In what feels like another life, I traveled to Bequia as part of a class trip through the Grenadine Islands. Bequia is a tiny little island, 7 square miles and is a reasonably popular yachting & and diving tourist destination. You can take a one hour ferry from St. Vincent, and these ferries run several times per day. Bequia, for such a small island, has it’s share of controversy. While you can dock there, enjoy the white sand beaches, drive around the hilly island and take in some marvelous views (as well as one of the pinkest sunsets I’ve ever seen), visit the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary (and hold a turtle! Which I was too afraid to do), the Island’s whaling habits remain a point of contention.
Bequia’s Whaling History
Historically, St. Vincent & the Grenadines has claimed a tradition of whaling dating back to over a century ago. Over time, various species of Whales have made it to differing categories of the IUCN Red List and their conservation and management have become governed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The argument arose globally with regard to allowing the continuation of an activity that had been practiced in the community for over a century and formed part of the culture and livelihood, or working to protect a species that had just been designated vulnerable. Eventually, a compromise was reached – Groups from countries qualifying under the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) Rules were allowed to whale a limited amount during the season using only traditional hunting methods, and they should generally utilize the whale as much as possible – apart from the meat, the oil and if possible, bones. They are also not allowed to hunt females or calves. The International Whaling Commission reviews the whaling quotas roughly every 5 years.
Bequia has been the subject of much debate as it is argued that they are not technically indigenous and as such to not qualify under the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Rules set out by the International Whaling Commission. However, in 2012, they were granted a Quota of 4 whales per 4 month hunting season for a 6 year period. Evidence of Bequians’ utilization can be seen throughout the island – there is a popular restaurant called “the Whaleboner” (get your mind out of the gutter) where the entrance arch is actually made up of two whale ribs. The bar also has a whale vertebrae attached.
In more recent years however, the killing has become even more brutal and the rules have been openly breached. Other hunting groups have emerged in Bequia that hunt wildly, indiscriminately and shamelessly beyond the quota and species, using brutal methods that cause the mammals heartbreaking pain. As recently as 2017, a tour company came under fire for allowing the killing two orcas in front of tourists, both flaunting the regulations and severely traumatizing the group. The future of whaling is uncertain for Bequia and it is rumoured that the next IWC Meeting in 2018 will aim to seriously revise this Quota or prohibit it altogether. Time will tell, and no country has an unblemished record.
If you’re passionate about saving the whales, there are a number of protection groups that have popped up as well. Overall, Bequia is a really beautiful spot and there are lots of locals who outright oppose whaling. They prefer instead to focus on the development of other aspects of the island’s maritime history, with a Maritime museum, replica model sailing boats, and the annual Easter regatta. There is also Admiralty Bay, where you can find Fort Hamilton, a cannon battery and lookout from the 1700s. The cannons are still there and you just KNOW I’ll be researching and writing about that in another post.
So if you’re willing, visit this quiet, serene island for a day or two and make your own judgment – just do me a favour and don’t order any whale please.