Animal Rights Activism

Human Survival Before Saving the Whale, say Remote Islanders

INDONESIAN islanders have told animal rights activists that the survival of their children is more important than their campaigns.

Fisherman who catch whales in order to feed their families said if it were not for whale hunting their families would starve. But villagers have said they are coming under growing pressure from media campaign.

Fishermen on the islet of Lembata in the remote Indonesian province of Nusa Tenggara Timur have been spearing sperm whales by hand for at least six centuries.

Their island is too rocky to farm and it is often the only source of food.

Yosef Bataona, the head of Lamalera village, said: “Lately, we have been getting lots of pressure from the media world but no one seems to really understand the deeper sense of our situation. Our people here struggle for one spoon of rice or a piece of corn.

“There is no fertile soil and the entire topography is stony which makes growing crops impossible, so we have no choice but to take full advantage of what the sea offers us.

“Thus as long as no one can provide us the salary needed, we have to carry on. The number of sperm whales we catch annually has not increased. Last year we hunted down 25 whales. Some years we might catch 40, but sometimes not even one.

“On average, we need to kill three sperm whales a year to feed all our families. We Lamalerans believe the whales are a gift from our ancestors and god.”

“The Indonesian government allows us to carry on with the traditional whaling so we can maintain our livelihood. This is about survival.”

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was signed by Indonesia in 1986, allows some indigenous groups to continue the practice.

But activists want the villagers stopped. In 2010 the World Wildlife Fund visited villagers to try to get them to stop.

But as they were making their speech, some of the islanders set off and returned shortly after with their whaling knifes to chase the environmentalists out of their village, claiming they had been living a fine life without governmental institutions, so there wouldn’t be any need to talk.

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