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Sustainable whaling in traditional boats: “In Search Of Moby Dick” by Tim Severin

I have written about Tim Severin a few times, always with admiration and excitement. I had noticed one of his newer books, In Search of Moby Dick: The Quest for the White Whale, in the library and had passed on it, thinking it less interesting. I was wrong.

Severin aims to track down the inputs to Melville’s tale, deconstructing the author a bit (it turns out he ripped off a few folks) while showing the valid threads that went into the story. To do this he travels throughout the South Pacific to communities that still practice (or until recently practiced) traditional, sustainable whaling from small, traditional boats. Fascinating stuff.

Former whaling outrigger, Pamilacan, PhilippinesOne such community is on the Philippine island of Pamilacan. There, crews in ~30′ double outrigger canoes hunted first whales and then whale sharks and manta rays. The most astounding part is the how: a key crew member standing on an outrigger would leap upon the animal with a hook in hand and sink the hook directly while riding a mammoth creature. The hook man would then get back in the boat and the crew would take a “Nantucket sleigh ride” until the animal was too worn down to struggle. The then towed it home. Traditionally, this was done by paddle. The island is tiny, so this hunt was basically their sustenance. Not surprisingly, there are a host of beliefs that accompany this work and Severin details them nicely.

Lamalera whaling boat and harpoonerAnother community is not far away on the Indonesian island of Lembata. Here the boats are not outriggers; they are more solid monohull canoes with square sails made of woven matting. The hunting also relies on leaping from the boat, this time with true harpoons. From what I can tell, the boats are built-up dugouts, with the extra planking lashed on. Severin notes that the canoes seem crude at first blush, but, in closer examination, they are quite well-built. Lamalera whaling canoe under sailThe islanders believe that the whales will not come unless the canoes are correctly built. I love that.

Since the subject of whaling is on the table… The people of Pamilacan have been forced to give up their hunting, but they have embraced whale-watching instead, using similar boats. This is also true for communities in Tonga that Severin profiles. As far as I can tell, this is not the case for those from Lamalera. I believe that these communities represent sustainable hunting and should be allowed and even encouraged, assuming all traditions remain in place and the catch is not exported beyond traditional bounds. This is 180 degrees different from the factory whaling of the Japanese (science my hiney!). We can’t punish these traditional cultures for the mistakes of our industrial whaling past (and present).

Here’s to ya, Wild and Scenic Rivers!

Our friends at American Rivers are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Since this means conservation of many miles of prime boating waters, we at Chine bLog heartily join in the toast!

Some thoughts on the first paddle itself

Having shown off the boat, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts on our first paddle in PEACE OF THE PUZZLE. We had been doing a bit of sailing on the Potomac nearer to DC, and paddling in this creek, Kane’s Creek, was such a pleasure. It was clean! Kane’s Creek emerges from a national wildlife refuge and is thus relatively pristine, given its proximity to developed areas. The water was fairly clear and full of life. My kids were dangling the feet and hands in it – a true pleasure of childhood boating – and we had no concerns.

Not so, just downriver from DC. Off Alexandria, we run into a decent amount of C-R-A-P (we saw the figurative kind, but apparently after a good rain…) in the water and on the shore. There, my wife and I couldn’t pull the kids’ appendages inboard fast enough. I know we have made a great deal of progress, but we need to do more to make sure our urban riverscapes are treasures for boating of all kinds, not just the “nice view, but, dear god, don’t flip it” kind.

Of course, I prefer the quiet of a creek like Kane’s anyway. There are many little “islands” of aquatic plants to weave around, low bluffs, and just a bit of foliage (its been so hot here…). There is a good trip report for this paddle on Paddling.net.

By the way, thanks to our friends at American Rivers for suggesting we all focus on the joys of clean rivers on this day and others. October 15th is Blog Action Day for the environment. Please join me in helping out.

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

World Ocean Day

Today was World Ocean Day. We boaters need healthy oceans, so think about taking action to support this cause. And then get out on the water and remember why you did.

2007 top-10 most endangered American rivers list released

American Rivers has released its annual list of 10 most endangered American rivers. I don’t personally know any of these, but I am going to take a guess that most of these a valuable boating rivers that need care.

Interesting sounding interview from Conservation International

Conservation InternationalTomorrow, Tuesday, 2/13, at 12:00 EST, Conservation International will be running the latest in a series of interviews with conservation experts and other stakeholders. Tomorrow’s interview is with Sheila McKenna, senior research scientist at CI’s Center for Applied Biodiversity Science. Ms. McKenna had the rough assignment of diving off New Caledonia to learn how the customs and cultural beliefs of the local Kanak community are helping to preserve an important marine resource.

Freeing rivers seems to increase property values

In good news for boats who prefer a natural run of river with plentiful native fish and wildlife, recent research put out by American Rivers gives economic heft to go with natural beauty. In two recent studies, one by a professor at my alma mater, Bates College in Lewiston, ME, property values seemed to be positively effected by dam removal initiatives. And this doesn’t even factor in other hard and soft benefits. It will be a nice day when the field of environmental economics REALLY gets going…

Interesting video – “Restoring the Elwha”

American Rivers has an interesting video out on restoration of the Elwha River in Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. Looks like it will recreate a nice river for boating, particularly if one likes mixing fishing with their boating. There is also a snippet of a nice native canoe.

Beautiful audio essay / podcast from Nature Conservancy on canoeing Maine’s Merrymeeting Bay

This is a really nice audio essay / podcast, done while paddling in Maine’s Merrymeeting Bay, where the Kennebec and Androscoggin Rivers, among others, meet. It describes the Bay’s features, fauna, history, and prospects while paddle blades dip and swing in the background. Thanks to the Nature Conservancy for distributing this.

Fisheries lessons from Nova Scotia

I was struck by this piece in today’s Washington Post about the death of fisheries in Nova Scotia. Its uglier than I had thought – to the extent that one nice boating past-time is shot:

“All but one of our seafood processing houses has shut down,” said Keith Merrill, skipper of Eastern Star, a wooden sailboat that takes tourists on two-hour sightseeing cruises out of Lunenburg, a once-bustling fishing port where draggers and trawlers now lie mouldering away. “They still catch lobsters here, but the ground-fishing is pretty much finished.”

Author Angus Phillips draws the lesson that this result portends problems in other areas with poor fisheries management, like the Chesapeake. Interesting piece. And nice Tancook schooner as the lead photo.