Humans v. Nature: 3 Million Whales Killed; 1 Million Horses Sacrificed in WWI
April 10, 2015
James Cave / The Huffington Post & The Daily Mail
It's long been known that whales were seriously endangered during the 20th century, but a study published in the March 4 issue of "Marine Fisheries Review" shows that, between 1900 and 1999, a staggering 2.9 million whales were killed commercially for food, oil or bone -- nearly hunted to the point of extinction. In another epic slaughter, the Allied generals who lead the charge in WWI send a million hapless horses to the battlefields in France between 1914 and 1918. Only 62,000 returned.
Humans Killed Nearly 3 Million Whales In The 20th Century
James Cave / The Huffington Post
(March 18, 2015) -- It's long been known that whales were seriously endangered during the 20th century, but new research shows just how close we came to wiping them out completely.
A study published in the March 4 issue of "Marine Fisheries Review" shows that, between 1900 and 1999, a staggering 2.9 million whales were killed commercially for food, oil or bone.
"Remarkably, despite the importance of industrial whaling to several economies and more recently as a symbol of human misuse of the world's resources, there has until now been no attempt to estimate the total catch for the 20th century," the study, entitled "Emptying the Oceans: A Summary of Industrial Whaling Catches in the 20th Century," says.
Using current data from the International Whaling Commission, along with data from the USSR (which hunted whales illegally for 30 years) the researchers found that 276,442 whales were killed in the North Atlantic, 563,696 in the North Pacific and 2,053,956 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Researchers only counted whales killed industrially and found the numbers peaked in the 1960s and 1970s. (The number of whales killed for sustenance by native communities was a negligible amount in comparison.)
Amazingly, the number of sperm whales killed between 1900 and 1962 was the same number of sperm whales killed in all of the 18th and 19th centuries combined. That record was then repeated in the decade spanning 1962 and 1972.
Howard Rosenbaum, the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program, told NBC News that the question facing researchers now is, "given the state of today's oceans and the status of some whales, can depleted populations recover to their pre-whaling historical levels?"
According to the study, Southern Ocean blue whales are said to be at less than 1 percent of their pre-whaling numbers, and while no species was brought to extinction as a result of industrialized whaling, some subpopulations were completely destroyed (such as a community of humpbacks off the coast of South Georgia from 1904 to 1915).
Public opinion turned against whale hunting in the early '70s. Judy Collins released "Whales and Nightingales," an album featuring duets with Collins and the recordings of humpback whale songs, and Rex Weyler, then-director of Greenpeace, set a new agenda for conservation efforts.
"Saving the whales became the issue that we believed would introduce humanity to the idea of ecology and saving nature," Weyler told NPR in December.
Other organizations joined Greenpeace, and by 1985, there was a moratorium on commercial deep-sea whaling.
Norway, Japan and Iceland still hunt whales for commercial reasons, and others for aboriginal sustenance.
Today, there are only about 500,000 whales left in the ocean.
"The total number of whales we killed is a really important number," Stephen Palumbi, a marine ecologist at Stanford University in California, told Nature about the study's findings. "It does make a difference to what we do now: it tells us the number of whales the oceans might be able to support."
A Million Horses Were Sent to Fight
In the 'Great War' -- Only 62,000 Came Back
The Daily Mail
LONDON (November 9, 2007) -- A great horse rears amid the flash and boom of bombardment; careers in terror from the path of an advancing tank; struggles to free itself from treacherous swirls of barbed wire.
Here are images of man's exploitation of animals carried to bloody extremity amid the horrors of World War I.
It was bold to set out to depict such scenes on a London stage. But the National Theatre is enjoying a triumph with its production of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, the story of Joey, beloved mount of a Devon farmer's son, translated into a beast of battle and burden in France.
This is a children's story in the tradition of Black Beauty, which makes adults sob, too.
The actors play their parts well, but the stars are the horses, larger-than-life wicker creations, modelled with conviction by the Handspring Puppet Company.
The puppeteers and directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris have studied and captured every equine movement and gesture.
Each horse has its own personality, cavorting with balletic grace. The performance, more pantomie than play, displays the spirit of one of the great tragedies of history.
We know that World War I killed some ten million fighting men, almost 800,000 of them British.
Much less known is the fate of a million hapless horses, sent to France between 1914 and 1918. Only 62,000 returned. War Horse offers a glimpse of the experiences that befell them.
Man has been exploiting animals for centuries. But there is a pathos about the plight of horses conscripted to suffer in conflicts which they, unlike their riders, lack any means of understanding.
Many paintings depict warriors charging into battle with swords held high, wild-eyed mounts stretching out their necks as they surge full-tilt towards the enemy.
Yet few pictures show the consequences: battlefields on which abandoned, maimed, eviscerated animals wander in agony and bewilderment, lacking even a kindly bullet to free them from their misery.
Generals list their losses in men and guns. Few have ever troubled to mention the horses which perished in the service of their victories.
One of the few who did notice was 19th-century surgeon Sir Astley Cooper.
After Wellington's triumph at Waterloo in 1815, the wounded horses of the Household Cavalry were sold at auction in Belgium.
Sir Astley bought 12 of the worst cases and had them shipped to England.
There, he devoted months to their care, removing bullets and sewing up sword slashes. Afterwards, at his country park, he loved to watch the great beasts form in line, charge and gallop at their own pleasure.
Few of the horses of World War I were so rewarded. In their thousands, they were borne away to France and Flanders, cast into shells, wire and mud, where they suffered wounds and death alongside the men who rode and drove them.
In the first months of the war, cavalry sometimes attempted charges in the old fashion, which ended in catastrophe in the face of machine-guns.
Throughout the years of stalemate which followed on the Western Front, horses pulled guns, ration carts and ambulances by day and night, often in terrible conditions.
Captain Julian Grenfell, who died on the battlefield, wrote pityingly in the spring of 1915 of a soldier's apprehension before "going over the top": "In dreary, doubtful, waiting hours, Before the brazen frenzy starts, The horses show him nobler powers; O patient eyes, courageous hearts!"
Some cavalrymen in France, however, were much less sympathetic to their mounts. "The horse", complained Lt Alan Lascelles of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, "though a noble animal, is a ... tiresome companion ... when you start touring the country with him.
"He debars you from spending the night anywhere in the neighbourhood of civilisation because he takes up so much room.
He is unable to clean or feed himself, and will leave you altogether unless firmly secured; he drags you miles through mud that he has churned up with his feet and then refuses to drink at the end of it.
"He wears a mass of impedimenta with an unlimited capacity for getting dirty and unserviceable; he will bite and kick you on the smallest provocation.
"Though he is all very well in peacetime, I am beginning to think that the day when he is declared obsolete for war purposes will be a bright one for the human race."
Ungrateful man! His horse never sought its role in the most terrible conflict in human history. The British Army shipped nearly six-million tonnes of fodder across the Channel during the war -- slightly more than the weight of ammunition dispatched -- but there was never enough.
When corn ran short, animals suffered from emaciation. Thousands were left lame by nails and blades on the battlefield.
Between the Somme in July 1916 and the Armistice in November 1918, the British Army recorded 58,090 horses killed and 77,410 wounded by gunfire; 211 were killed and 2,220 wounded by poison gas; while several hundred were killed by aeroplane bombs.
As the carnage grew, British stables could no longer supply the Army's needs, as many horses were needed at home for farms and transport.
Animals were bought in Canada and the U.S., to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Many of the horses and ponies which served with Allenby's army, fighting the Turks in Palestine, came from Australia. Australian cavalry took part in some of the last traditional charges in history, during the advance on Jerusalem in 1917.
Many soldiers who found themselves tending and riding horses lacked experience.
The great-grandfather of Tom Morris, co-director of the National Theatre's War Horse, sent a long letter to his own son, off to war in 1914, explaining the care of his mount:
"When campaigning," wrote farm manager Matthew Parrington, "there are lots of little things you can do with horses which may save you a lot of trouble and a lot of danger.
"First, about food: you will have that all in your instructions, but [you should give him] 15lb good oats and about ten to 12lb of clean hay or other bulky food per day.
"Also, when you get the chance, give a few beetroot or other roots cut up in their corn. Carrots are the best.
"A horse should be fed three times a day but you must feed when you can, water as often as possible but never just before fast work.
"When you off-saddle at night let them drink as much as they like before food when they come in tired."
Parrington, a Devon man, gave pages of advice on the care of horses, a lore he knew well. Most wartime soldiers did not.
They overloaded their mounts, neglected saddle sores, lamed beasts by carelessness, caused them colic by misfeeding. And all before they got to work, dispatching cavalry, artillery and supply columns into the path of shot and shell.
Here, now, is Morpurgo in his best-selling book from which the stage production of War Horse is adapted, describing the experience of battle by his horse-hero, Joey: "'Wire', I heard Trooper Warren whisper. 'Oh God, Joey, they said the wire would be gone, they said the guns would deal with the wire. Oh my God.'
"We were into a canter now and still there was no sound nor sight of any enemy. The troopers were shouting at an invisible foe, leaning over their horses' necks, sabres stretched out in front of them.
"I galvanised myself into a gallop to keep up with Topthorn, and as I did so, the first terrible shells fell among us, and the machine-guns opened up.
"All around me men cried and fell to the ground, horses reared and screamed in an agony of fear and pain. The ground erupted on either side of me, throwing horses and riders clear into the air."
I won't spoil the story by revealing its end.
Here, instead, is a real-life account of the 7th Dragoon Guards charging during the Battle of the Somme on 14 July 1916, as seen by a British gunnery officer: 'An incredible sight, an unbelievable sight.
They galloped up with their lances and pennants flying.
"They were falling all the way, as the German guns played on the infantry. They simply galloped on through all that, horses and men dropping with no hope against the machine-guns. It was a magnificent sight. Tragic."
Amazingly, that morning a few horsemen reached the German lines, and impaled several of the enemy on their lances.
But then machine-guns got to work on the horses once more. Soon, the few survivors of the 7th Dragoons were trickling back to the British lines.
It was madness that such things happened, during a 20th-century war in which every sensible soldier recognised that horsed cavalry were doomed.
But happen they did, creating the legend which has inspired War Horse. When the war ended in November 1918, few horses returned to Britain. Most were sold, ending their careers on French dinner tables.
The same happened again in World War II. In 1939, the rural part-time soldiers of the Yeomanry regiments were shipped from Britain to the Middle East with their horses.
In 1942, when the Yeomanry were put into tanks, the animals became redundant. They were auctioned in Palestine and Egypt.
In 1945, with British sentimentality a charity was established in Cairo named the Brooke Hospital, to save horses from the worst cruelties of local life.
The Brooke survives today, a tribute to our nation's feelings about its animals, even after treating them so badly in the service of war.
War Horse is a worthy memorial to the animal victims of the 20th century's great global cataclysms. The horses are its stars, taking more curtain calls than the human actors.
If you see it, don't be fooled by the fact it was written for children. However old and cynical you think you are, be sure to take plenty of hankies.