A Whale Hunt on Facebook

Whale bones and boat frames, Barrow, Alaska
Whale bones and boat frames, Barrow, Alaska via Wikimedia

What happens when a Greenpeace activist finds a Native Alaskan whale hunter on Facebook? Trolling, that’s what.

At High Country News, Julia O’Malley visits Gambell, Alaska, a community that relies on subsistence hunting for survival. And she meets a skilled hunter, Chris Apassingok, who has been targeted on social media since news of his successful whale hunt went public online.

It used to be that rural Alaska communicated mainly by VHF and by listening to messages passed over daily FM radio broadcasts, but now Facebook has become a central platform for communication, plugging many remote communities into the world of comment flame wars, cat memes and reality television celebrity pages.

That is how Paul Watson, an activist and founder of Sea Shepherd, an environmental organization based in Washington, encountered Chris’ story. Watson, an early member of Greenpeace, is famous for taking a hard line against whaling. On the reality television show, Whale Wars on Animal Planet, he confronted Japanese whalers at sea. His social media connections span the globe.

Watson posted the story about Chris on his personal Facebook page, accompanied by a long rant. Chris’ mother may have been the first in the family to see it, she said.

“WTF, You 16-Year Old Murdering Little Bastard!,” Watson’s post read. “… some 16-year old kid is a frigging ‘hero’ for snuffing out the life of this unique self aware, intelligent, social, sentient being, but hey, it’s okay because murdering whales is a part of his culture, part of his tradition. … I don’t give a damn for the bullshit politically correct attitude that certain groups of people have a ‘right’ to murder a whale.”

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