Letters

From the week of August 2, 2001

Whale Wailing

A whale-hugger responds: Had you asked us, we could have saved you reams of the valuable newsprint you were forced to expend on John Dougherty's inch-deep, mile-wide hagiography of the Makah whale hunt ("Resurrection," July 12) with the following simple summary: After Japanese commercial whaling reps told the Makah that a gray whale would be worth half a million dollars on the market in Tokyo, the tribe threatened to sue the U.S. unless the government moved heaven and earth to permit reactivation of the moribund "right of whaling" clause in the Makah's 1855 treaty, despite the body of federal and international law that now bars such an action. Rather than abide by those laws, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Undersecretary D. James Baker, National Marine Fisheries Service administrator Michael Tillman and Vice President Al Gore proceeded to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate the U.S. Whaling Convention Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in order to give the Makah what they wanted. Period.

To us, the most arresting statement in the article was the assertion that "protesters were largely successful in focusing media attention on a simplistic battle between anti-whaling groups portrayed as valiantly striving to prevent the needless death of gray whales vs. a bloodthirsty band of savages in a ruthless pursuit of a conscious and trusting whale."

That's odd. For the last five years or so, we could have sworn the U.S. media were closing ranks and marching in lockstep behind the simplistic story of a small native band nobly struggling to relocate its cultural identity, while marginalized, hysterical (yet powerful, sophisticated) whale-huggers viciously tried to block them.

Most of the "media attention" on this issue has looked a great deal like Mr. Dougherty's opus, which, in context, reads as the latest installment in a long, sorry parade and one more attempted chop job on Sea Shepherd by a reporter who called us two days before his deadline. (For the record, the absence of Greenpeace USA and the Green Party from the fray was not "because the hunt posed no threat to the overall population of gray whales," but because both groups knew the P.C. shellacking they were in for if they went anywhere near this issue. The Greenpeace Foundation opposes the hunt. The Sierra Club deadlocked in two votes to condemn the hunt, and thus took "no position.")

Andrew Christie,
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
Malibu

Crimes against nature: Your series of articles about gray whales was much more comprehensive than anything we get from mainstream news sources. There are some points I'd like to raise about the debate over indigenous hunting.

The ancient practice of taking one whale to feed a village for a winter never was comparable to the crimes against nature and animals that are business as usual in factory farms today. But that ancient practice is also very different from modern sportsmen using ancestral tradition as an excuse for disrupting the ecosystem because they've run out of other reasons. The lifestyle that we have in industrialized societies is far worse for the environment and animals than the whalers of the past -- but these whalers are using technology and participating in modern society as well. So what they are doing is in addition to, not an alternative to, oil spills, roadkill, etc.

When the hunting was ended in 1937, there were fewer than 3,000 gray whales. By the mid-1990s there were more than 23,000. Obviously there are more than 23,000 gray whales with the same amount of genetic diversity as 3,000 of the 19th-century whales. This probably means that almost all of them are related to each other. Inbreeding of this magnitude has been known to seriously weaken a species in its resistance to disease. We're not talking about rolling autos off an assembly line here -- animals are more complex than sheer numbers can convey. Therefore I question the wisdom of taking any endangered species off the endangered species list as soon as its numbers have rebounded.

Theron Parker says the preparation and paddling helped him get away from the demons of drugs and alcohol. Some Makah say the real beauty of whaling is the discipline involved, the requirement that people cooperate and struggle together toward a goal, this is what "keeps us more alive," not the actual killing and eating of a whale. Thank you for reminding us how unnecessary the actual hunt is as a part of all this. If there are any Makah who are looking for an alternative method of instilling discipline, avoiding drugs and alcohol, focusing the mind, becoming stronger, more alive, and things like that, I heartily recommend the martial arts. This might even give you enough internal strength so you don't need to kill a huge animal to show how strong and macho you are.

My vegetarianism makes me less hypocritical than some anti-whaling activists might be.

Robert B. Williams III
Scottsdale

Justice Quashed

A lost cause: What else is new? The cops don't give a shit if they kill another Mexican, or anybody else for that matter, as long as they don't shoot a rich "WHITE" man. Nothing will happen to this cop or any other cop ("A Life That Almost Happened," Amanda Scioscia, July 26). The investigation will be at the least whitewashed, or more probably quashed. The family may get some money out of the City of Phoenix's insurance policy, but that will not bring back their son, brother, uncle. The policies of PPD will not change.

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