- A step towards the return of commercial whaling will
be taken this week if pro-whaling countries achieve - as many expect -
their first majority voting bloc on whaling's governing body.
- Japan, Norway and Iceland - all still hunting the great
whales in defiance of the 18-year international moratorium on their killing
- are on course to gain control of more than 50 per cent of the votes at
the 2004 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, which begins in
Sorrento, Italy, today.
- Hitherto, the anti-whaling nations, led by the US, Australia,
New Zealand and Britain, have held a controlling majority of IWC votes.
But in a tireless diplomatic offensive, the Japanese have spent more than
10 years and many millions of pounds recruiting small nations to the IWC
as whaling sympathisers, in return for substantial development aid.
- The commission, which at its outset had only 30 members,
now has 57, and the long game Japan has been playing may well bear fruit
in Sorrento, when the pro-whalers are likely to achieve their majority
- Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)
has tracked this process in detail, documenting how many small nations
who now vote with the Japanese, such as St Vincent and the Grenadines,
and Antigua & Barbuda, have become overwhelmingly dependent on Japanese
- The process is continuing, and in recent months both
the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and the Ivory Coast in Africa have applied
to join the IWC, with Japanese prompting suspected - while Surinam is thought
to be on the verge of applying.
- Although the arithmetic is not yet completely certain,
many observers believe that the new arrivals will tip the balance of votes.
While not yet enabling them to abolish the whaling moratorium itself -
that needs a 75 per cent majority vote - a simple majority of 51 per cent
would be an encouraging development for the whaling countries towards that
- Furthermore, it would immediately give them considerable
power to run the IWC the way they want. They could, for example, exclude
environmental pressure groups and the media from the meeting, elect a new
chairman, pass pro-whaling resolutions and annul anti-whaling ones, and
generally make the IWC a body to promote commercial whaling rather than
to regulate it.
- "Tipping the balance of power means that whales
will lose their safety net of protection, the moratorium will be under
threat, and the world will once again hold its breath fearing for the future
of these amazing animals," said Margi Prideaux of the WDCS.
- Since the 1986 ban, Japan has engaged in what it calls
"scientific whaling", designed to "monitor fish stocks and
migration patterns," despite enormous flak from its political allies
and international environmental groups, while Norway has continued to hunt
commercially by simply entering an objection to the moratorium. Iceland
has done a mixture of both. The three countries together have killed more
than 25,000 whales since the 1986 ban started. Japan alone has hunted more
than 5,000 minke whales, many of which have ended up on up-market restaurants'
- The issue of whaling in Japan is strongly bound up with
nationalist sentiment and is one of the few international issues - perhaps
the only issue - on which the country takes a hard line. The public face
of Japan's pro-whaling lobby, Masayuki Komatsu, an ultra-nationalist and
career diplomat at the Ministry of Agriculture, revels in upsetting what
he contemptuously calls the "Save the Whalers" that dominate
international debate on the issue. He once advised the captains of whaling
ships to "blow Greenpeace protest boats out of the water" and
regularly denounces what he calls the "culinary imperialism"
of the West.
- Japanese pro-whalers such as Mr Komatsu, who boasts the
misleading title of director of fisheries research and environmental protection,
believe that countries such as America, Australia and Britain, which have
much more arable land for farming than Japan, are being hypocritical in
their condemnation of whaling. "These countries can raise cows and
sheep because they don't depend on the oceans for food," he said recently.
"We don't have that luxury." Mr Komatsu has argued for years
that whale numbers have increased to the point where they can safely be
hunted again and that if not controlled they eat other fish because they
are the "cockroaches of the sea".
- Critics say the pro-whaling drive in Japan owes less
to cultural traditions, however, than industrial and political lobbying.
Japan's whaling "research fleet" is supported by the Institute
of Cetacean Research, the main organisation behind the country's whaling
programme, which argues that the population of minke whales has "risen
tenfold" over the past 100 years. The institute, in turn, is backed
by a lobby of nationalist politicians within the ruling Liberal Democratic
Party, who depend disproportionately on votes from Japan's fishing communities.
It is this push from the top that explains the fuss made over whaling in
Japan, despite the great yawn the whole debate provokes from most ordinary
Japanese, who now eat 40 times more hamburger meat than whale.
- In a report submitted to the BBC last week, the LDP group
boasted that, after years of effort, "the balance of power within
the IWC" between the pro- and anti-whaling countries "has become
almost equal". The report proposed forming a breakaway group from
the IWC and revising Japan's payments to the organisation, which has continually
blocked Tokyo's attempts to have the moratorium reversed. Greenpeace Japan
says that the LDP group is working to revive the sale of whale meat around
Japan, where it is currently expensive and difficult to get.
- At Sorrento, a new coalition of more than 140 anti-whaling
and animal welfare groups from more than 55 countries, called Whalewatch,
will appeal to the whaling nations to halt all killing, on the grounds
that it is simply too cruel. Its report,Troubled Waters, is a detailed
scientific study of how much violence is needed to slaughter the world's
largest animals in the open ocean. Its premise is that the act of killing
the great whales, usually by explosive harpoons, is unacceptably cruel.
- In a foreword to the report, Britain's best-known naturalist,
Sir David Attenborough, writes: "The following pages contain hard
scientific dispassionate evidence that there is no humane way to kill a
whale at sea." Peter Davies, the director general of the World Society
for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), one of the leading groups in the
coalition, said: "Far from being a thing of the past, commercial whaling
is threatening to rear its ugly head and scourge our seas. The future of
whales is on a knife-edge, with pro-whaling nations having a real chance
of achieving a majority voting bloc that could jeopardise existing restrictions
on whaling. The Whalewatch coalition believes that whaling is inherently
- The technology used for killing whales has altered little
since the 19th century, when the grenade-tipped harpoon was invented. The
harpoon is intended to penetrate the whale's body before detonating, killing
it by inflicting massive shock and injury. Given the constantly moving
environment in which whales live and are hunted, achieving a quick clean
kill is inherently difficult. Despite its destructive power, the whaler's
harpoon often fails to kill its victim immediately and some whales take
over an hour to die. The difficulties in hitting a whale with any degree
of accuracy can be seen in the margin for human error. For instance, despite
similar killing methods being used, Norway reported that one in five whales
failed to die instantaneously during its 2002 hunt, while Japan reported
that almost 60 per cent of whales failed to die instantaneously in its
- None of this is likely to persuade the well-to-do clientele
of one of Tokyo's top whale restaurants, Ganso Kujiraya in Shibuya, from
giving up their favourite dish. Komi Morita could be found there recently
tucking into a plate of whale sashimi. "When I hear people say they
don't eat whale I feel sorry for them," he said. "It's delicious.
The problem is people are too sentimental about them. I think they're cute
too, but so are cows and that doesn't stop Westerners eating beef, does
- Cows are hardly nearing extinction though. "Neither
are minke whales," says his companion Komi Morita. "Nobody in
Japan wants to hunt whales to extinction. We understand the need for controls.
But being told by the rest of the world that we can't eat them strikes
us as odd."
- THE PRO-WHALING COUNTRIES
- The three leading pro-whaling nations have hunted the
great whales under varying pretexts since the moratorium on commercial
whaling was introduced in 1986
- Japan has continued to kill minke whales since 1987 through
a legal loophole allowing whaling for "scientific research".
Japan currently kills over 400 minke whales annually in the Antarctic Ocean
(a region designated by the IWC as a whale sanctuary in 1994), and 150
minke whales, 10 sperm whales, 50 Bryde's whales and 50 sei whales in the
North Pacific. It is expected to expand its North Pacific hunt from 2005
- Norway has killed minke whales in the North Atlantic
since 1993 through a legal objection lodged in 1982 - when the IWC voted
on the moratorium - that exempted Norway from the ban. Norway will kill
670 minke whales in the summer of 2004, and has announced that it intends
to increase its self-allocated quotas as much as three-fold in the future,
and is evaluating whether to start scientific whaling on other whale species
- Iceland left the IWC in 1992 in protest at the moratorium.
In 2002, at a special IWC meeting, it rejoined with a reservation against
the commercial whaling moratorium. In 2003, Iceland proposed to start scientific
whaling on 100 minkes, 100 fin whales, and 50 sei whales annually over
two years. However, it took 36 minke whales in 2003
- © 2004 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd http://news.independent.co.uk/world/environment/story.jsp?story=542374