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Wednesday, 25 July, 2001, 20:13 GMT 21:13 UK
Former whaler decries 'blood money'
John Burton A Kirby
John Burton: Regards his whaling earnings as "blood money"
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

A former whaler says he does not accept that anybody needs to eat whale meat.


We don't let cows and pigs be chased round a slaughterhouse for several hours by a man with a crossbow riding a powerful motorbike

John Burton, former whaler
The whaler, John Burton, from the UK, spent three seasons in the Antarctic 50 years ago.

He often worked as look-out on a catcher vessel, and says he was involved in killing hundreds of whales.

But he describes his earnings from those days as "blood money".

Mr Burton, from north-east England, was speaking at a Greenpeace news conference at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting taking place in London.

Orange through fear

He is not a Greenpeace member himself, but says he was stirred to voice his misgivings by the organisation's campaign against whaling.

He went to sea at the age of 16, and worked as a mess boy, which also involved helping on deck and in the catcher's crow's-nest.

Inflatable whale at IWC meeting A Kirby
A looming presence outside the meeting
Mr Burton described how a hunted whale would dive, only to find when it resurfaced that the whalers were still waiting.

Turning the sea deep orange as it defecated with fear, he said, the whale would swim furiously to escape, but was usually harpooned despite its efforts. Sometimes a whale would tow the 400-tonne catcher vessel behind it in a bid to rid itself of the harpoon.

When harpoons were extracted from dead whales, they sometimes had to be returned to the blacksmith's shop on the factory ship. Some would need straightening and renovation, because they had been bent and twisted like paper-clips.

Finite resource

The IWC is under pressure from two members, Japan and Norway, to end its 15-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling. Iceland, attending the meeting as an observer, also wants to start whaling again.

Costumed Greenpeace members A Kirby
Greenpeace keeps a close eye on the IWC
Mr Burton told BBC News Online he was absolutely opposed to any resumption of commercial whaling for two reasons - the depletion of the whales' numbers, and the cruelty of the hunt.

"I eat meat and I like it," he said. "But farm animals are something you can replenish, and they do have some measure of reasonable life.

"Whales are a finite resource - you can't farm them. And the numbers killed in the whaling years are staggering.

"There are two elements to the cruelty. For the whale, the worse part was probably the hunt. The chase could last for hours - the longest I remember was four to five hours.

Mother's blood

"Whales have very sensitive hearing, and the ones we were chasing would probably be able to hear our engine and propeller from three or four miles away. Sometimes they'd hide in the pack ice. But we'd always be waiting for them.

"The kill was terribly cruel. We don't let cows and pigs be chased round a slaughterhouse for several hours by a man with a crossbow riding a powerful motorbike.

"The whales could take as long as eight hours to die, then eventually they'd be towed to the factory ship. The sight on deck there was a real Hell's kitchen - blood everywhere, three or four inches (6-8 centimetres) deep.

"I remember once seeing a 92-foot (28-metre) blue whale being cut up. Another time, tossed aside in the scuppers, lay a 5-ft (1.5-m) foetus, lying in its mother's blood."

Mr Burton accepts the case for traditional whaling in the Arctic and the Caribbean, but disputes Japan's claim that whaling is part of its culture.

"I don't accept that anyone needs to whale," he said. "I can't understand the Norwegians, though I have many friends there.

"I was part of north-east England's whaling culture. Now it's gone - and nobody misses it."

See also:

23 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Angry split at whaling meeting
23 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Battle looms over whaling ban
19 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Climate row touches blue whales
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