Moby Dick in the 21st century

WHALING ISSUES AND JAPAN'S WHALING RESEARCH Publisher: The Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan Price: Not Mentioned

Published: Saturday 04 July 2015

SMALL is beautiful. Notwithstanding the anti-whale tone of the comment, the remark holds true for this book. Whaling Issues and Japan's Whale Research should ideally be called a booklet on a big animal.

The book makes you realise the present whaling controversy is more complex than newspaper reports would have you believe, and encompasses not just the biological aspect, but the cultural, legal and ethical ones as well. In fact, a solution to the problem of how humans can utilise and manage whales as resources and reach a consensus based on science would seem well beyond the scope and comprehension of Captain Ahab and his harpoons.

Can we say, therefore, that Whaling Issues and Japan's Whale Research is old hat? Perhaps not. The need to kill to eat is as fundamental as the right to live. But in order for animals to enjoy the right to live, they are obliged to eat other animals and plants.

Predation, therefore, is a fact of life, as the book argues. Some people find hunting of animals unacceptable, but won't bat an eyelid at the slaughtering of livestock. The book propounds very rationally that "man does not give life and, therefore, should refrain from making egocentric arguments about the killing of animals". But it also says that protecting nature does not mean not touching it. Village people, who actually protect forests, are often deprived of their right to use forest resources. This anti-Western viewpoint is what livens up the book.

Some of the issues raised in the book are striking, at times even a little uncomfortable. What is the difference between slaughter and "bloody slaughter"? Captain Ahab may have been able to answer satisfactorily. On the other hand, the objection to bloody slaughter is the way such killings are projected by the media. "Queasy feeling" is all that is found objectionable.

Few animals have been as controversial as the whale. One reason for this is the sheer size of the animal. The other is overexploitation by the developed countries. And the book has something new to say on both issues. Moby Dick, are you listening?

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