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HomeLifeWhales and Whaling Part 5

Whales and Whaling Part 5

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In the series Whales and Whaling in the Caribbean we have presented information on the various whale species that inhabit the Caribbean as well as the aboriginal whale hunts that still occur here under permit from the International Whaling Commission. Within the previous 5 articles we have mentioned several times that there is a nation bent on returning commercial whaling to the Caribbean even though the evidence is indisputable that many of the world’s large whale populations were driven to the brink of extinction due to commercial whaling which was not banned until the 1960’s.

The nation to which we have been referring is Japan. In early April of this year, Japan’s whaling fleet returned to the docks with the carcasses of 853 Minke whales and 10 endangered Fin whales even though Fin whales have been protected since 1966…. all killed for "scientific purposes" in the Southern Oceans, many of them taken in the International Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica.

Many of the whales taken for “scientific purposes” by Japan end up on gourmands’ dinner plates where it commands well over $100 U.S. per serving. Some of the whale meat is distributed to meat markets, again too costly for the common consumer; while the remainder is ground into dog food. There is little evidence that all the whales taken by Japan under the guise of “scientific research” actually produce any viable scientific research; however, the loophole of taking whales for “scientific research” remains ensconced in the rules and regulations of the International Whale Commission. Japan continues to use this loophole to take endangered and threatened whale species; even those that are in protected waters such as the International Whale Sanctuary.

Japan has decimated its own whale stocks and now must venture further and further away from its coasts in order to find whales to slaughter. It has recently announced that it will once again hunt Humpback whales even though hunting Humpbacks was also banned in 1966. Again, Japan is using the guise of "scientific research" to justify killing Humpbacks. Japan will be hunting Humpbacks in the South Pacific; the same Humpbacks that are legitimately studied by real scientists; the same Humpbacks that draw thousands and thousands of tourists to the South Pacific to observe them providing jobs and new economic opportunities on islands that have few opportunities. It is blatantly evident that Japan cares nothing about what happens to the South Pacific islanders when whale stocks there are depleted and the much needed eco-tourism venue dies because there are no whales left for tourists to see.

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Should readers be wondering what Japan’s whaling activities in the Pacific have to do with us here in the Caribbean? It is Japan that is courting islands in the Lesser Antilles that belong to the International Whaling Commission; courting these islands to gain favorable votes when the issue of returning commercial whaling to the Caribbean comes up at the IWC’s annual meeting this month in St. Kitts.

And, Japan has set its sights on the Caribbean whale stocks; the depletion of which will affect our islands and our people who are also beginning to look to eco-tourism for economic opportunities. Because the International Whaling Commission does not regulate the killing of smaller cetaceans such as dolphin it is not untoward to assume that Japan has its sights on our Caribbean dolphin populations as well.

According to the Japanese embassy’s website, in June of 2005, Japan contributed almost $90,000 to the aboriginal whaling station on Bequia to assist the very whalers who have flaunted the IWC aboriginal whaling permit by repeatedly taking mother and calf pairs which is prohibited under IWC rules. A look at Japan’s economic cooperation projects with St. Vincent and the Grenadines brings up references to “fisheries” consultants and some $35,000,000 spent in the building of fish markets and “fishery centers” since 1987. Checking the embassy’s stats on contributions made in Antigua and Barbuda finds another $35,000,000 spent on fish landing, fisheries development, and “artisanal” fisheries since 1997.

Checking the embassy’s official statistics for “VIP Visits” to Japan, 6 government officials from Antigua and Barbuda have visited Japan since 2000. Two of those visits occurred in 2005; taken by ministers involved in marine resources. The minister of fisheries from St. Kitts and Nevis visited Japan in 2004 and 2005 along with two ministers of fisheries from St. Lucia and one from Grenada. The ministers of fisheries from Dominica made trips to Japan in 2001 and 2004.

While these visits may seem innocuous enough on the surface and Japan touts its involvement in the Caribbean fisheries industry as simply for the good of the island inhabitants, Japan has made no secret of courting the votes of these very same islands when the subject of returning commercial whaling once again comes up at the IWC’s annual meeting this month. Accepting Japan’s alleged benevolence toward Caribbean islands becomes even more difficult since Japan shows blatant disregard for the well being of islands in the South Pacific by hunting Humpbacks there that are part of a burgeoning eco-tourism economy.

For the first time in several decades it appears that the pro-whaling forces within the International Whaling Commission will gain a majority if the Caribbean members of the IWC vote the way Japan wishes during this month’s meeting; votes for which Japan has put forth considerable effort. According to sources within the IWC, the return of commercial whaling will not be considered until a Revised Management Scheme has been approved by all members of the commission, however. Once the RMS is agreed upon it will then take a favorable vote of 75% to approve the resumption of commercial whaling.

If the Caribbean members of the IWC join Japan and the pro-whaling forces, those forces will have 54% of the vote when this year’s meeting adjourns.

We will be reporting the results of this month’s IWC meeting in a future article; however, time is of the essence for those who wish to voice their objection to the return of commercial whaling here in the Caribbean. Please visit www.allatsea.net and click on Caribbean Forums, then Whales in the Caribbean for a list of contact information for the IWC, its Caribbean members, and NGO’s working to protect whales and small cetaceans around the world.

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

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