FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Whaling Contradictions

by

It has been a long and drawn out affair. For years, Australian environmental activists and political figures have had the Japanese whaling program in their sights.  Every year, between 500 to 1000 whales are slain under a permit program ostensibly authorised by the International Whaling Convention.  The IWC has been a strange creature. It regulates whale hunting, yet has effectively tried stifling commercial hunting by limiting the catch levels to zero since 1986.

Whaling countries, for that reason, have tiptoed around the commercial restrictions by embracing scientific and aboriginal subsistence arguments.  Japan’s own response seemed cunning enough, legitimising the faulty scientific premise by creating the Institute of Cetacean Research in the 1990s.  Boats engaged in whale hunting are required to seek permits through the Institute.

Japan’s whaling program is certainly a brutal one, though it is hardly any more spectacular than killing programs mounted by states against species deemed unworthy to live unmolested.  It is murky, disingenuous and shrouded in scientific obfuscation.  Australia’s challenge in the International Court of Justice was made on that premise.

Hearings before the ICJ began last year, featuring Australia as the anti-whaling torch bearer. Japan was certainly short of allies on the subject, though it can count, among other whaling states, Norway, Russia, Iceland, the Greenland territories under Danish control, and the Faroe Islands.  The effort was by no means bipartisan.  The Rudd Government attempted to push things along in 2010, though then opposition leader Tony Abbott[1] wasn’t sure.  After all, Japan was, and remains, Australia’s largest trading partner.

The judgment itself of March 31[2] is not as revolutionary as plaudits suggest, but it does take a withering aim against the scientific basis of the program. The court found that scientific permits granted by Japan for its whaling program did not constitute scientific research within the rules of the IWC, namely Article VIII.  After deciding it had jurisdiction, the court found by 12 votes to 4 that permits issued under its JARPA II program did not fall within the scope of the IWC convention.  While state signatories did have scope to specify conditions under which hunting might be refused or granted, the assessment of “purposes of scientific research cannot depend simply on that State’s perception.”

The Court found problems in JARPA II, given its overlap with its predecessor program, a situation that cast doubt over calls “for a significant increase in the minke whale sample size and the lethal sampling of two additional species.”  Its design was shown to be “unreasonable” in terms of its stated research objectives.  Revocation of current permits and restraint on the grant of future permits was ordered.

Responses to the ruling proved gushing.  “This is the end of so-called ‘scientific whaling’, surely,” suggested former Labor environment minister Peter Garrett.[3]  Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus saw ripples in the decision.  “This decision… can’t but have some effect on whaling in other parts of the world. It will add pressure on… those small number of countries who continue to engage in whaling.” This may be wishful thinking, given the current practices of states that are, so far, beyond the reach of legal challenge.  Norway remains defiantly commercial in its whaling ventures.  Then come other catalysts such as pollution and ship strikes which, if left unaddressed, will make whaling restrictions minor inhibitors.

The position taken by Australian authorities and activist groups towards animal species varies. Whales have had the good fortune of being favoured.  In them lies a conflation of various cultural and romanticised notions that has deemed their continued existence necessary. Philip Hoare explains that association between Australia and whales as “cut and dried.”  For Australians, “there’s a real and emotional attachment to these southern leviathans.”  Since 1983’s moratorium on the hunting of great whales, Australia, argues Hoare, has benefited.

Such views reveal the contradictions that sentimentality induces.  Over the years of stormy debate about whether Japan’s scientific whaling program was legal or not, cultural contexts have emerged and been resubmerged.  The Japanese line is articulated by Masayuki Komatsu and Shingeko Misaki in Whales and the Japanese (2003) – the anti-whaling campaign, according to the authors, is a cultural-ethnic slur on acceptable practices, targeting Japanese hunting and food habits.

In his submission before the bench, Japan’s counsel, Payam Akhavan, argued that, “Australia has politicised science in order to impose Australian values on Japan in disregard for international law.”  As former Science Director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Centre, and former IWC commissioner William Aron explained in Science, (Jan 12, 2001), “It is cultural repugnance of some to the operations of others and has been described by an Irish delegate at the IWC as ‘cultural imperialism’.”

Denmark cited a similar view in 2008 in its response to the agreement by European environment ministers to support the maintenance of the moratorium on whaling.  “For 20 years,” explained the country’s IWC commissioner Ole Samsing, “Denmark has held the same position in support of these other parts of the kingdom [including Greenland].”[4]

Some Australian commentators agree, with John Passant[5] seeing the actions on the part of such groups as Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd’s as disruptive to broader ideas of indigenous consumption and living.  Passant also smells imperial politics at play, using whale protection as a form of de facto claims to Antarctica by Canberra’s territorial aspirations.  “Diplomacy,” he suggests, “is imperialism without guns.” Whales become suitable political props, the ideal cover.  Dreyfus[6] disagrees, claiming that there was no “civilising mission” being conducted against Japan.  That old shibboleth called “legal obligations” was what mattered.

Another snag in the narrative is that Japan’s desire for whaling only began, even if it may not be culturally based, with the actions of Western powers[7] who occupied the country after the Second World War. Much of this was deemed a matter of necessity to feed a post-war population, a situation which led to the conversion of decommissioned vessels for whaling purposes.  Such a view is only partly accurate.  Japan had been whale hunting for centuries.  But the mass commercialisation of whale killing began with Western states.

Consistency in environmental policy has also been found wanting.  Whale rhetoric is certainly more aggressive in its favour than shark rhetoric.  The culling of sharks in Western Australia demonstrates one such problem.  One species is more readily disposable than the other.  Leviathan mammals pass muster under sentimentalised dispensation; cold blooded sharks, with their challenges to tribal human recreation and reaction, do not.

As Queensland Liberal National MP Andrew Laming[8] has suggested, such culling practices must be questioned.  He suggests, optimistically, that there is a “shift towards understanding and appreciating the right of the shark to live in its own waters, and that when we enter those waters we are effectively entering their territory.”  The contradictory battles over environmental politics and the sea will continue to rage. Some species will be spared; others may well be destroyed.  The oceans of the world may well be, speculates Hoare, the last great battleground.[9]

Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.  Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Notes.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
June 23, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Democrats in the Dead Zone
Gary Leupp
Trump, Qatar and the Danger of Total Confusion
Andrew Levine
The “Democracies” We Deserve
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
The FBI’s “Operation Backfire” and the Case of Briana Waters
Rob Urie
Cannibal Corpse
Joseph G. Ramsey
Savage Calculations: On the Exoneration of Philando Castille’s Killer
John Wight
Trump’s Attack on Cuba
Dave Lindorff
We Need a Mass Movement to Demand Radical Progressive Change
Brian Cloughley
Moving Closer to Doom
David Rosen
The Sex Offender: the 21st Century Witch
John Feffer
All Signs Point to Trump’s Coming War With Iran
Jennifer L. Lieberman
What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?
Pete Dolack
Analyzing the Failures of Syriza
Vijay Prashad
The Russian Nexus
Mike Whitney
Putin Tries to Avoid a Wider War With the US
Gregory Barrett
“Realpolitik” in Berlin: Merkel Fawns Over Kissinger
Louis Yako
The Road to Understanding Syria Goes Through Iraq
Graham Peebles
Grenfell Tower: A Disaster Waiting to Happen
Ezra Rosser
The Poverty State of Mind and the State’s Obligations to the Poor
Ron Jacobs
Andrew Jackson and the American Psyche
Pepe Escobar
Fear and Loathing on the Afghan Silk Road
Andre Vltchek
Why I Reject Western Courts and Justice
Lawrence Davidson
On Hidden Cultural Corruptors
Christopher Brauchli
The Routinization of Mass Shootings in America
Missy Comley Beattie
The Poor Need Not Apply
Martin Billheimer
White Man’s Country and the Iron Room
Joseph Natoli
What to Wonder Now
Tom Clifford
Hong Kong: the Chinese Meant Business
Thomas Knapp
The Castile Doctrine: Cops Without Consequences
Nyla Ali Khan
Borders Versus Memory
Binoy Kampmark
Death on the Road: Memory in Tim Winton’s Shrine
Tony McKenna
The Oily Politics of Unity: Owen Smith as Northern Ireland Shadow Secretary
Nizar Visram
If North Korea Didn’t Exist US Would Create It
John Carroll Md
At St. Catherine’s Hospital, Cite Soleil, Haiti
Kenneth Surin
Brief Impressions of the Singaporean Conjucture
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Trump: the Birth of the Hero
Jill Richardson
Trump on Cuba: If Obama Did It, It’s Bad
Olivia Alperstein
Our President’s Word Wars
REZA FIYOUZAT
Useless Idiots or Useful Collaborators?
Clark T. Scott
Parallel in Significance
Louis Proyect
Hitler and the Lone Wolf Assassin
Julian Vigo
Theresa May Can’t Win for Losing
Richard Klin
Prog Rock: Pomp and Circumstance
Charles R. Larson
Review: Malin Persson Giolito’s “Quicksand”
David Yearsley
RIP: Pomp and Circumstance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail