The whalers were as usual getting stupidly drunk. I was most amused to see Icelandic whaling boss Krisjian Loftson trying to drunkenly impersonate the Jazz singer. It was eerie indeed to be sitting so close to such a serial killer. I had seen the pictures of him perversely shoving his entire arm into a raw open wound in a Fin whale. The man literally wallows in the blood of the whales and yet here he was sipping pink fruity drinks with little apricot colored umbrellas. The contrast was chilling.
The entire conference was devoid of empathy, compassion, and respect, reduced to purely utilitarian discussions that viewed the whale as nothing more than mindless objects to be bartered, and statistics to be debated.
Overall, the impression that I was left with is that whales are some sort of vague abstraction and although they were the reason for this annual luxury fest, they did not seem to occupy much of a presence in the minds of, and certainly not in the hearts of, most of these delegates.
As the delegates met and mumbled incoherently about all sorts of assorted nonsense in the windowless conference room, I was forced, due to being officially banned from the conference, into sitting around the lobby intimidating Japanese whalers or standing on the lawn over-looking the spectacular vista of the Desertas Islands across the rich deep blue of the Atlantic.
I was recalling that in 1865, behind those very islands the Confederate commerce raider Shenandoah was covertly outfitted with the guns she would use to destroy the Yankee whaling fleet, when suddenly I saw a flash of white in the bay and a tingle of excitement ran up my spine as I saw a whale breach and spout.
There it was, a member of the most evolved group of minds in the sea, a real in the flesh whale, and I wondered what that whale would think and feel about the collection of arrogant primates in the building behind me sitting around talking about his species and cousins as if they were little more than mindless unfeeling slabs of meat in the marketplace.
Although governments are funding scientists to explore the galaxy in search of extraterrestrial intelligence, they are spending nothing to explore the possibility of communicating with intelligent life forms on our very own planet. It occurred to me that even discussing the possibility of inter-species communication would be incomprehensible to most of the delegates in the conference room.
I was lamenting the fact that there were so few protestors appearing at these meetings compared to the thousands that once blocked the doors and threw blood on the Japanese delegates in years gone by. Even last year, courageous Chileans were carried off by soldiers as armored vehicles stood guard with machine guns to keep emotion from contaminating the cold calculations of the discussions over scientific kill permits and aboriginal slaughter allowances.
Only two groups were openly opposing the slaughter this year in the streets of Funchal: Sea Shepherd crewmembers and Surfers for Cetaceans. There was not a Greenpeace, IFAW, or WWF sign or tee shirt to be seen. The mainstream NGO delegates in their suits and ties had been blended into the domesticated uniformity of the delegate crowd.
Greenpeacers who once stood beside me to block harpoons and seal clubs were now dutifully boarding buses to have cocktails and polite conversation with whalers and swivel servants to discuss such mundane matters as compromises and reduced quotas, concessions, and special cultural dispensations. It was plain that they had forgotten the horrific screams of the whales and the gut-wrenching plea in the eye of the whale for us to champion their cause before humanity.
Arne and Christine who flew in from Germany at their own expense to stand before the hotel with a banner pleading for the lives of whales and those sterile suits on the inside being paid to sip tea and pretending to be effective was an enlightening contrast. On the outside reigned compassion, a human emotion, that the Portuguese police were determined was not going to pollute the goings-on of those officially designated as dignitaries on the inside.
World-class free surfer Dave “Rasta” Rastovich arrived and took his board to the sea to mediate on the chilly petty pseudo dramas of those in the darkened enclosed room of fears and jeers. He and his fellow surfers were the link between us on land and those awesome cetacean minds offshore.
When someone commented that it seemed strange that Rasta would come all the way to the IWC from Australia just to surf, the thought struck me that perhaps he was accomplishing much more out there on the water than any of the great pretenders on the inside with their spongy straw heads babbling garbled inanities about a majestic life form they knew absolutely nothing about.
Of course, not all of them on the inside are unfeeling machines with their heads completely up their posteriors. They were divided into three colors: the blue of official delegations, the green of the non-governmental organizations (NGO’s), and the red for the media.
The red represented a spectrum of postures from pseudo-objectivity to propagandists with a sprinkle of genuine truth seekers like Andrew Darby and Mick McIntyre. The green represented another spectrum of diversity from banner wavers to socially acceptable activists and amongst the blue were politicians and bureaucrats who were not completely without feeling. Many of them in the pro-whale conservation delegations like Australia, the USA, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Monaco, the Netherlands, and New Zealand etc, were quite genuine in their concern for the whales but trapped in the crippling corporate and governmental controlled vice of IWC protocols that render decision making practically impossible. I’m sure that Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett would like to see whaling ended in the Southern Ocean but the political and economic obstacles tossed in his way force him to stumble and appear ineffective. United States Commissioner Bill Hogarth to his credit did succeed in saving the lives of 100 Humpbacks over the last two years and for that he is to be commended, but he also failed to budge the dead weight of IWC uselessness. But did he ever have a chance? The Japanese and their little bought and paid for puppet nations have managed to throw cog after cog into the workings of the machinations of the IWC to the point that the entire organization has become moribund and for all intents and purposes – dead.
The rank smell left drifting over Funchal in the wake of the IWC was simply the smell of years of rot and decay as the cancerous zombie like body once known as the International Whaling Commission has wasted away into bureaucratic slime and internal corruption, stumbling sightlessly towards nowhere with the scarlet blood of the whales dripping from gangrenous grayish black lips.
This organization at the age of 63 is quite simply a dead entity haunting a different luxury hotel every year. It is toothless, useless, and covered in bureaucratic boils, administrative hives, and ulcerous corporatepuscular tumors and all of it reeking of greed and ecological ignorance.
This emasculated dog and pony show stumbles tediously on and will meet next year not far from where it failed this year, in Morocco where the delegates from St. Lucia, St. Kitts, and all those other silly Saint whorish places that dare to call themselves real countries holding a vote, will descend for yet another Japanese paid holiday, this time with hashish and camel rides.
Meanwhile the gentle whales keep dying as the Japanese monstrously blow their sensitive guts apart with the burning shrapnel of their insidious harpoons, and the Icelanders, Greenlanders, and Norwegians, like cold-blooded Nordic berserkers, strike grisly and merciless death into the mighty hearts of endangered fins and humpbacks and defenseless Minkes.
These delegates cannot see, they cannot feel, nor can they understand the enduring pain that we, who love the whales, experience when we witness the deaths of these gentle giants, these great armless Buddha’s, these maritime musicians and poets. Where we see intelligence, family bonds and beauty, those on the darker side of humanity merely see materialistic profit. For us it’s music and magic, grace and beauty, and for those cold-blooded others it is simply blubber and meat, money and power.
In the hotel where the IWC was meeting, Charles Hambleton of the Oceanic Preservation Society aired the film The Cove to any delegate who cared to see it, and unfortunately most who did care to see it already cared. Perhaps if the Japanese, Norwegians and their globe trotting gigolos were strapped down and forced to watch the malicious mass murder of the dolphins they would be able to understand what drives the fiery passion of a Ric O’Barry or an Allison Lance (who freed 15 dolphins from Taiji in 2003).
If some of those delegates inside could actually have the opportunity to swim with the whales, perhaps they would understand, instead of saying as the delegate from Antigua did, that she knew there were whales near Antigua because she saw one on television once.
How do we get such bureaucrats who speak bureaucratese to even begin to understand the gentle vision of artist Howie Cooke or the courage of a Sea Shepherd crewmember?
Most likely we can’t. Those of us who care about the whales find that we can communicate more effectively with whales and dolphins than with these alien suits whose behavioral patterns are leading the world to collective suicide. They don’t understand that if we can’t save the whales, we will fail to save the oceans and if the oceans die, then we all die, and all the great dreams of humanity will be blown away as dust in the winds of time.
And the Inuits, the Alaskans, the Greenlanders, the Makah and all those aboriginal communities that confuse the debate with their chauvinistic obsession to slaughter for culture, will they ever realize that the cultural values of the first nations, those other species who were here long before us, should and must take precedence over the rights of any hominid to chew whale blubber in a world where whales are fast disappearing?
Why must a Bowhead whale, two centuries old, die in abject agony, just so a very small minority of people can continue to chew their fat pretending that their archaic cultures are still viable in a world gone ecologically insane? Preserving a culture of slaughter in a world of mass extinction should be the least of our collective priorities.
Preserving biodiversity in the midst of a major extinction event should be our greatest of priorities. These so called ancient hominid cultures were not wise nor were they sacred, and all human cultures without exception have contributed to the extinction of species. To allow so-called aboriginal cultures to finish off the survivors is simply selfish, shallow, and shortsighted. To allow the Inuit to continue to murder and destroy the more ancient and far wiser culture of the whales is no different than if we allowed the cannibals of Borneo to have preserved their culture of culinary homicide.
To the humpbacks, the Greenlanders are murderers; to the dolphins, the fishermen of Taiji are ruthless serial killers; and to the pilot whales, the ferocious butchers of the Faeroe Islands are savage barbarians. The massacre last year of over 500 narwhals by the Inuit in Canada was a vicious crime against nature perpetuated by sadistic killers who hid behind the hypocritical skirts of political correctness.
How do we even begin to communicate the incredible despair that we feel in trying to communicate the pain and suffering of whales and dolphins to a humanity grossly alienated from the living reality of nature and armored in layers of anthropocentric fantasies that proclaim the human to be a divine legend in our own pathetic little minds?
The act of harpooning a whale, of spearing a dolphin, of clubbing a seal, are simply incomprehensible to those of us on the outside of these regulatory agencies. We are constantly amazed at the repetitive accusations of terrorism and violence from vicious killers as we seek to stop the killing. It is like there are two species of humanity on the planet – the ruthless anthropocentric killing machines who slaughter without mercy or remorse, and those of us whose allegiance is to the biocentric view that all Earthlings regardless of species, have the inalienable right to life and the pursuit of happiness.
I have heard the screams of dying whales. I have seen their hot steaming blood gush into the cold waters of the sea. I have heard the sickening thud of a club as it smashes the skull of a baby seal, and I have seen dolphins, mad with fear, blood pulsing from gaping raw wounds as they desperately try to save the lives of their children from the insane spears and knives of their laughing human tormentors.
I have seen, heard, smelt, felt, and experienced these horrors most of my life as I have done all in my power within the bounds of the law and non-violence to halt the killing, to exercise compassion and to promote an understanding of the rights and the dignity of those fellow Earthlings who suffer so tremendously from the blood-stained hands of my fellow humans.
I hope that next year will see the demise of the IWC. We need to remove this embarrassing posturing of an organization that pretends to regulate whaling, and we need to replace it with an organization dedicated to the complete protection of all cetaceans, that will draft and enforce laws that will end the murder of the uniquely intelligent and socially complex communities of whales and dolphins.
The slaughter of these magnificent sentient beings has no place in the 21st Century, no place in any human culture, and no place in this world of the homocene mass extinctions.
Somewhere, tens of millions of miles away, a manmade spacecraft is hurtling towards the outer reaches of the galaxy. Within that spaceship named Voyager, thanks to the wisdom of Dr. Roger Payne and Dr. Carl Sagan, is a recording of a song by a humpback whale. I wonder which voice, human or whale, will entice a far distant intelligent extraterrestrial species? Will either whales or humans even exist on this planet should visitors grace us with their presence?
And as for these horrific annual meetings, I wonder which voices will be remembered and respected hundreds of years, or even millions of years from now?
I smile to myself when I envision that song engraved on a disc of gold and released into the stream of infinity. Mick Jagger’s voice on that space wandering disc, lamenting that humankind cannot get any satisfaction, and the song of the whales bearing a message of magic and mystery to borders beyond the unknown.
Who will our own provincial history remember with respect? The whale killers, or the whale defenders? If history is any guide at all, it will be the whale defenders that our ancestors will thank, and not the villainous killers of such unique, graceful and intelligent sentient beings.
It will be the image of artist Howie Cooke gifting a mural to Funchal school children, or Dave Rastovich surfing alongside a dolphin in the waters of Madeira or the Azores, or Dr. Sidney Holt smiling in hope for a future for both whales and humans. It will be Dr. Bill Hogarth’s gift of a hundred humpbacks to posterity, and it will be Ric O’Barry walking courageously through the meeting at St. Kitt’s with the images of the reality of blood, gore, and horror flashing in a nauseating flicker of delirium from a video screen on his chest. It will be Hannah Fraser’s mermaid tail flashing like a beacon of hope at the Santiago meeting, or little Skye Bortelli confronting Japanese whalers with children’s poems and art, as burly bodyguards stood ready to pounce on her as a suspected terrorist. It will be Peggy Oki’s thousands of origami whales displayed at the meeting in Anchorage, or former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell returning to Santiago as an activist after experiencing the frustration of being a delegate.
The story of the IWC will be remembered for those who spoke for the whales and defended them, and not for those who slew and destroyed them. Slavers, whalers, and other serial killers, war mongers, and dictators may enjoy power and prestige in the present but are invariably condemned in the future by more enlightened descendants.
Where do we go from here? I intend to return to the Southern Ocean to mount a sixth expedition aimed at saving as many whales as possible from the illegal harpoons of the Japanese whaling fleet and if given the resources we will sail to the North Atlantic to see what we can do to stop the Nordic serial killers.
If my body does not sink silently into the cold dark depths of the Southern Ocean or is confined to a dungeon under the shadow of Fujiyama, I will be back in Morocco next summer.
We cannot retreat. We can never surrender. We need to continue throwing documentaries like The Cove and television programs like Whale Wars into the faces of the ruthless practitioners of brutal cetacide. We need to continue to block the harpoons and we need to continue to sink outlaw whalers, and we must use our imaginations, our humor, our art, our music, our poetry, and our lives to defend and protect the graceful and gentle giants of the deep.
In the end we will triumph, we must triumph, or at least we will have done all that we could with the resources available to us to defend and protect a legacy that we can bequeath to the future.
In doing so, we will have lived lives of honor and selflessness and when you think about it, what better endeavor is there than to devote one’s life to than bestowing the gift of life and survival to a species successfully protected into the future of our most wondrous jewel of a planet?
From dust we came and to dust we will go, but in between, we can create and fight for the light of beauty and truth against the forces of greed and darkness.
After all is said and done, the fact remains that the forces of light were represented this year in Madeira, peering into the dungeon of darkness from the outside looking in, a reminder that a light of compassion still flickers within the heart of humanity, waiting for the darkness of the human heart to be illuminated with a new understanding that we are not alone on this planet, and that somewhere out there on the vast shroud of the ocean, in her mysterious depths, there swims whales and dolphins, and in their evolved brains dwells a separate reality and perhaps therein lies forgiveness for the lethal and obscene sins we have collectively inflicted upon their gentle souls.
For the ultimate truth is this – if we fail to save the great whales, we will fail to save ourselves and thus we weep for the whales in fear that if they disappear than so shall we – forever!