Japan's Whaling Problem
Japan has lost considerable international prestige by sustaining its
whaling program. Many anti-whaling nations such as France, Germany, UK, New
Zealand, Italy, Spain, Portugal etc. have opposed Japan’s whaling practices. Two
countries in particular have taken strong actions to voice their opposition.
The US has been a strong opponent of JARPA since the conception of the
program. When the IWC passed its whaling moratorium in 1986, Japan threatened
to file protests as well as disregard the moratorium. It took threats of
economic sanctions from the US in order to get Japan to agree with the
moratorium. More recently, the US government has publicly condemned Japan’s
JARPA program. In November 2007, Department of State spokesman Sean McCormack
strongly urged Japan against including humpback and fin whales in its culling
quota. He further noted that “non-lethal research techniques are available to
provide almost all relevant data on whale populations.” (BBC, November 2007)
Australia has always been a strong supporter of the
whaling moratorium. In 1994, in an effort to forestall whaling practices,
Australia claimed a 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone around the Australian Antarctic Territory,
which also included a southerly portion of the IWC Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Under international law, this Exclusive Economic Zone gave Australia exclusive
right to harvest all of the marine life and resources within the zone thus
denying Japan permission to whale in the sanctuary. Japan, however, ignored the
Exclusive Economic Zone. More recently, the government of Australia has taken
more hard-lined steps to deal with Japanese whaling ships. The government of
Australia has issued a public statement denying any Japanese whaling vessels
the permission to dock in Australian ports. The Australian government has also
mobilized the MV Viking, an Australian Customs service patrol ship, as well as
an Airbus aerial patrol plane to follow the Japanese whaling fleet with the
purpose of collecting photographic and video evidence that could be used to
challenge Japan in international courts. (Taylor, 2007.)
Australian citizens have had a
strong impact in influencing Australia’s policies towards Japanese whaling.
Because Australia has a very profitable whale watching industry, Australian
citizens have time and time again encouraged their government to act against
Japanese whaling. A major point of contention is Migaloo, the only known albino
humpback whale, who is the star in many whale watching trips. When asked by the
press if they will kill Migaloo should they meet him, the Japanese government
gave no definite answer, inciting outrage in many Australians. This outrage was
transferred into definite action when in November of 2007, a strongly
anti-whaling party took control of Australia’s congress.
The Japanese public, for the large part, have remained pretty ambivalent
about the whaling issue (Hogg, 2006).
Although they largely disapprove of whaling, they do not feel strongly
enough or feel that they know enough to challenge the status quo. In fact, off
the record, some senior officials in the Japanese government have admitted that
whaling policy has been hijacked by a small but vocal minority (Hogg, 2006). This
vocal minority, consisting mainly of nationalists funded by the powerful
fishing industry, has maintained pressure on policy makers as well as public
opinion to ensure that the policy is upheld.
have, however, been some citizen-led initiatives to end JARPA. In January 2008,
one thousand Japanese nationals boarded a boat nicknamed the “Peace Boat” in
protest of Japan’s whaling policies. According to the protesters, “most
Japanese people reject government propaganda that whaling is culturally and
historically significant. [Furthermore]Japan's pro-whaling constituency is
comprised of ultranationalists, racists, extreme right-wing neo-cons who
control Japan's ruling LDP party and the small, but politically powerful
fishing industry, which has been in decline for decades after the government
turned a blind eye to overfishing that led to the collapse of Japan's coastal
fish stocks.” The group also criticized the Japanese government for “pandering
to ultranationalists and ignoring Japanese public opinion.” (Allard, 2008).
counter movement is also appearing in Japan. Concerned citizens have pointed to
the whaling controversy as an example of the level of corruption within the
Japanese government and are demanding that top government officials step down.
Many citizens see it as an example of the Japanese government placing the
interests of special interest groups over those of the populous (Allard, 2008).
Marine biologist Kennichi Ozawa put it best when he reflected, “Japan resembles
a totalitarian state like North Korea more than any western democracy…
Essentially the same political group has been in power since the war ended
despite almost weekly corruption scandals and flagrant pork barrel politics.”
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has promoted more global awareness
to Japan’s whaling program. Founded in 1977 for the purpose of enforcing
international environmental laws, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has
played many roles in curbing international whaling. In the past, ships operated
by the society have rammed and even sunk vessels suspected to be illegally
whaling. The society also regularly distracts whalers through several means,
such as sabotage, in order to temporarily halt the whaling. The society has
been confronting Japanese whalers since 2005, but has only recently made international
headlines due to several audacious maneuvers. On January 15, 2008, the society
threw glass bottles laden with butyric acid onto the decks of Japanese whalers.
Afterwards, two members of the society boarded the whalers in order to
interrupt the whaling and were detained. Although no one was hurt and the two
members were eventually released, these maneuvers slowed the progress of the
whaling and, more importantly, brought heavy media coverage to the topic.
Picture: MV Viking, Australian customs ship monitoring Japanese whalers.
Picture: Migaloo has played a major role in this issue.
Picture: Japanese nationals above the Peace Boat.
Two members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are released after
being held for illegally boarding a Japanese whaler.