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Whatever you do, DON’T fuck with Moby.
October 23, 2006 10:34 AM   Subscribe

During the 19th century, thousands of men took to the seas to hunt for whales. The indigenous peoples of the Arctic practiced whaling for several millennia before that. Technological change and changes in mores have reduced the whaling industry to a heavily regulated shadow of what it used to be. But it hasn’t disappeared altogether. Even now, at the dawn of the 21st century, ships prowl the seas in search of a spout or a gigantic fin. A few months ago, Outside magazine published an account of a whale hunt aboard the Norwegian ship Sofie.
posted by jason's_planet (21 comments total)

 
An interesting read, thanks!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:23 AM on October 23, 2006


Thanks for posting this. The article makes a good case for Minke whaling being, from a environmental and ethical standpoint, little different from any other livestock harvest. A point which may be difficult for those who see whales as mythical creatures worthy of more protection than, say, the more mundane and profane pig.

I think many vegetarians will echo my sentiment that if whale hunting offends you and yet you'll think nothing of frying up porkchops for your kids tonight: Kindly STFU.
posted by applemeat at 11:24 AM on October 23, 2006


I think the difference, applemeat, is that pigs are domesticated and are not in danger of extinction. (I am a vegetarian, BTW)
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2006


Interesting article. I'm a veggie, and I pretty much agree with Applemeat. This doesn't strike me as much more or less brutal than killing a cow or a pig. I think the argument could be made that whales and their ilk are more intelligent and perhaps more sentient than many of the other animals humans eat, but my general feeling is yeah...flesh is flesh.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 11:56 AM on October 23, 2006


During whaling's 19th-century heyday, blubber was the much-prized source of whale oil, used as fuel for lamps and candles and later as an industrial lubricant...

It is a terrible tragedy that hundreds of thousands of whales were killed in the 19th century to light streets.

.. a thriving whaling industry developed to provide whale oil for lighting. In the United States alone, the whaling fleet swelled from 392 ships in 1833 to 735 by 1846. At the height of the industry in 1856 the United States was producing 4 to 5 million gallons of whale oil annually.

Norway didn't put whales on the brink of extinction and to suffer criticism and condemnation from those who did seems a bit rich.
posted by three blind mice at 11:59 AM on October 23, 2006


No blood for [whale] oil.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 12:02 PM on October 23, 2006


I'd eat whale. Fitting it in the fridge would be a problem.
posted by tkchrist at 12:05 PM on October 23, 2006


Welll, I don't kow about that: [T]he next four suffer a great deal. The harpoons hit muscle, and appear to drive the whales mad with pain and fear.
For all of factory farming's brutality (with which I admit I am rgely complicit), that probably wouldn't describe the experience of a butchered pig or cow.

But I was curious about this too:
The truth is, I didn't want to like the taste of whale and wasn't sure I'd try it if they offered, but it's not bad. It's lean like veal and has a rich, gamy taste.

Thanks for posting this article.
posted by Flashman at 12:06 PM on October 23, 2006


Whales are Tasty (Youtube link)
posted by ernie at 1:37 PM on October 23, 2006


three blind mice: Norway didn't put whales on the brink of extinction and to suffer criticism and condemnation from those who did seems a bit rich.

Luckily, I also didn't put whales on the brink of extinction, so I feel free to comment.

Your logic isn't working for me. Abstractly, you're cool with animals going extinct, as long as the people killing the last 20% aren't the ones that killed the first 80%? As long as every sub-group of humans gets their fair share of blubber in the process of killing off the animal completely? Not to mention that also precludes any potential future blubber production.
posted by salvia at 2:02 PM on October 23, 2006


Abstractly, you're cool with animals going extinct,

Only certain individual ones.
posted by three blind mice at 2:31 PM on October 23, 2006


I enjoyed the gruff dialogue among the crew and the way they goofed on the writer. I also liked the description of the early part of the trip where their ship was cruising between icebergs and mountains.

I was very surprised to learn that the USA had a whale oil processing station as late as 1972. I was born in '71, myself, which gives me a one year overlap with America's whaling industry.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:33 PM on October 23, 2006


You mean this has been up for five hours and nobody has yet posted a comment about seeing the headline and thinking of the techno musician?

I always knew I was unique; I didn't realize I was that unique...
posted by djlynch at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2006


Ah, the freedom of the open ocean; where the tragedy of the commons isn't just an unfortunate accident, it's a traditional way of life.
posted by sfenders at 3:57 PM on October 23, 2006


Okay.

I'm Icelandic and we officially started commercial whaling last week, after a 20 year moratorium. Believe me, there's been a lot of brouhaha about the issue recently around here. I pretty much agree with the journalist. It's brutal, but fairly ecologically sound.

Mostly, the argument against whaling hereabouts concerns its effects on the tourism industry. Most travellers coming here, come as eco-tourists, and whale-spotting is an important industry for our ubiquitous fishing villages, whose star has been falling for the last few decades, due to overfishing, consolidation of the fishing industry and the nation's steadily lessening dependency on commercial fishing.

The tourism industry has been steadily rising to rival fishing as the main occupation for a very significant portion of the population of rural Iceland. Many fear that eco-tourists will stop coming here. It yet remains to be seen how things will turn out.

Every fisherman I know tells me that they constantly catch minke whales and dolphins on the big trawlers, so we've probably been killing a lot more whales indirectly than we will ever kill by whaling. None of that accidental catch is used, but instead thrown overboard for the gulls. This goes for all commercial fishing nations in the world.

Also, I understand the U.S. kill about 2000 minke whales per year by a special dispensation for Alaskan Inuits. As mentioned in the article, the Japanese have been constantly abusing the "scientific" whaling loophole.

If there's anything related to marine practices that environmentalists (which I'd say includes myself) should raise a big stink over, it's not controlled commercial whaling, but bottom trawling.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 6:00 PM on October 23, 2006


That's an interesting article; a nicely balanced point of view that is rare these days.

Recently I've been reconsidering my stance on whale hunting. It's kind of hard getting away from the whaling discussion here in Iceland: the local media loves it when international attention is directed at our shores, positive or negative. I've never really seen what the big hoopla is about whaling; it's just another food gathering industry and if it helps a few fishermen put food on the table, great!

The whaling in Iceland is closely controlled and the numbers of whales hunted are low enough to not damage the stock, but, nevertheless, the potential profits are minimal: whale meat is not in high-demand and the sale of whalemeat is months away, the whales currently being farmed have to be thouroughly examined for toxicity from sea pollution.
If the negative publicity starts hurting the trade or tourist industry then the whaling hasn't been worth it for the few measly pennies it brings in.

Sorry if that was a derail.
posted by aldurtregi at 6:16 PM on October 23, 2006


Bycatch kills more whales, as the article says. I'd rather eat the bycatch.

Zero Gravitas, when I get back to Iceland, I'll be sure to look for whale meat.

Flashman, factory butchering in the US is that brutal, or worse. And the workers are treated nearly as badly as the animals.
posted by QIbHom at 9:04 PM on October 23, 2006


QIbHom, a lot of the old-timers I work with say that minke whale is pretty good, but they also say that fin whale is in fact better. They advised me to marinate the meat in milk overnight to get rid of the saltiness.

jason's_planet, nice use of the MobyDickWillHaveHisRevenge tag.
posted by Zero Gravitas at 7:59 AM on October 24, 2006


Thanks for the link, jason's_planet. Reading Moby right now and was curious as to current whaling techniques.

Not the same without a whale-bone peg-leg though. Those were the goddamn days.

Interestingly enough, it seems to have been Melville's contention that whales would never die out, as they'd flee up to the arctic. Pity that it looks like he was wrong.
posted by Football Bat at 10:32 AM on October 24, 2006


[Coincidentally, I had also recently been reading Moby Dick when I caught Jason's_planet's FPP. And p.s. Anyone interested in whaling/fishing adventures (or in 1820's American history, or in cannibalism for that matter) may also really enjoy In “In The Heart of the Sea - The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick. The true story of the Essex wreck is said to have inspired Melville to write Moby. It’s also a fascinatingly horrifying account of what happens to a biracial crew of whalers, stuck in the most desolate expanse of the South Pacific, after their 80’ long prey turns tables on its astonished hunters.]
posted by applemeat at 11:12 AM on October 24, 2006


I've never really seen what the big hoopla is about whaling; it's just another food gathering industry and if it helps a few fishermen put food on the table, great!

Well . . . historically, whaling has been a brutal process. Many whale species were hunted almost to extinction and are now just recovering. But the impetus behind that slaughter was the use of whale oil and whale products. Nowadays, with just a small minority of the world's population hunting the most plentiful species purely for food, the pressure is much lower. I don't see Arctic/Japanese/Inuit whaling as a huge environmental threat. (Although I'm sure some would disagree.)

Sorry if that was a derail.

Not in the least. It's great to hear from people living in societies where this is actually a day-to-day issue.

They advised me to marinate the meat in milk overnight to get rid of the saltiness.

jason's_planet, nice use of the MobyDickWillHaveHisRevenge tag.


Thank you! And that kind of detail was actually the reason I did this post; thank you for sharing that.

As mentioned in the article, the Japanese have been constantly abusing the "scientific" whaling loophole.

That's always struck me as complete horseshit. If it's "research," why is it ending up in supermarkets?

A point which may be difficult for those who see whales as mythical creatures worthy of more protection than, say, the more mundane and profane pig.

Good point. Whales have a certain grandeur but in the end, they're still animals. Hunting and eating the one isn't that much different from hunting the other; although I would have to agree that whales are in a much more precarious environmental position than factory-farmed hogs.

Interestingly enough, it seems to have been Melville's contention that whales would never die out, as they'd flee up to the arctic. Pity that it looks like he was wrong.

Well . . . the Arctic in Melville's time was about as well known as the surface of Mars; he couldn't have foreseen Arctic oil drilling, mining, nuclear-powered icebreakers, etc. Some have said that the noise from the above activities is actually more of a threat to whales than trawling and hunting.

Anyway . . . a hearty thank you to everyone who enjoyed the link and contributed to this post!
posted by jason's_planet at 11:29 AM on October 24, 2006


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