Whale of a tale!

Whales have been the victims of whalers for as long as one can remember


Khalid Saleem April 01, 2018
The writer is a former ambassador of Pakistan and ex-assistant secretary general of OIC

An item of news caught one’s attention the other day. It related to some ‘135 short-finned pilot whales’ having died after ‘a mass beaching as rescuers worked to herd those still alive back out to sea’.

Whales have been in the news off and on. Not undeservedly, one might add. After all, as the largest living creatures on this earth, they do deserve attention a bit out of the ordinary. Whales have been the victims of whalers for as long as one can remember. Despite international conventions to regulate and curtail the practice of whaling, this elegant creature continues to be the victim of mass culling in several parts of the world — in some illegally, in others according to the law.

The whole thing makes little sense. What drives large groups of these elegant creatures to commit such acts of mass suicide? Is it part of nature’s plan to keep the population of whales within reasonable limits, or are they driven to this extreme act by some actions of man? Be that as it may, this event is the cause of some anguish and deserves to be looked into in some depth. In this age of globalisation, when the small fry are being subjected to a squeeze of gigantic proportions, it is somewhat refreshing to read about these larger than life creatures. For the man in the street with little grasp over the news anyway, whales, alive or dead, must come as a welcome diversion.

How did whales enter into the international columns of newspapers in the first place? Fishing rights — and fishing wrongs, if you wish — have for some time been a matter of concern to international economists. Talking of international economic affairs, it needs to be put on record that fishing in troubled waters has been the favourite sport of wealthy nations. Other nations, though poor but having a craving nevertheless to be part of the big league, have also been dabbling in the same game. All in all, this cannot be pushed aside as a mere fishy story since the whale, though very much a creature of the sea, is not a fish at all. Fish are cold-blooded but not mammals, which the whales happen to be!

Humankind has never had a particularly happy reputation, either as a rational nor, indeed, a benign species. The creatures of the sea, much like the creatures on land, have been hunted down without discrimination through the ages. Why this special feeling, then, for the whales? Is it because they happen to be fellow mammals living in a hostile environment? Or maybe, the fact has registered that, despite their gigantic size, whales do have the general reputation of being rather gentle.

Be that as it may, whale-wise, humankind can be neatly divided into two camps — one for whaling; the other opposed to it. The first one is composed of those who have looked upon whales for ages as a handy source of food. The second camp includes the so-called animal lovers. The whole matter, therefore, has the makings of an international tangle. And what does the world community generally do in similar circumstances? It sets up an international commission, of course; what else?

This is how the body known as the International Whaling Commission (IWC) came into existence. In 1986, a moratorium of sorts on ‘commercial whale hunts’ was agreed upon. If the aforementioned conveys the impression that this commission has put a stop to the killing of whales, perish the thought. The IWC grants quotas to various communities around the world for their whale-hunting expeditions. It merely attempts to limit the number of whales they are allowed to slaughter in a given season. Like all international bodies, it passionately believes in mere papering over the cracks!

Coming back to where one started, there remains something of a mystery about these mass suicides of the whale species. Why should they be intent on doing what a good part of the world community is hoping to prevent? Could it possibly be part of nature’s plan to keep the much-vaunted multilateral diplomatist community in business? What a horrendous thought, that!

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2018.

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