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Uproar over a killer whale: another perspective

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The furore that erupted when tourists expressed their disgust with the killing of an orca (killer whale), raises several issues. The fact that it took a few tourists to start this reaction exposes a potential or real tension between our tourism thrust and traditional fishing and agriculture; for certainly, this is not the first time that such killing has taken place. I detect a degree of hypocrisy from those who would cry over the killing of a ‘killer whale’, but be unmoved by the suffering of fellow human beings. Would they respond in the same way to the butchering of a cow or pig? It shows up some shortcomings on the part of our governments; their failure to put before the public in a meaningful way the challenges to our development and way of life by an international community whose powerful members want us to follow their dictates and disregard tradition and our way of living. They call the shots as they respond to their own drums. We are small players; but must we totally surrender?

I come to this topic as one who grew up in Barrouallie at a time when the pilot whale (blackfish) industry was very strong and provided an income for a large segment of the Barrouallie population. Many parents sent their children to school on the proceeds of the industry and it provided food for many. We believed that blackfish oil was comparable to cod liver oil and at one time it was shipped abroad, until environmental voices intervened. Many persons still use the oil to get rid of colds. Small bottles, at least recently, have been sold in supermarkets/shops. The orca is what we called the white fish. It was not caught regularly, but there was much publicity whenever it was.

As schoolboys, we listened to fishermen stories. I was told that the white fish would sometimes attack the blackfish boats when they were bringing home their catch, hence their reason for killing them. The hunting of the blackfish appears to be under no immediate threat, but one doesn’t know. It is said by some that the country can benefit more, financially, from whale watching. Have any studies been done on the economic benefits from the catching of the blackfish and how many persons are dependent on it for their livelihood? If, without an economic study, we accept the view that whale watching is more lucrative to the economy, will those involved in blackfish hunting be asked to switch to whale watching or are we dealing with different sets of people? How do you resolve that tension? Let us not forget, too, that the blackfish has always been a source of food. In fact, there is greater demand today for it as a food than it was when I was a schoolboy.

If there is a threat to blackfish hunting, on what is that based? Is it that the species is being depleted or is it an easy way of attracting tourists? Will alternative jobs be found for those who still find themselves dependent on the industry?

To go beyond the issue of whales, it must be admitted that many aspects of our traditional living conflict with current international thinking on the environment, health, pleasure, and the economy. We are still, for instance, divided about the death penalty. How do we respond? Do we simply throw out the baby with the bath water? Should this not be part of our national conversation? I must confess, however, to having written this while enjoying some crisps/cripps, a regular staple for me (was never sure how it is spelt).

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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