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The Gross National Debt

Friday, November 23, 2007

(Originally posted at Daily Kos.)

Humpback Swimming Underwater - Image © Greenpeace

(Some images are used with permission of Greenpeace - many thanks to Rick Gentry for his gracious response to my request. Those images bear the Greenpeace copyright in accordance with their terms. Other images are taken from Wikipedia Commons, a freely licensed media repository.)

I have to say - I was very lucky growing up in that I got to travel to a lot of wonderful places and do things that many people don't do in their lifetimes.

One of the most indelible and wonderful memories I have was a trip my family and I took to Hawaii when I was about 14 or 15 years old. We went in February, and the highlight of the trip was a charter excursion we took to "swim" with the humpback whales.

Much, much more after the fold.My Humpback Whale Story

My mother was in high-tech sales - I've mentioned that in other diaries on other subjects in the past. She was very successful. One thing that any professional salesperson reading this knows is that successful salespeople and sales managers who meet or exceed their revenue quotas typically receive what is referred to as a "Club Trip". Essentially, the top and over-quota performers and their spouses are treated to a trip somewhere beautiful and warm at the expense of the company to thank them for their success and to bring them all together in mutual celebration.

One year the trip was to Maui in Hawaii. I don't know if it was because my parents didn't want to leave me alone (well-founded concerns on that front!) or that they really wanted to provide me the experience - I suspect it was a little of both - but they paid the extra airfare and room charges to ensure that I was included. That was how I came to go to Hawaii and to be included on this wonderful once-in-a-lifetime experience of whale watching.

Breaching Humpback Whale

February is the perfect time to be in the South Pacific if you want even a chance of seeing the humpback whale. We rose early on that day and donned our bathing suits and headed for the boat. Once on board, we were told that we would be sailing for quite some time to get us in the proximity of the whale migration channels. We went really far out into the ocean. I remember feeling some measure of trepidation because by the time we got to where we would drop anchor and wait, we couldn't see land. At all. We were a speck on the vastness of the Pacific, bobbing gently in the swells on a near-perfect Hawaiian day.

The plan was to don our snorkel gear and fling ourselves into the ocean. We were given parameters - how far we could go, how to ensure we utilized the buddy system (which was mandatory), etc. I remember to this day some 25 years later feeling breathlessly nervous at the moment just before I eased myself into the water. While the South Pacific's waters are crystal clear, we were so far out and in such deep water that the ocean bottom was fathomless. As I slid into the water and felt the ocean close around me, I swam away from the boat towards the whale lanes the crew had indicated were our best opportunity for spotting the humpback. I stayed near to my parents, of course, but there was an overwhelming sense of smallness that surrounded me as the boat became smaller as our distance from it increased.

Breaching Humpback Whale

We were out there, paddling around with our fins and snorkel gear, looking down into the water and out towards where we hoped we would spot a whale. It seemed as though an eon had passed as we furtively scanned the underwater landscape. The charter company made no assertion that we would absolutely see a whale - only that they would put us in proximity should whales be present on that day and at that time. Honestly, I think we had given up the idea that we were going to see a whale when, behind us, we heard people calling excitedly. We turned and used our fins to propel us to the spot. By looking slightly downward and out across the underwater horizon, we saw it: a mother humpback with her calf. Make no mistake - we were at some distance - the deal was not that you swam up to a humpback whale and fed it or pet it or anything - but even away from the whale you could see its sheer size. I already felt small, and seeing this giant creature made me feel even smaller. Yet there was no sense of vulnerability on my part. I can't describe it. Looking at that mother and her calf, I felt two things at once: the first was an overwhelming sense of peace, and the second was a connection to the fact that I was in the presence of intelligence.

She tolerated our presence - patiently. We stayed as long as we possible could until she and her calf swam off. There was a vague sense of emptiness upon her departure, but also a keen sense of satisfaction and connectedness - to her, to the ocean, to the earth. To everything.

Once we were back on the boat, removing our snorkel gear and getting ready to head back, the crew again verbally alerted us to something going on off the bow of the boat. We all moved forward and looked out to the ocean horizon. We were treated to a humpback - maybe the same one, maybe not - "breaching". It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Japan is breaking a moratorium on hunting the Humpback for the first time since 1963.

From an article in Time magazine:

Under a loophole in the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban against commercial whaling, Japan has continued to kill hundreds of whales every year for scientific research. Once a whale is killed, scientists collect data from the animal's remains on its age, birthing rate and diet; the meat is then packaged and sold. Japan maintains that the research is essential for managing the whale population. "Minke or humpback, we see whales as a marine resource," says Moronuki [Ed. note - Moronuki is a spokesman for the Japan Fisheries Agency. The fact that "moron" is in his name seems quite fitting.]. Still, most observers have long been skeptical of any benefits from the project. "I haven't met one person, pro-whalers or not, outside of the Fisheries Agency payroll who believe that these researches are useful," says Greenpeace Australia Pacific's CEO Steve Shallhorn. Tensions have been heating up in recent hunts. In February, a member of Japan's whaling fleet was killed in a ship fire following a series of confrontations with vessels from Sea Shepherd. Both Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd say that they are prepared to "chase, block, and harass" any attempts by the whaling fleet to harpoon humpbacks.


You don't have to have been fortunate enough to have seen an actual humpback whale in the wild to appreciate the beauty and intelligence of this creature. Killing them for any purpose is barbaric and it MUST be stopped.

What YOU Can Do.

Greenpeace Takes Action: Sign reads "Bush, Fukuda - End Whaling" - Image © Greenpeace

- Use Greenpeace's site to contact your elected officials. Greenpeace really has this down. If you follow the link, you can input your zip code, provide your contact information, and then either use the letter they provide or edit it to include your personal comments and thoughts. Click "send" and it's away, no harm no fuss.

- Send an eCard to your friends and family. Let them know about the renewed Japanese whaling and ask for their help in ending it.

- Create your own Greenpeace fundraising page. This is a simple 2-step process where you provide your information, customize your page (if desired), and launch it. Send your fundraising link to people in your address book and help raise awareness and money to save the whales.

The Great Whale Trail - Image © Greenpeace

- Make a simple donation to Greenpeace. Greenpeace is actively working to stop the Japanese whale hunts. In many cases, Greenpeace vessels and crew physically put themselves and their vessels in the path of the whaling ships and save whales literally one at a time. Won't you help them do this critical work?

I have created a personal fundraising page to help save the whales from Japanese whaling efforts. I would love, if you decide to make a donation, if you did so through my page.

PLEASE help save these beautiful and intelligent creatures from the caprice of mankind. Any combination of the above suggested actions will go a long way towards helping to end the slaughter. I thank you for your time.

Image © Greenpeace

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