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September 8, 2011

An Uncertain Future for Whaling

Is Japan poised to walk away from the Southern Ocean?

Humane Society International/Australia

  • A fin whale underwater. Naomi Blinick/Marine Photobank

by Nicola Beynon

HSI is unsure whether or not to get our hopes up in response to speculation that Japan may soon be ready to walk away from whaling in the Southern Ocean.

In a recent article, Andrew Darby, long-time reporter on whaling politics for the Sydney Morning Herald, reported on all the obstacles facing the annual whale hunt. The Japanese government has concluded a review of the whaling program’s future after its clashes with Sea Shepherd last summer. Details of the review were leaked and Darby suspects that a majority from the hard-line Japanese Fisheries Agency stand by the hunt. However, he noted that one respected consumer advocate on the review panel—Hisa Anan, Secretary General of Shodanren, Japan’s national consumer organisation—has publicly rejected the need for any more lethal "research."

New obstacles

Then there is the ban the International Maritime Organisation has placed in Antarctica on the use of heavy fuel oil, which is used by Japan’s whaling factory ship the Nisshin Maru. Will the IMO let Japan get away with the charade that the hunt is for research purposes and therefore allow an exemption in the same way the International Whaling Commission has? And for how much longer will that charade last at the IWC anyway, now that the Australian government is taking Japan to the International Court of Justice for abusing the IWC loophole for scientific research?

Doing the right thing

As Darby reports, “There are other problems weighing on the government in its decision over whaling. Whale meat stockpile statistics published earlier this year showed it was not selling. This means the cost of propping up the whaling fleet is blowing out at a time when all available government yen must be pressed into earthquake recovery.”

It's time

One hopes the portents are true and Japan will decide it is time to leave whaling behind; however, the battle to keep the commercial whaling moratorium in place at the IWC will certainly continue regardless of this recent turn of events. At the 2011 annual meeting, the pro-whaling bloc resorted to new lows to sabotage the voting process by staging a walkout before a key vote to approve a new whale sanctuary. As a result, there was no longer a quorum of countries in the room for the vote to take place.

Unfortunately, even if Japan does decide to abandon its costly hunt in the Southern Ocean, we must still work to persuade Japan, Norway, Iceland and Korea to desist from the coastal commercial whaling programs they each conduct under different guises.