It’s getting close.
The annual Japanese whaling season in the Antarctic has now ended. Granted a quota of 1000 minke whales by the International Whaling Commission to be killed for ‘scientific purposes’, they killed less than 300, along with a single finback.
Globally, about 2000 whales, mostly minkes, are still killed each year. Besides the whales they kill in the Antarctic, the Japanese also hunt several hundred in their own territorial seas in the North Pacific. Iceland and Norway illegally kill about 600 hundred whales, unsanctioned by the IWC. Another several hundred whales are killed annually, but legally, for subsistence reasons by native populations in Greenland, Russia, the US and Canada.
The Japanese whaling in the Antarctic gets most of the attention, partly because everyone knows scientific whaling is a hypocritical mask for commercial hunting. One of the reasons for the reduced catch this year was the harassment by anti-whaling ships of both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The Sea Shepherd Society has again been the most militant, sending its ship the Bob Barker after the Japanese ships, trying to foul their propeller blades with ropes. The Japanese have responded with water cannons, as they have before. Not surprisingly, a collision occurred.
This has not been a conservation issue. The anti-whalers are there to defend ‘animal rights’, and they have had little difficulty raising funds to do so.
The Japanese are there in defense of a waning Japanese cultural tradition of eating whale meat, willing to sustain the hunt despite the disapproval of most of the world, but still oddly intent on keeping to the letter of the IWC laws prohibiting the killing of whales for commercial purposes.
But the taste and market for whale meat is declining everywhere – at least in Japan, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. The cost to the Japanese of hunting whales in the Antarctic is considerable, and is subsidized by the Japanese Government. The cost of the anti-whaling effort almost as much as cost of the hunting.
The anti-whalers won’t stop until the Japanese do, but there are indications that the Japanese might stop next year. The Japanese could use some help in saving face on this, for otherwise the farce could still drag on.
A couple of months ago a proposal in Nature got some attention: why not put a price on each whale in the Japanese quota and let the conservation organizations buy their freedom, removing them from the hunted quota? At $13,000 per minke and $85,000 per finback, the Japanese would make their money, the lives of the whales wold be saved from the hunt, and the anti-whalers wouldn’t have to spend the comparable millions in harassing the whalers.
This doesn’t sound unreasonable – other schemes of trade have worked to reduce carbon emissions and to conserve forested land. But as others have also pointed out, the whalers are in it at least in past for the tradition, not just the money, and the anti-whalers are not conservationists, they are animal-rightists, and funding for them is not an issue.
Interesting, though, to put a real price on the value of minke whale, the smallest of the whales, or on a much larger finback. This helps to focus our moral compass, don’t you think?
In fact the whole affair is neither comical nor tragic. It is just farce, absurd behaviour by all participants, wasting funds, energy, time and whales, in attempts to uphold two indefensible positions.