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article imageOp-Ed: Norway sets 2012 whaling quota at 1,286 minke whales

By Elizabeth Batt     Feb 17, 2012 in Environment
Oslo - When it comes to whaling, Japan grabs the news more than any other nation, but Norway has its own love affair with whaling.
The Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs announced today that it has established its whaling quota for the 2012 season at 1,286 minke whales.
Although equal to last year's quota, Norway garnered less than half of their quota amount in the 2011 season, 533 minke whales. Similar to Japan, Norway has also been criticized for its whaling practices and maintains it is a traditional and cultural affair, that outsiders have no say in.
In fact, back in 2005, Halvard P. Johansen, the Deputy Director General of the Department of Marine Resources and Environment, gave a speech at the 2nd Symposium on Whaling and History at Sandefjord, and presented his case for continuing the whale hunt.
Johansen described the arguments against whaling, "as a form of cultural imperialism, sometimes racism, and also as contempt for other human beings." The Deputy Director General also alluded to the hypocritical nature of several nations, who he said, accepts "some versions of whaling [...] regardless of the general opposition to whaling by aboriginal hunt in several countries, including the US."
Johansen then went on to describe how Norway's "traditional small type coastal whaling could easily be regarded as aboriginal, considering the several centuries, or millennia, they have been living along the coast of Norway and hunting whales." And thus, Norway should be afforded the same courtesy as aboriginal people.
In short, the deputy director said, "western civilization is fundamentally influenced by Walt Disney’s way of portraying animals as better than humans."
Damn you Walt Disney, you have a lot to answer for.
Having been thoroughly berated by the general as imperialistic and racist simply because I find the manner in which whales are killed as barbaric, I'm personally offended by the Deputy Director's words. I'm also astounded that because I take issue with Norwegian whaling, I abhor Norwegians. Norway is a beautiful country and its people are welcoming and friendly.
Logically, Mr. Johansen's points deserve countering of course. And I will get to that. But in wrestling with the imperialistic and racial slur, I am compelled to issue one response. In the words of Walt Disney's most infamous (and very real) pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow: "Come to negotiate, eh? Have you, you slimy git? Look what I got."
Okay, now that's out of the way, let's move on, beginning with an apology to Mr. Johansen, issued tentatively but no less sincerely.
Like Japan, Norway's history with whaling is a complex one, which extends back some 1,000 years. Unlike Japan who hunt whales under the guise of "scientific research" and within guidelines set forth by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Norway and Iceland, are the only countries still conducting commercial whaling in direct defiance of the 1986 IWC's international moratorium.
Johansen's speech and his comparison of Norway's whaling to aboriginal whaling is hocus pocus and similar to comparing Mary Poppins to the Little Mermaid. (One uses a tail for transport, the other an umbrella). In the United States, whaling is carried out by nine different indigenous Alaskan communities and takes around 50 bowhead whales a year under the IWC's Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) program.
Burton "Atqaan" Rexford, is the Chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) and a whaling captain. He describes whaling as a sacred tradition that reveres the whale:
"The bowhead is our brother. Our elders tell us that the whales present themselves to us so that we may continue to live. If we dishonor our brother or disturb his home, he will not come to us anymore."
Now I don't like the killing of any whales, period, but it is particularly distasteful when it occurs for commercial purposes. As we've seen in Taiji, Japan, the capture of dolphins for the marine mammal entertainment industry is a primary driving factor for the continuance of the hunts. Whenever money is involved, dynamics change considerably.
In direct opposition to Rexford's view of whaling, Mr. Johansen views the killing of animals for food as "indispensable and necessary prerequisites for man to be man." (Tarzan anyone?). Furthermore he added, the idea of equality between man and animals:
"Is not consistent. Man is not just another animal species. As our ability to make moral choices and build societies are the main differences between us and the animals."
Let's just say here, that it doesn't take an absent-minded professor to appreciate the differences between culture and commercialism.
But let's return to the "moral choices" and building of societies that according to Johansen, make us far superior to the whale. The issue of morality in whaling was never more apparent than in 2010, when the London Sunday Times reported on Japan's alleged attempt to buy votes from nation representatives with cash and prostitutes. Hmmm.
Japan's thinking was that with enough support, the IWC would allow the resumption of commercial whaling. The same commercial whaling that irresponsibly, removed more than half a million great whales from the north Pacific after the war. An act that yielded effects still rippling throughout the oceans today, and yes Norway was partly responsible for that.
Since the IWC moratorium came into effect, "Norway has killed nearly 10,000 whales since 1985/86" reports Whale and Dolphins Conservation Society (WDCS), "mostly under objection, but also a few under scientific permit." The IWC currently allows Norway to hunt, under an 'objection' to the ban.
The ability of man to make moral choices must always be questioned, especially when the building of societies in the past has justified the virtual annihilation of a species, without any regard for the ramifications. Furthermore, studies are now showing, (and as far as I'm aware, Walt Disney did not contribute to them), that whales may share our kind of intelligence.
Scientific evidence is piling up. Cetaceans are truly out of the ordinary in terms of their intelligence and live in complex social structures, passing down information learned from generation to generation, and learning new strategies, very much as we do.
Norway instead, conveniently chooses not to address the elephants in the room or banish the ostrich mentality when it comes to acknowledging what scientists have learned about cetaceans. Instead, when one examines the advancement of whaling in Norway and Japan, the only development observed in whaling societies is the institution of faster, more technologically-advanced ships and weaponry.
Ones that make the dispatching of whales an easier and simpler process, only for whalers.
Who is the true animal here, Mr Johansen?
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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