Sunday, 8 November 2009

Exitus acta probat?

There has been an amount of controversy brewing this week about a certain new tagging program happening in the Farallon Islands. The incoming researchers are using a type of invasive methodology with which to tag Great White sharks to try to find out where they go. You can read the write up on the resarch funded by Guy Harvey here, or the open criticism of the technique with subsequent links here.

The thing that I notice first and foremost here is a worrying occurence in the science community of research projects designed not for the benefit of the subject matter, but for the benefit of the scientist or funding body carrying out or funding the work. It is well known that there is already a long established tagging program in operation in the Farallon Islands, using a much less invasive method. There is a wealth of bad feeling from other scientists and shark world commentators over this new project, including the criticism that such research can seriously injure and kill sharks or their unborn offspring. Exitus acta probat (the outcome justifies the deed) might have been have been true back in medieval days when surgery was more akin to butchery. Even advancements in society did not equal advancement in medicine; the Victorians believed that anaesthetic turned women into harlots (source). However we would like to think that we had moved away from barbaric practices, particularly when endangered species are the subject matter. It would be an advancement indeed if scientists trusted the working practices of already established programs, and looked at developing research where any result would be truly ground breaking, and of benifit to the species, rather than copying a project that already exists for self gratification and self promotion, or tagging the very last speciemen of the very last species at the very last field camp at the end of the Earth, only to leave a note to forthcoming generations that it was the tagging process that killed the last remaining one.

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