Whaling never an aboriginal activity in St Vincent and the Grenadines, says National Trust chair

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- The chair of the St Vincent and the Grenadines National Trust, local attorney and native of Bequia, Louise Mitchell Joseph, in a presentation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) plenary session in Panama City, rejected the notion that whale hunting was a tradition activity of the aboriginal people of the islands.

“Never in the history of archeology in St Vincent and the Grenadines have there been any findings to suggest that the Kalinago or Garifuna peoples, killed whales, interacted with whales, or ate whale meat. The Kalinago and the Garifuna are the aboriginal peoples of our country. Over the last several years there have been many archeological excavations conducted and there was no evidence found whatsoever of whale hunting by aboriginal peoples. Neither whale remains nor weapons that could have been used to kill such large mammals were ever found. Neither are any images of whales inscribed on our petroglyphs,” Joseph said.

She went on to explain that the killing of the humpback whales on Bequia is a relic of European and American origin which began in about 1875 by a Scottish settler William Wallace, together with his whaling partner, a settler of French origin Joseph Ollivierre. It is not an ‘aboriginal’ activity, it is an activity learnt from the Yankee whalers. Modern day whaling in Bequia is done by persons of mixed European and African descent.

Joseph also rejected the argument that the killing of humpback whales on Bequia can be justified on economic grounds or nutritional needs. Alternative sources of protein can be obtained at cheaper prices on the on the island of Bequia, she pointed out. Those sources included chicken and certain types of fish.

“The alleged need for whale meat in SVG statement presented is based on the assumption that all of the 6,000 persons on Bequia actually eat whale meat, which is not the case, especially because much of the meat is taken to the main island of St Vincent which is not the intended recipient of the quota – the IWC very specifically awards it to meet the needs of the people of Bequia,” she said.

A recent high school survey (2011), which included Bequia students, showed that only 39% admitted to have ever eaten whale meat. Also, some persons of certain religions faiths on Bequia do not eat whale meat. It is however considered a delicacy and enjoyed by persons especially in the Paget Farm and La Pompe communities, she continued.

According to Joseph, the most critical economic argument in relation to whaling activities on Bequia is its negative impact on the tourism industry, upon which the entire country is heavily dependent, including Bequia. It is the largest industry, the biggest employer and the greatest source of foreign exchange revenue. This has been the case since the collapse of the banana industry after the loss of preferential treatment on the European market. The agricultural sector was further destroyed by Hurricane Tomas in 2010; and soon thereafter was hit by the black Sigatoka and Moka diseases which destroyed most of the bananas in 2011 and 2012. These events have caused SVG to be even more dependent on tourism than ever before.

“The killing of humpback whales in the heart of the main tourism area, the island of Bequia, is extremely damaging to the tourism industry. It is a practice that we simply cannot afford as a country to continue. The whaling activities of a small community should not be allowed to have such devastating economic impact on the rest of Vincentian society,” she asserted.

Because of the migratory nature of humpback whales, whale hunting in Bequia is important to the economies of other island states such as the Dominican Republic, and Dominica, which rely on increasingly lucrative revenues from whale watching.

“It is a well known fact that the Bequia whalers have had a long tradition of hunted mothers and calves, contrary to IWC ASW Regulations. Our government has had a history of non compliance with respect to its obligations to the IWC, including absence of adequate measures for the collecting and reporting of data in relation to whaling activities of Bequia,” Joseph claimed.

She said that there is a misrepresentation in the SVG 2012 statement of needs, which reads “where there is wind the boats use their sails while searching for whales and to pursue them”. This statement, she said, omits to mention the key role of speed boats in the hunt, including towing the whale boat to the vicinity of the whale to give the appearance of ASW and to tow the dead whale back to shore.

“Based on numerous eye witness accounts, speedboats are not only used to herd the whales but also to strike whales, and have become a regular component to the hunting activities in recent years. One such strike and loss, where the whale was harpooned from the speed boat and not the whale boat, occurred this past year just outside Admiralty Bay, a spectacle which was viewed by many,” she said.

Joseph went on to reiterate that whale meat is not only sold on mainland St Vincent but also in neighbouring countries and even to the Vincentian Diaspora in the United States, and elsewhere.

“In conclusion and in light of the lack of genuine subsistence needs, commerciality of the catch, record of infractions, animal cruelty and the fact that the hunters are not aboriginal peoples as the exemption for ASW requires, we call on the IWC to withdraw entirely a proposal for a quota of humpback whales for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to hunt whales under the IWC ASW provision. I urge the IWC not to allow the joint proposal of the Russian Federation, the USA and SVG because the case of SVG is separate and distinct from the other two,” Joseph concluded.

According to the latest report from the IWC meeting, it appears that the SVG quota is to be renewed notwithstanding Joseph’s representations, as it is now tied to the US and Russia's aboriginal whaling proposals.

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