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May 09 2012

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Media Whale Warfare

A comment by Elin Brimheim Heinesen to the discussion triggered by the TV series on Animal Planet “Whale Wars – Viking Shores”.

I wish this issue was simpler, but it’s not. I’m Faroese and I do not condone pilot whale killing in the Faroe Islands unconditionally. I’m absolutely opposed to unnecessary cruelty and the killing of animals just ‘for fun’ or as part of a ‘ritual’. If this really was the case in regard to pilot whaling in the Faroes, I would be against it. I know for a fact it’s not. Regardless of what some might claim.

For various unknown reasons some people perceive pilot whale killing as a sport, a celebration or a ritualistic event for the locals in the Faroe Islands. I do not. The purpose of pilot whaling is to put food on the table. People who believe anything else have not really understood or have twisted what Faroe Islanders or others have tried to say about pilot whaling – or they have been misled by people, interested in discrediting this practice.

Pilot whaling in the Faroes is no different – that is: no better, nor worse – than so many other accepted ways of providing meat. I’ve spoken to many foreigners who have witnessed a pilot whale slaughter. After they’ve seen it in real life, they aren’t opposed to it any more in the same way because they saw with their own eyes, that – in spite of the fact that it wasn’t pleasant – it was far from as cruel and dramatic as they had seen it portrayed by biased anti-whaling activists.

Usually a whole pod is killed in a few minutes and each whale is killed within seconds. Of course, it’s unpleasant to watch a pilot whale slaughter – just as it would be to visit a common slaughter house for anyone, not used to see such things. Most of us aren’t used to see what is going on, when animals are being slaughtered, and react naturally with shock. Watching someone taking the lives of living beings is a harsh reality, we very rarely experience.

Humans are predators
The way we have established ourselves and our communities in the modern world, has led us almost to forget the fact that all meat-eating people are predators. Whether we like it or not, it is the truth. I don’t like that fact either. But humans are, and have always been meat-eaters, the vast majority of them. This means that, basically, we’re no different than other predators who kill other animal species to have them for food. And that is not pretty.

I’m always shocked when I, for instance, watch a nature program on TV and see a lion catch a zebra and tear it apart – or an orca catch a seal and throw it up in the air before it bites the seal’s head of with its sharp teeth. It’s brutal and bloody, but I know the lion and the orca don’t do this because they’re evil. They do it to survive. That’s nature, and nature can be gruesome.

Some might say that you can’t compare what humans do to animals to what happens in nature, because most humans have ‘evolved’ (as they call it) and they kill animals more ‘humanely’ than a lion or an orca does, but to me that’s clearly a delusion.

Killing always brutal
No sound and healthy being wishes to die – neither animals nor humans, neither in the wild nor in farm factories. A zebra doesn’t want to be eaten by a lion. A seal doesn’t want to be eaten by an orca. A whale doesn’t want to be killed and eaten by people, neither does a pig. Nobody wants to be killed by anyone else. All living beings want to live and thrive. We might sophisticate our killing methods. But nevertheless, it’s still killing. Saying that it is more ‘humane’ to kill animals in a farm factory slaughter house, corresponds to saying that it was more ‘humane’ to kill people in gas chambers during the holocaust, rather then, for instance, to hang them or stone them to death.

No matter how we try to bend or twist it – we cannot run away and pretend it is not what it is: It IS brutal to kill animals – any animal, any human – one way or another, regardless of who does the killing – animals or humans – and regardless of how ‘humanely’ we try to do it. It’s still taking another beings life. And ALL animals, including humans, resist to being killed by others.

So I feel sorry for the zebra. I feel sorry for the seal. I also feel sorry for the cows and the pigs. I feel sorry for the chickens and the turkeys. I feel sorry for the sheep, the reindeers, the buffalos. And I feel sorry for the whales. I feel sorry for every single animal on earth that has to sacrifice it’s life in order to feed another animal, including us humans. In my fantasies I wish that nobody had to kill any other being and that we all could live just in peace together and love each other. At the same time I know that this is an utterly impossible utopian dream.

A delusional world
The fact is that most people in the world eat meat, which means that people have to kill animals. If humans want to have meat for dinner there must be shed blood. I don’t like this fact anymore than most other people who have a heart. I just have to realize that this will be reality as long as people want to enjoy their steaks. Some people also live in barren areas on earth were they have no other choice than to eat meat. And I’m pretty sure this will continue to be reality for a long time to come.

Many people – especially city dwellers who don’t live in and directly off nature – seem to have a need to displace these facts, as if they have nothing to do with it, even though they gladly munch burgers themselves. They see themselves as animal lovers and get emotional and sentimental, when they see animals being killed. And they accuse animal killers of being underdeveloped people, who don’t live in the 21st century. It’s a bad, bad thing they wish would go away. As if they’d like the whole world to turn into some kind of Disney World, where everyone is cute and kind to each other, where animals become almost like humans, and some are even superior to humans.

Even though they love a good steak, most people have likely never been responsible for or been involved in the animal killing process, needed to provide the steak. They probably couldn’t stand to kill an animal. Yak! So they must have others do the ‘dirty work’ for them. And then they can go on pretending the killing doesn’t really happen, and that they’re really good, innocent ‘evolved’ people, who never would harm anyone. But no matter what they think or do – deep down they’re still predators, responsible for causing pain and death to other earthlings.

These people defend themselves vigorously if anyone tries to tell them that they are in fact kidding themselves if they don’t realize that as meat-eaters, basically, they are no better nor worse than, for instance, the Faroese, who kill and eat pilot whales! No, no, no – there’s a big difference, they claim. Can’t be compared at all. But they can’t really explain what the difference is, based on facts, and that’s frustrating, so they get angry, point their fingers away from themselves and proclaim the animal killers – or those who defend them – as the only bad guys. But you can’t make an unpleasant reality go away by shooting the messenger.

Alienated to the natural
The Faroese fishermen, farmers and hunters don’t displace the fact that we as humans prey on other animal species, and they take the full responsibility for that. They do the dirty work. And they are honest about it. They don’t – and they have never – hidden from the world what they do. Not even when the world condemns them.

People can claim from now on and forever that the Faroese do what they do for all kinds of unacceptable reasons, but it does not change the fact that the Faroese kill whales for one reason only: to provide food for themselves and the community, just as they’ve done on these islands for more than a thousand years. The Faroese don’t understand why they should stop doing what they do, only because some other people in the world are alienated to something that has been perfectly natural for human beings to do for ever: namely kill animals for food.

Every country on earth kills animals. It’s just not common elsewhere to kill exactly this kind of animals. But the Faroese kill pilot whales, because there is an abundance of them around the islands (the pilot whale is not on the endangered animal species list) – and the Faroes are an island nation, dependent on ocean resources.

Deciding who’s fit for killing
Can anyone make a list of animals, fit for killing, and explain why some animals aren’t fit for killing and others are? Where exactly do – or can – you draw the line? Why is it OK to exploit some animals and not others?  Is it because it is a ‘tradition’ to kill cows, pigs, chickens and so on? And why is it that this ‘tradition’ is more legitimate than the Faroese ‘tradition’ of killing pilot whales? What’s the actual difference between these animals and a whale?

If the degree of intelligence is the criteria, why is it okay to kill ‘stupid’ animals? If sociability or sentience is the criteria, well…  mammals in general are very sociable animals, aren’t they? And aren’t all animals more or less sentient? So shouldn’t we stop killing all animals then? Is it even possible to stop the killing of ALL kinds of animals? What about people living in arctic areas where you can’t grow vegetables? Why should they have to import all their food from far away, when there are animals, quite fit for eating, walking or swimming right outside their door?

Why is it ‘unnecessary’ to kill pilot whales, and not ‘unnecessary’ to kill other animals for food? Who’s to decide what people ‘need’ and what they don’t ‘need’ to eat? Do the Faroese ‘need’ to buy meat in the store from enormous polluting farm factory slaughter houses, who don’t treat animals any less crueler than the Faroese treat the pilot whales? In fact much crueler, because most livestock animals live a miserable life their whole life and have no chance what so ever to escape being killed for food. Why would the Faroese want to buy more expensive food that has to be transported from far away in polluting freight vessels and not want to use the available food resources they get for free in their own environment?

Disproportionate priority
Shouldn’t anyone, who thinks it’s their business to demand of the Faroese that they should stay away from the meat they are accustomed to eat, not refrain themselves from buying and eating their own traditional meat, unless they can explain the basic difference between the animals they eat and the animals the Faroese eat – and legitimize why it is more okay to kill these animals rather then the animals the Faroese kill? If they can explain that there really is a significant difference, then they might even succeed in convincing the Faroese…!

But if they have no answer to these questions, shouldn’t they take a good look in the mirror first – and then try to put their effort and their money first and foremost into some much bigger problems animals face in this world? They could, for instance, try to improve the lives of some of the billions and billions of unfortunate cows, pigs or chickens, living and dying under gruesome and cruel conditions in farm factories all over the world, before they blow the Faroese pilot whaling way out of proportions and spend millions of dollars on trying to save a few hundred pilot whales that only might be killed by the Faroese during the course of a year. Remember, some years the Faroese do not kill a single whale, because the whales don’t always migrate right past the islands.

In my opinion it’s a waste of the donators’ money, because instead of spending so much money on expensive equipment with highly questionable beneficial effects, couldn’t all of this money have been used much more effectively and have helped many more animals which are much worse off, if these people really wanted the money to make any real difference?

Just asking…

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