A Whale of a Truce?

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Yet another guest post from our friend Debbie Salamone of the Pew Environment Group's Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast:

President Barack Obama will meet the new Japanese prime

minister, Yukio Hatoyama, on November 12-13 — about the same time the Japanese

whaling fleet is due to depart for Antarctica's Southern Ocean on its annual

hunt to kill roughly 1,000 whales. 

While there is much for the two world leaders to discuss, my

colleagues are pushing for an open and frank discussion on how to end

commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean once and for all. They think this is

an issue which these two world leaders could agree needs to be resolved.

Each year, Japan sends a fleet of ships, including a huge

processing factory, to the waters around Antarctica, an area declared a whale sanctuary

by the international community in 1994.  Japan is the only country that

still sends a whaling fleet to distant waters. These vessels kill hundreds of

whales each year under a loophole in the 1946 International Convention for the

Regulation of Whaling by claiming that their activities are scientific

research.

But most marine scientists, including members of the

International Whaling Commission's own scientific committee, believe the

research results from Japan’s program could be achieved without killing

whales and that the research gathered is irrelevant to the commission's goals.

For example, Japanese scientists have highlighted their

studies of the waxy build-up in whale ears (the wax has rings, much like a tree

trunk), which can determine the age of the whales.  The IWC, however does

not consider the age structure of whale populations as important information

for its work —and the age of whales can now be determined using

non-lethal means. The whales killed in Japan’s hunt are processed and the

meat — termed a mere by-product — is distributed for sale in Japanese

markets.

The entire whaling operation is paid for by Japanese

taxpayers even though most know nothing about the program .This effort costs

the country’s taxpayers millions of dollars. Low consumer demand for the

meat has resulted in the industry needing large subsidies to stay afloat. 

After 22 years of funding, the stockpile of unsold frozen whale meat had risen

to 4,000 metric tons by the end of 2008, according to the Japanese Ministry of

Agriculture.

Prime Minister Hatoyama has promised to change many

practices from the past 50 years of rule by his political opposition. In a

recent speech, he promised to “thoroughly eliminate the wasteful use of

taxpayers' money.”

Perhaps President Obama could persuade the Prime Minister

that the country’s outdated and expensive whaling operation could be one

of the first practices to cut. The U.S. President should commit to work with

the Japanese government to make this happen.

For more information on whale conservation, visit www.PewEnvironment.org