News
Home  >  News > Àlex Aguilar: “Even Franco liked fishing; he got a barrel installed on...

Àlex Aguilar: “Even Franco liked fishing; he got a barrel installed on the yacht ‘Azor’ and he did it as a sport”

Àlex Aguilar, author of the book, and Miguel López, former whaler who killed the last whale catched in Spain.

Àlex Aguilar, author of the book, and Miguel López, former whaler who killed the last whale catched in Spain.

The new title is edited by Publicacions i Edicions de la UB.

The new title is edited by Publicacions i Edicions de la UB.

Miguel López facing the barrel of the whaler IBSA. Photo: Àlex Aguilar

Miguel López facing the barrel of the whaler IBSA. Photo: Àlex Aguilar

In six decades, more than 21,000 whales and sperm whales were catched in the Iberian Peninsula. Photo: Àlex Aguilar

In six decades, more than 21,000 whales and sperm whales were catched in the Iberian Peninsula. Photo: Àlex Aguilar

The author uncovers the unknown history of whaling in Spain. Photo: archive, Àlex Aguilar

The author uncovers the unknown history of whaling in Spain. Photo: archive, Àlex Aguilar

10/02/2014

Entrevistes

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago —never mind how long precisely— having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. (...) This is my substitute for pistol and ball”. This is the beginning of one of the most popular novels of the history of literature, Moby Dick. Its author, Herman Melville, was able to recreate Captain Ahab’s desperate obsession with killing a white whale, a history that became a perfect allegory of the unconquerable soul of the human being.

Like writers Melville or Philip Hoare, Dr Àlex Aguilar, professor of the Department of Animal Biology and director of the Biodiversity Research Institute of the University of Barcelona (IRBio), was captivated by this cetacean, a mythical creature in many cultures, which appears on ancient scriptures as the main character of the story of Jonah.

The whale as a symbol of darkness, whaling in the Iberian Peninsula and some unknown anecdotes are some of the topics analysed on the book Chimán. La pesca ballenera moderna en la península Ibérica (Publicacions i Edicions of the UB, 2013), the latest work of Àlex Aguilar that exudes his twenty-five year research activity on these large marine mammals.

Aguilar leads the Research Group on Large Marine Vertebrates of UB; he is pioneer in researching on the impact that chemical pollutants have on marine ecosystems and the conservation of marine mammals in Spain. He has coordinated many international projects and his work on marine mammals has contributed to better know and preserve these species, for instance, by supervising whale rescue efforts and avoiding the extinction of Mediterranean seals. In 2004, he received the Rei Jaume I Prize in Environmental Protection conferred by the Government of Valencia and the Valencian Foundation for Advanced Studies.

He has carried out several studies on whaling in Galicia and he is expert on large marine vertebrate managing and conservation. He gives professional advice to many international organizations, for instance the International Whaling Commission (IWC). It is the first book that describes a complex and unknown question: whaling in Spain. The author affirms that the main objective of the book was to leave a sign of this phenomenon on the “historiography of the country”, and to make people aware that “there is plenty of material left to collect and analyse”.

 
What is the origin of the word Chimán?

The title may be surprising. It pays tribute to whale-hunters, who, as in every job, had their own vocabulary. The book has a registration aim, so I wanted to collect some of their words. To be exact, chimán was the word they used to refer to large whales. Whale-hunters always looked for chimanes as they earned them more money. They were obsessed with sighting chimanes.

Why did you devote yourself to whales?

It was a combination of vocation and chance. I wanted to work on marine issues as I have always felt attracted by the sea, and by chance I ended up in a whale fishery. I was so impressed by the place, the animals and the whole scene that I decided to focus my PhD thesis on it. Then, even if my career has been centred on other topics too, I have always researched on whales.

Have you been writing this book since you started out in the world of whales?

Not really. It is true that the book collects so much information about that time, but it is analysed from a present perspective. That moment was so complex in a political and social sense, and now, as time goes by, we can understand it better. I began to write this book many years ago, but I was not aware of it.

What do you expect from the book?

The book aims at making a registration of an activity that has left nearly any sign on the historiography of the country. There is plenty of material left to collect and analyse, and I hope it won’t take me thirty-five years more to write it down!

Why Spanish people are not aware of their country’s whaling tradition?

Surprisingly, the Basque Country is the place where people are more aware of it. It is the region where whaling was first developed. Although the tradition disappeared in the 18th century, the coats of arms of many towns have whale symbols (Lekeitio, Zarautz, Ondarroa, etc.). On the contrary, in the regions where the industry was developed at contemporary age —in the Strait of Gibraltar and Galicia— it was confined to specific towns, and even if people who work on it are still alive (the last whale was caught in 1985), whaling has not left any other tradition.

What legacy —historical, literary and industrial— do you think that whaling has left in Spain?

Its legacy is minimal. From a literary point of view, apart from some isolated Galician and Basque narratives, it has not left anything more. On the contrary, in other countries, to mention Moby Dickis enough.

Why has whaling always generated a fascinating literary and artistic attraction?

Whales have always aroused fascination for many reasons. First, they are the largest animal on Earth; they are larger than any dinosaur; they are excessively large. Their weight is similar to the one of fifty or sixty elephants together. Second, they live far from the coast, on largest oceans, so they are inaccessible for most people who hardly ever watch one death on the coast. Size and remoteness generate this fascination. It is also a mythical animal; two examples are the story of Jonah and Moby Dick. They are the marine ‘monsters’ that appeared on all cartographies. These animals have aroused fear and amazement.

How was your job experience as a scientist, from an emotional and ethical point of view, at an industry devoted to decimate our biological richness?

In 1978, when I began to work on this project, there was not any ecologist group in Spain. First ones emerged in 1980 or 1981. At that time, whaling was not considered different from fishing tuna, sharks or sardines. People thought it was a curious fishing activity, but it was widely accepted, and governments promoted it as a reasonable commercial and industrial activity. During the 1980s, a radical change took place. The ecologist movement emerged and whales were taken as the symbol of its fight. Fishers began to be branded as killers. It was a difficult age.

Do you think that there is a future for whales?

The future of whales is guaranteed. Any species of whale is extinct. However, although recovering works began more than fifty years ago, it is true that some species are triggering so much time in recovering, for instance, blue and right whales. Most species are completely recovered, although a small whaling activity continues to be developed in Iceland, Norway, Greenland and Japan, but it is completely sustainable.

One of the most curious discoveries of the book is that Franco caught sperm whales...

Yes, I heard about it at factories. Franco liked fishing and he got a barrel installed on the yacht Azor. He did it as a sport. He caught one or two a year, and then he carried them to the port as a triumph. Their decomposition generated health problems in towns, so local councils made an official protest against this practice. So then, he began to carry them to factories, and he demanded to pay him back the profit got from the sale of oil!

Share this at:
| More |
  • Follow us:
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Facebook profile
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Twitter profile
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Instagram profile
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Linkedin profile
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Youtube profile
  • Button to access University of Barcelona's Google+ profile
  • ??? peu.flickr.alt ???
Member of International recognition of excellence HR Excellence in Research logo del leru - League of European Research Universities logo del bkc - campus excel·lència logo del health universitat de barcelona campus

© Universitat de Barcelona