Japanese "scientific" whaling resumes


A mother Minke whale and her year-old calf are dragged on board a Japanese whaling ship after being harpooned in Antarctic waters. The picture was taken from an Australian customs vessel tracking the whalers to gather evidence for possible legal action to stop the annual slaughter. [Photo: AFP]

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How many scientific papers have been published, say in the last decade, as a result of this "scientific" whaling?

Here's what an Italian contributed recently to a discussion about Japanese whaling. If people were more aware of the history, they would realize that the Japanese don't like the current arrangement either, which was forced on them by the IWC.

I have only casually followed the whaling story since having supper with one of the tormented Japanese delegates to the IWC when it met in Brighton in the 1970s, but surely it was not the Japanese who were chiefly guilty of speciousness. My understanding of what happened is the following.

Japan had a commercial whaling industry which was threatened by obliteration by the moratorium. And while Japanese are susceptible to the charms of whales, as of kangaroos, (one of the texts on which I learned Japanese in 1942 was a 1930s Chuo Koron article by a Captain Ahabhish whaler who talked about the fascination of these creatures) they saw no good reason for killing the industry, unless there were good conservationist grounds.
And were irritated like hell by the fact that the moratorium was forced through by people who feel the same way about whales as pious Hindus feel about cows and not only speciously used conservation arguments which might have been valid for some species as if they applied to all, but did so with self-righteous claims to the moral high-ground, impugning the human decency of the Japanese as well as threatening one of their industries.
Some of the more rational delegates, perhaps feeling somwhat ashamed at being forced by their electorate to maintain an irrational position, and sympathizing with the Japanese reluctance at having to sacrifice a reasonably productive industry for no good reason, -- and given the real uncertainty about some of the parameters one really needed to know about for intelligent conservation decisions -- dreamed up with their Japanese fellow-delegates this notion of a limited kill for scientific purposes and managed to get it through the IWC.
Offered the chance of keeping their industry, if on a reduced scale, by accepting the pretence, the Japanese suffered the cognitive dissonance and accepted the pretence, while nevertheless, in so far as it was for real and not just pretence, actually doing a conscientious job of collecting data.

By Wataru Tenga (not verified) on 06 Feb 2008 #permalink

The whaling industry in Japan (As well as other countries)has always brought about strange feelings for me personally. I love these magnificigant animals but at the same time I can't justify, in my own mind, trying to suggest to another culture that they can't continue with a least a carefully controlled harvest of a few whales every year. As far as I know, minke whales, aren't endangered. Obviously, certain species should be protected but for some, like the minke, a few could be taken each year without there being too much a effect on the species as a whole. Maybe Japan has a right to be annoyed by morals inflicted by a western culture. I also remember seeing on the news a few years ago that the whaling industry in Japan was having a bit of a crisis because whale meat wasn't popluar with young people in Japan and the industry was experiencing a bit of a decline. There was a huge campaign launched to promote whale meat to children. (Serving it in school lunches etc...) I guess it was successful, they're still hunting whales.

I've no problem with the idea of killing Minke whales in limited numbers for food. Until factory farming is outlawed in the rest of the world the Japanese have every right to view calls for banning whaling (of non-endangered species such as minke) as grossly hypocritical.

This argument is nonsense, as evidenced by the fact that some critically endangered species -- such as blue whales -- are killed and sold under the label of "Minke" (see, for just an example, http://www.abc.net.au/pm/stories/s668418.htm ). Nobody in the world can argue that blue whales, fin whales, or sei whales can be "safely and sustainably harvested" at even a few whales a year any more, given their numbers. And the species are so visually distinct that there is simply no possibility that the Japanese ships do not know what they are killing until it is too late.

Also, the hunting is being carried out in an internationally-recognised "sanctuary" (at least it is supposed to be a sanctuary) which exists solely because it protects breeding grounds absolutely critical to the southern Minkes and other southern whale populations. The Japanese are simply flouting international law, there. And there is no "tradition" defense; the traditional Japanese most certainly did not hunt around Antarctica.

So, once again, it appears that a "legal" (if very dubiously so) harvest is being used as a front for completely unsustainable activities. And, unsurprisingly, it's about profit. From experience in Japan, whalemeat is actually very expensive in the shops.

I like Japan and have no intention of demonising the Japanese, but let's call this for what it is: a profit-making business, which cares no more about sustainability or ethics than any other large profit-making business in the world does, unless forced to. The "poor little innocent victimised Japanese, all picked on by the illogical tree-huggers who want to wreck their traditions" card is complete bullshit.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

So what you are saying Luna is that because there have been some violations in the past we should ban all whaling just in case violations happen in the future?
Fair enough, so long as you are prepared to apply that to other foodstuff production. There are frequent violations of fishing quotas, should we ban all fishing? How about deforestation to grow crops, should we ban crops too?

Thanks for the misinterpretation.

First, I'm pointing out the fact that the Japanese are perfectly willing to ignore bans on hunting endangered species, despite the very good conservation evidence -- and it's not just "a violation", it is the fact that they do not self-police, and despite having been internationally embarrassed by the exposure of it, have done absolutely nothing to prevent it or police it in the future, which puts considerable doubt on their goodwill. For the record, I absolutely support several years of fishing ban in, for example, the North Sea, where illegal by-catch which ends up on the market as "black fish" threatens a number of critically endangered species; but to their credit, at least, recently the UK and a number of other European countries have really been trying to crack down on the black fish landed by stepping up both inspections, tracking, and penalties.

Giving any species time to recover healthy populations does far, far more to preserve any "industry" which is based on catch, than continuing a high catch does. Hunting despite this common-sense principle makes no more sense for the Japanese than it did for Iceland or Canada. And hunting breeding females and immature young in *any* species, even those with currently healthy populations, is about the worst management practice possible. Does that stop them? No, and it is because of profit. And does the Japanese government try to regulate this? No, it defends it. Again, don't cry me any crocodile tears here.

Second, don't make stupid arguments about crops, please. We cannot feed any population without crops, and the countries which are worst for deforestation also need the income from crops most. Without this, people would starve. Without the whalemeat...no-one starves. This isn't just comparing apples and oranges, it is comparing apples with elephants.

And illegal deforestation is internationally condemned, anyway. Just like this illegal hunting is.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

^you're not very smart, are you?

I think we should start harvesting Japanese sailors, politicians and whaling industry executives... you know, for scientific research.

By Grant Canyon (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

o_O Beg pardon?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

Sorry, my comment at #12 was meant for "person" at #10. Or was person at #10 referring to comment #8?

Grr, these need some form of threading.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

@ Luna

Ignore "person" ... they are an idiot who has said dumb things around here before.

By John Lynch (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

Ah, right. Thanks.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

I guess it was successful, they're still hunting whales.

Posted by: Susan | February 7, 2008 4:30 AM

I read that article. I also read some follow-ups.

Last I read, the Japanese whaling industry was sitting on 2,700 tons of uneaten, frozen whale-meat and the Japanese government was subsidizing it to the tune of a billion (US) dollars a year. The solution was going to be converting the meat into dog food. Which, btw, dogs don't particularly care for, either.

The fact is, as a business, it's a complete failure. As public policy, it's a complete failure. As diplomacy, it's a complete failure. As a cultural tradition, it's even more laughable as the Japanese rarely did any sort of whaling until they bought Norwegian technology back to Japan in 1898. Even then, it took until 1910 for them to become successful.

Have the whalers ever offered to prove their scientific seriousness by, say, taking their "lethal" samples and then dumping the carcasses? Rather than selling the meat to fish markets?

No? I didn't think so.

And hunting breeding females and immature young in *any* species, even those with currently healthy populations, is about the worst management practice possible. Does that stop them? No, and it is because of profit. And does the Japanese government try to regulate this? No, it defends it. Again, don't cry me any crocodile tears here.

1) If you want to go back to the old days when the IWC sincerely regulated whaling, we can talk about how it should be optimized, regulated and enforced. But that has nothing to do with anti-whaling advocacy as currently exists.

2) It has nothing to do with profit. Whaling is an insignificant part of the Japanese economy (we're talking about freaking Japan!) even before you get to the costs they incur from boycotts and whatnot. They're simply responding the way Americans would if the Muslim world stacked the deck of international agriculture to outlaw pork.

I'm glad to see all the concern about the environment. It must be really tough for you to live without whale meat. I hope you are also doing without other types of meat, especially beef, whose production is far more damaging to the environment than the culling of a few whales; and that you have stopped using automobiles.

For the record, I gave up meat in 1967 and stopped using cars in 1978. Of course it pains me to see whales killed needlessly, but I'm also pained by the "easy environmentalism" of people who criticise another culture without taking proper stock of their own actions.

By Wataru Tenga (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

Luna, can you not see that you are applying double standards to this issue? Yes, the UK government has cracked down on illegal overfishing but not by banning ALL fishing - just the endangered varieties. While countries like the USA allow their own populations to hunt whales and simultaneously try to ban the Japanese from doing so how can this be seen as fair by the Japanese.
I personally don't want to eat whale meat and most of the Japanese people I know don't either - its seen as old peoples food and the demand for it will no doubt drop as the older population dies off. There is, however, a limited demand from this sector at the moment and at the same time there are non-endangered whales that could be harvested for this purpose. Why not cut out the hypocrisy and simply openly allow limited regulated whaling on this one sustainable source (by the way I would agree that the 'scientific whaling' is just a sham and only puts endangered species in peril).

Like us whales are extreme K strategists (have very few young invest a lot of time in each) while most telosts are extreme r strategists (have many young invest very little time in each). K strategists are far more vulnerable. If hunting Minke had not been banned it would have collapsed the same way the Blue, Fin and Sei whale populations had sequentially collapsed once hunting them became technologically possible.

By Brett Dunbar (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

Wataru Tenga,

Don't give me this "another culture" bullshit. I don't give a damn whether it's their culture to eat whales or not. Frankly, if it were my "culture" to shoot those stupid sons of bitches who are out there killing whales would YOU respect that??

By Grant Canyon (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

"Grant Canyon"
You are perfectly within your rights to criticize the Japanese for whaling. I'm just saying, Be consistent. Look at your own practices to make sure you've got your own house in order. Being critical of whaling is the easiest, cheapest, no-pain environmental stance there is, which is why it doesn't impress me.

It offends me, for example, that many Western cultures are ruining the planet for the sake of their beef-centric diets. I'm not saying the Japanese are so much better, but at least I am trying to be ecologically sound in my own life style.

By Wataru Tenga (not verified) on 07 Feb 2008 #permalink

The US has no moral high ground in the world anymore. In fact we probably have negative moral ground.

The reason to not kill whales is not based on one country being morally superior, but the reason is still the same.

You don't kill them for the same reason you don't kill great apes or poach elephants. It is a moral reason, and as unpalatable as it seems to the Milton Friedman free-market zealots, there IS a need for morals in the world of business and trade.

I find the idea that claiming it is 'scientific research' and therefore exempt from moral considerations particularly horrific. That's the line of logic the Nazis used to do experiments on humans during WWII.

I am against science with no moral compass, and against market exploitation without one either. This looks like a nasty combination of both.

Just my opinion, of course.

BBC Correspondent Jonah Fisher*** was recently on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza chasing the Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru. You can read more here.

*** Yes, that is his real name.

Putting my cards on the table I disagree with whaling for any reason, scientific or commercial. But the comment from Wataru Tenga strikes a cord, the Japanese simply want to protect a profitable industry.

I have no idea how many jobs are at stake if Japan decided to ban whaling, and no doubt some of those people would find it difficult to transition into other industries but that is the way of the world, old industries are always replaced with new industries.

It's time the Japanese realised some of their cultural norms have become dated and some actions should not be defended by modern 21st century countries.

CC: Evidence is that the Fisheries Ministry, which is the sole branch of government which really, truly, completely unabmiguously supports whaling, has considerable clout and pushes it hard, and for various political reasons they can force the rest of the government to follow their line. The Nippon Suisan Co., Ltd., represents a big financial and political interest, with considerable behind-the-scenes clout. And their representatives are good at playing the "praise to the resolute posture of the Japanese government that faced up to the unreasonable imposition of values and various forms of pressure from Western anti-whaling countries" card (that is a direct quote from the Japan Whaling Association newsletter of Jan. 2007, by the way).

You are correct in that overall, it is not at all profitable for the country. But it is profitable for a few individuals, and those individuals have the clout to protect their business.

Wataru Tenga: I find it fascinating that you assume that I have no cultural awareness, or that I do not condemn overconsumption of beef, etc. You seem to be saying "look at me, I am more moral than you, and I do not condemn this." Well, sorry to step on your good self-righteousness riff, there, but you don't know me, and I don't particularly care about your own moral triumphs. And regardless, if we wait for everyone to be morally pure before anyone gets criticised for anything, no-one will ever get criticised for anything. By that card, just because women in the US still face significant barriers in true and full equality, the US has no right to criticise the treatment of women under Sharia in Afghanistan, or the old excuse that because China isn't doing enough to control its pollution, the US shouldn't have to. That's a moral dead end road, and a bit idiotic. One does not need to be perfect oneself to spot when stupid, hypocritical shit is going on elsewhere.

And MartinC: are you really, seriously comparing a whaling tradition which has gone on for at least 6,000 years, which never takes more than 15 whales per year (and generally less than 10), in which 90% of the hunts are still done with "traditional" tools, and where a significant proportion of the culture genuinely relies on this source of meat and cohesion....to a whaling "tradition" which goes back all of 110 years, is purely industrial, takes hundreds of whales per year, and upon which neither culture nor economy depend?

And you don't see how that's just a bit apples-and-oranges? "Double standards"?

If the whaling were purely about demand, then it wouldn't be happening *now*; the rumors about 3,900 tons of frozen stockpiled whalemeat appear to be true, they can't sell all that they already have. But as I stated above, the ones who own the industry do manage to profit from it, and they have the political clout to protect it.

One way to stop this farce, is to make Japan the target of enough condemnation for the practice that it is eventually more expensive and embarrassing for them to defend than they can bear, even with the internal pressure to do so still in place. Which I believe we are trying to do. It's true that there are a number of people [nod to Wataru Tenga, here] who claim that trying to force Japan to drop the practice means that they would "lose face" if they did, and thus they won't -- but if we just leave it to "fade away naturally" it won't either, because the longevity of family and political interest behind the scenes in Japan is legendary, and by the time the wheels of government there get around to considering the economic aspect, even Minke might be back to being endangered -- and the huge marketing campaign to make whalemeat popular again via advertising and inclusion in school lunches might have worked. So, no. Let's not even try that road.

The simple truth is, this is an immoral and indefensible practice, given the pressure on whales in general, the shield the practice provides to degradation of critically endangered stocks, and the complete lack of actual need.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

#27 : "I have no idea how many jobs are at stake if Japan decided to ban whaling, and no doubt some of those people would find it difficult to transition into other industries".

Dear Friend - I love this argument. You cannot imagine the number of jobs that were lost when the concentration camps were shut down and extermination of homo sapiens on an industrial scale ceased. What distress it must have caused to all those poor concentration camp guards, gas-oven operatives, Zyclon gas suppliers, experimental doctors, transport train operatives etc., etc. But I'm sure that loads of them managed to transition into other industries - until they were caught! At least, you hope they were caught . . . I wonder what the new industry is that replaced them . . . ?

By Mrs Hilary Vic… (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

Oh, Wataru Tenga -- before you start on the "But the Japanese have been eating whalemeat for thousands of years, too!" argument -- yes, and if the current whaling were being done in the thousands-of-years-old tradition of inshore whaling with nets and 2-4 person boats, and taking the traditional single-digit numbers of whales per year, we would not be having this conversation.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

Well Luna, is it just the numbers then?
You are saying that you would have really have no objection if the Japanese killed the same numbers as the whalers from the US take?

First, let's clarify exactly what you are talking about by "whalers from the US". I'm personally talking about the Inupiat whalers, although I was wrong about one thing -- quota the last few years was 22 whales.

If the Japanese were exercising their "aboriginal" rights in the real traditional fashion -- inshore hunts only with nets and hand-thrown harpoons -- taking 22 whales per year, if and only if there was a demonstrable subsistance need and the hunt is policed by the international community as the Inupiat hunts are; under those circumstances I probably still wouldn't personally like it, but I would leave it alone politically, because the management and limitations would be such that I don't think it would place too much pressure on any species.

Up until or unless I find out that whales have enough of a conscious mind to have something that meets our criteria for abstract language. Then all bets are off. Under no circumstances could I condone the killing of something with which I might potentially have a conversation.

Is that clear enough for you, MartinC?

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

"Wataru Tenga":
What a load of hogwash. You know nothing about anyone on this board, so you have no basis to question anyone's motivation or to describe their criticism as "easy environmentalism." Further, even if the critic ate beef at every meal and burned fossil fuels all day long, those Japanese whale killers are still evil scumbags. Pointing out the critic's supposed sins is nothing but an attempt to excuse the Japanese's vile, dishonorable actions.

Me, I haven't driven an auto in 18 years and have eaten, in my lifetime, a sum total of two hamburgers and one slice of bacon. Great. So is my criticism any more or less valid, or is it still "easy environmentalism" and improper criticism of "another culture"???

And furthermore, you aren't saying, "make sure your own house is in order" you are saying, "you have no basis to criticize 'another culture' until and unless you not only criticize 'the West' but have stripped yourself of your environmental sin." Well, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone" may be fine theology, but as public policy, it is cowardly bullshit because it amounts to a license to do nothing to stop filth like these Japanese.

By Grant Canyon (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

Luna, you remind me of a quote from Blackadder "You twist and turn like a ... twisty-turny thing." You are simply painting yourself into a corner on this one. If you are prepared to allow any numbers of whaling then we its not a matter of morals - as Grant Canyon seems to think. Whats more you seem to think using the traditional cruel and slow killing process would be better than a more modern rapid method. Do you really think that just because a tradition was part of a long tribal history then it has some sort of intrinsic value ?(lets hope you are never put in charge of a cannibalism or female genital mutilation eradication program). Either whaling is intrinsically evil and should be banned or it isn't and it should be allowed - subject to strict regulation and appropriate conservation measures.
You can't have it both ways.

MartinC, evidently you are confusing me with other people. And I mean that literally.

I have made every attempt to be entirely clear and precise about my stance. Either you just want to be in name-calling, or you're an idiot. Either way, I'm not impressed. I will, however, make one more attempt. See if you can keep up, ok? I'll try to use small words.

1. Japanese whaling in an internationally agreed Whale Sanctuary is illegal. It ignores an international treaty.
2. Japanese whaling is patently about profit, not "tradition", and certainly not "science", therefore its excuses are a complete fraud. I believe the "science" farce is self-evident to everyone here, and at least some of my arguments have been directed at the "tradition" claim.
3. Indiscriminate killing -- of any species, but especially endangered species -- is both stupid and criminal. I encompass both the killing of members of endangered whale species under cover of their "legal" killing of Minke, and the killing of breeding females and juveniles, in this category.
4. I believe that the interests of small human communities trump the interests of animals, up to but not beyond the point that animals species are threatened; and up to but not beyond good practice as agreed on by international groups of experts and set in law.
5. Simple profit does not trump good management practice or law. This is essentially a repeat of part of 4., but you seem to be missing it, so I thought I would repeat this.

IF AND ONLY IF the Japanese "harvest" were the subsistence harvest of the Inupiat, where very small numbers are taken and the survival of some communities depends on the meat and the tradition, there would be a justification for what they are doing. As it patently is not, there is not. Incidentally, and in the hopes that this makes what I'm talking about clear to you, I mean the Inupiat whale hunting is acceptable, but the Greenland hunt is just using the same excuse for what is not a survival need, IS profit-based, and is wrong. This should make the status of the Japanese hunt quite clear, by comparison.

Their communities do not depend on it.
The scale is far too large.
The location of the hunt is illegal.
The Japanese government freely allows it to be used to shield hunting of critically endangered species, both stupid and illegal by any measure, and no Japanese actions are taken to self-police.
The only motive is profit in an already heavily-subsidized business, not human survival.

Aside from distaste for killing an amazing creature, these things make it indefensible.

This is not freakin' rocket science, here. Try not to be an idiot.

And, like I said -- if we discover that whales are smart enough to have an abstract language, then I take back everything I've just said and put forward that, if we find this out about them, then we have a moral responsibility to stop any and all hunting of them, across the board.

Is that clear enough? Do you understand that this is an internally consistent view, or did I use too many syllables again?

Oh yeah, and as for your crack about female genital mutilation, shove it up your ass until you bleed from your teeth, you motherfucking son of a bitch.

By Luna_the_cat (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

I think that the really critical issue that we're overlooking here is that evidence exists to suggest that these animals are sentient and intelligent, in which case, I would argue that no slaughter, however small, can possibly be justified. Good gods, the Japanese routinely kill approximately twenty thousand dolphins a year, when scientific research has proven that they have an encephalization quotient second only to human beings, can recognize and respond to language, are self aware and use many of the same judgement and memory techniques as human beings do. The environmental, economic and cultural concerns associated with the industry should take a far back seat to the ethical concerns of what is, basically, a governmentally sanctioned genocide. So, while a comparison with factory farms may be justified to some extent, these aren't cows, or even relatively intelligent pigs that we're killing -- we're killing animals with extensive cognitive capacities, cultural traditions and self awareness. (I am, for the record, a vegan/freegan who doesn't drive, so please stifle your complaints about my hypocrisy now.)

Luna in particular is somehow assuming I support whaling. As an individual, I am as horrified by it as anyone here. As a Japanese citizen, though, I am not prepared to be lectured by the Australian or American governments, which have no problem with their own beef industries killing the planet. Not to mention that it was the American whaling industry that wiped out most of the whales around Japan over a century ago, which is why the Japanese are hunting so far from home today. And before going off about the "scientific" subterfuge, review the history described above at Post #4.

The bottom line is, let's all do what we can to stop not only whaling, but also the much more environmentally destructive aspects of human life styles around the world. This annual piling on Japan for the actions of a small number of its citizens needs to be balanced against things that 95% of Americans and Australians and other people do every day that are hurting us.

By Wataru Tenga (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

review the unverifiable anecdote described above at Post #4.

Fixed that for you.

Norman, except that the person who reported it was actually there, and posted it to a moderated list under his own name, along with his address and other contact information.

By Wataru Tenga (not verified) on 08 Feb 2008 #permalink

That's hardly verifiable to us now is it?

A. Whales should not be killed for food because they have a higher intelligence and consciousness level compared to other animals.
B. Whales should not be killed because for food because they are on the brink of extinction and any reduction in numbers would hasten that event.
These are really two separate arguments that are getting mixed together in the current debate. If argument B was true (and I have no doubt that it IS true for a lot of whale species), the argument against whaling is really one of numbers rather than principle. If a whale species reaches a certain high number then reducing that by a small amount should not result in a significant risk of hastening extinction - for that particular species alone. Hence limited whaling for particular species could be allowable.
I suspect that this is the reason why we frequently find a mixture of argument A thrown in. The problem with argument A is that it is up to the individual where they draw the line between deserving (of life) organisms and non-deserving - those that we can use for food - and this, as we can see, is culture sensitive.