Reflections on negativity…

I came home last night to an inbox full of negative comments about my posts on the National Geographic Explorer’s Journal blog. I was actually surprised these comments didn’t come sooner, given the nature of my project. Yet still, to see them for real has been a bit jolting. I know no one is actually attacking me in these comments, but to see these things written about people who, to me, are the sweet old men I spend my days talking to, is a little hard to swallow without some sadness. I know comments like these are rampant on the internet, but they got me thinking. Below are excerpts:

what an inspiring story… not.

Serves him right. And good on the whale for taking the time to teach the idiots a lesson. 

I am really surprised at the portrayal of  José “Silvino” do Silveira Jorge as some kind of hero. As a story, yes it is amazing but my sympathys are with the whale.

And that is what he gets… he deserved it!!! the whale should’ve killed him…

And my favorite:

Why do you write about these ruthless men? They should be forgotten forever and with them their pointless, hollow, damaging lifes they spent killing those beautiful intelligent mammals in the most painful of ways. hope these guys end in burning hell

I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up a couple myths about whaling in general and my actual feelings about the topic, given that I steer clear of it in my posts to avoid any bias. I don’t expect that the people who are making these comments are the same people who will read this post, so my main hope is that all you lovely good-natured people out there might learn a little bit more about a topic that unfortunately has a lot of misunderstanding surrounding it.

1). Whaling is illegal. False. This is something you hear thrown around a lot among whale conservationists and organizations like Sea Shepherd. I even catch myself saying “when whaling was outlawed” sometimes because it’s so engrained in the way that we as people who grew up with “Save the Whales” think. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is an intergovernmental and international organization created to effectively manage whaling and is comprised of many member countries. In 1986 a global moratorium was passed on commercial whaling, due to highly depleted stocks among the most targeted of whale species. Countries that agreed to the moratorium are bound to it, countries that lodged objections are not. Let me repeat: if you are not a member of the IWC or lodge an objection to a resolution, you are not bound to it. There is no illegality involved (which doesn’t mean all IWC member countries are happy about countries that still whale, however). Since the moratorium applied to commercial whaling only, aboriginal subsistence whaling and scientific permit whaling are still on the table – America and several other countries use the former, Japan uses the latter.

2). Japan says they’re whaling for research but the meat just “somehow” appears on the market. In the IWC’s Article VIII on Scientific Permit whaling, it stipulates: “Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.” This means Japan, as the government by which the permit is granted, has say over how to “so far as practicable” process these whales and the proceeds from them. Let’s get something straight here, after living in Japan and working on this topic, I’m not condoning what they’re doing. Setting a quota for fin whales, which are an endangered species, is a pretty cruel move. There’s a lot of secrecy involved in their whaling, but the point here is simply that they’re taking advantage of a bad system.

3). It’s just wrong to kill whales. This isn’t so much a myth as just a general sentiment I’ve encountered – particularly among Americans, British, Australians, South Africans, and New Zealanders. I don’t really know how this came to be so engrained in our cultures, given that whaling was an important part the history of all of these countries. The idea that whale are simply off-limits seems to be tied in with the belief that whales are super-intelligent animals, which is also something that took a major leap throughout the previous decades. Early whale researchers supposed whales were about as intelligent as cows, and somewhere along the “Save the Whales” campaign they became synonymous with high intelligence. Don’t like killing intelligent animals? Stop eating pork – pigs rank as some of the smarter mammals out there (and the cutest, I might add). Campaign against the cruelties of factory farms in our own country, don’t just attack old men in other countries and condemn them to hell because they were in a line of work you don’t morally agree with in order to survive. I have never been able to understand how people who eat meat draw lines regarding which animals are okay to eat and which aren’t (because there seem to be a great deal of contradictions within these choices), unless you’re talking about an endangered species. On that note…

4). All whales are endangered. Again, one of these ideas I’m not really sure where it’s basis is. No doubt that commercial whaling (particularly during the factory ship days in the 1950s) devastated many whale populations in, but that doesn’t mean we can paint all of them with the same color. Check out the IUCN Red List for more information.

There are times when I’m writing down all of these stories I’m collecting and stop to think: why do I spend much time thinking about whales dying? I don’t like thinking about what happened any more than the next person who grew up loving whales, but I know these men are the last of their kind and have incredible stories of a culture that will be lost with them in the coming years. My own beliefs lie in non-violence, meaning I’d no sooner want to kill a whale then wish death upon the man killing it. And while there is a part of me that still cries “you go whale!” when I hear a story of a whale escaping, at the same time I know that these men were not in this industry because they loved killing whales, but because it was what was they had to do to survive. There’s wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity to be picky with your career choice on little islands far away from everywhere else, and a lot of whalers left their work when tuna fishing became a more prominent industry.

My goal is merely to show that these men are human, driven by forces that affect all of us. Those of us who deride them are fortunate to have been privileged enough to include moral factors in choosing our line of work. Today a good number of us grow up dreaming about what we want to do instead of being faced with with the reality of what we need to do to survive, which is a great blessing.

Sorry there weren’t more pictures, but I didn’t really have anything that fit the ticket. Here’s me with the cutest old whaler ever from an interview in Calheta de Nesquim on Pico this week. He’s 96 and we have matching glasses!

I could barely contain myself interviewing this man. He was just too adorable. 




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