Give Whalers A Chance


Whales and humans. These two most wise of mammals have always shared a deep bond that has been expressed myriad times in human culture, from the biblical tale of Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale and yet survived to warn the city of Nineveh of God’s upcoming mood swing; to the novel Moby Dick, where one sea captain’s obsession with a mighty whale leads to widespread boredom; to the movie Whale Rider, where whales grant a young Maori girl the inner strength to get pregnant and score a small role in Star Wars.

No doubt whale culture features similar stories: humpback songs probably contain lots of lyrics about legendary whales going on magical journeys with their faithful pet humans, having adventures and defeating evil squids. We and the whales have a rich common history that has been incredibly fulfilling and productive, far more so than, for example, humans’ past relationship with parrots, or humans’ past relationship with black people.

And so it is understandable that some people feel uncomfortable that part of our shared history with whales does involve, to put it delicately, firing massive spiked bolts of sharpened steel from a high-powered cannon into their bodies, whereupon they explode, thus allowing the harvesting of their shattered carcasses from the bloodstained sea for human consumption. Some people find this somewhat distasteful and yet it’s important not to get hysterical about it when thinking through the issues involved.

These issues have, of course, raised their wet blubbery heads again of late as the annual Japanese whale hunt has once again been disrupted by the daring raiders of Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd, an organisation that was founded with the twin aims of committing itself to conservation and harmony with the natural world and of crashing ships into other ships.

The matter has escalated to a particularly fiery level after the Sea Shepherd vessel Ady Gil was involved in a collision with a Japanese whaling vessel, resulting in the destruction of the Ady Gil and howls of protest from anti-whaling activists everywhere, who could not believe the Japanese would resort to such despicable violent tactics against Sea Shepherd, an organisation that would never resort to such atrocious behaviour. As numerous tabloid letter-writers/public intellectuals have remarked, it just goes to show that the Japanese simply never change: one minute they’re brutally torturing Australian prisoners of war; and a mere 65 years later, here they are again, hunting whales in that modern-day Changi known as the Southern Ocean. So predictable. Plus ça change …

But then, what can we in Australia do about it? The Government has been extremely active on this front, mounting a two-pronged attack on Japanese whaling consisting of:

1) asking the Japanese to stop;
2) asking other countries to ask the Japanese to stop.

In this way Peter Garrett, Australia’s intrepid Minister for Things That Penny Wong Can’t Be Bothered With, has ensured that we have really "kept the heat on" Japan.

Mind you, Tony Abbott, emboldened by his success in demonstrating that not every woman is terrified of him, has stepped up to the plate by pointing out the holes in the Rudd Government’s whaling policy. Why hasn’t Rudd taken Japan to the International Court of Justice as he promised he would do when in Opposition, Abbott asks, not unreasonably. After all, he did promise, and what kind of Prime Minister is it who breaks a promise, not only to his own people, but to large aquatic mammals?

Say what you like about John Howard, he never promised to make a futile gesture towards Japanese whaling and then reneged. A true man of his word, Howard’s total lack of action on the issue was born of native integrity just as much as Rudd’s total lack of action on the issue is born of shiftiness and union-loving. All in all, it could almost make you ashamed to be Australian, the way successive Australian governments have baulked at making the necessary sacrifices to finally force Japan to chuckle quietly to itself and ignore us completely.

So, having established that through a combination of spineless cowardice and recognition of reality governmental action on Japanese whaling is unlikely, perhaps we should instead try to understand whaling, so that we can learn to love it and to stop listening to whiny hippies.

Why do the Japanese hunt whales? Well, firstly, of course, for scientific reasons. Whale-hunting has, over the years, provided Japanese scientists with a wealth of valuable research that has enhanced our knowledge immeasurably — to get a taste of this body of work, look up the notable peer-reviewed papers "On The Tendency Of Whales To Become Slightly Rubbery When Left Too Long On The Hotplate" and "A Statistical Survey Of Deviations From The Mean In The Application Of Wasabi To Minke Fins".

Some people, of course, claim that the "scientific" line is a laughably transparent attempt to disguise wanton slaughter, but let’s be honest: if there’s a major scientific breakthrough in history that has been achieved without killing and dismembering thousands of wild animals, I have yet to read about it. Louis Pasteur, for instance, only made headway in his search for effective methods of disease prevention after slaughtering close to 10 thousand bears and of course there was Howard Florey’s legendary "giraffe-cellar".

So the scientific aspect is profoundly important but there’s also the cultural aspect. Killing and eating whales is a vital part of Japanese culture, at least as important as Sumo wrestling and being indistinguishable from the Chinese to white people. If we take away their whalemeat, it robs them of a vital part of their national identity.

Look it at this way. Think of the Boxing Day Test Match. Think of how important it is to us all. Now imagine if another country told us we couldn’t have the Boxing Day Test Match. Imagine if another country told us the Boxing Day Test Match was cruel and inhumane and against international law. Imagine if scruffy protesters sailed trimarans into the MCG to prevent us carrying out the Boxing Day Test and we were forced to abandon the Boxing Day Test without filling our predetermined kill quota. Wouldn’t that be awful? Wouldn’t you be affronted? Wouldn’t you rail against the temerity of these culturally insensitive cads? Well now you know how the Japanese feel. We have violated their own bloody, blubber-oozing Boxing Day Test. Shame.

However, possibly the most important aspect of whaling is this: whale is delicious.

Really! I have this on good authority from a genuine Norwegian (the Japanese of the North), who says whalemeat is, and I quote, "Like if cows mated with pavlova".

Now, I know that we don’t like to see unnecessary cruelty to animals, but surely tasty animals demand a certain amount of wiggle-room. I mean, we imprison baby cows in horrific conditions and then brutally kill them for their delicious flesh; something we don’t do to non-delicious babies, like for example baby lemurs or baby carrots. There is a combination of factors that go to determining whether it is appropriate to abuse our animal brothers which include:

1) the level of intelligence of said animal brother;
2) the level of cruelty to be inflicted, and

3) flavour.

So we can see that while it may be a little bit cruel to spear whales and hack them up with big shiny knives, it would also be cruel to deny the world’s people their juicy more-ish flanks. Does Australia really want to be known as the country that hates yumminess?

Besides which, whales aren’t even that nice! To quote Wikipedia, "Whales are known to teach and learn, as well as cooperate, scheme, and even seem to grieve."

Scheme! Whales scheme! Maybe now you’ll have less sympathy for the dead whales, fat scheming bastards. Also, consider the killer whale: literally a whale that is a killer. Think about that. If we heard the word "killer" applied to other nouns, like "dog" or "influenza" or "paedophile", we wouldn’t object to the Japanese coming down here and killing them. Hell, I will gladly start a collection TODAY to hire some Japanese people to come and kill some dogs and paedophiles. But for some reason, we give whales a pass. Why? Political correctness? Blowhole fetishes? All of the above, methinks.

So I guess what this article comes down to is a plea for understanding. We may differ on the ethics of whaling, or the advisability of sailing in front of gigantic ships, or the best way to serve Southern Right pâté-burgers, but we’re really all more alike than we realise, and if we’d only walk a mile in each other’s shoes — if we Australians would kill a few whales, if the Japanese would spend a few days whining about whale-killers — we could finally put an end to acrimony and finger-pointing and live in a world where harmony rules, whales are pushed into the background and everyone focusses their attention on the really important issue: how to shut the bloody Indians up.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.