The Japanese whaling season begins – Infinitive
JAPANESE WHALING SEASON BEGINS
GEROWYN HANSON ©
News that the Japanese whaling factory ships are about to leave port for its annual cull is ramping up preparations for the Sea Shepherd fleet to also set sail.
Last year, the international anti-whaling organization reported their best year so far, by saving more than 900 whales from slaughter. Sea Shepherd spokesperson and former Greens leader, Bob Brown, wants the Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, to honour his word by sending an Australian Customs vessel to accompany their fleet to the Antarctic. The Minister remains committed at this point.
While hunting for whales is abhorrent to most westerners, it is not particularly well accepted in Japan, either. As a matter of fact, since the late 1990’s, Japanese eco-tourism charter boats have been taking sightseers whale-watching around its coastline and islands. It is even possible for visitors to swim with the creatures. Progressive-thinking news commentators have also been questioning the need to hunt the species when Japan already has such a wide choice of meat products.
Unlike the ancient practices of whale hunting amongst indigenous populations in the circum-polar regions, such as the Inuit people, whaling was never a traditional custom with the Japanese. The practice was actually introduced in the post-war era when the near starving population needed a large and readily available source of protein. It was in fact, under orders from General Douglas A. MacArthur during the Allied occupation, that whaling was seen as a solution to an urgent problem.
Not only is it a relatively recent activity but the majority of Japanese people do not even like or eat whale meat. In reality, there are a number of Japanese anti-whaling activists who regularly protest against the whaling companies by pressuring them to abandon the hunt. In 2008, activists, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki, known as the “Tokyo Two”, were arrested. The campaigners were unlawfully imprisoned for two years after uncovering government corruption whereby tax-payers’ money had been used to finance the whaling industry. Due to the overwhelming support for their cause, they were finally released on suspended sentences in September, 2010.
In June this year at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Australia challenged Japan’s true purpose of whaling for scientific research. The Japanese defended their case by stating that while some of their research included live whales, a complete investigation could not be carried out scientifically unless it could examine dead specimens as well. They accused Australia of offending its national dignity when allegations were made that the Japanese had lied to The Court. Australia argued that Japan’s use of the term “scientific research” is actually a scheme to conceal the killing of whales for commercial gain which is prohibited.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned the commercial slaughter of whales by non-indigenous populations in 1982 to allow stocks to recover. Member nations such as Japan can however, obtain “scientific permits” to kill whales for research. Presentation of evidence for the case is likely to take up to two years before a decision can be reached.
Earlier this year, the Japanese factory ship, Nisshin Maru and a Japanese Customs vessel, the Shonan Maru were ordered out of Australian territory when they crossed the line in Antarctic waters following interaction with Sea Shepherd craft. The anti-whaling organization believes there will be more confrontations with the Japanese fleet again this year.
While the Australian Government wishes to show integrity by both its legal and humane stance on whaling, there is the risk of offending an important trading partner. In view of the Abbott Government’s record in international relations to date, it will be interesting to observe how this situation will be handled as well.