Complicit or just complacent?

Posted by Willie — 6 April 2010 at 4:08pm - Comments

A fin whale from the air © CC Sabine's Sunbird

If you’ve been able to dig your way out of mountains of (Nestle-free, naturally) Easter chocolate you may just have noticed this rather fine piece of direct action in Rotterdam. Our activists intercepted a shipment of whale meat – endangered fin whale meat, to be precise – en route from Iceland to Japan.

This shipment is 'technically not illegal', because Iceland and Japan have taken out reservations to the international agreement banning the trade in this species. A bit like having an opt-out clause on which laws you don’t recognise or which taxes you don’t agree with paying, really. (It’s the same sort of loophole that lets Japan kill whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.)

It’s an interesting parallel to the interception of a whale meat shipment by Junichi & Toru, the Tokyo Two, in Japan. Junichi and Toru were held for 26 days, and now face possible imprisonment for their actions exposing the scandal. In Rotterdam the endangered whale meat has been taken off the container ship, and our activists have all been released.

What makes these stories all the more scandalous is that anti-whaling countries are increasingly being shown to be complicit in ongoing whaling. For years we have said that pro-conservation governments like Australia, and the UK are simply not doing enough to fight the vast amount of resources and energy that the pro-whalers are investing in keeping the whaling industry alive. Now we are seeing that in a whole new light.

Last month DNA testing showed whale meat was being served up as sushi in a US restaurant. This weekend we have seen that the Netherlands is a pit-stop for the trade in endangered whale meat. And whilst the governments of Japan, Iceland and their allies are standing firm, arguing for expansions in their whaling operations, we see countries like the US and New Zealand apparently keen to compromise to end the ongoing impasse on the whaling issue internationally. The compromise they seem to prefer is giving the pro-whalers some concessions, which would allow whaling to continue.

Whilst it’s true that for many of us the ongoing political whaling saga is a tiresome one, is it right to just let such a major conservation victory be frittered away? Are things a bit better now? I mean all the whalers bandy the word ‘sustainable’ around at every opportunity…?

The truth is that international measures to protect species are few and weak. The moratorium on whaling was a milestone, and for many of the species concerned, an urgent necessity. There are many, many other marine species in dire peril at the hands of humanity too – and we are being very slow and ineffectual at adding them to any protected lists. A quick look at last month’s CITES debacle will show you what I mean.

Since commercial whaling was banned our understanding of many things has increased, not least being better understanding through DNA evidence about the likely former abundance of whales. We also know much more about the other impacts we are having on whales and the marine world: climate change, ship strikes, net entanglement, food depletion, military sonar and many others.

The International Whaling Commission has also presided over the extinction of a species – the Baiji.

Meanwhile, there’s still no doubt that the commercial exploitation of wild animals can, and does, lead to disaster for the animals themselves. Something as true of bluefin tuna as it is of blue whales.

And that’s without even touching on the fact that there is simply no humane way to kill a fast-moving marine mammal.

There’s one thing we can, and should do immediately*, to help ensure whale populations survive and thrive. And that, quite simply, is to stop hunting them. Our governments need to fight fire with fire, not complicity and complacency.

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(*I argue this at greater length here, if you want to check it out.)

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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