No machine gun used on whale (Yay!)
Like thousands of other columnists, reporters, network news organizations and Internet bloggers around the world, I couldn't resist mentioning the Associated Press news item about members of a Washington state Indian tribe killing a whale with a .50-caliber machine gun. I mean, it's not every day someone machine-guns a whale, especially an Indian tribe fighting to hang on to its cultural whaling rights.
On the Politically Correct and Environmentally Sensitive Richter Scale, shooting a whale with a machine gun comes in at 7.5 out of a possible 8 points. To put it in further perspective, the lady I wrote about last week who cooks and eats feral cats in Australia scores only a 6.3 on the scale and NFL quarterback Michael Vick electrocuting dogs is a 6.9. (I'm not sure what an 8.0 would be, but it would have to be fairly outrageous, like Al Gore strangling a polar bear cub with a Sierra Club Golden Membership lanyard. )
It turns out the whale in question wasn't killed with a machine gun after all. Whoops. For me, the first hint that the whale tale was something of a fish story came from Dave Hicks, a reader who said that the whale was shot with a rifle.
"The rifle used was a large-caliber, breech-loading rifle specifically designed to kill whales," Hicks e-mailed. "Its design and use was mandated by the International Whaling Commission's scientific committee to ensure the quickest possible kill. Rather different than a native dude with an AK-47, don't ya think?"
Yes, rather. And, in fact, I then found an AP bulletin correcting the story and blaming the mistake on information from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Unfortunately, mention of the incident increased exponentially online, so that if you now type "machine gun whale" in a search engine you get more than 1.5 million "hits." (Hits, in this case, being an ironic term.)
Hidden within this mass of misinformation, like a guppy among 1.5 million sharks, swims the little AP correction, largely ignored. Why? Because the mercenary machine-gunning of a whale fulfills a lot of environmentalists' worst suspicions about the human race. Even if the story is technically untrue, they think it's still "morally" true and reflects man's real contempt for the planet.
Embellishing the cautionary tale further, a columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer called the incident a "rogue hunt" by Makah tribal members during which a fisherman heard 21 shots. She then describes the whale's suffering in a way that would make Herman Melville blush.
A spokesman from the Marine Fisheries Service law-enforcement branch told me the weapon was a large-bore rifle, but not necessarily one approved for whale hunting, and that five tribe members had been arrested and released pending investigation.
The incident shows how quickly something can be shot, so to speak, out of proportion in these days of instant communication. If I were Al Gore, I'd steer clear of any polar bear cubs while wearing a lanyard of any type.
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