Guest Post by Dr. Mariano Sironi–Scientific Director of Ocean Alliance Southern Right Whale Program partner Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas
9 May 2014
Centuries of centuries and only in the present
do things happen;
countless men in the air,
on the face of the earth and the sea,
and all that really is happening is happening to me.”
From The garden of forking paths, Jorge Luis Borges
On March 31st, 2014 the International Court of Justice at The Hague instructed the government of Japan to end its “scientific” whaling operations in Antarctica, in response to a demand by the government of Australia. The Court evaluated Japan’s Research Whaling Program in the Antarctic (JARPA II) and concluded that “the special permits granted by Japan in connection with JARPA II do not fall within the provisions of scientific research of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling” and thus, is not science.
Furthermore, the Court found that “Japan has not acted in conformity with its obligations in relation to the killing, taking and treating of fin whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary in pursuance of JARPA II”. In other words, this lethal “research” program violates the integrity of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, a vast oceanic area around Antarctica where whaling is forbidden, and where Japan conducted (conducts? will conduct?) its whaling activities every austral summer since 1987.
This historic ruling is a landmark for the conservation of whales and the governance of the oceans. However, it does not mean the end of “scientific” whaling, or, to put it more explicitly, the end of the farce of commercial whaling under the guise of science. Japan conducts a similar whaling program in the North Pacific (JARPN II). This program is the death sentence for nearly 300 whales from four species that will be killed during the northern summer that is about to begin. Today, these whales swim freely in the Pacific ocean. During the next few months, they will be drowned and bled to death under the “scientific” harpoons. No country has taken this case to the Court, and so, the killing continues.
After this historic ruling, the “scientific” whaling program of the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR) has been discredited at a global scale. We do not state this as members of the civil society with no evidence or support. We affirm this based on the irrevocable decision of the International Court of Justice.
Science uses its methods to find responses to questions whose answers we do not know. What were the questions that needed the death of 14,000 whales to be answered with true scientific methods? At the time when, say, 1,000, or 2,000 or 5,000 (!) whales had been killed by the ICR labs and the questions remained unanswered, couldn’t the researchers have suspected that “something” was wrong with their methods?
Had the Japanese government invested the tens of millions of dollars that it wasted on its disguised commercial whaling program, on a true research program based on non-lethal techniques, Japan would now shine among the most advanced nations in its solid and useful scientific knowledge of whales, their fascinating lives and their basic conservation needs.
The non-whaling nations can take the idle path of do-nothing and continue to watch the anachronistic killing of whales while sending press releases here and there to condemn whaling. Although they are necessary and they mean well, these statements do not seem to have any real effect to save the lives of whales and to reinforce the international agreements that those nations have signed.
Or, the non-whaling nations can take the reins of the situation like Australia did very bravely and take legal action to stop the killing of whales in the north Pacific and elsewhere. If the do, they will be remembered as heroes in the history of global conservation.
But, there is one and only one government that, above all others, could play the most prominent role. The government of Japan is facing the biggest challenge. Today, Japan can decide to keep its dying whaling industry afloat. Or, it can choose to walk along a path of glory, abiding by the ruling of the Court on its activities in the Antarctic and even stopping the whaling program in the north Pacific by its own decision. Seen from a positive perspective from the Japanese side, the Court’s ruling “against” could be turned into “for” Japan. Thus, Japan could come through the whaling maze it created 27 years ago, make the most of this precious opportunity and make the wise decision to stop whaling.
Naïve? Perhaps. But it is absolutely certain that this decision would bring Japan more applause than rejection from the international community.
Today, the voice of the Court did justice. There is another voice, that of Japan, that can join in this historic ruling if it wisely decides to stop all whaling in all oceans. And then, thousands of voices will say, “Now yes, justice was done”.[Top photo by Sea Shepherd Australia–dead minke whales on the Nisshun Maru]