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Requiem For A Heavyweight

August 21, 1994

I was outraged at John Balzar's "To Catch a Whale" (July 24). Bowhead whales were nearly hunted to extinction. Although their numbers are increasing, the bowhead whale population is less than half what it was before whaling began.

Balzar shows no hesitation in glorifying killing by people who do not need the whale for survival. These are people who are trying to get in touch with their whaling roots while answering cellular phones, watching TV and listening to the radio. I am disgusted that the magazine found Balzar's exposition of senseless cruelty worth printing.


Los Angeles

I spent some years as an Alaska state trooper living with the Eskimos who ply the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort seas and Arctic Ocean and have hunted with these fine and hardy people for everything from Arctic foxes and polar bears to seals, walruses and whales.

I am amazed how many reporters who write on Alaska have never been north, never looked at a map and believe everything they've heard about the land of snow and ice. Our local paper, in fact, just reported that Mt. McKinley is in southeastern Alaska. So it was with a great deal of skepticism that I took up your piece by John Balzar. But Balzar got his facts right!

And Balzar tells the Eskimos' story well. In just 50 years, these people have been taken from a primitive lifestyle--a true subsistence existence with starvation only a storm away--into the Computer Age, and they have taken the transition in stride. Your writer must be an exceptional reporter to ride the icy waters in such a hostile environment and come out with such a good tale.


Palm Springs

What's happened to editorial judgment at the magazine? Articles related to the injuring and killing of animals are occurring on a regular basis. Most recently there was "To Catch a Whale," preceded by the charro rodeo piece, documenting an event in which horses are injured, and before that, a story on a bullfighter.

Cultural topics can be covered without showing animals being harmed. If a specialty science or anthropology journal does this, so be it--but I'm tired of seeing these topics splashed across the pages of a Sunday metropolitan magazine.



It was with a sinking heart that I tried to read the account of the sanctioned murder of Earth's most magnificent creatures.

Shame on the Los Angeles Times for allowing this on magazine pages for which trees have already been sacrificed. Where is your consciousness, your responsibility for the Earth and its creatures? The glorification of pagan ritualized murder is unacceptable. Have any of you guys seen a calendar? We're about to enter a new century.



I was sorry to see an article glamorizing the "sport" of whale hunting. George Ahmaogak, the North Slope Borough mayor featured in the article, possesses an education and professional experience. His people look to him as a leader. But how can anyone honor someone who has no respect for nature, a man who encourages and indulges in the senseless killing of endangered species for fun and sport.

We are fortunate that there are direct-action organizations aiming to put an end to these whaling practices. There is no doubt that if the members of the International Whaling Commission continue to allow the killing of whales of any kind, then they, too, have their hands dipped in blood.


Los Angeles

As I read "To Catch a Whale," I kept trying to understand the slaughter of the bowhead whales. I then began to question the intelligence of people who required, ultimately, "90 whalers and villagers" to subdue one mammal, all the while using "bombs" and 50-pound shoulder guns.

For those who have seen the breaching of a whale or witnessed a rainbow through the explosive spray from its blowhole or heard the exquisite melody of a migrating humpback, the mind-set of the Inupiat is nothing short of revolting. Someone higher up the food chain needs to teach Ahmaogak a "$%&!" lesson.


Aliso Viejo

Although I'm a committed marine preservationist, I have to commend Balzar's even-handed treatment of the Alaskan whale hunts. Personally, I am repulsed by the practice. That Balzar could divorce himself from such actions is exceptional in a writer.



In 1956, I spent three months in the Arctic in late summer, flying ice reconnaissance in support of ships resupplying Distant Early Warning Line radar sites along the northern Alaskan and Canadian coasts. Our unit was based at Pt. Barrow, and also flew from Barter Island in Alaska and from Canadian airfields in the Arctic.

We carried ice observers from the Navy Hydrographic office in Washington, and our job was to look for open water between pack ice floes for ships to use to land and discharge cargoes. As Balzar wrote, the pack ice can move quickly and close a mile-wide open lead in the ice in a matter of minutes.

As for Balzar's reference to an iceberg, there are none in the Beaufort Sea. They are formed by calving from glaciers, and there are none discharging into the Beaufort Sea. However, there are growlers (the size of a three-car garage) and bergy bits (the size of a good-size house or larger). I suspect what the writer saw and called an iceberg was really a bergy bit.



Santa Ana

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