Playing with Whales

Right now somewhere in the ocean there are Japanese “scientific” vessels that aim to catch around a thousand whales for “scientific research” and there are some environmentalist vessels aiming to stop them, some by fair means or foul.  

Of course the capture and killing of whales for scientific research is simply a pretext. The International Whaling Convention was signed in 1946 to conserve whales and to develop the whaling industry. The convention set up the International Whaling Commission to regulate whaling. Countries retained the right to issue whaling permits, though, and this proved to be a problem. 

In 1982, with great worries about declining whale numbers, a moratorium on whaling was agreed and all nations except Iceland, Norway and Japan stopped whaling. Those countries issued permits to kill whales for scientific research. Norway last issued permits in 1994 Iceland in 2005 and then for very small numbers. Throughout recent times Japan as sought to disguise a whaling industry as a scientific industry. 

I am not sentimental about animals. If you want to be a vegetarian or a vegan or if you want to leave all your money to animal charities, that is fine by me, it is just not what I would. I do believe that preserving biodiversity is important and that whales are a critical part of the ocean’s bio system, the maintenance of which is critical to a comfortable human existence. In the words of the song “You don’t know what you’ve lost till it’s gone.”  

In 1998 I swam with wild dolphins, in a supervised Dolphin sanctuary in Key Largo, in Florida. I found that a profound experience in a way that is difficult to write about, because I sensed that I was not swimming with dumb animals, but smart animals, smarter than a dog. 

Last February I attended a conference in Big Island in Hawaii. I travelled thousands of miles from London to get there. At the same time as I got there many whales had also travelled thousands of miles to get to Hawaii, where they mate and then give birth to calves. I could see in the distance from time to time big hump back whales blowing their spouts, slapping their huge pectoral fins and sometimes slapping their tails against the ocean.  

I stayed at a resort which tried to leave as much as possible in the natural style – and they did a good job. I took out a canoe from time to time, and could go several kilometres out into the ocean hoping to get a closer look at the whales. 

On one canoe trip I did get a closer look than I expected. About four hundred metres from shore a hump back whale breached no more than 30 metres from my canoe. It used its tail to launch itself out of the water and propelled its body into the air. It landed on its back with a huge splash which soaked me and flooded the canoe. I was quite safe, but scared. As I paddled away from it, heading for the shore it surfaced and slapped its long pectoral fin on the water, a if to wave goodbye.

No one knows why hump backs “breach”. Some think it is a means of communication – others that they are playing. So the hump back might have been trying to tell me something or simply playing with me. It was an experience that I shall never forget. And I am sure that you will forgive me if I suggest that you look at a petition which seeks to stop whaling and sign it on http://www.whalesrevenge.com/ . As well as signing the petition you can play a game on line, in which whales blow bubbles to sink the Japanese whaling fleet (no whalers are harmed).