Why do some countries carry on whaling

What is going on, some countries are still whaling and even increasing their catch. They are deliberately flying in the face of the International Whaling committee’s commercial whaling moratorium issued in 1986. Norway and Iceland have always ignored the agreement and just carried on commercial whaling irrespective of what the rest of the world thinks. Japan on the other hand has stuck to the rules and killed a fixed number of whales each year in the name of so called science. They were killing 1,000 Minke whales a year but interestingly this had recently dropped to 333. Suddenly Japan has decided they want the IWC moratorium lifted and the right to once again join the other two countries in commercial whaling programs. Strange time for a reversal.

Whales, much like Pandas have been used by environmental groups as symbols of conservation to show the world that we need to act responsibly to maintain our wildlife and environment. This sudden change by Japan makes a mockery of these organisations, governments and the millions of people who support the likes of Greenpeace. 

Activists from Greenpeace Japan meet the whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru with a banner saying “FAILED” as it arrives in Tokyo to unload whale meat for sale. The ship failed to meet its quota of 935 whales by nearly half, in part because the Greenpeace ship Esperanza stopped the entire whaling operation for 15 days as it chased the Nisshin Maru across the Southern Ocean, over a distance of 4300 miles.

Under the terms of the 1986 moratorium, certain aboriginal communities are allowed to catch and kill a regulated number of whales, in line with their historical cultural practices and the mammals’ nutritional value.

In 2016, aboriginal catches totalled 361 – which comprised Fin, Humpback, Minke, Gray and Bowhead whales. The hunting took place in Russia, Denmark and the United States and according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society in UK, if this is an average number killed during the 30 years from 1986 to 2016 then it is still only 24% of the total. Overall it is estimated that 45,000 whales have been killed since the IWC’s 1986 ruling, including those hunted under its exemptions (scientific purposes and aboriginal catching). Compared to the years when we were killing up to 50,000 per annum this is relatively small, however populations of these huge animals take a long time to recover and we must maintain pressure on the offending governments to ensure the populations are not hunted to extinction.

I can only imagine the frustration of founder members of Greenpeace and Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd as they watch this crazy series of events. If we can’t protect whales then what can we protect!

Industrial whaling has been going on since the 17th century, they were hunted for meat, oil and blubber. This grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, then the introduction of factory ships with small fleets of hunter, killer vessels in the 20th century meant whales were slaughtered at such a rate that most species were close to extinction. It was at this time that the IWC ban was imposed to stop the extreme depletion of stocks.

In this day and age, apart from subsistence whaling it is so unnecessary. In previous times it was not surprising that whales were hunted commercially. Take a single blue whale for example, the largest mammal that has ever existed, weighing in at a staggering 200 tonnes, every part of the whale has value. Not just the 40 tonnes of oil taken from a carcass, it can also be used to produce commercial goods ranging from food, soap, gelatin, film, detergent, lipstick, and perfume, to paint, crayons, tennis rackets, and industrial lubricants. Whales were like huge chunks of gold floating in the ocean, but today this is so unnecessary we have other products to replace everything we can take from a whale.

Let us go back to the Japanese. Irrespective of the social / political pressures in Japan, it is still depressing that in these times when the effects of human activity on species and the environment is greater than at any time in history, certain politicians decide that it is once again OK to kill whales on a commercial scale.

Sure we can all understand why Japan was whaling after the second world war to provide protein for a starving population, but today, most Japanese do not care for whale meat, so what other forces are at work.

It is suggested  that the strong condemnation of whaling by foreigners is taken as harassing the traditional values of Japan, and bearing in mind that many of the leaders in Japan are of an age when they ate whale meat as children this attack by other nations cannot be tolerated.

Another theory has been suggested by Junko Sakuma, who worked for Greenpeace in Japan and has studied Japanese whaling extensively, she believes the government will suffer if whaling in Japan ceases. It will mean job layoffs under bureaucrats currently in office, which would reflect badly on them.

She told BBC news that “If the number of staff in a bureaucrat’s office decreases while they are in charge, they feel tremendous shame which means most of the bureaucrats will fight to keep the whaling section in their ministry at all costs. And that is also true of the politicians. If the issue is closely related to their constituency, they will promise to bring back commercial whaling. It is a way of keeping their seats.”

Essentially, Japan’s refusal to give up whaling entirely might be due to certain government officials wanting to preserve their image: how sad!

Thankfully most countries see whales as a better resource alive rather than dead, and so whale watching is now big business. There are so many places around the world where we can see these incredible animals in their wild state.

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