Japanese mobilize to save whales their government wants to kill
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2002:
TOKYO–Thousands of Japanese volunteers worked around the
clock from the morning of January 22 into mid-day on January 24 in a
futile effort to save 14 whales who ran aground near the town of
Ouracho on the southern island of Kyushu. Thirteen whales suffocated
before they could be towed back to sea, but the newspaper Yomiuri
Shumbun reported that one whale survived.
Yomiuri Shumbun identified the victims as Bryde’s whales,
but BBC News reported that they were sperm whales. Either way, they
were among the species that the Japanese “research” whaling fleet
killed during 2001 in the north Pacific.
Kagoshima University biologist Akihiko Shinomiya told the BBC
that the dead whales would not be eaten. Whale meat consumption is
reportedly down 30% in Japan during the past year, despite a mad cow
disease scare that caused beef consumption to crash.
Legalizing a practice long common but officially forbidden
since Japan belatedly ratified the International Whaling Commission
moratorium on commercial whaling in 1988, the Japanese ministry of
fisheries in June 2001 authorized fishers to butcher any whales found
dead in fixed-site fishnets. The remains of 52 minke whales were
scavenged and sold by the end of the year.
But the whale-saving effort at Ouracho was presaged in March
2001 when local residents and beach-going tourists teamed up to save
the lives of 127 small whales who became stranded at Tanegashima
Island, 610 miles southwest of Tokyo, by pushing them back into
open water. Forty-four whales who died were ceremonially buried.
Both the Ouracho and the Tanega-shima Island whale-saving
efforts were heavily covered by Japanese news media.
The Japanese government has reportedly gambled $323 million
that the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling will be breached at the
May 2002 IWC annual meeting, to be held in Shimonoseki, Japan.
Yet Japanese public opinion about the wisdom and morality of
breaching the moratorium appears deeply divided, even as the long
sought government goal seems to be almost within reach.
“If governments do not act immediately to stop vote-buying in
the IWC, Japan is only three or four votes away from modifying the
moratorium,” reported Selma Milovanovic of the Melbourne Age on
Lifting the moratorium would presently require winning a 75%
majority. Of the 43 IWC nations, 21 are considered firmly against
commercial whaling, with 18 nations either aligned with Japan or
unpredictable–but with a simple majority, the rules for lifting the
moratorium could be amended to remove the requirement of a 75%
majority, according to Australian IWC observers.
Milovanovic based her report on information received from
Greenpeace expedition leader Kieran Mulvaney and the crew of the
Greenpeace ship MV Arctic Sunrise, which docked in Melbourne a day
earlier after pursuing the six-vessel Japanese whaling fleet in
Antarctic waters since November 6, 2001.
During the voyage the MV Arctic Sunrise crew reportedly
videotaped a Japanese catcher boat in the act of killing a whale,
the first Japanese whale-killing caught on camera in 13 years; drove
an inflatable power boat between the catcher boat Kyo Maru #1 and a
minke whale as a harpooner tried to take aim, enabling the whale to
escape; were hit by water cannon from the whale processing ship
Nisshin Maru; and tracked the Japanese fleet as it worked the edges
of Australian waters.
On January 1 the Australian research ship Aurora Australis
found a Japanese whale catcher cruising 38 nautical miles inside the
boundary, and ordered it to leave.
The $323 million Japanese investment in reopening commercial
whaling, mentioned by Greenpeace, was confirmed later on January 17
by Jim McLay, New Zealand IWC delegation chief since 1993.
Included, McLay said, are $210 million in Japanese Overseas
Development Aid grants, and $113 million in direct subsidies for
The level of investment in “research whaling” is expected to
rise even further when in October 2002 the Japanese National Space
Development Agency launches a satellite to track whales who are to be
tagged with transponders. Promoted as a conservation project, the
satellite tracking could enable Japanese whalers to find whales
almost at will.
In addition, the Japanese Fisheries Agency in early January
2002 announced a long-rumored plan to close off a bay near Hirado,
in Nagasaki prefecture, 620 miles southwest of Tokyo, and attempt
to raise captive minke whales there, partly as a tourist attraction
but partly also to find out if whales could be farmed for meat.
The announcement of that somewhat outlandish project may have
been timed to upstage further attention to the alleged use of
Japanese aid to influence IWC decisions.
Japan Fisheries Agency chief Masayuki Komatsu confirmed the
long-suspected use of Japanese development aid to buy influence in
the IWC during a July 2001 Australian Broadcasting Corporation live
radio interview. But Komatsu did not state the specific amounts
“Japan does not have military powers, unlike the U.S. or
Australia,” Komatsu said. “In order to get appreciation of Japan’s
position, of course, it is natural that we must resort to these two
major tools” of diplomacy and promises of foreign aid grants.
“We have known this for years,” responded Greenpeace Japan
spokesperson Motojoi Nagasawa. “Everyone knows that Japan has been
buying votes, but the government has always denied it. This
admission makes the target of our protests a lot clearer.”
And a lot more brazen.
“I think there is nothing wrong,” Komatsu continued in the
July 2001 interview. He then called minke whales, the species most
often killed by Japan and Norway, “cockroaches of the ocean,
because there are too many and because of the speed of the whale.”
Japan Fisheries Agency spokesperson Shiro Yuge said later
that what Komatsu meant to say was that minke whales have “strong
But Komatsu himself affirmed that, “What I said was,
official development assistance is one tool to have Japan’s
principles and views understood.”
“I am ashamed to hear that from a representative of the
Japanese government,” Nagasawa told Peter Hadfield of the South
China Morning Post.
Hadfield reminded readers that Japan used similar tactics to
push rainforest logging in Malaysia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia,
and to defend driftnetting in the South Pacific Forum, a treaty
organization which once considered banning driftnets because of the
harm they do to non-target marine life. Other observers recalled
Japanese use of development aid to delay the exit of Brazil from
commercial whaling, which was done by Japanese-owned firms from a
Brazilian base; obstruct the eventual creation of the Indian Ocean
whale sanctuary; and force Panama to withdraw a 1978 proposal that
might have brought the global whaling moratorium into effect a full
decade before Japan belatedly complied with it, two years after
other IWC members.
Japan did not get exactly what it wanted at the 2001 IWC
meeting in London, held a few days after the Komatsu interview.
In fact, the IWC adopted a non-binding resolution
criticizing the slaughter of at least 18,000 Dall’s porpoises per yer
in Japanese waters, even though no population study has been done to
determine the effect of the escalating toll on the stock. At least
130,000 Dall’s porpoises have been landed in Japan since the most
recent population estimate was produced–and then, in 1990, the IWC
noted that if the numbers were correct, Japanese fishers were
killing about 25% of the population per year.
In addition, the 2001 IWC meeting passed two non-binding
resolutions asking Japan to avoid doing lethal whale “research,” the
major pretext for Japanese whaling since 1986, and to refrain from
doing “research whaling” in the western North Pacific.
Ignoring the resolutions, and a message of “opposition to
Japan’s expanded scientific program” that U.S. State Department
spokesperson Richard Boucher said was sent to Tokyo by U.S. president
George W. Bush, Japanese “research” whalers later in 2001 killed 100
minke whales, 50 Brydes whales, and eight sperm whales in the
western North Pacific, plus 440 minke whales who were killed within
the Southern Oceans sanctuary.
Dodging the IWC rebukes with apparent impunity, Japan won
the biggest vote at the 2001 meeting, for the second year in a row
defeating a joint proposal to the IWC by Australia and New Zealand
which would have designated a South Pacific whale sanctuary.
Together with the existing Indian Ocean and Southern Oceans
sanctuary, the South Pacific sanctuary would have put most of the
southern quarter of the earth off limits to commercial whaling even
if the 1986 moratorium is listed.
The chances of the IWC approving either the South Pacific
sanctuary or a South Atlantic whale sanctuary sought by Brazil are
now believed to be just about nil. Instead, the Cook Islands,
Tonga, New Zealand, and Australia have jointly declared all of
their territorial waters off limits to whaling, and are encouraging
other Pacific island nations to join them. Most are not members of
The Solomon Islands is in the IWC, however, receives
extensive development aid from Japan, and has recently voted with
the Japanese-led pro-whaling coalition.
Six Caribbean nations which receive Japanese aid also
consistently vote with Japan: Antigua-and-Barbuda, Dominica,
Grenada, St. Kitts-and-Nevis, St. Lucia, and St.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society embarrassed St. Lucia
about a week before the 2001 IWC meeting by obtaining and widely
airing videotape of a St. Lucian fishing boat entering Castries
harbor with a baby pilot whale bleeding on the deck. Although the
St. Lucian vessel passed alongside the Norwegian cruise liner Monarch
of the Sea, the whale-killing was not reported until Sea Shepherd
disclosed it. Afterward, the Sea Shepherd ship Ocean Warrior was
ordered out of St. Lucian waters.
Pilot whales and other small toothed whales are not protected
by the IWC, but the killing confirmed the existence of a St. Lucian
whaling industry. St. Lucian fishers acknowledged killing 29 small
whales in 1999, according to IWC secretary Nicky Grandy, but the
St. Lucia Whale and Dolphin Associ-ation lists 161 actual
whale-killings known to members. Opposed to whaling, the nonprofit
association promotes whale-watching.
IWC vs. CITES
Of possibly greater importance this year than any motion
actually brought to a vote by the IWC in 2001 is that last year the
IWC did not vote on a proposed Revised Management Scheme for
reopening commercial whaling. The IWC committed itself to developing
the RMS in 1994, as part of the series of trade-offs that brought
the designation of the Southern Oceans whale sanctuary.
As it stood in 2001, the RMS would have allowed commercial
whaling to resume while cutting the Japanese and Norwegian quotas to
approximately half the number of whales they have killed in recent
Japan kills whales in the name of “research,” while Norway
kills minke whales in coastal waters under an “exception” to the
moratorium claimed when it was first adopted.
If the IWC fails to adopt some version of the RMS this year,
World Wildlife Fund international policy unit director Gordon
Shepherd predicted after the 2001 IWC meeting, “There is a real
possibility that the IWC will be overruled at the 2002 conference of
the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered
Species,” called CITES.
“Without a proper management regime in place at the IWC,”
Shepherd continued to BBC correspondent Alex Kirby, “CITES may move
the minke whale off Appendix I, which bans all trade, to Appendix
II, which permits controlled trade. That would mean a free-for-all,
with non-IWC members launching a completely uncontrolled hunt of
minkes to supply the Japanese market. IWC members would still be
bound by the moratorium,” except for Norway and Russia, which has
ceased commercial whaling but also took an exception to the
“Russia could resume whaling again,” Shepherd suggested,
predicting that other nations now in the IWC might drop out to join
in the killing.
One dropout might be Iceland, which left the IWC in 1992 in
protest against the whaling moratorium, but rejoined in 2000, a
year after the Icelandic parliament passed a pro-whaling resolution.
Iceland tried to claim an exception from the moratorium in 2001, but
was overruled by the IWC membership because it had not claimed an
exception back in 1985, when Norway and Russia declared their intent
to maintain exceptions.
Japan, Norway, and some independent scientists working on
the RMS assert that the anti-whaling nations have unreasonably
delayed it as an underhanded means of extending the moratorium,
which Japan and Norway assert is no longer needed.
However, although the Pacific gray whale population came off
the U.S. endangered species list in 1994, and is believed to be as
numerous now as ever, the estimated 26,000 grey whales gave birth to
only about 250 offspring in 2001, according to observers. The North
Atlantic right whale and bowhead whale populations are still in
decline, as both species continue to suffer low birth rates. There
is also huge disagreement over the status of minkes. While all
observers agree that minkes are the most abundant baleen whale
species, Japan claims there are more than a million minke whales in
the southern hemisphere; New Zealand data suggests that there are as
few as 268,000. Adopting the RMS will require agreement on the
abundance of whales, in order to estimate the numbers who may be
killed without jeopardizing any population.
Besides the non-adoption of the RMS, non-whaling nations
have maintained the moratorium by requiring that less painful methods
of killing whales be developed than the traditional harpooning. A
review of Japanese and Norwegian whaling data from 1983 through 2000
by Bristol University (U.K.) veterinary scientist Steve Kestin
reported in 1991 that Japanese grenade-tipped harpoons actually kill
minke whales outright only half as often as Norwegian harpoons,
which effect a kill on first strike about 90% of the time. Since
then, however, the Japanese whaling fleet has retooled with new
harpoon guns that fire twice as heavy a grenade, twice as fast,
over a longer range.
Both Norway and Japan, whose fishing fleet is the largest
and most aggressive in the world, accuse whales and seals of
contributing to the global depletion of fish stocks.
The pro-whaling-and-sealing High North Alliance asserts that
each minke whale killed saves five tons of cod, 4.5 tons of herring,
and 2.8 tons of smelt for human fishers. The Japanese Institute of
Cetacean Research estimates that whales collectively “consume between
280 and 500 million tons of marine life each year,” amounting to
“three to six times the annual world harvest of fish for human
The Institute of Cetacean Research figures are particularly
disingenuous because most of the marine life consumed by whales
consists of krill and plankton, not fish and not food that would
otherwise be consumed by fish involved directly in the human food
Responds IFAW in a new brochure called Whales & Fisheries,
downloadable at <www.ifaw.org/page.asp?id+735>, “Over 75% of the
world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited,” according to the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. “Overfishing by
humans is the major cause. The view that because whales eat fish,
fewer whales would mean more fish is simplistic. Before commercial
whaling depleted the great whales, there was no shortage of fish.
Ironically, because whales eat the predators or competitors of
commercially important fish, a whale cull could result in a
reduction in the availability of commercially important fish.”
The High North Alliance argues that the Antarctic and Barents
Sea regions, at opposite ends of the earth, could sustain the
slaughter of 30,000 whales per year, worth $360 million between the
value of the meat and the value of the fish saved. The global
whaling industry is currently worth about 10% as much.
The whale-watching industry meanwhile grew at 12% per year
throughout the 1990s, triple the overall rate of growth of
international tourism, according to Erich Hoyt in a 2001 report
commissioned by IFAW. Whale-watchers spend more than $300 million a
year just on voyages, Hoyt found.
World Wildlife Fund researchers Casandra Phillips and
Elizabeth Kemf reported after a separate study that nine million
people from 87 nations participated in whale-watching during 2000,
and put the total value of whale-watching at $1 billion per
year–already three times the possible net from whaling, even if the
High North Alliance figures are accepted.
By now, many whale advocates thought a decade ago, the rise
of whale-watching and the whaling moratorium should have ended any
economic interest in killing whales.
“Nobody could have predicted the effort that Japan and Norway
would put into keeping whaling alive,” Greenpeace U.K. whaling
campaigner Richard Page admitted recently to London Independent
environment editor Michael McCarthy. But Norwegian and Japanese
coalition politics give coastal communities disproportionate clout.
Equally important, Norway and Japan as major fishing nations are
reluctant to concede to international organizations any further
ability to limit and regulate marine catches. Both the Norwegian and
Japanese governments tend to view the struggle over whaling as a
preliminary bout in a greater fight over access to fish.
Hanging on in Norway
Conducting the only authorized and acknowledged commercial
whale hunt of any nation, Norway killed 589 minke whales in 2000,
and 549 in 2001. As in every year since resuming whaling in 1993,
lack of access to the Japanese whale meat market left the Norwegian
government to store much of the meat and blubber. From 400 to 800
tons of Norwegian whale byproducts are reportedly warehoused. The
estimates vary due to uncertainty about how much whale meat and
blubber has rotted in storage and been discarded.
Norway announced in January 2001 that it would resume selling
whale meat to Japan regardless of the IWC, but the scheme failed in
October after Japanese food inspectors found that the blubber from
whales caught in Norwegian waters tends to be contaminated with PCBs,
a carcinogenic chemical formerly used as a lubricant and coolant in
Earlier, 22 airlines, including Scandinavian Airlines
System, Finnair, Lufthansa, KLM, and British Airways pledged to
Greenpeace that they would not fly whale products to Japan. The
participation of Scandinavian Airlines and Finnair in the boycott was
something of a surprise, since Scandinavian is the official airline
of Norway (as well as Sweden and Denmark), and Finnair is the
official airline of Finland, a nation usually closely aligned with
Norwegian whaling aspirations received a further setback when
whaling baron, Coastal Party founder, and member of the Norwegian
parliament Steinar Bastesen, 56, suffered a series of strokes
between November 25 and December 3. Bastesen at last report was in a
coma, not expected to recover.
On December 6, 2001 the Norwegian whaling vessel Nehalla
burned and sank at dockside in Lofoten. Five days later both the old
and new wings of the Olvasens Sonner AS whale meat processing plant
in Lofoten burned to the ground.
“We are not ruling out that this could be sabotage,” High
North Alliance spokesperson Rune Frovik said. The fires were
reminiscent of the dockside scuttling of the Norwegian whaling vessel
Nybraena at Christmas 1992, and of attacks on two Icelandic whaling
ships by activists Rod Coronado and David Howitt in November 1986.
All three of those actions were eventually claimed by the Sea
Shepherd Conservation Society. The Sea Shepherds sent out a press
release about the Lofoten fires on December 13, 2001, but did not
claim any involvement.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson did not totally rule out use
of fire in his 1993 book Earthforce! An Earth Warrior’s Guide To
Strategy, but included 25 sentences of cautions in his 61-sentence
chapter “Attacking with fire,” including stipulations against the
use of fire in any circumstance that might jeopardize anyone’s life,
with the possible exception of direct self-defense; a mention that,
“Fire and explosives are difficult to justify from a public relations
point of view”; and a reminder that, “Arson is a serious crime.”