When whale watchers sight a nearby whale they either scream in excitement and capture the beast with cameras, or fire off a harpoon cannon and land an exploding harpoon into the surfacing cetacean then tow it in for harvesting.
Two camps. Two points of view. One whale of a controversy.
My passion for the whale began in the early 1980s when an editor assigned me to write a feature story on the “new” whale watch tours.
I boarded the next whale watch boat faster than a whale can dive 500 feet. With camera and notepad in hand, I headed into the Pacific Coast waters where the Pacific gray whale migrates. Then, the biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale summed up my entire whale knowledge. Whales rarely made news.
Whales and their human friends and foes will likely dominate environmental news up to and during the upcoming June 2010 International Whaling Commission conference in Morocco.
When I open a social network page or blog, the same sidebar catches my attention—“Tell President Obama To Vote No On Commercial Whaling at IWC.”
Of course President Obama would vote no, right? Not so much. The IWC proposes a 10-year “peace program”—a global moratorium on commercial whaling but allow limited catches for those countries which continue to hunt whales despite the ban. In the simplest interpretation, about 13,000 whales could legally be killed over the course of 10 years.
It’s confusing. So I’ve spent the last three weeks trying to unravel what I think is a conundrum. Why does one need to hunt whales when we
1) Know their meat is heavily laced with mercury, lead and other toxins
2) We no longer render their blubber for lubricants and lighting oil
3) The days of baleen corsets are gone with the wind
4) And who eats whale meat anyway? The numbers say only a few cultural centers actually depend on the meat for sustenance.
My questions turned into a 3-part investigation on my environmental blog, Neptune 911.
Whale hunters, either commercial or aboriginal, see whales as a valuable commodity relevant to indigenous peoples’ sustainability. The whale meat industry even
argues that by allowing more whale meat into the market that it may well help end human starvation, and that it is only the western nations interested in selling their beef products that challenge a “sustainable whale meat” industry.
Scientists, meanwhile warn of whale species extinction, highly toxic whale meat, and report that “…numerous scientific studies show that the makeup of cetacean brains (are) similar in structure to humans’.”
The overall condition of whales concerns researchers. Besides a depleted population from earlier hunting days, whales now suffer from “pollution, loss of food sources, loss of habitat, climate change, toxic substances, being entangled in or ingesting plastic, sonar testing, net entanglement, trapped as incidental by-catch of the fishing industry, and ship strikes…”
But the explosive harpoon of controversy begins in Japan. Japan tags its whale hunt bulk under the scientific research label.
Scientists outside of Japan question the actual scientific research. And just a week ago, Australia announced that it will take Japan to the International Court of Justice where Australia will challenge Japan’s annual Antarctic Ocean whale hunt as a violation of international obligations.
Japan’s hunt and consumption of whale meat harbors a 400-year history. About 95 percent of contemporary Japan, however, no longer has a whale meat appetite. Today only small coastal villages with a strong link to whaling regularly consume whale, according to a 2008 Nippon Research Center survey.
It was yesterday’s research that answered my biggest question—why hunt whales.
I finally understood the age old “follow the money path.”
1) Japan’s Whaling Triangle – The Power Behind the Whaling Policy by Midori Kagawa-Fox, the University of Adelaide, Australia, argues, “that attempts to bring about a resumption of commercial whaling are less about maintaining traditions than about providing opportunities to the vested interests of the Japanese ‘Whaling Iron Triangle.’ This triangle is the driving force behind Japan’s whaling policy.”
2) ABC News in Australia reported on Monday that six member countries of the IWC considered “…bribes from two reporters from Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper who posed as the lobbyists… set out to buy votes at next week’s IWC meeting. “ Geoffrey Nanyaro, Tanzania’s IWC commissioner, told the undercover reporters that Japan flies IWC politicians to five-star Japanese hotels with prostitutes at their call. Five other countries concurred. Payoffs and bribery has always been suspected to win the pro-Japanese whaling vote by small and less affluent voting countries.
3) Today’s Sydney Morning Herald quotes a Japanese whaler, turned whistleblower, on the Nisshin Maru: “Even before we arrived in the Antarctic Ocean the more experienced whalers would talk about taking whale meat home to sell. It was an open secret. Even officials…on the ship knew what was happening, but they turned a blind eye to it.”
This is a humble reduction of a complex issue that often brought me to tears while I researched the issues. Perhaps one of Neptune 911’s readers best said it in her comment “I recommend that everyone spend some time with whales—then the idea of killing them would be absurd.”
Genesis: 1:21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.