Sunday, June 27, 2010


By Hardy Jones

My IcelandAir flight slips out of U.S. airspace at 34-thousand feet bound for Greenland via Keflavik, Iceland. I await word from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Agadir, Morocco on the fate of Greenland’s request to kill humpback whales for aboriginal subsistence.

After we go “feet wet” out of Labrador the ocean is cloud-covered the entire way to Iceland. An hour out of Keflavik I realize the humpbacks that may now become targets of the hunt are swimming a vertical mile below us. I have known this stock of whales in the Caribbean at Samana Bay and out on the Silver Banks. They were extraordinarily friendly towards me in the water. Along most of their migratory route along the eastern seaboard of the United States they are protected. This protection has brought increasing friendliness and curiosity from these whales toward whale watchers who comprise a multi-million dollar business to charter boat owners, hotels, restaurants etc. That trust now seems destined to be breached.

Aboriginal hunts of marine mammals are a highly complex ethical issue. It is true that the Inuit and their cousins have traditionally thrived on what they call natural food – caribou, seal, beluga, minke whales, and other marine mammals.

But the whales taken by Greenlanders are less and less destined for an aborignal table. The fin and minke whales already hunted in Greenland are being sold at high price in grocery stores and high-end restaurants. This hunt for whales is about profits – not aboriginal rights. In fact the Inuit of Greenland are apparently having a hard time getting any whale meat because the big money guys are sucking it all up for the more lucrative trade.

During my stopover in Iceland I learn the IWC has voted to allow Greenland a quota of nine humpback whales. They are going to kill the great white winged singers of songs. Greenland will become the only entity on earth legally killing humpbacks.

This is not my first visit to the land of the Inuit. I spent some time among them in Iqualuit in Nunavut, a federal territory of Canada with quite a measure of independence from Ottawa. What I learned is that when aboriginal peoples change their diet from “natural” foods to store bought McDonalds or Kentucky Fried they develop diseases ranging from acne to diabetes and obesity. But if they eat high end predators such as beluga and narwal they most surely run the risk of intoxication by heavy metals such as mercury and chromium as well an organic pollutants such as PCBs and PBDEs.

I was prepared for surprises during my sojourn in Greenland. The first was a mind boggling example of how is one man’s detriment is another’s great good fortune. Greenlanders are actually cheering on global warming. They have recently been able to grow turnips in south Greenland and they pray still warmer weather will open up new opportunities in agriculture – no surprise in a land more than three-quarters covered in ice. The downside is that if all of Greenland’s ice melts global sea level would rise by up to 24 feet inundating many coastal areas around the world and perhaps even the newly flourishing turnip farms.