Bad News for Whales


The International Whaling Commission's annual meeting ended with some good news and bad news. The good news is that the ban on whaling has not been lifted yet. The bad news is that it hasn't been reaffirmed and the list of species allowable for hunting by indigenous peoples has been expanded.

But here's the worst news of all:

"A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said…Payne said sperm whales, which occupy the top of the food chain, absorb the contaminants and pass them on to the next generation when a female nurses her calf. 'What she's actually doing is dumping her lifetime accumulation of that fat-soluble stuff into her baby,' he said, and each generation passes on more to the next.
Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.
'You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what's going on,' he said."


  1. Jim says

    We do as always – sow the seeds for our own destruction. Do we have superior intellect? I think not.

  2. Miche Rutledge says

    The “bad news” being that indigenous peoples are allowed limited hunting rights really set badly with me, Andy.

    Native Americans secured their hunting rights long ago by treaty, before the non-Indians hunted the whales nearly to extinction. Just like the American bison hunted nearly to extinction a few decades before, it was not American Indians who did the damage.

    Native American religions and culture are complex and rich. The hunting of whales plays a very significant role in many Native American cultures, just as the hunting of other animals are religious practices of other indigenous nations.

    You don’t have to understand our religions or our cultures to respect that after the genocide and cultural wars committed against Native Americans, we have retained our rights to practice our religions and cultures without non-Indians interfering in the practice of our religious and treaty rights.

    The tribes in the Northwestern U.S. agreed to cease that aspect of their cultures temporarily until the whales returned to a non-endangered status. They only take a limited number of whales to allow the whale populations to continue to thrive. We aren’t like Japan running all around the oceans killing whales for profit. It’s a very different thing.

    While you may see the retention and practice of treaty rights as “bad news”, many traditional cultures see it as a badly needed return to traditional religion and culture to keep us from going extinct, as well.

    I’m a faithful reader of your blog. I respect you very much. Perhaps the “bad news” was just badly phrased. Perhaps it was out of ignorance.

    Please consider that you may not understand our practices outside the context of our culture. If you want to understand, please ask a Native American who is knowledgeable in that area to help explain it. Other than specific religious knowledge, we’re amenable to explaining things to non-Indians.

    At the very least, please show us a little respect. After 500 years of violence, we’ve damn well earned it by our mere survival.

  3. NoSleep4Sam says

    Michie, the sleepless’s religions and culture are complex and rich. The rolling of eyes plays a very significant role in many sleepless cultures, just as the hunting of other animals are religious practices of other indigenous nations.

    You don’t have to understand our eyerolling to respect that after the insomnia and cultural wars committed against the sleepless, we have retained our rights to practice our religions and cultures without the wellrested interfering in the practice of our religious and treaty rights.

  4. Miche Rutledge says

    @NOSLEEP4SAM: Roll your eyes all you want. I respect your right to do so, even if you show disrespect my rights. I even promise not to hunt you while you can’t sleep. :-)

  5. Will says

    Miche has many wonderful points in his or her post. If the only response you can think up is mockery, that just strengthens his or her position. I can’t imagine that if the person was speaking about blacks or Hispanics that you would have mocked in the same way–or maybe you’re a raging racist and you would have. Who knows. But your ethnocentrism is quite unimpressive.

    Thanks, Miche, for posting a respectful and informing response. I hope Andy can see past his own cultural biases to recognize the truth in your message.

    Andy, situations like this aren’t always so black-and-white. In addition to discussing topics like this with the actual indigenous peoples involved before labeling them “bad news,” I would also encourage you to read some of the environmental anthropological literature on these topics and become more informed on the nuanced and complicated nature-culture relations that all cultures have.

  6. NoSleep4Sam says

    I’m not hip with any right to slaughter; whether you wear feathers, Brooks Brothers’ suits, or any other kind of kooky vestments to justify killing ancient creatures, it’s still not right. Even doing it for generations doesn’t make it right.

  7. Gil says

    Whale killing increases penis size, didn’t you know? Japanese scientists have proven it.

  8. Miche Rutledge says

    @NOSLEEP4SAM: I appreciate your point of view, but from my culture’s point of view, you’re just as damned for eating a salad as eating whale meat. Both are killings and have to be justifiable and within prescriptions to ensure the ecosystem can be sustained. Thus, the religious side of this that you don’t understand.

    It is just as wrong to kill plants as it is to kill animals. Both are related to us and deserve respect and appreciation when we have to kill them to feed our children and ourselves.

    More appropriately, to only condone killing plants while decrying the killing of animals would be “unbalanced” and creates disharmony with nature. That’s why I find PETA’s position to be just as bad as the NRA’s position. Both create disharmony and are unbalanced approaches to the problem.

    It is finding the balanced, respectful approach to our need to eat other living organisms (among the many uses), as well as showing appreciation and gratitude to the living things that we consume that restores the balance and harmony caused by our killing. That is why hunting and gathering of living organisms was a religious exercise and a deeply cultural experience. You can’t separate the one from the other or it doesn’t work.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not perfect. I don’t always remember to say the prayers or practice the religious rites that are supposed to be practiced when I eat a salad or grab a hamburger at a fast food restaurant. I’m an imperfect practitioner of my religion. But at least I understand the purpose and life lessons involved.

    I understand you see things differently. Just consider that your culture’s view is not the only valid point of view. That’s all I’m asking.

  9. Miche Rutledge says

    @Will: I meant to thank you for your support and understanding, above. I forgot. My apologies and gratitude.

  10. Will says

    @Nosleep: It’s a matter of perspective. You are viewing the practices through your cultural biases (“slaughter” is quite a loaded word). You also aren’t looking at a bigger picture of indigenous lives in the areas where whale hunting occurs.

    Further, there are many things that you do that people from other cultures don’t approve of. How would you feel if people from those cultures came in and began telling you to change your cultural practices and ways of life because it didn’t conform to their ideas of how people should act? I don’t think you’d appreciate it. Why is it okay for you to do it in this case? Why are your views on this issue more valid than the views of indigenous peoples?

    Finally, your black-and-white view is disturbing. I hope you can take a step back and view the world in a wider view and get more of a picture before passing judgment on people–especially people you obviously know *nothing* about.

  11. robert says

    equating “killing” plants to killing animals is bullshit. plants are not sentient, plants do not feel pain (or pleasure or anything) because plants do not have nervous systems. a plant is incapable of recognizing its own existence or the existence of anything outside of itself. there is no way to compare an animal to a blade of grass. to simply say, “yes, they’re both living” obscures the ocean of difference between that blade of grass and that sperm whale. even though on its face the statement is true, the conditions of “living” are wildly different. context, please!

    i have substantially less of a problem with indigenous people physically hunting their own food than i do with factory farming, particularly in remote regions where it is of vital necessity. but using the veneer of religion and tradition to excuse the slaughter of animals is never a winning strategy because religion doesn’t have a monopoly on truth. [indeed, it seems to have a monopoly on lies.]

    what some on this thread seem to ignore in their zealous demands for moral relativism is that there are some people who believe the exploitation of animals to be of central importance to our civilization. so while people like will are going to defer to “cultural practices” as a defense, i contend that “cultural practices” are not free from criticism. it is a cultural practice to imprison and execute gays in most countries in the middle east and africa, i daresay no one here will make the demand that we respect that cultural practice. likewise, there are people who believe that there can be no quibbling over the issue of animal exploitation. that using sentient, feeling creatures for our personal gains is wrong, plain and simple. really, we have absolutely no reason to do so: all our nutritional, sartorial and medical needs can be obtained without robbing animals of their natural lifestyles.

  12. robert says

    also, the current agreement doesn’t ban hunting for indigenous people, it limits how many different species can hunted. big difference.

  13. Miche Rutledge says

    @Robert: It wasn’t that long ago that science claimed animals weren’t sentient. We were told that animals didn’t have feelings or memories – they only acted on instinct. More recently, that belief has been disputed.

    We were also told that homosexual behavior didn’t happen in nature. We’re still trying to get people to recognize the obvious there.

    Sometimes, we only look for what confirms our beliefs, not what challenges it. That’s why scientists spent a hundred years making up theories to explain away the homosexual behavior they saw with their own eyes.

    My point is not moral relativism, but respect and an open mind. None of us has all the answers. We all have cultural biases. It is only with an open mind that we can rise above those biases and see with clear eyes.

    It isn’t that you can’t criticize my cultural practices. You have to understand the practice in context of my culture first before you can offer any wisdom you care to share.

    But don’t come into my culture and tell me to stop doing something because of a problem your culture created. I was never the problem.

    You may have changed your mind about the devastation your cultural practices and religion created. That’s great. Maybe you’ve grown, maybe you haven’t.

    Respect my culture’s right to come to a different conclusion. Maybe we are right. Maybe we are wrong. But it is our right to decide for ourselves. Respect, not arrogance.

  14. Miche Rutledge says

    @Robert: Yes, I know it doesn’t ban indigenous rights to hunt.

    The original discussion was about Andy’s characterization of the right for indigenous people to hunt whales at all as “bad news”. The discussion strayed because of NoSleep4Sam’s all-or-nothing position.

  15. robert says


    i’m not going to discuss your claims about plant sentience. we have no reason to believe they are, and none of our science suggests otherwise. it’s foolish to make plans around the future “what ifs” that science may never uncover. let’s talk about the here and now.

    as for animal sentience, that notion is very old and not as recent as you seem to think. darwin posited that animals had emotions over a century ago but even ancient philosophers of greece recognized that animals were not dumb, inert matter.

    i’m not telling you what to do; i’m presenting the other side of the equation. notice i never advocated for governments to prohibit you or anyone from hunting. i want people to stop using animal products because they want to stop using animal products. that’s the best way to achieve systematic, long term change. i’m not a tyrant demanding governments order your life, and i resent your assertion that i was doing otherwise. i was participating in an open discussion with a dissenting view. i never ridiculed your religious tradition or your right to practice it.

  16. robert says

    as to andy, it sounds like he is lamenting that the number of species allowed for hunting is increasing. i feel the same way: that is bad news. was the number before really too few?

  17. robert says

    my last comment because i don’t want to be one of those people that hijacks a comment thread. the exemptions for indigenous peoples and scientific/medical research are often exploited by countries like japan to expand their commercial fishing enterprises. so that’s why it’s bad news that the restrictions are likely going to be relaxed. these countries need to have their fishing industries more closely monitored.

  18. Will says

    Again, Robert, you are viewing it through your own cultural biases. You’re establishing a set of ethics and morals based on what you believe because of your culture.

    Your distinctions of animals as having emotion is painted with such a broad brush–you must realize this? Do cockroaches have emotions? Or are we only discussing mammals? And only large mammals? Where is the line drawn, and who decides where it is drawn? Who decides if it is moral or not to kill them? Are you taking a utilitarian position or a deontological position or…?

    You make these sweeping black-and-white statements seemingly without deeply considering what you’re saying.

    It’s so easy to sit in air-conditioned, powered buildings at computers with internet access and point fingers at others for behaviors that you find abhorrent. It’s much harder to learn about peoples’ differences and try to gain an understanding of the human experience.

    Miche’s valid point is that categorizing expanded indigenous hunting as “bad news” is ethnocentric and lacks an understanding of indigenous peoples. Everything you’ve said doesn’t in any way address that point. Instead, you want to focus on morality–further, you want to focus on WESTERN morality and philosophy.

    You say it doesn’t ban indigenous people…should they be grateful? Would you be grateful if someone came into your life and tried to limit something you do on a regular basis for your livelihood? Not ban it, just limit it! Doubtful.

    If you want to learn more about the intersection of Western science and morality and indigenous peoples of the Northwest/Western Canada/Alaska, I highly recommend the book “Do Glaciers Listen?” At the very least it will perhaps give you a broader view of issues of nature-culture and moralities concerning human-environment interactions.

  19. robert says

    will, you make assumptions about me and paint a broad brush. you know nothing about me or my cultural origins.

    taken to its logical end, your argument renders things like genocide morally ambiguous. i have nothing further to say. for realz this time.

  20. Will says

    Again, you cannot address the point of the comments by Miche and me concerning ethnocentrism and lack of sensitivity towards indigenous peoples. You attempt to set up a straw man (moral objectivism based solely on your own moral senses), and you are called on it, and then you stomp your feet and walk away. Go ahead and correct anything I’ve said about you that’s incorrect (Obviously you have an internet connection. Do you lack air conditioning?). I’m not making any assumptions about you at all. Your posts were completely from a scientific/positivist perspective and cited Western science and philosophy as your sources of attempted rebuttal to Miche. Both Miche and I are trying to point out to you that that’s not the only way to view the world.

    How about a little sensitivity towards cultures that are different from your own? You say that people in Japan and other places are taking advantage of indigenous hunting allowances. Why is that a problem of indigenous peoples? Further, you have yet to address why there should be limits placed on indigenous peoples at all concerning hunting.

    There’s no need to run off in a huff because people have disagreeing opinions and views. I’d be interested in your responses to the actual complaints about the original post and why you refuse to consider indigenous peoples’ cultures as equal to your own.

  21. robert says

    all right, i’ll bite.

    my refutation of your point is this: i don’t believe any culture is inherently superior to any other, but i do believe that animal rights must be balanced alongside human rights as co-equal. no culture should have free reign to do whatever it wants with the environment because it’s a shared resource and a shared community. just because your livelihood depends on whaling doesn’t mean you should be allowed to hunt whales to extinction. these laws are more than just their relationship to you, but their relationship to all human culture. in other words, you don’t have an inherent right to whales. no one does.

    my point in the last comment still stands. the honor killing of a rape victim in iran must be treated as a legitimate cultural practice. i don’t believe any cultural act should be legitimate if it robs a sentient creature (human or animal) of its natural right to choose living.

    your criticism of me as an objectivist is funny because, in truth, i’m a deconstructionist. i don’t believe there is any objective meaning or truth in the world, everything is contingent. even the act of genocide has no final authority through which it is ordained a moral evil. but that does mean i believe are meanings and truths are equal. i make a choice to believe that genocide and honor killings are an imperative evil that must be acted on. i happen to also consider animal exploitation in the same regard.

    now, i’ve challenged your argument on two grounds: logically about the applications of your argument (which you’ve claimed are off limits but simultaneously central to your position) and ideologically on the grounds that consideration for animals should be on par with humans (we are, after all, animals). [cockroaches are insects and quite resilient: they are one of the few species that would survive a nuclear catastrophe.]

  22. robert says

    i missed this:

    “Further, you have yet to address why there should be limits placed on indigenous peoples at all concerning hunting.”

    not on indigenous people specifically but everyone equally. and the reason why, among others, is to keep the population levels away from dangerous, extinction territory.

    also, i’m really not trying to be an ethnocentric ass. i can’t know what it’s like to experience any indigenous cultures, but i try to understand the complicated histories and realities and re-examine my own assumptions. this view of mine comes from a sincere conviction that our civilization as a whole (cause we’re all in this together at this point) needs to seriously reexamine our relationship to the animal world because the brutality and cruelty of our practices get re-enacted throughout our society. for example, i don’t think it’s a coincidence that (1) men and women are routinely marketed in media as “meat” to be taken and consumed and (2) society has such a problem with rape and sexual assault. so, long story short, i’m advocating for the whales that almost always endure excruciating, agonizing deaths to the point that whole species are on the verge of collapse.

  23. Will says

    Your first paragraph is contradictory. You say you don’t think one culture is inherently better than another, but you are using YOUR CULTURAL BIASES to make judgments about the environment. Your cultural views of the environment (and what constitutes the environment) are being privileged. Further, you’re being disingenuous in saying that indigenous people have hunted the whales into endangerment when you earlier stated that it was people abusing indigenous loopholes–which is it? There are not enough indigenous hunters to hunt whales into extinction, yet their ways of life are the ones most affected.

    Your point does not stand because you’re establishing ethical rules and when I don’t agree with them you accuse me of moral relativism. That’s why I called you a moral objectivist. Why is sentience the dividing line for the morality of killing? That’s a problematic dividing line in a lot of ways. I believe there are instances that it is morally acceptable to kill animals and humans. Do you say that it is NEVER acceptable? Do animals really choose to live? I mean, you’re making *a lot* of assumptions in your assertions.

    If you are really a deconstructionist and believe there is no objective meaning or truth, why do you think it’s important to have this discussion? Is this discussion really happening? Are animals sentient? How can you be a postmodernist and believe that and at the same time cite positivist rhetoric further above?

    Nothing I’ve said is off limits, I don’t know how you get that from my post. But you have not logically challenged my argument at all–in fact, you were being paradoxical in your first paragraph. Ideologically, we disagree, and you are entitled to your views (obviously), however I am merely pointing out to you that your views are not shared by all, and that it is not “bad news” to indigenous peoples even though it may seem that way to you. You seem blissfully unaware of the suffering of many (all?) indigenous peoples throughout the Americas (the world?). You claim that the consideration for animals and humans should be on par (which I find problematic), but you seem to completely neglect the human side of this story.

    [In reference to your note about cockroaches surviving a nuclear catastrophe, the Mythbusters tested this and found it was not as true as people think.

    Of course, in order to garner the information you’re sharing, many insects (read: animals) had to die in the testing process…]

  24. Rey says

    “That’s the way it’s always been” is such a cop-out.

    Traditions are only worth holding onto if they have a benefit. Killing creatures like whales just because you can is misguided, and I’m offended by the suggestion that there is anything good to come out of it.

  25. NoSleep4Sam says

    The whales were doing just fine before your, or any religious/cultural mumbo jumbo thought it would start justifying killing them.

    And since you are assuming so much about my cultural background (of which you have no evidence beyond blind prejudice), I put greater weight in the lifespan of a creature and the value of its life than any supposed sentience. Therefore old things shouldn’t be killed, things with short life spans can be harvested with care.

  26. says


    Interesting points raised on all sides. I’m Australian, and have been involved in many debates about Oz’s breath-taking and seemingly endless parade of atrocities visited on the Aboriginal people by our governments since Invasion in 1788. However, I am vehemently against Aboriginal people hunting dugong as part of their traditional practices for the same reason I am against Native Americans and Native Canadians hunting whales- when the creatures you hunt are critically endangered, traditional hunting must be suspended, at least until numbers have risen to sustainable levels. Here in Oz, Aboriginal peoples have ceased hunting dugong until numbers have risen (the animals are threatened by marine pollution and being killed by speedboat collisions) and I hope that the Native peoples in your nation also come to an understanding that whales are too vulnerable at the moment to be hunted in any way. The rights of humans to pursue their cultural practices must in this case give way to the right of the animals to continue to exist…

  27. Maxcor says

    The stark truth is, indigenous peoples have been hunting whales sustainably for many years, but industry took over and overfished. Right now, there is not enough whales for the indigenous to hunt sustainably and an escape clause for small scale indigenous hunting will lead to justification for larger scale ‘cultural’ hunting by countries such as Iceland, Finland and Japan. All hunting should stop right now regardless of cultural or economic reasons to do so.

  28. Miche Rutledge says

    @Rey: “Traditions are only worth holding onto if they have a benefit.”

    The point is that this tradition does have benefit, even great benefit, to Native Americans. Just because you do not see the benefit doesn’t mean it is unimportant or should be resolved in the way you think best.

    That is the vestige of colonialism speaking and is repugnant. It is little different from Christians telling us that no good can come of gay sex then dismissing all talk of equal rights. Who appointed you or them God?

    I’m sorry you are offended, but I’m equally as offended by your insistence that your beliefs trumps all others’ beliefs.

    The best we can hope for here is to agree to disagree agreeably.

  29. TANK says

    Christ will’s obnoxious. The argument for ethical relativism being propped up here is x believes that A is right/wrong; according to x, A is right/wrong; therefore, A is right/wrong. And from that, stating that we need to tolerate inferior cultural practices that promote needless suffering, which dovetails into the next half baked idea he’s offering in favor of ethical relativism: namely that there are no ethical absolutes (undefined), and therefore, because of that a person from culture B can’t criticize the cultural practices of culture C.

    The first argument is dimissed as follows. You can’t go from belief about something’s ethical status to it actually being right or wrong…it’s an invalid inference…just like you can’t go from believing that santa clause exists to santa clause existing. This applies to whole cultures as well as individuals.

    The second argument is a self refutation, as it amounts to stating that there are ethical absolutes, that being that there aren’t any.

    Next, any organism capable of suffering is worthy of ethical consideration. This transcends culture, time, and period; and more importantly trumps any cultural practice, or obscure preference. Needless suffering is universally associated with evil, and anyone who suggests otherwise is no longer talking about the terms good and bad/evil, and is having another conversation altogether. Any culture that increases suffering is inferior to a culture that decreases it. This is not tied to any cultural practice, or situated within any culture.

  30. Miche Rutledge says

    Native Americans did abstain from hunting whales until after the species that they hunt fell off the endangered species list. Even now the number that they hunt are self-limited.

    They hunt them in a way that represents as much danger of death to themselves as to the whales.

    Again, I feel that the absolutist no-kill position is as unbalanced and outside the natural world’s rules as the kill-them-all-off position.

    If a person feels there should be no killing of any living thing, then by all means, don’t do it. But do not force your view on others. That is to be as wrong as the Christians who force their religious views on gay people.

    There are always going to be views that differ from our own. If we Gays cannot find a way to respect views even repugnant to our own, what hope does this world have?

    I respect that Andy and others who have commented on here have their own views that differ from mine. I guess we will not achieve harmony today. It is time to move on.