Japan’s phony, wasteful whale research must end

Phil Kline Senior Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace
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This article is part of a Daily Caller series on the future of whaling. Click here to read “The pleasures of whaling,” by Scoops Delacroix.

By the late 1980s, all nations except Iceland, Norway, and Japan had committed to stop commercial whaling. The global community recognized whaling made little sense, but while the rest of the world joined in to help save the whales, Japan dug in its heels. It kept on whaling despite the worldwide outcry, but to gain some political cover, Japan changed the name of its whaling work from “commercial” to “scientific research.” It was an obviously craven Orwellian inversion, and to make it even more blatant, Japan made this newly named “scientific” whaling program a business — one which would pay its costs through commercial sales of whale meat. But of course the whalers needed a bit of government help for this “research,” so it wasn’t long before they started using taxpayer money to prop up their “research.”

Every year the Japanese government gives millions of dollars to Japanese whale “researchers” so they can journey to the Southern Ocean to hunt in an internationally recognized whale sanctuary. It costs a lot of money to send a fleet of catcher boats, supply vessels, and a processing ship to Antarctica, and so once the whale meat is brought back to Japan, the “researchers” sell it to cover their costs. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.

The big flaw in this theory is the market for whale meat in Japan has tanked as people revolt against its brutality. The “research” sales aren’t enough, so the whalers now have to borrow money to keep their heads above water. Sadly for them, no one wants to loan money to an enterprise that is running at a loss, so from 2001 to 2006 the program borrowed from the government. The debt keeps accumulating — as does the frozen stockpile of unwanted whale meat.

Even before the twin disasters of the earthquake/tsunami and Fukushima, some citizens and academics in Japan had begun to question their entire scientific whaling program, both on its merits and the “loss of face” it brings their country from the rest of the world. The global recession also hit Japan hard, so money has been in short supply to rebuild and recover from the country’s recent disasters. Still, funds set aside for disaster recovery were given to the “researchers” — money that was supposed to be used to protect another whaling expedition to Antarctica to kill whales no one wants to buy, but in fact was used to pay off the $20 million of debt the whalers had accumulated.

The financial squeeze Japan finds itself in shows that the government’s whaling program is as bankrupt financially as it is morally. South Korea recently announced it sees this “research” for what it is, a sham, which is why that country is abandoning its whaling program. It’s time for Japan to do the same.

Phil Kline is Greenpeace’s senior oceans campaigner.