Indigenous whalers bring joy to beleaguered islanders

Eugène Lapointe

Eugene Lapointe is the president of the IWMC World Conservation Trust and a former secretary-general of CITES.
Share on twitter
Share this
Photo: International Whaling Commission. Whale’s capture draws excited crowds on Bequia in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

When are tens of tonnes of humpback whale meat most welcome? After a volcano erupts, then rainfall turns ash slurry into mudslides, destroying crops, cutting electricity and water connections, closing airports and ports, forcing 20 000 of a country’s 100 000 population from their homes, that’s when.

On 9th April La Soufriere volcano on St Vincent Island erupted after being dormant for decades. Days later there were more explosions. As the rock, mineral, and glass particles stopped spewing, a tropical rainstorm caused more chaos. But then a humpback whale swam into view. It was promptly harpooned by indigenous West Indians of Bequia, aka Island of the Cloud, in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), using the hunting techniques Herman Melville describes in Moby-Dick.

Herman Belmar, Deputy Director of Grenadines Affairs, reported that the news of the slaughter provoked ‘extreme jubilation’ among the beleaguered islanders. He added that:

“Despite the catastrophic setback in our country due to Dengue, Covid-19, the eruption of the La Soufrierre volcano, flooding, crushing mudslides and ash fall that destroyed more than two-thirds of our agriculture and fishing, the whalers persisted and brought a much-needed supply of protein food to our people.”

This fortuitous triumph was made possible by pro-whaling nations and, I’m proud to say, IWMC. Together we fought and won numerous battles at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to preserve the right of indigenous and aboriginal communities to continue whaling for nutritional and cultural subsistence.

So, when I heard the news, I toasted nature’s bounty for the benefit of humanity. And wondered how my opponents in the anti-whaling lobby, such as the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), felt about this glorious kill. It was, after all, AWI that led much of the opposition at IWC whenever there was a vote to set SVG’s Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) quota.

As I shared champagne with my wife, we wondered whether AWI still thinks it matters whether the ‘cultural need for whaling, and the nutritional subsistence need for whales, must be substantiated just in respect of Bequians or the whole population of St Vincent and the Grenadines’. We questioned whether AWI remained shocked that SVG once wrote in its Needs Statement, ‘salted humpback meat and blubber were sold on St Vincent’ and ‘people come from the other islands to try to get some fresh whale meat’.

I felt the urge to write AWI a letter to ask whether they regretted saying at IWC64 that ‘SVG’s dietary preference did not equate to a nutritional subsistence need’. Or whether they were still shocked to learn from locals that the killing of a humpback whale on Bequia, ‘draws excited crowds of people to the whaling station to buy meat and to cut some off the whale for themselves’. (See AWI’s Humpback Whaling in Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines: The IWC’s Failed Responsibility).

Then I sobered up. It would be a waste of time, I fathomed, to write a letter to an incorrigible NGO. For decades AWI ignored the evidence of whale abundance and spread fake news about their imminent extinction. Like all the other animal activist NGOs, AWI places the preservation of all whales above the rights of the islanders of SVG. They especially hate what I admire most, commercial whalers, whaling nations and the courageous artisanal hunters on Bequia. My morals and AWI’s are irreconcilable.

Related news

IWMC Feature

Conservation Influencers

Conservation Influencers is a searchable directory of the animal activist, environmental and ecological lobby. It examines the history, mission, methodology and reputation of NGOs to assess their impact on the global conservation cause.

Wildlife Conservation Society

In 1906, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) put an African man on display in Bronx Zoo’s Monkey House. In 1918, one of WCS’s founding fathers, Madison Grant, published Passing of the Great Race, which Adolf Hitler referred to as his ‘Bible’. Another leading creator and early leader of WCS, Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr, was also a founder of the American Eugenics Society. His son headed WCS from 1940 to 1968, overseeing a series of major initiatives in Africa. There, WCS became one of the architects of the prohibition movement, which put wildlife for consumptive use and vast regions of land out of bounds to humanity. In 2020, WCS distanced itself in public from the racist views of Grant and Henry Fairfield Osborn Sr. But it has yet to issue a critical account of the legacy of Fairfield Osborn Jr, even though he led WCS into the modern era while sharing similar politically-inspired ecological goals to his father and Grant. WCS devotes considerable financial resources to influencing outcomes at CITES. WCS’s CEO reportedly earns USD$1,320,978.