Slaughtering Whales in the Name of Science?
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Ceticide is silly, as well as not very nice.
I was addressing freshmen politics students at Paterson University about the British elections on the day that Tony Blair was first elected. "Could you tell them about Scotland and Wales?" the professor asked. A large and hitherto comatose football player in the front row suddenly raised his head from the desk and asked: "You mean, like Moby Dick?" Whales 'R Us for a whole generation.
Whales are clever and cuddly, and they sing. They even have names like Willy. Like eating dogs and horses, harpooning whales appalls the anthropomorphically inclined, a point realized by the Japanese who have responded to the recent Australian court ruling against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic by pointing out the relish with which their prosecutors eat kangaroo.
If the Japanese were to get up and say outright, "We actually like whale meat, we think it's yummy and we are going to chomp our way through it regardless of your anthropomorphic delusions," you could almost respect them. But they don't. They waffle on about scientific research while going through whales as if they were white mice in a laboratory.
As a born-again carnivore, when I chomp through a filet mignon, I don't pretend that it is byproduct of tissue sampling for "scientific research" unless gastronomy has moved recently from being an art to a science.
The Norwegians make no such pretense. These cozy Nordic social democrats and suppliers of U.N. peacekeepers, take as many whales as the Japanese and blithely admit that they are doing it for food. Of course, they are European, were on the right side in the last war and hunt in their own waters, so somehow Greenpeace leaves them alone. It may help that they take less than their own declared quota because demand for it is so low, but is cooking whale meat and eating it with knives and forks really any better than nibbling raw slivers on the end of chopsticks?
Japan sends heavily subsidized ships on long voyages to the opposite pole and then tries to flog the flensed carcasses back home to a generally indifferent public. There are freezers full of whale meat because they can't sell all the by-product of their "research" even to captive audiences like school lunch programs.
Added to the hidden subsidies are the untold millions in bribes -- sorry, aid -- that goes to small developing-world countries to join the International Whaling Commission and vote along with the ceticidal Japanese.
At one time, as I remember, it was widely alleged that the steak in British steak and kidney pies of the kind sold in fish and chip shops was in fact whale steak, so I have probably eaten some myself.
But there are differences. Many of the great whales were and still are endangered species, and we have the example of Atlantic cod to show what happens when a species falls below a threshold value. They are also remarkably intelligent and more cogently, there is no humane way to kill a Leviathan. Their dying is long and direful. That is why Tokyo got testy when the new Australian government released its official pictures of the beginning of the bloody trail to Japan's restaurant tables.
But the biggest sin of the Japanese government is hypocrisy. Real scientists use neither harpoons nor chopsticks to do biopsies and autopsies.
I eagerly await the government of Japan's announcement that it is setting up a Sashimi Research Council. Its purpose will be to kill lots of whales to investigate the possibility that whale sushi will combat global warming. After all, sashimi saves enormous amounts of carbon output because it does not involve cooking.
However, it would be every bit as blubbery an excuse as the research the Japanese whaling fleet is allegedly conducting, which is simply pandering to a small but very vocal industry than evokes atavistic national pride to keep the yen rolling in. Of course, Japan is not the only country where small lobbies have disproportionate power regardless of international opinion, but does the government really have to put so much effort into it? Can't they promise the whaling ports a bullet train line to bring whale-watching tourists instead?
Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for AlterNet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, the Nation and Salon. He is also the author of Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776 .