BY: AOIFE RYAN
While the vast majority of the public presume the 1960s Save the Whales movement solved the plight of the largest mammal, Japan is planning on rolling out a virtual killing scheme next year in international waters. Who could blame the public for being, for the most part, oblivious? Was there not an international moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, following a few decades worth of fighting the opposition to the outdated tradition? Yet operating on the basis of a clumsy loophole in the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) 1986 regulation, Japanese whalers have been technically legally hunting whales in international seas under the guise of “scientific research.”
With the International Court of Justice’s discovery that over 3,600 minke whales have been killed and sold as commercial food since 2005, with no scientific findings produced, Japan temporarily halted the industry’s hunt. This was no move towards joining a conservation coalition however—Japan’s government has been merely collecting itself and biding its time to relaunch its whaling program under an ever so slightly different method of operation. In 2016, they will re-enter international waters to hunt whales with the defence that “famous scientists from home and abroad” are working on the program, and only 333 minke whales would be killed, while other whale species would not be harmed at all. As The New York Times ascertains, “the plan is a variation on the same evasion of treaty obligations, just as Japan’s insistence on ‘science’ as its prime motive rings hollow in a field where experts say nonlethal research already suffices.” Not to mention that only Iceland and Norway are left as commercial whalers (and only within their own waters). So how has global condemnation of Japan’s unethical whaling not led to cessation of the activity? With so many multinational boards and committees established in order to protect the mammal in question, how is nobody stopping this?
Operating on the basis of a clumsy loophole in the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) 1986 regulation, Japanese whalers have been technically legally hunting whales in international seas under the guise of “scientific research.”
Two of the most outspoken opposers to Japan’s whaling industry are Australia and New Zealand, both taking the “not in my backyard” approach to the controversial issue. Given that Japan hunts in the Southern Ocean, in what is considered to be the world’s largest feeding ground and a sanctuary for the various species of whales populating it, it’s evident why Australia and New Zealand find the choice of hunting grounds so objectionable. Backed by the government and various local mayors, the Sea Shepard organization actively defends the waters under threat against Japanese ships. Yet if superpowers—and the US in particular—took an incorrigible stance against Japan’s current attempt to evade the international rulings, the ongoing stand-off may finally approach some resolution. Anti-whaling activists have sought out a US injunction against whaling in Antartica.
To muddle the subject matter more, less than 5% of Japan’s public actually eat whale, but a relatively high 60% back whaling for scientific purposes. It seems the promotion of cultural tradition and national identity in relation to whaling has helped the Japanese government fix whaling as a national heritage and legacy in the minds of many Japanese citizens. What in turn does the government get if the consumer percentage is so low, you may ask? Not only does it keep the boutique-market for food delicacies such as whale alive, and therefore presumably grow profits from what it once was historically, but it also provides a great tool for politicians looking to prove their defiance against Westernization and foreign influence on Japanese culture. Well-known pro-whaling backers have featured whale stir-frys, airing them across the country.
Though less than 5% of Japan’s public actually eat whale, this provides a boutique-market for food delicacies. To prove their defiance against foreign influence on Japanese culture, well-known pro-whaling TV personalities have publicly aired whale meat across the country.
Since the news that Japan will recommence the hunt, each pro-whaling agency has been demonstrating their strength in not kowtowing to international force, as it is being portrayed on the home front. There is also a widespread belief that foreign bodies are inappropriately basing their negative associations of whaling on emotional anthropomorphism—the concept that nonhumans have human feelings and characteristics, and therefore should be respected and treated as such. If not seen as sentient beings, of course there will be no national outcry against the slaughter of these creatures. This cultural difference opens up a whole other sphere of problematic questions that need to be dealt with legally on a worldwide front. It in turn raises the highly controversial question of what is to be done in relation to the mammals not even covered by current legislation against sea hunting, such as dolphins and small whales. As the contentious Taiji dolphin bay hunt debate has shown—heavily documented by the media globally in the last few years—it is not only whales at stake in international seas.
Within the next year, the global stage is set to tackle one of the most diplomatically charged fights regarding conservation. If Japan’s passive aggressive attitude towards global influence is not diffused, endangered species will be wiped out in the name of nationalism. What’s more, the nation in question will be left to pick up a heavy bill given the high taxes incurred from whaling already. Unless international law abolishes this latest move by Japan to continue killing whales, and unless the Japanese government can look past the short term political grandstanding benefits this industry provides, it is a lose-lose situation.