Tides have changed in Japan since last Monday’s edition of “Fin-tastic Marine Mondays,” shocking and disturbing the international environmental scene.
In the wake of the decision made by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ruled that the whaling activities conducted by the Japanese government were under the thin guise of contributing to science, Japan has only briefly halted whaling practices. When the ruling was made, Japan had stated that they would adhere to the decision of the court, appeasing environmentalists and Western cultures who look at whaling as incredibly outdated and disruptive to the environment. However, this past Friday Japan announced that whaling practices would be resumed, shocking political experts worldwide.
The revamped whaling program would reduce the “research” hunt in the northern Pacific Ocean by half, still aiming to kill 210 whales per year and limiting research goals to collecting DNA and tissue samples. Additionally, the government has stated that measures to intercept vessels that have attempted to disrupt whaling, most notably the United States anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, will be drastically increased.
The overhaul of the governmental whaling program entirely misses the mark set by the ICJ and global environmentalists. The whaling program was clearly operating under loose scientific contributions and by seemingly increasing these contributions, Japan is still not addressing the central issue of whaling. The country views whaling as a cultural tradition and interprets the ruling of the ICJ as threatening a practice that has been ongoing in the country for decades. Shifting the practice to one for “science,” however, is an inappropriate strategy for maintaining tradition. The government claims that whaling is necessary to monitor the whale populations in the Pacific, yet Japan is the only country in the Pacific Rim that practices whaling. There is a clear and reasonable opportunity for the country to shift toward monitoring practices that do not involve the brutal slaughter of the ocean’s giants. Whales are slow-growing, slow-breeding animals, and killing them is inherently threatening their enduring presence in the world’s oceans. As a migratory species, killing whales disrupts their global presence, preyed upon by the Japanese government.
It seems that Japan is near mocking in its advocacy for a practice that is globally perceived as destroying the environment. In light of the ruling, the Japanese parliament has been accused of making the shift in scientific collection measures as a handout to the food and agriculture lobbies of Japan. Whale meat and products are still sold commercially, coming directly from the government’s “scientific” activities despite the gradual downturn of whale meat consumption by the Japanese population. During its congressional meeting on this issue, members of the parliament went as far to make tongue-in-cheek jokes about serving President Obama whale meat during his trip to Tokyo this coming month.
The thin guise of research, no matter how effective, is not an appropriate excuse for the continuation of whaling practices. Japan has clear models in every other country in the Pacific Rim to adapt to new monitoring research that would halt whaling practices for good. The excuse of maintaining cultural traditions does not apply to scientific data collection, clearly indicating that research on whales is conducted as a facade for commercial whaling.
Luckily, the decision of the ICJ has brought the whaling practices of Japan into the public conscious, and hopefully as international sentiment becomes sour, the country will realize that maintaining cultural traditions simply does not support the slaughter of whales any longer. I hope that Japan realizes this sooner rather than later. The cruel killing of whales under such thin excuses could irreversibly damage the diverse waters of the Pacific and, ironically, destroy whale populations for good.