The Right stuff

By Tim Murphy

Buried by the debate over whether Hillary Clinton will win Indiana (she might), and whether it even matters (it doesn’t), the revelation that Dick Cheney is on a one-man mission to destroy an American icon swept by unnoticed like a flock of plankton drifting beneath the stormy political seas. Primary or no primary, the North Atlantic Right Whale is not long for this world.

It’s no secret that Right Whales are fearsome beasts. They are in many respects the closest our blubbery brethren come to That Kid: lice-infested, pocked by callosities, and severely overweight. In true Snell-Hitchcock fashion, they ingest food through an elaborate system of mass consumption that involves swimming across the ocean floor with their mouths open. They also—and really, this is the one area where they differ—have a horrible tendency to swim in the middle of congested trans-Atlantic shipping lanes, which often results in them being chopped to bits.

Considering that, since 1970, at least 25 whales have met their end in this fashion, it’s this last character trait that has conservationists and the U.S. government (not to mention the whales) concerned. The former two groups have devised methods to make ships more aware of the Balaenidae among them. Primarily, this means lowering the speed limits for ships within a certain distance of northeastern ports, but it includes more unorthodox methods as well: The Right Whale Listening Network, for instance, invites concerned citizens to familiarize themselves with the screams, moans, and gunshot-like snaps of the Northern Right. (Is it too late to book them for Summer Breeze?)

Everyone seems to have taken up the cause—everyone, that is, but the vice president, who has apparently decided to spend his last eight months in office finishing what the cargo vessels started. His office has blocked new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration guidelines from going into place, instead commissioning his own researchers to find data that better support his policies.

Perhaps it wouldn’t matter so much were the Right Whale not such an instrumental player in our nation’s history. For America, whaling was an act of self-discovery as much as it was a one-sided slaughter. The outward push into the vast blue unknown marked a great leap forward in the development of a self-sufficient, uniquely American economy.

One need look no further than Nantucket, an island community so deep in old money that its residents still bring in Irish immigrants to do their hard labor. Before it became the vacation spot of Bill Gates, it was in its own right the Dubai of the 19th century, blessed with a stranglehold on a thriving industry. The island went from a quaint fishing village to an economic force, spurring development, the creation of a railroad, and granting ship owners and captains the societal presence of Saudi princes.

The culture of exploration has long since faded—even the Hartford Whalers bolted town and took on a new name and a new zip code—but as an American institution, it lives on in spirit. The brand that, next to McDonald’s, has come to exemplify modern American consumerism takes its name from one of America’s great whaling families: the Starbucks of Nantucket, immortalized in Moby Dick.

Yet, of all the great animal symbols of this nation, the Northern Right Whale alone is on the fast track to extinction. Benjamin Franklin’s turkey has thrived in the wild, in captivity, and in deep-fryers everywhere. The Bald Eagle, thanks to concerted efforts from conservationists, has bounced back from the brink of extinction and is now off the endangered species list entirely. Even the bison, nearly wiped off the map in the late 19th century, has found salvation in the form of novelty Buffalo Burgers that don’t taste quite as good as real beef.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s an obvious solution that we can all get behind—one that will satisfy conservationists and satiate Cheney’s seemingly insatiable desire for protected resources. As any third-grade teacher will tell you, it’s what’s on the inside that really matters, and it just so happens that whales are filled with oil like the moon is filled with cheese. Take the billions of cents that Americans will save from Hillary Clinton’s three-month gas-tax “holiday” and invest it in a program to breed and harvest Right Whales. Call it renewable energy for the 21st century. Or just call it genius. America wins. The Right Whale wins. Dick Cheney wins. It’s a win-win-win.