A refreshing editorial from one Japanese media entity says the argument for whale meat consumption, based upon tradition in Japan, is "hardly compelling."
The Jan. 15 report, "Wars Over Whaling," published in today's Japan Times chastises both parties in the issue and argue they are getting out of hand. Holding both the Japanese government and anti-whalers accountable for an escalating situation, the editorial says that "inevitable lurid reports and tangled accusations" have forced actions to reach "absurd proportions."
The editorial refers to recent events by both Japanese whaling ships and their arch nemesis the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS), currently in their eighth campaign to halt what it says is illegal whaling by Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. For the past several years, SSCS has interfered with Japanese whaling vessels hunting whales under an International Whaling Commission loophole which allows them to do so for scientific research.
The conflict, which has been captured on the Animal Planet television series, Whale Wars, has, in recent years, been rapidly approaching a showdown of epic proportions. In response to Sea Shepherd activities, Japan has continuously beefed up security for its whaling fleet, this year with the aid of funds earmarked for disaster relief.
The use of ¥2.28 billion from funds may not be a huge amount in the scheme of things, but the "whaling subsidy," says the Japan Times, "provides little benefit to coastal communities and stymies efforts to reconstruct genuinely sustainable industries." The money could have been better spent elsewhere they argue, rather than on increasing security for the Shonan Maru No.2, the whaling fleet's security ship.
The use of such funds for whaling earned international condemnation for the Japanese government, despite the acknowledgment that monies came not from donated funds, but from part of a supplementary budget allocated by the Japanese government.
The act did not help Japan's whaling case and the criticism simply bowed necks even further. A few days previously on Dec. 9, whaling company Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha had filed a U.S. Federal lawsuit in an attempt to to tackle activists' via the U.S. legal system. The goal was to stop Sea Shepherd from what the whaling company described as dangerous and "life-threatening" actions in the Southern Ocean. The lawsuit was filed shortly after the whaling fleet left port for the Southern Ocean.
Sea Shepherd ships responded and also left their berths, intercepting the whaling fleet a thousand miles north of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It was while tailing the Japanese ships that the speed ship of Sea Shepherd, the Brigitte Bardot, was hit by a rogue wave, severely damaging its hull. The larger SSCS ship, the Steve Irwin was forced to abandon its campaign and tow the ship back to Fremantle, Western Australia, for emergency repairs.
The Steve Irwin was tailed back to Australia by the Shonan Maru No. 2, which created an international incident with Australia, when according to Australian media outlets, it steamed deep inside the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone in a direct challenge to federal authorities.
On Jan. 08, three activists from Forest Rescue, an Australian group specializing in direct action to prevent logging boarded the Shonan Maru No. 2 with assistance from Sea Shepherd. Forest Rescue had one message, "return us to shore in Australia and then remove yourself from our waters." Instead the activists were arrested forcing the Australian government to negotiate their release and condemn the activists' actions.
Despite a 2008 order of the Federal Court which stated that Japanese whaling vessels are prohibited from entering the territorial waters of Australia, on January 09, the Yushin Maru No. 3, a harpoon vessel following the Sea Shepherd's Bob Barker, entered the twelve mile limit of Australian territorial waters surrounding MacQuarie Island, a subantarctic island located in the Southern Ocean between Australia and New Zealand. The Yushin continued to thumb its nose at the Australian government by ignoring calls to leave its waters.
Japan's beef with Australia may be the result of an upcoming legal challenge against Japanese whaling, and considering recent events, one wonders whether Australia has the teeth to stand behind its anti-whaling policy. Its handling of foreign ships in its own waters, saw some from the Australian media demanding a firmer response from its government accusing it of fiddling while "Japan makes a mockery of the whale sanctuary."
The Canberra Times said the government's stance on whaling looked weak, and Sydney Centre for International Law co-director Tim Stephens told The Australian, that the Japanese government was "spoiling for a fight" ahead of Australia's upcoming anti-whaling challenge in the International Court of Justice.
It is the mixed reporting which is partly responsible for the editorial in today's Japan Times, which urges "both sides [...to...] return to reasonable dialogue." And although falling short of outright condemnation towards any aggressive action taken at sea by Japan's whaling fleet, it does state that "any action that could harm a crew member on either side, cannot be justified."
The refreshing analysis of the editorial comes from its querying of whaling now that the tradition of eating whale meat has declined. "Many reports," it says, "show that whale meat from whales killed last year is piling up in refrigerated warehouses," and where whale meat may have been an important part of "Japan's heritage, and a major source of protein in the lean times after World War II [...] its continued consumption, for either culinary, dietary or cultural reasons, hardly seems compelling at this point."
The call from the Japan Times asking the Japanese government and anti-whaling activists to meet in the middle is an admirable one, but highly improbable. Until Japan quits hunting whales, Sea Shepherd has vowed no compromise. Meanwhile, the Japanese government seems equally determined as it continues to supply whale meat where there is no demand and spends more money than what it reaps.
Even though the Japanese government appears not give a fig about being judged on an international level, we're elated that the editorial in the Japan Times does. For that we can only say bravo.
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 DigitalJournal.com