Is killing an endangered species ever justified? A University of B.C. research team plans to kill seven endangered turtles after their research is complete, and they are defending their actions.
According to a Vancouver Sun report, the ten-year research project focused on turtle diving depths, global fishing policies, and the impact of climate change on the turtles. Bill Milsom, head of UBC's zoology department, reports that in the past twenty years, over 85,000 green sea turtles died from being accidentally caught in fishing nets. Fishing nets also kill an estimated one thousand whales, dolphins, and porpoises every year. To cut down on the turtle death count, the UBC study aims to make recommendations on the placement of fishing nets based on the animal's diving depth.
The study began as a minimally invasive project, implanting tiny devices in the skin of the turtles to determine the impacts of climate change. But the turtles will need major surgery for the final chapter of the research project, which will study why the turtles die when caught in the nets. After the observations are complete, researchers plan to increase the anesthesia until the turtles die.
Milsom explains to Vancouver Sun why they plan to kill the turtles. First, the turtles are legally prohibited from being released into the wild. Due to their long time in captivity, they could infect other animals with parasites or bacteria. Second, nearby aquariums aren't open to taking the sea turtles because they require a large living space. Lastly, Milsom explains that part of the turtle experiment is to harvest their tissues.
Also, the building that is housing the turtle tank is set for demolition -- Milson claims that this did not motivate their decision to kill the turtles. According to Milsom, "As biologists our passion is animals... The work we do is ultimately to the end of conservation and many experiments require some animals to be sacrificed."
Milsom's explanations aren't enough for many animal activists, who are shocked that biologists plan to kill an endangered species -- three of the seven existing sea turtle species are critically endangered. Sea turtles have recently suffered from the BP oil spill, although a NY Times report suggests that most of the 600 turtles found dead during the spill were actually killed by fishing operations... operations that Milsom's team is trying to improve.
Ultimately, it seems that the UBC research group has offered two very different explanations. If the group is killing the sea turtles because they simply don't have anywhere else to put them, many people will argue that there are other options still available. Turtles should not be killed because there is a large amount of paperwork required to relocate the animal. If it's an issue of money since no nearby aquarium can afford to house the turtles, then the group could look into fundraising options. If the school is planning to demolish the building that contains the turtles, then perhaps the school should take responsibility for the living creatures that inhabit the building.
But the other explanation that UBC offers is a bit murkier on the ethical scale. Milsom claims that the final aspect of their research involves invasive surgery and tissue harvesting. Assuming that the research is a success and nets are placed to avoid catching turtles, is it worth seven turtles dying in order to halt a death toll that is now over 85,000? Should seven turtles be sacrificed in the hopes of saving thousands more?