Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Whaling Must End

Has anyone out there ever tried whale meat? I haven't, and never will. It is quite suprising to me that there are nations who still want to hunt and kill whales. They claim they do this for 'scientific' purposes. Just how the consumption of whale meat in restaurants can be considered a scientific endeavour, I'm not sure.

According to the secretary of Norway's High North Alliance pro-whaling organization, Rune Frovic,
"Whales belong to the animal kingdom. In some cultures they eat frogs, others don't; Hindus don't eat beef, that's their choice, but they don't try to prohibit the rest of the world from eating it."
Ahem. Yes, quite true. But his statement is obvious misdirection: There is no worldwide shortage of cattle or edible frogs. They are not endangered species. They do not face the threat of extinction like actively hunted species of whale. How dumb do they think we are?

And Japan's attempt to enlist smaller nations in order to buy votes is nothing short of corruption. They don't even try to hide the fact!

Now, I wouldn't call myself a tree-hugging hippie, but this absolute plundering of nature is quite sickening. There is no need to consume whale meat, and it is falling out of favour with younger people in those nations that actively hunt whales. Sure, there are cultural reasons, but surely the survival of those species must take precedence.

3 Comments:

Blogger David said...

Hi,

I've tried whale meat - in fact I had some last night (I'm a Wellingtonian living in Tokyo).

Basically the Japanese position is that they want to set catch limits for whales in the same way as New Zealand sets catch limits for marine resources. In Japan, anything that comes from the sea is considered food, and whales are of course included.

What the Japanese argue is that they need to monitor biological characteristics of these whale stocks, so that safe catch limits can be set for whaling operations.

That is, they state that they study fertility rates, the age structure of the whale populations - whether they are pyramid shaped, or otherwise, etc through biological sampling.
Consider the opposite situation - say you have no clue about fertility rates of whales, no clue about whether the population is aging, how healthy the stock is (how fat they are) - in such a situation, is it possible to be able to set wise, safe, sustainable catch limits? The Japanese argue that the answer to this is no, hence their research programmes.

New Zealand's position is that they do not even want to answer the question :-) To New Zealand, any whaling, whether it is sustainable or not, is unacceptable.

So ultimately, yes, the goal of commercial whaling is indeed to put whale meat on the sushi plates - and the general goal of the scientific research that Japan does is to improve knowledge such that commercial whaling catch limits can be facilitated, while at the same time giving them certainty that the levels of catch designated can be sustainable. What Japan argues is that, over time the characteristics of the whale populations are changing, and so that the research must be ongoing, so that we don't get caught out setting catch limits on scientific information that is no longer valid.

Japan recognises that people are skeptical about all this - aren't they really just saying all this just to keep hunting whales right now? To this they note that Japan could withdraw from the convention for the regulation of whaling any time it wants to, and just go it alone. They could be out there, hunting thousands and thousands of whales, and there's nothing to stop them from doing so.

Instead, they have stuck with their research programmes (at cost to their taxpayers) to prove that whaling will be sustainable.

You can find some information about their research here: http://www.icrwhale.org/JARPAReview2.htm
Obviously, scientists from New Zealand don't think any of this research is useful, but then we have to consider that the position of New Zealand is to not have any hunting of whales at all. Should we be surprised that NZ scientists don't accept Japan's research, which has the specific goal of making for sustainable whale catch limits? Who knows, but it's something to ponder :-)

On the endangered species thing, you are right that some species and endangered. Japan and Norway accept this as well, and agree that such stocks should not be hunted.

Where they disagree is that, just because the Antarctic Blue whale stock for example needs many many more years to recover, that is no reason to ban the hunting of other stocks, such as the Antarctic and North Atlantic minke stocks which are known to be quite abundant. They argue that so long as they set catch limits based on sound scientific understanding, sustainable whaling is possible.

Of course, Greenpeace on the other hand says that Japan and Norway are lying, and that these governments actually want to allow a free-for-all, where all the whales can be exterminated for good.

Again, we are left to decide for ourselves what we will believe :-)

On the vote buying thing, Japan doesn't accept that that is what it does. It's position is to seek out nations that agree in principle with the notion of sustainable use of marine resources, to give aid to those nations in developing their own fisheries industries, thus developing friendly relations with those nations, and winning their support. Certainly the ODA money is an important tool in their foreign policy reportoire, but I personally think it's taking it a little too far to describe this tactic as "vote buying". On the contrary, Japan is unlikely to give huge dollops of aid to nations with beliefs that are fundamentally opposite to Japan, and indeed, why should she?

An interesting thing to note is that some of the nations accused of selling their votes actually kill whales and smaller cetaceans for food themselves. St. Vincent and the Grenadines for example has a small humpback whale catch quota, allocated to it by the IWC - yet despite this, they have been accused of selling their vote to Japan. That's a highly ellaborate cover for vote buying, if indeed that's really what it is :-)

You are right that there is no need to consume whalemeat for some nations like Japan and Norway. But, to be fair, we could all go vegan if we really wanted to. This isn't so much about need as it is about freedom to make our own choices about what we wish to eat. Indeed, if as the western media says, Japanese people are losing their taste for whale meat, then eventually the industry will naturally cease to exist.

In the meantime, the best whale lovers can hope for is that whaling operations are kept at sustainable levels.

1:35 PM  
Blogger J.L. said...

Hey David,

Thanks for commenting! You make some very valid points.

I accept that whaling nations need to monitor stocks and age structures, but why do whales need to be killed in order for this data to be gathered? Aren't there other methods, such as tagging, that can yield this data without having to kill the animals? (I note that if animals are being killed, this will affect the age structure, albeit negligibly).

If there is agreement that whale numbers are dangerously low, why not temporarily cease whaling in order for stock levels to increase instead of further reducing the population?

As for the vote buying - surely if smaller nations had an interest in commercial whaling, they would have already joined the IWC of their own accord, without the encouragement of any other nation. Whether or not Japan Accepts that this is what it does, it seems that Japan is gathering support in order to a) lend weight to its voting power, and b) to increase its percieved potential market for the sale of whale meat. I may be wrong, but it's certainly possible.

I would guess that whale meat is a lucrative business - how much did the meat that you had last night cost? Naturally, such things are good for the economy.

If it could be shown definitively - perhaps by an independant party - that there was a surplus of stock, then my objection would be reduced. However, the method of killing the whales (while effective) would still concern me.

You are right, though; we could all become vegans if we wanted to. The current favoured method of dispatching cattle/ sheep/ chickens is probably no less grotesque.

We are hippocrites, one and all!

6:16 PM  
Blogger David said...

Hello again, thank you for having me :-)
This is another marathon comment, I'm afraid... bear with me :-)

1) First, the scientific issues!

> why do whales need to be killed in order for this data to be gathered?

This is indeed one of the controversial scientific topics surrounding special permits that Japan uses.

Japan often points out that in their review of the JARPA programme in 1997, the IWC Scientific Committee said:
"The review meeting noted that there were non-lethal methods available that could provide information about population age structure (e.g. natural marking) but that logistics and the abundance of minke populations in Areas IV and V probably precluded their successful application."
http://luna.pos.to/whale/iwc_sc97_12.html

(Areas IV and V are the names that the IWC Scientific Committee has given to two areas of the Antarctic ocean - these areas are those roughly south of Australia and New Zealand).

Another similar quote on the matter comes from a New Zealander:

"Martin Cawthorn is a scientist, writer and member of the IWC scientific committee in Plimmerton, a seaside village just outside New Zealand's capital city. While some New Zealanders argue that the Japanese can do their scientific research from genetic sampling, he says, they "would change or modify their opinion" if they had any idea how difficult it is to gather such information in the Antarctic region."
http://www.japaninc.net/article.php?articleID=1116&page=3

Most kiwis probably wouldn't have heard of Martin Cawthorn, but he was the co-author of New Zealand's Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1978. As we can see, he basically agrees with the IWC Scientific Committee has said (he was a member of the committee, as noted in the quote).

Anti-whaling groups don't accept this though - they argue that the research isn't required to begin with. They point to a part of the 1997 report that says:
"The Committee also noted that while JARPA results were not required for management under the Revised Management Procedure (RMP),"
Therefore Greenpeace and co. argue that the research is a sham, and nobody wants it.

Japan counterpunches, noting that the rest of the sentence reads:
"they [the JARPA results] had the potential to improve it [the RMP] ...", and finally concludes:
"The results of analyses of JARPA might allow an increased allowed catch of minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere without increasing the depletion risk ... for these minke whales."
http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/permits.htm#jarpa

Japan argues that it's research is therefore in the spirit of the goal of the IWC - "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry"
http://www.iwcoffice.org/commission/convention.htm#convention

> If there is agreement that whale numbers are dangerously low, why not temporarily cease whaling in order for stock levels to increase instead of further reducing the population?

Japan and it's fellow pro-whaling supporters argue that this is what the situation has been for years now ;-)

They argue that it is no longer the case that whale numbers of certain stocks are low. Japan recently gained an interest in the Humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere for example, which were given protection in 1963. The IWC Scientific Committee estimates the stocks 'D' and 'E' humpback stocks that breed off the coasts of Australia in winter and feed in the Antarctic in summer to have been growing at rates of 10% each year for the past 20 years.
South African scientists last year released a study suggesting that these populations are likely to be fully recovered in the next 10 to 15 years.
The current IWC meeting being held in the Caribbean may reveal that the Scientific Committee has agreed on new population estimates for these humpback stocks.

The Blue whale, given protection in 1964, has taken far longer to show signs of recovery, but Japan notes that it has no plans to hunt this species because of this situation. The good news for the Blue whale is that a recent IWC sponsored sightings survey cruise led by New Zealander Paul Ensor confirmed that their numbers in the Antarctic are on the rise.
http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=31&art_id=vn20060227103714920C675132

Finally, the Japanese always argue that the Antarctic minke has never been depleted, and is more numerous today than before industrial whaling began. A new population estimate for this species is also due at the IWC meeting to be held from this Friday. The last estimate, valid for 1990 was 761,000.
http://www.iwcoffice.org/conservation/estimate.htm
Japan has only killed several thousand of them during the time, but apparently survey data has suggested that the estimate may be significantly lower. It will be interesting to hear what reasons the committee gives to explain any large differences in newly agreed estimates.

> If it could be shown definitively - perhaps by an independant party - that there was a surplus of stock, then my objection would be reduced.

I've probably raved enough about them now - I think this party would likely be the IWC's Scientific Committee.
http://www.iwcoffice.org/commission/iwcmain.htm#committee

As I noted above, people such as Martin Cawthorn who co-authored the Marine Mammals Protection Act have sat on the committee in previous years.

2) Humane issues...

> However, the method of killing the whales (while effective) would still concern me.

Certainly, humane killing is one issue that the whalers should continually look to improve on. The IWC has a working group on this very topic, and Time-To-Death and the Instantaneous Death Ratio statistics are currently supplied voluntarily by member nations, and they can of course share advances in technology.

Slaughterhouses do have the advantage that it all happens behind closed doors. Whereas when you are firing harpoons at whales, and you don't cleanly hit your target, you have Greenpeace broadcasting it to the whole world. The task is even harder when you have anti-whaling activists in inflatable dingies getting in the way of your target!


3) Next, the (dirty) political issues!

> As for the vote buying - surely if smaller nations had an interest in commercial whaling, they would have already joined the IWC of their own accord, without the encouragement of any other nation.

In international politics, it seems that this is not the case ;-)

Just a few days ago, Israel joined the IWC after being asked to do so by it's good mate, the USA. The media reports noted that Israel hasn't got a whaling policy, but plans to support the anti-whaling cause.

Japan has been accused of buying the vote of landlocked nation Mongolia. Checking the IWC membership reveals that seven landlocked European nations are IWC members. Mongolia was recruited in 2002 - Switzerland on the other hand was recruited way back in 1980.

In fact, there are even allegations that Greenpeace actively recruited nations to push through the commercial moratorium in the early 1980's:
http://www.highnorth.no/IWC2006/iwc_moratorium.htm
Caribbean representatives have alledged this as well:
“Some of these organizations originally paid for the membership of Caribbean nations into the Whaling Commission and used their people to act as our Commissioners. That’s how they got the moratorium through,” the Commissioners said.
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO0306/S00274.htm

At the IWC, both sides are actively requesting friendly nations to join and support their cause. It is a dirty game, but both sides are giving it as good as they get.

>it seems that Japan is gathering support in order to a) lend weight to its voting power,

Yes, I agree that they are certainly doing this. But so are New Zealand, Australia, and the U.K. who have successfully recruited a large chunk of the EU nations. It would be nice if all sides could play nicely, but we are talking about politicians looking for trophies to take back home to their domestic constituents. Chris Carter is just dying to come back to NZ with a political win here to take some of the pressure off himself. Likewise the Japanese politicians are under pressure to get a resumption in commercial whaling underway - their constituents have been waiting for 20 years!

> and b) to increase its percieved potential market for the sale of whale meat.

On that point, I don't believe they are trying to make the potential market appear larger. In fact, one Caribbean nation recently confirmed that it's interest is not in consuming whale meat itself, but selling the meat overseas to Japan or the highest bidder (or just sell the quota itself), to make some money out of it. The Caribbean nations are not rich in resources, afterall, but they are island nations.


4) Commercial issues.

> I would guess that whale meat is a lucrative business - how much did the meat that you had last night cost?

I don't think it is that lucrative right now. I figure that around 4,000 tonnes of meat were consumed last year. I saw some stats that said maybe it's 30 grams of meat per person each year (although, maybe only 10% of people would be eating it). The Japanese government notes that the proceeds of the whale meat sales only partially offset the costs of the research, so unless the retailers are slapping on big markups, I don't think there is that much money being made by anyone.

Commercial operations would likely market the meat much harder though.

Last night the dish I had was 680 yen (total dinner bill for 4 was about 8,000 I think), and was one of the more expensive on the menu. I'd probably pay half or less than that for the same amount of chicken meat. But it also depends on which part of the whale you get. I understand that the meat from the back of the tail is supposedly the most expensive. I don't know exactly what it was I had last night.

I had a minke steak (twice) at another restaurant in trendy Shibuya. That was probably 1,600 yen or so, for a lunch meal (cheaper than at night). More meat there, but it was a whole set meal, with your rice and whatnot as well.

10:35 PM  

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