Tuesday 5 February 2019

A giant leap … backwards

It's fair to say that last year was an unusual year in many respects, and despite most of the world moving forward with plans to reduce our impact on the natural world, some countries took a big leap backward. One such leap stood out as particularly out of kilter with the modern worldview: Japan's return to whaling. 

Many coastal and island cultures have strong associations with whaling, and Japan's goes back over 1000 years to the seventh century. Supplementing a poor diet with whale meat is quite low-scale, and has enabled many cultures to survive war, famine, or natural disaster: it's more like 'subsistence farming,' not the big-money commercial whaling of today.

Although whales have been hunted for centuries, more modern, industrial-scale whaling really took-off after WWII. From the late 40s to mid 60s, whale meat was the biggest source of meat in Japan, helping its starving population to recover from the impact of war.

Globally, whaling was banned in 1986, led by the International Whaling Commission, and because of the decimation of the world's whale populations. Many countries had outlawed the practice before this, but the IWC's ban is considered the benchmark.

Some cultures continue to whale in some capacity, some due to culture, some due to geographical reasons. However, none continue to sail fleets across the globe to hunt whales, or maintain factory ships capable of processing hundreds of whales at sea, as Japan does.

Japan has continued whaling under what it describes as ‘scientific purposes,’ arguing that there is insufficient scientific evidence to show that whale populations are in danger from commercial whaling; therefore, it hunts and kills whales to gather data on species’ stocks and health.

Once the ‘science’ is done, however, the whale meat is sold on the open market, and that’s where many believe the issue truly lies. The practice and implementation of ‘scientific’ whaling has, and continues, to artificially generate a market for whale meat among consumers. In Japan, consumption has been falling for years. Most Japanese don’t eat whale meat, seeing this as more a throwback to post-war decades, and preferring meat such as beef: in 2015, average consumption was just 30g per person.

Unsurprisingly, this has caused much debate, discussion, and derision, both in commercial and scientific circles, with Japan now arguing that some whale stocks are large enough to support commercial whaling. Equally understandably, the IWC and the international community as a whole, see this as a ruse to continue the practice, and create a new marketplace for whale meat.

In 2014, the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Japan to cease whaling in Antarctica, and declared Japan's programme illegal. The ICJ found that Japan’s Antarctic whaling did not comply with the International Whaling Commission’s definition of scientific permit whaling, and that Japan is in contravention of the moratorium on commercial whaling. It also found it in contravention of the moratorium on factory ship whaling, of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and ordered the country to cease all Antarctic whaling and no further permits to whale in Antarctica.

In December, Japan announced that it was resuming full commercial hunting of whales. The 2017/2018 Antarctic whaling season took 333 Antarctic minke whales, and 134 sei and 43 common minke in the North Pacific summer season. When it resumes commercial whaling in July this year, Japan has said it intends to hunt minke, Bryde’s and sei whales, but it’s unclear how many animals will be killed per season.

You don’t need us to tell you how cruel and damaging whaling is, and how vital it is not to let large-scale commercial whaling resume in any capacity. We can all do our bit, and to find out how you can help, take a look at the Whale & Dolphin Conservation website, see the incredible work they’re doing across the globe … click below

No comments:

Post a Comment