Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Welfare, Rights, Respect, Speciesism and Scientific Whaling

The following guest blog was written by Dr. Sidney Holt.  Dr. Holt is ASOC's representative at meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and has decades of IWC experience. 

Yesterday a friend sent me a marvelous, and immensely moving video-clip. It was about a pair of elephants, clan friends, who had been taken into captivity and separated for twenty years, then brought together again and released from their cages. The video recorded their recognition and reuniting ceremony; it can only be called love. I wished we could similarly see the release of a long-captive orca and its reunion with its wild family.

The cruelty of whaling has long been an intermittent concern of some people who have attended meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The first NGO to attend the IWC as an Observer was, I think, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and early on Dr Harry Lilley brought his accounts of the prolonged deaths of fin and blue whales in the Antarctic, seen from his perch as doctor in residence on one of the British factory ships. Later, more joined in – the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals,, the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), Humane Society International (HIS), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Cetacean Society International and others. They were mostly pre-occupied with the horrors of slow death and the escape of mortally wounded animals. I think they were not always looking at exactly the right bit of the process. The chase, between the sighting and the harpoon launch and bomb explosion is the most stressful for the animal in all hunts, at least those for the fast-swimming rorquals. In human terms it is the torture before the execution. And there is a world of difference between trying to improve the living and working conditions of slaves and abolishing slavery.

Many people who want to live to see an end to whaling have mixed reasons. One of them is not merely that the hunts are cruel, but that they are inevitably cruel; we have no way of making them ‘humane’, and this makes opposition to them qualitatively different from concern about humane killing of domestic livestock, which the apologists for whaling like to pretend is no different from the acquisition of their preferred meat. The apologists also like to assert that the rorquals are no more intelligent than cattle – as if that was morally relevant. But such assertions do make one think hard about moral hierarchies.

It so happened that when I received the video that made me cry, I had been reading an extraordinary book by an Anglo-Nigerian historian, David Oluscoga and a Dane resident in Namibia, Casper Erichsen, entitled “The Kaiser’s Holocaust: Germany’s Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism”. In fact it was this book that gave me the idea, expressed in a previous blog, of ‘rescuing’ this quasi-taboo word from the special use of it when written with a capital H.  It was not, of course, only the Germans among the European colonialists who in the nineteenth century perpetrated genocides in Africa and elsewhere; the British settlers exterminated the Tasmanian aborigines and the North Americans  moving westward were pretty active on ‘their’ continent.

Oluscoga and Erichsen are effective in demonstrating the continuity of the massacres in the new German colony in Southwest Africa with the rise of fascism – Hermann Goring’s dad was one of the governors there, and improvements were made to the concentration camp idea invented by the British to kep the Boers in order.   But what struck me was their demonstration of how useful for the pursuit and justification of violent oppression was the philosopher Herbert Spencer’s perversion of Darwin’s theory of ‘natural selection’ into  ‘survival of the fittest. Spenser essentially invented ‘Social Darwinism’ that justified the maltreatment of beings lower in a conveniently constructed hierarchy. Lower orders were perceived as sub-human, at best, whether they were slaves, the poor in the new industrial societies, the blackish people of Africa or members of the Yellow Peril/Menace/Terror. And the boundary between sub-human and non-human was porous. The most shocking thing I learnt from ‘The Kaiser’s Holocaust’ was that in Berlin and other cities, late in the nineteenth century Võlkerschauen (‘people shows’), circuses, zoos, ‘panopticons' (‘see alls’), a variety of human specimens were displayed along with the non-humans. Specialist ‘providers’ enriched themselves by trapping both animals and humans.

About the same time an eminent English scientist, one of the fathers of statistical methodology, Sir Francis Galton, wrote to the London Times  seriously suggesting that steps be taken to replace the inferior black natives of Africa by Chinese, ‘a race capable of high civilisation’. Galton was a founder of ‘eugenics’- the attempted improvement of the human species by control of breeding. assisted by surgery. He coined the term and also the ominous epithet ‘nature versus nurture. His ideas – one being that
homosexuality is a genetic anomaly – led, in mid-20th century, to the British authorities chemically castrating (and driving to suicide) the man who was arguably the greatest mathematical biologist of the century – Alan Turing, the founder of the theory of computing and master code-breaker of WWII.  But for us, Galton’s great idea was the transformation of the biologists’ concept of ‘a specimen’ to that of ‘a representative sample’.  Germans and others in Southwest Africa, thinking of themselves as scientists, measured thousands of aboriginal heads (and collected skulls) in establishing the ‘science’ of phrenology, and vigorously pursued other pathways to knowledge involving killing and mutilating ‘the others’, be they blackish, brown, yellowish or even low-class white.  Preceding  Galton a German scientist, Alfred Ploetz,  in 1895 called his subject ‘rassenhygiene’ (race hygiene) and by 1909 Galton was Honorary President of Ploetz’s Society for Racial Hygiene. Ploetz was also a fan of representative sampling.

We have seen this shift to ‘sampling’ in the progress from what the authority given in the 1937 whaling Agreement for occasionally killing specimens of protected whale species, to the collection of large ‘representative samples’, year after year, by the employees of Tokyo’s Institute for Cetacean research and, for a few years, though on smaller scales by their colleagues in Iceland and Norway.

The Kaiser’s holocaust in SW Africa also led to a back-migration to South Africa and racist ideas attending that movement like a deadly virus fueled the growth and eventual temporary victory of Apartheid there. Before that had been ousted the British were at it again massacring more blacks, the anti-colonial movement in Kenya – the Mau Mau. When it comes to holocausts the British and Dutch have a lot to answer for as well as have the Germans, Belgians (assisted by the Welsh charlatan posing as an explorer, Henry Morton Stanley), and Americans of the ilk of President Theodore Roosevelt who believed that ‘ by the very act of becoming frontier people the whites of America have evolved into a stronger, more virile, resourceful people.’  Here, too, was a connection; by far the most popular reading by th Germans of Africa and America were the ‘Western’ novels of the German writer Karl May.

The west coast of the African continent is swept and nourished by the Benguela Current. Coming up cold from the Antarctic, nutrient-rich, it generates one of the World Ocean’s most biologically productive  so-called ‘Large Marine Ecosystems’. The British enclave on the Namib coast, Walvis Bay (Walvis is  corrupted Afrikaans for ‘whales’ -  walvish), discovered by the Portuguese navigator Bartholomew Diaz in 1487, was a favoured place for European and American whalers in the late 18th century. It was claimed by the Dutch in 1793, then by the British in 1878, and later became the site of huge and varied fisheries. During their occupation of the Walvis Bay region the Dutch established a whaling station. But the real development was the initiation of ‘modern whaling’ in 1912 by two companies in Walvis bay itself – one Norwegian, one British - and a German-Norwegian one in nearby Lüderitz Bay. These were brought to an early end by the German occupation of Walvis bay at the outbreak of WWI and by the expense of the necessary freshwater., which had to be brought by boat from Cape Town.
Yields in SW Africa were also low in the days when oil was still the main product. This was because the whales being most frequently caught were the newly discovered non-migratory, therefore non-blubbery, Bryde’s whales. They came into their own when the pirate whalers began operating mini-factory-catchers under flags of convenience in the 1960s and ‘70s, producing only frozen Bryde’s meat for the Japanese market.

( The Humboldt Current system – named after Alexander von Humboldt - that sweeps up the South American West coast from the Antarctic has remarkably similar characteristics to the Benguela, providing vast  numbers of sardines and anchovies, and Bryde’s whales, to the coastal dwellers of Peru. Alexander was a Prussian naturalist and explorer who worked extensively in South America at the beginning of the 19th century and is now recognized as one of Europe’s greatest geoscientists. He believed in the harmony or nature and worked hard for the unity of the sciences. Humboldt was the first to suggest that the continents of South America and Africa had once been joined. He was another sort of German: he hated slavery and the conditions which Amerindians and others were forced to endure; he vigorously opposed Germany’s colonial policy.)

In that early 20th century period whaling was expanding rapidly around Africa – Franco-Norwegian operations off Congo and Gabon, other Norwegian-plus-x off Angola and Mozambique. It remained profitable only in South Africa; substantial numbers of humpback whales were killed, and, after WWII, sperm whales. But the Norwegian historians J. N. Tonnessen and A. O. Johnsen felt constraind to write, in their 1959-70 masterwork:  “Of all the whaling grounds in the world those around Africa have been subject to least scientific investigation”. Let us now hope that the inclusion of the western coasts in the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposed by Brazil and Argentina will, when adopted next year, encourage correction of this anomaly, much as the declaration of the Indian Ocean Sanctuary in 1979 did for the eastern African coasts as well as for the Asian shores.

That was a bit of a deviation but, I hope, a useful one. I return now to my main theme of animal welfare, rights and respect. Holocausts and massacres are, I think, practically always about money and physical property even when they are overlaid and superficially justified by theories of hierarchy, stratification and desirable dominance.  This was true of the German push for ‘liebersraum’ (living space) in Poland, Lithuania, East Prussia, Alsace-Lorraine, German East Africa (Tanganyika, Rwanda and Burundi) and SW Africa, and its Japanese equivalent – Prime Minister Matsuoka Yôsuke’s intensely racist Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (formally announced in 1940 but with roots going much further back), as it is for the Icelanders’ attack on the fin and blue whales. A common feature is that there really are no limits to this except capability and circumstance. Christian Loftsson’s and the Icelandic Government’s claims of ‘sustainability’ are thin smoke screens; they will catch just as many as the market will take in the medium term, taking account of the expected export price and the cost of holding excess stockpiles in freezers.

A common feature of the holocaustic mentality is the demonisation of the target.  In whaling this now takes the form of accusing the whales of eating the fish and other resources that rightly belong to our species and sometimes behaving badly in other ways – such as by attacking boats from which men have hurled or fired harpoons. The ICR has put a lot of effort into compiling the scanty ‘evidence’ of this, but I think convinced no one else. Similar demonisation by Icelandic and Norwegian whalers has amounted to little more than well-publicised assertions.

When I studied biology sixty years ago not only were taxonomy and systematics hierarchical, they were also judgmental. We spoke of higher and lower levels of evolution, something I don’t think Charles Darwin did. Now we don’t think of the mammals and the insects as being high and low, just different. And Vive la Difference. As researchers now search experimentally for evidence of self-awareness among the non-human animals they have tended to look first at the big-brained elephants, apes and cetaceans, but they have turned also to small birds, and found this feature in the little grey parrot, but not in dogs or cats. Also relatively recent appearance in the evolutionary time-table doesn’t seem to compute, as Mr Spock might say. The group including the self-aware bottlenose dolphin has been around for very much longer than we and the other Great Apes.

The recognition of, first, sentience, then of complex intra-specific (and perhaps inter-specific) communication among ‘animals’, and then of self-awareness must generate respect for them as well as compassion. True respect involves rights, as many human ethnic groups well know. That is why I welcomed the efforts by a few of the humans who know most about the non-human Great Apes to campaign for those species to have their rights recognized in human laws. And we all should especially welcome, most recently, and even closer to my heard, the Declaration of  Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins posted from Helsinki in May, 2010 by the organizers – the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) –  of an international conference which engaged people who are studying and know much more than most of us about these animals. (Google ‘cetacean rights’ for lots of stuff)

Some of the ten rights specified in the Declaration read as follows:
4. No cetacean is the property of any state, corporation, human group or individual;
5. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures;
6. The rights, freedoms, and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law;
7, Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.

If I had been there in Helsinki I might have insisted on a right not to be turned into soap, cooking oil, margarine and meatballs, either for humans or their domestic animals (The North Atlantic bottlenose whale was practically exterminated by Norwegian whalers in the 1930s to 1970s for sale of its flesh as food for – mainly – the pet animals of British ‘animal lovers’.)

It seems to me that these statements provide a powerful rationale for support of Monaco’s proposal that the United Nations declare that all listed highly migratory cetaceans be fully and permanently protected when swimming in the high seas. There are, of course, other reasons to support the Monaco proposal and not everyone who does support it will agree with this one; the ideas in the Declaration will take time to be digested and to multiply and become mainstream – as with basic human rights.  But the UN is the only organ that can undertake the implementation of the declaration’s hopes in international waters. Nothing that I can find in the all-embracing 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) - could preclude the UN from taking the action in principle proposed by Monaco, nor from seeking to persuade states to take corresponding actions in their bailiwicks. Article 120 of UNCLOS indeed (since it came into force in 1994, incidentally the year the IWC designated the Southern Ocean as a Whale Sanctuary) explicitly authorizes inter-governmental organizations - naturally including the UN itself - to ‘prohibit the exploitation of marine mammals on the high seas’. It is important to note that this provision does not give ownership of the mammals, including the ‘highly migratory’ cetaceans, to the United Nations. It is thus quite different from the provisions in the Convention regarding the effective UN ‘ownership’ of the seabed resources beyond national jurisdictions in the so-called Area, the Common Heritage for the mining of which the UN may issue licenses.

(The late Dr John Gulland and I had the audacity to propose, many years ago, that the UN should take ownership of the Great Whales in order properly to regulate their exploitation and provide for their conservation – which the IWC was manifestly not doing – and devote the proceeds from licenses to research and compliance and, if anything was left over, to pay some of the UN’s other bills. Needless to say few took any notice of us but at least we weren’t both fired from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN in those relatively liberal days.)

Good history is not, I think about repetitions and cycles, nor about catalogues of facts and factoids. It is about not forgetting. In our case, here, about how rights are won; how they are abused or enforced;  the consequences of discrimination, by religion, race (whatever that might be), ethnic identity, gender, age, level of wealth, position in a hierarchy - or species. As to the latter, the British psychologist and animal welfare and rights campaigner, Dr Richard D. Ryder, explained it well, in 1973. Ryder defined Speciesism as the assigning of different values or rights to beings on the basis of their species membership, and wrote:

“It denotes a prejudice against non-humans based on physical differences that are given moral value. I use the word to describe the widespread discrimination that is practised by man against other species ... Speciesism is discrimination, and like all discrimination it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against.”

The American actor, theatrical producer/director, poet, novelist and pro-animal activist, Ms Phoebe Wray, has called for something similar in just three words:

Share the planet

And many of us always have another three on the tips of our tongues:

Save the Whales

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