The Coastal Post - March, 1999

Whales Versus Mitsubishi; Whales Lose

By Stephen Simac

The gray whales of the eastern Pacific have made a slow return from the brink of extinction in the last decades. Between 15 and 20 thousand are now on their 5,000 mile annual migration at a walker's pace.

The whales draw thousands of visitors to Pt. Reyes National Seashore hoping to view them. The wild beauty of these cetaceans creates a sense of awe in humans and helps local businesses during the slow winter months.

Gray whales are swimming north now towards the Arctic Circle from their winter retreat in Baja.

Mothers with their calves born this winter in Baja are leading them to the rich feeding grounds to the north. Whale watching has created or benefited businesses along most of their route.

The whales have swum these seas for millions of years, an ancient choir with an enormous vocal range. Their songs may be ancient maps like Polynesian sea sagas, with new changes noted every season according to whale song recorders.

Before the whaling industry of the last century slaughtered most of the gray whales, they rested in the coastal lagoons, their breathing resonating like bellows. Bolinas lagoon may have gotten it's name from bailenes, the Spanish word for whales.

San Ignacio lagoon, one of their birthing lagoons in Baja, is threatened by the proposed development of a salt factory by Mitsubishi and the Mexican government agency, Exportadora de Sal. The joint developers have already built another salt factory in a nearby Baja lagoon which has caused fish and sea turtle die offs.

They are planning 116 square miles of evaporation ponds in San Ignacio lagoon, a UN declared World Heritage Site. Shipping traffic and a mile long pier will the destroy the tranquillity of the lagoon for the mothers, infants and whale watching tourists. Salt is a necessary base of the chemical industry and the cheapest way to produce it is to erode estuaries.

The Mexican government would sell it's soul for international investment, so sal is fair game. The government down there still has a Spanish Conquistador mentality, robbing the wealth of the nation to stash it away in Switzerland for their retirement.

The elite are resistant to gringo interference in their internal affairs, unless it's to bail out bankers or build sweatshop factories for their people. President Clinton and Governor Gray Davis have both been to Mexico to talk with the ruling party, but neither mentioned the whales or any environmental issues.

Whale watchers and tree huggers believe that what wildness is left is more important than ever increasing industrial profits. Most believe wasteful consumption and/or population growth is the root cause of environmental destruction. Their ideals challenge the entire thrust of western civilization, the rape and pillage of the planet without care.

The Earth Island Journal publicizes worldwide environmental destruction stories, which are rarely covered by the mainstream media. It can depress you even though there's an occasional hopeful story because mostly the environment is losing to industry. Allowing business to despoil the common grounds, waters and air to profit from the public is a form of corporate welfare. There are a few industries which are trying to go green, generally the more consumer conscious ones, but most are dinosaurs and they won't change unless forced. Mitsubishi means dinosaur.

The spring issue of the EIJ has a story about the western Pacific gray whales. Their summer breeding site is being poisoned by the search for oil around Sakhalin Island. There are fewer than eighty of these whales left, the almost extinct cousins of the eastern gray whales.

Mitsubishi and Shell are involved in the building of sea platforms for oil exploration there and have already caused undersea damage in the area. Developing more oil fields in their breeding grounds will threaten the few remaining because of increased shipping, noise and pollution in the water and seabed.

There aren't many whale watchers in Siberia, and Russia is also desperate for foreign investment. Their natural resources have always been treated as wealth to squander. The health or lives of humans has never been much concern either. This is standard for most industrial practices whether capitalist or communist. More Money for the Few is the prime principle.

Driving a Mitsubishi with a Save the Whales bumper sticker is ironic, but petroleum did save some whales from the harpoon. Whale oil became less profitable when rock oil began competing with it a century ago.

Gray whales were killed for their baileen filters, which strain the bottom sediment they feed out of. The bony material was used in corsets which went out of fashion when the bicycle liberated women, saving the baileen whales.

Wildness is not valued. Awe from the mystery and beauty of nature cannot be coined. Humans sold on profits for industry over all, believe we are not dependent on nature, that a whale's extinction does not signal our own.

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