By Lilith Bequia is one of the few places in the world where limited whaling is still allowed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Whaling started to become a part of the peoples lifes in Bequia when William Wallace, a Bequian with Scottish roots who had worked on North American whaling boats, returned to the island. He started training workers to hunt and kill whales and opened the first commercial whaling station in Bequia in 1875.
Until today the fishers on the island are still allowed to take four whales per year, a very controversial topic. The IWC only allows whaling in very few countries who practice Aboriginal Substistence Whaling. Those countries have to fulfill specific requirements to be granted whaling.
During the research on the island we did not only visit the Bequia Whaling & Maritime Museum where we learnt about the history of whaling, but also found ourselves at the fisherie in Paget Farm, where we talked to fishermen, whalers, and the first and second harpooneers. We were able to take a look at their boat and their harpoones to have a better understanding of how a hunt would look like. The harpoones and the boat looked so small next to the massive skull of a whale from one of the previous hunts. It's huge, almost as big as a standing person.
We asked one of the fishermen if he wanted to be allowed to hunt and kill more than four whales a year, but he said he was happy with the number. He just wanted to keep it this way, he didn't want the number of whales they were allowed to take to decrease. From everything we heard and from everything we saw it seemed to fit all the requirements of the IWC.
However, through further research we found out that there were contradictions.
Whaling was not conducted by aboriginals/indigenous people, but by William Wallace who was a Scottish descendant. It also does not have a long unbroken history as a subsistence hunt, because it was introduced as commercial hunting, primarily focused on the oil. There also has never been a nurtitional need for whale meat, and there also haven't been any cultural traditions associated to the hunting and killing. Also, not always are traditional boats and weapons used for hunting whales, but also speedboats and other tools. Furthermore, it is very debatable if the killing methods are humane as it is required to be granted whaling by IWC.
It even seems to be the case that the whalers target mothers with their calfs which is banned by the IWC. And even if the amount of whales that have been sucessfully hunted doesn't exceed the limit of four, the whales that where injured and got lost in the hunt or sank are not always taken in account.
In 2018 IWC will decide if Bequia will continue being granted the quota of four humback whales per year.
It was a ver interesting research, learning about the history of whaling and seeing different sides to it. The controversy keeps us thinking about it, about what the island and its people gain from hunting whales and how it should be handledin the future. Wether one thinks whaling is cruel or not does not change the fact that the way it is not it's not compatible with the law.