It isn't whales they love, but fighting

00:00, Feb 12 2014
Steve Irwin v Yushin Maru
CLASH: Japanese whaling ship Yushin Maru, left, almost collides with protest vessel the Steve Irwin, foreground, in the Southern Ocean, February 2, 2014

It isn't every day that I get to interview an eco-warrior, and today isn't every day. But I discovered when writing about the Pope a few years back that imaginary interviews trump actual interviews. Because in my imagination I can go straight to the nub and win.

So here's the transcript of an imaginary interview between me and an eco-warrior conducted in bed this morning shortly after the alarm went off at the crack of 10. It was all over by five past.

Hello Eco-warrior. I know you must be keen to return to your life on the ocean wave but, if you could spare me a minute to discuss your escapades, I would be grateful.

To discuss things with you is a privilege, Your Sagacity.

I like your attitude. Shift the dog, take a seat and listen up. Now, tell me if I have the facts straight. Whaling has been banned around the world for 30 years or so. But the Japanese are allowed to kill a number of whales every year for the purpose of research, and that is what they are currently doing in the Southern Ocean.

Yes, but . . .


Be patient, Eco-warrior, I'll get there. Now, even though the Japanese are supposedly conducting research, whale meat still finds its way into Japanese restaurants. Of course, if a whale has been killed for research it makes no difference whether it's eaten afterwards or not. Indeed it makes more sense to eat the whale than to put it out in the green bin to be collected by the local council. But your point is that the whales aren't being killed for research in the first place. They're being killed only to be eaten.


The whales that the Japanese are killing are Antarctic minke whales. Authorities agree that the Antarctic minke whale is a flourishing species, which is why they have allowed the Japanese to kill some. So even if you succeeded in preventing them doing so it would make no difference to whale stocks. Nevertheless you intend to thwart the Japanese if you can.


So although what the Japanese are doing is permitted by international law you have unilaterally decided that international law is wrong. And because you have failed to stop them through political or diplomatic pressure, you are taking direct action. Direct action consists of following their whaling ship in your eco- warrior craft and interfering with their whale-hunt in any way you can find. Boats have collided. Water cannon have been fired. Chains have swept across bows. Lives have been put at risk. It must be terribly thrilling for a young man.

Yes. You should have seen it when . . .

Shhh, Eco-warrior, I'm running this interview. Now, one of your boats is called the Steve Irwin, is it not?


And Steve Irwin was the Australian who looked like Shane Warne in safari shorts. He made his living from presenting television programmes in which he leapt on to the backs of crocodiles and wrestled them into submission.


Mr Irwin was driven by a love of nature in general and crocodiles in particular, but the people who watched the programmes weren't. They just liked the croc-wrestling. It was Tarzan for real. Here was a man armed only with safari shorts against a reptile armed with several million years' experience at the top of the food chain, enormous teeth and a tail that could snap a spine like a stick of chalk. It was heart-in- the-mouth stuff.

It could easily have been man-in-the-mouth stuff.

Indeed so, Eco-warrior. But if you don't mind, I'll make the jokes. Now I put it to you that your jaunts on the ocean wave are a bit like a Steve Irwin television programme. It isn't the whales you love. It's the fighting. But because the fighting is on behalf of the whales, and whales have become the conservation movement's enormous poster children, your conscience is so clean you could eat sushi off it.

A poor choice of metaphor, but yes.

Young men have loved going into battle since our species evolved, but they enjoy it all the more when they feel they are fighting on the side of the angels. Your angels may weigh several tonnes and eat krill, but they give you the lovely feeling that you're engaged in a sort of jihad, or holy war. Essentially then, you're not eco-warriors, you're eco-terrorists.


Glad to have sorted that one out. Goodbye.

The pleasure was mine, Your Sagacity.

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