Conservationists Urge Bush to Use U.S. Might Against Japanese Whaling

WASHINGTON, DC, April 19, 2006 (ENS) - A coalition of national conservation organizations is calling on the Bush administration to vigorously oppose Japan's efforts to gain international approval for whaling at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this June.

In a letter to President George W. Bush released Tuesday, the groups urge that the United States oppose Japan's bid for permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council until Japan respects international laws for the protection of whales.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan is killing whales under the scientific research provision of the IWC Convention.

The eight groups in the coalition are - Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Oceana, and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.

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Two minke whales in the Southern Ocean killed by the Japanese whaling fleet. December 21, 2005 (Photo by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert courtesy Greenpeace)
On Friday, Japan's whaling fleet returned from the Southern Ocean with a record 863 whales, including 853 minke whales and 10 critically endangered fin whales. This is nearly double Japan's kill in these same waters last year.

Dr. Hiroshi Hatanaka, director general of Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, said today that despite efforts by "anti-science organizations Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, the researchers were able to meet their objectives, including the sampling of minke and fin whales."

In December, Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd sailed separately to the Southern Ocean to block the Japanese whaling fleet, but after several encounters by each group with the whalers, both groups had to withdraw their vessels, leaving the Japanese whaling fleet to its work.

“Despite all claims from these people that their protests had prevented us from obtaining our research quota, the fact is that minke whales are so abundant that we achieved our target – a statistically necessary number of samples,” Hatanaka said.

“In addition," Hatanaka said, "we conducted a sighting survey with great success and found that humpback and fin whales have continuously increased with high reproduction rates.”

But the U.S. conservation organizations call the Japanese whale slaughter "illegal" and maintain that it is really commercial whaling under the guise of research.

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The Antarctic minke whale is circumpolar in the Southern Hemisphere, summering in waters around Antarctica and wintering at latitudes between about seven and 35 degrees. (Photo courtesy IWC)
The groups Tuesday launched a new national campaign which they said was intended to "heighten awareness of growing commercial whaling in violation of a 20 year old international ban."

In their letter to letter to the President the groups asked the administration to deploy "American diplomacy, trade and resources...to oppose so called 'scientific whaling.'"

"The massive toll documented with the return of Japan's whaling fleet Friday leaves no doubt that illegal whaling in the name of science is a growing problem that cannot be ignored if these magnificent animals, the largest on earth, are to survive for future generations to see and enjoy," said Greg Wetstone, director of U.S. Operations with the the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Chris Matthews, "Hardball" host and an IFAW board member, and renowned whale scientist Roger Payne joined Wetstone and IFAW President Fred O'Regan to launch the campaign at an event in Washington. Matthews moderated a discussion on the plight of whales, public attitudes toward whaling and what could be done to end this threat to whales.

"Whales today are under tremendous stress as a result of several types of human activity," said Dr. Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance founder and a global leader in cetacean research.

"Military sonar, fishing gear entanglements and global warming all pose a huge threat to whale populations struggling to recover from historic commercial whaling," Payne said.

"The added toll of Japan's growing commercial whaling will simply be too much for many whale species," said Payne. "This continuing slaughter, and the ominous Japanese effort to gain international approval for commercial whaling, are serious threats to the survival of whales, and should be opposed in every way possible before it's too late."

"IFAW is launching a national media campaign in the U.S. that will be a crucial component of our international efforts to protect whales," said Fred O'Regan. "The goal of the advertising campaign is to re-engage the general public on the plight of whales."

A two phase series of TV ads will begin airing this week in Washington, New York, Miami, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Charleston, South Carolina. Billboards will be on display in New York's Times Square and on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles throughout the month of May, and a series of three subway ads will be posted in Washington's Metro system for the same period.

In addition, IFAW is organizing events in Miami, Charleston and New York around port visits by its marine mammal research vessel, a 72 foot custom designed sloop called the Song of the Whale.

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A dead sperm whale lies on the deck of a Japanese whaler while the crew takes measurements. (Photo courtesy ICR)
The coalition points out that Japan has killed almost 10,000 whales in the past two decades, and has announced an intention to kill still more whales next year, and extend its hunt to also include threatened humpback whales.

"Japan is using international aid in an effort to enlist greater support at the IWC," the coalition said. "Japan is hoping buy enough votes to relax international whale protection safeguards" when the IWC meets this June in the Caribbean island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Japan denies that the aid it provides to small island nations is intended to influence their votes at the IWC meetings.

And Japan has always maintained that its whaling is legal. Hatanaka said in January, “Our research is perfectly legal in every aspect referred to by anti-whaling opponents and scientifically necessary to ensure the best decisions can be made for sustainable resource management.”

Hatanaka says the Japanese research is conducted under a special permit issued by Japanese government based on its right under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

This Article reads, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention any Contracting Government [including Japan] may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention.”

On January 17, a diplomatic message was submitted by 17 governments to the government of Japan to "cease its lethal scientific research on whales and assure the return of the vessels" from the Southern Ocean whale Sanctuary.

The 17 governments denounced the so-called scientific hunt as a sham, noting that "Japan is now killing more whales in the Antarctic every year than it killed for scientific research in the 31 years prior to the introduction of the moratorium on commercial whaling."

They express "grave concerns" that the hunt "will undermine the long-term viability" of both fin and humpback whales.