Thursday, September 07, 2006

Saving whales, losing humanity

Last month, a tragedy occurred in these waters when a traditional tribal canoe participating in the annual ceremonial greeting of the tribes in Seattle capsized en route, resulting in the drowning of a tribal chief named Jerry Jack.

Chief Jack was head of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations, which resides largely in the Nootka Sound area of western Vancouver Island, B.C. He had previously been involved in the efforts to protect the young killer whale Luna, who was killed this spring by a tugboat propellor.

It seems that the boat that capsized in heavy chop near Dungeness Spit was the same canoe used by the Makah Tribe of Neah Bay in its gray-whale hunt of 1998-99, which I reported on for Salon. And though the report was filed before the Makahs did finally succeed in killing -- and essentially wasting -- a gray whale, I did observe that the situation was being aggravated by the high-handedness of the environmentalists involved, most notably Paul Watson's Sea Shepherd Society.

At one time, I very much admired Watson, particularly his bravery in confronting industrial whalers around the globe. But observing him up close -- particularly the cultlike self-righteousness with which he envelops himself -- led me to reassess that. It seemed to me that Watson, in the pursuit of his Higher Cause, had lost his grip on his humanity; like most ideologues, his ideas -- and evidently, the whales themselves -- has become more important than people. His subsequent activism against immigration, including an attempted takeover of the Sierra Club, only deepened that judgment.

So it was with sickened unsurprise that, as I was perusing the Sea Shepherd site recently, I found this commentary from Watson regarding the death of Chief Jack:
"What goes around apparently comes around," said Captain Paul Watson. "In my opinion that boat was cursed the moment the harpoon left it and entered the body of the whale. There was nothing traditional about that kill."

"We do extend our sympathies to the family of Chief Jerry Jacks," continued Captain Watson. "His death was a tragedy and a loss to his people. Unfortunately, the traditional hunt went hand in hand with the loss of Makah whalers. Both whales and men died in the days when the hunt was a necessity for the Makah. The sea has now claimed a life for the one that the Makah whalers took. The Buddhists would call this karma; the whales would call this justice."

Justice? Really? A chief of a non-whaling tribe largely unaffiliated with the Makah dies, and that's Watson's idea of justice? Does Watson believe all Native Americans need to pay for the death of that whale?

Watson's lip-service "sympathy" for Chief Jack's family rings nothing but hollow in the company of the remainder of his commentary -- commentary that tells us much more about Paul Watson than it does the whale hunters.

Fortunately, at least, the tribal members themselves were able to find deeper meaning in the death of Chief Jack. By contrast, you almost have to feel some pity for those people who, like Watson, could only respond with the meanest, hardest parts of whatever soul they possess.

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