They are both Canadian, in their mid-20’s, female and with long brunette hair. One women is on a high-speed inflatable boat called a Zodiac in the Pacific Ocean. The other, on the bridge of an entirely black 59-metre Scottish patrol vessel in the Antarctic Ocean. The woman in the Zodiac steers her inflatable in front of a Russian whaling ship. She places herself between a harpoon and a whale. On the black ship, the other girl steers the vessel through packs of ice setting a course that is headed to intercept a six-ship Japanese whaling fleet. The woman in the Pacific is Bobbi Hunter — she was the first woman to save a whale. The woman in the Antarctic is me, Emily Hunter, in the present day. Bobbi Hunter is my mother and this is a second-generation fight for whales.
Pelagic (industrial) whaling started in the mid-1800’s and within a century nearly wipped out the once-abundant giants of the oceans. Today, population levels are unknown. Many are endangered, including the fin, humpback, sperm and right whale (right whales are estimated to be as low as 300-400 in population). With the loss of so much life on this planet in our industrial awakening, the dawn of a new age arose as the 1970s ecology movement began.
My father, Robert Hunter, the first president of Greenpeace, very much set the path for the whale-saving cause in the ecological movement. He changed course of the organization in the mid-70s from an anti-nuclear testing group to a whale-saving one, prompting the ecological movement to also become a consciousness-changing movement — a change from a human-focused consciousness to an eco-inclusive one. Saving whales for the whales’ sake, and an ecological sake, even if the plight of the whales does not directly affect us.
The whale-saving campaigns have come a long way since then. Not only has Russian whaling been ceased (whom the first anti-whaling campaigns opposed), but the last whaling station in the English-speaking world (in Albany, Australia) was shut down in 1977. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission’s member states signed a moratorium on commercial whaling in order to allow population levels to replenish after a century of uncontrolled exploitation. Today, there are numerous organizations around the globe that fight for whales, including Greenpeace International and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (the only two groups that set sail to the open oceans to protest whaling head-on). Whale-saving has gone so far as to now have its own reality TV show called Whale Wars on Animal Planet Channel, showcasing Sea Shepherd’s radical initiatives in the Antarctic waters to stop whaling by the government of Japan (currently, Animal Planet is filming the second season of Whale Wars on the Sea Shepherd campaign I’m travelling with).
With over 35 years of this battle come and gone and over two generations fighting it, one has to wonder — are we getting any closer to the end of this ‘war’? In many ways we are, and in other ways we are not. It used to be that there was a long list of whaling nations, and now there are only three: Norway, Iceland and Japan. Whaling has been strongly curtailed since the moratorium was established. There are not only activists, but lobbyists, politicians, lawyers, scientists, and outraged citizens across the world who fight for whales. And the whaling issue has more eyes and ears paying attention to it now than it ever did.
But whether it be Russia or Japan, there is still aggressive whaling in the world (Japan, since 2001, has been targeting a thousand whales annually in the southern oceans). There are bodies that back whaling just as aggressively, for cultural, scientific, legal, political or economic ends. Tensions and divides are rising between peoples and countries (a scenario that was not the case 35 years ago). Australia and Japan, for example, have become pitted against one another over whaling, causing racist backlashes and name-calling.
Maybe our ecological-political issues are beginning to influence the rhetoric, and becoming a serious factor in our national and international decision-making. This opens up new possibilities, but also a whole new set of problems. Fractures are emerging in our global mosaic, with governments opposing each other over ecological policies.
Will we work through the new decision-making that needs to be made in the 21st century? Will my father’s dream of a global ecological consciousness take shape? Or will this fight for the whales and the planet last to my children’s generation with an even more diminished earth, and a bleak future?
We need to mediate these political fissures, both for our own sake, and for that of our sparkling blue planet.
Emily Hunter is an environmental journalist. She is currently working on a book about young environmental activism, The Next Eco-Warriors and a documentary on illegal whaling in Antarctica.