Orca Slaughter Witnessed by Whale Watchers May Lead to Whaling Ban

Imagine cruising along on the Caribbean Sea and being thrilled at the sight of a pod of four beautiful orcas swimming nearby. Then imagine a whaling boat approaching and the fishermen harpooning two of those magnificent creatures right in front of your eyes.

This nightmare scenario is exactly what happened earlier this month to about 40 people on a whale-watching cruise off the coast of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Since orcas are rarely seen near that island country, crew member Ken Isaacs initially thought they were pilot whales – which made this sighting all the more special.

When Isaacs saw the whaling boat, with a harpoon mounted on the bow, heading toward the orcas, he yelled at the three men aboard it to leave the whales alone. In response, he told iWitness News, one of the fishermen made an obscene gesture.

Isaacs told the tour boat captain to turn the vessel around, but it was too late. There was a loud explosion as the harpoon struck one of the orcas. People on the tour boat watched in horror as the fishermen attached buoys to the dead whale to prevent it from sinking. The fishermen then killed another orca. Many of those aboard the tour boat were crying over what they’d witnessed, Isaacs said.

It wasn’t the first time Isaacs had seen something like this. Three years ago, he watched as fishermen approached orcas in speed boats and tried to kill the whales using spear guns powered by gunpowder.

As horrible as these incidents were, the fishermen were doing nothing illegal. St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the only place left in the Americas where the harpooning of whales is still permitted – because, according to local news sources, of a Scottish tradition. But Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, noted on his blog that it’s hardly a tradition. It originated in the 1880s when one immigrant from Scotland co-founded a whaling business there.

“It’s pursued by a small number of people in the Caribbean nation, and is essentially a commercial hunting operation masquerading as subsistence,” Pacelle wrote. Nowadays, fishermen can kill no more than four whales between February and May. Pilot whales, also known as blackfish, are the most frequent victims, and are consumed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“Orcas are complex creatures with strong family bonds, and killing even one member of a pod can have devastating effects on the others,” Pacelle wrote.

The killing of the orcas earlier this month may finally bring an end to the island country’s cruel “tradition” of whaling. Five days after the slaughter, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, announced that a law to be introduced by his government will be in keeping with an international ban on the killing of orcas.

Gonsalves referred to the killers of the orcas as “hard-working fishermen,” but emphasized that what they did “was plain wrong. Not just because it happened in front of tourists, but (because they) must not kill the orcas.”

Until the whaling ban is enacted, the cruise company, Fantasea Tours, is doing the right thing by no longer offering whale-watching excursions. Tourists should also do the right thing by passing on a visit to St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Brandon Southall, NMFS/OPR

193 comments

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Melania P
Melania Pabout a year ago

Horrible; these countries that still kill whales should re-think business and offer whale sightings as tourism. I bet they would make more money (that's all they care about, right?)

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Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

Just horrible

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Jennifer H
Jennifer H1 years ago

Idiots. I can't imagine that happening in front of me. The amount of anger and hatred would be immeasurable. Like others have said, pull the tourism out and watch their economy suffer.

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Shirley S
Shirley S1 years ago

What a shocking experience for the tourists to witness the killing of our beloved whales.

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Misss D
Shari F1 years ago

'Why were whalers even AFTER orca? Orca have never been a primary commercial whaling target.' I was wondering this too, Marianne C, but apparently it's for subsistence. They eat them. Bonkers, I know, esp, given the levels of mercury and other toxins they are carrying and the fact that no one else in the world eats them. It also says that the 'subsistence' is cover for a commercial operation but I'm baffled at what they could be selling from this. It makes no sense.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Barbaric humans

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE1 years ago

Arent humans barbaric.

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Pat P
Pat P1 years ago

Barbaric ignorant cruelty! If they want eco-tourism, they must treat their wildlife/marine life with compassion and respect. What else do they have to offer?!
The majority of tourists, worldwide, would rather watch and admire wildlife--not slaughter it for their own selfishness!

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Estelle Oelofsen
Estelle Oelofsen1 years ago

I cannot understand that there is still such backward people in this day and age. As Ghandi said: you can see what kind of nation it is by looking how they treat animals.

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