04 July 2010

Freedom Flukes

Currently pushing: Longform.org is a great site with articles, past and present, that are well, long. I'd RSS them if I were you.

Our Friday night wrapped up with an episode of Whale Wars, you know, the show where crazy people people throw themselves (and/or bottles of butyric acid) onto whaling ships in an effort to curb commercial whaling. During most of this episode, they showed captain Paul Watson cunningly decide to navigate the Sea Sheperd through some ice floes in an attempt to ditch his Japanese tail. This genius idea resulted in the Sheperd getting stuck -- they were not equipped with an ice class hull -- and eventually emerging only to find that the practical Japanese ship had simply gone around and was now closer to them than before. There's obviously a lot of unintentional comedy in Whale Wars, but there's also some interesting questions raised.

Questions like: Wait, why are people still hunting whales? What are they providing us with in the 21st century? Is disabling whaling boats one by one the best way to dissuade whalers? Why are the boats using water cannons against each other? Especially ones with a range of about ten feet? Is it biased to only care (more) about magnificent endangered animals at the expense of less cute ones? Why is "Bob Barker" the name of one of the anti-whaling ships? That answer is easily answered at least.

For last month's book club, we read Moby Dick and I got a pretty detailed view of how whaling in the 1800's worked. When they say that Moby Dick has many pages of whaling information, many of them focused on whale physiology and the like, they weren't kidding. For me though, these asides were actually my favorite part of the book, even if they could have been separated out into a companion volume.

Melville's protagonist has a bit about how the population of whales wouldn't ever truly be in danger because the math didn't add up. A whaling ship might return after a two or three year voyage after snaring fifty whales. With the danger and effort required to hunt down whales (whose remains were used for all sorts of essential items), the thinking was that whales wouldn't be eradicated ala the buffalo, which could -- and was -- killed with much more efficiency.

Then along came more technology, which made it much easier to track whales, outspeed whales, and advanced weaponry. If we wanted to, we could probably wipe out our enemy, the whale, in a few years time. Thank goodness we have the International Whaling Commission to avoid this. Oh wait, membership (and a vote) can be gifted to you by the Japanese, even if you might be a land locked country or a country without any prior history of whaling. I learned that little fact watching "The Cove," which is as biased a movie as it is an interesting one. I'd recommend it if not for the total bullying idiocy demonstrated by the activists while making the film.

Over at Long Form, they have an almost 10,000 word long article about killer whales in captivity, "The Killer in the Pool." I don't know if you'd want to spend a few minutes reading it through but it's worth your time -- especially if you're an admirer of marine life like me. One of the questions raised in the article is if having killer whales in captivity has outlived their research usefulness. I'm a long time Sea World season pass holder (and love Shamu Cam), but maybe I need to reconsider where I stand on the issue. And not just because it's sad to see dorsal fin collapse.

Recently I've been thinking about my stance on sushi too. I gave up vegetarianism right before I discovered sushi and it's no coincidence I haven't gone back. Raw fish is delicious and healthy and probably my favorite food. The problem is, it's a lot of people's favorite foods too. This New York Times article talks about the end of bluefin tuna. I don't know what kind of tuna I eat, except that it's delicious. But it's stupid to eat something just because it's delicious right? It would probably be the right thing to give up eating tuna, or to give up consuming sushi altogether, but that sounds painful.

"Bluefin sportfishing’s rise, however, coincided with Japan’s export boom. In the 1960s and ’70s, Japanese planes stuffed with electronics unloaded in the U.S. and returned empty -- a huge waste of fuel. But when a Japanese entrepreneur realized he could buy New England and Canadian bluefin for a song, he started filling up all those empty cargo holds with tuna. Exposure to beef and other fatty meats during the U.S. occupation had already drawn the Japanese to appreciate bluefin’s fatty belly (otoro, in sushi terms). The Atlantic bluefin, the biggest bluefin, became the most favored of all. This appreciation boomeranged stateside when Americans started to develop their own raw-fish habit in the late 1970s."
-Tuna's End-
This is how it is nowadays, picking and choosing your moral ambiguities. Anti-diamonds, blood or otherwise, but pro-Shamu and sushi. There's no doing wrong or right, just doing whatever makes you feel okay. The facts justify the ends and we know what they say about facts. Or maybe that was stats.