Whaling – Is It a Crime?

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At this point, you’ve all probably have heard the arguments from both anti-whaling nations and the opinions of Japan, and if you haven’t, open up any Japanese news source or put on an episode of Whale Wars (a quite riveting TV program I might add) and you’ll quickly learn that Japan absolutely hates whales is willing to take a global black eye over… whales?!

Anyone observing the situation from afar is probably scratching their head and wondering, “What’s Japan’s infatuation over a dying industry that only causes one massive headache for everyone involved?”  Well, I am at least and if you are too, hit the jump so we can unravel this bad-boy.

Right from the get-go I think it’s important for me to state that I’m not in favor of the idea of hunting whales.  Am I a strongly haunched advocate against the idea of hunting whales?  Let me answer that question by saying this: Yes, I do live in Japan, and yes, it’s hard for me to have such a one-sided opinion.  I’m not saying that because the Japanese psyche has rubbed off on me.  What I’m saying is that there is a lot more to the story than meets the eye.  But I am against the idea of killing animals and creatures for the sake of nothing.

The Argument

One of Japan’s strongest arguments at the moment is that it has a strong tradition of hunting whales and that trying to stop whaling is trying to put an end to a culture.  Well, that is kind of true.  The earliest evidence of hunting whales stems all the way back to the indigenous Ainu tribes of Hokkaido.  Exploring who the Ainu are is a topic for a later date, but basically, if I had to liken them to something, it would be that of North America’s Native American tribes.  Yes, they are a strong part of American history (in the Ainu case, they play a strong role in Japanese history), but is it fair to claim Native American culture as a part of American tradition?  I don’t know; it’s a very sticky subject.

Fast forward a few hundred years and it wasn’t until the 16th century when whaling became organized, and even then, much of whaling was conducted by small villages and communities.  Back then, whales were seen as a valuable commodity.  Aside from feeding a village of people, whale oil could be used for lamp oils, fertilizer, everyday goods and more.  From there, whaling slowly grew until it hit the beginning of its peak in the 1890s.  And at that time, it was all the rage; many countries were doing it; everybody wanted a piece of that whaling pie.

To sum things up, there is a long history of whaling, but I would consider it less of a national culture and more of a pocket culture.  Again, it’s a slippery slope; you be the judge.

International Whaling Commision (IWC)

After World War II, the International Whaling Commision (IWC) was created in a dusty office somewhere in downtown Washington DC.  Its purpose was to protect the survivability of whale populations while also ensuring that whales remain a viable commodity to all participating nations.  As you can imagine being just after WWII, much of Europe and Japan were in ruins, so hunting an animal that could provide nutrition while also providing simple commodities as oil for heating and lubrication for machines would be the perfect solution to a world in rebuild mode.

Well, somewhere down the line farm lands began to reappear and technology started to advance making the whaling industry obsolete.  And then the 1960s came to life with activists groups beginning to appear, which led to the eventual ban of anything whaling related in the US during the 1970s.  By 1982, the IWC stepped in and shook its finger and said, “Thou shall not WHALE!!!!! unless if you’re a small indigenous tribe or if it’s for research purposes. And in that case we need to set quotas each year.  And while we’re at it, we hate to see whale meat go to waste, so you can sell it in the commercial market.  So really, Thou shall whale… sometimes… probably.”

Japan’s Black Eye

One of the major knocks on Japan is about its recruitment of various nations who have no ties to whaling, let alone access to oceans, to join the IWC in order to get enough votes to reverse the current moratorium and slow down the rapid rise of protected sanctuaries all over the world.  Yes, it’s sneaky, undermining, shameful, blah blah blah.

What a lot of people don’t know is that anti-whaling groups and nations did the exact same thing from 1972 to 1982 in order to secure the 3/4 vote to set the moratorium in the first place and current protected sanctuaries.  For a while there, it was only a matter of time before Japan lost any grasp on anything whaling related.

For me personally, I believe this is partially why Japan will not let go of whaling despite all the overwhelming reasons against it. In an already natural resource starved region of the world, I think Japan is fighting this so stubbornly to stop a precedent of future things to come.  While I can’t say for sure, it seems to be one of few reasons that answers the question, “Why?”

Japan’s Current Research Program

Japan’s current research project is called JARPA II.  It basically allows roughly 850 minke whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 humpbacks to be caught and used for “research”.  Its aim is to monitor the ecosystems in the Antarctic, monitor whale populations, and ways to improving whale stocks.  Although it accomplishes what it sets out to do, and it has shown that minke whales are alive and well,  a lot of people question whether lethal methods are necessary, and it also questions the number of specimen needed to conduct such research.

This is another reason why I think Japan is so reluctant to let whaling go.  While the rest of the world sees lethal research as a way to slaughter hundreds of whales to be sold commercially each year, Japan sees it as an opportunity to contribute in the name of science.  From the Japanese perspective, when anti-whaling groups travel to the Antarctic to stop the whaling fleets, it’s seen as a means to stop the advancement of science led by a bunch of lunatics with stink bombs and prop foulers.

Time to Set the Record Straight

Since bans on whaling began appearing around the world, Japan has felt that it was each country’s individual right to make that decision.  But to condemn Japan for continuing the practice despite their research is a violation of their own right.

Likewise, why is it not ok to hunt whales when other animals such as sheep in New Zealand; cows, chickens and pigs in the US and other countries are seen as ok to slaughter and consume.  In other words, what makes whales so special when others are not?

Lastly, if every country chose an animal as a “special protected animal” and tried to impose their feelings and beliefs on each other, you can see how things would get pretty sticky real fast.  By fighting so strongly for whaling, Japan feels that its their duty to collect data and inform the public about the actual number of whale stocks. As a concession, they’ve stopped hunting humpbacks giving time for populations to recover while ensuring that the Minke population is doing well.

In conclusion, it’s easy to see why whaling should be banned, but we never really stop to think about why Japan is taking such a huge publicity hit for an industry that really isn’t doing all that well in any conceivable aspect.  I don’t necessarily agree with whaling, but I can understand the reasoning for it, and by writing this, I hope that anyone who reads this gets a bit clearer picture of what’s going on.

Lastly, at the time of writing this, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan have taken the issue to international court and are currently presenting their cases.  Hopefully by early 2014 the world will have a resolution to all this and we can move on with our lives.  But I highly doubt it.

Further Reading (There’s still a ton information that I didn’t even touch upon):
Much of my ideas were inspired from This Japanese Life
Great BBC Article on the Subject
Wikipedia Japanese Whaling History
Wikipedia IWC

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