I originally posted this in September but as the Japanese whaling fleet once again prepares to enter Antarctic waters to slaughter whales I feel a need to update this post.
I’m sure by now you have heard about the controversy over Japanese whaling, but just what is going on?
This past season, the Japanese fleet, operated by the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), killed 507 whales out of a quota of 1035. The ICR claims it’s due to harassment by The Seas Shepherd Conservation Society(SSCS).* Despite these and other efforts Japan has been able to kill over 7000 whales in the past 20 years. Compare this to the 840 whales taken for scientific research in the 31 years before the moratorium and it sure seems suspicious that as soon as commercial whaling is banned that the number of “scientific” catches sky rocket.
Anti-whaling nations and groups say that the Japanese catch is illegal and exploiting a loophole in the 1986 Moratorium on commercial whaling enacted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and adding insult to murder they are doing it in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
The ICR says it is hunting for scientific research which is allowed by the 1986 moratorium.
Yet, they seem to be primarily researching data that directly relates to furthering commercial fishing and whaling.
The ICR’s four stated objectives are
(1)Estimation of biological parameters to improve the stock management of the Southern Hemisphere minke whale
(2)Examination of the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem,
(3)Examination of the effect of environmental changes on cetaceans and,
(4)Examination of the stock structure of the Southern Hemisphere minke whales to improve stock management, size, population density, and feeding habits
But, I think Takanori Nagatomo, deputy director at the Far Seas Fisheries Division in Japan,said it much more clearly, if not more bluntly, when he said, “We have been engaging in research whaling to collect scientific data so we can resume commercial whaling.”
This involves killing the whale for analysis of stomach contents and other internal organs such as ovaries to examine reproduction rates, and ear plugs for age verification. Once the data points are collected, the bulk of the carcass is butchered and packaged on board their factory ship for sale in Japan (international sales are illegal) as dictated by IWC convention which says that scientific catches must “so far as practicable be processed.”
But, the meat isn’t always sold through legal channels where the money goes to offset the cost of the operations and pay back subsidy loans. Theft of meat is allegedly rampant, according to two whalers-turned-whistle-blowers, and involves both crewmen and ICR staff members and in a price controlled market(4200 tons are in storage as of 2008) it can be quite lucrative. In 2009, Whale meat illegally sold to an undercover documentary film crew in a Los Angeles restaurant, The Hump, was determined through DNA test to be identical to whale meat purchased in Japan in 2007 & 2008 and most assuredly came from Japan’s “scientific” hunts. Whale meat illegally sold at a Seoul restaurant was also determined to be from the Japanese catch.
The necessity of lethal research is questioned by a vast number of scientists around the world and by the IWC which has issued over 30 resolutions that “expressed its opinion that Special Permit whaling should: be terminated and scientific research limited to non-lethal methods only (2003-2); refrain from involving the killing of cetaceans in sanctuaries (1998-4); ensure that the recovery of populations is not impeded (1987); and take account of the comments of the Scientific Committee (1987).”
The Southern Ocean Research Partnership, comprised of 13 different nations including Australia, New Zealand, and France, have their own non-lethal research program in which biopsies are taken, tracking devices used, and fecal samples examined. They have obtained usable population data and have the full approval of the IWC and offer up their model as an example of a viable alternative to the lethal research.
The value and self-serving nature of the data the ICR is producing has been questioned by many scientists. Dr. Nick Gales, head of Australia’s scientific delegation to the IWC, commented on an analysis of 43 research papers produced by Japan over an 18 year period, describing the research as “really bizarre and strange experiments with sheep and pigs and eggs,” he said. “It’s totally esoteric; very strange indeed.”
All of this comes at a hefty financial cost to the Japanese citizen. It’s estimated that the Japanese government has subsidized the whale hunts to the tune of $164 million since 1988. Japan has the highest Government subsidies for fisheries in the world, this adds to the problem of the profit motive to exploit whales. The Japan Times reported “as of 2007, almost ¥441.8 billion is handed out each year by the Fisheries Agency of Japan. Fish are thus caught and sold at an artificially low price, since the government covers some operating costs, thus encouraging overfishing — what economists will recognize as a tragedy of the commons.”
It seems obvious to me that Japan’s whaling is a thinly disguised commercial whaling/tax swindle program with the stated intention of justifying a full return to commercial whaling. What do you think?
*The issues of the SSCS are many and varied which I will not go into at this time, but for counter balance to this claim and other controversies about SSCS please visit SouthernFriedScinece. They were also gracious enough to post this pro-SSCS response by Craig Nazor. While I have a belief in the necessity and justice of direct action or intervention to save cetacean and other lives and applaud SSCS’s past success in sinking a number of whaling vessels and preventing numerous deaths directly, I think any intellectually honest animal rights supporter should seriously consider some of the more recent controversy and questions surrounding Sea Shepherd and their integrity.
**Update: It now appear the Japanese have at least temporarily conceded to the SSCS and called off the whale hunt for this season. Final kill count is not out as of yet but lets hope its well below last years, as it appears to be by preliminary reports. Even the folks over at Southern Fried Science are cautiously celebrating. Good work Sea Shepherd, stay vigilant and keep up the pressure, this is what direct confrontation and intervention (rather than media hoaxes) can accomplish!