Japanese workers flense a whale on the deck of a factory ship Nisshin Maru in the Southern ocean.
This year the Japanese whaling fleet caught 684 whales, 440 of
them from the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, a critical protected area
for whales. The Japanese Fisheries Agency expanded its whaling to
the North Pacific and is increasing quotas. Appallingly, they've
added endangered Sei whales to their harpoon sights, and took 39
The Japanese government is putting a lot of effort into its
campaign to resume large-scale commercial whaling and international
trade in whale products, even encouraging children to become whale
eaters by giving them price-slashed whale meat for lunch so they'll
"understand how good it is".
In "Whale Hunters," a new BBC documentary, Masayuki Komatsu of
Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries can be
heard advising a Japanese whaling ship captain how to deal with
Greenpeace protest boats: "When they approach, blow them out of the
But wait! Isn't there a total whaling ban? So how can Japan
still be whaling?
The Japanese government uses a loophole in the international
regulations to carry out "scientific whaling." Their "scientific"
whale samples retail for around $US 100 million a year as a luxury
The Japanese government's "science" aims to prove that whales
deplete the world's fish stocks. It's a self-serving research
agenda with as much scientific rigor as an over-cooked ramen
noodle. Over-fishing is to blame for collapsing fish stocks
world-wide, not whales.
Not content with its deplorable domestic scam, the Japanese
government is also trying to make international trade in whale
products legal. They argue that Minke and Brydes whales are
abundant enough to exploit commercially - despite the lack of
accurate data on these whales' populations.
History repeats itself
History shows that in the conflict between greed and
conservation, whales have always been the losers.
Individual whales have a high commercial value. But these
animals also reproduce extremely slowly. So there's a huge economic
incentive to catch whales, but no economic incentive to conserve
because it brings an individual whaler no short-term benefit.
Whalers inevitably submit to greed.
During the last half century, over-harvesting and fraud
undermined IWC (International Whaling Commission) attempts to
manage one crashing whale population after another. Quotas were
exceeded by tens of thousands whales, and endangered species were
illegally caught. In the Antarctic the Blue whale was hunted to
near-extinction, then the Fin whale, followed by the Humpback and
Sei whales. Only the1986 IWC moratorium ended the whale management
charade. Some whale species, like the North Atlantic Right whale
which was hunted to near extinction in the 19th century, have never
recovered. The Antarctic Blue whales, the largest animals in the
world, show little sign of recovery after almost 40 years of
CITES support for IWC ban
The IWC whaling ban gains crucial support through another
international treaty, CITES (the Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species). Whales are listed under CITES Appendix I,
which protects them by banning international trade in whale
Down with downlisting!
The Japanese government has tried to overturn the trade ban at
three previous CITES meetings and they're trying it again, even
though previous efforts failed by wide margins. Next month when
CITES member nations meet in Santiago, Chile, they will vote on two
Japanese proposals to downlist Minke and Bryde's whales to Appendix
II, a move which would open up whale products for regulated trade
The proposals in themselves are outrageous. The CITES
Secretariat has recommended member nations to oppose the proposals
because they are contrary to CITES own rules, and its long-standing
agreement to harmonise CITES regulation on whales with the IWC
Total loss of control
The consequences of downlisting for whales would be disastrous.
Despite the current total bans on harvest and trade, whaling of
endangered whale species continues. Even the renegade whaling
nations can't control their dubious dealings. DNA tests on whale
meat purchased in Japan shows that, in addition to species the
Japanese government gives permits for, at least five other species
are being harvested and sold. Most disturbingly, meat from a Gray
whale from the western North Pacific - the world's most endangered
population of great whales, has been found on sale in Japan.
Controls are so lax that even horsemeat is passed off as whale!
With the cover provided by a legal trade and the economic
incentive of expanded markets, illegal, whaling and illegal trade
would rapidly escalate.
Noway's golden blubber bank
Norway will be the main beneficiary if Japan's proposals are
agreed in Santiago. Since they resumed commercial whaling in 1993,
warehouses have been piled high with whale blubber Norwegians won't
eat. The Norwegian whalers and whale traders look longingly to the
Japanese market where they could sell the stockpiled blubber and
make a handsome profit.
Recently Norway broke the CITES ban to export whale blubber to
Iceland, another country which wants to resume trade with Japan.
The export was done for purely political reasons, as a way to
pressure countries into agreeing the Japanese downlisting
However Norwegian whale blubber packs a poisonous punch. Tests
conducted this year show a thumb-sized piece of the blubber will
expose Icelandic diners to PCBs, DDT and even fire-retardants. Some
of the toxins may exceed by many times recommended.
Thanks, we've got enough problems
Of course, pollutants are bad for the whales too and may be
affecting the whales' ability to reproduce. Whales are also up
against climate change, ozone depletion and ultraviolet B
radiation, noise pollution, prey depletion, capture in fish nets,
habitat degradation and even ship strikes. Many of these factors'
influence on beleaguered whale populations are still poorly
Take the year 1999, when alarmed scientists saw twice as many
Gray whale strandings along the Eastern Pacific seaboard as any
previous year. Many of the animals were emaciated. Scientists
suspect that climate change reduced the prey species these highly
endangered whales depend on, a factor which led to their
Despite the alarming situation for the world's whale
populations, you can help put a stop to the international trade in
CITES member countries will meet in Santiago from November 3rd
to 17th to vote on the downlisting of whales and other issues.
Greenpeace believes these proposals shouldn't even be on that
table. The CITES Secretariat has also recommended that countries
oppose the proposals since they contradict CITES' own rules.
Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Germany and the US have
championed the conservation of whale populations since the whaling
moratorium. Fax them and ask them to stand up now and take the
lead in rejecting the Japanese proposals to downlist Bryde's
and Minke whales. The Japanese Fisheries Agency shouldn't be
wasting valuable conference time, but you should take the time to
call on these governments to get Japan to withdraw their