For reasons that will be apparent tomorrow, I was musing about whaling. One of my favorite books growing up was H. C. Holling’s book Seabird. It is a history of ships and sailing, from the days of the whaling boats in the early 1800s to the steam liners of the 20th century, as told by an ivory bird that passes down through a family. I was also listening to sea chantys, many of which were sung or chanted on the whaling boats, or are about whaling.
People hunted whales for their meat (plentiful), fat (plentiful), teeth and baleen, bones, and other body products. Europeans shifted to industrial-scale whale hunting as a source of light and very light industrial oil until the desired kinds of whales had almost gone extinct. Then we switched to petroleum. A few places still hunt whales as a cultural preservation practice, or for research practices (and then eat some of the results because there’s no point in wasting the whale, right? *coughJapancough*) Back when I was growing up, “save the whales” was shorthand for environmental preservation, humpback whale songs were worked into music, and whales were sort of trendy. Now they are back in the news because it seems that the off-shore wind turbines produce harmonics that kill sea life, including lots of whales. Just like their blades wipe out birds and bats on land. Hunting whales is verboten, but humans seem to have found another way to mess with them. Alas.
Some time ago, as I was looking at books for Red 2.0, Seabird came to mind. The problem is not Red 2.0, but one of Red’s parents, who is rather sensitive to things like little sketch pictures of flensing whale blubber, slaughtering animals, and so on. Not that the parent has a problem with proper slaughter of animals, but, well, whaling is different. When I was Red 2.0’s age, whaling was just a thing people did in the past and didn’t do any more. It didn’t bother me. But then a LOT of things people used to do don’t bother me the way they’re supposed to. And yes, I’m one of those really strange people who read the whaling parts of Moby Dick because I thought the technical details were cool and interesting to learn about.
It’s a form of pragmatism, I suppose. People did things back then that we don’t do today. Some of those things society has decided are wrong to do, like hunt whales, wear egrets on our heads, own other people [unless they are adults and agree to it, and even then it is frowned upon by a LOT of western society], carve our names on everything, beat up on weaker societies, and so on. Not everyone agrees with these changes, and so slavery is still practiced, female children are still killed (in utero), and there’s always That One Dude who has to mess up the painting/statue/tree/whatever for the rest of us. Or who gives crayons to unsupervised small children and is horrified that they draw on the statues …
Whaling doesn’t bother me. It was in the past, the culture around whaling is fascinating, the songs and rituals are intriguing to learn. How exactly do you reduce tons of temporarily-floating dead mammal into barrels of oil and packable teeth and other things, while at sea, without motors and metal cables and electric heaters? Oh, and without catching your boat on fire as you do all this stuff? What skills were needed? What was the reward? It’s a part of the past, and I study it as such. Whale oil still has some uses, and the few stocks of the stuff are carefully guarded and doled out for specific purposes. We have not found an economical way to duplicate really good whale oil for a few specialty applications. Emphasis on “economical,” because the batches would be so small. Abergris has yet to be properly duplicated because of it’s chemical complexity. Plus sometimes, the whales got even, either on their way out, or like that rogue sperm whale in the Pacific that hunted down whaling ships.
Some people believe that modern people should be terribly upset and offended by things in the past. Like whaling, and child labor in the US and England, or slavery practiced by Europeans and Americans. Or by how certain laws discriminated against women before the 1800s. I tend to shrug and say, “Yes, that’s the way it was. We as a society decided that it was wrong, or was no longer needed, and so we changed. That was then, this is now.” I have trouble getting worked up over parts of the past.
I think I’m Odd.