Heal Our Planet Earth

Whale Rights Come First

The Vancouver Sun
DATE: Fri 09 Oct 1998
BYLINE Anthony Marr

An environmentalist argues that no one, neither Norwegian nor Makah, has the right to kill any of this intelligent species, whether it be for commercial or ceremonial reasons

I respect aboriginal rights, but I respect even more the right of the whales to live, and live in peace and harmony with humans.

Grey whales annually migrating up and down the North American coast, as well as those that live in our waters, have been living in peace and harmony with humans for more than 70 years.

They've come to enjoy human company and allow us the privilege of touching them. Whales and dolphins have been documented as saving drowning humans.

I have no doubt that whales are not only sentient but intelligent. Even small cetaceans like dolphins have brains larger and more convoluted than our own. They have sophisticated social and behaviour patterns, complex languages and even distinct dialects. The songs of the humpback change from year to year.

The Japanese and Norwegians are strong backers of the Makah's ``right'' to kill whales. They have given at least $10,000 US for the Makah's whaling campaign.

These pirate whaling nations are not acting out of interest in the Makah as a people or respect for aboriginal rights. They are using them as a can opener to restart whaling for ``cultural need.'' Once the Makah succeed in taking their first whale, the Japanese and Norwegians can then claim the right to whale for ``cultural needs'' of their own.

Tom Happynook, a Makah relative and figurehead of the World Council of Whalers, says the Japanese are justified in continuing to kill whales and dolphins for so-called ``scientific'' reasons in the face of a global whaling ban. Maybe he can tell me how much science is involved in consuming a plate of whale sushi.

Perhaps the Makah whalers are not aware that they are being used as pawns in a high-stakes global game, or perhaps they don't care. They claim no commercial interest, but before engaging their current public relations team, they said that each grey whale would bring them in excess of half a million dollars US.

The Makah whalers-to-be also say, ``It's not a hunt, but a gift from the ocean.''

I would accept this if it refers to a group of whales that beached themselves in spite of human efforts to return them to the sea. But for people to go out and kill them by a means more cruel than the explosive-tipped harpoon is sheer pillage and murder.

The proposed ``traditional hunt'' involves the use of a steel-headed harpoon first-- to satisfy the ``ceremonial'' clause within permit parameters -- then a .50-calibre, anti-tank gun to finish the job.

In the Makah Manifesto published in a Seattle newspaper, the whalers assert that death will be instantaneous. But the Russian Chukotka native band, using similar methods and weapons, has been known to fire more than 500 rounds into whales that still take up to two hours to die.
This brings forth the issue of what Canadian authorities would and should do if a wounded whale enters Canadian waters. The policy is to allow hunters to pursue wounded whales to finish them off, which is tantamount to welcoming an assailant to enter your house to finish off a wounded friend who came for protection.

The whalers charge anti-whalers of being racists whose agenda is to put their cultural tradition into a museum. The opposite is true. Living traditions evolve with the times. It is they who are sticking with the treaty of 1855, signed when whales were thought to be fish, and before Charles Darwin's Origin of Species was published.

Although it was as late as the 1950s that orcas were still shot on sight, we have evolved since then. Today, we would be appalled if orcas were fired upon. Why then should grey whale shooting be condoned?

As a Chinese-Canadian, tradition to me is not sacred. It often stands in the way of human intellectual and spiritual evolution. As the campaign director of the BET'R campaign, the first thing I did was to challenge the Chinese tradition of using bear gall bladders and tiger bone for medicine.

I urge everyone to examine their traditions and shed those elements that are no longer consistent with today's environmental and humane principles. I ask those within the aboriginal communities to follow the lead of the Makah's Alberta Thompson and voluntarily forego the whale-killing as a treaty right.

Finally, I must make one thing clear. I am against killing whales, period. Even one whale killed is one too many, for any reason, by anyone, be they Japanese, Norwegian, Russian, or Makah.

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