Whale of a Time

In 1855, when the Makahs ceded thousands of acres of land to the USA, they ensured that the right to whaling stayed with them under the Treaty of Neah Bay. Their culture celebrates whaling with rituals and songs. There are festivals that have been entirely dedicated to whaling. Evidently, they are oblivious to the repercussions of their actions on the balance of the environment all over the world. In fact, the International Whaling Convention was drafted in 1946 to curb this evil. Yet even the International Whaling Commission set up under the Convention allows for aborigines who have been whaling since times immemorial to continue doing so, without questioning where this is leading us. Even Japan and Norway, known in other fields for the quantum leaps of progress they have made, refuse to criminalize whaling, taking undue advantage of the flexibility adopted in dealing with whales.


Culture, in strictly sociological terms, is a learned behaviour. But today, it seems that it is being used more as an excuse to exploit wildlife than anything else. It seems outrageous to us now, to think that keratinous materials derived from whales were used in the 18th and 19th centuries to make corsets for women. Yet, the same civilized world claims that there is nothing wrong with relaxing the rules for tribes who mercilessly continue killing whales for oil derived from its blubber. The same blubber, when used for lipsticks, sparks off protests all over the world. But when the preservation of culture is pleaded as a reasonable excuse, we grant our pardon and condone the sin of killing.


What is even more ironical is the fact that when the same argument was used for traditional Chinese medicine, which uses animal parts extensively, we refused to tolerate the cruelty. Evidence of animal bones in the cures offered by the very famous yoga guru, Swami Ramdeva sent chills down our spine. But with barely and celebrity endorsements and controversies to its credit, whaling remains a neglected issue.


Even besides the sheer cold-bloodedness of the whole thing, it is common knowledge that the food chain gets entirely disrupted with every whale that is murdered. For instance, the decline of baleen whale results in an increase in the krill population many times over that will lead to a tremendous population explosion amidst other aquatic species that regard the prokaryotic crustaceans as food. The situation is exacerbated because most species of whales reproduce about once a year or once every few years, leaving no scope for the population to get replenished.


Moreover, it’s not solely about culture, it’s about history, sociology, science and a hundred other related disciplines that are used and abused to provide approval for the crime of whaling. We pat ourselves on the back when more accurate techniques of harpooning are developed. Oppenheimer, the man who led the team that devised the atom bomb confessed that his work had been ‘technologically sweet’. He justified developing the bomb as part of his duty. But the consequences, when they hit us, left us drowning in a silence that spoke more eloquently than any words of refutation ever could. The echoes still remain.


Then again, we cannot absolve ourselves of blame by shifting the burden to technology. Technology is merely the means. Its use or misuse rests entirely upon us.


A threefold plan of action needs to be adopted immediately. First, more awareness needs to be disseminated in this regard. Second, no leeway must be granted to tribes and ancient cultures that assume a right over the exploitation of natural resources. Finally, it must be kept in mind that technology is meant for progress. Regression to barbarism should not fit into our scheme of things.


Like everyone’s favourite childhood hero, Captain Planet, said, “The Power is yours.” The power is ours. We need to learn our lesson before it’s too late. We need to let the Environment heal before it faces its nemesis at our hands, dragging us down with it.

Arushi Garg

[Image source:http://www.flickr.com/photos/tk_five_0/1427773504/]