The Godfather: Peter Corris on whales
I have nothing against whales. As far as I am concerned all the whales presently in the oceans can live out their lives in peace. I approve of marine parks to protect them. When I heard that the plan to explore for oil by drilling in a pristine part of the Great Australian Bight where whales spend some crucial time had been scotched, I was pleased. I applaud the efforts of people who seek to save beached whales and feel sympathy for those that die on shore, as I would for migrating birds that fall dead from the sky, as I’ve sure a great many must. Nature is cruel.
I’ve read a good deal about the whaling that took place in various parts of the world through the centuries. It was a brutal business, necessary if lamps were to be lit, books written and read and business carried on, but brutal nonetheless.
I deplore the Japanese whaling expeditions into the southern waters and am somewhat at a loss to explain it. I believe that whale meat is not favoured in Japan and, obviously, the claim that the whaling is for scientific purposes is specious. Is it some assertion of maritime reach, some finger thrust up at international politic correctness? I don’t know.
But, all that said, I have no understanding of the human passion for whale-watching. I recently heard a radio program about a breed of whales in the waters off Thailand, no great distance from the teeming metropolis of Bangkok. A large number of these whales have died lately and pollution is blamed. This did not surprise me. I found Bangkok, on my one brief visit, a noxious place for air, noise and dirt, second perhaps only to Cairo. What did surprise me was the recording of the reactions of people, mostly Americans, who had ventured out to look at the whales:
‘Oh my God! Look at that!’
‘Oh my God, did you see that?’
‘I’m so thrilled, that’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,’ etc, etc …
In 1994, as I’ve recounted before in these columns, I went with environmentalist John Sinclair to Fraser Island. I’d been commissioned to co-write his autobiography. Sinclair was conducting an environmental tour with about 20 people and I tagged along. To get to the island we took a boat from Maryborough across the bay. After a time whales were spotted and people rushed to vantage points. I happened to be at one already, reading. Looking out over the azure water I saw a whale dive, surface, spout water, eject itself from the water and splash down, leaving an oily slick on the surface. The others on board, while not as gauchely enthusiastic as the Americans I’ve described, were very taken and delighted to see more whale activity. Ugly creatures, I thought, and when you’ve seen one whale surface and spout, you’ve seen them all. I went back to my book.
I’ve found very few people who share my indifference to the behaviour of whales. One, I’m happy to say, was my then agent Rosemary Creswell. I recounted this Fraser Island experience to her; she nodded her agreement at my puzzlement at the veneration of these animals.
‘When did a whale last buy you a drink?’ she said.