Greenpeace volunteers sail to mark the launch of the IWC (International Whaling Commission) opening in Sorrento , Italy this week
Since 1987, the Japanese government has conducted an annual
whale hunt in the Antarctic under the guise of "scientific"
whaling. It has also embarked on a dodgy vote-buying scheme to
shift the balance of power at the world body that controls whaling
- the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Now Japan has gone
one step further and threatened to go and find its own pro-whaling
friends if it can't get its own way at the IWC. Nice try but no
Let's first look at this vote-buying scam. Since the Japanese
government seemingly can't play well with others in the oceans
playground, Japan has had to buy friends. Basically, it offers
fisheries aid to poor coastal countries in exchange for their
support of Japan's whaling policies. Kind of like throwing lunch
money around to avoid being the loser in the schoolyard.
Japan has managed to convince a few of the small kids it's a
good idea though, it has bought 16 friends at the IWC in this way,
including six eastern Caribbean states (Antigua and Barbuda,
Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St
Kitts and Nevis), the Solomon Islands and Guinea. All of these
countries regularly attend IWC meetings and speak in favour of a
resumption of commercial whaling, voting with Japan on all
occasions. In fact Antigua's former prime minister was pretty open
about the whole deal. "I make no bones about it ... if we are able
to support the Japanese and the quid pro quo is that they are going
to give us some assistance ... that is part of why we do so," he
said in 2001.
As a result of this strategy Japan has already been able to
block measures at the IWC. Last year this minority prevented the
creation of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary (SPWS), largely due to
the votes cast against the proposal by Japan and the eastern
plot thickens when we look at just how much "lunch money" Japan's
so-called friends are getting. The construction budgets of some of
the relevant fisheries projects have been judged by economists as
greater than could be justified by the actual facilities being
built. Interestingly, the facilities were also commonly located in
the constituencies of influential politicians ... and not according
to any plan for the development of the fisheries sector.
Now, after they realise that their little friends at the IWC
can't be guaranteed to support them if they don't cough up the
lunch money, Panama being the most recent example, Japan is once
again threatening to pack up and go and find its real friends - in
a new pro-whaling alliance. It also says in any case it may
withhold part of its subscription to the IWC, in protest at its
conservation work. In reality it's a bit like threatening to take
your ball home if you don't like the rules of the game.
Japan has also invested heavily in a public relations offensive
designed to convince the public that whaling is culturally and
economically important to Japan, and that whales eat too many fish
and threaten the conservation of fish stocks - a claim for which
there is absolutely no scientific basis.
The truth is that whale meat is a luxury food in Japan. Whale
meat may have been an important source of protein in an
impoverished Japan after World War Two, but it has become a gourmet
food over the last few decades.
Japan also continually tries to convince everyone that it's good
in science class - "scientific" whaling is ok, right? However in
2002 it announced its intention to hunt sei whales which are
endangered. Not to mention the fact that its "research" is
decidedly dubious - "by-products" of the research are sold at a
profit, and it has been conducting the same "research" on the same
whale species for over 10 years! These facts have been recognised
by the US government and various members of the IWC. In fact, the
whole purpose of their "research" appears to be to promote whaling.
They have even said it themselves: "Data from the hunt will be used
in whale population and migration studies to build a case for
"resuming use of this natural resource," said a statement from the
Institute of Cetacean Research, the government-affiliated centre in
charge of the program. One of their main arguments is that whales
are the cause of depletion of fish stocks and therefore should be
culled. However, far from being the cause of such depletion, whales
and other cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises are the victims
of overfishing - it upsets the marine ecosystems, removes food
sources, and, even worse, threatens accidental death through
entanglement in fishing gear and trawler nets.
In 2003 the IWC's Scientific Committee estimated that bycatch
(the incidental capture of cetaceans in fishing gear) could be
killing 300,000 cetaceans a year. Some species and populations,
such as the North Atlantic right whale, the baiji, the vaquita, and
Western Pacific population of gray whale, are likely to become
biologically extinct this century unless drastic action is taken to
address the environmental threats responsible.
Sadly, if the present schoolyard bullying and dodgy vote buying
trend goes unchecked, the IWC will once again sanction commercial
whaling, putting the world's remaining whales at risk.
BBC News: Whales 'absolved' on fish stocks
the Iceland pledge