Monday, December 31, 2007

Sea Shepherd: The Whale Warriors

I’ve just finished reading the book The Whale Warriors by Peter Heller, an account of his time as a journalist onboard Sea Shepherd’s ship two years ago as they tried to stop Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic. I’ve updated my links list so that clicking Sea Shepherd will now bring you directly to their onship blog covering the whaling occurring right now. The old blog covering the events of the book can be found here.

Before getting into my own thoughts on the book and whaling, I’m going to quote at length the most eloquent page of the book:

Imagine 1.5 million humpbacks patrolling the ancient seas, calling across oceans where only the songs of cetaceans echoed in the deep pelagic blue. There were no engine sounds then, and the water was as clear as krill and plankton would allow. The whales called over great uninterrupted distances in complex syntax while human ancestors were still jumping around in trees. This was the magic of whales, that they had expressed loyalty, grief, gratitude—all well-documented among present day humpbacks and other cetaceans—and had called each other by name, long before we were even a seed of an apple in God’s eye. And they had done it all for millions of years and had swum the oceans in peace. They had left the sea unpolluted, mostly quiet, the reefs teeming; the shores, the mangroves rich, protective; the fish in their schooling numbers as prolific as the stars that wheeled above. They had loved the ocean, if love is a deep attention in which one does no harm. They had perceived it, attended the greens of the reefs and the blues of the deep and all its creatures and passed on, generation to generation. They had not turned on each other with wholesale vengeance and bloodlust, or massacred another species off the face of the waters because they could.

The ocean they swam in now had changed. Old drift nets called ghost nets, thousands of miles of them, abandoned, drifted in every sea; the whales, all the species, could not detect them until it was too late, and then became tangled and thrashed and died by the thousands. Other fishing gear did the same—lines of lobster traps, longlines, abandoned seines. Ships, the sound of engines and props, turned the great currents into a cacophony through which the old distant whale songs were mangled and lost. Low-frequency active sonar now being used by the U.S. Navy, one of the loudest sound systems devised by man, emitted sonic booms that ruptured delicate hearing mechanisms, caused internal hemorrhage, and destroyed cetacean navigation systems so that whole pods washed up disoriented on beaches in the Caribbean and in the Pacific, bleeding from their ears.

Heller, though opposed to whaling, is not the enthusiastic supporter of Sea Shepherd that I am. He questions many of their actions throughout the book, but I think always sees the whalers as the greater evil. After watching a video of a whale being killed, he writes that he felt like vomiting. This description from elsewhere in the book will likely make you feel the same:

The killing of a whale by the most modern methods is cruel beyond description. An exploding harpoon meant to kill quickly rarely does more than rupture the whale’s organs. It thrashes, and gushes blood and begins to drown in its own hemorrhage. It is winched to the side of the kill ship and a probe is jabbed into it and thousands of volts of electricity are run through in an attempt to kill it faster. The whale screams and cries and thrashes. Often, if it is a mother, her calf swims wildly around her, doomed to its own slow death later on. Again, the electricity fails to kill the whale, and it normally takes fifteen to twenty minutes of this torture for the whale to drown and die. Whatever one thinks of whales’ high intelligence, the advanced social structures, the obvious emotions and the still mysterious ability to communicate over long distances, this method of slaughter would not be allowed as standard practice in any slaughterhouse in the world.

The book is a very good read as an adventure tale as Sea Shepherd’s Farley Mowat searches for the Japanese whaling fleet in the vast ocean area. Greenpeace is there also and finds the fleet first but will not cooperate with Sea Shepherd. This conflict between the two anti-whaling groups is one of the themes of the book. Paul Watson, who essentially is Sea Shepherd, was one of the founders of Greenpeace. Among his crew of 43 volunteers (Greenpeace’s crew is paid) is Emily Hunter, daughter of Robert Hunter, who was another Greenpeace founder. She is there to spread his ashes.

Although Greenpeace as an organization will not cooperate with Sea Shepherd, some of its crew is happy to and Watson receives emails and phone calls updating him on the whalers’ location. When his ship arrives, they receive a rousing welcome from Greenpeacers frustrated at their organization’s banner waving and unwillingness to actually act to stop the killing. Meanwhile, the Shepherds dream of what they could accomplish with Greenpeace’s ships and money. The whaling ships which have ignored Greenpeace proceed to flee from Sea Shepherd.

So is Sea Shepherd an ecoterrorist organization, or the only group willing to take action to stop illegal whaling? The International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling two decades ago; Japan has been buying other countries’ IWC votes in an attempt to have it overturned. Japan gets around the moratorium by claiming it is killing whales for scientific research through its Institute of Cetacean Research and the meat is just a byproduct. (Amusingly, if you plug ICR into Google the first result will be the equally wacky Institute for Creation Research.) This whaling happens within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the Australian Antarctic Territory, but no government will take action to stop the whaling. So the job falls to volunteers.

Japan does this whaling despite a small minority of its own population supporting whaling, the need of a government subsidy to keep the industry afloat, and, because few Japanese eat whale meat regularly, a surplus of whale meat which has caused it to be used in pet food.

Sylvia Earle is quoted:

As supposedly intelligent creatures, doesn’t it seem odd that humans might think that the best way to engage whales is to eat them? When our numbers were small and whales were numerous, killing a few whales for sustenance for people who had few choices about what to eat was a matter of survival. Today, it is a matter of choice. Can commercial killing of whales ever be justified? Biologically, ecologically, economically, logically, morally, ethically, realistically it cannot—not now, not in fifty years, not ever.

The book had two minor flaws. A page listing the crew would have come in handy many times. A few people become familiar during the story, but often a name would appear and I’d wish I remembered what that person’s history and function on the ship were. Secondly, the author, a hunter, at times seems to have an obsession with the word vegan (the Farley Mowat is a vegan ship) and makes several moronic statements. Will it really come as news to anyone that “even vegans” miss their families (well, apparently at least at Christmas)?

The book includes the story of a humpback whale found off San Francisco two years ago hopelessly entangled in hundreds of yards of rope slicing into her flesh with hundreds of pounds of attached crab traps. A team of divers worked for about an hour to free her. When free she swam in circles around them and then returned to each diver individually and nudged them. The author also writes of his own experience of play involving underwater acrobatics and touching with two young sea lions.

The final sentence of the book tells us that the Japanese planned to kill fifty endangered humpbacks this season. Officially, under widespread pressure including that from Australia which says they’ll be observing the fleet this year to gather evidence for a legal case, the Japanese backed off this plan two weeks ago; unofficially, it’s still up to a few compassionate courageous people called ecoterrorists to stop them from killing any whale they choose.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

White Fades to Grey

A big weekend storm was predicted. Saturday, two inches of slop fell early which later froze overnight leaving an uneven icy mess on the sidewalks. Sunday when I woke I looked outside at the trees rattling wildly in the wind and decided I didn’t really need to go out for the newspaper. The wind kept up all day with a fine powdery snow spinning madly but there was no accumulation in sight. My windows all look out on an alleyway with a small wild area across the way where I toss bread and nuts for squirrel and bird entertainment for me and the cat. Usually this area of the alley is where the drifts occur during snowstorms, giving wonderful illusions that the storms are much better than they actually are, but nothing that day despite reports of a foot or so of new snow expected.

The next morning, I headed to the side door of the building and found a three-foot drift right outside. A set of footprints wandered off to the side avoiding the highest points. Thanks to the drifts and plows, some sidewalks that have been cleared only show the top foot or two of most people walking along the white corridor. Around town, especially near big parking lots, there are mountains of the stuff big enough to hide a bus behind.

Back in one version of the good old days, I used to take a bus route which no longer exists across the Lake Superior snow belt of northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit a friend who’s no longer there. This bus traveled through the smallest hours of the night so this sparsely populated area seemed even more deserted than usual. Moonlight illuminated wild land home to glamorous species such as wolves and bears and eagles. In the small towns, the sidewalks were like tunnels through the snow; paths cut to the street seemed like they must surely lead to igloos. Or at another time of year, misty fogs swirled around the ghostly apparitions of deer along the narrow highways where the bus was the only sign of conscious human life. Eyes of various colors shone in the headlights. I would even choose this route when I rode the Hound (a dog of a way to get around, as Harry Chapin sang) to Boston, just for the opportunity of passing through this land.

Yesterday, I watched two documentaries, Grey Gardens (1975) and The Beales of Grey Gardens (2006). Two women named Edith Beales, mother in her late 70s and daughter in mid 50s at the time of filming in 1973 and 1974, former aristocrats, aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, lived with many cats and wild raccoons (who were fed white bread) in a decaying East Hampton mansion. At one point, they faced eviction until Jackie had the place fixed up a bit. They spent a lot of their time singing. Perhaps a little nuts, but oddly attractive and attractively odd, they were very lively eccentrics in a world with no room for eccentrics.

They’ve recently been the subject of a Broadway play starring Tony-winner Christine Ebersole, who attended my alma mater a couple years before I got there. There’s also a movie being filmed with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as mother and daughter, but at one point in the second documentary Little Edie says she wouldn’t want anyone playing her and I think I’ll honor her wishes and not see the Hollywood version of her life.

The mother died a couple years after filming. Somewhere among the DVD extras of the 1975 film, I heard that the daughter was living in Florida. This morning I learned that the daughter had died of a heart attack in her Florida apartment back in 2002. It was five days before she was found. I felt quite sad.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Your Mommy Kills Animals

That's the name of a documentary about animal rights I saw today. The title's taken from a PETA comic book. The movie's a fairly even-handed look at the subject, with ALF and SHAC looking better to me than PETA and HSUS (both of which refused to appear in the film) and the anti-animal rights folks given plenty of time to express their opinions. Certainly lots of people aren't going to like some of the SHAC tactics seen, but that hardly makes them the country's biggest terrorist threat as the FBI has claimed.

My biggest complaint is that the backing of those antis wasn't identified. I think most people know what a farce the Center for Consumer Freedom is, started as a pro-smoking group by the tobacco industry, and still a mouthpiece for industry. A PETA person exposes them, but only in the process of not answering a legitimate question.

The other big anti spokesperson in the movie came from National Animal Interest Alliance. A check of their website shows their board made up representatives of Ringling Brothers, the rodeo, dog breeders, animal researchers, hunters and cattle ranchers. It's certainly no surprise that these folks will be anti animal rights, but shouldn't they change their name to the Interested in Making Money off Animals Alliance?

One of the people shown in the film is Rod Coronado. Back in September, I posted about the hung jury in his ecoterrorism trial. Here's an update on that from him.

“Dear friends and supporters~

On December 14th, before Judge Jeffery Miller in Federal Court in San Diego, I entered a guilty plea to one count of distribution of information related to the assembly of explosives and weapons of mass destruction. This was the one count I have fought for almost two years now and for which I faced approximately five to ten years in prison if found guilty at trial. In September of 2007, a jury instead voted 8-4 for acquittal and in the ensuing weeks, prosecutors in the case informed us that they would seek an additional indictment in Washington D.C., for a speech I delivered at American University in January, 2003. In exchange for a guilty plea in the San Diego case, the U.S. government has agreed to ask only for a one year prison sentence, drop pending charges in Tucson for my possession of raptor feathers and not to indict me in D.C. I am not required to testify against anyone else in any other investigations, and hopefully this plea agreement will once and for all grant me closure in a well-known campaign of repression against me for my past involvement, association and support for covert campaigns against environmental destroyers and animal abusers. It has long been my desire to put my past behind me and instead build a sustainable existence for myself, my wife, Chrysta, and two children, Anheles and Maya. This decision to take a plea bargain comes only after much careful consideration and a sincere desire to do what is best for my family. Such unconstitutional assaults on my free speech beg for a continued legal battle and defense, but I am instead choosing to reach a settlement that will allow me to move on with my life rather than face years of litigation that might lead to many years in prison.

My children need me. I am a father first and foremost, and have given 20 plus years to the battle against corporate and government policies which destroy our Earth. Now it is time to give of myself to the purpose of raising a family in these troubling times.

For the Earth, and all of her Children,

Rod Coronado

Friday, December 14, 2007

Developing a Rant

It’s not development, it’s destruction. So I sloganeered on the newspaper’s website regarding a new building someone wants to put up in place of the trees and such which are there now.

Development is gaining knowledge and wisdom and compassion. Development is not making the same mistakes over and over. Development is not higher quantities of humans and buildings; it’s a better quality of life.

When will it be enough for these people who always want more? Do they want the whole planet paved and all of us living in one giant skyscraper? I don’t believe that, but if not, what gives them the right to decide when it’s enough after they’ve ignored those of us who say it’s enough right now?

There are more than enough people and more than enough buildings in a world where humans and/or their various forms of pollution dominate the land, sea, and sky. It’s time to draw the line in the sand and say not one more new building unless it’s replacing a building already there. Not one more tree needlessly cut down, not one more species’ home territory thoughtlessly destroyed.

I don’t care if it’s a golf course, a suburb, a hospital, corporate headquarters, summer condos, or free green housing for the homeless. I don’t care about the temporary construction jobs or the low wage service jobs in the new buildings or that the Watkins family thinks they need more space. Not one more goddamn acre of destruction.

And homeless...there’s an odd term. Could there be any culture more removed from its home than this one? We have fancy houses, but no home. Were nomadic people with a deep sense of place and knowledge of the seasons and an area’s plant and animal life and their uses and habits homeless? Or are we, who try to block out the weather and can’t tell one tree from another and would soon starve to death without our transportation system and supermarkets?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Lump of Coal for his Stocking

I've finished browsing through the 2007 edition of The Best American Science and Nature Writing. I'm choosy about which essays I actually read in these collections; I'm at best uninterested and often opposed to most of the popular fields of science these days, so I mostly stick to those articles which fall under the nature category. This year, I enjoyed reading about lemurs, fishers, bears, and gryllacridids (don't mess with the big ones).

Much less appealing was reading about the hundreds of miles of plastic floating in the ocean, and The Rape of Appalachia by Michael Shnayerson. The article is about coal mining by mountaintop removal in West Virginia and focuses in particular on Don Blankenship and Massey Energy, the country's fourth largest coal producer. After you read the article's tales of buried streams, broken impoundments, violations, show-cause hearings, union busting, judge buying, and moving property lines, chances are you'll agree with me that Don's stocking isn't where you'd like to stick the coal.

If the article itself doesn't annoy you enough, there's his letter in reply to it. I don't know if that is the full text of his reply (I couldn't find it on the magazine's site) but he completely fails to respond to anything in the actual article and instead writes about the terrible martyrdom of his company and the unscientific myth of climate change.

Here are some of the groups mentioned in the article who deserve something better for their holiday. Check out the OVEC photo links if you've never seen this atrocity.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Let it Snow, Let us Know

Welcome, December, one of my favorite months. We're getting our first good snow of the season, about five inches so far and maybe a foot or so by the time it stops tomorrow. This makes me happy. I know there are people who don't like snow. I've heard them griping, and I understand that they exist. I just don't understand why, and am especially confused about why they live in places where it snows a lot. Everything is quieting, slowing,'s like meditation without the work, the end of industrialism without the death and suffering. Ahhh.

Along with the snow and crisp sunny days and icy beards, December brings birthdays to the males of my family. If the three of us make it through another three weeks or so, we'll be up to 234 years between the three generations.

I learned of something very cool today. Want to know what they're studying at MIT? It's all free online here. Courses, readings, assignments, even lecture notes. And it's not just engineering; there are literature, history, anthropology, and lots of environmental and planning courses. Makes for some interesting browsing, but it's still the same old way of looking at the world. If some of the following schools follow suit, I'll really be interested.
And if you know any good teenagers, make sure they know about schools like these.

Audubon Expedition Institute
College of the Atlantic
Green Mountain College
Naropa University
Northland College
Prescott College
Warren Wilson College