Harpoon

by Andrew Darby
300 pages, De Capo Press, 2007

In Review

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Andrew Darby is one of the world’s best-informed journalists when it comes to whaling issues. A reporter from Tasmania, Darby has created a niche for himself by following the meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) year after year. In his new(ish) book, Harpoon: Into the Heart of Whaling, he shows off his expertise as he uncovers the full dysfunction of this odd global institution.

The IWC was established in 1949 with the dual (and diametrically opposed) purposes of protecting whales and promoting the whaling industry. In its first few decades, the IWC was largely a club for the whaling industry to divvy up whale stocks, particularly in the rich waters of the Antarctic Ocean. After the first Earth Day in 1970, whales became an international symbol of all the greed and ignorance that has fueled humans’ exploitation of natural “resources.” The cry of “Save the Whales” led many countries – including the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and South Africa – to shut down their whaling industries and instead advocate at the IWC for the protection of whales. In 1982, three-quarters of IWC members voted to end all commercial whaling and put in place a long-term moratorium on the practice. (The resolution went into effect in the 1985-1986 Antarctic season.)

Unfortunately, under the IWC Convention, there remained many loopholes through which the whaling industry could drive its catcher-boats. Norway and later Iceland continued whaling under provisions allowing a country to file an “objection” to any restrictions whatsoever in the IWC regulations. Japan became even more creative, switching from killing whales for commerce to killing the same whales for “scientific research” in which (in order not to “waste” the meat) the dead carcasses resulting from this lethal “research” wound up in supermarkets anyway. More recently, Japan has sought to shift the IWC away from conservation by bribing poor nations with millions of yen in fisheries aid to join the IWC and support Japan’s position (including such unlikely pro-whaling countries as Mali and Mongolia, neither of which has a shoreline).

Darby tells his tale with passion and verve. Like all such “up-to-the-minute” books, Harpoon necessarily ends mid-stream. The IWC’s machinations will no doubt continue, giving Darby many more opportunities to add to future editions of his book.

Mark J. Palmer

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