I have just checked my dictionary on the meaning of bigot. It says “obstinate and intolerant adherent of creed or view”.
Glenn Inwood describes New Zealanders as bigots because they are opposed to whaling. He was writing for the Sunday Star Times in New Zealand last Sunday.
It’s a passionate piece and begins:
You asked for an article that explains why I have chosen to work on the side of the whalers; why I provide strategic public relations advice to the organisation that, according to our Conservation Minister, “slaughters the magnificent whales” in the Southern Ocean.
The simple answer is because they have the right to do it. That’s not to say that I don’t think whales are magnificent creatures. I just don’t believe they are sacrosanct – despite the best efforts of the Marine Mammals Protection Act 1978 to make them so. The other answer is more complicated but is related to the environmental belief that the best way to monitor and protect whale stocks and achieve transparency is to end the moratorium and bring about a return to commercial whaling where the regulations are obeyed and seen to be obeyed.
We Kiwis were passionate whalers once. We joined the rest of the world in taking our share when whale oil was a high-priced commodity, and we only ended the practice in 1964 when it became uneconomic to continue – not because whales were running out; but because there was no longer the need for whale oil, which had been replaced by petroleum-based products.
Anthropological studies have also shown that pre-European Maori were the southern-most whalers in the world, with evidence of small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) caught using stone-tipped harpoons and utilising beached whales for food. There is still debate over whether we should in fact push beached whales back out to sea: an insult to Tangaroa some say.
Whaling these days is for food for a very limited market. Some people love lambs because they taste good with a dash of mint sauce. Some people, however, enjoy a whale steak or whale sushi. So why can we not accept that of others? When did we begin to think that our beliefs should override those of others? How did we turn into a nation of bigots? Why is whaling bad and watching them the only commercial thing that should happen to whales?
For years we have been told that all whales are endangered and need saving. It is a view that fits the fundraising aims of numerous environmental groups because the public feels good when contributing to such a cause. But it is a view that goes by unchallenged. We don’t have a whaling industry to satisfy so there’s no need for the Government to correct the information. And our Conservation Minister jollies us along with every public statement condemning the “slaughter” of whales by Japan. (Apparently, whales are only ever slaughtered, never hunted or killed!)
But that doesn’t seem to matter. Now that ‘save the whales’ is imprinted apparently into our national psyche, we don’t seem to question the veracity of that statement. We let our politicians and environmentalists tell us ‘slaughtering’ whales for research is wrong if that research is used to determine whether a commercial whaling regime would be sustainable. Yet our media is quick to print allegations from Forest and Bird that we aren’t doing enough science on our own fishing industry and we should stop fishing. Our Government on the one hand establishes a Ministry to ensure we get the right science for our commercial fishing yet we decry another country’s decision to do the same thing for whales. The hypocrisy is quite outstanding.
New Zealand originally quit the International Whaling Commission because it ended commercial whaling and no longer needed to belong. However, it joined again in 1976 on a preservationist stance justified on our history of commercial whaling. But there is no denying the fact that the role of the IWC is to find a way to end the moratorium and permit the resumption of whaling when it can be demonstrated to be a sustainable activity. Our Government is resolutely one of the blockers towards achieving that legally binding requirement.
Happily, I don’t believe your average (mainstream) Kiwi is a bigot. I believe that most New Zealanders are reasonable people who would say, “If whaling has no effect on the status of the population, then what’s the problem? It’s just like killing (slaughtering) a cow or a sheep.” It’s clear that minke whales are ultra-abundant and even taking a few thousand out of the Southern Ocean isn’t going affect the population of those stocks.
When I travel overseas, one of the things I most look forward to is sampling the local cuisine. I have eaten things in other countries that I can’t even name. Our dietary custom is one of the things that make us who we are. I recall the words a Norwegian friend who said, “I love whales, but I couldn’t eat a whole one!”
My first blog post on whaling was in June last year and followed my pondering that food really is cultural, click here.