Flotsam (what we’re obsessed with right now)
Cuttings (short and sweet):
Logo by Ethan Kocak
A humpback whale in Antarctica (photo credit: Chris Parsons)
Earlier this year the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” in Antarctica (the JARPA II research program, to give its official title) was illegal. Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling allows the lethal take of whales for scientific research purposes by “special permit.” The ICJ ruled, however, that the Japanese program was in violation of this provision, because JARPA II was not bona fide scientific research but was instead de facto commercial whaling.
The Japanese Government initially stated that it would abide by the ICJ’s decision and discontinue JARPA II, but then later announced it would conduct a new research program in the Antarctic (JARPA III?). This sudden turnabout was less based on science or market forces than politics, no doubt – sales of whale meat in Japan have been declining and there is currently a warehoused surplus. It may have also been influenced by NGOs (specifically Sea Shepherd) publicly claiming to have “defeated” the Japanese Government and forced them to end the Antarctic hunt (for the record, Sea Shepherd was not involved in the ICJ court case at all, and can claim no responsibility for the outcome). For the fiercely proud and nationalistic Japanese politicians, to have a small NGO – which they have labelled a “terrorist organization” – beat them would be politically untenable.
Early this morning, the International Court of Justice declared that Japan’s scientific whaling program in Antarctica violates the International Whaling Commission moratorium, and ordered Japan to stop. This is big news for the marine conservation community, but like many legal policy decisions, it can be difficult to determine exactly what it means. I asked marine mammal biologists, conservation activists, and policy experts to help explain it.
What is the International Court of Justice (ICJ)? The International Court of Justice is essentially the judicial branch of the United Nations. Any of the 192 United Nations member states may submit a case against any other state.
What is the International Whaling Commission (IWC)? The International Whaling Commission is a regulatory body that was founded in 1946 as a result of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling treaty. The 88 member nations (any nation can join) regulate whaling and whale conservation issues.
What is “scientific whaling?” Scientific whaling refers to intentionally killing a whale for the purpose of scientific research. According to marine mammal researcher Jake Levenson, this is permitted by Article 8 of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. According to Levenson, “In the 1940’s [when this rule was made,] we didn’t have many of the tools we have now to study whales, so at the time it was thought to be appropriate to kill whales for scientific purposes.” Several experts I spoke to noted that this was never intended to be a large-scale program. Here is a list of some of the scientific research that resulted from the program.
Lindsey Peavey is a PhD student in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a marine ecologist whose research seeks to find a sustainable balance between human resource use and species conservation. You can follow her work on Twitter (@lepeavey) and her blog, turtlesinthedeep.org.
Last December, I sat down to enjoy a pizza pie and draft beer with my friend Neal, a 6-foot, 5-inch, 280-lb. (think offensive lineman), die-hard conservative republican. He was giddy with excitement to talk with me about one of his favorite TV shows, Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars.” Knowing that I’m a tree hugger by nature and a marine biologist by trade, he thought an hour of “Save the whales!” camaraderie was ahead. He was shocked when I let out a long sigh and confessed, “I’m not a fan of Whale Wars.”
Neal was completely deflated. He demanded to know why I didn’t like the show. Shouldn’t I, of all people, be Sea Shepherd’s No. 1 fan? I offered my gripes: It’s outrageously expensive to operate a vessel like Sea Shepherd’s SSS Steve Irwin in the extremely volatile and dangerous environment of intercepting Japanese whaling vessels in the Antarctic — on the order of tens of thousands of dollars a day. Although funds are available to support these operations, the return on investment is unclear. How many whales are actually being saved?
…was a hoax.
A report that the Japanese government will scrap all research whaling has been dismissed as a hoax.
So please, stop e-mailing me this:
“Effective immediately, Japan will no longer conduct scientific research on whale populations which require capture and dissection,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Makoto Inoue, speaking at a press conference in Tokyo. “The Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has revoked all permits for whaling research.”
Asked about the motivation behind the sudden announcement, Inoue said, “It cannot be denied that that whaling severely and unnecessarily damages the image of Japan in the international community, due to the strong sentiment against whaling in many countries,” speaking through an interpreter. “There is no longer any economic need for Japan to obtain protein from the whales, so it would be irrational and pointless to continue catching whales.”
From the Guardian:
Japan has temporarily suspended its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic after anti-whaling activists obstructed its fleet’s mother ship.
Officials in Tokyo have conceded that this year’s mission, which had again been the target of international criticism, had not gone as well as hoped and the fleet may be called home early, according to reports.
Tatsuya Nakaoku, a fisheries agency official, said the decision was taken after the mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, was “harassed” by members of the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.
“Putting a priority on safety, the fleet has halted scientific whaling for now,” he said. “We are currently considering what to do next.”
Obviously this blog has been no friend of Sea Shepherd, and we continue to remain skeptical. However, as I said in several years ago, “If they effectively end Mediterranean Tuna fishing, or whaling in the southern ocean, or sealing in Canada, or shark finning in the Galapagos, I’ll gladly admit I’m wrong. But nothing they’ve done in the last 32 years have convinced me that they will succeed.” Well, this would unquestionably count as a victory for the moment, so job well done. Whether this is a real, permanent solution or simply a blip in the political landscape will be revealed in time.
I still question the sustainability of a direct action campaign that requires the sheer amount of time and resources that the SSCS Antarctic whaling campaigns require, how this will play out in the Japanese media, and whether there are other pieces in play here, but for now, enjoy your victory Sea Shepherd, it’s been a long time coming.
We sparked a good debate over the effectiveness of direct action conservation movements over at the post “Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?” One of the most difficult questions raised was if Sea Shepherd wasn’t there, would the Japanese make their full quota? The data presented in that post was inconclusive, because the quota increase corresponded to the beginning of SSCS’s Southern Ocean campaign, so we have no time period in which the Japanese quota was increased while Sea Shepherd was absent.
We have been and continue to be critical of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. Although their goals are admirable their methods are not only ineffective, but in some cases impair the achievement of those goals. With the premier of Whale Wars season 3 tomorrow evening, we’d like to take a moment to highlight the issues we’ve raised concerning the SSCS. Over the last two years we’ve written a number of post summarizing our problems with Sea Shepherd:
Our friends at Deep Sea News and Underwater Thrills have been critical of SSCS, too:
The above links cover many of the issues we have with this organization. The New York Times recently published an excellent breakdown of the Japanese Whaling Industry. Below are our main criticisms of SSCS: