Culture is king
Several years ago I went to a bullfight in Mexico. I was pretty sure I wouldn't enjoy it, and indeed I did not. The bullfight routine calls for mounted picadors to stab the animal in the neck before the so-called fight begins. Thus, the bull's fate is sealed before the matador enters the ring.
Ali vs. Frazier it ain't.
However, it was not lost on me that I was in Mexico participating in a Mexican pastime, to which I'd brought a completely different set of sensitivities. I drank my beer and kept my mouth shut.
Nowadays I don't think about bullfighting much — unless the subject is whaling.
If the world were populated only by Americans, there is little doubt we'd long ago have seen the last of whaling. But that is not the case. Norway, Iceland and Japan do not share the sensitivity of Americans — and for that matter, of many other nationalities — to the harvest of whales.
With respect to some whale species, there are conservation imperatives that argue against harvesting. But that is not the case with all whales, and this is what infuriates whaling nations: the idea that the world would usurp their sovereignty merely because it is culturally indisposed to whaling, even when it is sustainable.
A moratorium on commercial whaling took effect in 1986, but a provision for research whaling is widely regarded as a loophole and allows a significant, if limited, harvest.
(This is not to suggest that all "research" whaling is sustainable. It is likely, for example, that sei whales, regarded as threatened with extinction, are being harvested and sold.)
Change may be in the air. The United States is at the vanguard of an effort to broker a deal that would phase out whaling over the next decade.
During that time the harvest would be reduced, and Norway, Iceland and Japan would consent to vessel monitoring and shipboard observers — controls familiar to U.S. fishermen.
In addition, the proposal includes provisions for a whale DNA registry, which would, in theory, mitigate against trade in whale meat (thought to be a sideline of the Japanese and South Koreans, who land whales as bycatch), which is banned under the UN's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
You may be surprised to learn that many opponents of whaling are not in the thrall of the proposal.
Patrick Ramage, of the International Fund For Animal Welfare, called it "a whaler's wish" list in the New York Times and said it would "overturn the '86 moratorium, eviscerate the South Ocean Whale Sanctuary, subordinate science and... reward countries that have refused to comply by allocating quotas to those three countries."
Monica Medina of NOAA disagreed. "We can't stop [whaling]; we can only try to control it," she told the Times. "If we can prevent thousands of whales from being hunted and killed, that's a real conservation benefit."
My afternoon at Cancun's Plaza de Toros comes to mind and tells me Medina and the United States have grasped the issue. Japan, Norway and Iceland may understand how opponents of whaling feel, but they are unlikely to internalize the principles on which objections to whaling rest.
— Jerry Fraser
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