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Monday, June 18, 2007

Alaskan Eskimos Bomb and Butcher One-Hundred-Fifteen-Year-Old Bowhead with the Complicity of the United States, IWC, and Sea Shepherd


"In an earlier stage of our development most human groups held to a tribal ethic. Members of the tribe were protected, but people of other tribes could be robbed or killed as one pleased. Gradually the circle of protection expanded, but as recently as one-hundred-fifty years ago we did not include blacks. So African human beings could be captured, shipped to America and sold. In Australia white settlers regarded aborigines as pests and hunted them down, much as kangaroos are hunted down today. Just as we progressed beyond the blatantly racist ethic of the era of slavery and colonialism, so we must progress beyond the speciesist ethic of the era of factory farming, of the use of animals as mere research tools, of whaling, seal hunting, kangaroo slaughter and the destruction of wilderness. We must take the final step in expanding the circle of ethics."
-- Peter Singer

The announcement last week that Inupiat Eskimos had shot and killed a bowhead whale off of Barrow, Alaska in May that is estimated to have been between one-hundred-fifteen and one-hundred-thirty years old is not surprising in that whales have been known to live for a very long time. The failure of both the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the United States to have protected this whale, the indifference of the capitalist media, and the complicity of alleged whale protector Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd, all combine to paint a rather dismal picture of the whale conservation movement.

Whaling aficionados were able to pinpoint the animal's age because of a three and one-half-inch piece of a bomb made into a harpoon that was found embedded between its neck and shoulder blade by the natives as they were dismembering it with a chain saw. (See photo above of the fragment alongside an intact harpoon from 1885.) Because nineteenth century Eskimos carved notches on their harpoons in order to be able to lay claim to the whales that they speared, experts immediately knew that the whale had been previously shot by one of them.

They also knew that the harpoon was manufactured in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1879 and transported to Alaska where it was then traded to the Eskimos. The harpoon, which was fired from a shoulder gun, contains a bomb that goes off a few seconds after it enters the animal's flesh. It is, in effect, what today would be known as a pipe bomb.

Ironically, the harpoon which killed the forty-nine-foot, fifty-ton whale is almost identical to the one that it was shot with all those years ago. In fact, Eskimos of today not only employ the same weapons that their forefathers used but they also still hunt in large boats made from the pelts of seals that they have slaughtered.

"The device exploded and probably injured the whale or annoyed him, but it hit him in a non-lethal place," John Bockstoce of the New Bedford Whaling Museum told The Independent on June 14th. (See "Eskimo Hunters Catch Up with Whale That Eluded Their Ancestors.") "He couldn't have been that bothered if he lived for another one-hundred years."

That is a self-serving lie if ever one were told. The whale most likely suffered all sorts of pain and internal damage and his entire existence may have been turned into a living hell because of what the savages did to him. Bockstoce, an avid whale killer himself, has no business making silly statements that he cannot prove just to excuse his own moral depravity.

It is not unusual, however, for whales to be found with spears and bullets in them and this is one way that their ages have been estimated in the past. Their ages also can be calculated by measuring the amino acids present in their eyes but that is a tricky process. Nonetheless, it is believed that some whales live for as long as two-hundred-years.

Bowhead whales were hunted almost to extinction during the nineteenth century principally because their baleen was in demand by corset and hat manufacturers. Of course, no part was wasted and their blubber, oil, and bones were also coveted.

According to the American Cetacean Society, there are about eight-thousand bowheads remaining in the Chukchi-Beaufort-Bering Sea area and a few hundred more in the Arctic off of Canada's east coast as well as in the Okhostsk Sea near Russia. Before the carnage of the nineteenth century, it is estimated that there were between thirty-thousand and fifty-thousand representatives of Balaena mysticetus alive and well in Arctic waters.

Although bowheads are classified as endangered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Eskimos of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Russia are allowed to continue to kill these magnificent animals. (See photo above.) With the blessings of both the good-for-nothing IWC and the United States, Eskimos in Alaska are allowed to slaughter fifty-one bowheads per year; figures for Eskimos living elsewhere are unavailable. (See USA Today, June 12, 2007, "Nineteenth-Century Weapon Found in Whale.")

Since they have been killing bowheads for twenty-five-hundred-years, the Eskimos quite naturally feel that they have a God-given right to continue to do so regardless of the consequences. "The Eskimo have been called the 'people of the ice whale' because without the bowhead we would not exist," Eskimo whaler Burton "Atqaan" Rexford proclaimed to The Independent.

That once may have been true but not now. Contrary to common perceptions, the Eskimos are as rich as Croesus. Thanks to legislation pushed through Congress in 1986 by thoroughly corrupt Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, they receive hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid federal contracts each year. For instance, their take for 2004 was $876 million. (See Salon, June 19, 2007, "What Ted Stevens, Bolivian Cocaine and Haliburton Have in Common.")

Needless to say, Stevens and the oligarchs that he represents did not propose this legislation solely for the natives' benefit. Au contraire, they are used as fronts by multinationals such as Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR), a former subsidiary of Dick Cheney's Haliburton, because of the minority business preferences that they are entitled to under the law.

In particular, Olgoonik Management Services of Wainwright, which is owned in part by whalers and sealers, has partnered with KBR in recent years in order to win no-bid contracts to, inter alia, feed Bolivian troops hired by the Americans to fight cocaine trafficking in the Amazon ($31 million); do construction work at three United States Army bases in Alaska ($125 million); and, provide security upgrades at American embassies ($145 million).

Even conceding the fact that a lion's share of the loot goes to KBR and most of the jobs to non-natives, the tribal elders' take from this scam still must be considerable and more than a few shekels must somehow trickle down to the whale and seal killers.

As far as the argument that killing whales is an indispensable part of their cultural heritage, it is important to remember that cannibalism, human sacrifices, slavery, and a thousand other hideous practices also have long and inglorious histories but not too many people are willing to publicly champion their causes today. Killing whales belongs in the same category.

It is the height of hypocrisy for the United States to vilify the Japanese for killing whales while at the same time it subsidizes the Eskimos to do the same thing. The Navy's new high-powered sonar also is indiscriminately killing all sorts of whales by the thousands and America's steadfast refusal to curb its pollution is turning the oceans into toxic cesspools that are unfit for whales and all other forms of marine life.

As per usual, the tragic killing of the elderly bowhead has been greeted with indifference by the capitalist media. Although it does a credible job of championing the environment and rattling Tony Blair's cage, The Independent's record on animal rights is every bit as atrocious as that of its thoroughly discredited competitors.

Par exemple, Leonard Doyle's piece on the bowhead did not contain a syllable from defenders of whales. More startling, Doyle just accepted the whale's demise as a fait accompli without expressing an iota of outrage or regret. As the world's only halfway decent newspaper, surely The Independent can do better than that.

Steve Curwood, host of National Public Radio's Living on Earth, likewise treated the killing of the whale as a mere curiosity during the show's June 15th broadcast. (See "A Whale of a Sliver.") He, too, interviewed Bockstoce but did not express any concern for the murdered whale or offer any criticism of the Eskimos. Unfortunately, that is only to be expected from a show that views its role in reporting on the environment as being limited to repeating ad nauseam the lies of Republicans, Democrats, big business, and polluters.

When it comes to being antagonistic toward animals, no outlet can match the hostility and contempt exhibited by the CBC's As It Happens. On its June 13th show, host Carol Off exhibited a profound interest in the minutiae of whale killing but none whatsoever in the well-being of the species.

Since she joined the broadcast last fall, Off has turned the show into a human rights forum where she interviews the same obscure political prisoners over and over. That is praiseworthy, albeit boring, up to a certain point but it stands in marked contrast to her cavalier treatment of animals. As any fool should know, both the physical and moral health of Mother Earth, the animals, and man are intricately linked and cannot be separated.

Off's sidekick, Barbara Budd, is even worse in that she treats all animals as objects of jest and derision. (See mug shot above.) For instance, she followed up Off's miserable reporting by playing part of Danny Michel's recording of In the Belly of a Whale.

In March of 2006, she attacked Paul McCartney and Heather Mills for coming to Canada in order to protest the annual clubbing to death of more than three-hundred-thousand baby seals. She even went so far as to play Paul's Get Back as her way of telling him and Heather to mind their own business. (See Cat Defender post of March 27, 2006 entitled "Six Protesters Arrested as Baby Seal Slaughter Gets Under Way in Canada.")

The capitalist media's indifference to the tragic death of this ancient male bowhead is, unfortunately, only par for the course. More alarming, however, is the deafening silence of both Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace.

While Greenpeace has largely been discredited as a band of do-nothing publicity-seekers, Paul Watson's unwillingness to condemn aboriginal whaling can be explained by his recent sellout to the Mohawk community of Kahnawake, south of Montreal, in order to get his anti-whaling vessels, the Farley Mowat and the Robert Hunter, flagged. (See photo below of tribal leaders presenting him with the Five Nations Confederacy flag.)

During the past year the governments of Canada, England, and Belize have bowed to pressure from Japan and stripped Sea Shepherd's ships of their registration and this coupled with the fact that no other state will flag them is an indictment of the thorough corruptness of the international community. Although most countries do a considerable amount of gassing about protecting whales when it comes right down to actually doing it they cave in to all sorts of political and economic interests and side with the whale killers.

As for Watson's decision to sell out, he told As It Happens on June 19th, "If the governments of the world are not going to stand up and defend and uphold the laws protecting life and habitats in the ocean (sic) then it seems only natural to me that the First Nations would stand up and proclaim that they would support this." (See "Sea Shepherd Mohawks.")

That is pure tosh. By entering into this Faustian agreement with the Mohawks, Watson is giving indigenous tribes a green light to slaughter whales with impunity while he simultaneously lambastes the Japanese for doing the same thing. Although it is not known how much Watson paid the Mohawks in order to get them to flag his ships, it will be interesting to see if Steve Wynn, Richard Gere, and his other high-profile supporters continue to bankroll his duplicity.

Tant pis, Watson may have prostituted himself for nothing because it is highly unlikely that the major powers will ever accept the Mohawks' flag as being legitimate. Other critics have even gone so far as to label the deal a cheap publicity stunt. (See The Gazette of Montreal, June 19, 2007, "Stripped of Papers, Ocean Warriors to Sail Under Mohawk Flag.")

In conclusion, it is mind-boggling that nations, civilized and aboriginal, still are allowed to kill whales at this late date in history. If the rulers of this world had any compassion, decency, and humanity this ancient bowhead would have been valued as a treasure and allowed to live out his life in a habitat that was free of both harpooners and pollution.

Sadly, that is no longer possible. He is dead now and, unlike the mythical phoenix, will not be returning. With his death, this planet became a little poorer and significantly less majestic.

His blood is all over the phonies and frauds who were supposed to have been protecting him as well as those who through their own indifference simply do not care.

Photos: New Bedford Whaling Museum (harpoon), NOAA (bowhead), CBC (Barbara Budd), and Marcos Townsend of the Montreal Gazette (Watson and Mohawks).