Withdrawal from IWC covers for decision to halt Antarctic whaling
TOKYO––Handing whales a Christmas Day gift camouflaged as coal, Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga on December 25, 2018 confirmed months of speculation and decades of threats that Japan would withdraw from membership in the International Whaling Commission, which has maintained a global moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986.
Withdrawing from the IWC would allow Japanese whalers to resume commercial whaling.
O’Barry & Watson look inside the sooty sock
But the announcement, in practical terms, means exactly the opposite of what most pundits and commentators took it to mean, with the exceptions of the two most prominent longtime campaigners against Japanese whaling, Ric O’Barry of Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project and Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
O’Barry and Watson each have more than 40 years’ experience in reading Japanese whaling strategy. Each heralded the Japanese decision as a victory, in effect a political judo move that allows the ruling nationalist coalition, headed by prime minister Shinzo Abe, to posture in defiance of global public opinion against whaling, while saving the expense of annually sending a heavily subsidized “research whaling” fleet to Antarctic waters.
“Will observe international law”
“From July 2019,” announced Suga, “after the withdrawal comes into effect on June 30, 2019, Japan will conduct commercial whaling within Japan’s territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone, and will cease the take of whales in the Antarctic Ocean/the Southern Hemisphere.
“The whaling will be conducted in accordance with international law,” added Suga, “and within the catch limits calculated in accordance with the method adopted by the IWC to avoid negative impact on cetacean resources.”
Suga, the longest-serving chief cabinet secretary in the modern history of Japan, said Japan would officially inform the International Whaling Commission that it had withdrawn from membership before the end of 2018.
North Pacific sei whales
Suga’s pledge that resumed commercial whaling would remain “in accordance with international law” appeared to refer to the October 2018 verdict of the standing committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) that Japan has been selling the meat from sei whales killed by “research whalers” in the Northern Pacific in violation of CITES.
Explained Mari Yamaguchi of Associated Press, “CITES bans commercial trade of endangered species, including sei whales — one of the largest whales, who grow to about 50 feet)in length and weigh about 20 tons.”
Japanese whalers have killed up to 100 sei whales per year since 2000.
“Under Japan’s Northern Pacific research whaling program for 2017-2028, allowed by the International Whaling Commission,” Yamaguchi said, the self-assigned quota was raised to 134 sai whales per year.
While a Japanese Fisheries Agency spokesperson told Yamaguchi that the CITES decision was not binding, the official added that Japan would produce a revised Northern Pacific whaling plan and submit it to CITIES for approval by February 1, 2018.
“A revision could mean a major change to Japan’s research whaling in the Northern Pacific,” Yamaguchi predicted, “including a possible halt to commercial sales of sei whale meat.”
O’Barry: “They realize they are playing a losing game”
Japan ate about 200,000 tons of whale meat per year at the peak of consumption, circa 1960, but now eats only 4,000 to 5,000 tons, or about an ounce per person annually, according to data gathered by the Animal Welfare Institute, a U.S.-based nonprofit, and the Environmental Investigation Agency, based in the United Kingdom.
“The new deal allows the Japanese government to thumb its nose at the IWC whaling moratorium and eventually phase out financial support of the whaling industry, allowing it to die a natural death,” O’Barry told ANIMALS 24-7. “They realize they are playing a losing game and hope this new move is their way out of a never ending negative cash flow.
“Taiji is also whaling!”
“Now if they would only throw in the towel in Taiji,” O’Barry added, referring to the dolphin slaughters and captures documented in the 2009 documentary film The Cove, directed by Louie Psihoyos, “we could bring our Cove Monitors home.
“We are the only group still showing up in Taiji to livestream and document these crimes against nature,” O’Barry said, admitting that “Japan’s war on dolphins is wearing us quite thin. We desperately need the animal welfare industry to show up and help us. Keeping boots on the ground for the entire six months” of the dolphin-hunting season “is extremely difficult for a small grassroots group.
“What happens in Taiji is also whaling!” O’Barry concluded. “Size doesn’t matter!”
Taiji killing driven by captures for show
The annual Taiji dolphin massacres are among the last vestiges of a coastal whaling industry that claims annual quotas of about 20,000 small cetaceans [whales and dolphins] per year, but currently kills circa 2,000 per year, employing only a few dozen people.
Hunting the small species killed at Taiji is not regulated by the International Whaling Commission, and those species are not listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Most of the dolphins herded into the infamous cove are killed there, but only after exhibition buyers pick those they want to be landed alive.
Follow the money
“While dolphin meat for human consumption generates only modest profits,” reported Justin Curry of The Guardian in December 2017, “Taiji fishermen can reportedly sell a live specimen to brokers for about $8,000. A fully trained dolphin can then fetch more than $40,000 U.S. if sold overseas, and about half that in Japan.”
Both O’Barry and Watson have pointed out for nearly 30 years that dolphin captures for sale to exhibition venues are the major source of profits for the Taiji hunters.
Watson in a December 2017 response to Curry’s Guardian article argued that the current prices paid for live dolphins in Taiji are far higher than Curry reported.
Watson: “A very positive development”
Said Watson of the Japanese decision to leave the International Whaling Commission, “After 16 years of intervening against Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” declared by the IWC in 1994 but never defended on the high seas by any treaty organizations or governmental agencies, “I see this as a very positive development. It means that the whale war in the Southern Ocean is over and we and the whales have won.
“Japan leaving the International Whaling Commission will allow the IWC to vote and pass the establishment of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary,” Watson predicted.
“This means that the entire Southern Hemisphere will be free of whalers for the first time in history,” Watson exulted.
“Japan has never stopped commercial whaling”
“Japan will no longer be able to hide their illegal commercial whaling behind the mask of ‘scientific whaling,’ Watson continued. “They have never stopped commercial whaling. Japan now joins Norway, Iceland and Denmark as the last whaling nations on the planet, and commercial whaling remains illegal.
“Japan has been killing whales in their own waters for decades,” Watson pointed out. “Nothing has changed. They are not resuming the hunting of whales because they never actually stopped hunting whales in the Northwest Pacific,” Watson said, but “The Japanese like the Norwegians, Danes and Icelanders have been driven back to their own shores. The whalers of the world are in retreat.
“Without pelagic whaling,” Watson added, “Japan will not build a new expensive factory ship. There has been great political pressure in Japan to not build this ship, and with this decision they will not have to pursue this financial money trap.
“Preventing Sea Shepherd intervention became very expensive”
“Japan has decided to do what Iceland and Norway have done since 1987 and that is to restrict the killing of whales to their own national waters,” Watson said. “Half of this planet will be safe from the harpoons. All the traditional Southern Hemisphere whaling nations have already ended their whaling activities, including Australia, Peru, Chile and South Africa,” and none appear likely to resume.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society first ventured into the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to try to protect whales from the Japanese fleet in 2002, “followed by continuous campaigns from 2005 until 2017,” Watson recalled.
“In 2017, the Japanese government began to invest millions of dollars in security efforts to prevent Sea Shepherd from engaging their fleets. These security measures included military grade real time surveillance. Although this prevented Sea Shepherd from returning to the Southern Ocean in 2018, it also placed Japan in a position of expending huge resources on continuous security,” as well as in directly subsidizing the whaling industry.
“In other words,” Watson assessed, “preventing Sea Shepherd intervention became very expensive.”
Greenpeace Japan: “Most whales have not recovered”
Altogether, “Sea Shepherd sent down over a thousand volunteers on numerous ships and saved over 6,000 whales from the harpoons,” Watson said.
Greenpeace sent vessels to observe the Japanese whaling operations within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary at least five times, but unlike the Sea Shepherds, did not actually try to run interference to prevent the Japanese fleet from killing whales.
Objected Greenpeace Japan executive director Sam Annesley, “Most whale populations have not yet recovered, including larger whales such as blue whales, fin whales and sei whales.”
Japan has hunted both fin whales and sei whales in the name of research.
Japanese fleet is already in Antarctic waters for 2018-2019
Australian Marine Conservation Society chief executive Darren Kindleysides largely agreed with O’Barry and Watson in a media statement, but asked the Australian government to demand that the Japanese fleet currently hunting whales near Antarctica withdraw immediately, instead of after filling a self-assigned quota of 333 minke whales, which is expected to come in February or March 2019.
This is a third of the quota that the Japanese fleet sought each year from 1987 to 2014, when the International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that “research whaling” as it was then conducted was not really done “for purposes of scientific research.”
After a one-year hiatus, Japan resumed “research whaling” with the lower quota––but the higher quotas had not always been reached or even approached during the years of Sea Shepherd intervention.
Japan reported killing 152 male minke whales in Antarctic waters in 2017-2018, including 61 juveniles, and 181 female minke whales, of whom 122 were pregnant while 53 were juveniles.
“Return to IWC as a matter of priority”
Said Kindleysides, bridging the perspectives of O’Barry and Watson with those of most other commenters, “Australians have been fighting for decades to get the whalers out of the Antarctic. However, it would be a bittersweet victory if it comes with unchecked commercial whaling by Japan in their own waters, and their leaving could damage the future of the IWC itself.”
Pointed out Australian foreign minister Marise Payne and environment minister Melissa Price, in a joint media statement, “The International Whaling Commission is the pre-eminent global body responsible for the conservation and management of whales,” and as well as regulating whaling, also “leads international efforts to tackle the growing range of threats to whales globally, including by-catch, ship strikes, entanglement, and noise.”
Payne and Price urged Japan “to return to the International Whaling Convention and Commission as a matter of priority.”
Most other responses were fairly predictable.
British environment minister Michael Gove said in a Tweet that he was “Extremely disappointed,” and affirmed that “The U.K. is strongly opposed to commercial whaling and will continue to fight for the protection and welfare of these majestic mammals.”
Whale & Dolphin Conservation program director Astrid Fuchs told BBC News, “We are very worried that other countries might follow Japan’s lead and leave the commission, especially South Korea where there is an interest in consuming whale meat,” or more precisely, where the fishing industry is allowed to sell the meat of cetaceans netted by accident. There is longstanding suspicion that some of the cetacean catches are not accidental, though the market for whale meat in South Korea is not strong.
Norwegian says “It’s dangerous when nations set their own rules”
“The oversight that the IWC was having over Japan’s whaling will now be lost,” Fuchs objected further. “We won’t know how many whales they are catching. We won’t know how they will report it. It might spell doom for some populations. There is an endangered population of minke whales off Japan,” Fuchs alleged, “which is already under threat.”
In truth the International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the common minke whale species found near Japan a species of least concern. The scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission believes there are upward of 500,000 of the Antarctic minke whale subspecies, who will no longer be hunted.
Tweeted former Norwegian diplomat Erik Solheim, who headed United Nations Environment Program from 2016 to early 2018, “Let’s ask Japan to reconsider! It’s dangerous when nations break out of global agreements and start setting their own rules,” an ironic statement in view that Norway unilaterally resumed coastal whaling in 1994.