Keeping the pressure on Japan to stop whaling

For the first time in more than a century, no commercial whaling is taking place this season in the Southern Ocean. I’m keyed up, almost giddy, despite a dozen hours in an economy class seat from LAX. I’ve just landed back at Narita Airport for a week of meetings in Tokyo.

It’s more than a bit ironic that over the course of twenty years working to end Japan’s high seas whaling, I’ve fallen more and more deeply in love with this incredible country and its culture. 

My first visits here, in the early 90s, were as director the U.S. branch of Global Legislators for a Balanced Environment (or GLOBE), accompanying then U.S. Senator John Kerry and other environmentally-minded Members of Congress to meetings with their Japanese, European and Russian counterparts.

At one such gathering, in an ornate hall in the Japanese Diet building, I cringed as a senior European parliamentarian, Hemmo Muntingh of the Netherlands, literally pounded the table, loudly demanding an end to Japanese whaling. During the lunch break following that session I first met Ms. Naoko Funahashi, IFAW’s representative in Japan.

I expressed my embarrassment at Muntingh’s outburst. “Won’t change anything,” Naoko said without hesitation, ”but good for them to hear it.” “Need to put more pressure.”

The author landing at Narita Airport for a week of meetings in Tokyo.

Over the two decades since, pressure has certainly increased on the Government of Japan and its Fisheries Agency over its high-seas whaling activities.

A year ago this month, in an unprecedented ruling, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found Japan’s whale killing around Antarctica, allegedly conducted for “scientific” purposes, to be illegal and ordered Japan to scuttle its so-called research whaling program.

As a result, by court order, for the first time in more than a century, no commercial whaling is taking place this season in the Southern Ocean. 

Instead, at least for now, Japan has joined the community of countries employing 21st century research techniques to study live whales in their Southern Ocean habitat.

RELATED: For an inspiring peek at this season’s ongoing Southern Ocean Research Project, click here.

But stubborn fisheries bureaucrats in Tokyo have recently hatched a “new” proposal to return to lethal “research whaling” threatening to needlessly slaughter some 4000 whales over the next dozen years in an expanded Antarctic killing zone. 

Unless cooler, more senior heads in Japan’s ruling party see a reason to change course, this country’s aging and expensive whaling fleet, kept afloat by a sea of taxpayer-financed subsidies, will again fix harpoons and set sail before the end of this year. 

A generation ago, in my high school Latin class, we’d have called that a “Retro ad Futurum” strategy -- “Backwards into the Future.”

Several months after my first visit to Tokyo, I was back in Washington, escorting the new President of the GLOBE International confederation, the Honorable Takashi Kosugi, to a private meeting with then GLOBE USA President, John Kerry.

Afterward, as we walked across Capitol Hill together, past marble facades aglow in the setting sun, Kosugi-san quizzed me about my heritage:

“Ram-age is a French name?” he asked.  “Yes, sensei,” I explained eagerly. “Originally French, but that is not my heritage. “Our family name was Cooper,” I continued without thinking. “My grandfather, Clarence Cooper, was killed at Pearl Harbor when my father was very young. A man named Ramage later married my grandmother and adopted my father. So now our name is Ramage.”

“So, so, so,” said Kosugi-san softly. 

We walked in silence for a minute, and I realized that I might have offended, citing my family’s wartime loss while ignoring the horrific firebombing of Kosugi’s own Tokyo constituency.

“It means a lot to me,” I said finally,  “that just one generation after our countries were at war, I am staffing a senior Japanese legislator as he meets Members of the U.S. Congress to discuss global environmental issues.”

“So, so, so,” Kosugi-san softly replied, nodding in agreement.

Twenty years after Takashi Kosugi and I took that walk together, the sun is setting on the Japanese whaling industry. 

It is now our generation’s turn to encourage Japan to finally end its killing of whales for commercial purposes.

Together with a new generation of Japanese citizens, we can change things.

The time is now.

My longtime friend and colleague Naoko has it right: “Need to put more pressure.”


Learn more about IFAW efforts to end commercial whaling.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation