Just like back in the good old days, spotter planes are being used for whaling. However, the difference here is that the Japanese are not spotting whales, but those balaclava-clad sea-ferals, the Sea Shepherd fleet. Basically, these are spy planes, rented by Japanese whalers from an Albany business. For those who don't know; Albany was the site of the last working whaling station in Australia. Thirty years later, Albanians are completely enamoured with our cetacean brothers and sisters. Oh, the irony.
There is nothing illegal in this latest chapter of the saga on the high Antarctic seas. Anyone can charter a plane. The International Whale Sanctuary is only a name, because the Australians and a few other countries said so. It's not internationally recognised and not signed off. The Japanese and Norwegians can do what they like there. And the whales being hunted are not a species recognised as being endangered. My feeling about this? The legality does not matter. Hunting down these animals and then killing them slowly - very slowly, too slowly - for a product that is not essential to our own well being, is just fucking immoral, and the kind of behaviour that belongs to the days before synthetics made whaling obsolete.
At the markets on Sunday, I stopped for a coffee break with Rooster. He used to work on the whalechasers and is still a patched up member of the local bikie gang. These guys put down their drinks at the White Star one day in 1978 and rode out to the whaling station. The were all whalers in those days and their intention was to tell the rabble who'd collected there - the GreenPeace protestors, ex Prime Ministers and Catchalot and Co. - that it was about time they fucked off.
Thirty years and a bit of perspective is a great thing. "Well, we couldn't keep doin' it, could we?" He laughed. "There's something wrong with killin' an animal like that. It's like killin' dinosaurs or something. And it was all gonna end, anyway. The company was fucked, quotas cut down to nothing and market prices down in the dumps. Greenpeace did the company a favour, you know and covered themselves in glory at the same time."
Today, Bob Brown asked where the Federal Government's own surveillance vessels were. You know, the ships that were to be sent out to keep an eye on the whalers.
'"It's outrageous that the Japanese have stolen such a march on the conflict between the whaling protesters and the whale slaughterers," he said. "And the Australian Government is doing nothing about it and is allowing Australian facilities to be used against the whale protesters."
The Federal Government says it has seen the reports.'This story interests me (and shut down my day of paperwork quite successfully) for three reasons. Firstly, the Antarctic is one of the last spaces on the planet that has not been entirely carved up by humans, nation states or real estate agents. In the conspiracy theory party that is my head, I wonder whether plying trade in waters over a century or more may deliver a kind of de facto native title over those waters. It's unlikely that the Japanese whalers are actually making a profit from their killing, considering the quotas versus operating costs. The Australian government are watching these guys very carefully, but it feels like they are still quite unsure as to what to do about it. In other words, the Australian government's dilemma is about jurisdiction, maritime boundaries and the potential of Antarctica's unplundered resources, such as oil, gold and Patagonian toothfish.* This isn't about the whales at all.
Secondly, I grew up in this town and saw men dismantling whales the size of buildings with razor sharp hockey sticks, along with the accompanying stench of death. Being into history a bit, I also have access to some of the best records on ancient and modern whaling in the world, second only to records at Nantucket and Sandalfjord. My favourite plaything is a wrecked whalechaser!
Thirdly, like most people, whales just do something to me. Seeing a whale, no, meeting a whale while out on the water, or standing on a rocky headland, helps me understand the size and diversity of this planet we live in. They are a magical presence, a physical evidence of the journeys and memories they have undertaken in their work as the record keepers of the earth.
Today, I keep having these scenes played out in my mind. A little charter flight office in Albany. Perhaps they received a request so distanced as an email or a phone call, where a mysterious company requested a charter flight over Antarctic waters. At some stage, at the hangar, did the aviators twig as to what was really going on? Maybe they knew the whole time. It's an interesting scene to dwell upon, and to wonder if the story will go any further than single sentence on the news. Not long after I heard it today, the story of the Albany spotter/spy plane was eclipsed by the sinking of a Sea Shepherd boat, by the whalers. Rough waters indeed.