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Whaling and whale watching can co-exist

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Fri, Jul 27. 2012

The debate about whaling has resurfaced after the recent International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama City.

And once again, whalers in Bequia are being pressured to abandon a tradition that they adopted since 1876, and which has become an integral part of the culture of Bequia.{{more}}

The case is nicely wrapped in the suggestion that they can switch from whale hunting to whale watching. But unlike lobbies in the past, the National Trust has joined the chorus of voices calling for Vincentians on Bequia to stop hunting whales.

The whalers are pushing back, and rightly so. In making their case, they have noted that they have been whaling, using traditional methods, for almost 150 years.

This must count for something, especially since one whaler went as far as to liken the tradition to mainland Vincentians’ value of Carnival.

The meat of the whales they harvest, the whalers have pointed out, is hardly enough to meet demand on Bequia, much more on mainland St. Vincent, the rest of the Grenadines, and our non-Vincentian neighbours. Further, money made can barely recover lost income, when they abandon their regular occupations to chase the elusive marine cetaceans. The meat, whalers say, is distributed so thinly, that persons can hardly get enough to extract the oil, used in some traditional medicines.

But most importantly, they have noted that they whale in accordance with the dictates of the IWC, which permits them to kill up to four whales every season — a quota they hardly ever exhaust, far less surpass — and the laws of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

Without a doubt, persons calling for conservation have a point. However, the one, two, three, or maximum of four whales that fisher folk on Bequia might kill in any one year, can hardly be expected to create an impression, far more a dent in the global population of whales.

After all, these whalers, with their wooden, sail-powered boats, hand propelled harpoons and lances, are unlike Japan that has floating factories that kill, process, and package whales, using state-of-the-art equipment and technologies, all under the guise of “scientific research”, with some activists claiming that much of the meat ends up in dog food and in kids’ lunch boxes at Japanese schools.

One local businessperson has been conducting a whale-watching operation for 25 years. This suggests that the undertaking is profitable for him.

But Bequia whalers say that they are better off killing rather than watching whales. They have made the point that had whale watching been feasible and economical, they would have begun doing so decades ago.

But the situation also suggests that both whale watching and whale catching can continue to co-exist in the waters of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Further, some persons in Bequia also think that it is only a matter of time before whaling dies a natural death there. They have, however, warned that local opposition to whaling could result in revived enthusiasm for the practice. The anti-whaling lobbyists must be careful about what they wish for. Further, all Vincentians must also be wary of the imposition of foreign sentiments against those things that make us uniquely Vincentian.

Success in halting whaling in Bequia might encourage opposition to the killing of the “Black Fish”, also a whale – the pilot whale – in Barrouallie. Then what would be next? Nine Mornings? Carnival?

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