Home > Japan, The Environment, Whaling > Letter to the Japanese Whaling Association

Letter to the Japanese Whaling Association

Dear Japan Whaling Association,

Your website is very informative with regards to Japan’s whaling and the detailed account of the history with regards to “culture” of whaling in Japan.  I actually agree with the part about imposing one’s views on another culture.  That said, hamburgers from the United States, meat pies from Australia, and fish and chips from England hardly relate/equate to slaughtering whales disguised as research.   Just say that you are going to defy the bans because you hate being told what to do.  Simple, people would have more respect this nation.

Another point, Japan’s “culture” of whaling pales in comparison to that of the Alaskan Inuit and various other indigenous populations.  Documented remains of whaling date back to 4500 BC (and they didn’t come from Japan).  Japan’s well documented whaling history comes in to play around the 12th century of the modern AD era.  Also, the drastic turn in Japan’s “culture” of whaling really began in 1906, and then during the aftermath of WWII (and by Japan’s accounts even much later) to fill a gap in meat based protein.  Understandable, but now I believe that protein gap has been filled to a great degree by a plethora of alternative choices.

I will always say that animals do not need to be killed to do research.  No human would accept the killing of another human to find out why humans live so long, or why cellular reproduction happens so rapidly, or how much energy brain impulses generate, or just how dense one’s heart really is, etc.  The reason we do not do this is because we have found much more humane ways of conducting such research.  I do not want to take away the “scientific research” of the Japanese whaling “culture,” but if your HUNTS are not about profit or supplying food for the Japanese population why not find a way to not kill the whales you HUNT?  Speaking of HUNT – last time I checked the dictionary it meant to kill something for sport or food.  I guess we can add “scientific research” to that definition.

Once again let me reiterate I do not want to stop the science-based research Japan is doing.  We need research if we want to figure out the intricacies of these animals that have roamed these oceans and Earth longer than humans.  I am sure with the cooperation of other nations Japan can find non-lethal ways to carry-out the research it needs to support its experiments.  Do the research just don’t kill the patients.

This issue is not about animal rights, although I believe animals have just as much right to life as a human.  For whatever magical reason humans were given the gift of reason.  We were given the gift to defy instinct and move through our lives with an acute awareness of logic, rationality, and hindsight (although we seem to forget this all to often).  We are thinkers.  Does that make us any more intelligent than other species?  I say no.  Body mass proportionality has nothing to do with intelligence.  That said, this issue is about one thing – honesty and ego.  Japan wants to HUNT whales to feed a population that doesn’t need it for survival.  Japan is using culture and tradition to justify keeping a dead industry alive because people have private interests in it.  In reality it helps no one – least of all the 127 million people living in Japan (or the 6 billion living on this planet).  I live in Japan, and I see what Japanese people eat every day.  Most of the menus I see at restaurants do not contain whale meat.  I walk into shopping markets and do not see “regular” people buying whale meat (unless they are rich-upper class folk). I am married to a Japanese woman and never once was served whale for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I just don’t see the argument for continuation of hunting whales. 

One might say, “Not held in check whales would eat all the fish in the ocean leaving none for humans.”  Great, then how about this novel idea – why don’t humans change their diets?  Why can’t we change?  If we are so intelligent and adaptable, and at the top of the food chain, why can’t we change?  Japan is blessed with far better conditions to live than the Inuit and other indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic Circle regions of the world.  Let them hunt the whales they need.  They’ve been doing it for thousands of years and they seem to understand how to balance it out.  I trust them far more to honestly regulate whale numbers than the nation of Japan.  They have less choice than a nation like Japan.  Japan has far more fertile land and has a greater economic diversity with which to deal with such cultural change.

Lastly, if Japan really wants to profit from whales invest in tourism – whale watching.  What better way to truly enjoy whales than to watch them in their natural habitats somewhat undisturbed.  The boats will already disturb them but at least if we keep a good distance they won’t kill them.  Various U.S. states make quite a bit of money through whale watching.  If Japan is truly committed to monitoring these animals of the deep then watch them and chart their patterns through life.  Watch how they interact with the environment around them.  What better way to teach children the harmony of nature and fruitfulness of life.  Take the families of Japan on a whale watching expedition and show them the beauty of these animals because the reality is there isn’t that many left, even by the numbers you have

Humans have done the most damage to the balance of the Earth’s oceanic ecosystem, not whales.  Humans have depleted the fisheries, not whales. We’ve polluted the oceans causing toxin levels within marine life to skyrocket making it unhealthy for us to consumer such meat in mass quantities.  

We are destroying ocean fisheries by contaminating them with heavy metals and chemical pollutants,” said Ocean Alliance president Roger Payne. “In the next few years we could lose access to many ocean fisheries; several species are already well on the way to becoming too polluted to eat. I am amazed by how few people recognize the seriousness of this issue.   

We need to study why we as a species continue to destroy our own planet, blame it on other species, and live out of balance with our global ecosystem.  Study that.

(P.S. – To see the Japanese side of this issue without my bias see this website for the Japan Whaling Association.) 

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  1. November 30, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    Your comments on “Scientific whaling” are interesting and apt. I especially like your expressions of respect for the point of view of the Japanese people, as I feel that little is ever accomplished when my country, the USA (or any country) tries to tell other countries how to behave.

    The great tragedy now is that ever since Japan’s factory ships set off a few days ago for the Antarctic there have been vicious expressions in the press, both in this countriy and others about Japan’s unilateral decision to kill 50 humpback whales this year (the first time in 40 years Japan has killed humpback whales). Such expressions seem to be very like a hate campaign–one that is starting to fill up blogs and news stories throughout the English speaking world. Nothing positive can possibly come from such campaign, which will only further isolate our cultures from each other’s understanding.

    The anger is stronger this year than it has ever been before because it is now the humpback whale that it is the target–a species that sings songs, that constantly modifies those songs, and when a song becomes very complex, often introduces rhyme to the song–apparently as a means, of remembering what phrase comes next (the same trick troubadours used a thousand years ago to help them recall the long epic poems they recited from memory).

    I thought you might be interested to know that several proven benign techniques exist for finding out the same information that Japan’s scientific whaling is hoping to uncover, and that the efficacy of most such techniques has been proven on live whale populations (I know; my institute invented many of them). It is interesting that in most cases, benign techniques produce more information and produce it faster than techniques that rely on killing whales. I, for one, would love to see the ingenuity of the Japanese people focus on benign research techniques. I think the whole world would learn alot more about whales, and learn it alot faster, and that the knowledge gained would be much deeper than that which is likely to come from the old, outmoded methods on which Scientific whaling depends.

    Roger Payne

  2. December 1, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Dear Dr. Payne,

    Thank you so much for your comment on my article. I am shocked really that someone of your stature and expertise found my article even remotely interesting. Your depth of knowledge and experience is astonishing.

    I saw your website and your research efforts. Congratulations, and I hope that your findings one day will fully enlighten all that nature needs balance, and irrational hunting of whales is something that really needs to be stopped.

    I live and work in Japan, and I’ve heard all the arguments for and against. I just can’t see how killing 1,000 plus whales a year helps us learn much about how these animals really live in their environment. The “scientific research” is so “narrowly focused.”

    I can appreciate tradition and culture. The Inuit have it, and one can safely say that as an entire people they need to do what they are doing, not to mention they’ve managed it to some degree for quite some time. In Japan whale meat, these days, is a delicacy in most places. Some schools still serve it for lunch, but they are really far and few between.

    In any regard, if Japan is hunting whales for research then it would go a long way if they could champion using benign methods.

    By the way, do you know what effect if any the Inuit populations of the Arctic have had on the aquatic ecosystem, specifically relating to whales (and other sea creatures if you can comment on that as well)?

    Thank you once again for your commentary.

    Peace,
    Ueno Murakami

  3. Ken
    December 5, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    The great tragedy now is that ever since Japan’s factory ships set off a few days ago for the Antarctic there have been vicious expressions in the press, both in this countriy and others about Japan’s unilateral decision to kill 50 humpback whales this year (the first time in 40 years Japan has killed humpback whales). Such expressions seem to be very like a hate campaign–one that is starting to fill up blogs and news stories throughout the English speaking world. Nothing positive can possibly come from such campaign, which will only further isolate our cultures from each other’s understanding.

    I believe this is exactly what the whaling corporations want. They have engaged in a purposefully provocative act, realizing that negative reactions from overseas will galvanize Japanese opinion in their support.

  4. December 6, 2007 at 12:50 am

    That’s the most unfortunate thing because Japan can be better in this situation. If this were the Arctic Circle or Antarctica and the population of the country were 50,000 people I could understand whaling from the coastal community – you don’t have much option. But with 127 million people, the second most robust economy in the world, technological prowess, I just can’t see how a rational person says, “Killing 1,000 whales including 50 Humpbacks will advance the knowledge of whales on a whole…We are collecting ear wax to find out how old these whales are. We have to kill 1,000 to find this out. Oh, our kids’ school lunches need whale meat to make them delicious and healthy.” That is ridiculous. In the long run Japan will suffer from this. It just seems that Japan is heading down all the wrong roads – fingerprinting, widening economic gaps, killing endangered species, etc. I said a few years ago, to some friends and relatives, that Japan is priming for a turn. Right now that turn looks to be headed towards a dead end. Hopefully they can realize where they aren’t going.

  5. Ken
    December 6, 2007 at 6:27 am

    I agree – 2007 has been brutal in many ways for Japan in the international PR lens. China is gaining attention (not all good), while Japan seems to be isolating itself from the international community on many issues. This is not a long term policy for building soft power and influence across the globe. Has any nation aside from the US expressed support for Japan becoming a permanent member of the UNSC?

  6. December 27, 2007 at 6:22 am

    I’m glad to know that there are apparently non-lethal research methods which can provide the same or better data than can be provided via combination of lethal and non-lethal methods, and that these research methods can also provide the information more rapidly.

    What I suggest is that this now be proved to the Japanese, Icelanders, Norwegians, and scientists from any other place who question it.

    I suggest that this could be achieved by the following:
    1) Create a new research programme (get the US or Australian governments to fund it)
    2) Copy each of the research objectives of say, a Japanese research programme which you would like them to stop (the one in the Antarctic ocean for example)
    3) Meet each of the research objectives using these new non-lethal methods (for example, by satisfying the IWC Scientific Committee of this).

    I recall that the IWC Scientific Committee has agreed that the results of the Japanese research programme in the Antarctic were said to have the potential to improve baleen whale management under the IWC’s “Revised Management Procedure”. This would enable a larger number of whales to be caught on a sustainable basis without increasing the associated risk of whale depletion.

    It’s clear why the Japanese are pursuing such a research programme, and the Japanese would certainly be happy if the information was provided to them by others, irrespective of the methods employed. Having provided this information to the Japanese, they would then surely be more willing to consider dropping their research programmes than they are now.

    Of course the problem with this approach is that even if the data can and was provided to the Japanese rendering lethal research methods obselete, there’s that one final problem:

    There are people (not only Japan) who hope to eat whales.

    I suggest that if the world’s nations could first resolve their differences on that issue, the whole controversy over methods of research would become mute.

  7. December 27, 2007 at 6:28 am

    This recent article (in Japanese) also outlines some of the rationale for Japan’s position on whales and whaling.
    http://www.e-kujira.or.jp/geiron/morishita/1/

  8. December 28, 2007 at 12:06 am

    david@tokyo,

    Thanks for the hit, and your comment is great.

    I don’t think there is a controversy over eating whales per se. The Inuit eat whales on a consistent basis, and have been for a very long time. They also use the skin, bones, and other parts for lifestyle situations. Whales are an integral part to their culture. Not much controversy there I think. With Japan I see the research argument as a mask for what they really want – commercial whale meat. The current stock of whale meat in Japan continues to rise, which tells me people aren’t eating it as fast as the government would lead us to believe. If Japan just stood up and said, “We are going to kill whales for food.” Great. Do it. But don’t say the only way to get the research findings they want is to kill the whale, and not just one, but 1,000. That’s a lie. If research was primary then why not accept non-lethal means? I’m sure they know about various research methods. They clearly haven’t. The argument then goes, “Well, we can’t waste the whale after we’re done with our research so we have to sell it.” Hey, there are a lot hungry sharks. Let them eat the whale meat.

    In anycase this is the great tragedy of human sophistication. We have the power to rationalize anything away at the expense of another species. In my area people continue to expand farms on to the sides of mountains then complain about bears eating the crops and endangering the human population. The rationale – we have to eat don’t we. Yes, but we seemed to be doing fine before the expansion, and the bears were doing fine. They don’t learn as quickly as we do (maybe). Anyway, I could go on. We are mental giants and the power to rationalize is our greatest strength. At the same time it is our greatest weakness.

    Peace

  9. December 28, 2007 at 4:21 am

    In fact I do see controversy surrounding eating whales. Who it is that is doing the eating, and how they do it seem to be a factors, primarily the former.

    For example, Norwegians, Icelanders and Japanese provide the meat to consumers via modern distribution mechanisms, involving cash exchanges. On the other hand, Alaskan whalers distribute meat amongst their communities for free apparently.
    The controversy starts here, as at the recent IWC meeting in Anchorage Alaska, pro-whaling delegates pointed at that expensive whale-based craft products were on sale in the very hotel where the meeting was being held. It’s not clear to me why distributing whale-based craft products through modern distribution mechanisms is OK, but doing the same with whale-based meat products is not. Furthermore, in Greenland where the IWC also grants “aboriginal subsistence” whaling quotas, whale meat there is recognised to be available in supermarkets, for a price.

    From a conservation perspective, I couldn’t care less about how the derived products are distributed, I only care that the number of whales taken is sustainable.

    As for whale meat stock, indeed if supply were remaining constant, and fewer and fewer people were consuming a product, stocks would rise, but what we have seen is increasing supply (mainly through expanded research programmes). The whale meat market too appears to have expanded, as the official figures indicate that volumes of meat leaving stockpile facilities has increased in recent years.

    Some might infer that this indicates that indeed the expansion of the whaling programmes is to supply the markets with more meat. But it’s hard to see why the government would be motivated in such a way. The whale meat market, while expanding recently, is very small and insignificant in economic terms, and the whaling issue itself, while said to be appealing to nationalists, hardly ever gets a mention in the Japanese media compared to issues such as Yasukuni. Yet the cost to Japan is that it gets bashed by most of it’s greatest friends and allies each year.

    Ultimately, the stated aim of the research programmes is to improve scientific knowledge of whale stocks such that we (or the whalers at least) would be able to increase the numbers of whales taken without increasing the risk of over-depleting these whales stocks. This is often overlooked – many in the west seem not to realise that the purpose of the research whaling is to attempt to establish knowledge that could see higher levels of catch permitted, on a sustainable basis. So I perceive that Japan’s programme is viewed in a bad light because of a misunderstanding, but the reality is that Japan’s motivation for the research stems from it’s regarding whales as a valuable food resource, and hoping to exploit it. This is not an aim that anti-whaling people will agree with, anyway. It seems to be that those who oppose whaling prefer to claim that the research is a sham, rather than because they disagree with it’s aims. This is natural, as it’s easier to gain support for one’s view if you make it seem like your opponent is being dishonest, as opposed to simply having different values. The opposite side of this is indeed why many Japanese seem to think Japan’s stance on whaling is OK – why should whale eating people’s values be disregarded in preference for non-whale eating peoples’?

    Anyway, I think we’ll see Japan continue it’s research programmes until they get the kind of results that they desire, but at the same time Japan will continue to push for outright commercial whaling as well. Giving up one but not the other isn’t an option, as giving up ground will provide encouragement for opponents.

    The problem Japan has is that it’s not so easy to restart commercial whaling. Japan dislodged it’s official objection to the moratorium for a promise of access to US fishing grounds (access that was subsequently denied) and started it’s research whaling to address biological uncertanties that had been stated as a reason for the moratorium, so unlike Norway and Iceland, Japan can’t simply permit it’s whalers to hunt for simple commercial purposes. Quitting the IWC would be difficult, as Japan wishes to be seen to be cooperating with international organizations for the conservation and management of marine resources (it is obliged to under the UN Law of the Sea). But giving up on whaling isn’t an option either, as explained by Morishita in the article I linked to before. It’s a classic stalemate situation really, but not one that Japan can get out of if it is really prepared to.

    “Hey, there are a lot hungry sharks. Let them eat the whale meat.”

    This is true. Ironically the reason the ICRW says the meat must be sold was because the US feared that the provision could be exploited by those just wanting to catch whales for their oil (and throw the carcass back in the sea, this would be an abuse of the provision). Hence the meat must be sold. The biggest loophole in the convention however is that nations that oppose the convention’s objectives can join up onmasse, and prevent it from doing what it was set up to do. Morally I think the whalers have every right to get up and quit the organization, but in international legal terms it seems to be hard to find the grounds to do so.

    I sympathize with your concerns on human habitat expansion. However what I suggest is that we seek to reduce our dependence on farms, and instead up our utilization of natural resources to the extent that such utilization is sustainable. For that reason I personally support the whaling nations’ policy on utilization of whales on a sustainable basis.

  10. December 30, 2007 at 4:42 am

    david@tokyo,

    Well said. I agree with your argument. I can see how taking whales can lead to understanding how stocks replenish and stay viable. That is great, but when I read via the Japan Whaling Association’s website that they need to get ear wax from whales to figure out the aging process in whales, and by obtaining ovaries from whales they can figure out nuances to the procreation process, I feel like my intelligence is being insulted. We don’t understand all the nuances of the human life span and procreation process, but we don’t kill for it.

    In an earlier post, Dr. Roger Payne commented on this research objective. I think you commented on it as well. If scientific research is the main goal then I see very little use in killing a whale to get that information when there are proven non-lethal techniques that will get the same results, and quicker.

    I’m all for maintaining values and culture, but if you are going to talk the talk then walk the walk. I just feel Japan is putting up smoke and mirrors regarding this situation.

    Lastly, recently I read that Japan consumes almost 2/3 of the World’s sustainable fish stocks, which are putting them into the unsustainable category. It is interesting to me that Japan’s whaling history really took off post WWII with encouragement from the U.S. Japan was in a protein shortage and they needed alternative sources of meat, so whales were it. Coastal Japan has basically been depleted of fish and whales. My friend from Nova Scotia recounts recent sightings of Japanese fishing boats off the coast of Canada taking-in huge loads of fish. These days local Japanese fishing villages are hard pressed for a good catch off the coast of their motherland. Hopefully, Japan figures out the sustainable deal without causing depletion in another part of the world.

    Peace

  11. February 25, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    Countries can tell each other what to do if it is in the best interest of the planet.

    I think it would be foolish not to have the ability to let other countries know what we think. That does not mean they have to listen, that does not mean that we have to force the issue.

    Best said in The novel by the Hungarian Baroness Emmuska Orczy – The Scarlet Pimpernel 1905, The King of England says “But if a country goes mad, it has the right to commit every horror within its own walls”

    – This is slowly coming to an end.

    Soon there will be no more borders than can seperate us. There is a growing global community now and the world is becoming a smaller place. We need to grow together and become the people we were ment to be. Equal and seperate in our cultures and identies but united in the saving of our planet and her resources. The world’s animals cannot belong to any one people. The water and the land, the air that we breathe. We will learn to live in peace and to charish all that we have on Earth or we will all surely perish.

  12. February 27, 2009 at 7:11 am

    Lili,

    Unfortunately the Japanese have taken on consumerism to the Nth degree, and need to stop. This includes whaling.

    Peace

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