Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for shooting whales. Get a bunch of tourists, put them on boat, send it out to the North Pacific and let them fire off some rounds for an hour or two. Of course the ammunition used would be Kodak and Fuji stock, but it’s a lot more humane than blowing them up. And it doesn’t make the water go all red.
With the exception of some Japanese and Scandinavian fisherman, a few Japanese scientists and the Japanese government, in the minds of most people — whale hunting ranks up there with clubbing baby seals as, well, kind of nasty.
But forget the graphic images, emotion and PC rhetoric of the anti-whale lobby There is another reason why we shouldn’t be hunting Willy. Simple economics.
Whales are more valuable alive than they are dead. Despite whaling industry claims, today there is little demand for the bone, blubber, meat, and oil that whales once supplied. At the same time, however, the demand for and profitability of whale watching has increased.
Research by scientist and author Erich Hoyt in 1995 on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare found considerable growth in the international whale watching industry. In Japan alone the figure soared from 55,000 whale watchers in 1994 to more than 100,000 in 1998.
He says: “There has been steady growth in whale watching in Japan and Norway, and the figures show that it is increasingly economically important to communities in both countries.”
As of 1998 the total value of whale watching in Japan was estimated to be more than $32.4 million, That’s a lot of people taking photos and spending money on crappy whale tea towels and calendars.
Nearly 30 Japanese coastal communities, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, are involved in the business and most of those coming to “Oooh” and “Ahhh” are Japanese.
“It is ironic that Japan and Norway, who defy the international ban on whaling by using loopholes in the legislation, are now finding that whales might be worth more alive than dead,” says Karen Steuer, Director of Commercial Exploitation and Trade at the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The benefits of eco-tourism activities such as whale watching are spread over a larger portion of the population than whale hunting; in addition to whale-watching operations, those operating stores, hotels and restaurants can enjoy increased employment and revenue opportunities. The Japanese whaling industry employs only a few hundred people.
So why does Tokyo continue to push a defiantly pro-whaling stance that brings it international condemnation and conflicts with its more cooperative and progressive position on other environmental matters?
Arrogance? Perhaps. It continues to avoid the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) worldwide moratorium on whaling by hunting whales in both the Antarctic and the North Pacific, claiming that these whales must be killed to answer critical management questions.
But what of the repeated claims that there just isn’t enough whale meat available down at your local sushi joint?
Frank Cipriano, a professor at San Francisco State University, reported in June 2003 that a DNA analysis of Japanese pet foods purchased by the Environmental Investigation Agency from supermarkets in Shizuoka and Otsuchi, near Tokyo, found the dog chow mixed with Antarctic minke whale and dolphin meat.
That find would seem to undermine Tokyo’s claim that it needs more whale meat — unless it’s for its chihuahuas.
Japanese authorities often claim that the anti-whaling movement (the West) is trying to destroy a Japanese tradition that stretches back unbroken over millennia.
But while they would have us believe that whaling is as Japanese as sumo, baseball and getting inebriated at Friday night work drinks, it seems the public is rather indifferent on the subject.
Only 11 percent of people surveyed in 2000 said that they supported Japanese whaling; nearly two-thirds had not eaten whale meat since childhood; and over half opposed whaling or said that they had no view either way.
Subsequent polls in 2001 vindicate these findings. While some might try to convince us that the people of Japan are united in their desire to eat whales, it’s more a case of “Whaling? Whatever.”