Whalers in Norway, Iceland and Greenland have called Australia’s attempts to ban commercial whaling “ridiculous”, according to a report on ABC Online.
Federal Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell is lobbying in Europe and the Pacific to get an international ban on whaling. But the whalers are suggesting that Australia’s environmental record and opposition to the Kyoto protocol leave it in no position to argue.
Anthropologist Ron Brunton wrote an insightful piece on the subject for the Courier Mail in 2001. Extract follows:
They (governments of Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the United States) become indignant when they are accused of cultural imperialism by people who wish to continue eating whale meat, like the Japanese. As these governments and the anti-whaling activists who support them see it, they are fighting for a universal ethical principle, not a recently developed cultural preference. And they are angry about Japan’s success in thwarting a proposal for a South Pacific whale sanctuary at the recently concluded meeting of the International Whaling Commission by using aid to bribe Caribbean members of the IWC.
There is a considerable amount of effrontery in their response to Japan. The IWC was established in 1946 by fourteen whaling nations to assist the orderly development of the industry by encouraging the proper conservation of whale stocks. But as whale devotion gathered momentum in the 1970s, the United States and environmentalist NGOs induced a number of non-whaling nations to join the IWC, intending to create a majority in favour of ending the whaling industry, in contravention of the IWC’s own charter.
In 1982 this expanded IWC instituted a moratorium on all commercial whaling, to take effect from 1986. Japan and its pro-whaling allies such as Norway have merely used tactics that are little different from those that the anti-whalers earlier used against them.
Despite various attempts by animal rights and conservation organisations to obfuscate the issue, only a few whale species, such as the blue and the humpback, can be portrayed as endangered. Most of the other commercially valued species are abundant, and would face no threat of extinction under a properly controlled resumption of the whaling industry.
A good illustration of the kind of humbug that often characterises the anti-whaling forces came from New Zealand’s leftist Minister of Conservation, Sandra Lee, at last year’s IWC meeting. Vowing that she would never stop seeking to protect whales, Ms Lee told delegates that in Maori legend the great whales were portrayed as guides and guardians of humans on the oceans, ‘treasure, to be preserved … the chiefly peoples of the ocean world’.
This is true. But Ms Lee, who is a Maori herself, seems to have omitted a crucial fact from her impassioned speech. Their legends did not prevent the Maori from being avid consumers of the meat, oil and other products of cetaceans. Beached whales were butchered and became the property of the local chief, who would share the carcass with his group. Smaller cetaceans were actively hunted with harpoons and nets.
Furthermore, the official Maori position, as expressed by Te Ohu Kai Moana, the Treaty of Waitangi Fisheries Commission, is opposed to the New Zealand government’s backing of the South Pacific whale sanctuary. Te Ohu Kai Moana supports the right of ‘indigenous and coastal peoples’ around the world to engage in sustainable commercial whaling, and condemns the New Zealand government for not consulting properly with Maori about the whale sanctuary proposal.
Taking an anti whaling stance is a freeby for Australian politicians, win lose or draw they have nothing to lose and everything to gain by being loudly on the side of the environment.
Now when it comes to grazing cattle or mining in National Parks they choose their words more carefully.
Andrew Bartlett says
I agree that there is some inconsistency involved here. As I commented on your previous whaling post (and on my own site), I am totally against whaling, but I also believe people need to be consistent in their arguments. The attempt to segregate environmental issues from the ethics of animal rights is not a good idea in my view, but it is worse when people create that divide, but then dip into animal welfare and rigths issues when it suits their argument and ignore or disparage them when it doesn’t. There is no doubt that whales suffer – probably enormously – when slaughtered. There is also little evdience that the meat and other products are needed (as opposed to desired) by those who slaughter them. However, the same argument can be applied to many other mammals who we not only slaughter in their millions, but imprison for their whole lives before doing so.
Relying solely on the ‘endangered species’ argument against whaling will never win in the end, because it will not always be true – as your post says, arguably it isn’t true now for some species of whale. Relying on pain and suffering to the animal and their offspring only works if people admit that the same issues should be considered with other animals.
There is also the economic argument – that they are worth more alive than dead because of the tourism value. I haven’t read enough of the studies that have been done on that, but I suspect that a dispassionate economic assessment would be unlikely to rule out any slaughter at all.
I’m all for making every effort possible being put into stopping whaling (and the Fed Govt could do more if they chose), but I think some greater consistency and intellectual honesty in the arguments would be preferable – otherwise i doubt the campaign to halt whaling will be successful in the long run, even if the line is held at the IWC this time around.
Louis Hissink says
On what basis, scientically, do you support your statement that “There is no doubt that whales suffer – probably enormously – when slaughtered.”
What, from first hand interviews?
Let me recount a real slaughter.;
I just came back from a Sheep station which also runs a few head of cattle, 30 in number, give or take a few.
Small herd, and we humans focussed on one young cow and killed it instantly with one bullet; we proceeded to butcher it quickly, (as you would), mindful of the small herd.
As a bystander, I watched the scene unfold, and the butchering went unhindered until the,small, herd noticed one of its members missing.
We were, three males avec hilux, confronted with 4 bulls, in agitated state, with butchered cow, and wondering.
It is then, as here, that we wonder what really goes on.
Louis Hissink says
What has eating whales have to do with glow ball vorming?
production line 12 says
What the hell are you on about, Louis?
Andrew Bartlett says
Louis – to avoid getting sidetracked down an arcane philosophical path, perhaps I should change “there is no doubt” whales suffer when slaughtered to “it is beyond reasonable doubt” that they suffer.
Although your commentary about your experience with the cow herd might not satisfy some as being suitably ‘scientific’, it is enough of an example of the impact on surrounding animals of witnessing one of their own being slaughtered to demonstrate wider suffering beyond just the one being killed.
It is well established that whales ‘harvested’ from the wild do not die instantaneously and indeed it can often take hours from when they are first shot or harpooned to die.
To use just one example to satisfy your question, the following quote is taken from an article in the American Journal of International Law, which also has its sources footnoted if you really need them:
“When whales are harpooned and dying, their characteristic whistles change dramatically to a low monotone. In contrast, in the normal healthy state, their whistles “are bird-like sounds with trills and arpeggios, glissandos and sitar-like bends in the notes.” This change is clearly analogous to the transformation in human expression from talking (or singing) in the normal state to crying when in pain. Additionally, there can be little physiological doubt that whales feel pain; indeed, the real question is whether they perceive acute pain to an even greater degree than humans. This latter possibility is evidenced by the far wider range of skin sensations apparently registered by the complex cerebral cortex of the whale. Anyone who has watched a mammal in intense pain–a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a horse–knows that the animal is suffering and, moreover, that it is aware of its own suffering.”
Having said I wouldn’t get into philosophy, I will do so briefly by quoting Jeremy Bentham from over 200 years ago: “The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?”
No one can seriously try to suggest that whales do not suffer when slaughtered, and I therefore don’t believe anyone has the right to slaughter them (unless they are seriously at risk of starvation themselves, which clearly does not apply in this argument)
Email received from Norman:
Having recently made my acquaintance with your website, I note that there is a focus on the pros & cons of whaling, and especially on Japan’s misdeeds.
My wife, who is Japanese, assures me that throughout her youthful years (before WW2), she cannot remember whale meat ever being apart of the family diet, within her own family or within her circle.
Could it be that this was grafted onto the Japanese culinary culture after WW2, as one of the many indulgences of post- WW2 prosperity ? That would mean that the statements which have been fed to us that this delicacy has been a significant part of Japanese diet from wayback, have been incorrect.
If it was only a post-war indulgence, the termination of whaling now should not really be a terrible sacrifice for the Japanese people.
Research into Japanese archives should reveal the truth. The existence or absence of a Japanese whaling fleet pre- WW2 should readily be discoverable.
The most compeling argument against whaling seems to be that they can not be killed humanely.
http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200506/s1390675.htm more on whaling.
Not sure what you mean by “killing humanely” Jennifer.
Most humans assiduously avoid their own death yet animals are not aware of their own mortality and are conditioned only to either flee or fight threats to their well being.
If you mean “killed without undue suffering” well thats hard too. In the wild prey large predators asphyxiate their meal only to prevent damage to themselves during consumption, when the catch is harmless they simply tear it apart and eat it alive.
So do we venerate the natural world?
David Ward says
My opposition to whaling is purely emotional, not rational. In a similar way, I eat ham and bacon, but hate being behind a truckload of pigs on the way to the abattoir. Being philosophically pernickety, what about the sufferings of the squid and krill which whales slaughter (note use of emotive word) in their thousands, or (even better word) millions? Whales are not squeaky clean when it comes to cruelty. Now I come to think of it, I’m could get to hate whales, if I interviewed a few friendly, harmless squid. I’m confused.
whaling is bad japan should stop the so clled scienfick reseach