Before proceeding, let me register an interest against whaling as a campaigner for the protection of endangered whales and other wildlife.
The first blow to Japanese whaling is a survey by an internationally recognised Japanese organisation, Nippon Research Centre, which has found that as many as 88.8 % of the Japanese people have not bought any whale meat in the last 12 months. Further, a mere 27% of respondents to the survey expressed support for whaling and only a meagre 11% said they support it strongly.
The survey also showed that young people in Japan have a particular distaste for their government’s continuing whaling policy. Respondents between the ages of 15 and 19 least support whaling, according to the survey.
Apart from the general rejection of their government’s whaling policy, the survey also revealed that the vast majority of the Japanese people also seriously object to approximately $9.78 million of their taxes being spent annually to subsidise whaling which continues to operate at a loss.
Recent reports have drawn attention to the Japanese government’s pledge to put the backing of public money behind an expensive refit of the ageing whaling factory ship, the Nisshin Maru. The ship needs repairs that will run into millions of dollars to keep it operational. Even more expenditure will be required if Japanese whalers are to continue travelling to Antarctic waters to harpoon whales.
The Nippon survey showed that 85% of the people surveyed in its poll expressed opposition to the use of millions of taxpayers’ money to build a new factory ship for whaling.
Across the world, no nation or groups of people within nations object to whaling if it has to be done to feed persons who depend upon it for food. Despite the fact that the Japanese government has mandated the use of whale meat in government-funded institutions, the vast majority of the Japanese people have long opted not to eat whale meat.
Today, an indication of the Japanese preference not to eat whale meat is that the government is forced to stockpile it. In 2009, it increased from 3,096 tonnes to 4,246 tonnes. In 2010, it exceeded 5,000 tonnes, before falling slightly to 4,284 tonnes in 2011.
But, whaling in Japan is a strong political lobby, exerting considerable influence on the political directorate, even though it has no popular grounding in the general population, as the Nippon survey clearly demonstrates.
It is that lobby and its purposes that governments in small vulnerable countries, including five in the Caribbean, support at the International Whaling Commission when they tie their votes to the Japanese position. This is especially obvious against the background that none of the small countries, except St. Vincent and the Grenadines, can claim to hail from a whaling tradition, and certainly not one of them needs whale meat for food.
The second recent blow to Japan’s insistence on whaling is the decision by the government of The Republic of Korea to abandon plans to resume whaling, following an international outcry.
Last July at an IWC meeting in Panama, the Korean government announced its intention to begin “scientific” whaling – the term that Japan uses for what is essentially commercial whaling. The announcement was met with astonishment and revulsion by environmental organisations and people all over the world concerned with sensible conservation especially of threatened species.
To its credit, having been inundated with expressions of deep concern from people across the globe, the Korean government opted not to submit a formal proposal by a December 3 deadline, and it will, instead, pursue non-lethal research.
The Korean decision illustrates the point that scientific research can be conducted without slaughtering whales. It also underscores the validity of the argument made against Japan that its so-called “scientific” whaling is really commercial whaling as evidenced by its large stockpile of whale meat and the government mandate that it should be used in government-financed institutions such as schools.
The Korean government will now become the beneficiary of support from environmental and conservation organisations from around the world. As an example, Patrick Ramage, Director of the Global Whale Programme of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, has said: “We stand ready to support the Republic of Korea in whatever appropriate way as it embarks on state-of-the-art, non-lethal whale research in Korean waters.”
There will be many others as Japan becomes more isolated in the world, relying only on a handful of small countries. Those supporting countries do themselves more harm than good particularly as many of them earn money from whale watching which is now a US$2.1 billion industry worldwide and growing. These countries need live whales not dead ones.
This is increasingly true of Japan itself. While its whaling operation is losing millions of Yen every year, whale watching in Japan is earning money. The industry has grown strongly, at an annual average rate of 6.4 percent. Its customer base – a large number of them, Japanese people – has grown from under 11,000 in 1992 to almost 200,000 in 2008, generating more than US$22 million in total revenue.
Knowledge is spreading in Japan of the losses incurred by whaling operations and the subsidies the government is providing to keep it afloat although whale meat is not widely consumed.
It is also becoming known that while millions of Yen in taxpayer subsidies continue to absorb money, whale watching is a small but profitable industry that has all the potential for growth.
Just about this time, Japan’s whaling fleet is expected to make yet another excursion into the Southern Ocean Sanctuary around Antarctica to continue killing whales. But, domestic economics dictate that the Japanese government cannot for much longer sustain an unprofitable programme of whale slaughter that has little support among its own population.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant and former Caribbean diplomat)