The Gray. . . today!

by Craig and Joanne Simpson

Every year a magnificent migration takes place. From the cold Artic waters California gray whales swin south along an ancient unmarked route until they reach the warm lagoons in the Baja Peninsula to bear their young. This journey has attracted mankind's attention throughout history; from subsistence hunting by the Northwest aboriginal tribes, and later the industrialized slaughter by a more "modern civilization" which culminated in the extinction of the world's population of gray whales save for the remanents of the above mentioned survivors.

When the whalers discovered the apparent bounty in the Baja lagoons they began a geonicdal "feeding frenzy". This one sided war earned the gray the nickname of "Devil Fish" because they had the audacity to try to defend their young and themselves. As whaling started to become unprofitable and it finally became apparent that this "resource" was not going to survive that level of "harvesting" the industrialized countries turned their forces loose on more plentiful commodites like lumber, bison, etc. This granted a reprieve to the gray which began the slow process of recovery.

This recovery was aided by a worldwide movement which had finally seen enough of the slaughter of these wonderful giants. The boats that now entered the calving lagoons were manned by the curious new friends of the whale. And how did the "devil fish" greet the race that had driven them to the edge of extinction? With apparent equal curiosity, coming close to the boats of delighted onlookers, sometimes close enough to allow the touch of eager hands. Occasionally mothers would bring their treasured calves to meet the suddenly compassionate humans.

But as is often the case in popular movements vigalance and interest has begun to wane and the spectre of commercial whaling is stirring in its lair. Noticing the beginning recovery brought about by an all too brief period of sanity one nation is doing all in its power to undo the fragile "peace treaty" we entered into to try to spare the great whales the fate that surely awaited before the truce was called. This nation has a powerful economic position and no qualms in buying favorable votes with pledges of economic assistance and investment in developing countries in its quest to overturn the commercial whaling ban.

They have been joined by another nation also eager to return to the fray. They view these giant mammals as little more than cattle. Through pressure applied by these countries small cracks are beginning to develop in the fragile shield placed over these creatures. Now the Makah Indians have been granted permission to resume limited hunting of the gray whale along their yearly migration route. While the initial numbers may seem inconsequential to some it is perhaps akin to not worrying about a small hole in the dam. We must realize that other eyes are watching how this will play out and will also demand the same privlage to resume whale hunting stating that it is important to their traditions as well.

While I have great respect for cultural diversity and tradition, how far must we go to preserve things that are no longer acceptable? Would we also consider allowing peoples that had traditions of cannibalism, head hunting, slavery and scalping to practice these acts to preserve their cultures? My question is how much will we tolerate before we become sufficiently outraged to say enough is enough? The world has given taciturn approval to these two countries by holding the last and this winter olympics in Norway and Japan. I am not suggesting an Olympic boycott, that only harms the athletes, but we need to apply pressure somehow to say we do not accept the resumption of whaling. By considering countries for the privilege of hosting such events we bascially condone any policies they have.

The present atmosphere makes any environmental activism subject to ridicule. Some people will rather stay uninvolved than be labled an "environmental wacko" by those who would undo any attempt to promote a world consensus that we should preserve whales, or the rain forests, or whatever. The people who are fortunate enought to visit the San Ignacio lagoon to see the gray whales must now be aware that a sea salt recovery facility partially owned by Mitsubishi will be built there. What the effect will be on the whales is unclear. But it is hard to visualize the facility will have no impact on the area.

What it will cost to preserve whales is minimal. If we do not act, and allow them to be hunted to extinction, no amount of money or effort can restore them to the seas.

Craig and Joanne Simpson © 1998

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