The Rhetoric of Whaling and Hunting:
Sustainable (Ab)use?

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The Rhetoric of Whaling and Hunting:
Sustainable (Ab)use?

By Mike Jaynes
August 2010

It is time the whaling and hunting world takes a close look at the theory of Sustainable Use as a defense for consumptive activities. This theory posits responsible hunting is the best hope for saving animals such as the elephant, the whale, the deer and others. The idea is that if an economic demand exists for certain animal products, then said economic demand will, in fact, protect these animals. By ascribing economic value to these animals, their existence will be guaranteed by breeding programs and so on because they will then economic have value to humans and thus be worth preserving. I maintain this is not as logical as it may seem. It is the rhetoric of the Sustainable Use supporters that can be troubling. Using scientific and unemotional verbiage in order to cover up the truth of the matter is not effective. The truth behind hunting and whaling is that it kills animals, animals who were most likely not threatening humanity. No successfully convincing phrase coinage can mask the truth that peaceful woodland and plains dwelling animals are brought down by bullets and arrows. This article examines some facts behind deer and elephant hunting techniques and also touches on the whaling industry that is sadly gaining momentum in certain parts of the world regardless of the 1985 global ban on whaling. I maintain animals should be intrinsically valued for what they are, not for what financial gains they may provide humanity.

On Earth Day 2008, I appeared on a very popular talk radio program in Chattanooga Tennessee to be interviewed about and to discuss mass confinement factory farming. The host of the show is a meat eater and a hunter, and he is possessed of a very intelligent and open mind and was open to having me on the show, and for that I congratulate and give praise to Jeff Styles of WGOW 102.3 FM in Chattanooga. After discussing the particular horrors pigs and chickens undergo in some mass confinement factory farming situations, he opened the lines to callers. To a friend's surprise but not mine, not a single caller wanted to discuss the topic at hand. The calls all referenced the guest who preceded me who discussed mineral property rights. Plenty of callers had impassioned commentary regarding the fact that as landowners they may or may not own the rights to the minerals underneath a certain depth on their property. Everyone was up in arms about this, but no one –as often happens- wants to examine their eating habits and meat consumption habits and talk about the 10 billion plus land animals that are slaughtered each year for taste buds and fashion trends, not to mention the billions of fish and marine life. It makes people uncomfortable, and I understand that.

Portions of the remainder of this essay draw on Matthew Scully's book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Consider the elephant, whose global numbers are at about five to ten percent of what they were a century ago. These are intelligent and highly social creatures most of us only know from circuses and zoos in which they are kept in habitats unsuited for their well-being. Scully discusses how the ivory trade has greatly reduced African elephants that are still poached by ivory hunters armed with helicopters, automatic weapons, satellite communication, and spotter planes. Some argue that the ban of ivory in many nations only hurts the elephant herds. Sustainable Use argues that if hunters are permitted to kill elephants for their ivory then there will be increased demand in saving them. Therefore, the utilitarian total welfare of elephants will benefit. Question: why can elephants not be valued intrinsically for what they are? These creatures that have lumbered the Earth for millions of years deserve our compassion and respect. We simply do we have the right to kill them, take from them their ivory tusks, and carve the harvested ivory into jewelry to adorn the necks of the wealthy and the upwardly mobile. I understand this comes from a western perspective, but the point is valid.

Scully tells the reader that there are arguments for a resumption of a legalized ivory trade. He cites the April 2000 issue of New Scientist as saying elephants must "earn their keep if they are to compete for land... forget trade bans, just make the animals pay their own way" (Scully 123). To insist elephants, a naturally occurring intelligent species that has been in Africa and Asia for millions of years, must "pay their way" is upsetting, and controlling this pathos is often difficult. Consider that in India and Sri Lanka, scientists have noticed a marked increase in the amount of elephants born tusk less. Some elephants, a very small percentage, have always been born without tusks due to genetic aberrations. However, the tusk less calves are drastically increased and Scully suggests perhaps it is "as if evolution itself were trying to spare these creatures from human avarice, that gene is spreading because the tusk less ones are often the only ones left to breed" (123). Why must evolution spare these creatures from our unchecked avarice? Why can't we? And furthermore, imagine a world in which human greed has actually affected the evolutionary process of elephants. That world is here. Tusks evolved genetically for a specific reason: protection. The bigger the tusks were, the more able the elephant was to fight off rival males and to defend from other animals. Now, humans being the apex predators on the planet, tusks are not developing for the same reason: protection against their most resilient predator: us.

To get to the issue at hand, I would like to focus in on the whaling and marine harvesting industry, as this is where some of the most convenient euphemisms have their geneses. First, if discussing whales seems anachronistic due to the 1985 global whaling ban, realize that it isn't. We have not successfully saved the whales as of 2008. Several countries have continued to whale due to the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) global ban on whaling. On the high seas, there exists no formal method to police the waters and to enforce this whaling ban. Small groups such as Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd attempt to enforce the ban and do keep whalers from getting their yearly quotas on a regular basis, but they are presently too small to save them all. Japan and Norway are among the most vocal in getting the ban lifted claiming that after years of decreased whaling, the populations have most likely returned to appropriate levels. And we see Sustainable Use saying that if these whales had some economic value, they could be better preserved. Again, valuing whales for what they are is sentimental and overtly romantic, one is told. Give me a break, people say, haven't we heard enough cries of "Save the Whales"? That's so "eighties." Not really; it's so "right now." The new buzzword for Sustainable Use applied to marine ecosystems is "Wise Use" and its supporters are increasing in numbers all the time. Sperm, Blue, Fin, Minke whales and others will only be spared, it seems, if they can have some economic value. Also in Asia, bears have been killed for their gall bladders and dolphins have been killed for their penises. Along with rhino horn, these things are ground up into powders and sold to erectile dysfunctional men as aphrodisiacs and sex enhancers. These don't work and some have said that the coming of Viagra may actually save these animals from this "medicinal" usage. As others have said, what does that say of us? Imagine that it may require a suitably effective erectile dysfunction drug to save dolphins, rhinos, and bears.

In Scully's chapter called "Riches of the Sea," he outlines some of these euphemisms. He says around the whaling community, one is not likely to hear the word "kill." Instead you hear the preferred terms of *non-natural mortality, anthropogenic mortality, biological removal, human-induced mortality*, *termination, *and *lethal sustainable use.* This sure seems to insult our intelligence while concealing the truth behind the bloody acts most people can't bear to witness on the films that have been shot undercover from nearby protest ships. Pro-whalers like to speak of whales as *living marine resources*.

One must utilize these scientific and detached terms "lest the speaker be accused of emotionalism or, worse, 'anthropomorphism'" (Scully 150). It is obvious what it says of a practice when the actual verbs that describe its daily activities have to be convoluted into such verbiage and sophistry. Even whale watching has a scientific term: *non-consumptive utilization*.

And accidental whale killing? That's called "unintended stock depletion," as if whales are bottles of pickles on a grocer's shelf that were accidentally knocked off and broken by a greedy kid who has never been told "no" by his mother. Such terminology is disrespectful to the wise and intelligent whales and to the rest of us.

It insults our intelligence when any corporate entity conceals brutalities behind big words, and if that is going on, it is a problem. But don't take my word for it; conduct your own research and find out for yourself. And you should do precisely that. After all, I've been accused of being a rabid sentimentalist. I hate it when things die that don't have to die. I simply hope people will examine the facts behind the hunting and whaling industries and not believe animals are only worthwhile to us if they are profitable. Hunters and non-hunters can, and should, respect each other. But I maintain that animals do not have to pay their way. At least consider alternatives to Sustainable Use.


Mike Jaynes is an American writer living in the Southeast. He has published on various animal ethics issues including elephant captivity and issues facing sharks.