Friday, July 8, 2011

What Next?

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) starts Monday. Sidney Holt, ASOC's representative to the IWC, has written a series of blog posts to provide context for this meeting and the issue of whaling in the Southern Ocean. This post, the first in the series, is also cross-posted on the IFAW blog.

I am sad that my good friend Atsushi Ishii has written such a muddled analysis of the whaling issue in his recently published book (in Japanese), if David McNeill's account of his view, in the Japan Times of 19 June 2011, is valid. I very much hope that his book is soon published in English and perhaps other languages.

Some of us have long been suspecting that the ICR (Institute of Cetacean Research) and its associates might be hoping for a face-saving event to allow a dignified exit from the Southern Ocean Whale sanctuary, given the rising cost of the subsidy, the ageing of the factory ship, and the declining market demand for whale meat. The International Maritime Organization is also considering a suite of additional safety and environmental regulations for vessels operating in the Antarctic that could make operating whaling vessels prohibitively expensive. Sea Shepherd provided such a face-saver earlier this year down in the Drake Passage, though it was double-edged in that it did not look very dignified for a G8 country to claim to fear danger from some determined anti-whalers who were following their ship and occasionally throwing rancid butter at it. But the valid argument remains - the so-called scientific whaling that Japan has been engaging in in the Antarctic and on the high seas in the North Pacific is illegal and also exceedingly cruel.

I have some doubts about whether the Nisshin Maru will continue to be employed in scientific whaling in the North Pacific. It needed unsustainable subsidies to operate in both the Antarctic and North Pacific. To catch just a few northern hemisphere whales it would need a much bigger subsidy, even if, as I expect, they would take the bigger baleen species and sperm whales as well as minkes, out of sheer cussedness.

This argument comes just as we have recently learned that not only do minke whales migrate throughout the major regional oceans as defined by humans, but individuals of the 'southern' species wander up to the Northern Hemisphere Oceans, and even interbreed with the northerners. Now what does that do to the requirement of the International Law of the Sea that the catching of whales, among the species designated as Highly Migratory, is to be regulated by the IWC and their conservation similarly assured - and not only when they are swimming in the High Seas?

My wager is that the Japanese factory ship will not operate after the 2012/13 season and perhaps not even in 2011/12. I'm hesitant about the coming southern season because they may be hoping that by hanging in for one more season they will get a better 'deal' out of the continuing US-New Zealand caper, legitimising resumption of commercial whaling by 'small-type coastal whalers in exchange for graciously exiting from pelagic pseudo-scientific whaling. Incidentally, I found it sort of amusing that the ICR people no longer even try to pretend that their operations are following some serious scientific design; they blithely doubled the area of operations a few days before they began operation in the 2010/11 Antarctic season without a murmur of 'scientific' justification. More next time about the flawed, and now practically non-existent 'design' of the JARPA and JARPNA programmes.

--Sidney Holt, Paciano, Italy.

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