How Japan Can Save Face -- and Whales

By Peterson, Brenda | The Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

How Japan Can Save Face -- and Whales


Peterson, Brenda, The Christian Science Monitor


Japan has given the world green cars and technological marvels. It wouldn't be a stretch for it to lead the 21st century protecting the world's oceans and whales.

The antiquated and brutal whaling industry is dying, yet the world is on the brink of a return to commercial whaling. This backward step, however, can be prevented by Japan, the very country which seems to have precipitated this regression.

In a deal to be brokered this week at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Morocco, the United States is backing Japan, Norway, and Iceland in their annual bid to lift the 25-year moratorium on whale hunting.

Those three nations have previously refused to follow the ban. The new deal, which would legalize Japan's controversial "scientific whaling" is an effort to coax them into cooperating by enforcing quotas.

Readers weigh in: Is Japan right? Should the IWC ban on commercial whale hunting be lifted?

Before the implementation of the ban, 38,000 whales were slaughtered a year; after implementation of the ban, the number killed dropped to 2,000. Yet the world has only barely begun to recover some species that were brutally destroyed during centuries of whaling.

We are only beginning to understand how marine life sustains the planet. Whales are an intricate and essential part of our marine planet. Allowing a return, even in part, to commercial whaling would devastate oceans already under siege by climate change, plastics pollution, catastrophic oil spills, and rising carbon levels.

Twentieth-century whale research has revealed some startling facts: humpbacks sing lullabies to their young, blue whales communicate over thousands of miles, gray whales can live over one hundred years.

Just this month, there is new evidence that sperm whales offset the sea's increasing carbon levels by simply defecating. ABC News reports that "whales can remove about 400,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere each year ... making the sperm whale a carbon- neutral mammal." What else might we discover in the 21st century about how whales contribute to keeping our seas healthy?

If we return to commercial whaling, we may lose the knowledge that maintaining the moratorium has given us. Why is Japan looking backward when we desperately need new ocean conservation?

Japan is utilizing a loophole in the 1986 International Whaling Commission ban against commercial whaling, to kill hundreds of whales every year for scientific research. Once a whale is killed, scientists collect data from the animal's remains then the meat is sold. Japan maintains that the research is essential for managing the whale population.

Japan has also cited its long history as a whaling nation and its historic reliance on whale meat for protein as reasons why it should be continued to allow to hunt despite the ban. But consumption has become so negligible that, in 2007, local governments had to encourage schools to incorporate whale in their lunch programs, while thousands of tons of whale meat remain stockpiled in freezers, according to Time Magazine.

Other experts speculate that Japan's refusal to comply with a ban has to do with the fact that its government just doesn't like to be told what to do. But Japan has a chance this week to not only save face on this issue, but take its place as a world leader in ocean conservation. …

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