Japan has had deep roots to whaling stretching all the way back to the 12th century. During the early periods, those in small coastal towns took to whaling as a source of food and used the rest of the mammal’s body to produce oils as well as fertilizers. But, as time progressed, whaling started to spread throughout Japan. Then, as technology became advanced with the introduction of modern ships and harpoons, Japan acclimated to the new style of whaling and in 1906 with the construction of a modern whaling station in Japan, full-scale modern whaling began. By 1934 Japan set out to the Antarctic Ocean to begin mother ship-type whaling for commercial purposes. Through the years, Japan continued to whale with few impediments. Then, in 1948 the International Whaling Commission was established with the responsibility to conserve whales and manage whaling. A few years later the Japanese government joined the commission and continued to whale as they pleased. But, in 1972, the United Nations Conference on Human Environment adopted a ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling and another ten years later, the International Whaling Commission followed the United Nations and adopted a commercial whaling moratorium of their own. At this point, Japan, still a member of the IWC, withdrew from whaling under “Antarctic whaling” and began whaling under “research whaling (JARPA).” Under this new title, Japan was free to continue whaling for “research purposes.” Yet, even though Japan has assured that its whaling is necessary for various research purposes and solely those purposes, whale meat can be bought in many Japanese stores and markets for consumption by people.
The problem with Japan’s poorly disguised commercial whaling is the fact that it is being done in internationally protected waters known as the “whale sanctuary” in the Southern Ocean. Unfortunately, no government has yet taken direct action against Japan’s illegal whaling for reasons ranging from lack of resources and money to politically motivated disincentives to step back. As a result of this, the International Whaling Commission is divided between some countries who see through Japan’s façade and other countries, many of whom are “recruited” (some which don’t even border bodies of water) by Japan with the promise of money or other forms of payback for their loyalty to Japan and their whaling practices. But, many are becoming increasingly fed up with Japan’s corruption. Many being the people of Japan who are angry at their nation’s whaling practices that cost them 12 million U.S. dollars in taxpayer money a year minimum to continue the unnecessary practice.
Despite the myriad of reasons why commercial whaling should be discontinued, mercury may be the most important because of health reasons. Scientific research has shown high levels of mercury present in whale meat may cause brain damage and cancer in children and therefore should not be consumed. Surprisingly, Japan’s government, fully aware of these risks, continues to provide whale meat to its citizens. This is nothing new to Japan, which has been consuming dolphin meat, which also contains high mercury levels, for generations, even turning into a national crisis in the 1950’s with Minimata disease when thousands of locals consuming the meat were found with horrific birth and development defects. The only factor the Japanese government considers is money. This is where the Japanese government’s number one enemy, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, steps into the light. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, known as Sea Shepherd, is an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization with the mission to protect and conserve ecosystems and species in the world’s oceans. Sea Shepherd campaigns are validated by the United Nations World Charter for Nature sections 21-24 which states that individuals may act on the behalf of and enforce international conservation laws. Paul Watson founded Sea Shepard in 1977 with the intent of spending the rest of his life protecting the oceans and all who reside there. Under the watchful eye of Watson, Japan’s smooth flight of continual whale slaughter became quite turbulent. In 2002, Sea Shepherd and Paul Watson began a national campaign to hunt down the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctic waters, specifically inside the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary. Sea Shepherd, a non-governmental organization uses significant media coverage through a TV show, rapid speed of response, the UN World Charter for Nature, and some governmental influence with ally countries such as Australia to try and preserve and restore ecosystems and biodiversity in the oceans.
Sea Shepherd has effectively prevented the Japanese whalers from meeting their quota. Consequently, as the number of hunted whales decreases, so does the amount of money. Potentially, the Japanese continue to whale commercially because of the economic benefit. But, if Sea Shepherd continues to reduce the number of whales being hunted each year, when will Japanese whaling become economically unsustainable? Also, if Japanese whaling becomes harmful to Japan economically, will they stop or will they continue based on pride and tradition? If the results show that Sea Shepherd has in effect “sunk” the Japanese whaling fleet economically, the impact to Japan, as a whole, may be severe. Furthermore, recently the United Nations International Court of Justice came down with a ruling against Japanese whaling in the Antarctic of which Japan has said they will still try and resume their whaling practices for “research” purposes. To this, Sea Shepherd says they will be ready and waiting to defend the Antarctic Ocean Whale Sanctuary.