Greenpeace Japan, Yuzuru Oshihara/AP
Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru departs from Innoshima, November, 2008.

Japan to Keep Hunting Whales Under Proposed IWC Compromise

January 28, 2009 10:31 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
A proposed compromise brokered by the U.S. would allow Japan to continue whaling off its shores in exchange for reducing hunts in the Southern Ocean.

A Whale of a Compromise

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) and Japan are attempting to reach a compromise on whaling, although critics deem the plan “a lousy idea.”

IWC Chairman William Hogarth, a Bush administration appointee, outlined a plan to reduce the number of whales Japan kills in the South Ocean in exchange for allowing the Japanese to continue whale hunting off their own shores.

Reaching an agreement between whaling and non-whaling countries has not traditionally been a simple matter. "Even though we might not like this specific aspect, it's better than what we have now, the status quo," Hogarth told The Washington Post. "Everyone would like to see that there are less whales killed."

Nevertheless, antiwhaling groups and environmentalists are not satisfied with the compromise. Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and a U.S. scientific delegate to the IWC, called the measure, "politically, in some ways, appealing, but it does seem it's going to increase pressure on these local stocks." Particularly under threat are minke, or J-stock, whales, whose population is already considerably thin along the Japanese coast.

In any case, the deal may fall through if President Barack Obama decides to replace Hogarth with his own appointee.

Japan is one of just three countries that continue whaling; the others are Norway and Iceland. Japan hunts whales via a loophole in a 1986 global whaling moratorium that allows for lethal scientific research on the animals. Whale meat is sold in Japan under the label “research byproduct.”

Despite international protests by environmentalists, Japan’s whaling fleet left port in November and planned to kill about 850 minke and 50 fin whales over the next year.

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Background: Whaling in Japan vs. worldwide

Environmentalist groups like Greenpeace have heavily targeted Japan in the past months. Japan argues that scientific research on whales yields valuable data, though critics counter that the "lethal research" is a smokescreen for commercial whale hunting.

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 guerrilla 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 target Japan?

When both Iceland and Norway are countries that engage in whaling, most antiwhaling efforts have focused on Japan. 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.

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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