Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Whaling

I try not to use my blogs as soap boxes, but sometimes it can't be helped (like asking you to cut back on using plastic bottles because they're washing up on beaches worldwide). Today's subject will be whaling in the Caribbean. Don't worry, I won't regal you with bloody pictures and gory stories. Let's discuss this rationally, shall we?

St. Kitts actually hosted the last International Whaling Commission meeting in 2006 and wrote the declaration of why the ban should be lifted in the Caribbean. It worked. Several islands signed on; and one of them, Bequia, has in fact been killing whales. Now whales are under attack again, only on a grander scale.

Why? It’s a cultural thing? Is that a good enough reason? Throwing virgins into live volcanoes was a cultural thing too, but I wouldn't go watch it in the South Pacific if it was still happening, justifying my complacency on my supposed admiration of and "respect" for tradition. Plus, we've learned a bit since the days of our ancestors - haven't we?

No. Unsurprisingly, the # 1 reason St. Kitts and other islands took this ill-advised route was thanks to the approximately $100 million in both monetary payments and new fish processing facilities offered by Japan to vote with them on this issue. Just about every car on the island is Japanese. Coincidence? Doubtful.

Now what little regulations that were on whaling are being threatened once again and it'll soon be a free-for-all out there. I bring this up, not only because I am totally against killing whales (I realize some of you may disagree), but because it would be bad for St. Kitts. This island is just getting its foothold on tourism after switching from a sugar-cane based industry. Why are the bureaucrats so eager to kill (pun intended) its momentum before it even gets started?

Here's what one misguided soul at the St. Kitts fisheries department said about whaling in St. Kitts:

"We are speaking to data, we believe that science should be the way forward but instead of it they are really focusing on the emotional aspect of it."

First of all, there is no science behind it. Japan has not submitted one meaningful scientific report obtained from its killing of whales since the ban was lifted. Plus what are we studying them for? We've discovered they form strong family units; they sing songs specific to their pods that have been around for thousands of years; they're pretty intelligent; and they feel pain. We know all this and yet we don't care, so why keep studying them? (The same is true of elephants; yes they're trying to lift the ivory ban; and apes.) Second of all, of course we're focusing on the emotional aspect of it. Isn't that what supposedly separates us from the animals? You know - the fact that we actually feel compassion (I dispute that other mammals don't share this trait, but I digress). We can decide to destroy or not to destroy. What to eat or not to eat. We do have choices. Unfortunately, every other thing on the planet has to live with the choices we, as humans, make. The good and the bad. This one is bad.

"We have all these tourists coming here, what are we going to feed them with, are we going to ask the United States to send the fish here?" he asked, adding "That's not what we want. We to want to be able to benefit from tourist coming to our country and that's what we have to look at."

He's kidding right? They don't know how they're going to feed all the tourists without killing whales? Believe me. No one is going to starve on this island (unless they like pretzel rods like Michael and I do). Any day of the week, and especially on weekends, there are 1/2 rusted barrels full of hot coals on every single corner (and in between) cooking up more food than McDonalds.

Despite the fact that the locals themselves didn't want this declaration written, the head of the fisheries department said "that the region would like to see the exploitation of the whaling industry for the benefit of the Caribbean." I don't think so. There's a reason most islands have not starting hunting whales, despite their vote.

A widely touted reason for killing the whales is due to the misguided notion that whales are depleting the world’s oceans of fish. In the rest of the world, it is not whales that are depleting fish stocks but rather over-fishing by huge trawlers and factory ships taking not only targeted species but killing thousands of dolphins and sea turtles as they drag miles of nets destroying reefs that are the nurseries necessary to protect fish as they grow. In the Caribbean, the few whales who pass through here are most certainly not a threat to the fish supplies. I'm pretty sure there are more fishing vessels than whales out there.

Proponents of whale hunting want to assure us that the whales won't be over-harvested.

Good luck with that. There's a fisherman here (initials KM) who brings bags of lobsters to local restaurants with adult lobsters on top, and babies and pregnant female lobsters on the bottom. The restaurants could be fined up to $5,000 if such lobsters are found on premises, but despite alerting the fisheries about this man (and others) nothing has happened. These criminals are going to kill the last generation of lobsters here and put not only the fishermen into a free-fall but hurt restaurants as well. Mahi is also becoming harder and harder to come by. Hope no one wants to have a fishing tournament in these waters in the future. Yeah. Our record of stewardship has been exemplary so far...

And again, even if you are for the hunting of whales, at least insist that the ying yangs trying to lift the ban ensure that the technique is as humane as it possibly could be (let's add shark finning to this request too while we're at it). The technology used for killing whales has altered little since the 19th century (that's the 1800's people), when the grenade tipped harpoon was invented. The harpoon is intended to penetrate the whale's body before detonating, killing it by inflicting massive shock or injury. It usually doesn't work, meaning they then need to be shot several times or harpooned again.

In 1947, a British physician made a really good point, however you feel about whaling.

“If we can imagine a horse having two or three explosive spears stuck into its stomach and being made to pull a butcher’s truck through the streets of London while it pours blood in the gutter, we shall have an idea of the present method of killing. The gunners themselves admit that if whales could scream the industry would stop, for nobody would be able to stand it.”

Think about it. This practice would be considered unacceptable if whales were required to be treated in the same way as agricultural animals slaughtered for human food. Again - where's our compassion? (remember white seal pups being clubbed to death in front of their mothers? - it still happens, by the way). Where is our conscience (particularly knowing what we know about these mammals)?

One of the first "harvests" Bequia did when the ban was lifted in 2006 was to maim a female (they weren't experienced enough to know how to kill her) and her calf (both illegal). Is this really what tourists want to see? What islanders want to see?

Let me just say to the tourism and fisheries department of St. Kitts. There's not a single person on a cruise ship that wants to come into the harbor and see this (their last vacation was probably to Sea World and their favorite movie Free Willy). And they certainly don't want to pass such a sight and then have a restaurant serve them up a whale burger. If they do, Texas should take note. Put the anal electrocution of cows on the billboards welcoming people to your state and be sure to offer a 15% discount on a visitor's first steak.

I ask you to sign the petition to stop this stupidity. It's bad for business, if not just plain inhumane. We're better than this...Aren't we?