Friday, August 1, 2008

Hello FBI!

Rock on


At a meeting held at the University of the United Nations in Tokyo recently, WDCS Senior Biologist Philippa Brakes challenged the idea that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is dysfunctional. The meeting, hosted by the U.S.-based Pew Environment Group, was held outside the auspices of the IWC with the aim of creating a new dialogue between pro-whaling and anti-whaling factions.

Wide diversity of political opinion was evident from the outset of the meeting. However, the discussions in this closed meeting - where comments could not be attributed to individual participants without their permission - were more cordial than the sessions of the IWC where open media reporting is permitted. Despite the relatively convivial atmosphere, there was little evidence that Japan was truly committed to either stopping whaling or to killing less whales; even the smallest concession of permanently removing humpback whales from their Antarctic hunt remained in question.

Almost one third of the participants were Japanese and in contrast to the views normally expressed by the Government of Japan at IWC meetings, a significantly diverse range of views on whaling were expressed by the Japanese participants. Japanese speakers called into question the true nature of the whale meat market in Japan, the control of the Japanese Fisheries Agency (JFA) over this issue, the real motivating factors for the ferocity with which the JFA pursues their pro-whaling advocacy and the implications this has for Japanese democracy.

Notwithstanding the political deadlock within the IWC, the idea that the IWC was completely dysfunctional was challenged on the basis that some very useful and positive work has been conducted by the Scientific Committee and the Commission. Not least of which was the adoption of the moratorium on commercial whaling, arguably one of the most significant conservation steps in modern times. The moratorium, or ban, on commercial whaling heralded a new era in whale protection which the Commission should now endeavour to enforce comprehensively. Furthermore, the Scientific Committee has conducted a plethora of work on environmental threats to cetaceans and investigations into the complexities of defining cetacean populations.

A great deal of this research has taught us simply that we need to know more, much more, about these remarkable animals. We must recognise that whales face an uncertain future due to increasing and, at times, synergistic anthropogenic threats. We should also acknowledge that all parties to the Convention and indeed all countries have a responsibility to address these threats. At a time when the rest of the world is considering the implications of food-miles, the Japanese Government has a responsibility to assess the reality of the declining domestic market for whale meat, as well as the carbon foot-print and other environmental implications of sending a fleet of vessels to hunt whales in the North Pacific and Antarctica’s pristine waters every year said Brakes.

In a Tokyo restaurant and shop supported by the Institute of Cetacean Research – the body responsible for ‘scientific whaling’ - the products from this ‘research’ are on sale next to soft toys depicting whales and the patently commercial nature of this so called ‘research’ is obvious.

Visitors to this outlet can be left with little doubt that Japan’s whaling programmes in Antarctica and the North Pacific are a commercial enterprise. The meat, blubber and skin of the whales killed is sold in a variety of different – and often modern - preparations, including whale meat curry said Brakes.

Unlabelled minke whale meat found on sale at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, demonstrates further the poor regulation of the sale of the products of ‘scientific whaling’ and the difficulty and dangers for consumers in differentiating between species on sale and determining whether the whale was killed as part of Japan’s so called ‘research’ programme or as part of ‘directed bycatch’, where fishermen target whales in nets around the coast of Japan.

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