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#1
Old 10-05-2014, 08:26 AM
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"Whale farming" -- possible?

I have an interest in nature and the animal kingdom; but with areas of ignorance on these topics. A thing recently came to mind, concerning which Id be interested in thoughts from those better-informed than myself.

I read, a long time ago, a book by a British guy who had been a ships doctor on a whaling factory ship in the 1950s. The author was a medical doctor, not a biologist or conservationist; the book wasnt whale-centred as such, it was rather from a general-interest angle of recounting a long voyage to remote parts of the earth to harvest marine life, and the human dynamics of same.

In the book, the author engaged in musing to the effect that oceanic whaling at that date in history, struck him as an instance of the human tendency to prefer entertainingly difficult and complicated ways of doing things, to simpler but duller ones. He postulated a notion of capturing alive a certain number of whales of appropriate species for human use when dead and relocating them to suitable inland lakes (he mentioned Loch Ness as one potential such), where they might live and breed, and be caught and killed as needed: this way, seeming much easier than seeking whales relatively at random, over huge areas of ocean, and bringing the products therefrom thousands of miles back to where it was needed.

Any informed opinions on whether such a ploy could ever possibly work? Am thinking strictly in terms of what might be possible, practically leaving economic / humanitarian / conservation aspects, aside. It occurs to me to wonder whether naturally ocean-dwelling whales could cope, in bodies of fresh water one of many things which I dont know. Might the thing ever be successfully done, if people were motivated to try it or was the author totally talking out of the back of his neck?
#2
Old 10-05-2014, 08:31 AM
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! blue whale=4 tons of krill per day. And I doubt Purina will be making Whale Chow any time soon.
And imagine the bag it would come in.
#3
Old 10-05-2014, 09:10 AM
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Baleen whales need huge areas of ocean to produce their food. There's a reason no zoo in the world has a baleen whale display. From what I gather from all of one single google search, these two baby gray whales are the only baleen whales ever held captive:
Quote:
Because of their size and need to migrate, gray whales have rarely been held in captivity, and then only for brief periods of time.

In 1972, a three-month-old gray whale named Gigi (II) was captured for brief study by Dr. David W. Kenney, and then released near San Diego.[96]

In January 1997, the newborn baby whale J.J. was found helpless near Los Angeles, California, 4.2 m (14 ft) long and 800 kilograms (1,800 lb) in weight. Nursed back to health in SeaWorld San Diego, she was released into the Pacific Ocean on March 31, 1998, 9 m (30 ft) long and 8,500 kg (18,700 lb) in mass. She shed her radio transmitter packs three days later.[97]
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gray_whale#Captivity
#4
Old 10-05-2014, 09:20 AM
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Besides the obvious, whales live in salt water, which Loch Ness ( or most other lakes) are not.
#5
Old 10-05-2014, 10:05 AM
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Originally Posted by vontsira View Post
I read, a long time ago, a book by a British guy who had been a ships doctor on a whaling factory ship in the 1950s.
Sounds like Of Whales and Men by R. B. Robertson - a very interesting book.
#6
Old 10-05-2014, 10:37 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
Besides the obvious, whales live in salt water, which Loch Ness ( or most other lakes) are not.
Less obvious than you think. Humans can swim equally well in fresh water or salt, and so can whales, or any other air-breathing mammals..

It is important only with respect to the food species that they depend upon. Some birds frequent the shores of fresh water and some salt, because of the presence of what they prefer to eat. But the salinity of the water would be of no relevance to an air-breathing organism that live in it. However, a whale would be more at risk in fresh water, because it has evolved no resistance to any fresh water parasites, and might be more prone to infections of surface wounds which would not heal properly in fresh water.

Whale is just the word we use in the vernacular, to name large Cetaceans, and the smaller ones are called dolphins, which could certainly be farmed in captivity. Many dolphins live in fresh water, including the upper Amazon.

Last edited by jtur88; 10-05-2014 at 10:38 AM.
#7
Old 10-05-2014, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
Less obvious than you think. Humans can swim equally well in fresh water or salt, and so can whales, or any other air-breathing mammals..
No that's not true, whales have been observed to swim into fresh water environment for a week or two but after that they develop serious infections and either return to salt water or die.

http://boards.academicpursuits.us/sdmb/...d.php?t=523995
#8
Old 10-05-2014, 11:30 AM
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The fresh water isn't the big problem, per se. Dolphins have evolved to adapt to freshwater environments on several occasions, and manatees can live in freshwater as well, so clearly it can be done. Switching between fresh and salt water is a major problem for fish, but much less so for mammals, because we have a better ability to osmoregulate. Skin infections seems to be a problem, but no doubt it could be dealt with too.

The big problem with farming whales (which would, really, make it impossible) is that they're large animals with a concomitantly slow growth rate, and the rate at which you could harvest them sustainably (as well as the investment in time) would be uneconomical.
#9
Old 10-05-2014, 11:44 AM
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Whale milk is already thicker than Greek yogurt. And we know how successful that has been. Better to keep dairy whales than meat whales, for a number of reasons.
#10
Old 10-05-2014, 11:57 AM
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The op Is asking about whales. Not Dolphins or manatees. Whales Cannot live in freshwater so it's a non issue.
#11
Old 10-05-2014, 12:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Xema View Post
Sounds like Of Whales and Men by R. B. Robertson - a very interesting book.
Thank you ! Seems very much, that that's the book -- I feel moved to acquire and re-read it.

From the link, the whaling ship was a Norwegian one; but from what I recall, the author mentioned a fair number of Brits being among the crew: most especially, Shetland Islanders. With the Shetlands being as close to Norway distance-wise, as they are to Edinburgh, that is reckonably no surprise.
#12
Old 10-05-2014, 12:20 PM
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Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
The op Is asking about whales. Not Dolphins or manatees. Whales Cannot live in freshwater so it's a non issue.
Well, there are saltwater lakes, or you could close off some inlet of the sea, like a Norwegian fijord, for instance, or any deep bay with a relatively narrow entrance.

But it is impractical for quite other reasons, as other posters have pointed out. Whales need a lot of ocean to roam in to live comfortably and to find their food (and a lot of food), and they grow very slowly.
#13
Old 10-05-2014, 01:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by coremelt View Post
The op Is asking about whales. Not Dolphins or manatees. Whales Cannot live in freshwater so it's a non issue.
Dolphins are whales. "Dolphin" and "whale" are common names and have no taxonomic significance, and are applied to different species mainly on the basis of size. Whether something is called a dolphin or a whale has no significance as to whether it can live in fresh water.

Some marine mammals can live in both fresh and salt water. However, most live in either one or the other. Whales that eat fish or other marine mammals probably get most of the fresh water they need from their food, since fish and mammal body fluids have about the same salinity as the whale's own blood. However, those that eat crustaceans such as krill or mollusks like squid have to deal with food that has a salt content similar to that of seawater. Their kidneys are probably adapted to deal with that level of salinity, and they might have physiological problems in fresh water.

But as has been said, the real problem is food supply. The great baleen whales rely on the highly productive upwelling systems of the Antarctic and Arctic or other upwelling areas to provide the huge amounts of food they need. These systems are not duplicated in any freshwater system. Sperm whales and some other whales feed mostly on squid, a diet that could not effectively be provided in freshwater systems.
#14
Old 10-05-2014, 01:44 PM
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Instead of whale farmers, how about whale herders?

Tag each of 'your' whales with a marking and a transponder, and just keep track of them as they move in the open sea? Anyone catching a marked whale without permission would be a whale rustler. Would be a way to cut down on random hunting...
#15
Old 10-05-2014, 01:54 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
Instead of whale farmers, how about whale herders?

Tag each of 'your' whales with a marking and a transponder, and just keep track of them as they move in the open sea? Anyone catching a marked whale without permission would be a whale rustler. Would be a way to cut down on random hunting...
Since anti-whalers problem with hunting isn't the randomness of it, that's not a real benefit. And I can't see any other benefits either ...
#16
Old 10-05-2014, 01:55 PM
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I know the Japanese still engage in whale hunting but what modern products do we still need to harvest whales for?
#17
Old 10-05-2014, 02:22 PM
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Originally Posted by JesterX View Post
I know the Japanese still engage in whale hunting but what modern products do we still need to harvest whales for?
Whale meat. Other than that, nothing. Just as we don't need to hunt deer, breed pigs, cut down mahogany, catch tuna, pick oysters, fish crab, grow corn, etc. etc.
#18
Old 10-05-2014, 04:24 PM
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it was tried but the branding iron didn't stay hot.
#19
Old 10-05-2014, 05:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sunspace View Post
Instead of whale farmers, how about whale herders?

Tag each of 'your' whales with a marking and a transponder, and just keep track of them as they move in the open sea? Anyone catching a marked whale without permission would be a whale rustler. Would be a way to cut down on random hunting...
First of all, I don't see how you could possibly "herd" whales in the sense that cattle are herded. Cattle are herded to move them to good pastures, water, etc. Since there's no way you could possibly care for and increase the market value of a whale at sea, what would be the point of marking one before you caught it? And since catching and processing a whale requires investment in a large ship, there would seem to be little economic incentive to "rustle" whales. Where exactly are you going to sell illegal whale meat?
#20
Old 10-06-2014, 06:02 AM
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Thanks, everyone, for responses. I suspected that "farming whales in lakes" would not in fact be practicable; but recall from reading the book, that the author seemed an intelligent guy -- even if no marine biologist -- and that his ponderings about the lake option were basically serious, not taking the mickey.
#21
Old 10-06-2014, 06:27 AM
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Not quite on topic, but Arthur C. Clarke wrote The Deep Range (1957) about future sea exploitation, including whale-herding in the oceans
#22
Old 10-06-2014, 07:01 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vontsira View Post
Thanks, everyone, for responses. I suspected that "farming whales in lakes" would not in fact be practicable; but recall from reading the book, that the author seemed an intelligent guy -- even if no marine biologist -- and that his ponderings about the lake option were basically serious, not taking the mickey.
Consumers of a resource are often woefully underinformed about the processes by which those resources come into existence and the network of dependencies beneath them.

Sounds to me like this is a case of that - from his POV as part of a whaling crew, the whales just sort of grow in the water. Lakes are full of water, so we could just grow the whales in there (and as a bonus, they would be easier to hunt in the confinement of the lake).
#23
Old 10-06-2014, 09:45 AM
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Originally Posted by jtur88 View Post
Less obvious than you think. Humans can swim equally well in fresh water or salt, and so can whales, or any other air-breathing mammals.. ...
Bold mine

Salt water offers more buoyancy, so while swimming in salt water holds you up out of the water a bit more (which may lower water resistance while swimming for a person) making it easier for someone to have their head in a good position to breathe. This is particularly noticeable for those who have little body fat who may be negatively buoyant (start to sink) at some point of their breathing cycle. The more fat someone has the less noticeable this is, so I think that in this respect whales may not find this a issue, also since they are comfortable submerging for long periods of time.

Last edited by kanicbird; 10-06-2014 at 09:46 AM.
#24
Old 10-06-2014, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by njtt View Post
But it is impractical for quite other reasons, as other posters have pointed out. Whales need a lot of ocean to roam in to live comfortably and to find their food (and a lot of food), and they grow very slowly.
I think, for the purposes of "whale farming", we can assume we'd be feeding the whales so roaming for food wouldn't be an issue. At the time the OP's author was writing, whalers primarily hunted sperm whales,* which can eat all sorts of things even if they primarily eat squid. Their comfort probably isn't a concern from a commercial perspective, provided your fjord-farm is big enough that they don't sicken and die prior to maturity.

*I assume baleen whales were also hunted since the "whalebone" used in hats and corsets was baleen.
#25
Old 10-06-2014, 12:45 PM
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But think of the economics of this. Where do you get the whale food? The point of whale hunting is that the whales swim around and find their own food for decades, and then you sail up and murder them and eat them. It's a lot easier to find a whale to murder than it is to fish up metric ton after metric ton of krill and squid, feed it to the whale for a decade until the whale is at harvestable size, and only then process the whale.

Cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens can take grass, grain, and otherwise unusable agricultural byproducts and turn them into human-edible products.

It's not like there was an insatiable demand for whale meat. During the golden age of whaling the primary harvested material was the oil, and secondarily the whalebone, the meat was just dumped over the side. Now that we have petroleum and cheap vegetable oils, there's no demand for whale oil. So what's the market for farmed whale? Setting aside culturally determined disgust issues, that is.
#26
Old 10-06-2014, 01:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
At the time the OP's author was writing, whalers primarily hunted sperm whales...
In the 1950s, Antarctic whaling concentrated on blue whales and their baleen cousins (e.g. fin, sei & Bryde's whales) - the valuable product was whale oil. Sperm whales were certainly taken as well, but they were less preferred.

The efficiency of the large factory ships of that era, with their ability to haul large whales aboard for "inboard flensing" was a disaster for Antarctic whale populations, and consequently for the whaling industry. Hints of the looming collapse are apparent in the book (mentioned above) - which is a "must read" for those interested in the subject.

It looks like most southern species are now steadily recovering, though they still have a long way to go. Another ~30 years without significant setbacks may see them in good shape.

Last edited by Xema; 10-06-2014 at 01:57 PM.
#27
Old 10-06-2014, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Really Not All That Bright View Post
*I assume baleen whales were also hunted since the "whalebone" used in hats and corsets was baleen.
Right whales were hunted even more than sperm whales, because they were slow. (In fact, the name comes from the fact that they were the "right" whale to hunt.) But right whales and bowheads were overhunted very early. The rorquals (Blue, Fin, Sei, Minke, Bryde's Whales) were generally too fast-swimming to be overtaken in a rowboat, so they were not exploited much until motor launches were available.
#28
Old 10-06-2014, 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Colibri View Post
The rorquals (Blue, Fin, Sei, Minke, Bryde's Whales) were generally too fast-swimming to be overtaken in a rowboat ...
And if you did happen to "get fast" to one of these, their powers of swimming (and diving) made them hard to kill (and easy to lose your whaleboat - or life - while trying).

But another big factor is that the rorquals (at least the large ones: blue and fin whales) don't reliably float when dead. So even if you managed to kill one, you were unlikely to profit from it. Modern whaling dealt with this by pumping compressed air into the carcass, so it would float at least long enough to be made fast to - or winched aboard - the factory ship.
#29
Old 10-06-2014, 06:01 PM
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I think it was Jared Diamond discussing domestication that mentioned if the life cycle is too long, it is difficult to select a species for domestication. IIRC, elephants for example are not domestic. the ones used for domestic purposes are typically wild ones captured and trained, or the offspring of captured wild animals. Same with whales. It would take millennia to transform them into non-wild animals.

There's a reason humans herd domestic animals, and not wild ones. the wild ones are not docile enough. If you trapped a pod of whales in a fjord, for example, would they realize not to tangle with the net blocking their route? (There's the story that bison are difficult to domesticate, because if they put their mind to it (or their head) they will not stop when they encounter a fence at full speed).

So essentially you want a game farm. Then you have to figure out ho to feed the darn things efficiently. We still don't know why they beach themselves from time to time.

The biggest problem, though is the slow growth - cows are read for food in a year or two, and ready to bred by then too; so you can replace your herd - or harvest a complete herd's worth -every few years. The turnover rate for whales appears to be much much longer.
#30
Old 10-06-2014, 07:52 PM
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
I think it was Jared Diamond discussing domestication that mentioned if the life cycle is too long, it is difficult to select a species for domestication. IIRC, elephants for example are not domestic. the ones used for domestic purposes are typically wild ones captured and trained, or the offspring of captured wild animals. Same with whales. It would take millennia to transform them into non-wild animals.

There's a reason humans herd domestic animals, and not wild ones. the wild ones are not docile enough. If you trapped a pod of whales in a fjord, for example, would they realize not to tangle with the net blocking their route? (There's the story that bison are difficult to domesticate, because if they put their mind to it (or their head) they will not stop when they encounter a fence at full speed).

So essentially you want a game farm. Then you have to figure out ho to feed the darn things efficiently. We still don't know why they beach themselves from time to time.

The biggest problem, though is the slow growth - cows are read for food in a year or two, and ready to bred by then too; so you can replace your herd - or harvest a complete herd's worth -every few years. The turnover rate for whales appears to be much much longer.
There are a few species out there that you can see today at an intermediate stage of domestication (and that you could call 'semidomesticated'). In certain parts of Africa, including where I lived for about three years, the guinea fowl is one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helmeted_guineafowl

They've been fully domesticated in other parts of the world, including North America, but where I was the farmers hadn't figured out how to get them to breed in captivity. Instead they would collect the eggs from the forest and raise the animals in captivity and eventually slaughter them.
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