Opinion Columns & Blogs

What is the appeal of that thar blubber?

Dateline: Agadir, Morocco — The International Whaling Commission, the baleen-toothed federation of nations entrusted with nothing less than the future of the world’s largest living leviathans, came dangerously close this week to throwing open whale hunting to the Seven Seas.

Norway, Iceland and Japan — as well as a host of indigenous peoples — would have been able to kill as many whales as they see fit for the next 10 years, if the IWC had decided to drop a 24-year-old moratorium on whaling.

The United States and 80-plus other nations said that kill quotas would have been involved in exchange for dropping the moratorium. But because there’s no enforcement of the quotas, it could be open season on bringing certain great whales to extinction.

New Zealand and Australia are adamantly opposed to dropping the moratorium, however. And, as of Wednesday, it appeared as though they and like-thinking countries derailed the plan.

Why should we care? Our coastline is the main migratory route between the Arctic and Mexico for gray whales and their calves. In addition to whale-watching tourism, spotting a gray whale spouting off one of our coastal headlands gives one a profound sense of connection between our world and theirs. They’re part of our culture here on the Central Coast.

Those are just a few of the reasons why our county supervisors and the city councils of San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay and Atascadero recently passed anti-whaling resolutions opposing plans to drop the moratorium.

If you haven’t been following this particular news item, here’s a quick recap: The IWC set a moratorium on whale hunting that went into effect in 1986. Countries that didn’t sign on to the moratorium — Norway and Iceland — were labeled “rogue nations” and left alone to set their own kill numbers.

Japan circumvented the moratorium by saying it was taking whales for scientific research, although whale meat makes its way to high-end Japanese sushi restaurants.

It’s estimated that the three nations have taken about 33,000 whales since the moratorium was inked.

The question of whale slaughter comes down to this: Why?

We don’t use whale oil for fuel anymore. We don’t use rendered blubber for candles. We don’t use baleen for corset stays or buggy whips, as once was the case. So, why?

I can understand indigenous peoples taking whales for food and as a way to honor their traditions. But factory ships that fire an explosive into the innards of a whale only to let it die an agonizing death — where’s the imperative?

As mentioned above, the Japanese whalers have a food market — although it’s estimated that only about 4 percent of its population cares for whale sushi. As for the Norse and Icelanders, those countries still have hanger-on whaling industries that will live or die depending on whale killing (although one would think that all of the wealth that the Norwegians now have from their North Sea oil properties that they could afford to retool the whalers).

And, as long as these factory ships are out poaching in the Southern Ocean — those waters surrounding Antarctica that were declared a whale sanctuary in 1994 — these rogue nations now want to create new whale byproduct markets in cosmetics as moisturizers. It seems that there’s collagen to be had in that thar blubber.

And, with their activities sanctioned by a non-enforceable quota, Norway and Iceland would no longer be rogue, and whalers would be in a stronger position to export their product.

So it’s come to this: Kill the most majestic creatures on earth — sentient beings that have huge brains, exquisite communication systems and a sense of nurturing that reflects the mammalian culture of mother and child — so superficial individuals can have smoother skin and poutier mouths and butts. Talk about minting gold into pennies.

And so it goes. As a greed-blinded species intent on devouring the last proverbial piece of pie, we continue to sow the seeds of a bitter harvest.

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or 781-7852.