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.