From Japan with love: a slap in the face

Japan's government disguise whaling as "science"

Feature story - April 15, 2005
If you wanted a census of wild birds, would you get a slingshot and kill them to count them? This is practically what the Government of Japan is proposing, yet again. Wire reports reveal that a secret proposal from Japan's Fisheries Agency sets a "scientific" quota of double the current take of minke whales. They also want to add endangered humpback and fin whales. It's time for killing in the name of science to stop.

Japanese workers flense a whale on the deck of a factory ship Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean.

Plans by the Government of Japan to 'sharply' increase its take ofminke whales, and to resume catching both fin and humpback whales underthe guise of scientific research, are a deadly slap in the face for theinternational community, making a mockery of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and internationalefforts to control whaling.

The secret proposal from Japan, which has been submitted forconsideration at the IWC meeting beginning on May 27 in Ulsan, Korea,will see new "scientific" quotas with a minke whale take of 880 in theAntarctic in addition to a catch of some 10 humpback and fin whales.Let's just remember here that populations of whales in the Antarcticare at only 10 percent of what they were before industrial whaling - itseems ludicrous to kill them to count them,or find out what they eat. Then again, it's not so ludicrous if you're going to makemillions from the meat.

In 2003, the Fisheries' Agency's "research" whalers reported revenuesof over US$50 million from a catch of 700 whales. Their catch this yearis expected to be 1,300.

Our resident whale expert, John Frizell, said "For too long the 'scientific' loophole has provided commercial whalerswith a 'fig leaf' of respectability. The IWC should move to end thescandal of scientific whaling and end the scientific exemption."

The submission to the IWC by Japan's Fisheries Agency is designated "inconfidence". But since when was the science of environmental protectionand nature conservation best served by secrecy? If it's so scientific,why are they trying to hide it? Why not post it on the internet so theworld wide community of whale researchers can review it.  Ifthey're really stuck, perhaps the public could then suggest ways to dothe studies non-lethally?

The scientific whaling loophole isn't the only problem plaguing theIWC's efforts. Over the last month the Rainbow Warrior has been inKorea to highlight another flaw in international efforts to ban thehunting of whales. In 2003 the Korean fishing fleet "accidentally"netted 84 whales, which were legally traded and processed for domesticconsumption. Korean Government statistics show that between ten and ahundred times more whales are "accidentally" caught in Korea than incountries that do not have a domestic whale meat market (Japan has asimiliarly high rate of "accidental" catches, otherwise known asbycatch).

Even worse for these whales: scientists believe that the Koreanpopulation of minke whales is in serious decline. Research published bythe well-respected Royal Society shows not only that minke whales inJapanese and Korean waters are declining; but that they will continueto decline even if hunting does not resume, due to these high levels of"accidental" bycatch - and the IWC scientists agree.

It has also been revealed that Korea is, again on the quiet, proposingto build a whale processing factory in the very city where the IWC isto be held, which could be indicative that, like Japan, they intend topursue whaling and brand it "science".

More information

For more information on our presence in Korea and the "Whale Embassy", check out our weblog.