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Australians’ back-of-a-sheep mentality over Japanese whaling

By T Heathcote - posted Thursday, 5 February 2009

Oh please. Spare me the self-righteous wannabe-enviros. Spare me the ignorant mob mentality. Spare me the Australian yobbo bullying about the Japanese killing whales. The jump-on the bandwagon bleeding heart carry-on is more akin to a 16-year-old who found a Facebook invitation to a party in Narre Warren than any rational or coherent ethical consideration of what living respectfully, responsibly and sustainably might be.

What it mainly shows is how redneck our attitudes are when it comes to grasping cultural differences; how insular we really are and how susceptible we are to swallowing the prejudices loaded into “current affairs” programming.

Why do media - even SBS news and ABC’s Australian Story - seem to have given up even the most cursory check for melodramatic images and mob bluster that teeters remarkably close to racism at times? Compare the many creatures that Australia commercially fishes or eats and that currently exist just as precariously as the whales. Tuna roll anyone? Rock lobster? Orange roughy? Murray cod?


Compare our own sensitivities to the slightest criticism about our own catastrophic habits. Our own over fishing receives nary a mention. Just because the pictures aren’t as dramatic doesn’t mean the problem isn’t. Destructive, introduced species that have left native species extinct or endangered due to our own greedy habits and habitat destruction are not considered.

Here’s how our Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts coyly describe our destructive practices:

Marine and estuarine habitats are affected by run-off from urban, agricultural and industrial areas. This can carry herbicides, pesticides, fertilisers, sewage, oil, industrial effluent and sediments into the water …

Many animal and plant species have been introduced into Australia for agriculture, for sport and as pets, and some have been brought in inadvertently. Some introduced species now flourish in native ecosystems, causing a significant impact. Animals and plants introduced for agricultural activities contribute to the economic development of Australia, but can also cause significant damage to the ecology of natural environments.

In particular, livestock that has become established in the wild, such as rabbits, goats, cattle, buffalo, pigs, donkeys, horses and camels, degrade natural habitats by intensive or selective grazing. Animals with hard hoofs compact the soil and prevent the regeneration of vegetation, thus contributing to erosion. Many introduced animals compete with native animals for food, shelter and breeding sites ...

… The introduced Northern Pacific seastar (a starfish) was discovered in Tasmanian waters in 1992. It has displaced several native seastars and is thought to be the cause of the decline of the spotted handfish in the Derwent estuary.

Threatened species and ecological communities in Australia, Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004, Copyright Commonwealth of Australia reproduced by permission.

Why not a campaign to stop hoofed animals if we are really so concerned about the world we live in? Just look at the havoc and decimation we have wreaked using them and continue to do so.

Like humans, whales are well up the food chain. It is those well down the food chain that we should be arranging emergency services for - creatures that we don’t go off on our oil-driven holidays to have a squiz at for nothing more than our own middle class indulgence. These creatures’ disappearance and deformities will have far more reaching effects when they disappear out of ecosystem than if whales (or humans for that matter) do.

Go find out about the disappearing krill from the whales’ diets or the disappearing frogs and insects around the globe if you are so genuinely concerned about the environment. Why are they disappearing? You can bet good money that all of us driving our cars to work, wearing synthetic clothing, using plastic containers and lighting our abodes with electricity from the electricity grid are doing a whole lot more damage than one Japanese whaling ship is doing in the Southern Ocean.


Amid all the bluster I have seen only one person suggest that that there are other more pressing issues to worry about first. That person is Tim Flannery. Apparently he was made Australian of the Year in 2007 because he was considered respected in his field: ecology.

So why then is there a lack of proportion and an alpha-male-like blustering ignorance tricked up as righteous indignation on this issue by editors, journalists and the public alike?

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About the Author

T Heathcote spent the early 90s completing a Bachelor of Science at Deakin University. In the latter part of the same decade she taught in Japan's Yamanashi Prefecture. Since then she has has worked as a book editor and tries to resist the temptation of tuna nori rolls.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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