Saturday, January 30, 2010

Whale Wars

Recently I came across an intriguing documentary series called Whale Wars. At the time I was trying to find a good show for my kids to watch, and since Zeke likes whales (excuse me, humpback whales) I thought this looked like a good one. I was surprised then to see preview scenes from the show which looked much more like modern day pirate ships in battle, than a documentary about whales. Indeed I quickly figured out the premise of the show. The show follows a non-profit environmental direct-action group called Sea Shepherd. On the show they are engaging in direct action activism against Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. The Sea Shepherds intentions are to stop what they call illegal whaling activities. To do this they use whatever non-violent tactic they can to physically stop the whalers from killing whales, hoping to cut into their profits enough to cause them to abandon whaling.

First of all, I highly recommend everyone to watch this series, its amazing. Even if you don't agree with what Sea Shepherd is doing, its an enthralling saga. It has forced me to reflect upon my stance on two issues: Environmentalism and Direct-Action activism. First, environmentalism.

There are probably lots of different definitions of the word, but what I mean by enviromentalism, is the general idea that we ought to protect the environment from harm. That includes plants, animals, soil, rivers, humans, etc. It is looking out for the health of the planet, human, non-human, living, non-living. Everything.

The reason to protect all of these things from harm is from my perspective, simple; God created the eco-system to be a perfectly balanced system which sustain all life on earth. For example, to destroy an entire species of animals is to destroy the balance in the eco-system that God created. Which is to destroy that which God called, "Good." Indeed what we have found in studying the environment is that the Eco-system is heavily vested in the preservation of plant and animal species diversity. And to sustain that, we must have quality air, water, and earth.

The problem lies in humanities insatiable desire to plunder the earth for whatever reason. This problem has been around for thousands of years, but it has been taken to a whole new catastrophic level with the introduction of the industrial revolution. With the use of fuel burning machines and technology, we can now plunder the earth at an unprecedented rate. This is a major problem for us humans. We are completely, 100% reliant on a healthy Eco-system. If the environment is destroyed, so is humanity. If the environment is unhealthy, so is humanity. Thus environmentalism is finally concerned with human life, and healthy human life at that.

My conclusion: Since God created the environment to sustain life on earth and commanded us to care for it, and because human life is 100% reliant on a health eco-system, I must protect it from harm. I guess I am an environmentalist of sorts.

Now as for Direct-action activism. This is a new idea to me. My understanding of direct-action activism is that it originates with the "monkey wrenchers." These were people who intentionally tried to sabotage their employers by disabling equipment used to make products, and thus cutting into their profit. The goal was to make the profit driven owner of the business to realize that his workers were not going to stand for unfair wages and treatment. This is different and distinct from protesting or other forms of activism which simply strongly request employers to do the right thing.

In the case of the Sea Shepherd campaigns against the Japanese whalers, this means trying to disable their boats by getting ropes caught in their propellers, throwing stink bombs onto their decks to make uncomfortable working conditions, and possibly tainting the whale meat so it can't be sold for food. All their tactics are non-violent and every effort is made to ensure that nobody is ever injured in these campaigns.

It should be stated that whaling has been outlawed. The only exception to this law is that whales can be killed for research. And as a part of that law, when whales are killed for research, the researchers are not allowed to waste any part of the whale. So they sell the meat on the open market in Japan. After studying it more in depth it becomes quite apparent that these Japanese whalers are not concerned about research, as they say, but are in it for the multi-million dollar pay off. After all, is it even possible that in order to research whales, the Japanese must kill 1,000 whales every year, which is their self-inflicted quota?

It should also be stated that Sea Shepherd sails under a U.N. charter which allows for non-government organizations to enforce law on the open sea when no government entity is enforcing the law. The problem is that no one can decide who is right. The whalers and Sea Shepherd are therefore left to fight it out in the Antarctic. Hence, 'Whale Wars.'

But aside from the question of who is right in the situation, I have to ask whether I agree with direct action activism or not. I am on the fence. It certainly seems like at the very least, Sea Shepherd have (A) saved whales and (B) raised awareness of whats going on in the Antarctic. They have certainly caused me to think about how I need to be treating the earth. So it seems successful. I will also say that I find myself in strong support of Sea Shepherd. That's not to say that all environmentalists are. For instance, Green Peace is an outspoken critic of Sea Shepherd. They are in favor of indirect forms of activism, like protesting and raising awareness through taking pictures. Perhaps all forms of activism should be encouraged except that which does harm to humans, plants or animals. They are complimentary.

So there you have it, check out Whale Wars and let me know what you think.

Peace on Earth,


  1. Good blog, I especially like the example of the "monkey wrenchers". It shows that direct activism isn't a new trend started by "weirdo environmentalists", it actually has an honorable place in history.

  2. Great perspective on environmentalism. I have always been relatively laid back when it came to respecting the environment. My wife is always telling me we need to take care of what God has given us--which I agree with. But I guess I've never really had such a broad view as what you're speaking of. I take care of the things I personally have, but haven't cared too much about the things that God has charged humanity with taking care of.

    As far as Whale Wars, I'm not sure if I agree with their tactics (e.g. physically trespassing on the Japanese ship), and I'm not sure that I like that members agree to be willing to give up their lives for the whales. Nevertheless, it is an intriguing show and I can see direct activism as maybe having a place. Would Jesus throwing down the money changer's tables in the temple be an example of this?

    Anywho, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts Landon. I really appreciate your willingness to explore new thoughts and ideas.

    In regards to whether or not you would die for a whale, I had the same thought. But as i continued to watch it i realized that this is much more than a fight to stop whaling. This is a fight for the survival of all living creatures on this planet, because the existence of each species is a part of the delicate balance in the eco-system, that God created. Its similar to our bodies. Some people believe we don't need certain parts of our bodies, like our appendix or our tail bone. But to remove these things, or something even more important like our stomach, would at the very least present many problems.

    I think even those on this show would not simply be willing to give up their life for a whale, but to give up their life for a whale in this context is give up their life for both animal and human life.

    In addition some might think its strange and reckless for people to risk their lives to possibly save whales, but they never stop to consider that the whalers are risking their lives in the freezing Antarctic to kill whales, and make a profit.