Save the Whales t-shirts may make a comeback

Marketplace Staff Jun 15, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL:


ALEX COHEN: Faced with concerns about dwindling species, the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, put a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986. But subsistence whaling by aboriginal populations is still allowed in places like Denmark, Russia and Alaska. Scientific whaling is also permitted, though critics complain whales caught for “research” often wind up on a plate.

Norway, Iceland and Japan are expected to kill 1,400 whales this year alone, and these countries have made it clear to the IWC they’d like to hunt even more. That has animal activists around the world gravely concerned.

[SOUND: Whaling video]

This video, from the website WhaleWatch.org, shows graphic footage of a recent Japanese whaling expedition which used grenade-tipped harpoons.

[SOUND OF WHALING VIDEO NARRATOR: The harpoon is designed to penetrate the whale’s body before detonating, inflicting massive shock and internal injuries . . . ]

The pro-whale camp says the killing of these massive mammals seems especially cruel given the Japanese appetite for whale meat is on the wane. The annual average consumption of whale was at 5-1/2 pounds in the early 80s; now it’s at just one ounce.

But there are bigger issues at stake — issues like national and cultural pride.

MILTON FREEMAN: Nobody likes to be told what to eat or what not to eat.

That’s Milton Freeman, founder of the International Network for Whaling Research. Freeman notes that deer are a much-revered species in Japan but the Japanese don’t tell other countries to stop hunting and eating venison.

FREEMAN: It becomes really an offense to countries — whether it’s Norway or Iceland or Japan or the Inuit in the Arctic — when these people are being told by an international body and they’re a minority in that body, they’re not going to take it very rightly.

And so, for years Japan’s been fighting back. They’ve been selling developing countries on the idea that if whale populations get too big, these leviathans of the deep could decimate valuable fishing industries.

Japan has also invested an estimated half a billion dollars buying fishing rights in areas of Africa, South America and the Carribean. Since 1998, Japan has ushered 19 new countries into the International Whaling Commission.

WILLIAM HOGARTH: In doing that they’ve been able, I think, to build support for their whaling views and that’s what seems to be happening right now.

That’s William Hogarth, the US delegate to the IWC who’s currently attending the convention in St. Kitt’s. Hogarth says Japan is expected to bring a few more new members to the whaling commission this week, members like Guatemala, the Marshall Islands and Cambodia. And that could lead to a first tomorrow, a majority vote for the pro-whaling contingency.

That won’t be enough to make the 75-percent vote needed to end the whaling moratorium. But it could lead to the removal of other key conservation initiatives and the implementation of secret ballots.

Joth Singh is with the International Fund for Animal Welfare:

JOTH SINGH: I think it’s a time for us to wake up and realize that, you know, whales internationally are being threatened again. Their very survival are being threatened.

Singh admits the economic incentives Japan offers are alluring to many developing nations, but he says hopefully these places will realize there are other ways to capitalize on growing whale populations.

SINGH: In the eastern Carribean, the whale-watching industry is a 10-million US dollar industry as it stands, and it’s still in its infancy stages.

The meeting of the International Whaling Commission runs through Tuesday.

I’m Alex Cohen for Marketplace.

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