Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. V No. 2 April 1996


THE POWER OF "WHY?"

by William Rossiter, CSI President


Why? is a concept more than a word, an innate quality of human behavior, and the foundation of CSI. Why? is a human need, driving us in an obsessive, possessive quest for a reality we can live with. Why? creates revolutions, propels science, scares politicians, envelops children, and is the subject here as a reminder that it is always your Why? that counts the most to us.

Why do humpbacks sing? Why do cetaceans willingly interact with people? Why do legislators vote to kill dolphins in tuna nets? Why has Congress dissolved environmental laws for commerce and profit? Why have thousands of marine mammals recently died in epidemics sweeping across seas and years? Why would we believe that whales strand to commit suicide? Why is "our" right whale population stagnating close to extinction? Why do people pay to see captive whales and dolphins doing tricks? Why are many scientists so leery of activism, of using their expertise as involved citizens?

CSI is about motivating people to ask Why?, and then act on the answers. You start by asking if we are worth your membership contribution. In answer, if you find another organization doing more with less we want to learn how they do it. More importantly, are we worth your time; are your concerns our concerns? Again, please let us know because your actions are worth far more than your membership fee. Why? is CSI's point word for understanding the real world and perhaps its future, through science, common sense, and shared experience. It aims CSI at all the wonderful things we find in cetaceans, but also at issues of abuse, exploitation, and suffering. The former is about whales and dolphins, the latter is about us. So we are swept into other people's business because we think that their behavior demands it. Whether you believe that the world is humanity's oyster or to be shared by all of nature, there are those who are sure that it is their oyster alone. They are naturally inclined to seek and get the power to grab their oyster, unless we ask Why?.

Why? is not a universal quality in people, but I suspect that "Whales Alive!" readers live by it, and share our puzzlement when finding people who really don't care, who meet our enthusiasm or concern with a shrug. A shrug can stop Why? dead. People can shrug or ask Why? for the same reason, perceived self interest. A shrug can be motivated by apathy, ignorance, fear, helplessness, or a consuming need to survive. We know that thousands of cetaceans are killed in artisanal fisheries, some to fill empty stomachs. But the vast majority are taken incidentally, discarded and unwanted accidents. These are victims of worldwide, short-term, exploitive overfishing that has few solutions.

Why? is a solution. For example, CSI uses it to get officials to make or enforce laws. We support grass roots organizations that gather a local public Why?. We are active in forums such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the International Whaling Commission, and many scientific, conservation, and stranding conferences. We help scientists gather the data to define the problems and support the solutions. And we try to reach the children, especially of the fishermen and politicians, through educational programs at every level. Our resources are small and over-committed; there are no grand expectations here. But we can't stop trying. It is the power of Why?.

Japan's whaling provokes its own Why?. In our frustration that our western arguments fail we must accept that we are culturally and philosophically ignorant of the Japanese perspective. They do not believe they are wrong to act in a way we might define as a belligerent, exploitive, selfish, destructive worldwide war against the environment. This is a conflict between our shared future resources and intrinsic values versus their oyster. At the IWC we will again fight this, and will be superbly represented by Dr. Carole Carlson, CSI Scientific Advisor, with CSI Board Member Kate O'Connell serving as American Cetacean Society NGO representative. We will work within the rules to seek changes in the Japanese perspective. And we may be getting help directly from the whales and dolphins that are the frenzied focus of expanding Japanese whale watching and dolphin swim tours, as they work their magic generating the intrinsic values that make for public attitudes of conservation and concern.

As our Why? can't ask people to go hungry, we can't expect it to change cultures either. To others we seem to glorify cetaceans, and we certainly consider them special, significant and symbolic. We must explain why cetaceans have intrinsic value to us, and persuade with meaningful arguments if we are to change people with very different perspectives. Can you explain Why? to someone who shrugs? CSI gets involved because we see it in our collective best interests. But we must recognize that it is easy to ponder the big picture and be wrapped up in the earth's future when our stomachs are full, convenience is close at hand, and we live better that any pharaoh ever did. We must also see that if all humanity lived as we do the earth's resources would be gone now. Why? starts at home.

CSI's concerns with research, conservation and education are all dependent upon your Why?. First, we know many young, gifted and significant scientists, particularly in Latin America. Each has an immediate and pressing conservation project, and enormous future potential. We just can't support them enough, but our CSI Why? helps. Would you like to help someone do essential and valuable science? Second, our conservation efforts are worldwide, but in the U.S. they were simply overwhelmed in 1995. 1996 is the election year for all of us to ask Why?. And third, thankfully there are the children. They will always ask Why?, and we will put increasing effort into educational programs that may help the next generation to fix things. Here is a reminder that we guarantee that your donated books and resources will get to young and eager hands thousands of miles away. And last, if you don't agree with these thoughts, or CSI's Why?, please tell us. This must be a collective effort, and we need your support to be even more effective at it while there is still time.


Go to next article: CONNY Rededication Celebration or: Table of Contents.

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