Whaling is wrong.
Well, that's what my heart tells me.
Growing up in Australia, you come to believe that the whale is a special creature – a highly intelligent mammal with complex human-like social patterns.
Japan was forced to call off its scientific whaling program in the Southern Ocean earlier this year due to constant attacks from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessels.
But the Japanese government recently confirmed that the program will resume later this year. Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano has said extra ships will be sent to guard against harassment from Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd has responded by announcing a new "campaign" with the provocative title of "Operation Divine Wind" (divine wind being kamikaze in Japanese, which has sensitive WW2 connotations).
This Saturday, the Sea Shepherd is holding a fundraiser, "A Night With The Captain," to help finance their upcoming battle against Japanese whalers. “They will have to kill us to prevent us from intervening once again,” says Sea Shepherd founder, Capt Paul Watson.
Sea Shepherd Australia director Jeff Hansen says they won’t be deterred by Japan’s heightened defenses. "It won't change our tactics or our resolve which will be to find the [Japanese] factory vessel and basically block its operations and stop it from being able to transfer dead whales up the slipway,” says Hansen.
The last time I was living in Japan, I found myself debating against the practice of whaling with my Japanese friends. (According to a July/August AP poll, 52% of Japanese are in favor of whaling, with 35% neutral and 13% opposing.) I then conducted some research.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1948 to “provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.” Since then, the number of anti-whaling member nations increased and in 1982 the IWC passed a moratorium (effective from 1986) setting the “catch limits for commercial purposes…[to] zero.”
Japan, among other nations, lodged a formal objection as the prohibition on sustainable commercial whaling was not based on advice from the IWC Scientific Committee. However, Japan later withdrew its objection due to threats from the U.S. to ban Japanese fishing in the exclusive economic zone.
And herein lies the crux of the dispute – a dispute still raging in the year 2011. The West sees the moratorium as a moral victory for the protection of whales. (How ironic that the IWC Scientific Committee was stifled by anti-whaling nations in the formulation of the moratorium and Japan was forced to comply through intimidation.) Japan sees the 1982 moratorium as unjust.
The 1982 moratorium stipulated that: “This provision will be kept under review, based upon the best scientific advice, and by 1990 at the latest, the Commission will undertake a comprehensive assessment of the effects of this decision on whale stocks and consider modification of this provision.”
The political strength of IWC anti-whaling nations has ensured that a scientific review of the moratorium has never taken place.
Hence, Japan began a scientific whaling program to collect data on whale populations. Last whaling season, Japan set its quota at 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales. The IWC has agreed that an annual take of 2000 Antarctic minke whales for 100 years would “not adversely affect stocks.”
From the Japanese perspective, this scientific research is necessary to prove to the IWC that sustainable commercial whaling is not a threat to the survival of the species.
It is plausible that Japan kills whales in conducting this research for two reasons -- not just to carry out the research but also to prevent the collapse of the Japanese whaling industry (through the redundancy of whaling apparatus and political precedence).
It is this second reason that groups like the Sea Shepherd seize upon for public support. The Sea Shepherd website justifies its operations through claims that the Japanese scientific whaling program is for commercial purposes “under the guise of scientific research.”
Yes, Japan is conducting scientific research for the purposes of commercial whaling but the scientific research is not a sham – it is imperative in providing evidence for the (stipulated) review of the 1982 moratorium.
Even the Australian government has been bold enough to call the scientific research a fraud. A joint media release last month from Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Environment Minister Tony Burke said: “The Australian Government condemns Japan's decision to continue whaling in the Southern Ocean this year under the guise of science. Australia remains resolute in its opposition to all commercial whaling, including Japan's so-called 'scientific whaling.'”
There is little, if any, Western acknowledgement about Japan’s legitimate desire to conduct scientific research to provide evidence to the IWC – the scientific research is habitually presupposed as a farce.
Ignorance (and denial) about the actual function of the IWC and the scientifically unfounded rejection of sustainable whaling in the form of the 1982 moratorium shapes the West’s justification for fervent criticism against Japanese scientific whaling.
In reality, the true motivation behind the condemnation of Japanese scientific whaling lies in our cultural affiliation to the whale.
Japan has been backed into a corner and it may be the case that it has been compelled into killing whales during its scientific research in an attempt to save its whaling industry from collapse.
If so, it is a political decision that is perhaps deceitful from the West’s perspective; but a decision equal to that of political maneuvering in the application of the 1982 moratorium and more likely less deceitful than U.S. economic threats against Japan (which were never overturned once Japan eventually agreed to the moratorium).
The act of killing whales to conduct scientific research is not a moral wrong or legal wrong. Only a cultural wrong. And it is only a cultural wrong in our eyes.
I have no answer ... just that my heart is against killing whales.
The author is a double-degree graduate in Japanese and finance at Monash University. He is currently in his final year of journalism at La Trobe University. He previously studied and worked in Japan for 5 years.© Japan Today