Australia Amps Up Diplomatic Pressure Against Japanese Whaling

CANBERRA, Australia, May 18, 2005 (ENS) - Australian local governments that have sister city relationships with communities in Japan are being urged to use their friendly relationships to convey community concern about the Japanese Fishing Agency's push to raise its so-called "scientific whaling quota."

Environment and Heritage Minister Senator Ian Campbell said Japan's hopes to increase its take of minke whales from 440 to 850 a year and to add 50 each of humpback and fin whales had "appalled" Australians. The endangered humpback and other species are "a regular feature of our waters on their annual migratory paths along our coastlines," the minister said.

Senator Campbell said that at the same time as he pursues the issue on behalf of the Australian government with like-minded members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to oppose Japan's bid, local communities could also play a part.

"It would be very helpful to our cause against the slaughter of whales if local authorities with sister-city ties were to relay the concerns of their communities to their counterparts in Japan," he said today.

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A Japanese whaler shoots a harpoon at a whale. (Photo courtesy Votier/WDCS)
"It is an entirely appropriate thing for Australians to do to tell the Japanese that while we are very friendly with them, good friends can disagree and that the slaughter of whales is something that this generation should put an end to," said Campbell.

The round of scientific meetings associated with the next International Whaling Commission meeting begin on May 27 in Ulsan, South Korea. The IWC's 57th annual meeting opens June 20 in Ulsan. Four new member governments have joined the IWC since its last annual meeting, bringing the membership to 60 countries.

The Senator Campbell says he will publish the voting records of IWC nations to provide transparency to the process.

"It is important that the world knows how some nations are voting in support of the slaughter of whales so those nations can feel the impact of public opinion and public censure," he said.

The anti-whaling nations and conservation groups have claimed that Japan uses financial assistance to persuade smaller developing nations to back its pro-whaling stance at the IWC.

"This so-called scientific kill is simply exploitation and a practice that does not belong in the 21st century in a world where most people would like to see whales conserved, not chopped up and put on dinner tables," said Campbell.

The Australian Sister Cities Association lists local government authorities with sister-city relationships with Japan online at: www.asca.asn.au.

Under the Sister Cities Association, the year 2006 is a year special association for Japan and Australia. The aim of the Exchange Year is to increase mutual interest and to expand exchanges between the two countries.

Any events and initiatives, which are in broad accord with these aims, will be considered as part of the exchange year. These can target many fields, including culture, the arts, tourism, economics, trade, government, education, youth, science and technology, and intellectual exchange.

The Humane Society International (HSI), based in Australia is lobbying the government to move beyond diplomatic exchanges and take Japan to the International Court of Justice over its whale hunting.

In a letter Tuesday to Prime Minister John Howard, the Humane Society said "current diplomatic efforts of Australia and other anti-whaling countries to protest Japan’s abuses of the loophole that enables ‘scientific’ whale hunts, have been water off a duck’s back."

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Dead whales on a Japanese whaling vessel (Photo courtesy Votier/WDCS)
HSI's Nicola Beynon wrote, "Japan began hunting whales for ‘scientific research’ in Antarctica in 1987, the year after the IWC banned commercial whaling. Since 1987 the IWC has passed numerous resolutions calling on Japan to stop the annual hunt - all ignored. High level diplomatic demarches have also come and gone - to no effect. Defying all diplomatic efforts, Japan has now notified they will double their minke whale hunt and start killing humpback and fin whales, killing many of these animals from waters Australia considers our own and have declared an Australian Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica."

"HSI and the Australian public are angry and frustrated that diplomacy is failing the whales," Benyon wrote. Her organization believes that Japan is escalating its abuses of the scientific whaling provisions of the IWC regulations, "purely to put pressure on the IWC to overturn the ban on commercial whaling."

At its last annual meeting in Italy, the IWC did deal with a Revised Management Procedure that would allow the resumption of commercial whaling.

"Although the Commission has accepted and endorsed the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) for commercial whaling, it has noted that work on a number of issues, including specification of an inspection and observer system must be completed (called the Revised Management Scheme) before the Commission will consider establishing catch limits other than zero," the Commission said.

A proposal to take the RMS process forward was developed between annual meetings by the Chair of the Commission Henrik Fischer of Denmark. A resolution aimed at trying to have draft text ready for consideration and possible adoption or to identify any outstanding policy and technical issues for the 2005 annual meeting was passed by consensus last year.

The New Zealand Department of Conservation says this process was "facilitated by the composition of the group, which contained all the major whaling countries (Japan, Norway, Iceland and Denmark), several ‘middle-minded’ countries and the USA. There was no representation from the Southern Hemisphere, although Australia had offered to participate."

Still, the Humane Society believes that Japan can be made to abandon its whaling interests, if Australia and New Zealand and other powerful anti-whaling governments such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Brazil and India, and particularly the United States, combined to flex their political and legal muscles.

After the 2004 IWC annual meeting, the New Zealand said, "Changes in the make-up of the IWC mean that the pro-whaling bloc is poised to take control. New Zealand is concerned this could lead to the resumption of commercial whaling under a weak management regime. New Zealand also spoke out strongly against the special permits that allow 'scientific' whaling."

"We know the Government agrees a case could be made and indeed warned Japan of this in an intervention to the IWC in 2000," wrote Benyon. "It would not be hard to convince the international court that Japan’s scientific whaling program has nothing to do with science and everything to do with politics and propping up a dying whaling industry."

"Now that Japan has notified it will escalate its abuses of the scientific loophole, the case has only got stronger, and we do not understand why the Government will not take this step," she wrote.

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Humpback whale breaching. Humpbacks are considered endangered, yet Japan says it will take 50 of this species each year from now on. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
HSI is attempting to bring Japan to account through Australia’s federal courts. The organization is seeking a declaration from the Federal Court that Japan’s whale hunt in Australia’s Whale Sanctuary in Antarctica is an offence under Australian law and an order from the Court that the whaling should be stopped.

Australian Attorney-General Philip Ruddock has told the court the Australian Government does not support HSI’s case and would prefer to continue dealing with the matter through diplomacy, out of concern that, because Japan does not recognize Australia’s claim to those Antarctic waters, the case could spark a diplomatic incident.

"HSI believes a diplomatic incident is necessary," wrote Benyon. "At the very least we believe an injunction from the Federal Court would give further strength to Australia’s diplomatic efforts."

"As a matter of law," she wrote, "we also dispute the Attorney-General’s claim that to forcibly stop Japan from entering those waters would be an act of piracy. We also ask that the Government investigate the call to close our ports to Japanese fishing vessels."

In the United States our organization and others have petitioned their government to bring trade sanctions against Japan, as they are able to do under U.S. legislation, wrote Benyon. "We ask the Australian Government to give the U.S. Administration the strongest possible encouragement to take this step."

Japan has consistently taken the position that it is concerned about endangered species, but the whale species its hunters take are not endangered.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains that Japan's activity is not commercial whaling. "The research employs both lethal and non-lethal research methods and is carefully designed by scientists to study the whale populations and ecological roles of the species. We limit the sample to the lowest possible number, which will still allow the research to derive meaningful scientific results. The research plan and its results are annually reviewed by the IWC Scientific Committee. The IWC has never concluded that non-lethal methods can replace Japanese research. Nonetheless, Japan committed to strengthen non-lethal elements of the research," the ministry states.

Japan says its research take of whales is not a violation or an abuse of a loophole in the international convention. "Quite the contrary, this is a legitimate right of the contracting party under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW)."

Whale meat is indeed sold in the market, but this is a requirement set forth by Article VIII of the ICRW. Also, the sale of whale meat does not create any profit in Japan's case. A non-profit research institute, which carries out this research program, sells the by-product in order to cover a portion of its research costs, the ministry says.

And finally, the ministry maintains that whales eat too many fish. "In the 1990s scientists calculated that the global whale population consumes 250-440 million metric tons of fish and crustaceans every year," the ministry writes. "This amount is 3-5 times as much as is fished by human beings worldwide. The ecological relevance of the total protection of whales should be reviewed under these circumstances. Anti-whaling does not automatically mean 'green.'"