Tuesday’s Times carried a report on the meeting of the International Whaling Commission that begins today in St Kitts and Nevis:
It is not often that the Marshall Islands, a scattering of coral outcrops in the North Pacific, find themselves at the fulcrum of history. The last time was 60 years ago, when Bikini Atoll became the site of atomic bomb tests; since then the 60,000 Marshallese have lived in quiet obscurity. But tomorrow they will make a decision that will have implications across the world, and deep into its seas.
If the Marshall Islands votes with anti-whaling countries — including Britain, the United States and Australia — control of the IWC could remain in their hands and the 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling will remain secure. But if they vote with the pro-whaling bloc, led by Japan, the single Marshallese vote could tip the balance — for the first time since 1984, supporters of whaling would have a majority on the IWC. The result would be a crushing blow to environmentalists and a step towards the resumption of large-scale whaling
Earlier this year it [Japan] pledged more than US$1 million to the Pacific island of Tuvalu, a pro-whaling IWC member, and has reached similar deals with Nauru and Kiribati and other desperately poor countries in the Pacific. Last week it is believed to have offered a large aid package to other Pacific countries. It has also invited the heads of state of seven African countries and eight Caribbean and Central American countries to visit Tokyo in the last year. All are expected to vote with Japan at St Kitts.
The (London) Times adds that “in the past eight years, 21 new members have joined the commission and voted in support of Japan. Many of them, such as the Marshall Islands, Palau and Surinam, are tiny, poor countries with no history of whaling. Two of them, Mali and Mongolia, are landlocked“.
Another article in the same paper explains how Japan currently gets round the ban on whaling – imposed “after overwhelming evidence that it was driving the world’s largest mammals to extinction” – by “claiming the right to carry out “scientific whaling” supposedly to gain “research” data from slaughtered whales. The number killed in this hunt has been steadily increasing — last winter the research fleet returned to Japan with 6,400 tons of meat”. According to Greenpeace the number of whales harpooned for “scientic research” is so great that “there isn’t room on their factory ship for all the meat, and a refrigerated cargo ship is sent to the Antarctic to take boxes of whale meat back to Japan. Even still, they dump tons of whale overboard – taking home only the more profitable cuts”.
Although the Wikipedia page on Whaling states that “It is a widely held belief in pro-whaling countries that conservation is a mere excuse used by anti-whaling side whose stance largely originates from cultural rather than scientific reasoning”, the same page lists 25 species of whale, of which 20 are described as being somewhere between “near threatened” and “critically endangered”. The Times points out that any figures like these are necessarily unreliable – “Whales are difficult to count, and they breed slowly” – in which case it doesn’t seem a great idea to give Japan the benefit of the doubt, given the quote in the Times from one of their officials at last year’s meeting – alluding to the countries they’d been bribing, he said:
“Some of you are so glad that some poor countries could not attend this meeting. However, next year they will all participate. The reversal of history, the turning point, is soon to come.”
With any luck, the turning point will be that people stop eating whale meat. According to the Times only 13% of Japanese people do so, and as an opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor, titled “Save the whales – by not buying Japanese”, argues, “barring quick US or UN action, a temporary consumer boycott of Japanese products would carry the most certainty of saving the ban. Forcing Japan to back down isn’t a pleasant prospect. But neither is the risk of some whale species going extinct. One side has to give, and for Japan, it’s the easier give”.
GOOD NEWS UPDATE:
From today’s Telegraph:
Anti-whaling nations win ‘great victory’ against Japan proposals
Japan suffered an unexpected and total defeat when it tried to start attacking a 20-year-old ban on commercial whaling at the International Whaling Commission’s meeting in the Caribbean state of St Kitts and Nevis last night.
The member countries of the UN whaling treaty voted down two proposals by Japan – the most significant one for secret ballots so that small Pacific and Caribbean nations that receive Japanese aid could unpick the protection of whales without fear of retribution.
BAD NEWS UPDATE:
From today’s Guardian:
Whalers secure crucial vote win in bid to overturn ban
Japan’s campaign to restart commercial whale hunting received a major boost last night when the International Whaling Commission declared invalid a 20-year ban on the slaughter of the planet’s largest creatures for anything other than scientific purposes.