Individual Decision Making and the Evolutionary Roots of Institutions

Humans hunt and kill many different species of animals, but whales are our biggest prey. In the North Atlantic, a male long-fi nned pilot whale (Globiceph- ala melaena), a large relative of the dolphins, can grow as large as 6.5 meters and weigh as much as 2.5 tons. As whales go, these are not particularly large, but there are more than 750,000 pilot whales in the North Atlantic, traveling in groups, “pods,” that range from just a few individuals to a thousand or more. Each pod is led by an individual known as the “pilot,” who appears to set the course of travel for the rest of the group. This pilot is both an asset and a weakness to the pod. The average pilot whale will yield about a half ton of meat and blubber, and North Atlantic societies including Ireland, Iceland, and the Shetlands used to manipulate the pilot to drive the entire pod ashore. In the Faroe Islands, a group of 18 grassy rocks due north of Scotland, pilot whale hunts have continued for the last 1200 years, at least. The permanent residents of these islands, the Faroese, previously killed an average of 900 whales each year, yielding about 500 tons of meat and fat that was consumed by local residents. Hunts have declined in recent years. From 2001 to 2005, about 3400 whales were killed, yielding about 890 metric tons of blubber and 990 metric tons of meat. The whale kill, or grindadráp in the Faroese language, begins when a fi shing boat spots a pod close enough to a suitable shore, on a suitably clear day. A single boat, or even a small group of fi shermen, is not suffi cient to trap a..
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