When a community has a 139-year tradition of whaling, you would expect it to be a tough sell and a tough slog for people to give up a familiar livelihood in the spirit of wildlife conservation.
But that’s pretty much what’s happened on Bequia, the second-largest of 32 islands that make up the Eastern Caribbean country of St. Vincent & the Grenadines. And SCCF President David Snider has had a first-hand view of the transformation that has resulted.
When the news broke in 2014 that Bequia’s chief whaler, Orson “Balaam” Ollivierre, was trading in his spear gun for a tourist boat with telescopes, One Green Planet hailed it as a sign that the controversial, often heartbreaking international whale hunt was finally coming to an end.
“Whaling did have its place in history and it was important, like in the time when we didn’t have electricity,” Louise Mitchell, chairwoman of the St. Vincent & the Grenadines National Trust, said at the time. “But we have moved beyond that. I do not support it at this time in our history because it is not meeting a subsistence need anymore.”
Snider has been keeping up with Canadian news while he spends some time on Bequia. And when he heard that the grizzly bear trophy hunt would still be permitted in some parts of the newly-announced Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, he realized Canada might have some lessons to learn from the soon-to-be-former whalers of SVG. Here’s his report.
Louise Mitchell, Chair of the SVG National Trust and daughter of a former Prime Minister, approached Orson Ollivierre, the last active whaling captain in Bequia, to ask him if he would retire from whaling and start up a whale watching operation. Orson was given the opportunity to travel to an IWC [International Whaling Commission] whale watching symposium in Australia, after which he decided to give it a try.
With the support of the SVG National Trust and the Mustique Charitable Trust, Orson has plans to launch his whale watching tour business in early 2016, when the humpback whales pass by Bequia during their annual migration.
I was reading the other day that while the Great Bear Rainforest will be protected—and kudos to Sierra Club BC for its part in that stunning victory—trophy hunting of grizzly bears will be allowed to continue.
After what I’ve seen here on Bequia, I couldn’t help wondering why a country as rich as Canada couldn’t find the courage to end the bear hunt. Here in SVG, a developing country, the National Trust has managed to effectively end whaling, although the right to whale will still be on the books until 2018.
It occurred to me that while we keep up the pressure on governments to end the grizzly bear hunt, naturalists and environmental advocates should be using education and incentives to encourage bear hunting outfitters to switch to eco-tourism. This could create momentum towards the eventual end of the bear hunt in British Columbia.
Make no mistake: This change has caused quite a stir here in Bequia, an island that has a long and proud whaling tradition. Hunting whales and sharing the meat and blubber is part of the culture, the basis for customs that have been passed down for many generations. So there are mixed views on the transition to whale watching. Some people don't think there are enough whales going by to make the new business worthwhile. Only time will tell, but if the hunting stops, maybe more whales will show up in these waters.
Interim Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
One Earth • One Chance
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