A couple of times a year I inadvertently see articles about government sanctioned whale slaughters that continue for the sake of culture. First, I admit this is a sore spot for me...the more I’ve learned about whales and dolphins the more apparent it has become that they are highly intelligent creatures with complex societies and even their own cultures, so the image of such animals being hacked to death is much more disturbing than my reaction to the squashing of a bug would be. Next, I also understand that industries are the big problem, much more so than individual fishermen in Mozambique or small tribes of hunters in Alaska. I guess what really bothers me is the use of “culture” as an excuse to continue hunting animals whose numbers are dwindling.
No, check that. Dwindling numbers aren’t even the issue for me. There could be two hundred or twenty million spinner dolphins left in the wild and I’d still have a problem with annually slaughtering them for the sake of culture. My issue is the audacity of the human race to declare that they should be allowed to do something simply because they’ve been doing it for a certain period of time. “It’s very important to my people’s culture to continue this tradition...” To which I say, “Who the %$!!@ are you?” Who am I? Who are any of us? Guess what, my ancestors (and probably yours) had a tradition too, it was called "killing people who inhabited land that they wanted" culture. Times change, we learn and hopefully change as well. Our species is A TINY DOT on the timeline of planet earth. In the grand scheme of things we have barely just arrived (yet we’ve somehow already managed to bring this planet to the verge of ecological disaster) so no culture, not even the oldest of our young cultures, has been around long enough to begin to claim to be important enough that the good of the rest of the planet or the survival of a species should come second to their tradition.
Attempts to ban the trade of shark fin products has been called an attack against Asian cultures. However, if you pay close attention, most of these cries of outrage for the “sake of culture” are lobbyists who’ve been bought by members of the finning industry, an industry that stands to lose a lot of money. Traditionally only royalty was supposed to be able to afford shark fin soup, thus it was a sign of status and became etched in culture. But now several million people are able to eat shark fin soup, thus the traditional significance is gone as is the sustainability of the industry. For the greater good of the planet’s oceans, millions of Asians have stood up against the shark fin industry and said goodbye to an unsustainable tradition while giants of the industry try to use culture as an excuse to keep their pockets lined.
Money again seemed to be the determining factor when Canada chose to allow the slaughter of well over five hundred narwhals in a single setting. While the government was willing to spend money to break up the ice for the sake of seal hunting, it was unwilling to spend money to break ice to save whales. Instead the Inuit people killed 4 times the normal number of allowed animals as the helpless creatures rose one by one through a hole in the ice to breathe...and be shot. Narwhal tusks can bring in as much as $30,000 each, but I don’t suppose that had anything to do with the decision.
Our species has the power to kill pretty much everything we choose to kill, including each other. But killing is the easy part. Our true power, the power that separates us from other animals, is our ability to save life rather than take it...it’s a power we don’t exercise enough and sadly, that decision not to exercise the power of good is all too often made by money.
It is past time to develop a culture of living with the earth rather than simply living on the earth.
Featured image is the property of Britannica Advocacy for Animals
At the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival a year ago I spoke briefly with the Superintendent of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. I wanted to try to understand the motivation for allowing OCEARCH into a marine sanctuary, but was cut off when I referred to white sharks as endangered. I was corrected that white sharks were listed as “threatened”, not “endangered” and the conversation ended there.
Tonight a shark advocate on the east coast tried to explain to me that shark hunting tournaments aren’t bad because they aren’t responsible for massive drops in shark populations.
In Australia it’s open-season on white sharks, via both hunting and shark nets, despite protests from local beach-goers and warnings from scientists explaining that not only will shark nets not solve the problem, but they will destroy the surrounding ecosystem.
In California shark advocates actually complained about the recent movement to officially move the white shark to the endangered species list because it drew too much attention to the white shark instead of focusing on the plight of other shark species being wiped out from the finning industry.
Why are permits being issued to use experimental research methods on a protected species (whether it’s listed as endangered, threatened, vulnerable, or critical) before the methods have been proven to not only be helpful, but NOT TO BE HARMFUL!?
Let’s cut through the crap; bad is bad. Present as many detailed arguments as you want, but at the end of the day, maimed, damaged, stressed, and killed all equal one thing...BAD. Perhaps we need children making the decisions on which permits to grant. We’ll put two pictures in front of them; one is a dead shark labeled “deny permit” and one is a healthy shark labeled “grant permit”. I bet they’ll know which one means good for the shark and which one means bad for the shark.
Debra Canabal of Epic Diving in the WSV hoodie. Get yours!
About the Author
Skyler Thomas is the primary blog contributor, cinematographer, and lead editor at White Shark Video.