An international furor is brewing over a Japanese plan to kill humpback and fin whales inside a sanctuary for whales. But the United States has been surprisingly quiet -- too quiet.
Japan is due to announce a plan this month that will add humpback and fin whales to the growing list of whale species that it kills every season under the guise of "scientific research" -- a widely acknowledged cover for commercial whaling.
The program coincidentally started just a year after the 1986 ban on commercial whaling, achieved through the International Whaling Commission. The meat obtained from Japan's "scientific research" -- like the commercially killed whales of earlier days -- still ends up on supermarket shelves and in fancy restaurants.
In the past few weeks, Britain, New Zealand and Australia have all condemned Japan's latest blatant disregard for the International Whaling Commission, as well as its disregard for the Antarctic sanctuary where it intends to hunt the whales and for the whales' listing on the World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species. New Zealand has even threatened to take Japan to the International Court of Justice, in The Hague.
After weeks of silence on this issue, the United States has issued a démarche to Japan, asking it to stop "scientific" whaling. This is not enough. The United States has annually expressed opposition to Japanese "scientific whaling," yet it refuses to take steps to enforce the ban.
Moreover, the United States supports completion and adoption of a Revised Management Scheme: rules for the resumption of commercial whaling.
In other words, the United States is saying to Japan: If you promise to quit robbing the bank, we'll give you the money.
Why is the United States, in effect, acquiescing in a return to commercial whaling? A return to this cruel and disgusting practice is not inevitable.
Or perhaps it is inevitable -- perhaps other forces are at work.
Japan is desperately lobbying for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, for which it has U.S. support. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that "the United States unambiguously supports a permanent seat for Japan"; she has not made such a statement about other countries' lobbying for a seat.
Meanwhile, in the war in Iraq, Japan plays an active role in the U.S.-led "coalition forces."
In short, are international politics determining the fate of the world's whales?
During the 19-year ban on whaling, the United States has failed to effectively oppose the killing of some 25,000 whales -- 7,000 of which have been killed under "scientific whaling" programs. The U.S. inaction has in fact encouraged Japan to expand its whaling. In that country, whale meat is sold for up to $300 a pound.
Any plan that would legitimize commercial whaling -- any allowance of "scientific whaling" -- is unacceptable. It would lead to disaster for the world's surviving whale populations.
We urge the United States to use its political and economic clout to lead the world in enforcing the ban on whaling -- not negotiating for the ban's demise.
Tami Drake is campaign director of America's Whale Alliance, based in Ashland, Ore.
© 2005 Projo.com