II. The Reality of Whaling
A return to commercial whaling is being actively sought by Japan and Norway through the International Whaling Commission. While all other major nations oppose lifting of the ban, Japan, through the leverage of aid assistance to small island states, may find enough supporting votes to overturn the prohibition. In the meantime, every year since the commercial whaling moratorium began in 1986, Japan has continued to kill about 750 whales each year for so called scientific research.
The research is in fact nothing more than the routine data gathering that was conducted during decades of commercial whaling and the catch is still sold commercially. The only real difference is a reduced kill which they now wish to expand.
The economics of whaling are marginal in terms of employment, profit, and contribution to GDP. The product plays no significant cultural role beyond prestigious consumption. The determined effort to pursue whaling despite disapproval from all of the other major nations appears to be nothing more than recalcitrance in response to external disapproval.
While debate has raged over things such as population sizes, recruitment, sustainable yield and broader ecological effects there is a conspicuous silence on the most blatantly obvious issue of all. It almost appears there is some unspoken taboo on any mention of the ethics of whaling.
Whales and dolphin are sentient beings. Killing them is on a par with killing members of our own species. They have brains larger and more complex than our own. They have complex social relationships. They treat us with a level of respect and curiosity unequalled by other wild creatures. Those who have worked closely with them are universally impressed with their intelligence, inventiveness, playfulness and ability to communicate among themselves. There is good evidence they have self awareness. In short they are sentient beings. Anecdotal or otherwise the evidence is overwhelming. Any burden of proof must lie with the disbelievers.
To slaughter them as prestige food or routine data gathering is unconscionable. A senior Japanese delegate to the IWC has publicly referred to minke whales as "cockroaches of the sea", an attitude eerily reminiscent of other perpetrators of genocide.
Neither reasoned argument nor righteous posturing are likely to have any meaningful effect. Two things that will are internal opposition and market disapproval. Recent surveys indicate that while 75% of Japanese support a return to commercial whaling the majority of their young people are opposed to it. Support for them and their organizations will have far more influence on Japanese decision makers than overseas protestors. Second, wherever practical, avoid buying the products of offending nations and encourage others to do so. A growing boycott resulting in even a just perceptible decline in exports would be a very significant matter and provoke strong internal opposition from powerful sectors indifferent to whaling itself.
Politeness in the face atrocity is a form of complicity. It is time to call it what it is. Whaling is purely and simply murder. It has no place in any civilized society.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare estimates that this year some 10 million whale watchers will spend over US$1 billion on tours, travel, food and accommodation in 87 countries. Whale watching is a rapidly growing and sustainable industry. It it clearly time for the IWC to begin to focus on the real value of whales instead of endless argument over how many we can kill while leaving enough survivors to not deprive us of ongoing killing in the future.
For more on opposition to
whaling in Japan see: