Friday, February 08, 2008

Standing up to Japan

-- by Dave

The Japanese "scientific" harvest of whales in the waters off Antarctica -- which, as we've discussed previously, formed the focus of the last two meetings of the International Whaling Commission -- continues to stir controversy this year.

Thanks to an intrepid crew of Australian monitors, it's now firmly established that the Japanese methods are far from "humane":
The Australian Government has released evidence challenging Japan's claims that its hunt is the most efficient and humane possible. The images show "scientific research" that needed multiple rifle shots to finish off the mammal.

The Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, said there would be a diplomatic push to end what he said was the charade of scientific whaling, starting at an intersessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission next month.

As the customs ship Oceanic Viking's mission to gather evidence against whaling is extended in the Antarctic, the Government is being urged to fulfil its threat to take legal action against Japan.

A sequence of images taken by customs officers was released yesterday showing harpooned minkes, including two hauled up the stern ramp of the factory ship, Nisshin Maru.

Media claims that they showed a mother and calf were denied by the Institute of Cetacean Research, which said they were randomly taken sizes. "Both whales were female, and both were not lactating," it said.

But the images also showed a whale struggling on the end of a harpoon line under the bow of the catcher boat Yushin Maru, and then the same animal lifeless.

Its head clearly showed entry wounds in a hunt where a high powered rifle is used to finish minkes that are still alive after being hit by an explosive-tipped harpoon.

"This disputes any notion that whales die instantly, and without suffering," said Darren Kindleysides, campaigns manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

You can see photos of this minke whale's suffering here.

It appears that, with John Howard finally gone the way of the pig-footed bandicoot, anti-whaling forces may once again have an ally in the form of the Australian government (and having Peter Garrett head up the environmental ministry is truly significant here).

One can only hope that the same is true of the United States government after January 2009.

The key, as we've discussed, lies in building networks -- including those inside Japan:
One noteworthy aspect of Japanese whaling -- which has been increasing steadily in recent years -- is that its use of the "scientific kill" ruse mirrors, in an ugly fashion, the Republican right's tendency to distort science to support their preferred policies. And of course, one can expect little in the way of substantive American opposition to the Japanese effort to overturn the whaling ban under the Bush administration.

I expect we can look forward to a revival of the Greenpeace-style intervention tactics, which make for great drama but also have a polarizing effect that solidifies the internal political positions of the respective pro-whaling factions.

It's time, I think, to look at other ways of effecting political change beyond media stunts and dramas at sea. One of these is the power of political networking in creating cultural shifts.

It's important to understand that Japan's cultural resistance to the ban whaling, while still strong, has been eroding rapidly in recent years. As Jim Nollman notes in his excellent The Charged Border, whale watching is rapidly growing component of the Japanese tourism industry, and attitudes about whaling are starting to perceptibly change.

When I visited Paul Spong last summer at his OrcaLab on Hanson Island, I noted that three of his volunteers were Japanese. We befriended one of them, who was on her way home after a month on the island, and we gave her a ride south for a ways and chatter her up. I asked her about this, and she said that she believed that attitudes, especially among younger Japanese, about whaling were changing very rapidly.

Maybe, instead of ramming Japanese whale boats, someone should convince Hayao Miyazaki to make a film about whales. It would probably be vastly more effective.

But even more effectively (not to mention realistically) we can begin building networks based on a recognition of our mutual interests. This is true not just with regard to the whaling issue, but environmental issue generally. Those concerned about right-wing politics need to recognize that environmental issues are a central battleground, and environmentalists need to become wise about what they're up against. Where cultural gaps exist, building bridges may prove more effective than smashing hulls.

And the bridges that need to be built are both those with the people of whaling nations as well as our friends outside that realm.

No comments: