Monday, July 26, 2004

Commercial whaling likely to be approved at IWC

Two reasons: Japan has been buying the votes of small countries (Taiwanese-style diplomacy, lately practiced by China also...); secondly, the US has just given its support to Japan's proposal to reintroduce commercial whaling of minke whales according to the Japan Times.

Before that development, Alex Higgins of Bring on the Revolution had already written about the probable resumption of whaling in his most recent post. (I reproduce the whole item here because I can't link directly to it.)

Whales are once again under threat from rogue states – the states in question being Japan, Iceland and Norway who are set to defy international opinion and ram harpoons into some of the world’s most intelligent creatures to make products out of their body fat.    
   Whales have been protected to an extent by an 18-year international moratorium on their slaughter by the International Whaling Commission – but it looks like this is about to change as the rogue states are set to get the votes they need to rev up the harpoons once more.
   For once, the US, Britain and Australia are on the right side of an international issue and their representatives have kept the ban in place, but the pattern of votes is changing.  Originally the IWC had 30 members, now it has 57 and new countries such as the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu and the West African semi-state of the Ivory Coast are joining.  Many of these smaller, poorer nations do not engage in whaling of any kind and have no intention of doing so, but they are voting to lift the moratorium.  Something smells, and it’s not the dead whales.
   Rather, the Japanese government has been engaged in intensive efforts to persuade poorer countries to help break the international ban on whaling.  They have done this with the same method the US used to get such countries to support the Gulf War - a mixture of bribery and blackmail.  Poorer countries are often at the mercy of economic aid for the G8 states, and this is the Japanese government’s tool of choice to win them round on the whaling issue.
   In Japan, the right to kill marine wildlife has become a nationalist issue.  The pro-whaling lobby is led by Masayuki Komatsu who regards whales in roughly the same way as Margaret Thatcher regards the Irish Republican Army.  Komatsu is described in the London Independent (July 19th) as “an ultra-nationalist and career diplomat at the Ministry of Agriculture”.  He once advised the captains of whaling ships that they should “blow Greenpeace boats out of the water” (as French intelligence once did).
   Mr. Komatsu argues not only that there are sufficient whales to hunt them, but that there are so many they are endangering fish, and that whales are “the cockroaches of the sea”.  This view prevails within Japan’s Liberal Democrat Party (which is almost always in power).
   Japan currently kills around 500 whales each year in the Antarctic Ocean by using a legal loophole which permits the killing of whales for scientific research.  Quite what research is being done by eating whales in restaurants is anyone’s guess – this is probably illegal but it’s what happens.  The hunting looks set to extend into the North Pacific next year.
   It is curious to see the argument about eating fish come up again, as it did when the Canadian government went ahead with the Spring seal slaughter.  Again, aside from the fact that many species of whale do no eat fish, it is people who are eating the fish, and furthermore doing so out of choice rather than necessity.  Blaming whales for eating fish is discredited here.
   Whales are not cockroaches – they are among the most intelligent creatures on the planet.  The means of hunting them – firing harpoons with explosives into a whale’s body – is, to say the least, outrageously cruel.  They literally bomb the whale.  And as Sir David Attenborough points out, “the hard, scientific, dispassionate evidence [shows] there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea.”  In its 2002 hunt, Norway found that 1 in 5 whales failed to die instantaneously, while Japan found this to be the case for 60% of harpooned whales in 2002-3.
Don't bomb the whale!

   This is not just bad news for whales, as the International Fund for the Welfare of Animals says: "This isn’t just about whales. It’s about fighting for the right of smaller nations to make informed choices without being bullied."
  So. it looks like we have to bring those Save the Whale T-shirts out again.  Sigh… but then we might not have expected to have to argue against torture either – it’s a strange century.  No rest for the wicked, as some say.
Excellent stuff from Alex as always. I want to add a few brief footnotes. First, the Liberal Democratic Party (Jiminto: 自民党) may soon be out of power, since Japan seems to be moving towards a two-party system like France, Germany, the US or the UK, with the rise of the DPJ (民主党, Minshuto), which is somewhat more liberal overall. I don't think it's going to help whales much, unfortunately, since Japanese elites seem set on pleasing nationalists by catching whales (this is the second point) despite reported lack of demand. Apparently not all of the whale-meat produced now can be sold. Perhaps (third point) it will be forced on children in their school dinners as it used to be before the moratorium on whaling. People I've met who experienced this were not generally very keen on repeating the experience: whale-meat is reportedly fatty and chewy, not a winning combination.

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