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Greenpeace attempts to stop whaling off the coast of Antarctica.

Antarctic whaling

In 1994, a sanctuary for whales was set in the Antarctic Ocean area. But since 1987, the Japanese government has conducted an annual whale hunt in the Antarctic under the guise of "scientific" whaling.

In fact the announcement of the was met by an increase in the "scientific" catch in the Antarctic by 100 whales that year.

At the June 2005 IWC meeting, the Japanese government announced plans to add endangered Antarctic fin and humpback whales to the growing list of great whale species hunted each year and to double its catch of minke whales.

In December of 2007, in the face of public outcry and diplomatic pressure from the US and Australia in particular, the government announced a temporary back-down on plans to kill 50 humpbacks in the 2007-2008 season.

Weird science

So what is wrong with a "scientific" whale hunt?

Professor Toshio Kasuya, of Teikyo University of Science and Technologyin Japan, gave his analysis in the Mainichi Shinbun newspaper inOctober 2005.

"The annual expenses of the research program amount toaround 6 billion yen, or more than US$50 million, of which 5billion yen is covered by the sales of whale meat produced from thecatch by the scientific whaling. Government subsidy and other fundingmake up the remaining 1 billion yen.

Without the earnings from the meatsales, the whaling organization that undertakes thegovernment-commissioned research program would be unable to continueoperation, and the shipping company that provides the fleet for theprogram would not be able to recover costs for whaling vesselconstruction.

This is nothing other than an economic activity. It leaves no room forresearchers to carry out research based on their own ideas. Itcertainly does not conform to the scientific purpose authorized by theConvention."

An increasing problem for the industry is the declining appetite forwhale meat in Japan, resulting in a public relations offensive toconvince the public that whaling is culturally and economicallyimportant to Japan.

It is also claimed that whales eat too manyfish and threaten the conservation of fish stocks - an assertion forwhich there is no scientific basis.

Professor Kasuya says, "The Institute of Cetacean Research argues thatlethal research is the only appropriate method to collect the neededdata. But examination of biopsy samples reveals the amount of blubberor reproductive rate, and analysis of faeces provides information onwhat whales are eating."

Going to the polls

The fact is, whale meat is a luxury food in Japan - and has been forseveral decades. An opinion poll conducted in 1999 showed that only 11percent of Japanese adults support whaling, with a similar number of 14percent of Japanese adults opposing it.

More recently, according to the Japanese Hamburger Association,Japanese people eat 40 times more hamburger than they do whalemeat.

This is not just because of the influx of Ronald McDonald -the Washington Post reported in 2005 that "last year, the [whaling]industry put 20 percent of its 4000-ton haul into frozen surplus."

Research by the Japanese Bureau of Statistics suggests that theconsumption of beef, pork and chicken was rising, and that of whalemeat dropping, from as early as the mid-1960s.

Whaling in Norway and Iceland

Japan is not the only place where whaling  - "scientific" orotherwise - is conducted. Norway resumed commercial whaling in1993 and Iceland announced, after a 14 year hiatus, that it wouldresume "scientific" whaling in August 2003. (Iceland had previouslyended its illegal commercial hunt in 1989 following worldwide boycottsand economic pressure.) Both countries want to export whale meat toJapan.

A resumption of international trade in whale products would havefar-reaching implications. Pirate whalers will have an even greaterincentive to hunt whales covertly, as it will become easier for them tosmuggle illegal whale meat into Japan.

Even with the current trade banin place, illegal whale meat from both abundant and endangered speciesof whales is regularly discovered on sale in Japan.

Solutions - Whale Sanctuaries and Whale Watching

Whale sanctuaries are places of refuge, off-limits to whaling, wherewhale populations can breed, feed and continue their slow recovery fromyears of exploitation. Sanctuaries offer critical opportunities topromote whale conservation and real, non-lethal scientific research.

Sanctuaries can also offer attractive economic benefits. They aid thedevelopment of whale watching, the only economic form of activityinvolving whales which is actually sustainable.

And we're not the onlyones who like the idea - whale watching is a thriving industry, withmore than 87 countries running whale watching operations , andgenerates US$1 billion in revenue worldwide each year.

But whaling is impacting the whale-watch industry in a negative way.When Iceland resumed whaling, whale watching bookings dropped by 90percent.

The Iceland Whale Watching Association blamed this onIceland's whaling industry and called for an end to whaling. The plansfor large-scale whaling were shelved and the whale watching industry isrecovering.

Many coastal nations have benefited from the development of whalewatching operations. For instance, the Dominican Republic alone netsUS$5.2 million from its eco-tourism, an industry that was given a boostby the creation of the Silver Bank Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary.

InAustralia, the last whale was caught in Albany in 1978. Since then,Albany has transformed the former Cheynes Beach Whaling Station into ahigh profile whale watching site, attracting more than 1.3 millionvisitors.

More resources

Photos, videos, factsheets and news stories on Antarctic whaling

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