Monday, June 19, 2006

Afloat again

So I spoke too soon. It seems that Japan has rounded enough of its mercenaries to actually win a vote for once. Does it matter? Some conservationists seem to be getting very upset, but I find John Quiggin's comments to be very reasonable. There are no compelling moral or ethical arguments (except perhaps for the hardcore meat-is-murder types - but aren't 2,000 chickens worth more than 1 whale to them anyway?) so making decisions on the basis of reasonably democratic voting is probably the best we can do.

Again, David in Tokyo has roundup of all the news.

7 comments:

Steve Bloom said...

Yeah, it's not like they have names or something that might be a language or anything like that. :(

Do you think it might be nice if somebody were to start a program of scientific mining of the waters traversed by the Japanese whaling fleet? That would make the annual hunt statistics way more interesting, IMHO.

And while we're on the subject of the absurdity of "scientific" whaling, to what extent do you suppose the common media use of this self-cancelling phrase has helped undermine the public's belief in the integrity of science?

James Annan said...

Steve,

My grandmother's dog had a name (not that we ate it, but some people do) :-)

I do think that the IWC rules that the meat must be sold, has helped to confuse the public (who believe that this action implies the whaling is nothing more than a front for commercial operation). I wouldn't be surprised if a few environmentalists were happy to let this misconception remain...

I do find it interesting (and not a little racist) that the opprobium seems to be heaped on Japan and not Norway. Japan is trying to win the argument and engaging with the only forum available, despite its obvious flaws - Norway is just doing what it wants and ignoring the rest of the world.

Adam said...

Do Whales have names for each other?

Your last comment is interesting as - and I admit I haven't paid a whole lot of attention to this - I have heard far more condemnation of the Atlantic whalers than of Japan. Maybe the discrepancy is via two different filters or a separate focus?

Thomas Palm said...

Dolphins at least have names ("signature whistles") and respond when someone calls it.

James, I think there is a very strong case to be made for the statement that the Japanese "research" is just a front for selling the meat, i.e. it would never be performed if the meat couldn't be sold. It's a way for Japan to keep a market for the meat until they succeed in making large scale whaling legal.

I think one good reason to oppose whaling is that once started it will be extremely hard to control how much is actually captured and what species. There will be illegal catches of threatened species with the meat being intruduced into the legal sales.

James Annan said...

Adam,

I wouldn't be surprised if there was a bit of a Japanese filter here, although most of my news comes from the BBC.

Thomas,

I doubt very much there is any significant commercial value in the Japanese whaling - it is all local and national politics. They are struggling to sell what they catch, and I suspect that the "research" consumes significant public funding rather than being self-financing through the sale of whale meat. But I've not seen the figures for this.

David said...

> They are struggling to sell what they catch

Indeed, under JARPA Japan was catching 400 +/- 10% minke whales each year, but under JARPA II they increased their research area, and increased their sample size up to 850 minkes +/- 10% each year.
They are also going to add 50 fin and humpback whales to their lethal research from 2007/2008 as well.

This translates into quite a significant increase in supply of whale by-products - at least an extra 1,000 tonnes of it.

As the saying goes "whale meat does not walk around and market itself", and while the western public fervently believes that the Institute of Cetacean Research is a commercial whaling organization, the reality is different, and marketing whale meat is not one of their core competencies.

So who is going to market this extra whale meat?
http://www.geishoku-labo.co.jp

This company has been set up to build some new whale meat supply chains (since the moratorium on whale meat killed off the previous commercial ones that had existed - people can't buy something that isn't in ready supply).

Is it going to be successful?

Who knows :-)
The entreprenuer who decided to make a career out of this new company seems to think it has potential. His website points out that at it's peak, the Japanese populace consumed as much as 220,000 tonnes of whale meat in a single year, back in the 1960's when beatlemania took hold.

The whale meat "stockpile", which is essentially a moving one, stood at 6,000 tonnes when JARPA II returned earlier this year. A few days back, JARPN II returned to port as well, and I've not heard the latest figures yet, but I'd be surprised if the figure was much above 6,000 tonnes (as people are actually eating it, despite what the western media reports).

Is their potential demand for extra whale meat?

I doubt there is demand for 220,000 tonnes of it, but I'm sure the population could absorb the extra few thousand tonnes of it that will hit the market annually - it seems reasonable to think that 10,000 tonnes at least could be sold if supply chains are developed to market it. This is good meat too - the whales from the Antarctic feed at a very low trophic level (eating krill), and thus have low levels of contaminants. I personally would rather eat some lean minke whale meat than some beef from the USA.

> and I suspect that the "research" consumes significant public funding rather than being self-financing through the sale of whale meat. But I've not seen the figures for this.

Yes, the JARPA research programme ran in the red for all of it's 18 years. The whale meat by-products only partially offset the costs of the research.
Under JARPA II though, the government might start to get some of it's money back as well, due to the increase in whale meat that is to be supplied. On the other hand, if the price of meat drops further, it may still balance out at a lower level than the costs.

David said...

> I do find it interesting (and not a little racist) that the opprobium seems to be heaped on Japan and not Norway.

Interestingly, the JARPN II (North Pacific whale research programme) returned to port the other day, but Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd haven't said a word about it - 256 whales killed, yet they were no where to be seen.

So it seems to be just an Antarctic thing, because the whales are closer to Australia and New Zealand than to Japan.

Sea Shepherd in particular is rather overtly racist, always trying to compare whaling with WWII. Last summer they made an outrageous claim that Japan had plans send a warship to protect their whaling fleet. Of course this ridiculous claim was nonsense, and it never happened. Sea Shepherd is a pretty dispicable, dirty group - Greenpeace doesn't stoop quite so low, but they are so bleedingly self-righteous - did you ever see the video of them ramming the Nisshin Maru?

http://www.icrwhale.org/eng/GPAS3.mpg
http://www.icrwhale.org/eng/GPAS4.mpg

> Norway is just doing what it wants and ignoring the rest of the world.

Norway lodged an official objection under IWC rules to the commercial moratorium, so legally it has always been entitled to continue commercial whaling. It actually sets it's quotas using the scientific procedure developed by the IWC.

Japan also lodged an objection to the moratorium, but the USA threatened the then-weak PM of Japan with trade sanctions, and Japan withdrew their objection. They later proposed their first research proposal - 800 minke whales, but again the Japanese PM at the time got worried about USA pressure and instructed the research group to reduce the sample size to 400 whales.

Japan lodged an objection with respect to the Southern Ocean Sanctuary however (with respect to the minke whale), so if the moratorium were lifted Japan could also resume commercial hunting as well.