By Amber Gilgan
Warning: This story contains imagery that some viewers may find upsetting
By now I am sure that most of us have either watched or heard of the new Netflix documentary ‘Seaspiracy’, and are deeply disturbed by what it reveals. In this documentary Ali Tabrizi highlights the issues of pollution, the act of ‘whaling’ and commercial fishing, sending viewers into stages of shock with the gruesome exposure to footage of whales and dolphins being brutally killed. As many of us are from constituent countries of the European Union, it is of interest that we try to understand marine protection legislation in Ireland and the EU, and what exactly is being done to implement effective measures so that our marine life is protected.
In Ireland, the Whale Fisheries Act of 1937 was the first piece of legislation that aimed to protect marine life however it only applied to Baleen whales. It was not until the Wildlife Act 1976 that certain flora an fauna in Ireland were protected under legislation with marine mammals such as dolphin species, seal species and whale species all finally being included.
When looking at marine protection legislation and the European Union’s standing, the EU Habitats Directive is of high importance to every member state within the EU, as it relates to the conservation of threatened animal and plant species. Under this particular directive, member states must report to the EU commission about improvements that have been made regarding the Habitats Directive. Such directives put pressure on the member states to actively partake in marine protection and it may be argued that without such a directive they would be less inclined to give much consideration to the issue.
Although the legislation and directives that are in place sound brilliant in theory, the problem of pollution around Ireland that is killing marine life is still of major concern. In 2018 a Marine Protection motion was held by Ms Grace O’Sullivan in which she hoped to tackle Ireland’s failure to protect oceans and seas around the nation. She spoke of sound pollution, which is caused by human activity such as industrial shipping or oil exploration, which has a massively negative impact on sea life.
The treatment of the whales and dolphins in ‘Seaspiracy’ is what may have troubled viewers the most. ‘Whaling’ is defined as the occupation of killing whales and extracting commercial products from them, such as using whales for their meat and blubber. In 1995 an International Whaling Motion was held in the Seanad in which Mrs Madeleine Taylor-Quinn spoke of the importance of using this convention to publicly condemn the Faroese Government for how the whale hunt and kill is carried out. The Faroe Islands are a group of tiny islands under the jurisdiction of the Kingdom of Denmark, that allow for whale hunting and killing for food purposes.
A shocking news article from the BBC told the story of Alastair Ward, a student at Cambridge University, who witnessed the local ‘whale driving’ himself and took images of the violence. He was disturbed by what he witnessed and the methods of the whale killings telling Triangle News Agency that “The squealing from the whales was horrible” as they hacked them with knives. This event was said to have turned the sea red, and footage of these hunts have recently resurfaced in ‘Seaspiracy’ with viewers getting so upset by what they saw that they have vowed to not eat fish again.
But will the airing of this documentary and the revelation of the dangers marine life face as a result of human activity be enough to influence society to do more for marine protection? Possibly, however, more equal budgeting from the government is needed towards conservation projects and more active participation and mindfulness from the public in raising awareness of the issue. We need to utilise the shock we experienced from the exposure to such gruesome imagery and footage and allow for it to help us make a difference before it is too late.