My letter is with reference to Mr. Paul Gravel's letter in Compass April '99 and John and Lee Kessel's letter May '99. I agree with both of them. The main issue here is the killing I say butchering of a mother whale with her defenseless baby (the same thing took place last year). To the people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines this might be the most heroic and exciting event of the year but for the tourists and also, I am pretty sure, for many Caribbean people it is a disgusting and barbaric act, regardless of their lawful right to a quota of two whales a year. Also the humpback has now become an endangered species.
If the people of St. Vincent & the Grenadines want to attract tourists and enjoy the mighty dollar maybe they should first pay attention to the harassment, theft, litter, unsatisfactory service, pollution and high prices complaints I am reading about in your magazine every month. And maybe it won't be necessary to kill the mother whales and their babies, but to do whale watching as one of their activities instead. I sincerely hope that one day the IWC will stop whaling altogether before all species become extinct.
I have read today in the British Times newspaper that St. Vincent & the Grenadines still encourages whaling in your seas. This in my opinion is outdated, unnecessary and barbaric. Please prevent the slaughter of these harmless creatures. In the Seventies I saw many wonderful creatures in your seas whilst I was in The Merchant Navy and killing for survival was acceptable. In the Nineties with international trade in food and fuel, I do not believe that it still is.
Malcolm C J Kidby
An open letter to:
Dr. Ray Gambell, Secretary
International Whaling Commission
Dear Dr. Gambell,
In March of this year we visited the beautiful and friendly island of Bequia and looked forward to returning there on our next Caribbean cruise. Shortly after we departed Bequia we learned of the capture of a baby whale and subsequently the mother. Both of the whales were slaughtered. We understand another whale was also murdered which fulfills St. Vincent's quota of two for the year.
We are appalled and sickened by this practice. The Aboriginal Subsistence Scheme is really stretching it in the year 1999. There are very few places that truly need whale meat for nutritional subsistence. St. Vincent & the Grenadines certainly do not.
As long as whale killing is practiced, we will bypass these islands in the future. We cannot offer our support in any way and will encourage other cruisers to do the same. It is our hope and prayer that the humpback and other whales will be protected in the West Indies and other parts of the world. Quotas should definitely not be increased.
"For the Beauty of the Earth in awe and reverence we hold all Her sacred forms of life." To watch a whale is reverent and awesome.
We hope you will share our letter at the upcoming 51st Annual Meeting in Grenada.
Liza and Jim Troutman
S/V Imagine, USA
Dear Compass Readers,
The three letters above, while clearly written with the best of intentions, illustrate some of the most common flaws in outcries against whaling in Bequia. One flaw is a lack of information on the population assessment of humpbacks, combined with a misunderstanding of the objectives of the IWC. Another is a lack of information on the standard of living in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, and a lack of respect for other cultures. A third flaw is the unfortunate preponderance of wildly emotive expressions rather than rational, knowledgeable argument.
There are various international conventions which assess the protective status of whales; some now list the humpback as endangered, some do not. The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) population in the North Atlantic is currently estimated at 8,000 to 10,000. (A recent survey published in Marine Mammal Science puts the number at 10,600, more than double the population in the 1980s). The International Whaling Commission was not established to "Save the Whales", except in the sense that it was originally composed of active whaling nations grouped in order to provide a scheme for the management and conservation of whale stocks and the orderly development of the whaling industry. Although in recent years anti-whaling groups intent on stopping all whaling have been prominent at IWC meetings, an article in the May '99 issue of the USA's Atlantic Monthly magazine states, "no possible interpretation of the [International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling] allows for putting an end to whaling when credible scientific opinion supports the use of abundant whale resources." The Scientific Committee of the IWC has allocated St. Vincent & the Grenadines an annual quota of two humpbacks per year, excluding suckling calves and accompanying females, to be consumed locally as food. The granting of this quota is an acknowledgment that the Scientific Committee does not consider the taking of two whales per year by Bequia to be a threat to the survival of the species. Bequia whalers are not wantonly destroying a species; they are taking a considered number of animals from what appears to be an increasing population of North Atlantic humpbacks. That fact that the taking of cow-and-calf pairs contravenes the IWC schedule is more problematic if Bequia whalers want to continue to employ that method, SVG's Commissioners should not have joined the IWC. The IWC is not an international legal body, it is a voluntary "gentlemen's agreement" among its signatories.
Whale watching is often suggested as a financial alternative to whaling in Bequia. But to have a successful whale watching business you have to have a sufficient number of whales to ensure regular sightings. Unfortunately, unlike on the Dominican Republic's Silver Bank for example, where an estimated 75 percent of the western Atlantic humpback population goes to breed, perhaps fewer than 100 humpbacks annually come as far south as the Grenadines and do so over a period of only 3 or 4 months. There is currently only one operator in SVG, Hal Daize of Sea Breeze Tours, who specializes primarily in cetacean watching, and he admits that he can only predict that his guests will see dolphins whale sightings are infrequent. And if the sole current operator can't promise guests they'll see a whale, should Bequia's dozen or so whalers be expected to give up their living and go into whale watching, too?
Speaking of making a living, I find it unthinking at best and appallingly arrogant at worst for anyone who can afford to come to the Grenadines on a land-based vacation, or charter a bareboat, or own a well-found cruising yacht (no matter how much you think you are economizing), to presume to dictate to people in a country with a per capita GDP of EC$6,449 (US$2,415), and where the average daily pay for government workers is EC$25 (US$9.36) what they should or shouldn't eat. Supporting a family on that in Bequia, where prices are fairly high even for most yachties, isn't easy. As someone once said of a whale, "That's a lot of food floating by the island." People won't starve to death without it, but it helps.
Then there's language. "Slaughtering?" "Butchering?" Slaughtering and butchering and are simply defined as the killing and the cutting up of animals for food. So, yes, whales are slaughtered and butchered.
"Harmless?" This is irrelevant. Are the pigs, cattle and chickens that
we also kill for food harmful?
"Barbaric" is defined as uncivilized, savage or wild. Are the First World's methods of killing whales more palatable? (i.e. Beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River are dying of cancer caused by pollutants from chemical dumps, pesticide run-off and factory emissions; oil drilling threatens west Pacific gray whales; only about 300 North Atlantic right whales still exist and their numbers are decreasing not only have we upset their food supply, but ship collisions cause half of all their deaths; more female whales are "taken" in fishermen's nets in US waters than are taken in Bequia. But it's easier to make a scapegoat of Bequia than to try to reform the entire First World's lifestyle, isn't it?)
"Murder" of "mothers and babies"? I'm afraid that somehow the whale has been elevated in contemporary Western culture to the status of a love icon, rather as the cow is viewed as holy and is therefore not eaten in the more ancient Hindu culture. Doesn't one need to examine one's own society before enforcing its "moral superiority" on someone else's?
Finally, the tourist boycott. The attitude displayed by this threat sounds frighteningly like the colonial expansionist mind-set: "If people of another culture don't share our religion/ethics/beliefs on a certain subject, then they are barbarians, and if they are barbarians we have a moral right nay, obligation to mess with their economy." On the other hand, to mix metaphors, you certainly have a right to shop where you want, and if you want to take your football and go home, there are plenty of others who enjoy Bequia, whaling and all. As Frances and Michel on Pax said after 12 years sailing around the world, "At first we thought Bequia was just another ho-hum beach with palm trees. Then we talked to a whalerman, and realized it's a REAL place."
Sally Erdle, Editor
Copyright© 1998 Compass Publishing