Greenpeace is taking the whaling debate to the Japanese people

Meanwhile, Bush appointees to the International Whaling Commission are attempting to undermine President Obama’s policy on whaling.

Feature story - January 28, 2009
As Greenpeace marks 20 years of non-violent environmental campaigning in Japan this year, we have officially opened a new Communications Center in the northern fishing district of Aomori. We're bringing our message of healthy oceans, whale protection, and sustainable fisheries direct to the people of this port city.

A traditional sake barrel-breaking ceremony marked the launch of the new Center, which is located in the city where the trial of two Greenpeace activists who exposed corruption in the Japanese whaling industry will take place a few months from now.

But even as we're taking our anti-whaling campaign to the next level by targeting the source of demand for whale meat, holdovers from the Bush administration are already attempting to undermine President Obama's forward-thinking foreign policy on whaling.

A change in perspective

The head of the local fisherman's union and one of Aomori's most influential local farmers spoke at our opening ceremony, which was heavily attended by local and national media. Both men spoke of Greenpeace as being misunderstood in Japan but expressed hope that the people of Aomori would take the time to listen and understand the true nature of the organization.

The fisherman, Hirosumi Hamata, noted that we share a common goal in creating sustainable fisheries. He said he had been wary of Greenpeace until he met Wakao, one of our campaigners in Tokyo. Now Hamata says he is keen to see what we have to say and what our Japanese office has planned.

The Aomori Communication Center will be a hub for information and discussion on Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. According to   opinion polls, a majority of the Japanese people don´t support whaling in the Southern Ocean, and nearly 87 percent are unaware that their taxes subsidize the program.

Many Japanese imagine that modern whaling involves small boats hunting individual whales along Japan's coastline. Images of the massive factory vessel, which sails each year to the Antarctic leading a fleet of industrial whaling ships, often come as a shock. Japanese media had paid relatively little attention to the whaling issue until Greenpeace broke the news of the whale meat scandal.

Bush Administration appointees try to strike last-minute deals

The election of Barack Obama was a welcome development for our anti-whaling campaign, as the new American president has said he's committed to ending Japan's whaling program. But U.S. delegates on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) left over from the Bush Administration are attempting to strike a deal that would be a setback in the campaign to save the whales.

According to news reports out of Hawaii, Bush appointees on IWC - Doug DeMaster and commission chairman William Hogarth - participated in closed-door talks with Japanese officials to negotiate a deal that would allow increased whaling off the coast of Japan in return for marginal limits on Japan's illegal commercial whaling program in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The trade-off will not benefit whale conservation and could actually put additional endangered populations at risk.

The deal would run counter to President Obama's commitment to end Japanese whaling. In December of 2007, then-Senator Obama told Greenpeace that "As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable."

"President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have the opportunity to show the world that they're in charge and that the United States is firmly committed to marine conservation by appointing new commissioners to the IWC who will faithfully implement President Obama's foreign policies," said Greenpeace Senior Oceans Campaigner Phil Kline.

While it is vitally important that we counter this new threat at the IWC, our larger purpose remains: to end whaling once and for all. We have re-doubled efforts in Japan, to reduce demand for whale meat and to promote sustainable fishing practices in general.

The door is open

The Greenpeace Communications Center in Aomori is open to the public and is the perfect opportunity for us to reach out to the whole community with our message of healthy oceans and the importance of marine reserves. We will host a series of public events in the coming months including a conference on sustainable fisheries. 

We're out to challenge misinformation about Greenpeace, and remind the people of Japan of campaigns we've run against nuclear waste dumping in Japanese waters, nuclear energy and the genetic contamination of food, among other global sustainability issues that have a special relevance to Aomori.

Free the Tokyo Two

With two of our activists facing the possibility of prison for their role in defending the whales, we also want to bring to the people of Aomori an understanding of a basic Greenpeace premise: non-violent direct action.

Peaceful, effective action is at the heart and soul of what Greenpeace does, and we'll be doing our best to foster greater understanding of why we take action against environmental crimes, why we bear witness to ecological injustice, and why we risk imprisonment in order to spark the discussions that change a society.

When Greenpeace first brought the world's attention to the whaling issue, the Soviet Union, Brazil, Peru, Chile, and Spain were all whaling nations. Together with other environmental groups, we stopped all of them, with actions on the high seas and efforts at scientific and political forums. We directed public pressure towards a moratorium on commercial whaling that was established in 1982. Nonetheless, Iceland, Norway, and Japan still hunt whales, in defiance of world opinion.

Whaling: Who needs it?

Despite the secretive negotiations taking place between Bush's appointees and the Japanese government, the whaling programs of all three nations - Iceland, Norway, and Japan - are on their last legs. Demand for whale meat continues to plummet, surplus stocks continue to increase, and more and more people in the business and political communities are asking why whalers continue to enjoy subsidies for research nobody needs to obtain whale meat nobody wants.

In December, we brought the last captain of an Australian whaling vessel to Tokyo to talk about how his country, his town, and he himself made the transition away from whaling. "There is life after whaling," he said.

That's one of the visions we want to promote in Aomori and at the IWC -- a recognition that whaling's days are numbered as we look to a future of marine reserves and other measures to protect our Oceans and our Earth.

Take Action

Stop Bush Admin appointees from allowing Japan to kill more whales