Whaling fleet leaves to hunt endangered whales

Feature story - 1 July, 2002
The Japanese whaling fleet left port over the weekend on yet another "scientific" whaling expedition. But this time the whalers are looking for Sei whales, an endangered whale that has not been hunted in more than a quarter of a century.

Sei whale and calf

The whale hunt will last three months in the North Pacific, and in addition to the 50 endangered Sei whales, the whalers plan to catch 150 Minke, 50 Bryde's and 10 Sperm whales.

The whalers have not had long to catch their breath at home. They returned from the Southern ocean in April carrying two thousand tonnes of whale meat for commercial sale caught in a whale sanctuary 6000 miles from Japan.

For the past 15 years, the Fisheries Agency of Japan has subsidised the hunt for whales through a private organisation set up by Japan's whaling industry under the guise of "scientific research".

Exploiting a loophole in the rules of the International Whaling Commission that allows countries to issue permits to kill whales for lethal research, the whale meat from this 'research' ends up for sale on the domestic market at a value of about four billion yen each year.

This is the whaling fleet's third trip to the North Pacific since the Japanese "scientific" whaling programme began, but it is the first time in 26 years that Sei whales will be hunted.

Sei whales were heavily exploited during the last century and are now classified as an endangered species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the US government.

The Fisheries Agency of Japan has defended its "research" whaling as essential to finding out how whales affect the world's fishery resources. But it is already well known that the problems of declining fish stocks are caused by over fishing.

This hunt has nothing to do with science, it is about making money. Last summer's hunt in the North Pacific concentrated on filling the Bryde's whale quota, the species with the highest commercial value.

And money may be the deciding factor that lifts the worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling.

Last month delegates met in Shimonoseki for the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting, not far from where the Japanese whaling fleet was docked making preparations for their departure. After hard lobbying by the Japanese delegation, they were unable to overturn the whaling moratorium, but the Japanese government made a mockery of the democratic process by influencing votes in exchange for foreign aid.

The Fishery Agency of Japan uses fisheries grant aid to buy the votes of developing countries. The strategy has been in place since the early 1990s. Documented evidence includes statements made by high-ranking Japanese officials and the testimony of Prime Minister Lester Bird of Antigua and Barbuda, one of the bought countries.

Bought votes may secure the Government of Japan a simple majority (greater than 50 percent) of countries voting in favour of commercial whaling, not because countries are changing their minds, but because the votes have been bought. If this practice continues unchecked, it is only a matter of time before the Japanese government buys their way into a new era of commercial whaling.

Take action to stop whaling in the North Pacific, send a letter to the Japanese Fisheries Agency and ask them to stop the hunt.