Friday, February 24, 2012

Whaling in the Caribbean

This is the Bequia whaling station that is still in use today
There's lots of "hot" topics when it comes to the ocean these days...over-fishing, pollution, the decimation of our coral reefs, global warming, rising ocean temperatures, polar ice caps melting and so much more.  Few issues, however, really push people's "hot buttons" like whaling.

Many, many moons ago I wrote a post highlighting a movie Scott and I watched called The Cove.  This movie was incredibly eye-opening, very powerful and EXTREMELY disturbing (consider yourself warned, if you have a soul - you will cry).  While it is not about whaling, perse, it is about the mass murder of dolphins (yes, "flipper") for consumption in Japan and has a lot to say about the ocean, it's many life-forms and how to protect them.

Let me start this post by saying I am definitely not "pro" whaling.  I'll root for the Sea Shepard on Whale Wars just like everyone else.  I will picket the Japanese and their treatment of our oceans with the next guy.  However, I am "pro" culture and keeping cultural traditions alive (I once witnessed a Masai circumcision in Tanzania - another polarizing cultural tradition - you can read about it here).  While I benefit from the metaphorical "shrinking" of this world just like everyone else, I think it's sad that the price we pay is increased homogenization in the name of "keeping up".

Believe it or not, there is still a tradition of hunting whales in the Caribbean.  Known as "aboriginal whaling" this form of hunting is not done for commercial purposes, but for sustenance.  Traditional whale hunters only take a small number of whales a year (if any), hunt from small open boats with hand-thrown harpoons and the island communities use and distribute every last bit of the whale from the meat to bones to the oil.

In Bequia, whaling has commenced annually for over a hundred and thirty years and is still a huge part of the culture of this little island.   While the International Whaling Commission allows locals to hunt two or three humpback whales a year (in the traditional way), due to world condemnation of the trade and the fact that the tradition is being lost on new generations there is currently only one boat and crew that still know how to hunt aboriginally: in small, open boats armed with hand-thrown harpoons.  Apparently - on the rare occasion that a whale is caught, it causes tremendous excitement among locals and visitors alike.  I can definitely say I never want to see a live whale hunt, but I can appreciate (from a safe distance) a tradition steeped in culture, sustenance and respect.

If you get the chance to visit this beautiful little island (one of our personal favorites), it's definitely worth a visit to the local whaling museum and pulling up a whale vertebrae bar stool fashioned at the Whale Boner restaurant and sipping on a cold Carib.

The local fishery where the whaling boat is launched.

Brittany & Scott


Little Seal said...

We were fortunate enough to be in Bequia a few years ago when a whale was taken. We visited the whaling station while it was being processed, and the word is certainly "traditional". Experienced men armed with fillet knives swarmed the dead whale which had been hauled up in the shallows, separating large sections of meat and blubber which were hauled ashore by other groups of men hauling on long ropes. It was a community effort and festival combined. A large crowd gathered and some cooked samples on fires spread around the small island. I believe the "limit" is four whales a year, but this was the first one harvested in two years. I do not think any of it went to waste.
I have no patience for "commercial" whaling, but this was entirely different.

Unknown said...

It wasn't different to the dead whales. They don't know the difference between someone hunting and killing them for "commercial" reasons or "cultural" reasons, they just know they were hunted and killed for no good reason. The euphemism "taken" does not begin to describe killing.

Unknown said...

How would you feel if some humans on the islands you visit turned out to be cannibals and hunted, killed and ate your children? Would you write a blog that said well gee, it wasn't commercial, it was their cultural tradition so it's ok? ALL life is precious, never less precious because a group of people have been killing over centuries and created a tradition out of the killing. There are some cultural traditions that are meant to die out because of the pain, suffering and death they cause. The murdering of whales is one of them. Every whale suffers when hunted and murdered--not just the ones killed by commercial whalers.

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