What is Sustainability?
Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. (Brundtland Report 1987 p 24)
Questions about what 'humanity' does or does not do in order to preserve and sustain the environment has been an issue for many years now. Sustainability has been an important focus for scientists and science educators for many years. As the biggest impacting species in the world with the capacity for reflection and ethical behavior should we be considering as stated in the Bundtland Report (1987) our impact on the current environment and on the future?
Attempt the dilemmas below
Dilemma 1: Whale Dilemma
Consider the Whale Dilemma (from Dilemmas website)
You and your family are on holidays on the south-east coast of Tasmania. You suggest a beach walk on a remote beach about 5 minutes from your chalet. Whilst walking on the beach you notice a large dark patch in the water off in the far distance. Excitement spreads through the whole family. This is what you came to Tasmania for, this is whale watching season. Could this be a pod of whales on their way down to Antarctica? As you move closer to the dark patch you notice it is not out in the ocean, but quite close to the beach. The feeling of excitement from the groups starts to dissipate and a very different feeling descends upon the group.
You come across 100 or more adult Long-finned Pilot Whales that are either in shallow water or on shore. Some are already dead but some are still alive. The species is not endangered but they are listed as "Lower Risk; conservation dependent" on the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Tourists and locals are present on the beach around the whales and they are asking what course of action should be taken. Three options emerge; do nothing, euthanize the whales that are still alive or push the whales back into the water.
Q 1: What would you do? Why? (Discuss this with a peer, friend or family member)
The decision to push the whales back into the water is taken and while you help, the National Park ranger tells you about the whales. Each whale 3.5 to 5 m long and weighs between 1.5 and 3 tons, for females and males. Males live for about 45 years and females for about 60 years. Whales are social animals living in large groups with a leader and a communal support system in which weaker or endangered animals are helped by the rest of the pod. The groups are mainly 10 to 30 in number, but some groups may be 100 or more. They eat mainly squid. Some of the females are pregnant. It takes a lot of work and effort to push each whale back into the water. It is obvious that you will not have enough time to save them all.
Q 2: Which animals would you push back first? Why? (Discuss this with a peer, friend or family member)
This group of stranded pilot whales has attracted the attention of a group of Marine scientists who would like to take tissue and blood samples to study the whales and try to find some explanation for the stranding. The scientists want to know if the whales are closely related using DNA profiling techniques and assess their health by testing for toxic poisoning, infection or organ failure. All these causes have been observed in other single stranded cetaceans.
Q 3: Would you agree for the scientists to take samples from all the whales? Why? (Discuss)
After 2 days, only a dozen whales have been successfully pushed back into sea because each animal needs to be put on a sling and dragged across the sand of the sea bed to deeper water. Their skin is fragile and the crew does not want to harm them further. Also, because the beach is in a remote part of Tasmania, it is impossible to use heavy equipment to lift and put the animals back in the water because there is no dock or access road for heavy equipment. The whales cannot be towed from the beach to the water using a towboat because it would break their back. Time is crucial and it becomes obvious that some animals will not be rescued. Before whaling bans, the pilot whale was hunted for meat and fat. It is possible to contact a company that would euthanize the remaining whales and process them for fat. The company will take only the animals that are freshly killed and would pay for each whale. This money would help to cover part of the cost of the rescue.Because they want to process the meat and fat for human consumption, the company propose to euthanize the whales by blowing their heads off with a small explosive, rather than an overdose of drugs which would render the meat unfit for consumption.
Q 4: Would you agree for the company to euthanize the remaining whales and process them? Why? Do you agree with this method of euthanasia? Why? (Discuss)
A few months after the event, the scientists publish their finding in a public report. The scientists point out that the causes for the stranding of cetaceans are numerous and not fully understood. One of the hypotheses proposed by the scientists is that the whale’s navigation system and communication was disturbed by ultrasound emitted during sonar equipment testing by the Navy. The number of cetaceans stranded on beaches has doubled over the last decade in the UK. There are no reliable data available for Tasmania.
Q 5: If you knew that the whales beached themselves because of human activities, would you have taken the same action in Q 1? Why? If you found that it was due to a genetic mutation in the whale would that change your decision?