Monday, November 12, 2012

Asha de Vos

Question 1: Would I say I'm an animal lover? Hmmm...

Do I love cute lil baby bunnies like this

Small, blurry Ralphie

Did I wear gloves whenever I held Ralphie, my Soap Box prize money hamster, so I wouldn't have to touch his butt? (I really should keep a tally of SBD mentions on this blog.)

Did Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals" change my food lifestyle? 

Does my 4th roommate Welly's inability to bury his litter box poo drive me cray?
Yeah, duh.

Do I think puppy mills are the worst?
Of course.

Do I think PETA is the other worst?
Uh huh. 

So I suppose that makes my answer: Yes*. 

*I love animals but I think they're pretty ewey at times. Also, PETA is the worst.

I'm sure it comes as no to surprise to hear a feminist would take issue with PETA.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals regularly use sexist images of women to create attention for their organization. I'm not just talking about naked ladies, but oftentimes their ads depict violence and allude to sexual assault. How does this help animals? As an animal lover*, I do think we have a responsibility to care for other creatures, but I do not think it should be at the expense of women or people in general. 

Posing for a PETA ad campaign is popular "charity" work these days for both male and female celebrities. While the men and women who participate are usually in various stages of undress, the messages being communicated are very different. For example, two humorous anti-fur campaigns below: 

Joanna Krupa
David Cross
The female ad tells us fur is gross by equating it to lady pubes, while the male ad eliminates the need to wear animal fur by telling us to proudly rock our own body hair. Ok. We already know how I feel about the politics of female body hair, but this is a mixed message, no? Should we not wear fur because it's gross like a big bush or should we not wear fur because we have our own? Or are there different rules for men and women?

Now, hold onto your butts, (shameless Jurassic Park quote) I'm going to make ANOTHER reference to The Real Housewives. Joanna Krupa, a new Housewife on the Miami season, had production film this particular PETA ad for the show. Krupa is a very outspoken animal rights activist who makes grand statements like "I will fight for these animals until the day I am dead." She is also mainly against fur which is confusing since she is not a vegan, nor a vegetarian and wears leather. She justifies this, rather proudly, by stating leather comes from processing animals for food which is OK. Hmm. Seems a bit hypocritical but whateves. 

You can watch the scene from the show online and read about why she wanted to do such a "racy" ad. Apparently, a few years back she saw an undercover video of animals skinned alive for their fur, which was obviously very upsetting. Here are a few choice quotes from the shoot: 
"Tony had to glue on a wig. I think Roman would have killed me if I'd grown my own bush."
"You're going to get into a lot of trouble with the feminists, Joanna."  
"For people who don't have a sense of humor, they'll complain. But those that get it, will see the fun side of it."
Cat Fur
I get the joke; crazy hair down there! HILARIOUSLY ABSURD!!! Aside: Don't we think it's way more risque to have pubic hair nowadays? Isn't it coming back into style, sexily speaking, almost like a fetish? (Sexily: newest made up word!)  Anyway, propagating sexism in the name of saving animals seems unnecessary and counterproductive.  PETA and Joanna say they have to create controversy to get attention but in reality they would probably better serve themselves with more thoughtful and intelligent marketing. Again, Joanna isn't even against meat production which, how did Snooki famously say it, "They kill the animals when they are alive!" If you're anti-animal cruelty, a thinking gal would extend her protest to the food industry as well. Can anyone even afford real fur anymore? I know I can't. And is fur any worse than leather or meat production? Not saying I want to buy furs or support their manufacture, but I have to say my sister's fur from our late Aunt Bernie is really nice. I'd totally wear it to a Housewives shindig, even if it was 90 degrees and Joanna was there. Giving up leather and/or meat would make Joanna's work seem way more legitimate because it would suggest she's done her research. After all, she says:  
"Push comes to shove, I'm the doer. ...Show me what you do."
If "doing" is fat shaming, rape apologizing, and just plain confusing everyone, ALL THE ANIMALS ARE DOOMED!!! 

Editor's Note: Maybe Joanna thinks this is the only way she can save animals? Just a thought, and if that is the case, it's upsetting because she is probably capable of more positive for all approaches but has never been encouraged to do anything but model. 

PETA's confusing "Save the Whales" campaign

Thankfully for all the cute little baby bunnies out there, "the feminists"** believe in protecting animals and figuring out smarter ways for us all to live together on Mother Earth. Activism without sexism is completely possible. 

Question 2: Do I watch a lot of whale videos on YouTube? 
                         Yes, no asterisk.

Scene from my dreams
For the past year or so, I've been having all of these intense, vivid dreams about whales: Swimming with humpbacks in icy black water; pine-forest rimmed coves teeming with ominous orcas; or bobbing around with belugas. They're recurring, sometimes scary, and all consuming. When I wake up, all I want are MORE WHALES! I've never seen whales in real life, so I don't know why my brain is so focused on them or what these dreams could possibly mean. They've replaced the recurring cry-in-your-sleep nightmares I used to have about the Holocaust, though so I'll take 'em!

YouTube is so amazing for so many things like bunnies taking showers, but especially nature videos. And, "real" mermaid documentaries (I once spent a whole day terrifying myself with them.) Actual nature clips are the best though because animals once only seen in specific documentaries or in pictures, can now be easily found instantly. Take this sperm whale video for instance:

How awesome is that, right!? Outside of Moby Dick and pictures here and there, I really never thought much about actual whales swimming around and existing. But thanks to YouTube, I can watch dozens of vids like these. And I have; which means I now know about TED fellow Asha De Vos. Thanks You'tb. (Not all of my breves work)

Meeting people who are truly passionate about what they do for work, for fun, for sanity is one of my favorite things. Their enthusiasm emanates from within which automatically inspires anyone around them. Asha is one such person. She is a marine biologist from Sri Lanka who has dedicated her life to the study of a unique population of blue whales living off the coast of her homeland. 
Sri Lanka from Space

Positioned in the Indian Ocean, just south of India, Sri Lanka was embroiled in a civil war that ended in 2009. Despite declining freedoms since the military took over, the small island nation has been declared one of the fastest growing economies in the world. They produce coffee, tea, rubber, cinnamon, as well as many other exports that have made them a vital part of international trade dating all the way back to the Silk Road era. Because they are an island, the movement of goods in and out of the country is done by ship. This shipping super highway runs directly through the path of Sri Lanka's mysterious blue whale population.

The blue whale is the largest mammal that has ever existed on the planet. Out of dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, and other prehistoric animals; these guys are the biggest.  They average about 98 ft in length and weigh 200 tons. Until the 20th century when they were almost hunted to extinction by the whaling industry, they flourished in the world's oceans. This is why little is known about these massive creatures. After gaining international protection in 1966, their numbers have improved but pale in comparison to how many there once were. PBS has a fantastic documentary on their American Experience page highlighting the history of whaling which paints the picture of how these animals were affected directly as a product and now indirectly by the capitalist system. 

Growing up in Sri Lanka, Asha was not far from the world's most intriguing blue whales. Typically, blue whales migrate at different times of the year from warmer to colder waters and back again, but the Sri Lankan pod remains in the waters off the coast year round and no one knows why. While the island country is very proud of this group, they are at risk. The shipping vessels carrying goods in and out of the country, travel right through their feeding path. Now the nation is no longer at war, tourism has become more popular and expeditions to view the whales up close also threaten their safety. Since so little is known about them, protecting them from these threats is difficult. 

Asha de Vos studied marine biology as an undergraduate in Scotland. She has lived and studied in England, New Zealand, and Australia to prepare her for the work she is doing for the Sri Lankan blue whales. Her main drive to save the whales, stems from her deep fascination with the animals themselves, but also with a desire to actually learn and study them. Many times people just act in the name of doing good before they really understand the situation. de Vos strives to have a complete comprehension of all the different facets and factors involved, including the shipping and tourism industry,  in order to have the best chance for success. Education before action always seems to create the best results. A bit of a different approach from Joanna and PETA...

Even though the You'tb didn't exist when I was a kid, I had a great book all about many of the Earth's whales. It was a pop-up book called "Mighty Giants of the Sea". My sister and I loved it; pulling the tabs making the whales swim or feed. The page about the blue whale opened up to 5 times the length of the book in order to demonstrate the massive size of their particular species. There is something about the ocean that completely captivates people, kids especially. Many of my friends wanted to become marine biologists due to their love of dolphins and probably Lisa Frank marine animal stickers. As we got older, maybe more realistic, we all became office employees or teachers, except my friend Katie. She is an actual marine biologist on the Gulf Coast of Texas where she is a research assistant. At one point, she was living on the beach tagging and studying sea turtles and their nests. Her career has taken a lot of work, time, and defense since some have wished for her to have taken a more traditional route. Regardless, she's living out her dreams and I'm so proud/jealous of her. 

Blue whale page from Might Giants

When Asha talks about the work she is doing, she doesn't hide the fact she knows it's not a traditional female field.  She directly confronts the lack of women leaders in Sri Lanka by making statements like,
"I don't need to be a man to do what I do."

Asha at work
Such an important statement for everyone to hear! She also doesn't need to be naked, aggressive, or create false controversy. Her conviction in her own ability is vital for her to be able to accomplish anything in the name of her work. If she doesn't believe in herself, who else will and who else will save the whales? As a TED fellow, she is recognized as a world leader in the conservation of blue whales. Education and study are the most valuable tools she has at her disposal which is why she is creating interest in her research. Asha and my friend Katie are unique in that they believe in themselves even if few examples of other women making similar choices are available. Lucky for current and future generations, YouTube has made Asha's work accessible for the whole world. She's inspiring many to become interested the whales she loves as well as encouraging inspiring the next generation of marine biologists. The blue whales are lucky to have her on their side and I can't wait to learn about the miraculous facts her research will turn up. 

Watch the video below to hear about what Asha has to say about her work and stay up to date on her work by reading her blog, The Unorthodox Whale! You can also donate to her research!!

** I love how "the feminists" are always spoken about as if we're this one monolithic group, set to destroy all goodness and joy. 
Cover Photo

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