On Nov. 9, 1999, Japan’s whale research fleet departed for the Antarctic to begin the 13th year of its research program. The research program involves both a sighting survey whose primary purpose is the estimation of trends in abundance, and a sampling component that involves the take of up to 440 minke whales from a population of 760,000 animals. Since the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee has calculated that 2,000 minke whales could be harvested from the Antarctic each year for the next 100 years with no risk to the stock, the take of only 440 whales for research purposes is obviously not a conservation issue. Yet Greenpeace has used Japan’s whale research program in the Antarctic as a stage for its antiwhaling campaigns that misinform the public for fundraising purposes.
Beginning in December, the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise followed and harassed Japan’s whale research vessels in order to portray and photograph themselves as saviors of endangered whales. But minke whales are clearly not endangered, and the reckless antics of Greenpeace activists during this campaigns caused a collision between the Arctic Sunrise and the Japanese research vessel and risked the safety and lives of crews and scientists.
If Greenpeace told the truth about whales and whaling, the public would know that most whales are not endangered, and that Japan’s whale research program in the Antarctic is perfectly legal and has a sound scientific basis. The public would also then know that it is possible to resume commercial whaling in a sustainable manner.
But Greenpeace has not told the truth about whales and whaling. Rather, their antiwhaling campaign continues to mislead and misinform the public for fundraising purposes. If Greenpeace told the truth about whaling they would lose millions of dollars of revenue. Clearly, they have an economic interest in continuing their campaign of “hype, half-truths and posturing,” as described by a former Greenpeace director.
Japan’s whale research program in the Antarctic began with pilot project in 1987-1988, and has continued since then. The primary reason for conducting the research is to address “inadequate knowledge” that was used by the IWC as the reason for the adoption of its moratorium in 1982. Other reasons for the research include finding out the role of whales in the Antarctic ecosystem and the impact of environmental change on cetaceans. Japan’s whale research program in the Antarctic is the only long-term research program that can address important questions.
The legal basis for Japan’s whale research program is Article VIII of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which unequivocally provides that contracting parties may grant permits authorizing the take of whales for purposes of scientific research. This provision begins with the words “Notwithstanding anything contained in the Convention . . .”
Further, Article VIII requires that “any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the government by which the permit was granted.” This means that the convention requires the utilization of meat and other byproducts of the research. Japan’s whale research program in the Antarctic is perfectly legal and fully consistent with these provisions of the ICRW and its rights as a signatory to this convention. Greenpeace has labeled the research program as “commercial whaling in disguise” since the meat is sold on the market in Japan. While this label suits their campaign needs, it is clearly a misrepresentation of the program.
Greenpeace also claims that Japan is violating the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This claim is patently false since nothing in the UNCLOS detracts from or negates the rights of states under the ICRW. Further contrary to Greenpeace claims, the UNCLOS does not require states to abide by the nonbinding, politically motivated resolutions of the IWC Plenary. If Greenpeace told the truth, they would say that the UNCLOS obliges states to “work through the appropriate international organizations” for the conservation, management and study of cetaceans, and that this obligation is clearly met since Japan’s research program is conducted in accordance with the terms of the ICRW and supported by the IWC’s Scientific Committee.
If Greenpeace told the truth, the public would know that more than 130 scientific papers have been produced from Japan’s whale research program, and that much of the analysis done by foreign scientists involved in the work of the IWC has used data from this research. The public would also know that the IWC’s Scientific Committee has noted that the program has provided considerable data that could be directly relevant for management, and that the results of this program have the potential to improve the management of minke whales. The committee also noted that nonlethal means to obtain some of this information are unlikely to be successful.
The meaning of this scientific advice is unambiguous but it has still been misrepresented in a number of resolutions adopted by the IWC’s Plenary sessions. These resolutions, adopted for political reasons and without scientific basis, have urged Japan to refrain from issuing special permits for taking whales. Clearly, however, if we are to base the management of whale resources on scientific findings, as required by the ICRW, the conclusions of the Scientific Committee argue strongly for continuation of this research program.
Greenpeace has also made much of the fact that Japan’s take of whales for research occurs in an area declared by the IWC to be the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and that the program continues while the IWC moratorium remains in effect. But why doesn’t Greenpeace explain that neither the moratorium nor the sanctuary applies to the take of whales for research purposes?
It is important to note that opposition to Japan’s research program in the Antarctic is by no means a reflection of widespread opinion. In fact, opposition to this research comes from only a small number of countries where NGOs have had a major influence on government whaling policy.
Greenpeace antiwhaling rhetoric claims that any resumption of whaling or international trade in whale products will lead to uncontrolled harvesting that will endanger whale stocks. Although it is true that historically, commercial whaling was characterized by over-hunting and the depletion of whale stocks, arguments that new whaling would be a repetition of this history ignore achievements in science and management since that time.
Much has changed since the early days of commercial whaling. Old commercial whaling was a wasteful use of resources characterized by inadequate scientific information, inadequate management and inadequate surveillance and control with the protection of whaling interests prevailing over conservation. In contrast, new sustainable whaling would be based on the IWC’s Scientific Committee’s comprehensive assessment of whale stocks and the Revised Management Procedure with international observers, monitoring and surveillance. Contrary to statements by Greenpeace and others, new sustainable whaling will not lead to uncontrolled over-harvesting, will not lead to illegal trade or poaching and will not risk or compromise the conservation of whale stocks.
In April of this year, representatives of 147 governments signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora will meet to consider proposals to amend the convention’s Appendices I and II.
Appendix I is for species threatened with extinction that are or may be affected by trade. Appendix II is for species that although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade is regulated. International trade in species listed on Appendix I is not permitted.
The government of Japan will present proposals to the meeting to transfer Antarctic and North Pacific minke whales and Eastern North Pacific gray whales from Appendix I to Appendix II. These stocks are not endangered and do not meet CITES criteria for listing on Appendix I. Even the secretariat of CITES has acknowledged that they should be transferred to Appendix II. But whether Japan’s proposals will be accepted by the meeting is far from certain. It is certain, however, that Greenpeace will be there with its misinformation, posing for the cameras and trying to influence government delegates. So will more than 100 other NGOs, trying to impose their culturally biased views on the use of animals and their animal-rights agenda on the rest of the world.
If Greenpeace told the truth, they would be telling delegates that minke whales and gray whales are not endangered, and that controlled whaling and limited international trade in whale products will not threaten these populations. If Greenpeace told the truth, they would also say that sustainable whaling and the consumption of whale meat in Japan is fully consistent with the declaration signed by 95 states at the 1995 International Conference on the Sustainable Contribution of Fisheries to Food Security.
Japan’s proposals to the CITES meeting will therefore be a test of the organizations credibility. Hopefully CITES will not follow the example of the International Whaling Commission, where the purpose of the treaty is subverted and where scientific advice is ignored in favor of emotional political decisions.
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