The words ‘encouraging’ and ‘whale hunting’ are usually never spoken in the same sentence. When we think of whale hunting, most of us believe it to be a highly unsustainable practice which belongs in the 18th century and has no place in the modern age. The desire to light Victorian era city streets with whale oil lamps led to sharp decline in whale populations due to their long lifecycles and low reproductive rate. We generally accept that whaling activity is indisputably unsustainable, but upon further inspection, the issue may not be so black and white. A remote island community in Lamalera, Indonesia highlights a moral grey area where the relationship between whaling, sustainability and human well-being may question our beliefs on whaling.
For the Lamalera, whaling has been the primary source of food and income for hundreds of years. In a normal year, they usually catch about 6 sperm whales during the migratory season using traditional fishing methods (Figure 1). Whaling and it’s products are a core part of their tradition and livelihood, with the main part of their diet being whale meat. When the hunters are successful, the whale is brought back to land where villagers all share the arduous task of dealing with the animal (Figure 2), and that one whale will feed the entire village 2. Left over whale products are prepared and traded with the inland mountain tribes in exchange for agricultural products. Because of this system, both Lamalera and the mountain tribes are entirely dependent on the whale for their livelihood, and the loss of whale populations could have negative implications for the people [2,3]. Despite this long-term whaling activity, their fishing ground is still being maintained, and as a result of this, they are considered one of the few peoples to practice sustainable whaling. Their relationship to the whale is almost spiritual, with deep superstitions surrounding the act of whale hunting.
This close and dependent relationship between people and whale hunting isn’t usually what comes to mind when we think of whaling, however, banning whaling will force a difficult choice between the protection of whales and the livelihood and culture of the people. Well-meaning officials are attempting to turn the Lamalera fishing grounds into a Marine Protected Area (MPA), and although it would protect these animals from harm, this would threaten the Lamalera way of life. This policy would put both the Lamalera and mountain villages at risk from displacement, loss of culture, and tradition. Conservation actions such as this have already caused traditional degradation in Japan, Africa and Indonesia [4-6]. Although whaling is a sustainability concern, the negative impacts on the people may outweigh the positives of conserving whale populations. In this case, perhaps the best measure to take would be to encourage the Lamalera people to continue their whaling practices to preserve their culture, tradition and livelihood.
- Perry , Simona L. and DeMaster, Douglas P. and Silber , Gregory K. (1999) The Great Whales: History and Status of Six Species Listed as Endangered Under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973.Marine Fisheries Review, 61(1), pp. 1-74.
- Egami, T. & Kojima, K. Traditional Whaling Culture and Social Change in Lamalera, Indonesia: An Analysis of Catch-Record Whaling 1994-2010. Stud. Whal. 84, 155-179 (2013)
- Barnes, R. H. & Barnes, R. Barter and Money in an Indonesian Village Economy. Man 24, 399 (1989).
- Mattes, S. Save the Whale? Ecological Memory and the Human-Whale Bond in Japan’s Small Coastal Villages 67-81 Springer (2017)
- Shetler, J.B. Imaging Serengeti: a history of landscape memory in Tanzania from earlier times to the present. Ohio University Press (2007).
- Ingold, T. The perception of the environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling & amp; skill. Routledge (2000).
- Batafor, A. Help from the village . [image] Available at: http://photovoice.com [Accessed 16 Nov] (2008).
- Site View-Tourism. Whale Hunting. [image] Available at” http://viewtourism.wordpress.com [Accessed 16 Nov] (2011).