The Most Senseless Environment Crime of the 20th Century
June 28, 2019 7:47 PM   Subscribe

"Fifty years ago 180,000 whales disappeared from the oceans without a trace, and researchers are still trying to make sense of why. Inside the most irrational environmental crime of the century." (PSMag)

"Environmental crimes are, generally speaking, the most rational of crimes. The upsides are obvious: Fortunes have been made selling contraband rhino horns and mahogany or helping toxic waste disappear, and the risks are minimal—poaching, illegal logging, and dumping are penalized only weakly in most countries, when they’re penalized at all.

"The Soviet whale slaughter followed no such logic. Unlike Norway and Japan, the other major whaling nations of the era, the Soviet Union had little real demand for whale products. Once the blubber was cut away for conversion into oil, the rest of the animal, as often as not, was left in the sea to rot or was thrown into a furnace and reduced to bone meal—a low-value material used for agricultural fertilizer, made from the few animal byproducts that slaughterhouses and fish canneries can’t put to more profitable use. “It was a good product,” Dmitri Tormosov, a scientist who worked on the Soviet fleets, wryly recalls, “but maybe not so important as to support a whole whaling industry.”

"This was the riddle the Soviet ships left in their wake: Why did a country with so little use for whales kill so many of them?"

tl;dr There was a five-year plan.
posted by meaty shoe puppet (10 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Oh. Previously.

Sorry, I searched the URL first and got no results.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:48 PM on June 28

Well, I missed this the first time around six years ago, so at least the story's not wasted. I swear my mouth grew dry because my jaw fell open reading it,and it just stayed that way for the rest of the piece. A real horror story, that one.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:40 PM on June 28

posted by zeoslap at 8:41 PM on June 28

Weird timing - I just started re-watching Whale Wars last night on a random streaming app on my tv. I got into it when it first aired when I was high off of some pot truffles and got hooked by how dramatic it was and how psyched I was about having people fight for these animals.

Last night, the first time I saw a whale get harpooned I just started crying. I don't know if it's a matter of aging, or exhaustion, or a combination of a bunch of things but now the show makes me despair rather than hope.

Thank you for sharing this article. I had no idea about this at all.
posted by primalux at 9:52 PM on June 28 [2 favorites]

Yup. Whaling in NZ pottered along for a hundred and fifty years until 1962, then suddenly collapsed. It was the Soviets.

The end of whaling in New Zealand: the Soviet factor (written by me, in 2011)
"In two years, the Soviets took five times as many whales as New Zealanders took in fifty, resulting in the near extinction of the humpback whale."
At the time the Soviets flat out lied about what they were doing, seemingly just out of habit.
"Hunting Southern right whales was banned in 1937, but the Soviet fleets caught over three thousand. They reported catching four."
posted by happyinmotion at 12:56 AM on June 29 [6 favorites]

There is an interesting side note about how the Japanese whaling industry is being propped up by government subsidies. Evidently governments are no more reliable than markets at regulating industries.
posted by ckridge at 5:08 AM on June 29 [2 favorites]

So, the problem seems to be a growth at all costs mentality, with a side of maximizing metrics instead of holistic results. As much as this was a result of a centrally planned system, these issues are certainly not unique to centrally planned systems.
posted by ckape at 12:38 PM on June 29

I would say it's a problem of picking the wrong metric, but also one of having pig-ignorant, stupid, violently frightened people running things and no way to replace them. Democracy is supposed to be a solution to that second problem. We have an opportunity to test it out coming up.
posted by ckridge at 1:21 PM on June 29 [3 favorites]

I thank you for posting this, but I can't read it. I just find it so impossibly depressing. I'm so sad that we are destroying ourselves and our climate and planet, but I can't help but feel at times, that the extinction of the humans might not be for the best...
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:24 PM on June 30 [1 favorite]

There is an interesting side note about how the Japanese whaling industry is being propped up by government subsidies. Evidently governments are no more reliable than markets at regulating industries

We all live in countries that are subsidising fossil fuels in an era of climate change, so yep.
posted by Ned G at 9:04 AM on July 2 [2 favorites]

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