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times

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… when J.J., the stranded gray whale, was raised at the San Diego facility in the 1990s it required 30-person teams working around the clock for 14 months in a 1.7-million-gallon pool that had to be partially drained and refilled every two hours to flush waste. Not to mention the cost of milk. J.J. gained 8 tons before her 1998 release off Point Loma. She was tracked briefly and faded into obscurity.

Australia simply doesn’t have the facilities, let alone the expertise, to cope with such an undertaking. Those who claim the euthanasia process was cruel, or resembled Japanese whaling on our shores, need to get a grip on the realities of handling a creature of the size of a whale, even one as young as "Colin/Colleen", and understand that the end would have been brought about as swiftly and painlessly as was humanly possible. The deed has been done, the creature no longer suffers. As masters of this planet, I believe the actions in favour of the whale were the right ones. It’s just a pity, in my view, that the timing wasn’t a lot more prompt.