6 reasons Shinzo Abe shouldn’t restart Antarctic whaling

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington in 2013. (Teruo Kashiyama)Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to America this week presents a prime opportunity for President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and other US fans of Japan to encourage our visiting friend to end his country’s high seas whaling around Antarctica. As Prime Minister Abe nears Washington, this long-standing US policy objective, pursued by Presidents and Congressional leaders from both parties since Ronald Reagan first championed the global moratorium on commercial whaling, is finally within reach.

After more than 25 years of so-called ‘scientific whaling’ in defiance of the global ban, Japan killed no whales in Antarctica this year, following an April 2014 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that its whaling there was illegal. Instead, the proud maritime nation undertook non-lethal whale research. That is a hopeful sign for whales, global whale conservation and the good people of Japan. In recent months, however, Japan’s Fisheries Agency has floated a proposal to resuscitate its annual scientific slaughter.

To achieve progress, discussions of Japanese whaling should begin with a low bow, not more low blows. However the issue surfaces this week, there are strong reasons Abesan should not restart Antarctic whaling:

  1. International Law -- The unprecedented judgment of the world’s highest court, in addition ordering Japan to halt its Antarctic whaling programme, established a test of legality for any future scientific whaling - a test Japan’s latest proposal fails miserably to meet. Rather than trying to relitigate the case it lost or re-write proposals for sham science, Prime Minister Abe and his government should return to their earlier rhetoric about respecting the ICJ judgment.
  2. ‘Scientific’ Whaling’ = Bad Science -- The best whale science in the world today comes from studying live whales in their ocean habitat, not from harpooning them, chopping them up and looking at their bits. The scathing critique of last year’s ICJ judgment was echoed in scientific circles earlier this month when an independent panel of top scientific experts convened by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) issued its verdict on Japan’s latest whaling proposal, noting “the current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling”.
  3. Whaling is an Economic Loser -- The whaling industry hasn’t paid its own way for decades. Urgent marketing efforts by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture have failed miserably to stimulate market demand. Japan’s people have lost their yen for whale meat, but its taxpayers are still stuck paying millions of Yen to prop up this dying industry.
  4. Whale Watching -- Now a USD $2 billion dollar industry worldwide, whale watching in Japan is turning a profit and bringing meaningful economic benefits to dozens of coastal communities from Hokkaido to Okinawa. It has the potential to increase tourism to Japan and assist Prime Minister Abe to achieve his goal 20 million foreign visitors annually by the time Tokyo hosts the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Animals, people, and the economy all do better when whales are seen and not hurt.
  5. Japan has Larger Fish to Fry -- From its careful steps to secure a rotating regional seat on the UN Security Council this October, to its preparations for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, to its marketing of corporate brands and “Cool Japan” around the world, Japan has much larger interests on the global stage than chasing whales around the global commons. Unfettered access to marine resources is a fundamental issue for Japanese decision-makers for obvious historical and geographic reasons. But in the triage of international relations, one doubts they are willing to haemorrhage over high seas whaling.
  6. Yes, He Can! -- Prime Minister Abe has a unique opportunity to change the course of his government and world history on this issue. He is a strong, visionary leader and arguably the most pro-whaling Prime Minister of the post-war era. As such, he enjoys complete respect and credibility with his country’s shrinking pro-whaling lobby. He may seem the least likely Prime Minister to maneuver Japan out of Southern Ocean whaling. He is almost certainly the most-able to do it.

In the end, the decision to end Antarctic whaling will not be made in Washington this week. Nor will it be made in Canberra, London, Wellington or Brussels. The decision to end Antarctic whaling will be made in Tokyo, by Japanese decision-makers, for reasons that make sense to them.

That day is coming and soon; Japan is too great a nation to continue illegal whaling. Persistent, appropriate encouragement from the United States - a nation which itself modeled the migration from whaling to whale watching - will hasten its arrival.

--PR

Learn more about IFAW efforts to protect whales around the world on our campaign page.

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