A whale of an idea - Macleans.ca

A whale of an idea

How to fight whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway? Legalize it.


Glenn Lockitch/Sea Shepherd

Last Thursday, which was (some might say ironically) Earth Day, a fleet of Japanese harpoon boats left on their springtime whale hunt. That same day, the International Whaling Commission, which manages whale populations worldwide, proposed partially lifting a decades-old ban on commercially hunting the marine mammals. That plan would allow Japan, Iceland, and Norway—which have steadfastly ignored the ban anyway—to engage in limited whaling, which supporters say is necessary to bring these nations in line and ensure less whales are killed. Critics call the notion ridiculous. “Let’s legalize whaling to save the whales?” says Paul Watson, head of the non-profit Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. “This will result in more whales being killed, not less.”

Conscious of dwindling populations, the 88-member IWC placed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, while still allowing a limited indigenous hunt (Canada is not an IWC member, but attends meetings as an observer). No provisions exist for policing the ban, and the three rogue IWC members have continued so-called “loophole whaling.”

Iceland and Norway say they object to the ban, so they don’t have to abide by it; Japan claims to kill whales in the name of science, researching “whale predation on fishery resources” before selling the meat for consumption. “Yes, there’s a moratorium, but only in concept,” says one close observer, who asked not to be named. “Whaling hasn’t ended. This is commercial whaling.”

Despite a dwindling market for whale meat, domestic and cultural pressures—Japan, for one, has aggressively defended sovereignty over its fishing rights—have seen whaling nations increase self-imposed quotas, meaning more whales are killed each year. In 1990, about 300 were harvested through loophole whaling; this year, it will be closer to 3,000 if current quotas are met. The issue has created gridlock at the IWC, as member nations argue about the hunt while ignoring other pressing threats to the whale population, like climate change or pollution. The IWC had to re-examine the ban, observers say, or risk irrelevancy.

Last week, the organization unveiled a “peace plan” that would allow whalers to hunt on a limited basis. Quotas were set: for example, Japan, which now aims for about 900 whales on Antarctic hunts, would be limited to 400 minke whales and 10 fin whales next season; the numbers would later be halved. International observers would be on board vessels, and a DNA registry would be created to track meat caught or sold illegally. The proposal, which isn’t yet official, will be debated at an IWC conference in June. “We don’t believe that continuing to argue about it will work,” Monica Medina, U.S. commissioner to the IWC, told Maclean’s. “We need a solution.”

Environmentalists were predictably enraged, with one calling it a “whaler’s wish list.” While some populations, like the minke, are considered stable, others, like the fin, are endangered. “To be commercially hunting whales is inexcusable,” says Christopher Cutter, spokesperson for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Allowing the three who “flout” the moratorium to engage in a legitimate hunt “rewards bad behaviour.” What’s more, he worries the IWC proposal threatens to revive a dying industry. “This doesn’t have a lot to do with protecting whales,” he says. “It has more to do with saving the IWC, and it’s dubious it will even do that.”

Others call it a necessary compromise. “Some whaling will be the price to pay for the reduction in the number of whales killed,” IWC chair Cristian Maquieira, a Chilean, told the Washington Post. But even some IWC members voiced dissatisfaction with it. “New Zealanders will not accept this,” said Foreign Minister Murray McCully, while Japan promised to push for larger harvest numbers: “We want to continue negotiating with patience,” said Fisheries Minister Hirotaka Akamatsu.

Japan’s recent expedition began just days after its Antarctic hunt ended—a hunt spoiled, in large part, by Watson and his team. Just 507 whales (506 minke and one fin) were harvested, about half of Japan’s quota. Whalers blamed their poor showing on Sea Shepherd activists, who pelted them with rotten butter bombs, red paint, and giant crocodile-shaped sponges. “We saved more whales than they killed,” says Watson, a blustery Canadian who appears on the Animal Planet TV show Whale Wars. (Still, Sea Shepherd lost a $2-million speedboat after a collision with a whaling vessel, and had one of its captains, New Zealander Peter Bethune, arrested.)

Sea Shepherd’s tactics might seem controversial, but in Watson’s mind there are no other options. “The IWC has these regulations, but there’s no one enforcing them,” he says. “We’re the only organization that does.” Which is exactly, some say, why new regulations are needed. When the IWC kicks off its June meeting, Watson will be there; but he’ll be sitting outside the negotiation room. His organization is banned, he says, from attending.


A whale of an idea

  1. Woo Hoo Sea Shepherd!!! You all are my personal heros. What you do for the whales is amazing and selfless. Thank you so much!

  2. Couldn't have said it better than Charidy did!
    I only wish I could be out there helping them…but I could never handle watching a whale be murdered. Keep up the good woork Sea Shepherd and others!

  3. Sea Shepherd are true heroes. Thank you Captain Paul Watson.

  4. God bless the Sea Shepherds. Killing whales is barbaric, and I for one have boycotted all things Japanese, Icelandic or Norwegian. Its preposterous to me that these nations fight so hard for whale killing simply for cuisine. World opinion is against whaling. Thank you Paul Watson for standing up for these incredible animals. I only wish that I could do more to help.

    • On top of the dolphin slaughter seen in The Cove, how could anyone buy a Toyoda, Honda or a Sony product again.

      • Never ever eat suchi, and boycot all japanese products. Maybe some pressure from inside could bring the Japanese gov. to reason.

        • Yeah and never eat rice either because that is Japanese too!

          Nicolas you do know that sushi isn't imported from Japan and Japan doesn't own or run all the worlds' sushi restaurants? They generally serve local fish and are owned and operated by local people. So boycotting your local sushi restaurant has no effect on Japan but hurts you own community.

  5. Oigan como me gustaria unirme a los sea shepherd, para asi poder defender las ballenas y su entorno de vida de verdad q si me gustaria

  6. ~A whale of an Idea..~ Don't kill whales~ EVER, NEVER, ANYWHERE. Thanks Sea Shepherd for all you do to help them stop~

  7. Watson is a crook and belongs in jail.

    • He has been there many times in many different countries, and always held on bogus charges and later released.

      • Sorry woody. He has been convicted of an ondictable offense in Canada and he lost his appeal. He likes to lie about it but the records are available online.

        • It may be hard to come by, but there is a documentary by filmmaker Ron Colby called "Pirate For The Sea" that I saw at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last year. Colby went on a number of excursions with Watson over a 5 year period, including one in Canada peacefully observing a seal hunt in progress. The footage clearly shows the hunters as the aggressors, who threatened to attack the Sea Shepherds with their clubs and then actually assaulted them. The action taken by Canada was to arrest 14 of the Sea Shepherds, whose mere presence Canada said was incendiary, and none of the hunters.

          I don't know the details of the offense you're referring to, but I'm inclined to think the charges are more than likely bullshit.

        • It may be hard to come by, but the is a documentary by filmmaker Ron Colby called "Pirate for the Sea" that I saw at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival last year. Colby followed Watson on a number of excursions over a 5-year period, including one to Canada to peacefully observe a seal hunt in progress. The footage clearly shows the hunters threatening to attack the Sea Shepherds with their clubs, which have a large jagged blade on them, and then actually assaulting them. The end result was Canada arresting 14 of the Sea Shepherds, whose mere presence they claimed was incendiary, and none of the hunters.

          I am not sure what the charges you refer to are, or the details, but I am inclined to believe that the charges are more than likely bogus. Obviously the Canadian government has an interest in protecting the seal hunting industry, and is biased to that end.

          • The charges I refer to had nothing to do with the seal hunt. They had to do with SSCS attacking a legal Cuban fishing trawler with butyric acid.

    • Agree..Even though I strongly agree with a whaling ban, Mr. Watson is a Enviro-terrorist, once a member of Green Peace they expelled him because of his extreme tactics …It's only going to be a matter of time before Paul Watson , in his Save the Whales Campaign, causes serious injury (or worse) to another human being. He has already sunk two ships, And rammed Japanese vessels with his ship The Steve Irwin. Saving the whales is a great cause…but to that extreme???

  8. I find it humorous how the reaction to this seems to be largely in favor of a whaling ban while canada was recently fighting for the right to continue a commercial seal hunt.

    It seems to me that replacing a ban with a well-regulated whaling industry is a positive step more likely to meet with compliance from current whaling nations. And that seeing effective compromise on wildlife management in any area is good news for the worldwide acceptability of industries canadians do have a stake in such as sealing and bluefin tuna.

    • If no one can enforce the moratorium as it stands, how do you propose a "well-regulated whaling industry?" This is foolish and short-sighted. These nations have blatantly portrayed their disregard for these animals whose vast intelligence we are just beginning to understand.

      Seeing how Japan has exploited the loophole for "research" by slaughtering every whale they can find (and dolphin, to that end-watch "The Cove"), it is ridiculous to say that compliance to limited whaling would save any animals. It would only validate their inane desire to flout the rest of the world for no good reason. Contrary to popular belief, eating whale meat is not a cultural Japanese tradition, not popular in Japan, and really only began after WWII as a cheap source of protein that helped Japan ward off malnutrition. COMMERCIAL WHALING IS NOT NECESSARY ANYWHERE, AND UNACCEPTABLE EVERYWHERE.

    • xiv –

      I think you are making a bad comparison. The whales protected by the whaling ban are endangered. Harp seals, which are the seals that are hunted in Canada, have actually tripled in numbers since the 1970's and are not endangered. You can check my numbers online if you want but i'm pretty sure you will find that the seals are not in danger of extinction.

      • Stephen-

        Many of the whale species are NOT endangered but are still covered by the moratorium, this includes the non-endangered Minke whales which are the primary target of Japan, Norway and Iceland. The major hunters of endangered whales are the aboriginal hunts which are not covered by the moratorium.

    • Yup real awesome dude, Paul Watson also takes credit for Spiking trees..The logger cuts into the tree with his/her chainsaw ..the chain hits the spike at around 8000 rpm …instant schrapnel, metal flying everywhere and burying itself into whats ever in it's path…a real Hero that I want my children and Grand children looking up to all righty!!

    • Now Catfish what is this comment about Watson not being a vegetarian, he is a not nice guy with a misguided cause.
      being a vegetarian does not make you a nice person either. Adolph Hitler was a vegetarian and he was not a nice guy.

    • Paul Watson might have some heavy handed methods but think about it , the world was thriving with animals before we came along, animals even down to the worms contribute to this earth, we take from it and contribute to each other. Protecting the earth is protecting us. He is a man who is passionate about this earth and I think he is inspirational. I do not share his views 100% but I would back him anyday, he has the balls to stand up for this world, our earth and our life.

  9. There is a huge problem with this proposal. They cannot just lift the moratorium for Japan, Norway and Iceland. Others will certainly return to whaling. IWC will have to allow it. If Japan has to settle with a limit of 400 Minke and 10 fin whales, they will just import more whale products from other countries to make up for it. What would stop Japan from registering whaling ships in other countries to kill whales then exporting whales back to Japan? Japan has already shown the world that they know how to use loopholes. More whales will be killed, not less. If this passes we could lose our whales forever.

    • Well the fact that the proposal bans all trade in whale meat might stop them from importing it from other countries. And the IWC would not have to allow other countries to return to whaling. If the regulation that is passed says it only applies to countries currently whaling then that is all it will apply to.

  10. That $2-million speedboat that sank, the Ady Gil, was donated by its namesake, who said he is going to buy another one. Go Sea Shepherds!

    • Actually the SSCS only leased the Ady Gil and now Mr. Bethunes family is worried about losing their house because they never recieved all of the money they were due.

    • Sorry Woody it wasn't donated by anybody. Sea Shepherd leased it. It never belonged to Sea Shepherd. So all those donations they begged for to replace it were a lie. They didn't need money to replace it because they never owned it.

  11. If boycotting products from Canada is good enough to protest the seal hunt, the whale and dolphin butchery is good enough to boycott products from Japan and Iceland and Norway. Granted, most electronics comes from China these days, but if you needed another reason to buy Ford instead of Toyota . . . I don't know what Iceland exports, yet.

    • And that boycott of Canada sure has stopped the seal hunt hasn't it?

  12. yeah, thast my opinion also!!!

  13. Whoops, This was my response to Ronnie.. not AlmostWoody……

  14. Bravo Sea Shepherd Conservation Society , happy to hear you'll be outside the IWC Meeting while it collapses on the inside. We need you carry on the good work !

    • I'd bet you money that Paul Watson won't be there..he won't risk being arrested for the cause..but he will brainwash his followers into doing the dirty work…Great leadership material.

  15. Whale meat is darn tasty, you should try it. I don't see how killing whales is so much different from any other animal.

    • Uneducated wanker, you make yourself look damn stupid.

  16. It is Japanese culture to eat a whale.
    It is Australian culture to persecute indigenous people.
    The people supporting SS are Nazis.

  17. When gold and silver are used as money, the money supply can grow only if the supply of these metals is increased by mining.