Science With a Bloody Harpoon

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This article was first published as "Science With a Bloody Harpoon", PR Watch, Volume 8, No. 1, First Quarter 2001. The original article was authored by Bob Burton and is used here with permission. As with all SourceWatch articles, feel free to edit and revise.

In 1986, the International Whaling Commission declared a moratorium on commercial whaling. By that time, large-scale hunting had driven many whale species to near extinction. The moratorium, and the creation of sanctuaries in the Southern and Indian Oceans, have helped some whale numbers to rebound, but this progress is threatened by the refusal of Japan and Norway to honor the moratorium.

Japan's response to the 1986 moratorium was to establish a "scientific" whaling program in the Antarctic, exploiting a loophole in IWC rules that allows countries to issue permits for lethal research on whales. But as Japan's domestic press reported at the time, scientific whaling was no more than a ruse for "keeping the industry alive until a way could be found to reverse the moratorium decision," according to a Greenpeace website.

Greenpeace reports the whaling industry donated $10 million in 1987 to establish a supposedly nonprofit organization called the Institute for Cetacean Research (IRC). The IRC manages Japan's Research Program in the Antarctic (JARPA), using ongoing funding derived from sales of whale meat, plus $9 million a year from the Japanese government.

This "scientific" whaling began in the 1987-88 season, initially taking 300 minke whale per year. For the 1995-6 season, Japan increased the "permitted" minke whale kill to 440 and expanded the area around Antartica in which it could operate. In 1994, Japan also began a second "research" hunt in the North Pacific.

JARPA is supposed to provide data for the management of whale populations, but Greenpeace points out that the only use for such data is for commercial killing quotas. The international community has repeatedly condemned Japan's "scientific" whaling, and JARPA violates international law. The IWC has rejected Japan's claims that it is engaged in scientific research, noting that the results of this research typically wind up on the meat counters of Japan's public fish markets. The sale of whale meat derived through "scientific whaling" currently generates some $40 million a year in revenues.

In addition to serving as an excuse to continue whaling, the scientific research program may also provide cover for other, even more blatant violations of the IWC moratorium. The introduction in 1995 of DNA-sampling techniques has repeatedly identified the meat of a variety of protected species for sale in Japanese fish markets, including endangered fin whales, sperm whales, and humpback whales.

Public relations and lobbying for the whalers is managed by the Japanese Whaling Association, described by JWA spokesperson Shigeko Misaki as "a voluntary organization whose membership consist of former whaling operators before the commercial whaling moratorium came into effect. The membership also contains general public who are supporters of the sustainable use of whale resources for food." The JWA receives funding from Kyodo Senpaku, the company that operates vessels chartered for "research" by the ICR.

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