Monday, January 16, 2012

Heroes and Villains in the Whaling Debate by Mungo MacCallum

Let's be clear about one thing from the start: Japanese Whaling is not only unnecessary and unpleasant; it is actually illegal.

This is not simply because of the whaling ships' blatant violation of declared marine sanctuaries and Australian territorial waters. It is illegal at its very core because it is based on a brazen lie.

The International Whaling Commission has authorised the Japanese to kill a certain number of various whale species each year for scientific purposes - not for eating or for fun, but for that single end. Yet the Japanese have basically given up all pretence that their annual expeditions have anything at all to do with science. There are occasional throwaway lines about examining a gland behind the ears of the dead whales to determine how old they were when their lives were ended, but nothing serious has ever appeared in a scientific journal. Nor is it ever likely to.

Whale meat is openly served in Japanese restaurants, which have been given a certain cachet by the international condemnation to which they have been subjected; there is a touch of edginess about eating whale in the same way as there is about eating the potentially deadly fugu fish. But the market is a very limited one and by itself would not justify the huge expense of mounting the annual expeditions.

The real reason the Japanese persist in the practice is sheer cussedness; they are not going to be pushed around by the colonialists of the west, whom they regard as both bullies and hypocrites. After all, every other nation on earth slaughters animals for food, often under cruel and inhumane conditions. To argue for special treatment for whales, especially those that are well off the endangered list, is sheer humbug. And they are not going to put up with it, so there.

From this perspective the most effective way to end whaling might be to simply ignore it; the probability is that after a few years it would be quietly phased out anyway, for reasons of simple economics. But that is obviously not going to happen, so while the whaling continues it is up to the rest of the world, and in particular the countries of the International Whaling Commission, to enforce its own rules.

But once again, this is not going to happen; Realpolitik dictates that no government in its right mind is going to go to war with Japan over whaling, so all that is left is the cumbersome system of international law. Australia has, belatedly, taken a case to the International Court of Justice, but the hearings will be both delayed and prolonged and the outcome deeply uncertain.

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