Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

A Japanese whaling fleet recently set sail amidst much local fanfare, but Greenpeace is yet again determined to interfere with the hunt by placing themselves in between the whales and the Japanese harpoons. Unlike some other whaling protest groups, Greenpeace relies strictly on peaceful non-violent protesting despite the Japanese government labeling them “dangerous animal rights terrorists.”

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A dangerous terrorist act by Greenpeace.

Furthermore, the Japanese government states that the hunt is allowable, despite a long-standing moratorium against whaling by the International Whaling Commission, because the purpose of the hunt is *cough* “scientific research.” Specifically, they are claiming to be collecting evidence about the age and mortality of whales in order to model populations. Yet, conveniently, whale meat from whales slaughtered under the guise of research makes its way to market, to be consumed by people. As Greenpeace marine biologist Carly Thomas states, “Any credible scientists knows you don’t need to kill a whale to study it…they shoot a grenade-tipped harpoon into a whale, that kills it, and that’s the only result they can claim to study. Its all just a sham.”

The International Whaling Commission itself expressed grave concerns about Japan’s activities at its meeting in June 2007:

A majority of the commission–with Japan and its allies not participating–approved a resolution that expresses “deep concern at [Japan's] continuing lethal research” and states that the program does “not address critically important research needs.” Delegates from several nations delivered far harsher words: “The practice of scientific whaling by Japan flies in the face of the whole purpose of this convention and demeans the IWC,” charged Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s deputy commissioner and a member of parliament. “Show goodwill toward the people of Australia, and drop the humpbacks if not the program itself,” he asked in an appeal echoed by others.

Australia’s request was based “on emotion, not science,” responded Joji Morishita, a deputy commissioner from Japan. “We are proud of our scientific program and its achievements,” he said, noting that the hunts will go ahead as planned for the winter of 2007-08. The IWC has no authority to force Japan to curb research whale hunts, which require only a “special permit” issued by the Japanese government itself.

Japan has stated the intention to kill over 1000 whales, including 50 endangered humpback whales. Humpback whales at one time teetered on extinction, although since the whaling moratorium in 1966 their numbers have slowly increased to about 40,000 worldwide (but only 2,000 are in the waters around Japan). In regards to the pre-moratorium excessive whaling of the humpback whale, Phil Clapham, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institute, said “This wanton destruction of some of the earth’s most magnificent creatures [is] one of the greatest of our many environmental crimes.” These whales are staples for whale-watchers, a thriving eco-tourism activity, and this is the first year they are being hunted since 1966. The resumption of humpback whaling may negatively impact whale-watching activities as the humpbacks will be nervous and evasive around human vessels.

The Japanese also slaughter thousands of live dolphins (if you can stomach the extreme abuse, look for videos of their killing methods on YouTube), also for human consumption.

The dolphins are intercepted along the migration route and driven into a cove by fishermen banging metal rods to frighten and confuse them. Fear is said to affect the quality and taste of the meat – so they are left hanging up by the neck overnight before being butchered the next morning.

Ric O’Barry, a former US Navy SEAL, now heads Save The Japan Dolphins. He’s been protesting against the hunt for the past five years.”It’s hard to believe that this is taking place in this time and age. It’s so brutal and cruel, you wonder why the world is not doing something,” he said. Many Japanese fishermen believe dolphins should be treated like any other fish.

Killing cetaceans under the auspices of scientific research, without any standards of a humane death and selling the meat to market, is dishonest and stands against everything that is progressive and positive about science. Its egg on all our faces that real scientists don’t do more to see it end.

I’ve blogged on this topic before, see here (about the cruelty of harpoons) and here (about the toxicity of some whale meat).

Comments

  1. #1 MartinC
    November 21, 2007

    If you are serious about banning the killing of whales then perhaps it might be a good idea to start by banning the practice in Alaska before calling for a ban by other countries. I don’t excuse the killing of endangered whale species like the humpback but the majority of the Japanese catch are Minke whales, which are not endangered.

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    November 21, 2007

    While a global ban is something I would like to see instituted (well, there already is one, it just isn’t enforced), I’m quite concerned with the specific practice of harpooning whales for market…and calling it science. Whaling in Alaska is still unnecessary, but I don’t think anyone is trying to pass it off as that. I take issue with the US for not setting a good example, but there exists a difference between allowing a few whales killed for subsistence villages and allowing a public demand for whale meat to be encouraged, as Japan is trying to do. The other issue is that some exceptions, such as minimal subsistance whaling, is brought before the IWC, debated, and voted on. Japan ignores the council and issues itself a “pass” to whale, setting their own limits and practices divorced from international scrutiny.

  3. #3 Ed
    November 21, 2007

    Many of the arguments in favour of whaling, especially anything involving quotas or stable populations, seems to ignore the mounting evidence that whale social structure is incredibly important. As I understand it, there is a need to recognise that killing individual whales, especially older and more experienced ones, causes repercussions for entire groups. It’s not just a question of statistics and absolute numbers.

  4. #4 Laelaps
    November 21, 2007

    From what I understand “bycatch” is a big problem as well, as technically fishermen are allowed to sell whale meat in some asian countries if the whales accidentally die in the nets and they report the whales. Genetic tests of whale meat found in the market, however, showed that the number of individual whales available for sale far exceeded those reported, so even if “scientific” slaughter of whales is stopped there’s still other problems that need to be addressed.

  5. #5 Azkyroth
    November 22, 2007

    Many Japanese fishermen believe dolphins should be treated like any other fish.

    I think a subsidiary campaign needs to be started to publicize and condemn the fact that Japan’s educational system apparently allows at least some of its citizens to grow up believing that dolphins are fish. I mean, that’s a level of Stupid on a par with the DI.

  6. #6 jvarisco
    November 22, 2007

    Is the relatively limited number of whales Japan kills going to threaten any types with extinction? As such seems unlikely, why exactly do we care? It’s not like they are people.

  7. #7 Azkyroth
    November 22, 2007

    Is the relatively limited number of whales Japan kills going to threaten any types with extinction? As such seems unlikely, why exactly do we care? It’s not like they are people.

    1) it’s sure not helping
    2) it might, in the long run, particularly if they underreport their catch, as whaling nations in this day and age have been wont to do
    and 3) we care because A) this completely unnecessary and dishonestly labeled in a fashion that demeans legitimate scientific study, B) whales are beautiful, social, and intelligent animals (arguably more intelligent than the median Bush voter, for instance), and C) even if they’re not actually driven extinct by this, decreased numbers can have other negative effects on the biosphere and the population as a whole (which is, additionally, rendered more vulnerable to other threats).

  8. #8 MartinC
    November 22, 2007

    Ive seen whale meat for sale in Japanese department stores but most younger Japanese people of my acquaintance say that its really a meal for older people (most young people have never even tasted it). Besides that its very expensive.
    As for Azkyroths points, killing a limited number of Minkes may not adversely affect that species to any significant extent (certainly not compared to everything else we are doing to the oceans and climate). The fact that you personally find them intelligent and beautiful isnt really a good argument. A Hindu, Vegan or Fruitarian may object to many other foodstuffs in a similar fashion.

  9. #9 Azkyroth
    November 22, 2007

    Beautiful is subjective; “intelligent” is not a matter of personal opinion. Take a look at some of the research. Also, you’ve still failed to address the “completely unnecessary” and “dishonest” elements.

  10. #10 Tom B
    November 27, 2007

    It is said whale “meat” is full of mercury.

    It sounds like lots of this issue revolves around national pride….

    Diane Rehm (NPR) did a great interview with Peter Heller (11/13), who sailed with an anti-whaling “pirate” (better name: vigilante). The Podcast is worth a listen.

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