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Monday, 9 January 2012

Japan recklessly endangers its good name for nothing

Sea Shepherd crew in action, January 2012
It's exhausting. Every year, Japan sends ships into the Southern Ocean to hunt for whales and every year the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a non-profit outfit based in Washington State, USA, sends out its boats to try to disrupt the harvesting of whales. And every year, in the town of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, near the Japanese city of Osaka, boats crewed by other Japanese hunt and kill dolphins.

The whale hunt always makes the news because of the danger involved when boats on the high seas jockey for space in close quarters. It's inherently risky and the media thrive on stories of danger and death. And Taiji got its fair share of publicity in 2009 with the release of a movie, The Cove, made by conservationist Ric O'Barry and his team of stealth activists. If you haven't yet seen the movie you should because it's not just about an issue of great concern, it's also quite fun. Distressing but fun.

Japan stubbornly continues to kill cetaceans, claiming it's for scientific research. Some of the harvested meat is consumed in Japan but Japanese people are about as fond of this source of protein as Australians are of kangaroo meat. The average Japanese would much prefer to eat a good, lean piece of honest Aussie beef than a carton of fatty cubes, which is how whale meat is sold in Japanese supermarkets. To claim that Japanese people have a cultural heritage in hunting whales that needs protecting is like claiming that Australians have a cultural heritage in eating unleavened damper. We're about as fond of damper as the Japanese are of whale or dolphin meat. Japanese consumers simply don't care about whale meat.

The stubborn attitude displayed by this globally-relevant country every year is a source of great distress to millions of people around the world. And there's no doubt that it's a stance the government has decided to adopt despite significant international pressure on them to reverse it. We can see the truth of this statement by remembering how two Greenpeace activists were treated. In 2010, Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki were given one-year suspended sentences for entering a transport depot, removing a box of whale meat and giving it to the authorities as evidence of embezzlement of public money. In short, whalers were selling boxes of whale meat on the side to make some extra cash. This is meat from whales harvested for scientific purposes. The "Tokyo Two" appealed to the Sendai High Court but their appeal was rejected. This despite the fact that after the original verdict was handed down the Fisheries Agency of Japan admitted that its officials had illegally accepted whale meat “gifts” from the whaling industry. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

It's just difficult to believe that modern Japan could be so at odds with international public opinion. What are they fighting for? To preserve a so-called ancient prerogative (whaling) that benefits noone and that the Japanese people in aggregate do not care about, and to protect a handful of jobs in a single fishing village in the central countryside, the Government of Japan is willing to risk its good name in the world. International opinion is overwhelmingly against the continuation of these activities.

But instead of taking a path that would bring Japan back into alignment with the international community, this year the Government of Japan has dispatched a guard vessel to the Southern Ocean to act as a watchdog for its whaling fleet. So far this year, three Sea Shepherd activists have been detained onboard a Japanese ship and will most likely be returned to Japan to be tried in court. Sure, some sort of "justice" would be done in the eyes of the Government of Japan, but the court cases will also present the international media with another opportunity to show how backward Japan's leaders are, and how out-of-step they are with a modern, humane and rational viewpoint of the natural world where cetaceans - whales and dolphins - are considered to be intelligent, harmless creatures and that killing them for any reason is viewed as a crime against the natural order of things.

It's exhausting, every year, to be reminded of this ugly drama because it tells us that the Government of Japan actively promotes policies that are irrational, xenophobic, inhumane, and unnecessary. This ugliness remains, for the vast majority of people in the world, a toxic stain that can only be removed by stopping the hunt for cetaceans.

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