Japanese catcher vessel Nisshin Maru transferring a minke whale to a factory ship in the Southern Ocean.
The five Japanese whaling ships left for their annual Antarctic
whale hunt on November 8 from the port of Shimonoseki, where last
April an IWC (international Whaling Commission) meeting ended in
controversy after Japan and allies tried and failed to overturn the
commercial whaling moratorium. Undaunted by international law, the
whalers are headed for the waters south of Australia and New
Zealand, the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a critical protected
Soundly defeated - again!
On the same day they headed off to go whaling, the Japanese
whaling program received a fresh rebuke. Japanese government
proposals to re-open commercial whaling and trade in minke and
Bryde's whales were soundly defeated at the UN CITES (Convention on
the International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting underway in
Santiago, Chile. It's the fourth time such proposals have
Where are the white lab coats?
So who actually conducts the "scientific research"? It's Japan's
whaling industry, through a private organisation subsidised by the
Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ). The research has continued for
more than fifteen years. Evidently, scientific curiosity about
whales was massively piqued in Japan just after their commercial
whaling ended with the 1986 worldwide whaling ban.
"Cockroaches of the sea"
So far this year Japanese whalers have killed 684 whales
including 39 endangered sei whales, as well as minke, Bryde's and
sperm whales. Japan's latest hunt is expected to last until April
2003 and to take 400 minke whales. The Japanese government claims
the so-called research is needed to learn what whales eat. The FAJ
claims whales are responsible for declining Japanese fish landings,
when overfishing and other human activities are the true cause.
"Cockroaches of the sea" is how one Japanese senior fisheries
diplomat referred to minke whales.
But these researchers must have failed "Whale Biology 101",
because they seem ignorant of the most basic facts about their
subjects. On the same hunt last year the whalers caught 440 whales.
"Not one of the 440 whales they caught had eaten fish," said
Greenpeace campaigner John Frizell, "This species does not eat fish
and this has been known for decades."
Just stop the "research", says IWC
The so-called research is supposedly done for the IWC. Yet the
IWC never requested it and they say they don't need the data. They
have even repeatedly asked that the research be cancelled, and
urged Japan to stop issuing scientific permits for the Southern
Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Worryingly, the IWC recently agreed that
Antarctic minke whale numbers are likely much lower than previously
If it's really data these "researchers" want, then the painful
and protracted deaths of harpooned whales are completely
unnecessary. Australian scientists have determined how to learn
about whale diet by analysing whale faeces from live animals, a
methodology which actually yields superior data over time.
Declining support at home
Not killing whales. . . this would present a dilemma for the
Japanese government. For then how would their whaling industry
acquire whale meat, like the two thousand tons brought back from
last year's Antarctic hunt? "Scientific whaling" supplies a
lucrative market in luxury food to Japan. Those tissue samples'
true destinations are store shelves and restaurant tables.
The FAJ is desperate to maintain whale hunting in defiance of
world opinion and its own slumping whale meat market. The FAJ makes
a huge display about the cultural importance of whale meat, but
only four percent of Japanese polled said they ate whale meat
"sometimes" and an additional nine percent ate it "very
"What we are seeing here is a pattern of deceit and desperation
on the part of government officials and pro-whaling interests to
look bigger than they are," said Greenpeace campaigner Richard
Page. Despite government claims that 75 percent of Japanese people
favour a return to commercial whaling under controlled conditions,
polling by a major Japanese newspaper shows that, in fact, only 47
percent of the Japanese public agree with whale hunting. This
number has declined by seven percent since the last poll in