Japanese whaling: Sea Shepherd’s detractors at the Lowy Institute fail to tell the whole story
Controversy regarding anti-whaling protest, and specifically the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, consistently results in articles that lack context and tend to focus on the sensational aspects of recent events.
The Lowy Institute for International Policy has recently participated in a discussion of sorts between several contributors including Rear Admiral (ret'd) James Goldrick, Associate Professor Michael Heazle, and Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson. In review of this exchange we found casual indifference to the history and reality of Japanese whaling and an unwarranted assertion of legitimacy assigned to Japan’s activities.
Perhaps Michael Heazle’s published opinions could benefit from an overall examination of modern whaling (from the late 1800s to present) and international attempts to regulate the industry. Historically, regulations designed to prevent the extinction of whales have been established and then blatantly undermined by whaling nations, including Japan.
Unfortunately, the entire 20th century seems to be a forgotten period of time for editorial writers of mainstream media outlets and bloggers alike who have declined to include even the most basic background information. Thankfully, this history has been recorded for those who are actually interested in how the current conflict over Japan’s whaling reached this point.
Breaking the Rules
Japan has a long history of regulatory violations like many other whaling nations. It is intellectually dishonest to suggest Japan is somehow an innocent party conducting its annual ‘research’ whaling programs in good faith with the International Whaling Commission.
The violations include ignoring species protections, killing undersized whales, hunting in off-limits areas, hunting out of season, exceeding quotas, and more. Some of this is explained by Isao Kondo, a former whaling executive, who wrote "The Rise and Fall of Japan's Coastal Whaling" and described methods used to skirt restrictions within Japan’s whaling industry.
However, in a more sinister and blatantly illegal endeavor, Japan financed poaching operations (called pirate whaling) all over the world in the 1970s and 80s. Foreign whalers, at times with direct guidance from Japanese representatives, hunted whales with no regard for IWC established restrictions. The meat from these illicit hunts was smuggled to Japan disguised as other products. Investigator Nick Carter spent a great deal of time researching and exposing this illegal trade and was praised later by the UNEP for his efforts (this led the IWC to pass resolutions against whaling related trade with non-members).
Even the current abuse of Article VIII of the ICRW (sometimes called the 'research loophole') is not unique. 10 years before the moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect – and 6 years before the final vote to establish it – in 1976 the IWC set Bryde's whale quotas to zero in order to protect the species from over-exploitation. Japan responded by issuing itself a 'special permit' and killing over 200 animals from the protected stock in the following season (this led the IWC to call for a review of requirements for future special permits).
These actions do not exhibit good faith adherence to decisions of the IWC or the intent of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Nor is any good faith exhibited by Japan's use of development assistance money and bribery for the purpose of vote manipulation in the IWC – ranging from cutting off aid to countries like Seychelles as punishment, to building fisheries infrastructure in certain developing nations as a reward, to a more recent scandal uncovered by the UK Sunday Times revealing the exchange of cash filled envelopes and employment of prostitutes (this led the IWC to introduce new rules regarding payment of fees).
Regardless, the IWC set all commercial whaling quotas to zero in 1986. Since then, in a repeated unilateral act of defiance, Japan continues to annually issue itself ‘special permits’ to hunt whales for ‘research’.
Heazle seems to think that Article VIII of the ICRW is completely unconditional – as if Japan’s whaling industry can simply pretend to do science as an excuse to defy every restriction established by the IWC under Article V despite official objections.
Australia does not agree, and after many years of diplomatic efforts to bring the whaling to a halt a case has been filed with the International Court of Justice.
Regardless of Heazle's opinion on the limits of Australian law against direct intervention within the Antarctic Treaty Zone, he cites the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLoS) as a justification for Japan's exploitation of whales because marine wildlife is an 'important source of food for Japan'.
However, Article 65 of UNCLoS declares that:
“States shall cooperate with a view to the conservation of marine mammals and in the case of cetaceans shall in particular work through the appropriate international organizations for their conservation, management and study.”
The appropriate international organization is, of course, the International Whaling Commission.
That's the same IWC which set all commercial whaling quotas to zero since the 1985/86 season – the same IWC which declared the Southern Ocean to be a whale sanctuary in 1994 – the same IWC which repeatedly passed resolutions calling on Japan to stop killing whales.
As for Japan's supposed dependence on marine wildlife for food, it should be noted that only a tiny fraction of Japan's population actually eats whale meat these days. In fact, in 2012 the government of Japan was unable to sell off 75% of the whale meat from the 'research' programs. In recent polling published by IFAW, 89% of respondents in Japan said they haven’t bought whale meat in the last 12 months.
Another government program was resurrected in recent years to include whale meat in compulsory school lunches. It is safe to say that without this program most Japanese children would never know the taste of whale meat. Outside of some small coastal whaling communities, it is apparently a luxury item for older nostalgic foodies to whom whale meat was a substitute source of protein during post WWII food shortages.
Jun Morikawa, in his book, "Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics, and Diplomacy", affirms this and explains that whaling continues due to corrupt bureaucrats who ensure there will be ongoing tax-funded subsidies for whaling to secure high paid jobs for themselves in the commercial whaling industry. This practice is commonly referred to by the term 'amakudari'.
By the numbers whaling has nothing to do with Japanese food security. According to FOODEX Japan, in 2011 the nation of Japan imported over 500,000 tons of beef, at least 233,000 tons of chilled pork, more than 426,000 tons of chicken, and 2.69 million tons of marine products. The current estimated stockpile of whale meat in cold storage amounts to about 6,000 tons total – at the expense of over 17,897 whales killed by Japan under objection and special permit (as of 2011) since the moratorium on whaling began. There simply aren't enough whales in the ocean to feed the population of Japan.
Heazle also downplays the influence of nationalism in Japan’s whaling policies.
However, the father of Japan's modern whaling industry, Juro Oka, who brought Norwegian methods and technology (and even actual Norwegian whalers) to Japan for the mass production of whale oil, established nationalist ideals when he spoke the following words as the first president of the Japan Whaling and Fishing Association:
"I am firmly convinced that we shall become one of the greatest whaling nations in the world. The whaling grounds round Korea and Japan offer unlimited possibilities, and should stocks of whales, contrary to expectations, fail in those areas, we have the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea to the north and we are aware of the great treasure houses to the south. The day will come when we shall hear one morning that whales have been caught in the Arctic and in the evening that whales are being hunted in the Antarctic." – Juro Oka, 1910
Following World War II, whaling was the industry through which Japan re-established some measure of sovereignty as a seafaring nation. Government support for whaling continues today as a matter of policy. The industry has been effectively nationalized since the Japan Fisheries Agency negotiated the consolidation of whaling companies in the 1970s – and appointed Iwao Fujita, former Fisheries Agency Director General, as the first Managing Director of what would later become Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha Ltd.
In 1976, Japanese Fisheries Minister Shintaro Abe stated, “We ask that the flame of the whaling industry will not be put out and that you do your best to secure Japan's food supplies. The government will be doing all it can to actively support your efforts.”
Today, Japan’s government spends about ¥782 million (US$9.78 million) annually to prop up the whaling industry. Whaling is actively promoted by the government through groups like the LDP created Parliamentary League for the Promotion of Whaling – mischaracterizing the industry as a pillar of cultural identity while obscuring regions of Japan where whales were historically worshipped as gods of good fortune and never eaten. While most citizens of Japan remain indifferent to whaling, a collective motivation to preserve ‘tradition’ is manipulated to support the whaling industry.
Unfortunately, the International Whaling Commission has largely failed in its mandate to regulate the world's whaling industries since the first meeting in 1949. One species of whale after another was decimated by commercial whaling, despite various restrictions and quotas, and many remain endangered today as a result of over-exploitation. The international observer program was a joke. Nations commonly exceeded quotas and hunted protected whale stocks. Scientific advice to reduce quotas was ignored. Environmentalists called it the International Whalers Club.
However, it's often overlooked that a conservation mandate is included in the text of the 1946 ICRW. The following words appear in the opening text of the convention:
"Considering that the history of whaling has seen over-fishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further over-fishing"
The ICRW goes on to empower the International Whaling Commission to establish restrictions on methods and equipment as well as species protections, sanctuary areas, and more.
Heazle implies that the moratorium on commercial whaling was intended to be temporary according to some arbitrary time limit. Upon reviewing the Schedule to the ICRW he might have noticed in Paragraph 10(e) that the text only suggests the moratorium should be open to review and does not identify any date of expiration.
In other words, any decision to modify or revoke the moratorium can only be decided by a two-thirds majority vote of the IWC. That's the same moratorium deliberately undermined by Japan since before the day it entered into force and every day following to include the controversial conflict with Sea Shepherd this year.
From the text of IWC Resolution 2007-1:
"CONVINCED that the aims of JARPA II do not address critically important research needs;
NOW THEREFORE THE COMMISSION
FURTHER CALLS UPON the Government of Japan to suspend indefinitely the lethal aspects of JARPA II conducted within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary."
Notwithstanding the previous points, in a second response to Paul Watson, Heazle implies the legitimacy of Japan’s ‘research’ is simply not recognized due to the overall controversy of whaling. Scientists both within and outside of the International Whaling Commission have not merely expressed common criticism.
In 2002, in an open letter published in the New York Times, twenty-one scientists (including three Nobel laureates) stated emphatically, “We, the undersigned scientists, believe Japan’s whale research program fails to meet minimum standards for credible science.” The letter specifically states there is no compelling reason to kill whales in order to obtain data from them. The favor shown for non-lethal methods is at least acknowledged by Heazle.
Japan’s response to this letter dismissed the opinions of these scientists by claiming they did not understand the provisions of the ICRW, sought to politicize the issue, and ignored the stated goals of the whaling ‘research’.
However, in a 2003 response to similar accusations, published in BioScience, IWC scientific committee members supported the 2002 rebuke of Japan’s whaling programs. The scientists stated, “Japan's scientific whaling program is so poor that it would not survive review by any major independent funding agency,” and when it comes to misrepresenting commercial activities as science, “there has rarely been a more egregious example of this misrepresentation than Japan's scientific whaling program.” They also explained that the vast majority of publications resulting from these programs have absolutely no value for the management of whale stocks.
Japan is not cooperating with the decisions of the IWC in good faith and has not honored its international obligations, as a signatory of the ICRW, for decades.
Japan’s whale hunting is conducted during an international moratorium on whaling, within an international whale sanctuary, while the international organization responsible for regulating whaling repeatedly calls for Japan to stop killing whales.
There is no scientific justification to use ‘research’ programs as an excuse for indefinite continuation of commercial whaling in blatant defiance of the IWC.
There is also no economic, nutritional, or cultural justification for undermining whaling restrictions established through international conventions.
Where national governments have repeatedly broken or failed to enforce their own agreements, without approval or permission from any government, Sea Shepherd has taken action to halt Japan's ongoing defiance of the IWC – to save the whales.
Unfortunately, Michael Heazle and other editorial writers tend to address this subject without consideration for the history of events leading to the current high seas conflict between protesters and whale poachers. We find this blind approach to the whaling controversy does a disservice to the reader which encourages ignorance and uninformed bias against legitimate objections to Japan’s unilateral subversion of international conservation efforts.