Thursday, 4 February 2010

why whales?

Sophie is doing a unit of work at the moment entitled "before it's too late" based around the text "My Friend Whale" by Simon James. In the book, a small boy watches and plays with a whale. The reader learns lots about Blue Whales but at the end of the book the boy watches for, but never again sees, his whale friend.

The last double page of the book is an explicit anti-hunting message. The last paragraph goes:
We do not need whale meat.
We do not need whale bones.
We do not need whale oil.
We do need to care for whales.
We need to keep them alive and safe
in the oceans of the world.

Sophie read this and asked, "but why do we need whales so much?"

She has, insightfully, picked up the flaw in the argument. The argument against whaling is that we need whales, but there are no reasons provided to show why we need them.

As a basis for an argument, it failed to convince my seven-year-old.

So, does anyone know, ecologically, why the human being needs the blue whale? She would seriously like to know, and include it in her school work.

And for others to think about, how else would you argue this point? What would be a basis for an argument other than what we need?


Hannah Blake said...

This is my question too!! Last year on my year 5/6 prac we did a unit on Antarctica and I did a week's worth of literacy activities on whales - migration, species, etc. I also wanted to get the kids to write an exposition on why we shouldn't hunt whales. I didn't really know the reason myself, but I figured there must be one. I looked for information for so long and found nothing at all!

My conclusion: there's absolutely no reason for (exclusively) opposing whaling. It falls in the same category as the hunting of any other animal. Still wrong, but not especially so.

I wonder, though, whether the reason there's so much opposition to whaling is that people hunt whales more than they do other animals? Another possible reason might be that people are overawed by whales and so their conclusion is that they are more worthy of protection than other animals. That kind of opinion came out a lot in the information I read about whaling. (It was also the general reasoning behind protecting Antarctica - not that it's actually important or valuable than anywhere else on earth but that it's big and awe-inspiring.)

We should, of course, protect animals and environments, but I think there's a lot of poor reasoning surrounding those particular causes!

In class, I didn't even bother going through the whole debate about protecting whales/Antarctica. We wrote an exposition on something from BTN instead and left it at that!

Hannah Blake said...

Sorry, the end of that third paragraph should read

"...not that it's actually more important or valuable..."

An important distinction!

Hannah Blake said...

(Sorry, last comment in a row from me!!)

Nice job finding that problem Sophie! I totally agree and would like an answer to your question too. Let me know if you find one.

Anonymous said...

My immediate response is that they're one of the many unique, intriguing, intricate, beautiful, interesting creatures that our God has made - they remind us, & point us to, the might & creativity of our creator God. They display his ability to create with such attention to detail & variety, and his generosity in creating creatures for our enjoyment. God has not simply provided animals to fill our basic needs for resources. Pragmatics is not the only reason for God's creation. Sad that the author can't explain the why of the whales existence! But not surprising when you leave God out of the picture.

Job 38-42 and Romans1:18-23 come to mind.

I'm sure there's lots more to say!!


Rachael said...

I agree with you Alison, that when you leave God out of the picture, there is little reason to protect something if it is of no benefit to you.

Good ol' BTN, Hannah.

Christopher Taylor said...

Hey Rachael,

This is a different approach, you might find it interesting.

After WWII the IWC was formed to manage and utilise the fishing of whales as a resource. One of its primary motivations came from state based desires for 'food security'.

However, this management of resource approach was supplanted by the 1980s with international moratorium on whaling. This new anti whaling discourse has been dominant in the most Liberal democracies, Particularly the US and Australia, every since.

It is interesting that not only was this new anti whaling discourse part of a new environmentalism, spurning from the 1960s’ social revolutions, but it also tapped into the older conservationist discourse, which has it roots in Romanticism.

Charlotte Epstein in The Power of Words in International Relations, Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse, explores the nature of this particular discourse in particular detail. It seems that within this discourse the whales are not only prominent and an important part of nature, ecosystems and global biodiversity, but they have also become important symbols of nature. They are featured as “endangered, intelligent, and extraordinary mammals that needed to be saved from the whalers”. Whales have become a romantic representation of the mystical and “wild” of the world that is slowly vanishing. Epstein also says that “saving whales became shorthand for saving endangered species and the endangered planet as a whole”.

This representation of whales, majestic and almost spiritual, necessitates a reflexive understanding of ourselves. Man, who lives with the guilt of (over) exploitation, seeks solace in healing and balance with nature. The hunting of whales is no longer an act of resource management or fishing, but an act of sadistic barbarism.

So, within this discourse, the whale has come to hold a position that reflects our humanity. Or perhaps more accurately, the way we treat whales reflex our values and so, symbolically, we need whales to exist as proof of these values. The whale is no longer just a symbol of nature and of humanity but also a symbol of man’s symbiotic relationship with nature. And, in a romantic sense, they are symbols of peace, spirituality and purity. They have come to represent what it means to be human.

Interestingly there are other anti-whaling arguments, such as the materialist and the protection of biodiversity argument, which have not become significant in the discourse. Perhaps this reflex the irrationality of the current discourse. Epstein notes the failure of science to affect the argument, as general evidence for the ineffectiveness of the scientific community to influence state based policy making. However, it seems logical that this failure can be attributed to the irrationality of the anti-whaling discourse drowning out rational approaches that treat whales as anything but the symbolic sacred.

Anyway, for Sophie, I might suggest that you tell her that some people “need” whales because they need to believe that they (or we) are good. This, however, is not an adequate or convincing explanation, but I think this has more to do with the discourse than the explanation.

Anonymous said...

I think the attitude to whales and their being a romantic symbol of man's relationship to nature certainly began in the 19th century and was heavily influenced by Herman Melville's novel, Moby Dick.