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The Whaling Issue

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I MUST admit to bias and some sentimentality when the issue of whaling comes up. Some people do not realise that the blackfish is also a whale – “pilot whale”.

The recent attacks on the hunting of the humpback whale in Bequia applies to the blackfish in Barrouallie where the suggestion is that they go into whale watching. I say sentimental because it is to an extent very cultural.

I remember the singing from the blackfish boats when they made a catch, but also many families being able to send their children to school through their involvement in the industry. Additionally, the meat, salted and dried and sold in bundles provided a source of animal protein to poor labourers throughout the country. The pilot whale comes, with some objection, under aboriginal whaling and does not fall under IWC ruling, but like dolphins seen as intelligent and entertaining, to be better used they think in recreation parks to provide amusement to patrons.

Bequia has a long tradition of whaling, having started in the 19th century. Males from Bequia found employment on American whaling vessels searching for humpbacks, sperm and pilot whales and learnt the trade from them. One of those persons was William T Wallace who was said to have started whaling sometime in the late 1870s and set up a small station around Friendship Bay. Joseph Ollivierre followed with a whaling station at Petit Nevis and others fell into line and became involved, even spreading it to some of the other Grenadine islands, including Palm Island and Canouan.

In the 1880s it led to Whaling regulations. One of the clauses reflected what was happening; “If more whales than one are seen separate, each company’s boats must chase different whales and must not interfere with each other’s whales”. Some of the meat was sold in Kingstown and one visitor in 1911 even remarked on how fond the ‘negroes’ were of whale meat.

Now what is the problem with the hunting of whales? At first there was talk of the species becoming endangered and this applied largely to large commercial whaling in places like Japan and to some extent Norway and even Iceland. The International Whaling Commission (IWC), once established, sought to prevent uncontrolled commercial whaling.

The close division between nations favouring whale hunting and those against has prevented the IWC from imposing a total ban on commercial whaling.

But what is the case with Bequia? They are allowed to catch four humpback whales per year using traditional methods with the harpoon. I believe that they have not been able to reach that amount in some years. So, what is the problem? The animal rights groups sees its hunting as cruel, as “unimaginable cruelty”. They consider it unnecessary and even economically insignificant.

Economically insignificant for whom? Why is it when poor, developing countries attempt to use their resources and skills to feed and provide employment for their people some in the so-called developed world always find the occasion to sabotage what we are doing? Is it to make us more dependent on them? Have they been expressing equal concerns about the slaughtering of other animals? About poaching and killing animals in the African jungle?

Is whale watching going to bring the benefits that the killing of whale brought? The catching of the whale in Bequia is a ‘cultural occasion’ that brings the people together. At one time when whales were caught, people from Bequia regardless of where they found themselves, eventually got to Bequia. How often are whales caught so that tourists could be repulsed by their killing? Maybe we should not deprive them of the pleasure of watching the whales and taking pictures, then putting them on Facebook and making us absolutely delighted!

● Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian

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