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article imageTide of world opinion turning against Japan over whaling decision Special

By Megan Hamilton     Oct 1, 2014 in Environment
Portoroz - The slow tide of world opinion is turning against Japan's recent decision earlier this month to flout international law and resume whaling in the antarctic in 2015. Especially after news came out about Japan's so-called "scientific research."
Let's be crystal-clear about this: Japan did produce a ton of scientific paperwork, but most of the papers are unpublished or are in the form of reports compiled for the International Whaling Commission. They aren't published in scientific journals, and are therefore not peer-reviewed, as this article by Justin McCurry in The Guardian explains.
Before trying to figure out why Japan is being so stubborn, here's a bit of background information:
What is the International Whaling Commission?
The IWC is a global intergovernmental organization established to oversee the conservation of whales and the management of whaling. It was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946. Currently, the IWC has a membership of 88 governments from countries worldwide.
IWC Commission meetings are held biennially and are attended by approximately 400 people — this includes government delegates, observers from non-member governments, as well as other inter-governmental organizations, non-government organizations and representatives of the media.
The IWC's Scientific Committee meets yearly, and is attended by some 200 scientists. Both sets of meetings last about two weeks.
Earlier this month, the 65th meeting of the worldwide whale conservation body voted by 35 to 20, with five countries abstaining, in favor of a resolution promoted by New Zealand, requiring member countries to place future scientific whaling programs in front of the IWC's scientific committee and the IWC's biennnial commission for guidance, per The Guardian.
“New Zealand introduced the resolution unilaterally,” Patrick Ramage, director of the global whale program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare told Digital Journal. “Australia, the US, and many others spoke in support and voted for it, but it was New Zealand’s willingness to lead, and ultimately, insistence on the strongest possible draft, that led to this important resolution being passed.”
If Japan had heeded the vote, it would have extended until 2016 the one year moratorium that Tokyo declared after the International Court of Justice found it to be in breach of IWC rules on scientific whaling, per The Guardian.
This new measure, however, apparently isn’t Japan’s cup of tea. Japanese diplomats at the summit in Portoroz, Slovenia took a different tack, maintaining that they wouldn't be bound by the resolution because they interpreted the ICJ ruling differently, and would therefore proceed with another round of research whaling in the Southern Ocean.
Part of the problem is that the ICJ’s ruling isn’t binding, and it appears this has given Japan the leverage it needed to go against the decision.
“Basically, Japan is stating they will apply the court’s decision unilaterally and that they will not respect the resolution that was approved because it was not supported by them,” Aimee Leslie, Global Cetacean and Marine Turtle Manager for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) told Digital Journal. “In fact their immediate intervention once the resolution was passed was to announce that they would be submitting a new research plan to start ‘scientific’ whaling again in 2015 “in line with international law” — in other words not respecting the process set up through the resolution that requires the Scientific Committee to incorporate the ICJ judgment criteria and the Commission to approve before any special permits are granted.”
“Hopefully the international community will act to put unnecessary lethal takes of whales for so-called scientific research finally under control,” Leslie said. “There is no reason to kill whales for science in our times, when we can find out everything we need for conservation and management through non-lethal methods.
There is an urgent need for high level diplomatic engagement outside the IWC, in order to persuade Japan not to continue its whaling in the Antarctic, she noted.
Gerard Van Behemen, leader of New Zealand’s delegation told the Guardian that the delegation members were disappointed with Japan’s decision.
“We thought it important that there was a strong statement agreed about the interpretation and application of the court’s decision but in the end it wasn’t possible to reach consensus on that,” he said.
“We urge Japan to abide by the decision of the IWC and to refrain from launching more hunts outside of the process set up today,” Leslie told The Guardian. “If Japan truly wants to advance whale conservation as it says it does, then it should not circumvent these new IWC rules.”
Fortunately, Japan’s decision has stirred up consternation and criticism, and much of that has focused on the country’s purported “scientific research,” or more precisely, the lack thereof.
Joji Morishita, who serves as Japan’s commissioner to the IWC, claimed that Japan had published 666 peer-reviewed papers based on its scientific whaling program in the Antarctic, per The Guardian.
The ICJ found this to be dubious at best and upheld Australia’s claim that the country had only submitted two peer-reviewed papers since 2005. Thus, it said, Japan failed to fulfill its scientific brief. It should be noted that these two papers were based on the slaughter of nine whales.
Peter Tomka, the presiding judge for the ICJ said that Jarpa II — the name of Japan’s research program has produced very little of scientific value.
“In light of the fact that the Jarpa II has been going on since 2005, and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales, the scientific output to date appears limited, Tomka said.
A handout photo taken from Sea Shepherd Australia Ltd showing three minke whales dead on the deck of...
A handout photo taken from Sea Shepherd Australia Ltd showing three minke whales dead on the deck of the Japanese factory ship Nisshin Maru
Tim Watters, Sea Shepherd Australia Ltd/AFP/File
For his part, Ramage told The Guardian that Morishita was making a conscious effort to confuse the committee on this point, but nevertheless, the world court was very clear on the matter.
“He (Morishita) was advancing a specious cultural argument, suggesting that Japanese scientists should not be held to recognized international standards.”
“Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson famously put it, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Morishita’s argument is a familiar one to old hands at the IWC,” Rammage said. “The story goes that scientific journals refuse to publish articles by Japanese scientists, and that somehow the concept of peer review, which has existed for more than two centuries, is stacked against the long-suffering Japanese scientists.”
This, he noted, is an insult to the listener and to world-class Japanese scientists who are regularly and widely published on a range of issues including ocean science.
“So-called scientific whaling as propagated by Japan’s fisheries agency is, in truth, not science,” Ramage said. “It’s 101 things to do with a dead whale.”
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, a semi-governmental body in Tokyo that presides over the hunts, didn’t respond to questions from The Guardian. Instead, it stated that Japan submitted 130 peer-reviewed papers based on Jarpa and Jarpa II between 1988 and 2013.
A list of these papers, the authors, subject matter, and date of publication appear on the institute’s website. Most of these papers are either unpublished or appeared as reports for the IWC, not as journals that peer-review them before publishing.
In an email interview with Digital Journal, Ramage cited McCurry’s article in The Guardian and had this to say:
“To sum up, the ICJ reiterated that only two peer reviewed papers have been produced from Japan’s JARPA II program in Antarctica. That’s a lot of dead whales per paper and a lot of taxpayer subsidy involuntarily underwritten by the good people of Japan in support of this bankrupt program.”
"As the judgment of the ICJ validates, empty assertions by Japanese fisheries bureaucrats don't necessarily comport with reality or the World Court's interpretation," Ramage said. "This is the country that for more than two decades has insisted its so-called research whaling was utterly legitimate and above reproach. That argument proved to be crap. So are the present assertions by Japanese apologists for its illegal whaling in Antarctica."
Demand for whale meat in Japan has declined precipitously over the last two decades. The drop in demand has been so steep that without government subsidies at a huge cost to taxpayers, the whaling industry in Japan would collapse, Global Post reports.
For the first time ever, fisheries authorities provided data in the form of a document, and the evidence shows that Japan’s government approved subsidies totaling more than 30 billion yen ($320 million) between 1987 and last year.
The fleet of four to six ships that travel to the Antarctic each winter costs taxpayers around $10 million each year, IFAW reports, per Global Post. Last year’s subsidies included 2.28 billion yen ($20 million) in funds that had originally been intended to aid the reconstruction of the region devastated by the tsunami in March of 2011. The government’s excuse is that some of the affected communities had a tradition of coastal whale hunting.
Thousands of tons of whale meat have been left unsold with the steep decline in consumption, and the government can never hope to recoup its investment, Ramage told Global Post.
“Whaling is an economic loser in the 21st century,” he said. “We have been saying for years that whaling has no economic future, but here it is in black and white in this report.”
The document shows the rising costs of keeping the aging whale fleet seaworthy and details the steep decline in whale meat consumption.
Polling conducted by a Japanese public research company on behalf of IFAW shows that whale meat consumption has slowed to a mere trickle of what it was in its heyday — falling to just one percent of what its peak was in the 1960’s. Current stockpiles of unsold meat have increased to nearly 5,000 metric tons. That’s about four times greater than they were 15 years ago, Global Post reports.
Despite this, there’s a “committed core group” of fisheries agency bureaucrats and politicians who use international criticism to buoy their case for lethal research, Ramage noted in the Post.
“They’ve effectively married the funding issue to an argument that says anyone who criticizes whaling is anti-Japanese or that whale meat is fundamental to Japanese food culture,” he said. “But this report shows that the Japanese people don’t buy that argument any more than they’re buying whale meat.”
Some leading newspapers, such as Asahi Shimbun have come out against whaling, and this is encouraging. Perhaps this, along with the rising tide of world opinion swirling against whaling in Japan will help persuade whaling proponents to quit flogging what has obviously become a dead whale.
More about Japan "scientific" whale research, Japan, International whaling commission, International Court of Justice, minke whales
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