25 February 2011

Life, Times and Japanese Whaling

It's time to post again! This is going to be one of those rambly slightly personal posts of mine, but I need an outlet. I've been feeling a little off and uninspired lately, and I don't know why. If anything, at the moment I should be feeling more motivated than ever before, but alas, things haven't been so fortunate. That said, I'm feeling good tonight (at 3am somehow). I've been sick since India but I think the antibiotics are starting to work and make me feel better, mentally as well :) There's been a lot of drama in the last couple of months but I think (fingers crossed) everything's finally back to normal and to a point where starting afresh is an option at last. That means it's high time that I really start focusing on varsity. I always figured that once I got round to second year, doing courses I'm passionate about and being surrounded by people with similar interests, I'd calm down and get my act together and work hard. Apparently not, looks like I'm a true procrastinator at heart. But anyway, all that is way besides the point. The point is I think I'm ready to get serious, my holiday's very much over. I really have no reason at all to be as lazy as I have been, I'm doing ecology, oceanography and environmental science, why the hell would I want to lag behind on them? I just need something to keep me motivated and excited to keep up with the work and notes...we'll see.

Meanwhile, I've joined the UCT Green Campus Initiative (GCI) and signed up for their COP17, Green Police and Consumer Activism projects. I'm extremely excited about it. I love being with like-minded people like that, sharing ideas, having an action group and a dedicated cause. I'm most excited about the COP17 project. I don't yet know what the GCI plan to do with the summit, but I already had my own agenda of going up to Durban at the end of the year to try get in on the talks. We'll see how it all pans out, either way, I'm really looking forward to getting heavily involved in this.

Speaking of like-minded people, I mention them quite a bit, but I've got to add in a little shout out to Kyran and Nick and I want to give them a bit more than a couple of little 'by the way' lines in random blog posts. I cannot stress enough that I'm so glad I found them. They've absolutely changed my life and they're the best company you could ever ask for. Meeting people with whom I have so many interests in common, be it cricket, conservation or evolution, is very new to me and they filled a serious void in my life. It's not everyday that you meet people who are passionate about all the same things as you. They both just finished their honours in zoology/botany/ecology and now they're doing their masters in environmental law. Rather inspiring. They made me their apprentice for the days when their firm Wright, Fordyce (Suri :P) and Sons gets started. They like to joke about how they're my mentors and I'm the student, but in some (sick) ways, it's actually quite true. I've learnt so much in the six months I've known them. There's Ky with his stories about mass whale strandings in Kommetjie, penguin research and thesis and let's not forget his mom, full of a ridiculous amount of knowledge, who I'm completely in love with - just click on the link, I don't need to say more. Then you have Nick with his letters to creationists, endless supply of nature documentaries and immaculate fish tank. Together they've inspired me, turned me into a militant atheist/evolutionist and sorry to be cheesy, but opened my eyes. I love them to bits. Definitely two of the best things that happened to me this year.

I'm currently working on getting Ky and Cait (making great progress with her) into Whale Wars. I've given them all seasons 1-3 and I'm keen to spread the love. Ever since I started watching Whale Wars in Joburg, I've become really interested in the politics of whaling, the Japanese agenda, Sea Shepherd, the IWC and all that jazz. It's one of the few issues I follow so closely. I've been won over by Sea Shepherd. Their cause and their tactics appeal to me. Call it eco-terrorism, fundamentalism, piracy, aggression, but at the end of the day, even if they cross lines that others wouldn't and probably shouldn't, it comes down to the fact that they are effective. More effective than any other conservation NGO and most certainly more than any government's actions. The reason I say this is the sheer results that they produce. Because it's something I'm passionate about and clued in on, I'm going to summarise the whole issue and put it in as good a nutshell as I can. In 1986,  the IWC placed a moratorium on commercial whaling, meaning every nation that's a signatory to the IWC is banned from killing whales with intent of selling the meat. There are some countries that have a way out of these rules. There are objection countries like Norway who basically reject the IWC's rules, aboriginal ones who are allowed to hunt an amount of whales for subsistence food, and then the controversial one - the ones who whale for scientific purposes, e.g. Japan. The Japanese have a "scientific whaling program" through which they are allowed to kill almost 1000 whales every year in the Southern Ocean. There are so many things wrong with this, I don't know where to start. For one, they hunt whales in an Antarctic sanctuary that they shouldn't be anywhere near. Then the fact that they say they need 1000 whales a year for research is ABSURD. Then of course there's the fact that once they're done with the "research", they're not allowed to let any of the meat go to waste, so of course, it goes for sale in Japanese markets, ultimately making it that which is banned - commercial whaling. The stance Japan has taken on whaling is so ridiculous, the fact that they've been allowed to carry on for so long is just shocking, and a serious question mark over the IWC's credibility. The IWC has been accused of being a toothless organisation, where pro-whaling nations buy votes from small neutral nations in order to carry on their operations and where the whalers are allowed to get away with their actions in spite of opposition from some big countries, Australia being the most vocal. Where government and IWC intervention falls short though, Sea Shepherd come along to save the day. For the last few years, they've been following the Japanese whaling fleet down to the Southern Ocean to directly intervene against their operations. Their tactics? Throwing stink bombs of butyric acid, boarding ships, chasing the fleet away from whales, attempting to stop ships' propellors - it's harassment but the fact remains that they prevent the Japanese from getting a substantial amount of their whaling quota. Over the last couple of years, most likely due to the publicity from Whale Wars being on Animal Planet (Whale Wars is a reality TV like account of Sea Shepherd's Antarctic campaigns), Sea Shepherd have gained more support and as a result become stronger and more effective against the whalers. In the past, they used to go down with just one ship, the flagship Steve Irwin and a couple of inflatables against the daunting Japanese fleet. Currently they've got three ships, a bigger than ever crew and an increasing success rate. What you'll always hear them say in the show is that they're in business to put themselves out of business by putting an end to poaching of marine life. Just last week the Japanese announced that they were suspending their whaling activities in the Southern Ocean, for this season at least. The reason they cited for their decision is that it wasn't safe for their crew down there because of Sea Shepherd's harassment. Either way, it's a huge victory for Sea Shepherd. They've estimated that this year, the Japanese probably only got less than 10% of their quota, meaning over 900 whales were saved. I can say right now that when this season of Whale Wars comes out, I will probably cry over this moment.

Yushin Maru No. 3 and Sea Shepherd activists

There's so much more I can say about whaling and Sea Shepherd and the Japanese. Instead of rambling anymore, I'll just say this - watch Whale Wars, every season from beginning to end and then read into the issue as well. It's riveting :) I have friends who will disagree with me, but I'd love to one day be an offshore volunteer and get on one of Sea Shepherd's ships. There are few things more worthy or rewarding.

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  1. Jess this is good stuff.... inspired to say the least. great going....

  2. Hi Jessleena,
    Discovered you on Twitter. This post especially caught my eye, since I've just posted my thoughts about the whaling town of Ayukawa being destroyed by the tsunami. I hope you'll find time to check it out: www.patriciaklichen.com

    Also, my daughter shares your phobia about the little crawlies--especially spiders. The tiniest one starts her shrieking. Actually, I think that quirk of yours would be very intriguing in a novel where the protagonist is a great naturalist/biologist...

  3. I'll definitely have a look at it!

    Hopefully the protagonist manages to get rid of that quirk :P