Monday, June 20, 2005

Whaling in the Gobi Desert

Breaching Whale 

An article in the Independent today focusses on Japan's efforts to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission. The unsentimental Japanese love whalemeat, and have, over the years, bribed many poor countries to join the commission and vote for a reversal of the ban - including such famous sea-going nations as Mongolia and Mali.

Perhaps it's time that Western anger at Japan's policies found concrete expression? Which Japanese products are most susceptible to boycott? People aren't going to desist from buying a Sony DVD player, but they might choose not to buy a Vaio. Maybe somebody could draw up a list of Japanese products that come in the endangered species category? A few adds featuring a Vaio with a bucket of blood dumped all over it might prove effective. Cultural imperialism of the worse sort, of course, with added xenophobia. But then, the Japanese are threatening something many people believe is precious and irreplaceable.

I wouldn't be surprised if people in a 100 years time look back with horror at the way we treated whales, chimps and other mammals with very sophisticated communication systems. The loss to science of our ability to investigate variations of consciousness would in itself be a tragedy, if whales do employ a form of grammar, as has been hypothesised. Kantian deontology and utilitarianism both call for a more considered approach to whaling, but I'll take pure sentiment if it'll do the job.


Anonymous Zelmire said...

They lost, this time.

Defeated whalers sense tide turning

Tokyo correspondent Peter Alford
June 25, 2005

The anti-whalers' victory in Ulsan, South Korea, this week was Dunkirk, not Normandy.

By the time the International Whaling Commission lurches into the Caribbean statelet of St Kitts and Nevis next June, more whales will have been harpooned than in any 12-month period since the international moratorium on commercial hunting of the sea mammals began in 1986.

A second IWC member, Iceland, may have decided to defy the moratorium. Iceland, which now runs a small scientific program, rejoined the IWC with a reservation for commercial whaling that takes effect next year.

Norway, now the only commercial whaling nation, set a quota of 796 animals this year, the largest in a decade.

And Japan's catch of more than 1300 whales, following the doubling of its controversial Antarctic scientific research program, will be the biggest in 20 years.

Also, the IWC's pro-whaling nations will almost certainly outnumber the anti-whalers at St Kitts, again for the first time since 1986.

Australia, champion of the hardline anti-whalers, or conservation countries as they prefer to be known, will probably have only New Zealand as an ally in the South Pacific.

And partly owing to all the tough talking that federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell used to save the anti-whalers' slim majority this year, Australia is likely to find its small neighbours in an even less co-operative mood.

The conservation countries and anti-whaling non-governmental organisations came to Ulsan fearing their advantage was gone. But thanks in large part to the vigour of Senator Campbell, who visited 13 countries beforehand, their numbers held.

The closest of the important votes, censuring Japan's new Antarctic program, was 30-27.

Though the Japanese are disappointed at falling short in Ulsan, they are not dispirited. They are playing a long game - even if they were to gain a simple majority in 2006, it would take them at least three more years to overturn or undermine the moratorium.

But Japan, and the Caribbean, Pacific and African nations that paddle in its wake, are driven by a fear that if the rich conservation countries and conservation NGOs defeat whaling permanently, enforceable bans on exploiting other marine resources will follow.

The moratorium was imposed across the board as an indefinite pause to allow recovery in whale populations, which in some species were a fraction of 1per cent of their numbers before factory whaling took hold last century.

"In my country, people think the whaling issue is just the beginning," says Joji Morishita, the Japan Fisheries Agency's director of international whaling. "Though the beginning has been going on for 15 or 20 years now."

It has been 15 years since the "sustainable use" countries believe they were first cheated of what was promised by the moratorium decision: a new regulatory system for international whaling in preparation for the resumption of limited hunting. The hardline anti-whalers retort that with the total whale population still less than 10 per cent of what it was, there is no foreseeable safe time for what Japan calls sustainable whaling.

What they really mean, as Nicola Beynon of Humane Society International acknowledges, is never again. "All international bodies evolve in their views and objectives to meet the changing environment - that's what has happened with conserving whales," she says.

Ms Beynon has been an official adviser to Australian delegations since IWC 2000. And nothing better shows the unique grip of the anti-whaling cause at home than a professional animal welfare operative taking the federal Government to court one week and assisting the otherwise firmly conservative Senator Campbell the next.

Having spent long hours talking to delegates from small sustainable-use countries - and after Japan, Russia, South Korea, China, Norway and Iceland, the rest are all small and poor - Ms Beynon is dismissive of the arguments they use in public.

"We are not about denying access to other fisheries, but they must be conserved because, the way we're going, nothing will be left and that won't be in the interest of the small-island developing nations," she says.

"As to the Japanese argument that whales are competing with other commercial fisheries for food, that's bogus science. They (the Pacific and Caribbean countries) are frightened, not that their fish stocks are jeopardised - it's their aid they worry about."

True or not - the Japanese deny it and the charge of using aid as a "whaling tool" is hard to prove when they spread overseas development aid among 150 nations - the accusation enrages many small sustainable users.

"Australia and the US are the hardliners," says Dominica's Lloyd Pascal. "They are taking their cue from militant NGOs who have grown scandalously rich from anti-whaling and stopping developing nations from economic self-determination."

Nauru delegate and former finance minister Marcus Stephen meets the aid allegation with a flat stare.

"I don't even want to discuss it, that's not the issue, it's not true," he says.

Nauru's only concern in deciding to join the IWC last week was safeguarding its tuna fishery - "our own, and our only, resource". Nauru, he says, was worried by Japanese evidence that whales were competing with the tuna.

Because of his cabinet's late decision and difficulty with flights, Mr Stephen made it to Ulsan only on Wednesday and missed a key vote.

Togo and Gambia, also signed up for the IWC by Japan last week, did not come at all. Nor did Mali, though its IWC membership was financial, unlike some other small pro-whaling states.

"That's one indication we are not buying votes," says Mr Morishita. "Those smaller countries are actually suffering and trying to do as much as they can, but their difficulties are showing this week."

However, fortuitous absences are unlikely to rescue the conservation countries when everybody reconvenes in St Kitts.

There will also be a big push from countries such as the so-called Nordic group to engineer a compromise regional management scheme with Japan - the first step to resumption of limited commercial hunting.

The energetic Senator Campbell has made reforming IWC membership processes his new priority, and says the conservation countries must "counteract the aggressive recruiting tactics of countries like Japan".

Australia and Britain have recently recruited Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - nations with no practical interest in the whaling question but, obviously, strong ethical views.

Such luxurious ethics are not often affordable among the scattered micro-states of the Pacific and Caribbean. Japan believes its appeal to economic self-interest there and in Africa is turning the war in favour of whaling, even if battles are still lost.

"If you look at the membership of the IWC, not just the vote," says Mr Morishita, "it's almost clear the sustainable-use side now is the majority."

And the frightening thing for the conservation countries, despite the morale-boosting rearguard actions like Ulsan, is how quickly the tide is turning.

Only 11 years ago, Australia persuaded more than 75 per cent of the IWC countries to vote for an Antarctic whale sanctuary, but Japan now does its scientific killing there.

Such a vote would have been impossible in Ulsan, let alone in St Kitts.

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