In another sign of Japan’s intention to expand their whaling program, their Parliament today passed a bill which enshrines national funding for the heavily subsidized industry into the future. A spokesman claimed “This bill lays down the necessary matters to carry out scientific research whaling in a stable and continuous way, in order to carry out commercial whaling,”
Japan continues to make several dubious claims around their whaling program. They argue it is a cultural issue for them, however their large-scale commercial whaling never started until after World War 2. Prior to this it had always been small-scale and limited to coastal regions. It is evident within Japan that whaling is increasingly portrayed as a Nationalist issue and mines public discontent over perceived cultural imperialism by Western countries. Japan also propagates the theory that recovering whale populations are eating too many fish. At it’s most basic level the argument is correct – whales do of course eat fish. But whale populations today remain tiny compared with historical numbers. They are also simply part of a balanced and healthy ecosystem.
Japan also says it is unfairly singled out over whaling. “Why have Iceland, Norway and Greenland not seen protests over their whaling programs”, a spokesman queried recently? A key difference however is those countries hunt whales in their own territorial waters. I may not agree with it, but from a legal perspective, given they are not signatories to the IWC, there is limited legal basis to challenge their programs. The Japanese in contrast hunt whales in international waters, and Japan remains a member of the IWC that governs whaling internationally. The IWC established the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary which makes any commercial whaling in Antarctica illegal. So the situation for Japan is far different from that of the European whaling nations.
When Australia and New Zealand won their court case in the International Court of Justice a few years ago, I thought we’d seen the last of Japan’s whaling in Antarctica. The following year Japan’s harpoon vessels remained home, but since then have sadly resumed their annual pilgrimage South to hunt whales. With this recent move by Japan, it would seem Japan is more intent than ever to resume full scale commercial whaling.
By Captain Pete Bethune