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Op-Ed: Australian government allows import of whale meat, ouch

By Elizabeth Batt     Dec 28, 2011 in Environment
How embarrassing. In 2010, the Australian government announced that it wanted an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary, yet a news report has revealed four Australian companies have been importing whale meat since 2005.
English novelist E.M. Forster (1879-1970) once said, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country." Australia's own Federal government has gone one better by betraying its own stance on anti-whaling. Since 2005, it has been approving two-year permits to four Australian companies who have imported whale meat, possibly even from Japan.
The covert authorization in the name of "scientific research" says Miles Kemp of Australia's, The Telegraph, involves "fresh whale products including blood," from "humpback and right whales," for research. Kemp adds that while documentation of the permits were obtained under 'Freedom of Information', they did not include specific details such as the names of the companies involved or the research involved. What they do reveal, is the permits have been issued since 2005 and approved by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry with the stipulation that samples "are limited to 20g or 20ml at each time for "laboratory" use."
Can anyone hear Japan's Ministry of Fisheries laughing?
The revelation is a huge embarrassment for Environment Minister Tony Burke who oversees the campaign against Japan's whaling. He was quick to assert that the permits were not issued under the current government and promised to "look into it."
Quite naturally, anti-whaling activists are crawling out of their skin demanding far more details on the permits issued, including the species of whale not identified in the documents and why the research is being conducted. Research is allowed by permit for certain government institutions, but only preserved whale samples are used, not fresh.
So what are the chances of the fresh whale meat imported by these four companies coming from Japanese whalers and whales garnered in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary? To answer that requires stepping back to 1986 when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling. Japan, a whaling nation for hundreds of years, was not happy but finally agreed to be bound by the IWC moratorium. In 1987 Japan invented the concept of scientific whaling, which was allowed by the commission for the purpose of research. It granted the country the right to continue hunting whales.
The move created controversy with anti-whaling nations, who argued that Japan exploits the rule only because they are allowed to process and sell the whale meat as they see fit. For Japan, it is a win-win situation: they can argue that they are abiding by, and operating under, IWC membership. As for the IWC, they may have initiated the moratorium with the best of intentions, to preserve and protect a severely depleted whale stock, but considering live scientific research on whales is proving equally as beneficial as lethal research, perhaps it is time they revisited their initial intentions and finally close the scientific loophole? Why?
Back in 2009, it was then – ironically, Australia's environment minister Peter Garrett's plan to demonstrate the value of non-lethal methods for tracking and researching whales as opposed to lethal research. Even though Garrett's plan was backed by the IWC, there has yet to be a move to close the loophole. This is a crying shame considering the History of Marine Animal Populations (HMAP) project's mass of increasing evidence, suggesting whales were more abundant in our oceans than previously thought.
Consequently says Fred Pearce, an environment consultant for New Scientist, what the IWC believes is a safe population number, could be starkly wrong. "The sheer volume of historical evidence [] new population modeling, some of it based on DNA evidence makes it ever harder to disbelieve [...] that old sailors’ chronicles of oceans filled to the horizon with whales were not hyperbolic fantasies." Pearce further adds:
The IWC had concluded that the number of humpback whales swimming the North Atlantic before whalers began to reduce their numbers was around 20,000. With the current population estimated at 10,000, the humpback population could soon be considered sufficiently large to allow the resumption of whaling. But when Stanford University’s Stephen Palumbi and Joe Roman analyzed the population’s DNA in 2003, they concluded that the pre-exploitation figure was 12 times greater, with a population once numbering 240,000.
Japan hunts roughly around 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary every year under the guise of scientific research. Is it not strange that the IWC's commitment to preserving whale populations, allows the killing of so many of them? Is it not oddly disturbing that Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), is using samples of killed whales for research to prove whale numbers have recovered enough for a return to commercial whaling?
With Japan's prolific whale hunting for research purposes, would the public be overly surprised to learn that the whale meat imported into Australia came courtesy of a Japanese harpoon? Probably not. Hopefully the embarrassment caused to Australia's environment minister and his administration, will foster an ardent "look" into matters and a subsequent revelation of the companies involved, the species of whale imported, the reason for the research, who provided the whale meat, the name of the person who granted these permits and more importantly, why this was allowed in the face of Australia's anti-whaling sentiments.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Antiwhaling, Whaling, whale meat imports, Japan, Whale