Why Whaling?

*Lily Yulianti Farid for Nytid Oslo, Norway (www.nytid.no)

May 2008 Edition

Last summer, a friend of mine offered me kujira tempura, –Japanese words for  deep fried whale meat. It is a seasonal menu here in Japan. Whale is familiar seafood for many Japanese. Asking for “kujira”, the whale for your lunch menu is common as if you order shrimp, lobster or octopus. In here, they also have whale steak as well, meanwhile several primary schools in regional areas across Japan Sea, serve whale meat in their lunch menu, as a part of Japanese long tradition back to 10.000 BC.

Did I eat the kujira tempura? Yes, in the name of curiosity. It was juicy and tender, just like beef or chicken. Its taste was different compared to other fish meat.

Next time, will I order any whale menu for the sake of my cuisine adventure? No, for my respect to the recent controversy. Personal is politics, isn`t it?

Whale is a controversial issue, especially if we ask our fellows in Sea Sepherd, an environmental organization which consistently protesting Japanese whale activities. The word of Kujira could spark their anger as they believed that Japanese Whale research activities are not acceptable and are regarded as harmful for whales` habitat.

But why Japanese government is so keen to conduct the research apart from their long history as “whale eaters” and international criticism? Toshiro Shirasu, Japanese fishery minister says the country has a huge responsibility to mapping the location of whales and to find out how many fish that the whales eat.

International environmental activists have launched serious attacks to Japanese whaling ships. Meanwhile Japan regrets that the country`s whale catch in the latest season December 2007 to March 2008 fell far short of its quota due to sabotage by those anti whaling groups.

Who is right, who is wrong? Of course both sides insist that their holding the best arguments to defend their acts.

The minister says that research whaling is permitted by the relevant treaty of International Whaling Commission and Japan will earnestly continue this activity. The underlined message was: Please do understand that our whaling for research purposes, not for the commercial one!

But things are getting harder. A Japanese 6-vessel fleet targetted to catch 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales in the Antarctic from December to March. Unfortunately the fleet caught only 551 minke whales, or about 60 percent of what it had planned and caught no fin whales at all.

The ministry of fishery says that Japan was forced to suspend its hunt because of sabotage by the US Sea Sheperd Conservation Society and other enviromentalists on 5 occasions since January.

Moreover, the Japan Coast Guard says it will investigate the series of alleged forcible obstructions by the Sea Shepherd with a view to bringing charges against the activists involved.

Will the angry activists step back? 100 hundred percent no! Just visit their Web sites and we will find out convincing explanations of how dangerous the whaling activities are, especially the one that conducted by Japanese fleet. And for sure more protests are still to come. Don`t believe the Japanese research-related reasons, they claimed.

Environmentalists argue that the whale meats as by-products of the “research activities” are sold to expensive Japanese restaurants.

But here in Japan, the activities are going on.

A departure ceremony was held last month for Japanese whaling ships that will study the consumption patterns of minke whales off Japan`s northeastern coast.

About 100 people attended the ceremony near Ishinomaki Port in Miyagi Prefecture. People gathered to say “good luck” for small vessels that will catch 60 minke whales for research purposes off the coast of Sanriku. These people, just like the Japanese government, are the proponents for the whaling activities, although they are not the representatives of the whole Japanese society over the issue. I have quite many Japanese friends who opposing the activities

So, it is important to highlight that Japanese people are divided on the issues, as well. Just like the long dispute among Whaling Nations (Japan, Norway, Iceland, Russia) and the Anti-whaling nations include the U.S., the U.K., France, Australia, Switzerland, Monaco, New Zealand and others, I have found several of my Japanese fellows are against the activities. Why? “It is a shame though to declare that it is a research activity while realizing that the whale meat from such scientific activities is sold to the market,” says a friend. Another friend says, “It is a global issue and it is a sensitive matter. We should take international response more seriously just like if we condemn nuclear power, land mines, human trafficking and so on… International pressure is mounting on this issue.”

Yes, please keep in mind a petition to collect more than 1 million signatures to stop whaling organized by Whale Revenge is now in progress. The voice of the protest is not huge in Japan, but there are few people have joined in.

So, why whaling? Japanese government has a bunch of justifications, from international treaties to traditional and scientific matters. Other whaling nations, including Norway also has a bunch of strong reasons.

And here, again another common argument from pro-whaling in Japan: “Look, we are different compare to pro-whaling nations in Europe. We use the whale, from their meat to skin, from their fins to bones. No left over. Nothing left. It is our tradition to use them as food and medicine resources. We do catch whale wisely…”

For better or worse, for tradition or scientific purposes, environmentalists could not see any justification to catch the sea mammals. Killing whale should be stopped, they shout!

How about linking this issue with global warming? – the most popular catch phrase since we have experience the climate hysteria in recent years? Perhaps, whaling nations such as Japan will realize that their attitude toward various environmental issues contains contradiction: hunting whales while pushing other major green gases emitters to set firm measures to combat global warming.

Asian countries praise Japan for its swift approach to tackle down global warming by providing green technologies, but when it comes to whaling issues, we still hear unexpected response saying, “Oh really? Are they still hunting whales in the Antarctic?” Ambiguous, isn’t it.

Well, that is the fact.

So, for ordinary people like me and you –especially those who live in Whaling Nations, what the best thing that we can do over the issue? Me: never order whale meat menu, joining the petition, and I think being more friendly to our environment –including to seriously consider the threats against whales in the Antarctic and elsewhere – is a must in the global warming era, isn`t it? It’s a firm stance of the ordinary citizen of the World. Not the ambiguous or pathetic one, shown by powerful nations in driving the issues. (*)

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