Whaling Talks Collapse: Japan, Norway and Iceland Free to Keep Hunting Whales Unchecked

6 years ago

This week's highly anticipated International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting continues with the thorniest topic unresolved: Whether or not to suspend a flimsy 25-year ban on commercial hunting in favor of a more enforced limited ban. Despite international pressure to maintain sustainable whaling, talks collapsed on Wednesday, leaving Japan, Norway and Iceland free to continue whaling unchecked.

Though the U.S. had fought to bring the three nations back under the IWC's control and accept a limited catch, agreeing on an acceptable number of dead whales proved elusive. After two days of intense debate, the three whaling nations offered to limit their catch but drew the line at ceasing altogether. A proposal drafted by the commission's chairman suggested a limit of 400 whales per year for five years, then going down to 200 -- unacceptable to both sides, evidently.

"After nearly three years of discussions, it appears our discussions are at an impasse."
--Chief U.S. delegate to the IWC, Monica Medina

Around 1,500 whales are killed annually by the three countries, but Japan kills the majority. Meanwhile, the Japanese insist its hunt is for scientific research (no details on what they are researching) although the meat usually ends up in the nation's restaurants.

What's even more baffling here is that most Japanese do not even like whale meat. Older folks recall eating it post-WWII, when it was prevalent during the lean years. Nowadays, the average Japanese citizen is as likely to snack on whale meat as an American is to make a frog leg sandwich. It seems to be more about national ego, as Japan resists being admonished by Western countries, especially the U.S.

The collapse of talks at the 62nd IWC has caused great disappoint among environmentalists everywhere and the topic will not be revisited for at least another year. Curiously, the IWC includes 88 countries -- some landlocked -- evenly divided on the whaling issue. (South Korea has also expressed interest in joining the IWC.)

"To be blunt, I became aware that the whaling issue was one of the best ways to lose friends for Japan."
--Tomohiko Taniguchi, an adjunct professor at Tokyo's Keio University told NPR

Meanwhile, Australia is actually suing Japan in the International Court of Justice over its whaling practices in the Antarctic. Seems that Australia had declared a whaling sanctuary in its southern seas -- a feeding ground for 80 percent of the world's whales - and Japan hunts there anyway. Not very neighborly.

The impasse comes on the heels of a widely publicized sting operation by the Sunday Times of London which uncovered Japan offering bribes, such as monetary aid and prostitutes, to IWC member countries in exchange for votes.

"I just couldn't stand the waste. A lot of meat was being thrown away because we kept catching whales even after we'd reached our daily quota. I decided I had to tell someone what was happening."
--"Kujira-san" (Mr Whale), a former whaler comes forward to the Guardian

Some background on the IWC: It was a voluntary organization formed back in the 1940s by whaling nations with the aim of regulating whaling so that the populations remained at healthy levels. But in the 1970s, with whale numbers dropping fast, some member countries began to push for a moratorium on whaling to allow the whale populations to recover. This is where we get that cliched line: "Save the Whales." With the latest failure, many are doubting the future of the IWC.

"I think ultimately if we don't make some changes to this organization in the next few years it may be very serious, possibly fatal for the organization — and the whales will be worse off."
--former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer

The stalemate doesn't bode well for the beleaguered blue whale, one of the most endangered whale species and a favorite target of whalers. There were at least 200,000 before commercial whaling. Today it is estimated just 2,300 remain.

"The cockroaches of the sea."
--Masayuki Komatsu, who led Japan's whaling negotiations until his retirement from the fisheries ministry three years ago, describing minke whales. He does care for the taste of whale meat.


BlogHer Contributing Editor, Animal & Wildlife Concerns, Proprietor, ClizBiz

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