Tonga’s cultural art of whaling was very quickly done away with by statute in the 1950s because of political pressures from abroad on conservation and environmental issues to ban whaling. This is a classical example of small nations succumbing to more powerful countries because of the funding and financial aid that they are receiving from them.
Today, Tonga is in a financial crisis and it is imperative that we must take stock of all our available resources to see how we can bail ourselves out of this mess. One of these resources is the whales in our waters.
When whaling was permitted in Tonga, there were not even 10 whales killed in Tongatapu for consumption in any given year. In the outer groups of Ha`apai and Vava`u, there were even much less. The whales were hand harpooned and whaling was done by a handful of families who were descendants of whalers who had migrated to Tonga. There was never a year when a total of 15 humpback whales caught in Tonga.
There are countries that continue to catch whales even with the ban from the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Japan uses a loophole in the IWC rules to undertake its whaling program, which it says is for scientific research. Japan’s whaling fleet returned to port the month before with a record haul of 863 whales from the Southern Ocean. Even if we repeal the Tongan whaling statute and provide for a quota system of 100 whales a year, it will not come close to the number of whales Japan is killing every month.
The Indians of North America are allowed to catch whales under a special provision from the Whaling Commission. This is so because the Indians rely on the whale meat to sustain their livelihood and they have done this as part of their culture for generations. How most appropriate would this provision be for Tonga! Those of us that grew up with whale meat can still remember its taste, and the excitement it brought to the whole island when a black flag is seen flying from the whale boats coming back to port during the whaling season.
Whale meat can readily displace the hundreds of thousands tons of mutton flaps that are being dumped in Tonga every year from New Zealand and Australia. When a sheep is butchered, the better parts of the carcass are kept in these countries for consumption, and the flaps are offloaded in Tonga. These imports amount to many millions in a year and it is a big part of the foreign exchange drain. Resuming whaling will ultimately eliminate this or at least cut it down to a minimal.
It is claimed that Tonga now has an expanding whale watching industry that is contributing to the local economy. I do not think this amount to a significant sum. I have never seen a report from Tonga that gives the actual amount of tourist dollars that is generated from visitors that come to Tonga specifically as whale watchers.
A resumed limited industry in Tonga that allows only cultural whaling with hand held harpoons will bring more tourists and photographers than this whale watching nonsense. Tongans overseas will flock to Tonga during the whaling season to taste the meat and take back home some with them. This will be added travel besides the current traffic during Heilala festivals and the Christmas season. It will also attract many more tourists from Japan and other Asian countries. Tonga will also become the world capital for whale bone carvings and jewelry.
The Tongan population is dying away from cardio-vascular diseases and complications due much to the fatty mutton flaps that are being consumed by our people everyday. Deaths in Tonga from these heart diseases have increased by more than 400% in the last couple of decades and it is continuing to rise.
Come on and let us go whaling!
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