The Ethics of Killing Animals

War was sparked, again, a few weeks ago following the publishing of an article in the Newcastle Herald ( Said article concerned the capture of a big tiger shark offshore of Swansea during a game fishing competition during which the shark was killed by the angler, weighed and photographed. Obviously, the photos of the fish laid out next to the angler in the boat, and strung up off the gambrel with its weight scrawled onto its hide got mixed results from readers of the paper.

Of key note here, however, is the fact that the angler expressly stated that he did not want himself to be fully named – and the photographs had blurred his face to further mask his identity. Why would he do that? I would say that he knew full-well that he had done something ethically inappropriate.

I have to say; even I was a little taken aback when looking at the photos. They were perfectly reminiscent of those old black and white ones and faded ‘70’s shots that we see from a bygone age. Those photos are amazing in their own right purely for the fact that they were taken in a different era – while it does stir a sense of loss to see dead creatures never likely to be seen again, they are still awe inspiring. And it isn’t right to loathe generations that didn’t realise the consequences of their actions. Let they who are without sin cast the first stone.

The fact is that those days are over. No longer is the leviathan dragged from the deep and displayed, its sun-parched skin and eyes glazed in the dull dead shine that signifies the end of something great. The Old Man realised his mistake and told his story for us to take notice. Nothing good comes from going out too far.

What got me most was the fact that as part of the competition more than 70 marlin were reportedly captured, tagged and released. Why were they released? Some fish may have been kept for eating, and some may have died during the fight or had to be killed due to deteriorated condition by the time they came boat-side; but why is there such a marked difference in treatment of the species? Without doubt the tiger shark is considered a game fish in these circles, but apparently not in the class that a marlin is.

That being said, let’s not get one-sided here. While those against the killing of sharks tie their environmental heartstrings in knots, we don’t see them writing in to the paper every week criticising the Friday fishing report. So let’s be honest, both sides of the argument are as hypocritical as each other.

Climax or Anticlimax?

So what is killing? How does it fit into the chase and what does it mean? I remember years ago coming to the realisation that it is not necessary to hunt to kill; but it is necessary to kill if you are to truly be a hunter. It seemed like a revelation to me at the time, but of course there is nothing new in this world and several years later I read those very words in the final pages of a book covering the extensive history of hunting in North America.

While people don’t generally consider fishing as a form of hunting, it definitely can be. Of course there is limited option of catch and release when carrying a spear, bow or firearm; but there is always a choice between sending a killing piece and not. A hook can (and probably should) be viewed in a very similar light. But the ethics of catch and release angling are a topic for another time.

So what is killing? The build up is definitely intense. Everything has to be just so for things to come together in the end; whether that be during a long and patient stalk or the fast and furious struggle of close-quarter work with dogs and short range weapons. I can attest that the build-up to a large boar charging you while you stand your ground and take him on with a boar spear takes you through all sorts of crazy emotions – but that single moment is always the same.

The moment of commitment is the climax of the hunt. That split second that seems to slow time – the boar drops his head and you know he is going to charge and that there is no longer an option to back out – you see a clear shot and begin to draw the bow – the cross hairs are sitting fine and you start the gentle squeeze of the trigger. These things happen in the blink of an eye yet, to me at least, everything else is gone. The adrenaline that was keeping me going disappears, along with the rest of the world. Everything is suddenly simple and I have all the time I need to do what I’m about to do.

Of course this state shatters as soon as the final move is made, and then it’s all downhill. The important thing is that the peak is reached before any killing is made.

The reality of the situation

So if the peak is reached before the final blow, then why continue if you don’t have to? With fishing you have this option. The mad adrenaline rush occurs when the hook sets, the rod loads up and you hang on helpless during those first few electric runs or lunges. Then you have a chance to plan the attack and regain composure during the fight before the breath-holding make-or-break moments between trying to land the fish and actually securing it. Here comes the big decision – is this fish coming home or going home?

There are only two reasons you should decide on the former. The first is that the fish is going to be eaten. Don’t think you can get away with providing it to others. If you aren’t going to eat it yourself then get out of the water.

The second is that the fish has become injured due to being captured and should not be returned. If this is the case then you should stop and consider what has happened and how to rectify it. If you find that there is no legitimate reason for this occurring then you should probably get out of the water.

What does this mean?

Relating this back to the tiger shark now deposited somewhere in a watery grave; what I’m saying is that if old mate didn’t have to kill it then he shouldn’t have. A photo and an accurate weight don’t cut it as reasons for killing. And I’m saying this for sharks, marlin, flathead and European carp. Ethically, there is little difference between the killing of any of these fish. I’m not getting into the conservation discussion here. I’m simply stating that in this day and age, the wilful killing and ultimate wastage of a food resource is not acceptable.

I hunt much less than ever right now because my freezer is full. I can’t justify killing a pig in the fake name of concern for agriculture or native ecosystems, or both, or neither. The sickening fact is that hundreds of tonnes of high quality ‘free’ protein is left to rot in Australian paddocks every year for the sake of growing low quality, obesity causing, environmentally disastrous carbohydrate. Go figure.

To relate this to fishing, perhaps a more ethically appropriate relationship to our fisheries resources is to keep more of the fish we catch, but to fish less. Something to scratch your head about.


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