Caribbean nation St Kitts to host a disaster for whales

Japan poised to control the International Whaling Commission

Feature story - 13 June, 2006
The international body charged by the UN with protecting the whales is about to be taken over by the world's most consistently and aggressively pro-whaling government. How could this happen? In an environmentally aware world, why are we seeing a roll back of 20 years of progress on such a fundamental issue? The answer lies is in a tangle of politics, economics and international bureaucracy, and reveals there might be hope for the future of the whales after all.

Humpback whale and calf

The reality of vote buying

The main reason behind this reversal is the Japanese government'sdetermined, and expensive, vote buying program.  Japan has one ofthe world's largest economies (third globally by purchasing power), andit is no secret Japan leverages foreign aid for political gain. As reported recently in the Taipei Times:

Earlier this year it [Japan] pledgedmore than US$1 million to the Pacific island of Tuvalu, a pro-whalingIWC member, and has reached similar deals with Nauru and Kiribati andother desperately poor countries in the Pacific. Last week it isbelieved to have offered a large aid package to other Pacificcountries. It has also invited the heads of state of seven Africancountries and eight Caribbean and Central American countries to visitTokyo in the last year. All are expected to vote with Japan at St Kitts.

At least US$300 million was given last year to Antigua, Dominica,Grenada, Panama, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and St Kittsand Nevis.

(Friday, Jun 02, 2006)

Japan's whalers are so certain their control of the IWC is assured,last whaling season they increased their self allotted Antarctic quotato a maximum of 945 whales - including 10 endangered fin whales (secondin size only to blue whales).  

In the 2007/8 it goes higher as they up the number of fin to 50, andadd another 50 endangered humpbacks on top of that.  The whalersalready catch so many whales there isn't room on their factory ship forall the meat, and a refrigerated cargo ship is sent to the Antarctic totake boxes of whale meat back to Japan.  Even still, they dumptons of whale overboard - taking home only the more profitablecuts.  After all, why not?  Who is there to tell themotherwise?  Up till now, the IWC has regularly condemned Japan'sso called "scientific" whaling, but with the whaler's in control itwill more likely pat them on the back.

Governments stand up to whaling

Some of the governments that helped enact the Southern Ocean WhaleSanctuary (1994) and moratorium on commercial whaling (1986) have, infact, tried to protect these gains. This past year 17 nations(including Brazil, Australia and the UK) issued a strongly wordeddiplomatic demarche pointing out:

"Japan is now killing more whales inthe Antarctic every year than it killed for scientific research in the31 years prior to the introduction of the moratorium on commercialwhaling."

The governments further expressed "grave concerns" that the ongoinghunt, "will undermine the long-term viability," of both fin andhumpback whales.  

But it looks like this strong diplomatic action, and ministerial levelvisits to some new IWC members, will not be enough to keep Japan fromtaking over.  The reality is that the Japanese government haschosen to spend more money and political capital on whaling thangovernments in favour of protecting the whales.  There is on somelevels probably a disbelief that the whalers can win back control ofthe IWC - intuitively it just doesn't make sense considering the messthey made of it before sanity prevailed in the early eighties. But for years now the warning signs have been clear.  No matterwhat happens at this year's meeting, it should be a wake up call forthe conservation minded governments of the world.

So who is there left to stop whaling?

Mostly the people reading these words.  From here on it's largelydown to us.  And around the world individuals are banding togetherin common cause to defend the whales.  During the last whalingseason we took on Nissui - one of the world's largest seafood companiesand also a one-third shareholder in Kyodo Senpaku, which owns andoperates the whaling fleet.  

Across the planet, Nissui subsidiaries heard from angry shoppers. Organizations like the Humane Society and Environmental InvestigationsAgency joined in. Greenpeace Ocean Defenders sent a total of 100,000emails to Nissui-related companies. And Nissui lost seafood supplycontracts in Argentina after Ocean Defenders placed stickers denouncingwhaling on Nissui products in supermarkets and sent more than 20,000emails.  

Before the whaling season was over, Nissui had decided to get out ofthe whaling industry because, as reported in the Nikkan Kugyo Shimbun(Daily Industry):

"Overseas subsidiaries are having bigproblems. As our business has globalized, whaling has become a hiddenrisk", said Mr. Naoya Itagaki, the president of Nissui which takes thebrunt of the criticisms against its involvement in whaling because oftheir share holding position in Kyodo-Senpaku.

(June 8th 2006, morning edition, Greenpeace translation)

In reality, Nissui's move was simply good business sense.  Asidefrom international pressure, demand for whale meat has plummeted, evenin Japan.  Stockpiles of whale meat there have nearly doubled overthe last decade to 5,000 tonnes.  There's so much unwanted whalemeat that it's being sold as doggie treats, and an expanded schoollunch program is in the works - with the hope of getting Japanese kidsused to eating it.  The whaling industry in Norway is experiencingsimilar difficulties.

Would Japan's take over of the International Whaling Commission be adisastrous setback for the whales?  Yes.  But would it be theend of the story?  We will see about that.

For updates from our delegates in St Kitts see the Defending Our Oceans political blog.

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