The anti-whaling movement hit its peak in 1986, when the International Whaling Commission banned all commercial whaling. Despite the ruling, however, the privately funded Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan has continued whaling by exploiting a loophole in the moratorium that allows some whaling for research purposes. But now, in a report by the government-run Fisheries Agency of Japan, the country has publicly considered ending its whaling efforts in the Antarctic Ocean (aka Southern Ocean), according to Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan’s five national newspapers.
This week’s crucial whaling meeting continues until Friday has come and gone, but the result is… nothing.
As we reported last week, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was ready to consider a proposal to lift a quarter-century-old moratorium on whaling, in exchange for agreements from whaling nations like Japan, Norway, and Iceland to reduce their catches over the coming decade.
Whaling in Antarctic waters, where Japan hunts hundreds of whales each year, would have been sharply curtailed. But that became the major sticking point in the talks. Delegates said that Japan and antiwhaling nations could not reach agreement on the size of the catch and that Tokyo had balked at agreeing to eventually phase out the hunt altogether [The New York Times].
The talks will continue into next year while some whaling continues under loopholes in the old rules. But given the present impasse it seems like the IWC nations are a long way from agreeing on anything.
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Image: Flickr/ Rene Ehrhardt
And now, a sordid story about whaling.
This weekend, The Sunday Times of London published an expose charging the Japanese government with using foreign aid, cash, and even call girls to bribe nations on the International Whaling Commission into voting Japan’s way and supporting the country’s whaling.
Japan denies buying the votes of IWC members. However, The Sunday Times filmed officials from pro-whaling governments admitting:
- They voted with the whalers because of the large amounts of aid from Japan. One said he was not sure if his country had any whales in its territorial waters. Others are landlocked.
- They receive cash payments in envelopes at IWC meetings from Japanese officials who pay their travel and hotel bills.
- One disclosed that call girls were offered when fisheries ministers and civil servants visited Japan for meetings [The Times].
The full story is full of slimy details, like the allegation that Japan paid for Guinea’s IWC membership and that the latter country’s minister demanded a car and spending money, or the Tanzanian minister’s assertion that prostitutes would be made available in exchange for support. But most importantly, the story comes out with a crucial IWC meeting on the horizon. The annual get-together is in Morocco this month, where the nations will debate a possible end to the moratorium that dates back to 1986.
After 24 years of championing a ban on commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will soon weigh a proposal seeking to resume commercial whaling. The plan would let Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt the ocean giants openly despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. In return, whaling nations would agree to reduce their catch “significantly” over 10 years [AFP]. These pro-whaling nations have kept up their hunts either by officially objecting to the moratorium or by insisting that they’re killing whales for scientific research.
The proposal is due to be submitted before the body’s annual meeting in June in Morocco, leading some conservationists to complain that the IWC should “save whales, and not whaling.” The details of the proposal will made public on Earth day–April 22. Calling the withdrawal of the ban “the best chance to fight overfishing of these animals,” U.S Commissioner to the IWC Monica Medina said: “It’s a global problem, and needs global solutions” [Washington Post].
Making its case to pull back the ban, the IWC said that during the last few decades whale populations have substantially rebounded–with bowhead whale populations off Alaska increasing to between 8,200 and 13,500, eastern Pacific gray whale numbers rising to between 21,900 and 32,400 in 1999, and blue whale populations also rising. Conservationists, however, are seething, pointing out that 1,800 to 2,200 whales continue to be killed each year. “It’s great to be showing success, but should we be planting the flag and saying, ‘We’re there’?” asked Howard Rosenbaum, who directs the ocean giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “We’re not out of the woods yet” [Washington Post].
Is Paul Bethune a pirate? Bethune is an anti-whaling activist who boarded a Japanese whaling vessel on Monday, demanding to make a citizen’s arrest of the skipper; he reportedly planned to charge the skipper with attempted murder due to the collision between the whaling boat and the activists’ powerboat, the Ady Gil, last month. Not just that, he also slapped a bill on the captain, seeking $3 million dollars for the damage caused to the Ady Gil.
Bethune is now being held in the whalers’ custody, and may be tried in a Japanese court for charges of trespassing and assault. But one expert suggests that he also faces the possibility of being viewed as a pirate–for not just boarding a vessel illegally, but also making demands for money.
This incident is the latest in an escalating series of skirmishes on the high seas between anti-whaling activists of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, of which Bethune is a member, and the Japanese whaling industry. The whaling wars have also intensified a diplomatic tussle between Japan and Australian and New Zealand, with the Kiwis demanding a halt to the hunting and the Australian government saying it hasn’t ruled out the prospect of taking legal action against the whalers after gathering evidence that it’s presenting to the International Whaling Commission [BusinessWeek].
You could’ve seen this one coming a mile away—the high seas tensions between Japanese whalers and the environmental groups that harass them degenerated into downright naval warfare this week. A Japanese whaling ship collided with a environmental group’s boat in waters near Antarctica yesterday, sparking finger-pointing, international bickering, and even more bad blood.
The collision late yesterday damaged the Ady Gil, a powerboat that is part of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society protest against the Japan’s annual whaling expedition to the Southern Ocean. Six crew members were rescued by another protest vessel and the boat may sink, Sea Shepherd said in a statement [Business Week]. The governments of Australia and New Zealand say they plan to investigate the crash; the Ady Gil is registered in New Zealand, which opposes the Japanese whaling.
As the International Whaling Commission wound down this week with no progress made on the stalemate between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations, some experts are beginning to question the commission’s central tool: the moratorium on commercial whaling established more than 20 years ago.Some experts wonder whether the ban is really protecting the world’s whale populations. Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” program is a loophole in the ban, and the program is widely seen as a cover for commercial whaling. Japan catches more than 1,000 whales a year, and most cetacean researchers argue that whale populations exist at only a fraction of their former abundance and are far from large enough to sustain commercial harvesting for meat or oil — or even the culling of some 1,000 whales a year for science. Australia, a party to the IWC, campaigned this year to end any “scientific whaling” that involves the deliberate killing of whales [Science News].
A report released by the commission on Monday also states that a quarter of the whales harvested from the Antarctic Ocean in the last seven months by Japanese researchers were pregnant. To many, the destruction of these whales and their unborn calves makes a mockery of the moratorium on whaling, given that the goal of the ban is to preserve whale populations. However, the Japanese Whaling Association contends on its Web site that “No whales have ever been hunted to extinction, nor are they likely to be. . . . [And] there are species which are abundant enough that marine management is needed,” such as for the Antarctic and northwestern Pacific minke whales and northwestern Pacific Bryde’s whales [Science News].
Behind closed doors, members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) have been discussing a proposal that would give give Japan the right to hunt whales in its coastal waters. IWC officials say the controversial proposal is a compromise measure, as Japan would also have to agree to limit its hunts in the Southern Ocean, but opponents say it amounts to an official sanction of Japan’s whale hunts. The International Fund for Animal Welfare argues that the proposal is part of a dangerous drift towards commercial whaling in the 21st century.”This is Whalergate,” the global director of the fund’s whale program, Patrick Ramage, said [Sydney Morning Herald].
The proposal was put forward by American commission member William Hogarth, a Bush appointee, who has argued that a compromise is necessary to keep Japan from withdrawing from the commission. In recent years, the whaling commission … has been deadlocked between the anti- and pro-whaling camps. Rather than setting a clear direction for conserving and managing whale populations worldwide, its meetings have become contentious donnybrooks in which the two sides have competed for influence while little changed. Worldwide, three countries — Japan, Iceland and Norway — continue to hunt whales, either in the name of research or, in Norway’s case, under a commercial exception established more than 20 years ago [Washington Post].