|'Save the Orcas' isn't an exportable value||Response to the Seattle Times editorial|
Seattle Times editorial
(February 20, 1997)
Television images of orca whales captured in Japan strike a sensitive chord in the Pacific Northwest, where whales occupy a special place in our cultural and environmental values. But there is no justification for demanding that the Japanese feel the same way.
We can wish Japanese officials felt as we do about these magnificent creatures. We can show the way to Friday Harbor or to Canada's Robson Bight or Alaska's Prince William Sound, where orcas can be watched in the wild. We can contrast this with images of captured orcas that jump through hoops at popular aquariums.
We can point to sagging dorsal fins and to evidence that whales' lives are shortened in captivity. We can argue that such displays turn these dignified creatures into circus animals.
But the Japanese can simply respond: You Americans already have your whales, captured 20 years ago and kept in public aquariums from San Diego to Miami. Those captive whales both entertain and educate people who would never see one in its natural setting. Japan merely proposed to do the same.
Orcas are not endangered - legally or biologically. A renewed hunt could bring them to that point, but there is no immediate danger since orcas have no commercial value except to a limited number of large aquariums. There is no international law against capture; there isn't even an official U.S. policy.
In the absence of compelling legal or biological arguments, we are left with cultural values that vary from one culture to the next. The Japanese, who view wild deer with much the same reverence we do whales, could wag fingers and instruct us not to hunt deer - but they don't.
This is not a matter for international sanctions, but for human understanding and education. We in the Northwest believe the world would benefit from leaving orcas and other whales to roam the oceans. Perhaps the same TV pictures of captive orcas will bring Japanese attitudes to this point of view.
In the meantime, this is an issue for the Japanese, who will attempt to do what's right for their culture and their environment, without any help from this side of the Pacific.
Naomi Rose, The Humane Society of the United States
(March 5, 1997)
The trouble with this editorial, as tolerant and rational as it sounds, is that it leaves the whales themselves entirely out of the equation. What strikes me most about this editorial and other statements like it that I've seen over the years is the amazingly arrogant anthropocentrism inherent in its arguments.
It presumes that the issue, if there is no threat of endangering the survival of a *species*, is entirely one of different cultural values between two human populations, rather than one completely independent of human culture or politics or economics -- the issue is not US, for heaven's sakes. Human self-absorption simply knows no bounds. The issue is THEM, the whales, and their values, their individual well-being and survival, and yes, their *rights.*
In my opinion, nobody, on either side of the Pacific (or any other ocean), has the right to do what the people who captured these whales did; and frankly, I would argue that the Japanese (and anybody else) would have every right to chastise our culture for its ethically-challenged promotion of killing animals (like deer) for sport.
Cruelty, whether to humans or non-humans, is absolute; it is not one thing in one culture and another thing in another culture. That animals suffer is a cold, hard, scientific fact; pain, anxiety -- many of the things that constitute "suffering" are measurable by science. To cause suffering gratuitously, for economic greed (or worse yet, for pleasure) rather than for survival -- that is cruelty, regardless of the culture in which it occurs. And I would argue also that the ethic that cruelty is *wrong* and should not be tolerated by society is (or should be) universal.
Beyond that, in this case there are legal and scientific points to consider as well. The whales were captured under a scientific research permit, but will be kept in marine parks with performance formats and for breeding purposes. This begs the question of whether the permit was applied properly to this capture.
Also, very little is known about the orca population off the coast of Japan. Certainly specific population parameters, such as numbers, range, birth rates, and mortality rates, are either unknown or poorly defined. Thus the information needed to determine the impact of the removal of these animals is not available, indicating that this capture was not conducted applying sound conservation principles. These are issues that should concern all of us, not just the Japanese.
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