The Japanese have authorized the harvest of whales. This action, along with Japanese use of the cultural-tradition defense, has been attacked by many, including Greenpeace. The problem with these attacks is the total lack of consistency. Inconsistency is noting new for Greenpeace, considering the group’s co-founder resigned because of Greenpeace’s stance against nuclear energy. For example, Greenpeace lists the whaling issues to include: Norwegian, Icelandic, and Japanese whaling. Conspicuously absent from this list of condemnation is the killing of whales by aboriginal people.
Bowhead whale being slaughtered in Barrow, Alaska
Aboriginal whaling is the killing of whales by groups that have a tradition of whaling. These groups are from the following countries (numbers represent the number of whales killed each year): Greenland (170), United States (56), Russia (140), Canadian (130), Caribbean (400), and Indonesia (56). The species killed by these groups include, Gray, Fin, Minke, Humpback, and Bowhead.
If the argument against whaling is the scarcity of whales and the possible loss of species, the identity and cultural background of the hunter is irrelevant. Many of the attacks on whaling focus on the intelligence of the animals and the cruelty of their death. For example a post in the Greenpeace blog Defending Our Oceans, details the harvesting of a whale by the Japanese ship Kyo Maru,
Our eyes and hearts could not believe what we were seeing as the whale repeatedly lunged out of the water a few metres (sic) in front of our inflatable. She was trying to swim away and stay on the surface to breathe but the harpoon and vicious wound in her side was pulling her down. For a moment when she looked straight at us, I saw straight into and through her eyes and could see her mouth gaping open appearing to let out a sound. She looked at us with immense suffering and fear and I knew that she was asking; “Why is this happening? Please help me.”
It took two gunshots to her head from a crewmember onboard the hunter ship before she succumbed. The moment was filmed on camera forever and in our minds for a very long time – and I truly hope that no one ever has to view it. The merciless, violent brutality of this whale hunting is beyond comprehension. For the rest of the day I have been fighting back tears and afraid to sleep as then the silence will bring back the visual reality of this morning’s horror.
By comparison to the killing of whales by the Lamalera (people living on Lembata Island, Indonesia), the methods used by the Japanese are very humane. The Japanese use a harpoon with a grenade that severs major nerves and blood vessels in the whale and causes rapid death, which happens instantaneously or could take up to 2 minutes. By way of comparison, the method used by the Lamelera lasts,
for more than six hours, their hands gripping traditional duri flensing knives, to subdue the whale . . . far cry from the whaling fleets of Japan, whose factory boats and grenade harpoons wreak slaughter on an industrial scale. But with disappearing whale stocks and the availability of more sophisticated harpoon technology, one wonders how long this remarkable tradition will continue.
Remarkable tradition? Six hours of suffering while fishermen kill the whale with their bare hands. If Nicole from Greenpeace is correct, these whales must be saying “Why is this happening, if you are going to kill me just get it over with, don’t stab at me for hours.” It is, however, unlikely that the whales are thinking anything of the sort, nor are they taking much solace in the fact that they are being killed by aboriginal people. Death is death from the whales point of view.
Whaling by indigenous peoples is defended on the grounds of tradition and subsistence. In Barrow, Alaska, 25 whales are harvested each year on the basis that the “whale hunt plays a vital role in the lives of the Inuit, making up over half the meat that they eat.” According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 1,000 white citizens and 46 Black or African American citizens in Barrow, out of a total population of 4,581. What do these people eat? How are they able to survive without whale flesh? Evidently they have found a way.
The morality, and legality, of whaling should not depend of the size of the whaler’s ship or the sophistication of the weapon used. Whaling is either acceptable or not, make the decision and remain consistent.