Science faces a dilemma when it comes to consider the breakdown of society in the face of technological advance. The situation is even more difficult when science takes the environmentalist stance and then finds itself in opposition to native culture, which it also wants to preserve. Anthropological studies have shown that many cultures around the world are integrally linked to whaling, both economically and culturally.
But now that whales are facing extinction, the scientific community must make a decision as to which is more worth preservation, native human cultures, or the population of whales. In my opinion, science should support the latter cause. It is an accepted tenet of modern life that technological advance breaks down old modes of social solidarity, and introduces new forms of connectedness. These new spheres of connection bypass locality and ethnicity, so that the tendency is towards a global culture and economy.
What seems to be initially a cultural loss is not so, for culture is evolving in step with technology. However, the extinction of whales is a true and final loss. In 1999 the international whaling commission lifted its moratorium and allowed the Makah Indians of Washington State to hunt whales for the first time in 70 years. Charlotte Cote, a descendant of whaling Indians, enthuses over the decision, and describes how whaling has “reaffirmed their identity as a whaling people and providing a symbol for tribal resiliency, adaptability, and cultural survival” (2006, p. 177).
However, Richard Caulfield, who has carried out extensive research into the whaling tribes of Greenland, opines that we cannot view these cultures in isolation, and these people have always retained links to mainland Europe. The recent speed of technological advance has only intensified these links. It is obligatory, therefore, that the remote whaling communities collaborate with the international community (Nuttall 1998, p. 831). The best role for the scientific community would, thus, be to effect a dialogue between the natives and the international body politic, while carrying out research from both points of view.