Continuing to explore the infinitely rich wild kingdom and some of the hazards facing it, we're taking a long overdue look at sea life in particular. I'm honored to introduce the theme with a reflection on whales graciously written for us by a new friend, Lowell Bliss. Lowell is a missionary to India and Pakistan who currently directs Eden Vigil, "an environmental missions initiative of Christar which seeks to combine church-planting with creation care among the least-reached" ...
It began with a question about the harpooning of whales and ended up with a nice, but still baffling, lesson on prayer.
I had written Ben of Not One Sparrow and asked if he knew of any Christian statements on the whaling industry, any Christian anti-whaling campaigns. “Save the Whales” has been such an icon of the environmental movement; surely there is a Christian creation care expression of it.
There were any number of reasons why I was curious. Whale-watching and a trip to the Antarctic are both items on my “bucket list.” I was also reading Dick Russell’s Eye of the Whale, a compelling account of the grey whale’s troubled migration from Baja California to Siberia. Mostly, I had to admit to a guilty pleasure. My family was addicted to Whale Wars, the three seasons of an Animal Planet series. Whale Wars recounts the attempts of Capt. Paul Watson and his Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to harass and shut down Japan’s whaling fleet in the southern oceans around Antarctica.
As readers of his blog might guess, Ben reported to me that there are few Christian statements about any species in the animal kingdom, whether behemoth or microscopic. He did recommend a second book: Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy by Matthew Scully. Scully’s chapter “Riches of the Sea” is about whaling and is brilliant. I appreciated his honest dialogue with Japanese, Norwegian, and Native American whalers. He genuinely sought to respectfully understand those with whom he so passionately disagreed.
In the end, here are just a few of the things I’ve learned:
- Quite likely everything ever published about whales has employed an inscription from the Book of Job: “Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? ... I will not conceal his parts, nor his power, nor his comely proportion. ... He maketh a path to shine after him; ... He beholdeth all high things: he is a king over all the children of pride. (Job 41:1, 12, 32, 34; KJV)
- Beauty and affinity legitimately have a role in our ethics. Why is it that we cannot imagine slitting the throat of a Labrador retriever but have little to no compunction over the slaughter of a market hog? Every empathetic account I have heard of a person’s close encounter with a whale seemed to lapse into poetry. This need not be some sort of inter-species mysticism. It’s possible that the Creator placed some ineffable quality in the whale that speaks uniquely to us humans. After all, the Job quotation above comes from the section of the book where God himself is speaking. God himself ascribes to the leviathan a “comely proportion.”
- The sleaze which the pro-whaling lobby brings to the politics of the International Whaling Commission is sufficient in itself to taint the industry. The Orwellian newspeak is eerie. They insist that killing be referred to as “non-natural morality.” Whales and dolphins are “living marine resources.” Even innocent whale watching has a term: “non-consumptive utilization.” The movie The Cove does a good job of documenting Japan’s purchase of the votes of non-whaling Caribbean and African nations. Some of their tactics at the IWC border on the ridiculous, such as one year’s PR campaign that “Whales Consume Much Fish,” portraying whales as competitors with humans for scarce food resources.
- The lead Japanese delegate to the IWC has a proven trump argument. Arguing against the impropriety of filming a whale harpooning, he mentions the hunting of kangaroos in Australia and the destruction of the joeys. “How, he wonders, would the Australian delegates care to see that on film, or the British delegates some footage of their own abattoirs, or the New Zealanders their lambs at slaughter, or the Americans their industrial hog farms?” (Scully, p. 149). Mr. Komatsu has a point.
Not only has my family watched Whale Wars, we’ve discussed it. Peter, Mal, and Shannon are our favorite Sea Shepherds, but we think Capt. Watson isn’t kind to his volunteer crew. We think throwing rancid butyric acid onto the Japanese ships is an ineffective tactic. So is laying prop foulers. It never works. We’ve discussed the moral basis of civil disobedience and have speculated about how far we would go to stand up for what we believe. We’ve been intrigued by Watson’s famous dispute with Greenpeace.
A month ago or so, I was pondering all of this. Likely I was bemoaning how small my circle of influence is. I’m landlocked, underfunded, with no political clout, prone more to writing than to direct action. The Sea Shepherds have a budget of millions, and still can’t shut down whaling. But then I stopped. “Hey, I’m a follower of the same God who delights in Leviathan. I can pray.” So I did. “Lord, please send the factory ship Nisshin Maru back to Japan.”
Two weeks later, I received an e-mail from a friend who regular sends out links to creation care news. The headline read “Japan recalls whaling fleet from Antarctic.” Apparently, the Sea Shepherds had found the fleet early this season and the conservation vessel Bob Barker was able to crowd the slipway of the Nisshin Maru, preventing the harpoon ships from transferring their kills. On February 10th, the Japanese apparently called it quits, returning home with only 100-170 of their targeted catch of 850 whales.
And so I’m left with a dilemma. Should I believe that my prayers contributed something to the reversal? Should I believe that God also used a godless bunch like the Sea Shepherds? Should I believe that the one thing missing from these anti-whaling campaigns is the prayers of God’s people?
(a sincere thanks to Lowell for sharing this post; please look into his work with Eden Vigil and consider subscribing to his Environmental Missions Prayer Digest (a free monthly e-prayer letter); photo of gray whale rescue effort in Bering sea courtesy U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric/Wikimedia Commons, Whale Wars cover image from season 1 dvd (Animal Planet '09))