Monday, 16 May 2005

Barbed wire for Kaikoura's whales?

Japanese whalers have plans to go whaling again(read here), and both scaremongering nonsense and legitimate concerns have been raised, both oddly enough here at the Greens' FrogBlog.

The legitimate concern is that raised by Whale Watch, as expressed by Conservation Minister Chris Carter, and in my view it's where lies the germ of an answer. Says Chris: "These are our whales too."

Going unerringly if unwittingly to the point of the problem, Minister Carter and the Frog have put their finger on the solution: for Kaikoura Whale Watch to make an ownership claim on "their whales," and thereby protect their whales, depoliticise the question and thus avoid the unedifying prospect of seeing pictures of Jeanette Fitzsimons picketing Japanese supermarkets and surimi lunch-carts.

How to do so? The solution to the imminent and watery Tragedy of the Commons represented by out of control whale-harvesting is similar to the problem solved by nineteenth century cattlemen by the imperfect means of branding, and eventually by the invention of barbed wire. It is one of recognising and legally protecting the property right in these animals..

Branding and barbed wire were inventions that allowed the cattlemen to identify "their cattle" and to ask the law for its protection for them. The solution is the same for those who wish to protect "their whales" -- a technological advance that allows them to identify to themselves and others which whales are theirs, and which therefore have the full protection of law.

Electronic branding? GPS-power 'barbed wire'? I don't know. The cattlemen embraced the new technology of barbed wire to legally protect their herds (read about it here); whale watchers might consider devising a similary moron-proof technology to allow legal protection to be afforded to their migrating 'pods.'

Perhaps Minister Carter, the World Court and the IWC could kick things off by announcing that should such technology be devised and introduced, that full legal protection will be afforded to those like Kaikoura Whale Watch who can make a claim that a common law property right in "their whales" actually exists, a right acquired over years and fully deserving of protection.

As they say, it's a start.


  1. Very innovative. It must be really cheap (perhaps $0.50 a chip), and really easy to administer.

    We could even make it a sport: whale branding. We brand every whale that comes into NZ waters as our whale, if it is not marked.

    However, the not marked part might be hard. I suppose you need to read the tag from a distance of 2nm or so which would put up the price significantly.

    And we have some problems with what are our whales. We could perhaps simply go for all unmarked whales instead of whales that enter our waters. So unmarked whales become the property of the first who marks them.

    Perhaps by selling marking rights as a new sport we can solve the problem of tags that can be read at some distance??

    But on the other hand, I think the Greens are opposed to any technology, so it wouldn't satisfy them I'm afraid.

  2. Just back from the Greens, LOL. Take this:

    Robust action: challenging the plans at the World Court is one, making it known to Japan that serious damage will be done to our two countries’ diplomatic relations and burgeoning trade talks if the plan goes ahead is another.

    Are these guys serious???

  3. Japan vs NZ war because of whales?

    I love the electronic tagging idea!

  4. Interesting idea. Of course, if whales are sentient, then it's morally suspect to claim property rights over them (wouldn't that be slavery?). I think most pro-whale advocates oppose whaling not because they think whalers are stealing "our property", but because the whales - as sentient beings - have a right to life. To kill them is immoral, whether they're "yours" or not.

    But let's ignore that problem for the moment, and suppose that whales are simply a natural resource, like a fruit tree or something. This now becomes a neat example of the problem of initial acquisiton.

    Consider: what right does any individual have to mark a whale as their own, and thereby prevent anybody else from using it?

    Suppose the Japanese beat us in the tagging war, so most of the whales got tagged "Jap property", and they then proceeded to kill all those whales (as they are presumably entitled to do if it's really their property). Isn't that quite obviously unjust?

    Wouldn't it be more just to merely grant provisional property rights over them? That would allow people to make use of the resource in moderation, but, say, bar them from depleting it completely.

    We have a moral obligation, when taking from the world's natural resources, to leave "enough and as good" for others. This 'Lockean proviso' would prevent any absolute property rights from ever being granted, once we took future generations into account. But it could be made consistent with a provisional property right that required sustainability and so forth. That thus seems the option that is required by justice.

  5. we should be able to solve this by limiting the amount of whales that could be marked each year by each country. So then, we can work with every country that want to protect whales to tag them. After a while, if the Japanese keep killing their whales, they will have no whales and we can sell our whales and make big bucks :D


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