Human Interaction

Whale Wars What does Japan think about the pro-whale movement?

posted: 05/15/12
by: Chelsea Hedquist
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South Korean activists hold tail replicas of whales in front of a life-sized model of minke whale outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. The activists were protesting against Japan's whaling fleet going to Antarctica to kill minke whales.
AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man
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Unwilling to Bow to Cultural Differences

Some groups and nations support a moratorium on all forms of whaling — not just the commercial kind — and propose protecting all whales, regardless of their abundance and conservation status. Japan is not among them.

In March 2008, then Minister for Foreign Affairs Masahiko Koumura stated, "There is a need for us to avoid cultural debates and rather show respect for our respective cultures and calmly discuss the issue based on scientific evidence."

Japan's main complaint with the pro-whale movement is that its attacks on the country's research whaling are based on an emotional response to killing whales, rather than a scientific evaluation of the benefits or drawbacks of the practice.

Pro-whaling but Not Anti-whale

Little love is lost between Japan and the pro-whale movement, but Japan's involvement in controlled whaling doesn't necessarily make it anti-whale. The country's government has stated its commitment to some of the same causes that motivate the pro-whale (or anti-whaling) movement.

"If the protest [of anti-whaling groups] is along the lines of 'protect the endangered whale species,' we are on the same ground. Japan strongly supports the international protection of endangered whale species such as blue whales," reads a policy statement from the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The country says it does not take any endangered species as part of its research whaling, so it sees its whaling activities as sustainable and separate from the issue of species conservation.

The undeniably rocky relationship between Japan and the pro-whale movement stems from irreconcilable views of whaling. Pro-whale advocates basically regard whaling as poaching. Not so for Japan, which sees it as legal research activities authorized by Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the treaty created "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry."

With the Law on Their Side

The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), the nonprofit research organization that conducts whaling activities under the legal authority of Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, does sell meat from whales that it takes. Pro-whale groups often cite this fact and say that Japan's research activities are actually commercial whaling in disguise and that it uses a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's convention to conduct its whaling.

But Japan points out that section 2 of Article VIII of the convention states that "any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted."

So, Japan's response to criticism from the pro-whale movement is that selling whale meat (and all of its whaling activities) is above legal reproach.

At the end of the day, the legality of whaling isn't the issue that divides Japan from the pro-whale movement. The pro-whale community views whaling as wrong, while the country sees it as no different from sustainable hunting or fishing. With these opposing viewpoints, don't expect to see a reconciliation between Japan and the pro-whale movement soon.

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