The Wind that Blows

The Wind That Blows / Tom Weston / 58 minutes

This thought-provoking documentary by Tom Weston takes viewers to the beautiful island of Bequia, one of several islands making up the country of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) in the southeastern Caribbean. There has been humpback whaling on Bequia dating back to 1875, when it was principally a commercial activity linked to the Yankee whalers of New England. In the 1970s, the focus of the operation changed from whale oil for export to meat and blubber for local consumption. Weston visited the island in the 1980s and became fascinated with the whalers, who at that time were still very much artisanal fishers, led by charismatic harpooner, Athneal Olliviere. In 1987, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), accepting assurances that the Bequian whaling operation would not outlast Olliviere, granted SVG an Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quota despite a ban on hunting north Atlantic humpback whales. Olliviere died in 2000 and with him died the traditional hunts—though not the whaling. Weston’s film honors the whalers’ pride as prominent members of their community and documents their daily life, including the endless waiting, usually in vain, for whales to pass by in hopes of a hunt. The film contains interviews with the whalers, including Olliviere, and poignantly depicts the hopelessness they feel as they try to cling to the past while also embracing the modern equipment that eases their life—from speedboats replacing rowboats, rifles replacing hand-held harpoons, and cellphones replacing the old ways of signaling from the hills when a whale was spotted. Weston’s film thoughtfully captures this struggle and leaves the viewer wishing the community well as it transitions away from whaling.

AWI is supporting local efforts to encourage the few remaining whalers in SVG to transition to a much more sustainable whale-watching industry. For a comprehensive overview of whaling in SVG and the IWC’s involvement, see AWI’s report, Humpback Whaling in Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines: The IWC’s Failed Responsibility.