Blood & Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars

Sam Vincent

Blood & Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars
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Blood & Guts: Dispatches from the Whale Wars

Sam Vincent

Confrontations between Japanese whalers and Sea Shepherd activists make for exciting news reports during the Australian summer. But the sensational headlines and dramatic footage - eco warriors pitted against the might of the Japanese state - fail to scratch the surface of the complex forces that drive each side’s actions.

In Blood & Guts, Sam Vincent provides an objective eyewitness account of the whale wars. What motivates Sea Shepherd to spend vast sums of money and risk the lives of its activists to pursue a relatively low-impact hunt in some of the most isolated and perilous waters on Earth? Why does a rich nation like Japan doggedly continue a practice it only started to feed its starving population in the wake of World War II? While the International Court of Justice has recently upheld Australia’s claim that Japan must stop its ‘research’ whaling in the Southern Ocean, Japan is already planning to resume its whale hunt in 2015. Australia might have won the battle, but the whale wars seem set to continue.

Blood & Guts
is a vivid and definitive work of reportage that gets to the heart of this divisive issue.

Review

With print journalism on the decline it’s heartening to discover there’s still very much a place for investigative journalism in book form. Australian writers in particular are producing some fantastic works of gonzo journalism: Anna Krien, Jeff Sparrow and Helen Garner (to name just a few) have all recently published brilliant books in this format, and I think Sam Vincent could now join their ranks.

Blood and Guts is an eyewitness account of the ‘whale wars’, dispatches from both a three-month stint on a Sea Shepherd vessel and a trip to Japan to meet the whale hunters and those behind the Japanese whaling industry. In March this year, Australia took Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and won a case to ban Japan’s Antarctic whaling program. At the time, I listened to the ruling on the radio and felt it was the right decision. After reading this book, I now see there are many shades of grey to this issue and no easy answers. Whales face far greater risk from climate change (ocean acidification, melting ice) and general overfishing (300,000 cetaceans die annually from entanglement in fishing nets) than they do from whaling. So, Vincent asks, why do Australians seem more willing to support anti-whaling outfits like Sea Shepherd and expensive ICJ court cases than climate change initiatives? An interview with Malcolm Fraser, the prime minister who banned whaling in Australia in the late 1970s, produces some further food for thought: ‘people care more about whales … than they do about refugees or asylum seekers. That’s not necessarily a distinction we want to be proud of.’

Vincent delves thoughtfully into both the Australian and Japanese cultures that perpetuate the whale wars and exposes some uncomfortable truths from both sides. This is a timely and thought-provoking book, and Vincent’s writing style is engaging and not without humour (his time in Antarctica with Sea Shepherd produces some particularly hilarious anecdotes). Blood and Guts is proof that good investigative journalism is alive and well.


Kara Nicholson works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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