Japan must heed the voice of global concern and put an end to its whaling expedition in the Antarctic waters
India’s name is sadly missing from the list of countries — members of the European Union and 12 others — that have condemned Japan’s whaling expedition in the Antarctic waters launched recently. The plan is to kill 333 Minke whales in four months. Ever since the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) imposition of a moratorium on hunting in 1985, Japan has been exploiting a loophole that allows the killing of whales for scientific research. Even the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) order of 2014, enjoining it to halt its regular hunt in the Antarctic waters because its project did not meet conventional research norms, has not deterred it. Though it cancelled its 2014-15 hunt, it renewed it the following year in the garb of a new programme.
The new programme, it is widely believed, is a cover for commercial whaling, banned under the IWC’s moratorium, and that Japan’s claim that the killings advanced research in whale behaviour and biology, is spurious. As Australia’s federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg has stated, “It is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them.”
Japan is unlikely to heed growing international condemnation. Earlier this year, its Parliament passed a series of laws aiming at a return to full-scale commercial whaling in the high seas. It also provided for granting subsidies to the whaling industry, killing dolphins, arrest of people protesting against whaling and allowing the Government to send vessels to Antarctica with its whaling fleet to frustrate activities of organisations like the Sea Shephard Conservation Society, which seeks to prevent the murder of whales.
Significantly, the law was passed despite opposition from 14 environmental NGOs in Japan which had signed a statement against it. Nor was it enacted under overwhelming public pressure. According to a poll conducted in 2012 by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, only 26.6 per cent of Japan’s population supported “scientific whaling”; 18.5 per cent opposed it and the rest were undecided.
According to the same survey, 88.8 per cent of the Japanese public reported that they had not bought any whale meat in the past 12 months. Not surprisingly, much of the meat brought in by whaling ships is frozen and stored in warehouses, and the fall in whale meat sale has forced the Japanese Government to subsidise the “scientific whaling” project to the tune of $44.7 million annually.
Yet, the killing continues because of pressure from people in towns like Taiji in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture who conduct annual hunts of whales, dolphins and small cetaceans, marked by large-scale killings in the cruellest manner. Many inhabitants of the town, numbering a little less than 3,500, are fishermen making a living out of the killings. The question is whether they can switch on —or be trained to do so by the Government — to other kinds of fishing or other forms of livelihood. Clearly, neither is happening because of the support they receive from sections arguing that the hunt is a part of Japanese culture.
The claim lacks credibility because the hunt began only in 1969. As some hold, it is more likely that the insistence on continuing with whaling despite growing worldwide opposition, is a part of the increasing assertiveness characterising Japan’s posture in the world in the last few years. This assertiveness, again, is believed to be a part of the domestic reaction against the subdued posture that Japan has maintained in world affairs ever since the end of World War II.
Another reason is clearly that international criticism of Japanese whaling has mainly taken the form of verbal and/or written statements and proceedings before the IWC or the ICJ. Japan’s Government has consistently ignored or bypassed IWC’s objections and injunctions and dribbled past the ICJ’s judgement of 2014 cited above. Moreover, after the judgement, Japan has ruled out the ICJ’s jurisdiction in any dispute “arising out of, concerning, or relating to research on, or conservation, management or exploitation of, living resources of the sea”.
Unfortunately, no country has taken the kind of deterrent action — for example, those enabled by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and direct intervention in the form of surveillance and heading off of whaling vessels — that would have counted with Japan. Whether this is because of concern with furthering economic ties with Tokyo or not, whales pay the price.