Traditional Hunting

Why Japan, the country with the world’s third largest economy, wants to persist in killing whales is beyond me. The activity attracts an enormous amount of negative publicity and cannot make much of a contribution to its national economy. Still, other developed countries such as Norway and Iceland, are going down the same route. Do they just not want other countries telling them what to do or are they really that keen to preserve their ancient traditions? If that is the case then I would rather they came right out and said it, instead of continuing under this guise of “scientific whaling”. While not a marine mammal veterinarian I do spend an inordinate amount of time perusing wildlife/veterinary/conservation journal articles and cannot remember ever coming across a single “scientific whaling” article. When I was in Norway I noticed whale on a restaurant menu. Perhaps they were conducting a scientific taste test?

Tradition is often invoked as an inviolable reason for doing something (in a similar way to religion being given to justify reprehensible acts such as female genital mutilation) that common sense, morality or scientific data would prevent. This is blatant hypocrisy as it is only used to justify specific activities rather than an entire lifestyle. I would be much happier about the Japanese invoking their traditional right to kill whales or the Inuit their right to kill polar bears if they also invoked their traditional right to walk rather than use snowmobiles, hunt with bows, arrows and spears rather than rifles, and whale in small boats with harpoons rather than large ships with cannons and exploding harpoons.

Nowadays whale and polar bear products have all been replaced by alternatives and the true significance of tradition falls a little flat when local people in Canada sell their culturally important polar bear quotas to sport hunters.

While much of the hunting debate focuses on potentially dwindling population numbers, which is very important, as a veterinarian I feel that at least some emphasis should be placed on the humaneness of the activity. In this way I have less of an issue with killing polar bears than with killing whales because, ironically, the advent of more advanced weapons makes it more likely to kill a polar bear humanely. However, it remains impossible to kill a whale humanely.

“Tradition” is really just another in a long line of excuses, along with provision of food, challenge, thrill, pride, profit and just plain fun, to justify hunting and killing. It is time to admit that we are evolutionarily hard wired to hunt. As Rick Ridgeway says about hunting in his book, “The Shadow of Kilimanjaro”, “you were doing what you were designed to do, and that is the ineffable attraction.” We have become just like the domestic cat who no longer needs to hunt to eat, but retains an innate need to stalk and chase and kill.

Dr. F. Bunny

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