Esther Beaton


To Kill or Not to Kill Our Whale?

The question is moot. The deed has been done. Last week, as a community, we decided to euthanase baby Colin, the whale who had come adrift from her mother, and who had been sucking the hulls of boats moored in Pittwater, one of Sydney’s harbours just a couple sea miles from my house.

What a difficult decision – yet I have trust that it will lead to a positive outcome for future orphaned whales. I think situations like this activate some sort of untapped resources in the collective conscience. Just like whale strandings once mobilized differing factions to work together to help the distressed animals, so too, efforts will be made to discover ways to feed and shelter orphaned whale calves.
Nature and wildlife photographers have an important role in these unfolding social changes. Twenty years ago this whale season, I covered the story of their migration along Australia’s coast, and took some of the first photos of breachings. The front page feature in Good Weekend magazine opened a lot of eyes to the amazing life of whales. Prior to that they were virtually unknown. The story told of their amazing music, their great journey to the Barrier Reef to give birth and their majestic leaps from out of the depths. Now, whale watching is a booming tourism business and once dwindling whale numbers are steadily reversing.
Photographers do far more than portray the spirit of nature. They have the potential for influencing the community spirit, that of cooperation, generosity and humanity. Just like beached whales are no longer, I have faith that stories of orphaned whales will have happier endings in the future.

5 thoughts on “To Kill or Not to Kill Our Whale?”

  1. Hi Esther,

    I guess it did affect everyone in some way or another. It was unfortunate that nothing could be done or rather we had no resources to be able to cope with the situation. From my prospective it would have been better to have tried one more time to get it back to the ocean to hopefully rejoin another whale group even if perhaps it would still perish but at least it would have had a chance no matter how slim versus the decision made to kill it.

    Patrick Zuluaga

  2. The whale calf was clearly not doing well. We know so little about the behaviour of whales to even guess at whether or not this baby could have been adopted by another pod. Like all decisions to euthanise animals I would rather see the animal killed humanely rather than it die an agonising death by starvation or attacked and eaten alive by sharks.

  3. Hi Esther,
    I have been very fortunate and over the last 20 years have had many opportunities to photograph these magnificent cetacians. I was as distressed as anyone about the fate of this calf.
    As for the decision to kill this mammal being community based, I am afraid I disagree. Our esteemed seat pollishing public servants at National Parks made the decision. (no such thing as a National Park in Australia – they are State parks at best – dont get me started on this!) I fear that very little was learned from this exercise and that should this happen again, the people responsible will be still totally unprepared. The sad thing is that even if an independant body was prepared to do what was necessary to attempt a rescue, they would have in all likelyhood been prevented from doing so by this same department.
    This is an image shot on 35mm film with a 300 2.8L. 35-40 ton Bull

  4. Hi Esther,

    e are still on the road with the Grey Nomads, currently in Perth at a sister in law’s, on the web and read your Whaling Story. I don’t think whales were virtually unknown 20 years ago, I was shocked to visit this place 40 years ago..!!

    Have just come down from Shark Bay and saw the historical info on the Nicholson whaling station and other place along the coast down to Coral Bay. It was a sad past, and amazing to think how we feel about our past and those old attitudes. Are you in Sydney now? May meet again some day.. cheers Bill

  5. Hi spelio Bill:
    You’re right, whales were certainly well known 20 years ago, but as your picture shows, were often thought of more as hunted food. What I meant to say is that their migrations, songs and interactions with them were virtually unknown to us “general public”.

    Happy journeying!

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