Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Antarctic whaling court case

You may have heard about the court case that just ruled on Japan's so-called scientific whaling in Antarctica (see for a press article) and here's  primer on the court decision on Antarctic whaling  feat. yours truly.

A humpback whale in Antarctica (c. Chris Parsons, 2013)

A lot of people have been asking me about this, and I thought I would blog about my interpretation.

(1) The case validates what many scientists have been saying that "scientific whaling" under permit is not good science, and so this case sets a legal precedent that could potentially be used elsewhere.

(2) The case does not stop scientific whaling in the North Pacific, which is currently higher than Antarctic whaling in 2012/13 season only 103 Antarctic minke whales were taken in Antarctica versus 321 northern minke, sei and Bryde's whales in the North Pacific.

(3)Politically this North Pacific hunt is important in Japan as keeping the coastal communities happy means votes for the ruling party.

(4) The Antarctic hunt was very costly for the Japanese government which massively subsidizes the hunt, and cannot recoup their costs via sales of whale meat, especially since now Iceland is flooding the Japanese market with whale meat (that they cannot sell domestically). So there had been signs of them trying to wind down the Antarctic whaling (esp after the damage caused by the tsunami that hit Japan).

(5) However - if they did stop whaling in Antarctica, Sea Shepherd would have claimed that they had beaten Japan, and that would have caused a massive "loss of face" for Japan (a loss of status and honor  that is culturally very significant for the Japanese people). Especially seeing as how Sea Shepherd is a small NGO that the Japanese Government has called a "terrorist" organisation. The great proud Japanese nation being defeated by a small terrorist group, would be a gigantic loss of face and politically very embarrassing. But, losing to a fellow sovereign nation and major trading like Australia, and a United Nations court is less disgraceful. They can spin it to the public that like David, they went up against Goliath, but this time David lost. This case does give them an economically beneficial "out" from whaling in Antarctica.

So what next? Will Japan stay in the International Whaling Commission (IWC)? Probably, because of the North Pacific scientific whaling and because they are really obliged be part of the IWC as it is the internationally recognized competent authority for whale resource management by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that Japan needs to be a member of, and keep sweet, because of other wildlife trade issues (e.g. tuna) that are more financially important.

Will they increase their "research sampling" quotas in the North Pacific to compensate? I'd put money on it.

Does this mean that we can get whaling in the North Pacific banned too? Probably, as a legal precedent has been set. A second case would be required, which might take years, and the case needs a champion nation to bring it.

What about whaling by Norway and Iceland? Both conduct commercial whaling under "reservation" to the 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling. Norway can catch whales legally, but have not been able to hit their quota for years (currently c. 1200 animals) possibly because northern minke whales are becoming depleted in Norwegian coastal waters. Again this is heavily subsidized by the government and there is not a great market for this meat. Iceland is another matter as arguably their reservation to the moratorium is illegal (for complicated reasons involving them originally signing up to the moratorium, but then leaving the IWC, and then rejoining but insisting on a reservation - which is very dodgy in international treaty terms). They are also violating the spirit, if not the word, of CITES by exporting the meat of endangered fin whales, and to Japan. There may be a potential court case on the legality of Iceland's commercial whaling.

I strongly believe all whaling will end, eventually ... sometime in the future. this will mainly due to changing societal values and economics, although a scientific rational might likely be the tool by which it is accomplished.

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