Whale Of A Stupid Article

21 12 2007

Latte-sippers’ favourite newspaper, Melbourne’s glorious “The Age” loves to tackle the big issues. In today’s edition Palaebiologist Erich Fitzgerald delivers more gags, this time on the subject of whaling. Presumably borrowing a leaf from Catherine Deveny’s book, he starts off with describing the shared mammalian “heritage” of humans and whales:

Whales and dolphins stir the imagination and evoke our emotions to an extent almost unique among non-human critters. As fellow mammals, whales share a deep evolutionary heritage with us, just as rats, cats, dogs, bats and aardvarks do.

Aardvarks? Well they are certainly cuter than some of The Age readers I encountered around Brunswick Street. But what are you saying, Erich? By your own logic, would it be OK to bait whales as we bait rats or keep them as pets like cats and dogs?

Whales are long sundered from us by the vastness of over 60 million years, yet they are our true distant cousins in the sea.

What a brilliant piece of meaningless tripe! You see, this sentence can be written about any living organism on the planet by adjusting the vastness of time. For example, tapeworms are long sundered from us by the vastness of over 100 million years, yet they are our true distant cousins in the small intestine.

Perhaps it is this primeval shared ancestry that contributes to humankind’s long-held fascination with cetaceans.

Possibly. Perhaps it is this very primeval shared ancestry that makes Japanese so fascinated with the taste of whale meat? Or could it be that Japanese and Norwegians are not humans at all? Erich may be onto something here.

They are like us in numerous ways: generally highly social, with complex behaviour; have sophisticated communication; possess what may best be described as culture; and, after humans and next to chimpanzees, include the most intelligent known organisms.

I am not convinced about this whale culture thing. To quote Wikipedia, culture is manifested in music, literature, painting and sculpture, theatre, film and other things. Although some people identify culture in terms of consumption and consumer goods, anthropologists understand “culture” to refer not only to consumption goods, but to the general processes which produce such goods and give them meaning… What sort of goods do whales produce exactly? Whale poop? Never mind…

Erich starts his article with narrative of common human and whale heritage, but than goes on to contradict himself in the second part of the article that seems to have no logical link to the start:

Ever since humans put to sea, we have relentlessly hunted whales and dolphins. With industrialisation and quantum leaps in technology, the oceans have seemingly shrunk and no depth is too great for our trawls, lines, nets and hooks. And so the “great days” of unchecked, unsustainable, whaling of the 20th century decimated populations of the great whales, with population after population, in species after species, inexorably and predictably crashing.

I am confused. Do we humans have a long-held fascination with cetaceans because of the eternal bond of our primeval shared ancestry, or just a long-held fascination with murdering whales for their meat and blubber? I am afraid, one is not any better posed to answer this question after reading Erich’s gibberish.

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