End Japanese Whaling? Yes We Kan!
It's great to wake up to good news, especially after going to bed with it. As I crawled under the covers on Cape Cod last night, media coverage was just breaking of the apparent decision by the Japanese Government to recall its whaling fleet from the waters of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary around Antarctica well ahead of schedule.
First across the line as usual was Andrew Darby of the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. Darby, whose 2007 book "Harpoon" remains one of the most insightful tours into the heart of the whaling debate, has at least two advantages over other media types covering the issue: He knows more about it than any other journo, and he and his Apple laptop sit on the edge of the international dateline, a perch that once in a while allows him to define, distill and drive a good story before other members of the Fourth Estate worldwide have woken up and pulled their knickers on. His and the Herald's coverage, replete with good video of the hardworking, hapless, helpless whaling fleet tangling with those dastardly "eco-terrorists" from Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are here.
By the time my knickers were up this morning, various Aus and NZ outlets were already abuzz with the story and AFP and AP Tokyo were starting to nibble. Even our friends at the Japan Fisheries Agency offered comment. (For the record, they are sputtering about a suspension of the fleet's activities, not a withdrawal, but let's see how we go).
There has been much speculation in recent months about the prospects for Japan continuing this macabre misadventure, mindlessly pursuing marine mammal slaughter in the name of science, squandering millions of Yen wrung from a shrinking Japanese taxpayer base that seems to have lost its yen for whale meat.
Since its election 18 months ago, the Democratic Party of Japan has not staked out dramatically different ground on the whaling issue per se. But DPJ President Hatoyama, current Prime Minister (watch this space) Naoto Kan and other senior government leaders seem altogether different kind of fish from their predecessors.
They and the government they lead strike this longtime observer and lover of Japan as cool and pragmatic, more focused on Japan's long term strategy and interests than on mindless obedience to the bureaucratic mandarins who have so long defended the outmoded whaling industry. Bet on this new crowd to side with sound science over the sham of scientific whaling and to back booming industries like whale and dolphin watching rather than the economic lead weight of industrial whaling.
Whether what we are seeing this morning is a suspension of operations or the fleet's withdrawal for the season with less than half its killing quota, sustained pressure, external and especially internal, will be needed to encourage Japan's government to finally end its whaling for commercial purposes. What is certain is that today's developments are good news for whales and those who care about them. It is not the end. It is not the beginning. But it may be the beginning of the end.