The Killing Seas

By Michael AW

For The Bali Times

SYDNEY, Australia ~ On November 19, the Japanese whaling fleet Nisshin Maru and three chaser ships left southern Japan for its biggest hunt since commercial whaling was officially banned. Adding to its annual haul, this season, they are also aiming for humpback whales from Australian waters, escalating the environmental dispute over whaling to a new height.

Humpback whales have not been legally hunted in the Antarctic since 1963, and never since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986. In 20th century history, never have so many whales been earmarked for death in a single year. But then again, is this Japan at its worst? Under the guise of scientific research, 50 humpbacks have been added to the Japanese target, with 50 giant fin whales and up to 935 minkes. Are the Japanese reverting to a bygone dark era? Sounds like a resounding “Yes!” Real scientists don’t need to kill whales to study them. This is really commercial whaling badly dressed up as science.

The Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo disclosed that the hunt would take place in Antarctic waters southwest of Australia. This means that many of the whales are most likely to be slaughtered in an Australian whale sanctuary off the coast of the Australian Antarctic Territory. As data shows, the humpbacks would come mainly from stocks that breed and migrate off the east and west coasts of Australia. In this instance, it is a clear violation of international law by the Japanese as Humpback whales are listed as endangered with CITES – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, an international agreement between governments. In this context, the use of weapons within an Australian territory can be loosely interpreted as an act of war, or at best, a criminal offence. However, prosecution or any robust defensive action by the Australian authorities, at least up till now, appears to be highly unlikely and cursory.

Nevertheless, Kevin Rudd, the new prime minister of Australia, said that he will send Navy and RAAF planes to monitor the Japanese whaling ships. At the very least, this is a demonstration of force compared to the ousted prime minister, John Howard, who in political ambiguity waffled, “I totally disagree with what the Japanese are doing in relation to whaling and our responses have got to be completely in accordance with Japanese law and every time I meet a Japanese prime minister, I raise this issue and I’ll continue to do so.”

Japanese law in Australian waters? This is a blatant case of a government saying one thing – that they’re opposed to whaling – but doing far less than is satisfactory to try and stop it. At least the former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer was honest, saying that the federal government does not want to take action against Japan over whaling if that would harm Australian interest.

It will be difficult for any reasonable person to understand the justification, or lack thereof, as the whaling is conducted in Australian territorial waters. All Australia would need to do is send a warship and demand that the Japanese leave or be apprehended. The Japanese whaling industry is in defiance of both Australian and international law, tantamount to an international criminal operation. Killing a whale is similar to a poacher killing an elephant, koala or a panda. Perhaps the war against whaling is won by Sonys, Canons and Hondas?

An outspoken man Yoji Kita from the southern whaling town of Taiji, Japan, strangely but correctly pointed out that by global standards, there are lots of double standards. Much less to killing a whale, it is illegal for Australians to swim with whales. This law is vigilantly enforced in Australian waters and is a jailable offence. Apparently this is not so for the Japanese.

Remember Steve Irwin, the much-loved Crocodile Hunter with carte blanche to get up close and be smothered by any animal of any size, even the endangered ones? Well, even for Steve, in 2004 he was subjected to federal government investigations for a criminal breach of wildlife laws after allegedly clowning around with whales and penguins while filming a documentary in Antarctica. Under Australian law, interacting with Antarctic wildlife is strictly forbidden, attracting fines of up to AUS$1 million (US$869,000) and two years’ jail. At that time, federal parliamentary environment secretary Sharman Stone confirmed that the government had granted Irwin’s company permit to film whales, but she added: “It certainly wouldn’t have said you can jump in and pat them.” Stone’s comment also implied that though many countries shared jurisdiction over Antarctica, Australians working there are bound by Australian laws. Not so for killing whales, and if one is Japanese.

It is gin clear that the governments involved are not being transparent or sensible at addressing the issue, nor have the gumption to enforce any effective action to dissuade the whalers. What, then, should the rest of us, who proclaim our disgust at this fib and carnage, do? Only 11 percent of Japanese are pro-whaling, and 14 percent are anti-whaling, according to polls, with the vast majority sitting quietly in abstinence. Perhaps standing up, vocalizing and even boycotting Japanese products till the whaling stops might persuade this majority to join forces and push their authorities to stop this whaling massacre under the guise of scientific research.

Japan’s economy runs mainly on exports, but there is nothing that they make that can’t be gotten from another country. At a time when human demand is eating into the Earth’s natural resources at an unsustainable rate, is it really necessary for these friendly cetaceans to die for what is little more than the misguided notion of a Japanese minority, albeit a politically and economically motivated one?

The very thought that so many whales are being killed in agony for the glory of a minority is heinous and horrendous. As concerned and reasonable global citizens, we can all play a responsible part. Be it boycotting Japanese products or vocalizing and representing the helpless whales’ plight, we can make a conscious choice for whales, for our children.

Michael AW is chairman of OceanNEnvironment, a marine conservation organization based in Sydney.

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