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Six Questions With Dr. Michael Moore

We talked with Dr. Michael Moore of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution about his new book "We Are All Whalers", working in whale conservation, and how we all can help whales. Give it a read!

Dr. Michael Moore has a veterinary degree from the University of Cambridge and a PhD from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He is currently assessing the health of North Atlantic right whales using aerial photogrammetry and working with stakeholders to establish on-demand fishing systems. Click here to learn more about Dr. Michael Moore.

North Atlantic right whale fluking
Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources/NOAA Permit 15488
Dr. Michael Moore
Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dr. Michael Moore Credit: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Why did you decide to title your new book "We Are All Whalers"?

As I describe in the book, my first job after I graduated as a veterinarian in 1983 was as an observer for the International Whaling Commission, on an Icelandic whale catcher. My job was to assess the efficacy of explosive harpoons. The average time from shooting the harpoon, to a fin whale dying was 4 minutes. Four minutes of stress, major trauma, terror, pain and suffering. Fast forward to my experiences examining fatally entangled North Atlantic right whales, where the sighting history of those catalogued animals allowed us to estimate the average time from entanglement to death being around 6 months. Six months of hobbled, constrictive pain, suffering and increasing emaciation. Ships that collide with whales usually kill them quite quickly.

The definition of whaling is ‘to catch, or ensnare a whale’. No consideration of intent. Thus, consumer demand for trap caught seafood, and goods delivered by ships, creates a demand for the use of rope to retrieve trapped seafood, such as lobster and crab, and for shipping to deliver the goods. Thus, each time we buy trap caught seafood, or ship borne goods, we are incrementally contributing to the inevitability that whales will be caught or ensnared by rope entanglement or vessel collision. Hence, ‘We Are All Whalers’.

What are 3 things you hope people take away after reading your book?

  1. Entanglement of whales and their consequent suffering can be prolonged. The result is either sublethal trauma that can seriously affect their health and consequent ability to calve and wean offspring, or if adequately severe, the animal will die, either acutely if the animal does not have the power to regain the surface to breathe and hence drown, or after many months from loss of body condition and strength. Vessel collisions with whales can also be lethal or sublethal. These events seriously impact the welfare of individual animals and risk extinction of the species involved.
  2. The root cause of these traumatic events is the consumer demand created by you and me for the products that the fishing and shipping industries provide to satisfy our wants and needs.
  3. Such marine industries are central to the local and national social and economic success of humanity. Until, and unless consumers communicate their demands for such products that are also harvested and delivered in a manner that do not traumatize large whales and turtles, there will be no change.

What or who inspired you to get involved in studying and protecting whales?

A string of experiences and relationships that lead me down that path.  My parents who taught me to care for people and animals, professors at college who often used marine mammals as examples of extreme adaptations to adverse environments, mentors and colleagues who took the time, and gave me the opportunity, to see how the natural and human worlds are interdependent; how human activities directly affect those systems, and how our actions are being increasingly devastating to the planet, and to the ability of wildlife to be healthy and survive in the face of the overwhelming impacts of human activities.

I was trained as a veterinarian, and then as a scientist. Veterinarians are expected to advocate for their patients, and promote their welfare, and avoidance of, and recovery from, disease. Scientists observe, predict, experiment, and objectively report on the mechanistic and applied aspects of how their subjects fare, normally and when stressed. My scientific research became increasingly applied to enhancing our understanding of how the impacts of human activities on wildlife can be mitigated, by changing human behavior.

What gives you hope for conservation of whales?

It isn’t as much hope, as a need for a widespread understanding of what it will take for such optimism to be justified. Namely a sincere, and radical alteration in how the general public values the conservation of large marine animals, such as whales, sharks and turtles in the context of our general lives as consumers.

There has to be major pressure brought to bear on our political representatives to genuinely support government in enforcing existing regulations that would enable species such as the North Atlantic right whale to survive, flourish and grow their numbers. These pressures must recognize the socio-economic needs of voters dependent on the protection of the shipping and fishing industries, but also equally value the conservation of these animals. It all comes down to what we care about. If we truly value the ethics of industries operating in manners that enable the co-existence of whales and stakeholder industries, then we must also be prepared to pay for shipped goods and seafood at a price that allows for a them to be sustainably co-existent with these animals.

What can the average person do to help whales?

Industrial noise, shipping, fishing, and climate change all affect the ability of whales to survive and thrive. Learn and communicate about these matters, and your demand for ethically sourced relevant products, to those that can make a difference: your co-workers, family, friends and neighbors, federal and state political representatives and marine resource managers, and wholesale and retail providers.  Respond to requests for comments for proposed management changes that are significant for whale conservation. Support conservation organizations, such as Whale and Dolphin Conservation, with your time and money as you are able.

What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in this field?

  1. Learn about the details of how large marine animals interact with human activities. Read a lot. There are so many sources of information today. Look for it with a discerning eye. Keep careful records of what you learn and find, and how it all relates. Build a virtual library of publications that you have read. Use a literature management system, so you can access it, and relate back to it as your interests mature and spread, to enable retrieval of those data as they acquire unexpected relevance to new projects. Pursue your curiosity wherever it may lead. Show up, and contact people that you read about, and interest you. Figure out what they are doing, and planning to do. Consider how your interests may overlap. Communicate your curiosity, enthusiasm, availability and willingness to work with them in whatever capacity your stage in life might allow. Build a network of colleagues, mentors and mentees. Behave collaboratively and generously with your time and data. Enjoy enabling others to do things that you would otherwise have to do yourself, and celebrate their successes.
  2. Acquire skill sets that make you stand out from the crowd: photography, boat maintenance and operation, data management and analysis, coding, mathematical modelling, writing skills, literature research, laboratory techniques, and field work.
  3. Keep a daily journal for your entire working life. File and save emails and other communications. Develop a systematic data and information filing system, that enables easy retrieval years later, that is upgraded to maintain access in the face of hardware and software evolution and upgrades. These last points are born from regretful 20/20 hindsight.

Thanks so much to Dr. Michael Moore for answering all of our questions!

1 Comment

  1. Anne Reed on 11/22/2021 at 11:14 am

    LOVE the answers to these questions! I have been doing stranding response for almost 30 years until I had to stop due to physical issues. Many of the comments I did and some I still do. It is always necessary to advocate for these animals. I am a retired teacher/teacher aide. After doing that I developed a program for young elementary kids and introduced concepts that were at the time ” too sophisticated” for them. They are now routinely done.

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