Katsumi Kasahara/AP
Members of Greenpeace stand in protest outside the upper house lawmakers' hall near a
parliament building in Tokyo, Japan.

Greenpeace Lashes Out at Japan, But Why Not Other Countries?

December 12, 2008 10:59 AM
by Rachel Balik
The activist organization has launched a steady campaign in protest of Japan’s whaling practices, while countries like Iceland remain under the radar.

Greenpeace Continues to Target Japan’s Whaling

A full-page ad in the International Herald Tribune is Greenpeace’s newest move in its campaign against Japanese whaling. In the latest effort to draw attention to two activists who were arrested in June, Bloomberg reported that Greenpeace paid more than $20,000 for the ad in the Tribune. Activists Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki allegedly stole whale meat; Greenpeace says they took the meat to draw attention to Japan’s bad whaling practices.

Japan claims that it hunts whales for purposes of scientific research. The Japanese conduct a yearly whaling expedition in December to ascertain whether the whale population has recovered sufficiently to resume the practice of commercial whaling. Bloomberg reports that “Meat from whales killed on the expeditions is sold in Japan as ‘research byproduct.’”

At the same time as Japan is being targeted by activists, Norway has decided to greatly reduce its 2009 whaling quota. AFP reports that whalers weren’t close to reaching quota limits, and a new policy dictates that unused quotas cannot be transferred from one year to the next. Greenpeace believes that whalers have failed to reach quota because consumers are less interested in whale meat, while the whalers attribute it to rising fuel prices, poor weather conditions and other factors.

Background: Whaling in Japan vs. Worldwide

Greenpeace has heavily targeted Japan in the past months, and followed the Japanese whaling fleet with its own ship. Japan argues that its research can only be done through lethal methods but many, especially activist groups, say that this is not true. Australia plans to spend $3.87 million in nonlethal research to show Japan that lethal research methods are unnecessary, but leaders of environmental groups predict the data won’t sway Japan. Groups like Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society maintain that the way to stop Japanese whaling is by sea-bound guerilla attacks that severely cut into whaling profits.

But whaling goes on in other countries as well. After Iceland resumed whale hunting in 2006 following a 20-year ban, whale meat began appearing on restaurant menus. Iceland and Norway argued that the minke whales hunted in the north Atlantic are not an endangered species and thus do not need protection. Still, both countries have been urged to avoid exporting whale meat to Japan.

Opinion & Analysis: Why Japan?

When both Iceland and Norway are countries that engage in whaling, the missive of attacks against Japan seems unbalanced. Willie Mackenzie, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace U.K., explained that Japan kills more whales than either Iceland or Norway, National Geographic reported.

Activists assert that by claiming they are conducting research, Japanese whalers compromise the integrity of rules set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which has strictly banned whaling commercially since 1986. And conservation groups point out that Norway and Iceland hunt only in their own coastal waters but that Japan hunts in the Antarctic, a whale sanctuary.

Related Topic: IWC divided

The IWC is so stymied by the continued disregard for its policies that it has considered legalizing whale hunting so it can make stricter rules. Some people believe that aggressive behavior by environmentalists has worsened tension between countries that whale and those that wish to prevent it.

Reference: The IWC

Stay posted on the history and activities of the International Whaling Commission on the official IWC Web site.

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