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29.3.03

Eat Whale ... And Save The Planet

"What people fail to realise is that the Cetacea (the group to which whales and dolphins belong) is an extraordinarily diverse group of mammals," Dr Flannery writes. "It includes relatively large-brained hunters like dolphins and killer whales (which have the demonstrable intelligence of land-based hunters such as dogs) and tiny-brained filter feeders such as the blue whale. These leviathans are aquatic vacuum-cleaners, whose need for intellectual power is slight indeed."

Dr Flannery says it is the filter feeders rather than the hunters that the Japanese and Norwegian target. "If these animals are closer in intelligence to the sheep than the dog, is it morally wrong to eat them if they can be harvested sustainably? My view is that at present the anti-whaling lobby is frustrating the attempt to develop a sustainable industry based on these creatures, and is therefore frustrating good management of marine resources."


This seems like an odd argument, because I don't recall whales' intelligence being used as an argument for their preservation. A quick search of a few anti-whaling sites bears this out. At most, whales' intelligence is cited along with their majestic beauty and their age as part of an emotional appeal to win sympathy for the whales. The substantive claims of the anti-whaling movement are 1) whaling has caused whale populations to decrease dramatically (with the implication that the extinction of whales would be bad), and 2) whaling is cruel to the whales. Either of those points could be argued against, by saying that 1) a total ban on whaling is not necessary to maintaining whale populations, and 2) there's nothing morally wrong with causing pain to a non-human creature. But neither of those arguments seem to rest on whales' intelligence. At best, then, his argument is a counter to part of the emotional framing of anti-whalers (though not all of it, as people quite happily identify with brainless trees) with an appeal of his own -- the image of the "aquatic vacuum cleaner."

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