April
1st 2014
Could This Be The Start of The End of Commercial Whaling?

Posted under news

It might be finally happening. The tipping point may have arrived which leads to the end of commercial whaling.

For decades, Japan has been sending a fleet of whaling ships to Antarctic waters in the hunt for minke, fin, and humpback whales. Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission BUT, an exception was put into the ruling to cover scientific study. Japan has taken full advantage of this loophole despite a lack of resulting peer-reviewed scientific papers or substantial knowledge and conclusions about whales. Plus, the ‘research’ serves merely as a very thin guise for meat from the whales they have killed to wind up in markets all over Japan, despite a declining taste for it, and freezers full of hundreds of tons of stockpiled whale meat. Their policy basically comes down to ‘let’s kill whales to see how many whales are overabundantly available to kill, and while we’re at it, we’ll just eat them, too.’ (This assumption about minke whale populations has actually been disproved by actual science conducted at Stanford.) Japan even introduced whale meat into school lunches in an attempt to expand younger tastes and renew a market for consumption. (Please read that linked article – Whale meat back on school lunch menus -  so much revealing stuff in a fairly short read.)

Breaching minke whale. Sept 2007 Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

Breaching minke whale. Sept 2007
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary

There is no humane way to kill a whale. It can take half an hour or more for a harpooned whale to die. Since the meat is not necessary for human survival, the additional notion that any animal is subjected to such a horrific end to feed a fading appetite adds another level of nonsens to this whole program.

Their program has been losing money for years. The country has even diverted funds intended to help with tsunami recovery in order to help prop up the whaling program. There have been calls from around the world to end it, but Japan has resisted. I once asked Bill Clinton (while he was campaigning for Hillary in 2007) about bringing pressure to bear on Japan to end whaling. His response was that this was the one topic on which Japan was truly defensive. Japan has claimed both cultural tradition and national pride for continuing on despite diminishing returns.

Australia finally threw down the gauntlet and took Japan to the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ). In a suit filed in 2010, Australia called out the illusion of lethal scientific research being conducted at least partly in an established sanctuary.

Yesterday, the ICJ ruled against Japan’s ‘research’ whaling. The court agreed with Australia that the science program was a sham, and that Japan needed to revoke all permits and not issue new ones for any future Antarctic based whaling. Japan has initially said it will abide by the ruling and cease Antarctic whaling operation. As much as it has relied on arguments for its historical connection to whaling and disliking outside pressure to end it, the combination of factors working against the program could mean that this ruling would be a simple, perhaps even a bit of a graceful, way to bow out from that hunt.

What this does NOT change is Japan’s coastal whaling, which includes the annual dolphin drives into the killing coves of Taiji. It also does not address large whale commercial whaling operations in Norway and Iceland. And, Japan could pull an about face and decide to leave the IWC altogether, which would remove it from accountability to the ICJ. In the meantime, this decision is a monumental step forward towards ending commercial whaling for good.

For a clear summary of what this ruling means, check out this post from Southern Fried Science – Explainer: An end to Japan’s “scientific whaling” program in Antartica. I am pleased and humbled to have been able to contribute a little something to the post. Thanks, David Shiffman!

An additional note… While their methods have been controversial, I think we also owe a debt of gratitude to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Their tireless and often deeply risky pursuit of confronting the Japanese whaling fleet in the Antarctic has ensured that the world knew what was happening down there, and has helped to prevent hundreds of additional large whale deaths.

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