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The Plus of Conservation: When Hunger Rules

IWMC World Conservation Trust Newsletter
By Eugene Lapointe
September, 2001

A striking contrast was noted this past summer, between those at the IWC who spoke either for or against the human consumption of whale meat, and another situation on the coast of east central Africa, where a blue whale washed up near Lagos, Nigeria. In the former case, the issue was whether or not humans "should" take advantage of a healthy population of minke and other species of whales, by setting quotas, hunting a fixed number of animals, and distributing the products in a market system for human consumption. All very orderly and with scientific justification. Surely, the result of such a scenario would be an additional source of food, the sustainable use of abundant species, and the satisfaction of cultural needs through the use of a traditional food source. Those opposed to that concept, have a cultural preference that no whales be used at any time by anyone for food. It has come down to which side has the most votes, not which course of action is scientifically or socially justifiable.

In stark contrast, when a blue whale washed up near Lagos, Nigeria, pandemonium broke out. The poverty stricken people there are so protein-deprived, so hungry, that they descended on the carcass and stripped it. Imagine the degree of hunger that must exist there, for people who have never had a cultural tradition of whale use, to be so avid as to descend upon such a windfall, and reduce that massive tonnage to meals for thousands. It may not even have been fresh, but was reduced to bones on the beach by the time anyone could report on it. The Associated Press ran a short piece describing the scene as one of mayhem, as local youths even charged admission to those who wanted to get close enough to receive a fist-sized piece of meat.

This should give us all pause. Desperate hunger is perhaps the most terrible drive that a person can have. When foods are readily available, when harvests are demonstrably sustainable, then people should not be deprived of opportunities to eat by others who "prefer" or "insist" that they not partake of a particular food source just because others wish they would not, or have the voting power to prevent them from doing so.
In the case of the windfall for the people of Nigeria, they turned a potential health hazard on the beach into a godsend of food abundance for a short while. It was truly a gift from the sea. Some charged both admission and for the small portions that were cut off and distributed to eager hands. It appears that Nigerians, at least, would not be averse to more such gifts from the sea, even if they had to pay for such a non-traditional food source. Would it be such a bad thing, if a whaling nation brought in a load or two of minke product to a port where such desperate hunger is a daily fact of life?

We most fortunate of people in the western world need to think about ways to alleviate human hunger on a regular basis, in a safe and sustainable manner, so that no people shall live their lives in such a desperate state as was evident this summer in Lagos. The resumption of commercial whaling would not be an environmental crime, because the mechanisms are in place to make it an orderly, transparent, wholly beneficial activity. Perhaps the nations of the world shall soon come together in agreements to solve the interrelated problems of ecological imbalance, and cultural and nutritional need.

Finding new sources of food is an absolute necessity and everyone's responsibility. Depriving starved human beings of an abundant source of food is a crime against humanity.

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updated- February 14th, 2003
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