Friday, April 16, 2010

Whale-Hunting as "Research"?

So, last night I was flabbergasted to see a report on a news show about whale-hunting which happened to mention that the Japanese claim all the whale-killing they do is for "scientific research". Today I did a little checking and fd out it was quite true:

Apparently this is one of those things everybody else knew that I somehow missed all these years: that we're not supposed to have known they were eating all those whales they caught every year. Given the vast depths of hypocrisy involved on the whale-killers' part, I wdn't expect much from the proposed agreements mentioned in the article. I suspect Greenpeace wd be better off if they mounted a major divestment campaign instead, and will be curious to see if they follow that route.

On a different but still whale-related note, I also discovered yesterday while reading a book about mosasaurs, ichthyosaurs, and plesiosaurs, that the phenomenon of whales beaching themselves goes way back: it was known to Aristotle (4th century BC), who wrote "It is not known for what reason they run themselves aground on dry land; at all events, it is said that they do so at times, and for no obvious reason" (SEA DRAGONS: PREDATORS OF THE PREHISTORIC OCEANS by Richard Ellis [2003], page 18*). And, of course, remarkably enough we still don't know the answer today. Given the traditional misinformation about whales in the medieval bestiaries I'd been reading up on the week before last (parodied in Tolkien's "Fastitocalon"), it came as something of a shock to find some accurate information on the subject from antiquity.


*unfortunately, Ellis does not provide a citation as to just where Aristotle says this


Hlaford said...

Aristotle's quotation comes from Historia Animalium, Book IX (631b2-4, near the end). But in that passage he's talking about dolphins, not whales.

John D. Rateliff said...

Many thanks, Hlaford.
Although since dolphins are (small) whales, I suppose the statement still stands as technically true.