If there is one group that has vociferously carved out an antiwhaling niche — globally, but especially in Japan — it is Greenpeace.
The organization’s activities and antics have been a thorn in the side of the government and those in favor of whaling, and Junko Sakurai, of Greenpeace Japan’s antiwhaling campaign, is blunt in her assessment of the group’s position.
“We are against resuming commercial whaling because it has not worked in the past,” she said. “As long as whaling is based on profit, we believe it will exceed the ability of whales to reproduce.”
With Japan being the major market for whale meat, the group is concerned that other countries will try to cash in on a lifting of the ban on hunting and plunge whales back into another era of over-exploitation.
Neither does Greenpeace buy into the government’s argument that whales are eating too many marine resources, inhibiting the revival of whale stocks, and should therefore be culled.
“Ecosystems are not that simple,” Sakurai said.
The group has described the government’s position as “astonishingly weak” and based on flawed science. Marine life not consumed by whales simply does not translate into more for people, according to marine ecology.
For example, sperm whales eat fish and squid, but by killing more whales, the number of fish could decrease because squid would prey on them in the absence of their natural predator, the sperm whale.
Since the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in London last year, the World Wide Fund for Nature has toned down its opposition, stating that if strict conditions are met, it could recognize the logic of resuming commercial whaling.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace has sponsored public study sessions with a number of whaling experts in the runup to the Shimonoseki conference to examine the issue as well as elaborate on its own position.
These sessions are part of an effort to redesign its image as a group that is able to participate in dialogue.
“In Japan, radical activities can lead to abhorrence (from society) and are meaningless,” Sakurai said. “We want to be regarded as a group that can discuss issues, not just as noisy people opposed to whaling.”
Despite adjusting its approach, the group does not intend to alter its position.
Still, in a nation where whale meat is readily available and some view whaling as a hallowed cultural tradition, Greenpeace’s position is a tricky one.
And few are more familiar with navigating the emotive issue than veteran campaigner Sakurai.
Despite condemning and campaigning against whaling, Greenpeace has not come out against eating whale meat because it does not disapprove of meat from whales and dolphins accidentally snagged in fishing nets being utilized.
“It is hard to explain to Japanese people that saying don’t catch whales is not the same as saying don’t eat whale. This is probably the most difficult point for us campaigning in Japan,” Sakurai said.
Greenpeace has criticized Japan’s research whaling since its inception in 1987 — following the introduction of the whaling moratorium — as a ruse to continue taking whales by abusing a loophole in the whaling treaty.
Likewise, Sakurai is suspicious of Japan’s plan to expand its catch to include 50 coastal minke and 50 North Pacific sei whales. This will boost the total annual catch to up to 440 antarctic minke, 150 North Pacific minke, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei whales and 10 sperm whales.
“Why do they plan to take 50 sei whales and 50 Bryde’s, but only 10 sperm whales, even though there are many more sperm whales?” she asked. “It is because sperm whale meat doesn’t sell well. This is not scientific research. This is commercial whaling.”
Sakurai points out that the 50 coastal minke will be caught for research in waters where the government has annually requested that the IWC permit small-scale local coastal whalers a one-time commercial catch of 50 minke.
Sakurai also questions the merits of resuming commercial whaling from ecological perspectives.
Resuming whaling could lead to poaching and accidental harpooning of calves of endangered species of large whales in place of the smaller, more abundant minke whales, she said.
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