English Biologist Godfrey Merlen Weighs in on “Cultural” and “Scientific” Whaling
English biologist Dr. Godfrey Merlen has lived in the Galapagos Islands for more than 40 years. Merlen was originally drawn to the islands because unlike other places in the world, it was still possible to see and feel nature’s patterns of sustainability in these unique ecosystems. Merlen works independently with the ministry of agriculture (Agrocalidad-Sicgal), the ministry of the environment (Galapagos National Park), the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF), and several NGOs including Sea Shepherd Galapagos to fight illegal fishing, protect the Marine Reserve and control unsustainable development.
In 1991, Merlen was deeply involved in the creation of the Galapagos Whale Sanctuary. For ten years, he worked with the Galapagos National Park in defense of the Galapagos Marine Reserve. He now works on non-native species which present the greatest risk to the Galapagos. Merlen has published widely on issues related to the Islands and has produced three books on Galapagos wildlife.
Merlen has been on Sea Shepherd’s Board of Advisors since 2005. He recalls how he felt when he was asked to be a member of Sea Shepherd’s Board. “I was very happy and willing to accept that position amongst people who are truly dedicated to preserving life on Earth.”
Merlen’s decades-long encounter with whales, especially the sperm whale, has convinced him of the infinite value of the oceans, without which we will, as has been said, "Die of a great loneliness of spirit." Similar to other members of the science community, Merlen feels it is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them. He believes the word “science” is used as a cover for whaling and continuing to whale over time so the quota can increase and commercial whaling can resume.
Merlen argues the difference between whaling for cultural and scientific purposes. Although Japan claims their scientific whaling should be allowed due to cultural rights, the facts tell a different story. Merlen points out that “Cultural whaling is conducted for cultural reasons by small, local communities while commercial whaling involves pelagic traveling of commercial vessels to known whaling grounds to hunt whales.” Cultural whaling is permitted by the International Whaling Commission and results in the killing of 370+ whales annually. Scientific whaling sets a quota of 1,030 whales per year — three times more than cultural whaling — and is conducted by one of the world’s most powerful nations.
Merlen believes we shouldn’t be focused on whether the whaling is for scientific purposes or not, but rather, if Japan, or any country for that matter, should be whaling at all. He explains: “It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about scientific or commercial whaling…the ecology of the oceans is being upset left, right and center. We need to leave all the elements in the ocean so it can recover its strength and beauty.”