Monday, April 24, 2006

Sing Bravo Bravo!

The road to Napier is paved with good intentions.

So I said to myself, as I veered haphazardly along State Highway Two—a misnomer if there ever was one. I passed a couple of optimistic traffic police on the side of a highway that had no stretches long enough to achieve the speed limit, and made my way into earthquake country.

There is not a lot to say about Napier as a town. The best view can be had from Bluff Hill, looking out to the sea, and away from the semi-urban centre. The Napier folk celebrate the fact that they have one of the largest collections of art deco architecture in the world. There’s a good reason for this. Art deco is fucking ugly. No other city in the world has seen fit to replicate it. Where it has existed, sensible town planners have permitted wide scale demolition. The fact Napier has art deco architecture at all is a historical accident. After the 1931 quake, the authorities simply took a fad that was already running out of time, and applied it on a wider scale to citizens who were still too shell-shocked to realise what was happening to them. If the upheaval had taken place in 1985, the entire town would resemble a set from That 70’s Show.

I blame Susan Wood for my journey. Last week she did an interview with some random dolphin-trainer from Napier’s Marineland, who was at pains to explain how grief-stricken everybody was about the death of one of Marineland’s last two remaining dolphins, despite the creature living to twice its natural age. According to the trainer, even the seals were sad. "I’ve worked here since leaving school," she says. "This is all I know how to do."

I don’t like cat-people on a good day. This chick was the ultimate cat-person. Cat-people do not have lives of any consequence. They fuss and preen over stupid animals that are far removed from their single useful purpose: to catch mice. This trainer had just applied her catness to small marine mammals. She’d set her whole life around the care of two ageing dolphins, in a country that no longer allows the incarceration of new dolphins. So a visit to Marineland had to be funny.
Kelly is the one remaining dolphin at the unnatural age of 36. It refused to spin when instructed, played dead when it was supposed to jump, showed its tail when it was told to bare its teeth, and generally seemed to be incapable of carrying out even the dumbest tricks. Even its species type—the common dolphin—seemed lame. Kelly should have been bottle-nosed. It should have been able to pop the top off my beer with its nose. Then people would flock to Marineland, and even Chris Carter would pay money to allow them to keep more dolphins in captivity.

I don’t object to dolphins being held in a confined space. And to be fair, Marineland has some pretty confined spaces. The seal enclosures—which contains some albino-like North American species of seal—are smaller than some hotel baths I’ve lounged in. If it’s good enough for a german shepherd to be kept as a pet, why not a fur seal, which is basically a dog with flippers? And if seals can be held, why not dolphins? And if dolphins are allowed, why not whales?

Which gets me to whales. I don’t understand why whales are amazing creatures.

They are not great just because somebody wrote a book about one of them, and called the book Moby Dick. More books have been written about Al Gore than have been written about whales named Moby Dick. That alone does not make whales great.

Nor are they great because they are more intelligent than other species. I once had a dog that barked on command. I have not seen a whale that can bark on demand. Dogs have a profound sense of smell. Whales don’t. Dogs can fetch on land and in water. Do I need to go on with this analogy?

Whales have an international commission established—the International Whaling Commission, no less, to manage whale stocks for hunting purposes. Sure, a bunch of greenie weirdoes from New Zealand and other countries have jumped up and down and hijacked the purpose of the commission to attempt to ban whaling altogether—no wonder, really, that countries like Norway and Japan go out on their own.

Whales are not universally endangered as a species. Pilot whales are in abundance. There’s about a million of them floating about, doing their whaley thing. Some of them beach themselves and give rise to great works of literature, such as Whale Rider. Where would Witi Ihimaera be without whale beachings? But I digress. The Japanese could comfortably hunt and chomp through 30,000 pilot whales a year without negatively affecting pilot whale populations. The Norwegians could eat the steaks of 1200 humpbacks a year without depleting existing stock. There’s even ample numbers of Blue Whales—over 10,000, to allow the IWC to start breeding and farming them.

Because, as we know, no species of animal that has ever been commercially farmed, has ever become extinct.

Yes, many species of whales are very big. Many of them are also no larger than dolphins. The dwarf sperm whale, for example, is smaller than a bottle-nose. The big whales are really just the fat chicks of the oceans. They're fun to harrass and lam/harpoon, but unless they're on the menu, what use are they?

So by supporting the moratorium on whaling, what we are really doing is giving in to the morbidly obese people of the world, who want to justify their over-indulgence on the greatness of the whale species. It’s a sham, and I’ve seen through it.

There is only one solution to protecting whales from extinction, and saving the heart-land of the Hawke’s Bay. Napier would be a far more interesting town, and Marineland a far more visited attraction, if they farmed whales in their pools.

5 comments:

david@tokyo said...

Some points:

1) Studies have actually been unable to provide any scientific basis to claims of great whale intelligence. Pigs have been demonstrated to be more intelligent. Ever heard of pork bacon? Well they have whale bacon in Japan. Not that intelligence would be reason to protect any animal from hunting anyway. The opposite side of the coin says that it's ok to eat stupid animals. Thats pretty indefensible, at least from my point of view.

2) Japan and Norway are acting completely within the rules of the ICRW convention (see my recent comments at http://whaling-faq.blogspot.com), although you are right in recognising frustration in those countries at the hijacking of the IWC by the anti-whalers.

3) It is correct that the various whale species of the world have differing conservation statuses. "Whales are endangered" is only true if you are talking about certain species such as the Blue whale, the Bowhead whale, etc (none of which the Japanese or Norwegians hunt - Alaskans do hunt the Bowhead in a sustainable fashion however, under IWC approval). However, the Pilot whale is not considered to be under the IWC's competence by nations such as Japan. Only 13 of the largest most migratory species of whale were explicitly noted in a document attached to the original convention.

4) Judgements about how many whales humans could chomp through without negatively impacting individual whale stocks should be left to the IWC's Scientific Committee, not internet bloggers :) I don't know where you got your numbers.

5) Farming works well for animals such as cows that are land based. For migratory great whales species it would be silly :) The animals are best left to roam the oceans freely. Commercially farmed animals may not have been driven to extinction, but it does not hold true that animals MUST be commercially farmed to be conserved. 20 years of Japanese lethal scientific research, and a decade of Norwegian commercial whaling continues to prove this.

Insolent Prick said...

David,

Good points. I suppose my general point is that opposition to whaling has little to do with whale conservation. I have never read anything in the New Zealand media about just how endangered certain whale species are. The general impression in New Zealand media is that the hunting of any whale species, in any number, will lead to whales as a whole drifting closer to extinctinction. That impression is overwhelming wrong.

That view is fundamentally dishonest. The reality is that only a small number of whale species are on the brink of extinction. Conservation should be about conservation to avoid extinction. It should not be used as a stalking horse for a philosophical view that whales are somehow sacred for sanctity purposes alone.

Anonymous said...

In general I agre with your points 100%
But I would point out that the ancestors of domestic cattle are extinct but then so are a lot of other specis 'cause that is the name of the game
Ray

david@tokyo said...

IP,

Yes, I totally agree with the general gist of what you were saying, I was just getting picky ;)

People are very critical of Japan for what they believe is "commercial whaling in disguise" (although the JP govt has subsidised the research every year since it's inception - it runs at a financial loss as do many R&D projects), but fail to be critical of the NZ government argument against whaling.

There is no doubt that the real reasons that most people oppose whaling are
a) they believe that they are endangered
b) they simply think that whales are really lovely creatures that just shouldn't be killed.

The NZ government tries to dress up this opposition in scientific arguments, but it's very very hard to come up with a convincing scientific argument that says no level of whaling could ever be sustainable, thus justifying a ban for all time.

The NZ government should:
1) Drop the silly pretense that it believes a permanent whaling ban for all eternity is required for scientific reasons. Just simply come out and state that we oppose whaling, just because it's our culture in NZ. Nothing wrong with that.
2) Withdraw from the ICRW. NZ's position is diametrically opposed to so many clauses of this convention that it's embarassing that we remain party to it.
2a) Accept that whaling is going to happen regardless of our feelings, and at least contribute rationally to scientific debate at the IWC to ensure that the best management decisions are made (i.e., behave in good faith with regard to the content of the ICRW).

I'd personally prefer NZ took option 2a, but 2 would be better than nothing.

david@tokyo said...

Oh, and I admire your view of the word "conservation".
Indeed in NZ the general public and Minister of Conservation Chris Carter tend to use "conservation" to mean "protection".

The concepts are fundamentally different.

"conservation" implies that there is some degree of utilization, but that the degree is limited such that the utilized resource will continue to exist into the future.

"protection" is only useful as a conservation implement when a certain species is endangered. There is little "conservation" value in protecting species that are not endangered, and on the contrary, giving blanket protection to one species in the eco-system may over time lead to imbalances where the individually protected species threatens the survival of it's prey species.

Unfortunately, this view of "conservation" is regarded as "hard-right" in some circles, presumably because it advocates use, which in turn can generate economic benefits (which can be funneled back into conservation efforts, it should be added).

If you are interested in an NGO that DOES hold such a view of "conservation", check out http://www.iwmc.org, which was founded by a former head of CITES, Eugene Lapointe. He cops a lot of criticism from the "protection" brigade, and their character assasination campaign against him in the early 90's saw him lose his position at CITES. A UN Tribunal later declared his dismissal as "arbitrary and capricious". His crime was supporting the sustainable use of elephants in parts of Africa where elephant populations are abundant.