Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Moby-Dick; The Whale

Today is the 161st anniversary of the publication of Moby-Dick; The Whale, a novel by Herman Melville which first became available on the 14th November, 1851.

The wiki description of this novel is fascinating, "In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs and their places in the universe. The narrator's reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor's life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, and asides."

The review continues with, "The book portrays destructive obsession and monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism—projecting human instincts, characteristics and motivations onto animals. Moby-Dick is ruthless in attacking the sailors who attempt to hunt and kill him, but it is Ahab who invests Moby-Dick's natural instincts with malignant and evil intentions. In fact, it is not the whale but the crippled Ahab who alone possesses this characteristic."

The Wikipedia contributors to that article are most certainly well read, intelligent and articulate, literary critics and so it is no surprise to find that they do not perceive the whale as being evil, actually stating that it is Ahab "alone" who exhibits any evil intent. However, in popular culture, amongst the less well-read (or perhaps the more television brainwashed) Moby-Dick is, in fact, perceived as a terrifying sea monster.

That is hardly surprising because as a species we have always sought to demonise that which we simply do not understand and are further content to accept the truisms that everyone knows must be true, especially if that truism is, "Here be monsters!"

There is also the obvious commercial advantage in that anything which can be caused to be reviled by the general public can be slaughtered without risk to reputation as a commercial enterprise. Moby-Dick; The Whale as a reverse-marketing piece? Why not, George Orwell did the same for pigs with Animal Farm after all...

Most species of whales, as we all now know, were hunted to near extinction over the next 100 years but, sadly, whaling still has not stopped.

I won't blame Moby-Dick directly but there is something in our collective psyche that is stopping a mass public outcry against the 4 nations which are doing most to prevent the recovery of those most endangered species. That same something is stopping the protest that there should be against those 4 nations. Those same 4 nations who are still hunting those whales not yet proven to be endangered to the same levels of extinction as their cousins.

Those nations are Iceland (pictured), Norway, Denmark (specifically Faroe Islands although allegedly rather a lot of Icelandic whale meat ends up in Danish pig feed - and I thought I was being somewhat tenuous linking Animal Farm with Moby-Dick!) and, of course Japan, whose pirate whaling fleet plunders the Southern Ocean Whale SANCTUARY year after year for bogus research to fill supermarket shelves with toxic, and largely unwanted, meat. Did you know that in the whale sanctuary they kill an extremely high percentage of pregnant females because they swim slower and spend more time at the surface therefore are the easiest target of all for a military grade explosive harpoon? And people say I shouldn't call them disgusting barbarians! Societal norms for polite conversation notwithstanding, they are; therefore I do.

Only one NGO actively combats the killers at sea and that organisation is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society who are now proudly embarked on Operation Zero Tolerance which you can read more about at this link: Sea Shepherd Operation Zero Tolerance

Another wonderful animal which has been been hunted to near extinction and remains under the most extreme threat is the shark. People blame Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg for demonising this animal with the novel and film, Jaws and that is certainly true in part. But they were not the first to do so.

Here are 3 newspaper reports from my part of the world, Scotland, published in 1937:

"*FATAL* - On the 1st of September, 1937, there was a triple fatality in the Kilbrannan Sound off Carradale on the Kintyre peninsula when a basking shark capsized a boat containing three people - named as Captain Angus Brown and his son and brother."

"On the 11th of September, 1937, a basking shark attacked a fishing boat, causing damage to its propeller. This incident happened off the Isle of Arran in the Firth of Clyde, very close to the Carradale attack."

"On the 12th of September, 1937, the Clyde steamer the Glen Sannox was attacked by a basking shark and two 5ft observation windows were broken. Again this happened in the same general area, just off the Isle of Arran."

Just look at the language being used: "attacked by," "causing damage to" and, my personal favourite, tales of a basking shark breaking observation windows. How? Seriously, how? And do please look at the picture, the basking shark - although a huge animal - is a true gentle-giant. I know, I have been assisting with surveys in my part of the World for a few years now and it is wonderful to see their numbers starting to stabilise, hopefully to recover in the years to come.

So why demonise them? Maybe this will answer your question, "Between 1946 and 1986 basking shark fisheries in Norway, Scotland and Ireland took 77,204 basking sharks." (EU Fisheries Report) and the last basking sharks were harpooned in the Clyde in Scotland as recently as the late 1990s.

I will certainly return to shark issues with future blogs and you can be sure I will be following Operation Zero Tolerance defending whales with great interest. If you still have the appetite for more today then please see my 31st October blog, Sharks and the Gold Standard but for now, thanks for reading.