The following article was first published in April 1996 and is reproduced here with permission of the author. At the time of writing, she represented the Fishermen's Coalition, a San Diego, California-based NGO representing tuna fishermen.

Worshipping a Sacred Cow

In 1982, a "temporary" moratorium on whaling was imposed on the whalers of the world by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The lull in hunting was deemed necessary by the powers of the world in order to census the whale populations, species by species, stock by stock, ocean by ocean.

By 1991, counts revealed that some whale stocks were abundant and hunting the animals for food could no longer be objected to based on concern for the viability of the populations. United States officials promptly stated that they would now object to whaling based on "moral and ethical" grounds. But in a diverse world, the question stands: Whose morals? Whose ethics?

The chairman of the IWC scientific committee quit, commenting, "What is the point of having a scientific committee if its unanimous recommendations on a matter of primary importance are treated with such contempt?"

U.S. policies regarding wildlife attempt to balance science-based conservation with respect for cultures. Most species of animal are used for a spectrum of reasons: as sources of food and fiber, for education and research, for companionship and entertainment. These values generally coexist peacefully within our society. Americans take their children to petting zoos and aquariums in the morning, enjoy tunafish for lunch and lamb chops for dinner, and feel no conflict in these activities. The U.S., a melting pot society, was built on tolerance for diversity of values, a society with treasures its own segment of citizens who hunt whales, our Eskimos.

Yet segments of the U.S. are promoting a policy based on a "moral and ethical" objection to the hunting of abundant animals by other peoples, risking the hunt by the Inuit in the process.

Tempers flared under charges of "cultural imperialism." Greenies promoting biodiversity attempted to force-feed their monoculture onto the rest of the world. Tensions rose with the withdrawal of Iceland and Canada from the IWC.

In 1995, the U.S. threatened trade sanctions when Norway calculated her own quotas and went whaling. Under the leadership of Gro Harlem Bruntlandt, the woman who gave the world the concept of sustainable development, Norwegian fishermen/whalers took a few hundred whales from a stock numbering in the tens of thousands. Bruntlandt, the recipient of the prestigious "Twelve Stars" award from the European Environmental Bureau, was subjected to the indignity of a recall when the Bureau voted and took back the prize.

The U.S. postured and threatened but didn't sanction Norway. U.S. threats followed against Japan for continuing their IWC-sanctioned 18-year research whaling. Around the world, countries involved in hunts of marine mammals trembled and fretted. The closure of U.S. markets to their fish products could break their economies in a matter of weeks.

In the U.S., an "inter-agency committee" meeting is held in Washington, DC several times a year as a forum to allow U.S. citizen input on our whaling policy. Most Americans have never heard of it. The conversations in the room are considered confidential although they deal with "public" policy making.

This restriction is not law, there is no regulation maintaining secrecy of the discussions in the room. It is, we are told, simply "traditional." The room is closed to reporters and cameras. For several hours, representatives of the world's largest animal rights' groups discuss and strategize the future of whaling with "like-minded" U.S. government representatives.

Conspicuously absent are conservation scientists, hunters, trappers, fishermen, those who use whales for food, education and entertainment. Since the constituency for hunting whales in the U.S. is limited to our indigenous peoples, DC policy is driven by those who utilize the whale as a fund-raising totem. This non-consumptive value dominates the agenda, obliterating the rights of those who value whales for other reasons.


The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), a $100 million animal rights behemoth, attends these meetings religiously. On meeting Patricia Forkan of HSUS at the 1994 annual meeting of the IWC, I asked her how her organization reconciled its anti-hunting / trapping / fishing / whaling / sealing policies with the needs of indigenous peoples who hunt and trap and fish and whale and seal. Forkan replied, "Oh, we're very supportive of the indigenous people. We paid for half their booth at the Rio Summit."

Craig Van Note of Monitor Consortium, an expert in disrupting international trade, never misses an inter-agency meeting on the whaling issue. Van Note sums up Monitor's mission statement as "our members believe in non-consumptive use of the world's resources." Along with HSUS, Monitor's members include the Animal Welfare Institute, Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Island Institute, Environmental Investigation Agency, Fund for Animals, Greenpeace USA, PeTA, Sierra Club and other preservationist/animal rights groups.

No longer simply an animal, the whale as a totem, a quasi-religious symbol, moves center stage. Without whales in our backyards, it is easy for Americans to ignore the battle over the whale as the debate ruthlessly imposes the cultural preferences of a few onto the whalers around the world.

But forcing the rest of the world, under the guise of "morals and ethics," to drop to their knees and worship a sacred cow is more than just wrong. It is morally and ethically repugnant.

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