On Whales, Dolphins and Effective Activism
I recently caught up on Whale Wars. When I first started watching the series I was a big fan. Then less so, feeling more like the characters on the South Park episode that pokes fun at the show and its oftentimes keystone cops-esque shenanigans. Then there’s the single-issue issue–that going after a single issue isn’t effective or is even a problem. I’m not one to believe that (exhibit A: my anti-greyhound racing passion), but I do understand the point that no single issue, other than the use of sentient nonhumans, is the source of the problem for the animals. The same line of reasoning that criticizes Whale Wars can be applied to The Cove and the tragedies that have befallen dolphins at the hands of man. But this is all a narrow conversation that leaves out some fairly significant points and fails to acknowledge effective activism.
Regarding Whale Wars, the Sea Shepherd crew frequently reminds the audience that although their plans to sabotage the Japanese whalers often (and I mean often–can you say prop fouler?) don’t work, the goal is to keep the whalers occupied and moving and not killing (or processing) whales. Economic damage is their goal. And at the end of the season, the whalers were 528 whales under their quota. In other words, through the failed prop foulers, the potato gun, the paint balls and the destruction of the multi-million dollar Ady Gil, 528 individual lives were not cut brutally short. In addition, the international media attention to whaling in the Southern Ocean due to various actions (not to mention the broadcasting of a weekly series) has resulted in unprecedented pressure on the Japanese whalers. Mainstream America is now aware of this issue (and that the Sea Shepherd ship serves only vegan food), whales have been spared, the global political community is applying pressure. Our job as individual activists is to decide whether our donation of whatever amount has been well spent.
Regarding The Cove and Blood Dolphins, which premiered on Friday, the crucial connection is that what happens in The Cove isn’t just about slaughtering dolphins–it’s about capturing dolphins who will then be held captive and made to entertain humans at marine parks. And as Flipper-trainer-turned-activist Ric O’Barry said: in captivity, they’re surviving, but they’re not living and doing. Again, we are increasing awareness about not just killing, but using animals. Sure, we’re talking about dolphins, whose likability quotient is probably third after puppies and kittens in the minds of people, but at least we’re talking about it. And if there’s anything I’ve learned in my decades of talking to people about our relationship with nonhuman animals, it’s that change happens at a glacial pace. And we need all of the strategies and tactics and angles we can find to get others to pay attention and to care and to act.
But those are just my thoughts, and I don’t claim to have all of the answers.
What do you think?
Photo from Flickr user Martin Cathrae