The wisdom of (some) whales.
The old whalers told many fascinating stories of their quarry â€“ the great whales. Many were lies, including gross under-reporting of catches by certain nations, and some were legends but one has a strong ring of truth to it and is recounted independently by several whalers and this is the story of the whales that learnt to avoid the harpoon.
In antiquity of course there are many tales of large whales â€“ sperms and grays â€“ fighting back against small wooden rowing boats and often winning. But this is not what I mean. I refer to the days of mechanized whaling in the last decades of the last century, when huge motor-driven metal boats with bow-mounted grenade-headed harpoons offered no reasonable chance of retaliation. Nonetheless, some of the sperm whales found a way to stay alive. Instead of swimming away from the boat, they would swim towards it and before the gunner could get a decent aim, they would hide underneath where a shot was impossible. Then they would dive away into the abyss and safety.
Even when sophisticated sonars came to be used to follow the whales, some still managed to learn that there was cover under the boat â€“ and their opportunities for learning could only have been brief. Some of the whalers admired the intelligence of the whales. Some still do but it does not seem to be enough, at least for the moment, to persuade them to stop.
IWC 60 minus 1. (6 days to go).
It is Sunday. Cloudy and cool in the city and the major highways to the front of the Sheraton are unusually quiet. The street dogs (more of these later) are busy carefully crossing the roads with tails held high (life is a little easier on a Sunday for them). Inside, the IWC â€˜Commissionersâ€™ (those given the power here to represent their nations - and there might be as many as 80 as this is the present count of parties) - are locked in their traditional private pre-meeting meeting. Is there laughter, is there shouting? We donâ€™t know. We are not allowed to know. However, one thing is sure this is a fundamentally important gathering and much of what will follow in the next few days is being tested and rehearsed. Dance steps are being practiced and suitable partners evaluated. (We all dance here in
Anxious representatives of non-governmental organizations, like our own, stalk the hall ways of the hotel and seek out the more junior members of national delegations to talk to (that is those that have been unfortunate enough not to have been allowed the day off).
Eventually Commissioners emerge looking weary and looking for their tea and possibly a Pisco Sour or two.
By the afternoon many ministers have arrived (more of them later) and delegations have now swelled to great size â€“ will the long narrow hall in the long narrow country be able to accommodate them all?
In the late afternoon one of the first scheduled events breaks out. WWF and WDCS join forces to present a briefing for press and delegations about climate change.
This is the first press event and it does not go entirely smoothly. Despite requests for several days and then again from early in the morning, the one key piece of equipment the power point projector fails to arrive. As the clock ticks towards 6pm the allotted time for the briefing, the finest diplomats from WWF and WDCS are sent to encourage the arrival of this small but critical piece of equipment. Eventually, with less than a minute to go, it arrives and a team of technicians sit quietly ignoring it.
One speaker (let us call him the WDCS Director of Science) briefly leaves the room to quietly think about what he might say, whilst others encourage the technicians into action.
The set-up is not exactly perfect. The three speakers face the audience (so far so good) but the pp projector stubbornly takes a more idiosyncratic approach to the whole event and faces a screen at the back of the room, behind the audience. Perhaps this is the traditional way of making a presentation here.
On returning from two minutes of fresh air, the WDCS Dof S finds his lap-top computer (which hosts the presentations and much more besides) and which was previously sitting quietly on a table minding its own business, has been seized and â€“ for reasons that are never explained â€“ it has been hurled onto the floor through a plate-glass table. The lap top is now decorated with both large shards of glass and some finer pieces and snuggled within the key board (but more of these later). Not surprisingly it no longer works.
A small audience has gathered by now â€“ presumably to enjoy the presentation about climate change or possibly the art of lap top hurling, but they find themselves facing a certain amount of cursing as the small and winded lap top (now displaying a range of interesting and indecipherable hieroglyphics) is slowly coaxed back to consciousness.
Clearly it was just dazed because, eventually, and rather kindly given the circumstances, it agrees to allow the presentations to be shown. From this point on things go fairly well, although there is some amusement as the audience has to swivel in its chairs to alternately face speakers at one end of the room and the relevant images at the other. After a while, most of the audience gives up and they are just pointing in random directions.
And so the day ends.