Friday, 18 January 2008

Japanese Whaling

Much to my whale and dolphin - loving daughter’s dismay, one side of my family comes from Whitby where for generations they were fishermen, seamen … and whalers.

I haven’t been there for a long time, but a focal point of civic pride, along with a statue of Captain Cook and the cliff-top abbey, is this giant jaw-bone of a whale. I have a sense of history so I can understand pride in the men who did a tough and dangerous job. I also know that in a pre-petrochemical age whale oil was a multi-purpose raw material - and that the techniques of whaling at that time did not threaten extinction. I'm also not a vegetarian or militant tree-hugger. All of which is why I don’t really have a problem with the small-scale whaling of indigenous peoples like the Inuit in Canada.

BUT: The Japanese whaling industry threatens to exterminate whole species, seriously damage the ecological balance of the oceans, and uses inhumane practices of killing (explosive harpoons).

Whether or not what they are currently doing is actually in breach of international agreements is a moot point - and largely irrelevant; the IWC has always been more concerned with industry regulation than the underlying ethics.

But legal or not, international opinion is now overwhelming against Japanese whaling. Which begs the question why the fuck do they carry on ?
The Japanese give two answers:

• Whale meat is a traditional delicacy in Japan – so was swan in England at one time but we managed to get over it.
• Scientific research – a smokescreen; no international body has ever commissioned any project from the Japanese scientific institute responsible.

Remember the ‘Cod War’ of the 1970s when the Royal Navy, would cut the lines of Icelandic fishing boats operating in contested waters ? It would be nice to see an international task force doing the same with the Japanese whalers. It isn’t going to happen of course - so until then, good luck to the Greenpeace and SeaShepherd.

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