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Scientific study, my fish!
Goh Boon Choo
Japan, Norway, Iceland kill whales actively, despite a 20-year moratorium. The failure of Japan's latest attempt to reverse the moratorium at the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting will be scant comfort to the 260 Minke whales and sperm whales (classified as endangered) that Japan has targeted this summer season.
Just what "scientific studies" require killing whales and dolphins annually, and why do these "scientific" specimens end up in Japanese supermarkets?
Indeed, the sale and promotion of whale — burgers, ice-cream and even school lunches — are subsidised by the Japanese government. Yet, only 1 per cent of Japanese eat whale meat regularly, and that no more than once a month.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society estimated a 4,800-tonne Japanese whale meat stockpile as of last year (up from the 673 tonnes in March 1998). This year's slaughter is expected to add another 1,700 tonnes.
Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell notes that part of that unwanted stockpile is being turned into dog food. This speaks clearly about the lack of demand.
Yet, Japan increases its "scientific whaling" quota every year. Norway, which resumed whaling in 1993, has freezers bursting with blubber due to poor local demand too. It aims for "small scale" coastal whaling, and yet it wants to export blubber to Japan, presumably to clear space for killing more whales.
But opening up an export market has not been smooth-going, as some airlines have pledged not to transport whale blubber or meat.
Japan's failure to reverse the whaling ban is not for want of trying. After years of "recruitment", it now has a majority voting bloc and is flexing this majority power to undercut conservation measures and development of humane whale killing methods (a harpooned whale typically suffers for hours before bleeding to death or drowning).
Japan also insists on killing whales as they are competition for fish. Yet the Minke whale — their main target as it is not listed as endangered — actually feeds mainly on krill, small shrimp-like creatures.
The Japanese reasoning sounds suspiciously like the justifications for the annual Canadian harp seal slaughter off Newfoundland, which has killed 1 million seals since 2004. Canada imposed a moratorium on Atlantic cod fishing in 1992 but the severely overfished cod has not recovered. Seals, which actually eat the fish predators of cod, are blamed for the fisheries' collapse.
In campaigning against the Canadian seal slaughter, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society's Captain Paul Watson remarked: "Perhaps it is time that Newfoundlanders look at a more ecologically healthy approach to living off the ocean. Wiping out seals and seabirds, whales and fish is not the smartest thing to do if you wish to survive and live by the sea."
Similarly, does Japan really know what it's doing in trying so hard to take whales out of the equation?
Is it, as Britain's Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare Ben Bradshaw remarks, "a kind of culturally nationalistic obstinacy that makes them pursue this course"?
Japan's whaling "research fleet" is supported by nationalist politicians. On the programme 60 Minutes, one Japanese fishery official argued that killing whales was a part of Japan's identity and a question of national pride.
Yet, while Japan insists on whale slaughter on traditional grounds, in reality, cetacean flesh was eaten only in a few coastal fishing settlements. It was only in a post-World War II society that whale meat became an official part of Japanese tuckshop cuisine because it was seen to be a cheap, plentiful source of protein.
Surely it is beneath the nation that gave the world the Walkman, instant noodles and the Prius, to nurture its pride and identity on its shaky stockade of rotting whale meat and blubber?
For a country leading Asia's pop culture trends, (MTV Japan is separate from MTV Asia; Japanese anime and manga have huge global followings), this Dark Ages mentality towards whale and dolphin slaughter is baffling.
Japan plans to kill another 1,000 whales in the Antarctic season this December, while 27,000 whales have already died since 1986. Australia, a whaling nation until 1979, listened to Australians and international opinion. Now, it reaps tourist dollars and esteem through whale-watching trips and conservation efforts.
It is up to people around the world and the citizens of Japan, Norway and Iceland to tell these governments: Enough! Stop wasting taxpayers' money to sustain whale killing.
The writer is an avid sushi, anime and manga fan, but like many other conservation-minded people, has pledged not to visit Japan unless the senseless slaughter of whales and dolphins stops.
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