The Superferry’s Red Herrings

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - October 24, 2007
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Red herring: “Something used to turn attention away from the basic issue; from drawing a herring across the trace to confuse the hounds.”

Nothing inspires a sense of awe more than the classic image of a mother humpback whale and her suckling calf lazing along in the shimmering blue of the Kaiwi Channel ... well ... wait a minute! Maybe there is something else. How about the sense of awe inspired by a mother human nursing her baby in the dim glow of the nursery’s night light? That tiny human with all the potential to reason, cure disease, reach the moon, lead the world or pray to a greater being. Which has more intrinsic value, the whale calf or the human child?

Like most folks in Hawaii, I’m very partial to the beauty and mystery of the whale, but I am most partial to the beauty and mystery of the human. If given the power to save from death a human or a whale - even if the human were a stranger - most of us would choose the human. Humans are more valuable to us than whales.


So why is it that, in the big scheme of things here, we continue to tolerate automobiles in our lives even though they cause the deaths of dozens of valuable humans each year? Answer: Because motor vehicles have become essential to our commerce, our economy, our freedom of movement, our standard of living and, much more often than not, our safety. Even though we have extensive vehicle laws to mitigate accidents, they still happen and people - even children - are killed. And as much as we try to reduce them, and as sad and unfortunate as each death may be, the overall numbers are statistically tolerable in our society. It has been determined - or as it has evolved - the benefits of motor vehicles outweigh their cost in human lives.

So why is it we can’t apply the same unemotional reasoning to ocean-going vessels - such as the Superferry - and humpback whales?

Although hunted to near extinction before 1965, the estimated global population of humpback whales currently is 30,000 to 40,000, with more than 60 percent in the Northern Pacific. According to the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary, the organization responsible for the annual count of whales migrating to Hawaiian waters each year (December through March), there was nearly an 80 percent increase in whale “sightings” from 1999 (558) to 2001 (952), and that the actual Hawaii population at that time was around 5,400 and continues to grow at 7 percent per year. For the coming season (‘07-‘08), up to 10,000 whales are expected. So even though they are still an endangered species, their comeback, just like the bald eagle and the whooping crane, is quite encouraging. And for that, like most such progress, we can thank decades of environmental activism.

Enter the Superferry, the benefits of which in terms of economic, social and quality of life for the people of our state are, like motor vehicles, indisputable. And the overwhelming popular support for the ferry is a matter of record. Just as we have mitigated the dangers of motor vehicles to people, the Superferry operators have a comprehensive, science-based mitigation plan to diminish the danger to whales - obviously to save whales but also in the self-interest of avoiding the potential damage to the vessel and injury to passengers from hitting a multi-ton animal. And whales have their own collision avoidance instincts.


Surly in the context of the sanctity of life, and especially here in Hawaii, we honor the beauty and mystery of our humpback whales. And if God offered a choice between the Superferry and the whales, but not both, farewell ferry! So with our responsibility to protect the whales, why would we expose them to another possible hazard? Because in this case, like our cost analysis with motor vehicles and people, the Superferry’s significant benefits to the people of Hawaii far outweigh the costs. Although I suspect some local activists would disagree, people are simply more valuable than whales.

Just like in the anti-Superferry rhetoric of invasive species and increased traffic, whales are just red herrings!

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