A sad day

DolphinsI think I would be safe in saying that most of us sea kayakers love the sea and the creatures in it. Nothing is more thrilling than witnessing wildlife up close from your kayak and I have had the privilege of seeing everything from otters to basking sharks to seals to starfish. It is one of the main reasons that I love kayaking. Unlike some lucky folks, I have yet to be accompanied by dolphins whilst out on the water, a dream that I hope to realise in time.

Many humans feel a special affinity with dolphins. This may be in part due to a recognition of, and connection with, their consciousness and levels of intelligence which are not far removed from (and may even exceed) our own. Scientists have recently concluded that dolphins should be considered “non-human persons”. Quoting from the linked article:

“The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.”

“What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large that “the anatomical ratios that assess cognitive capacity place it second only to the human brain”.”

With this in mind, it is with horror that I learn today that the massacre of dolphins that occurs annually in Taiji, Japan (as documented in the film, “The Cove“) is proceeding apace, with 52 bottlenose dolphins and 6 risso dolphins butchered within an hour in the last day. As anyone who is familiar with the film will know, this is an act of utterly depraved barbarism. As dolphin families who have been herded into the cove struggle to stay together against the hatcheting inflicted by their brutal captors, mothers are separated from their babies, and all are mercilessly hacked to death. Some are left on the quayside in the throes of agony, gasping their last breaths.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is one of the few organisations who bear witness to this atrocity and I am grateful to them for keeping the world informed and refusing to allow the Japanese to hide this shameful “tradition”. And on that note, the pitiful argument of upholding tradition is soon refuted by the knowledge that there are many human traditions that have thankfully largely been abandoned (such as slavery) as intolerable and morally corrupt.

We must not forget, of course, what makes this annual capture and butchery especially lucrative is the marine aquariums who select and pay for captive animals who are then taken to the likes of Sea World for a life of confinement in chlorinated tanks, reduced to performing tricks for “captive” audiences of tourists. The proceeds from the actual slaughter pale in comparison. Indeed, it is hard to believe that there is much of an appetite for mercury-laden dolphin meat, and certainly not much outside of Japan.

If, like me, you feel sickened by this butchery, there are a few things you can do:

  • Contact the Japanese ambassador/consulate general for your country, detailed here.
    The Consulate General for Japan in Edinburgh’s details are:
    Consulate General of Japan in Edinburgh
    2 Melville Crescent Edinburgh EH3 7HW
    Tel: +44 (0)131 225 4777
    Fax: +44 (0)131 225 4828
  • Boycott all marine aquariums
  • Contact the press and request that they cover this important news story
  • Support Sea Shepherd
  • Tell everyone you know.

One is not a great one because one defeats or harms other living beings. One is so called because one refrains from defeating or harming other living beings.”
~ The Buddha, Dhammapada

The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.”
– Douglas Adams , The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Whale Warriors

As someone who is known to just about fall out of my kayak in excitement upon the briefest of glimpses of marine wildlife, I was naturally inclined towards reading the book, The Whale Warriors by Peter Heller. Billed as, “The battle at the bottom of the world to save the planet’s largest mammals”, it chronicles the experience of the author (a National Geographic journalist) aboard the anti-whaling vessel, the Farley Mowat, during one of its campaigns in Antarctica. The Farley Mowat belongs to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an organisation known for its direct approach to stopping the slaughter, in violation of international laws and treaties, of hundreds of endangered whales each year. Led by a co-founder of Greenpeace, Paul Watson, the Sea Shepherds have been labelled everything from eco-pirates to eco-terrorists to (scariest of all) “dangerous vegans” by their whale-slaying, dolphin-butchering and seal-clubbing adversaries. Sea Shepherd counter that they do not violate laws and have not injured anyone.

From the back of the book:

“In the face of unrelenting Force 8 gales and 35-foot seas thick with ice floes, Heller’s shipmates risked their lives for what they believe: that the plight of the whales and the overexploitation of the ocean will soon bring about its total collapse – and that life on earth hangs in the balance.”

Stirring stuff. And indeed, the book makes for a rip-roaring read. The fact is that Sea Shepherd is doing the job that should be done by international governments. While we are busying ourselves worrying about MPs’ duck ponds, the world’s fisheries are facing impending collapse within our lifetime. That’s a sobering thought. Plus Japan is doing all it can to circumvent the protection afforded whales by self-allotting their own “lethal research” quota (of 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales in 2009) with a view to “assistingwhale populations. This exploitation of the infamous “research” loophole is transparent baloney of course, and is merely used as an excuse to slaughter whales – by harpooning, electrocuting and then drowning them – for whale meat. So why aren’t the world’s navies taking action against this atrocity? Because it would upset trade relations. It’s that old culprit, short term economic progress (at all costs).

To quote from the book,

Countries around the world pledged to protect the whales and codified that promise in treaties and laws, and yet the protections meant nothing …. In reality, the whales of the Southern Ocean, of all oceans, were as vulnerable as if there had been no treaties at all.”

“The whales could not advocate for themselves. They had no allies on the entire planet who were willing to intervene at all costs, even their own death – except Watson and Sea Shepherd.”

Quoting again from the book, Dr Roger Payne (a whale researcher) states:

“… a society which does not kill the largest, most complex animals around it for the most mundane purposes is likely to have a more luminous future than one for which all animals are but fuel for its meat grinders.”

“Considering … how much we could learn from them about living, … to kill and eat them is not much different from using the works of Shakespeare to light your fire. The sonnets make good kindling and lots of people have probably used them for such, but such people, I suspect, haven’t left much of a mark on history.”

And as if a riveting book wasn’t enough, there’s also a TV series, made for Animal Planet/Discovery and presently airing in the UK (I believe the US has moved on to Series 2 already). If you don’t get Discovery, you can always buy the DVD. It is compelling viewing.

One last quote:

“In the November 2006 issue of Science, a report by an international team of scientists studying a vast amount of data gathered between 1980 and 2003 declared that if current trends of fishing and pollution continue, every fishery in the world’s oceans will collapse by 2048. No more fish sticks. No more snorkeling along reefs with schools of fish. No more fish cat food. No more fish. The oceans as an ecosystem would completely collapse.”

And no more kayaking with the seals, the sea-birds, the dolphins, the whales et al.

It so happens that a film has recently come out tackling this very issue: “The End of the Line”, the first major feature documentary film revealing the impact of overfishing on our oceans.

I’m having a big problem right now accepting the reality that I am part of the last gasp generation that is watching this happen. It’s taking me all my time not to sign up here.