When it comes to whaling Japan is like a boxer who knows that he is beaten but refuses to go down...taking blow after blow but stumbling on until he physically can't continue.
The anti-whaling movement launched in the late 1970s and scored its first big victory in 1986 when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) passed a global moratorium against commercial whaling. Japan carried on under the utterly nonsensical pretence that its whaling was ‘scientific research’ – but the charade fooled no one.
Throughout the 1990s Greenpeace activists photographed and filmed graphic footage of the ongoing slaughter – whales being dragged bleeding onto the decks of Japanese ships then cut apart whilst they writhed around in pain. This was played by news outlets around the world on a yearly basis, wrecking Japan’s public image on the international stage. But still the state sponsored whaling operations limped on.
Then in 2005 Sea Shepherd (a radical anti whaling organisation that had split from Greenpeace in 1977 and gone on to sink numerous Spanish, Norwegian and independent whaling ships) entered the fray. Each year the Sea Shepherd team dispatched vessels to the Southern Ocean to do battle with Japan’s whalers- blocking their harpoons, hindering their refuelling, damaging their engines and stink bombing their boats. Sea Shepherd’s actions have consistently prevented the whaling fleet from meeting their kill quota (recently cutting it by half), causing massive financial losses to the industry. One of their greatest victories came in February when Captain Pete Bethune boarded a whaling ship; he was detained and immediately taken back to Japan…removing the vessel from the fleet for the remainder of the season at a cost estimated to run into the millions.
Still the Japanese government continues to prop up the whalers by providing them with massive subsidies to compensate for their losses and with expensive armed troops to ‘defend themselves’ against Sea Shepherd. So Japanese whaling goes on. However, the knock-out blow might be about to come. Today – little under a month away from the next IWC meeting – Australia has launched a legal challenge against Japan at the International Court of Justice, citing its violation of the 1986 moratorium. Japan’s current (and highly immoral) policy of giving aid to landlocked African countries in return for votes at the IWC can only stretch so far……and it certainly won’t be sufficient enough to protect their activities in the face of an ICJ ruling.
Ultimately whaling is fundamentally wrong on three main grounds. Firstly whales are incredibly intelligent creatures – research in the last few years has shown their brains to include the kind of neurones previously thought to only exist in humans, primates and dolphins. Secondly they’re endangered- the intensive and relentless slaughter that Japanese whalers carry out each year could see several species permanently extinct within a decade. And finally- there is no humane way to kill a whale. Some animal rights activists would argue that killing is intrinsically inhumane – and there is a case for that. But it is generally accepted that humane farming practices which prevent unnecessary suffering are possible. Blasting a grenade-tipped harpoon into a creature then dragging it onto the deck of a ship where it bleeds to death over a matter of hours certainly does not fall within this category.
Because of these reasons Japan’s whaling has to be stopped. An international moratorium, worldwide criticism and huge financial losses haven’t quite managed this, but a legal ruling on top of these might finally tip the balance. Japan will undoubtedly put up a huge fight but a result at the ICJ may top off over 30 years of activism and provide that knock-out blow.
It won’t be a moment too soon.