Against the tide
That’s what’s known as an “Unpopular Opinion Puffin” meme. It’s used when admitting to an opinion that generally clashes with the socially acceptable majority view…and that’s what I’m about to do.
As a bilingual, bicultural, bi-bachelor bipede I often find myself shifting from one collective opinion to another as I cross borders. I have two homelands; Norway and Australia. Aside from some ever-so-slight differences in population, history, landscape, climate, vegetation, wildlife, and language they’re actually quite similar countries. Politically, Norway may be slightly more left-leaning and somewhat less capitalistic, but the core values, laws, and principles of both nations mostly match up.
However, as an “Ozwegian” living in Australia, I find myself at odds with everyone else around me when it comes to these:
I absolutely love whales. In fact, here’s my favourite kind of whale:
A well done marine mammal steak drenched in pepper sauce with potatoes, green peas, and fresh tomato. Mmmmmm! Does everyone out there thoroughly hate me now? Ok.
I will admit my bias up front, I do love the taste of whale meat. If you haven’t tried it, then you seriously don’t know what you’re missing. It’s a semi lean steak that tastes like the sea! Except, not in a gross seafood kind of way. My interest in the food is not the entire foundation of my stance of the subject of whaling, but it is the initial cause of my dedication to it.
The Norwegian whaling industry, as of 2006, hunts and kills an average of 1,052 whales a year out of an estimated population of 107,000. In other words, 0.98% of whales in Norwegian waters are harvested for food. The only species of whale that the government permits killing is the Northern Minke Whale, which is specifically not endangered.
Whale meat is a luxury, it’s expensive, and is therefore actually rarely eaten by Norwegians anyways. The animals are shot by a high powered gas-pressure harpoon tipped with an explosive charge which detonates inside or upside the whales skull and maximises the chance of instantaneous death, with unsuccessful “unclean” kills ranging from a thus-far record low 30 seconds to around 3 minutes. All in all, it is as much of a humane practice as any other form of “meat-extraction” currently being practised on land animals in every other nation and it could easily be argued that a whale’s death is usually quicker and less painful that that your average stalked deer. And yet, I find that it’s the norm here in Australia to sympathise with this bullshit…
Let’s get one thing straight, the crew of the Sea Shepard (the cast of Whale Wars) is nothing but a group of terrorists. As someone who usually hates the ambiguous ease with which that term is used and the baseless blacklisting that inevitably follows, I can only apologise…there is simply no better term for it. I won’t even give them the dignity of calling them “eco-terrorists”, because they’re so deluded and fanatical about their cause that they do nothing but soil that prefix. Specifically:
No, that’s not Steve Irwin after faking his own death and living out the rest of his life incognito before stupidly naming a boat after himself and standing next to it. That is Paul Watson. Watson is notorious for destroying whaling vessels and endangering people’s lives in the name of marine environmentalism. He proudly claims to be responsible for sinking ten ships as of 2009 and has attempted to destroy many more. His favourite tactics include planting bombs and filling the front of ships with concrete before ramming other vessels head-on (reminiscent of Captain Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). It’s undeniably dangerous and illegal activity for both his crew and the whaling vessel’s and has resulted in known human injury and millions of dollars worth of damage. He’s been charged with jail time in Norway, a punishment he’s been dodging for years by boating in and out of several waters and hiding illegitimately in various corners of the world. Greenpeace officially expelled him in 1977, calling him a violent extremist who undermines the very cause he stands for.
With respect to the Japanese part of this equation. Yes, if and when Japanese whaling vessels provably enter into Australian waters against the law they should be prosecuted. One hopes Tony Abbott would start attaching a different meaning to “stop the boats”. However, my plea to the Australian people is not to confuse the illegal and often environmentally unfriendly Japanese whaling industry with the Scandinavian one. It’s completely standard “down undah” for the average layman to be “like totally against whaling”, without much knowledge of the subject. I hear people cry about how intelligent whales and porpoises are, so wonderfully social and playful, dear god could any animal be more worth conserving than a cute and graceful marine mammal? How about…
Pigs, Gorillas, and Chimpanzees are the only animal that are considered more intellectually and socially intelligent than whales and porpoises. Chimpanzees and Gorillas are protected. Pigs? Pigs are bacon, and here’s how that happens:
The electric shock that renders the animal unconscious (although I’m not sure how much of a “reflex” all that kicking and twitching really is) is only used in places with a Humane Slaughter Act implemented on the industry. Several countries which export meat and livestock do not have these regulations, and are therefore cheaper alternative trading parters for large corporations. Now, are any westerners going to stand up and fight for the rights of pigs? Mostly the answer is no.
The only real different between slitting the throat of a 50 kg land animal and grenade-harpooning a 10 ton whale submerged in water is that there’s more blood, which gives protesters this kind of emotional ammunition:
“Oh jesus, look at all that red! It must have been painful!”
I want to be very clear. I am not necessarily advocating against environmentalism, I just want consistency. Sanctimonious hypocrisy is very unbecoming, especially in a country that sells Kangaroo sausages in the meat isle of every Coles supermarket. I believe it was Shakespeare who said “check thyself before thou wreck thyself”. Wasn’t it? Oh no, sorry, mixed him up with Ice Cube. Common mistake.
I agree that humanity needs to find a way to ease off the slaughter of animals, but will still have to maintain its meat industry because…let’s face it, people aren’t going to stop eating meat. To that end, almost a year ago now, this thing was unveiled:
That’s a burger grown in a lab. No animal sacrifice, just your average 300 thousand dollar muscle-cell patty prototype. And what was the media reaction presented to the common man?
“Meat made by a scientist? Ew! It’s probably all genetically modified and stuff!” Apparently the first one didn’t taste quite like beef, so fuck that! What else you got?
How about organ cloning? Science and technology has now reached the point where it is possible to clone parts of creatures, as opposed to the whole thing, and keep them alive for necessary transplants and research. So why not clone whole muscles? Create a muscle farm , or ‘meat farm’ if you will. Invest in the growth of the industry, and soon enough the techniques for injecting fats and nutrients into them will be perfected, giving you the same result as a piece of flesh torn from an animal. Anyone?
Ok, well then there’s no helping you. It would be nice if all those belching finger-wagging and poster-bearing anti-whaling protesters would spend some of that time and effort supporting an alternative steak and poultry source but apparently it’s too much bother for them to say something positive. All people seem to want to do is scream, shout, bomb ships, and condemn a foreign culture for not being like them. Basically, be a dick!
So why did I devote so much time talking about this issue? This isn’t a political blog, or at least it’s not supposed to be. It’s meant to be about cinema, right? Well, in fact, it’s all been a prelude to what I’m about to show you.
If you must, by all means watch Whale Wars or The Cove. Know, however, that they’re one-sided manipulation pieces meant to depict ‘The Japanese” as evil in order to justify a call to action on behalf of dolphins and whales. Not once do these propaganda movies and shows attempt to understand why the Japanese utilise their available marine sources in such a manner. Nor do they compare the industry to any western equivalents. Simplistic at best and racist at worst, it all just amounts to showing us gallons of blood, tears, and passion without much truth at its heart.
However, there are good documentaries to be found on this subject. The 2013 docco Blackfish, which I included in my list of films you probably didn’t see last year, is a fantastic expose on the dark underside of Orca Whale captivity at SeaWorld. Following on the heels of that, I recently came across a brilliant low budget online docco named Chasing Giants.
You can watch the whole thing here. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this movie entirely echoes my sentiments, it’s merely a film that I commend for asking the whalers about what they think of their own profession. It explores the history of whaling in Norway, as well as the reasons why it was banned and then resurrected in the 90’s, and is by far one of the most manipulation-free depictions of a globally controversial issue that I’ve ever seen.
In the end, anyone who knows anything about the whaling industry knows that it will most likely be an extinct profession in the not-too-distant future. Not because of people like Paul Watson, but because the general population just doesn’t care about having it on their plate. So be it, as much as I love it I can live without my whale steak. What anti-whalers need to do is, frankly, focus on more important issues. Climate change is by far the biggest threat facing life on this planet, and has relatively no proper solutions being seriously discussed at high political levels in any country. Take your signs, your pirate ships, your Whale Wars, and your Oscar winning documentary talent and do something useful with it for a change!
To end all this, hopefully not on a downer, I’ll leave you with a 5 minute audio file…not something I usually do. Whale Wars and The Cove were brilliantly parodied by Matt Stone and Trey Parker in their 2009 South Park episode “Whale Whores“. Although their frustration with the Whale Wars crew is based more on the setup of the show rather than the exhibited vigilantly behaviour, it still makes for a hilarious commentary by the two of them.
– Rant Over!