Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Dinner music from the ocean depths

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We've turned whales into giant aquatic teddy bears, but the experts say we won't endanger the species if we eat a few. Photo / AP
We've turned whales into giant aquatic teddy bears, but the experts say we won't endanger the species if we eat a few. Photo / AP

Some people eat cows. Some people eat cats. Some people eat dugongs. Some people eat dogs. Some people eat horses. Some people eat herrings. Some people eat sheep. Some people eat snails. Some people eat turnips. Some people eat tuna. Some people eat wildebeeste. Some people eat whales.

Some people even eat people, although there's not a lot of them these days and it would be entirely wrong to criticise those few who do if enjoying a bit of long pig is an integral part of their cultural identity.

Indeed, you could argue that more people should eat people and that we should encourage the practice, not least because it would likely mean fewer people eating whales.

There wouldn't be many among us keen to marinate Moby after we'd had Ahab as an appetiser. "Oh, that's very kind of you but I'm absolutely full. He was delicious."

It's easy to imagine Sea Shepherd's founder, Paul Watson, endorsing such an approach. His commitment to the great cetaceans is unequivocal. He'd sooner harpoon the captain than the whale. Mr Watson doesn't believe whales should be part of our food chain. They may well be the scourge of krill ("Look out! Thar she blows!") and definitely partial to a plankton salad, but that does not mean they should be eaten by unfeeling folk in Japan, Norway, Iceland, or Elsewhere. (A great place to visit, by the by.)

Every year, Mr Watson sails south into stormy seas, the better to bother the whaling Japanese. Ramming, jamming, boarding and badgering, his crews go about their missionary work with unbridled fervour. Ships sink, Aussies (three this week) invade the enemy's vessel - as welcome as our apples in their supermarkets - and, generally, everyone has a fine old time taking the moral high ground. (Which is quite difficult at sea.)

As a food-producing nation, we should be thankful Mr Watson isn't worried about little lambs and such. If he was, we'd have Sheep Shepherd Land Rovers patrolling Outer Roa, liberating flocks from stock trucks and abattoirs. Masked activists would raid kennels, hijacking heading dogs or slipping sedatives into their Tux. No burger would be safe, no lamb shank secure.

Sadly, the problem with sheep - and cows too, for that matter - is that they're not interesting enough. Sheep just baa. Cows just moo. Both of them, bovines and ovines, just stand still and chew. They don't roam the globe, singing mysterious songs. You can't buy a new-age CD of sheep bleats or cow moos. And if you could, you wouldn't play it. You'd give it to somebody you don't like for Christmas.

But whales do sing. Well, in fact, they probably don't. The notion of whale songs is probably anthropomorphic. Nevertheless, you can buy CDs crammed full of what we imagine are the Blue's greatest hits, not to mention the Sperm's and Minky's. These melodies have given whales a new place in our consciousness; no longer a source of corsets and candles but rather of inspiration. In our minds, they've become teddy bears of a kind, large, for sure, but also cute and cuddly and beyond our predation.

Except, the experts say we can eat a few. And we should believe them. Experts are expert. They know more than we do. Experts are the higher primates of information. If they say we cause global warming, for instance, we must believe them. The Green Party certainly does.

And if they say we can eat a few whales without endangering the species, we should believe that too. The Green Party certainly ... ummm. Y'pays your expert and y'takes your choice, it seems.

Yet, in this case, the experts come from the International Whaling Commission, which represents all factions in this vexed debate. And even those delegates with whale songs on their iPods have approved the commission's quotas.

We should understand this. We have quotas for all sorts of fish - none of which sing. But we still catch them and eat them and no Sea Shepherds seek to stop us. We can't really pick and choose in this matter. If we have quotas, decided by experts, there's no reason why the Japanese, Norwegians and others shouldn't have them too.

Ohh, yes there is, you say. Pain. Whales suffer. But so does any living thing that's killed, be it a whale, a cow, a shark, or a sheep - and, possibly, a weed as well. We don't know how a weed feels when it's torn from the garden. Vegetarianism is just elitism with a fork, snobbery on a plate. It presumes it's all right to eat the lower orders of living things, like carrots and kumara, because they don't go anywhere or do anything, just sit in the ground, like Hindu mystics with leaves, being oblivious to everything.

Unless they're not. Maybe vegetables sing too and we just haven't heard them. Perhaps the people who eat carrots and cows and chickens and celery and ducks and deer and sheep and salads and tuna and turnips should stop condemning the people who eat whales and put a little humble pie on their own menus.

- NZ Herald

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