BBC BLOGS - Richard Black's Earth Watch
« Previous | Main | Next »

Whaling words: Into the new

Richard Black | 10:32 UK time, Monday, 29 March 2010

Few things drive people who would like to see whaling end to distraction quite as much as the lack of engagement with the issue across Japanese society.

Their argument goes like this: continuing whaling is clearly not in the best interests of Japan as a nation, raising opprobrium in countries that are otherwise its friend while gaining virtually nothing in the way of meat; so even though whaling might be in the interests of the Fisheries Agency, which implements policies domestically and represents the country internationally, why don't other parts of the government or wider society weigh in, stand up for their interests, and get the practice shelved?

Demonstration_against_Sea_ShepherdActivists have made such arguments long into many a frustrated night. But still, within Japanese society, criticism of whaling is pretty much confined to the Tokyo outposts of Western NGOs.

Last year saw the publication of a book that adds something to the picture. It's called Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics and Diplomacy, and it's written not by anyone from the conservation community but by a Japanese academic, Professor Jun Morikawa, who's based at Rakuno Gakuen University near Sapporo and specialises in studying Japan's relationship with Africa.

I read the book earlier this year, and have just been to hear the professor lecture at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Summing it all up in one single blog post is not a simple task, because the thesis he outlines runs from the desks of Tokyo bureaucrats to the forests of Africa and the waters of the Antarctic.

But theses are some of the key points:

• Whaling is of no real importance to Japan, producing 0.2% of all the meat eaten in the country
• The authorities claim to base their arguments for whaling on science, but in fact invest heavily in emotive messages - for example, that whaling is an integral part of the national culture
• There is no national culture of whaling in Japan; there are local cultures, but there are also local cultures that regard whales as gods, where killing them would be unthinkable
• Successive governments have placed a high priority on ensuring a plentiful supply of fish through diplomacy, often building relationships with developing countries possessing productive coastal waters
• One part of these relationships is backing for Japan's position in all aspects of international affairs, from supporting its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council to voting with it in the International Whaling Commission
•The industry is perpetuated by the practice of amakudari, where retiring bureaucrats go on to take jobs in businesses that their successors are supposedly regulating
• Japan is a major consumer of all kinds of wildlife, sometimes destructively
• The status quo is helped along by a compliant media, while organisations such as Sea Shepherd also lend a hand by giving the Fisheries Agency ammunition with which to label anti-whaling groups as anti-Japanese

OK: I think I've got most of the important bits.

Most of these arguments - even the last, behind closed doors - have been made before, but mainly by Western environmentalists.

The potential importance of Jun Morikawa's book is that his background is not in the environmental movement, but in the academic study of politics and foreign relations; and that he is Japanese, and of an age and status that generally garner respect.

Whereas anti-whaling sentiment is often characterised in Japan as having cultural imperialist and even racist roots, the reasoning of a Japanese professor cannot be so easily categorised.

Whale_tailIn some ways, Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics and Diplomacy forms a counterpoint to another book published in 2008 with an even longer title - The Power of Words in International Relations: Birth of an Anti-Whaling Discourse.

If you're thinking that this doesn't sound like an easy read, you'd be right.

It's an unashamedly academic tome; the author, University of Sydney-based Dr Charlotte Epstein, comes - like Jun Morikawa - from the disciplines of politics and international relations rather than biology or conservation.

What she attempts to do is to plot, through analysing the language used about whales and whaling down the years, the transformation of the whale in Western society from a real living thing that real hunters caught in the oceans to an idea, an icon - the "superwhale", intelligent, kind, endangered - a totem of humankind's relationship with the environment.

One of the examples in the book is an advert that ran in the Los Angeles Times of 1974, advocating a boycott of Japanese goods.

With Dr Epstein as sushi-chef, the advert is sliced into morsels indicating how it transformed objective reality into a message better suited to the aims of the anti-whaling movement of the time - and to the US government of the time, for which Japan was the biggest economic rival and the Soviet Union the biggest military rival.

The juxtaposition of the phrases "The Japanese are the biggest whale killers" and "More than 2,000,000 whales have been killed in the last 50 years", for example, creates the impression that Japan was responsible for that toll; whereas history tells us that Norway and the UK played much bigger roles.

Here again: "Modern whaling is a savage, ruthless exercise, nothing like the romantic days of 19th Century whaling... the terror-stricken whales are... blown up in agonising death by grenade-tipped harpoons..."

There is no evidence, however, that the whales targeted in the19th Century lolled back with contented smiles and welcomed the hunters to throw their harpoons as soon as they realised how romantic a pursuit it was.

Romantic_whalingIt won't have escaped your notice that the "romantic" era lauded in the US-based advert was dominated by US fleets; and you'll probably have realised also that grenade-tipped harpoons were designed to kill whales in a few minutes, rather than the hours to death typical during the "romantic" Yankee whaling era.

Dr Epstein follows this pattern of discourse through blow by blow, as western NGOs and Western politicians shaped an identity of whalers as people who were both cruel and - more importantly - Japanese.

The relevance to the present is that this is the genesis of the identity of whaling that still pervades Western culture, distortions and all.

If it's hard to sum up the Morikawa book in a few sentences, it's doubly hard with the Epstein, which is much longer and which attempts to cover two fields - whaling and the language surrounding whaling - in one go. if you're enticed, you'll just have to read them.

So why might these books prove to be important?

It isn't about whether the authors are right or wrong - some readers will find plenty to abhor in the first and love the second, other readers will have it the other way round, and often interpretations of history and definitions of the right course of environmental action are matters of opinion anyway.

Where their importance potentially lies is in bringing fresh analyses to an arena that has in recent years become sterile and entrenched, and in which both sides arguably could benefit from a little more self-reflection and a little less easy bombast.

Professor Morikawa would clearly like his book to be taken up and discussed among a wider Japanese public - many of whom, from my own experiences, don't know anything about whaling apart from what they read in the newspapers (the compliant newspapers, to take his critical description), which is mainly articles about the latest "anti-Japanese" shenanigans in the Southern Ocean.

He'd also like to facilitate greater participation in discourse about Japan's whaling policies across the wider political classes, empowering ministries such as Foreign Affairs, Economy and Environment to become involved in the rights and wrongs of an issue in which he believes the official definition of "the national interest" is completely at odds with reality.

For that to happen, he'll have to publish a Japanese edition of his book - so far, he says, publishers are not queuing up to make this happen.

Charlotte Epstein's book has clearly not shifted opinion much in Australia, which remains the most implacable foe of Japanese whaling. So perhaps Jun Morikawa's won't in Japan either.

One other thing unites the two books: both will make for uncomfortable reading among the sectors that they criticise, explicitly or implicitly.

But this is part of their importance; and so is the fact that they are both cogently-argued theses coming from outside the the circle of "usual suspects".

Arguably, such contributions are sorely needed as we approach the June meeting at which governments inside the IWC will have to decide whether to embrace a limited, predictable amount of commercial whaling in place of the current stand-off.


or register to comment.

  • 1. At 2:58pm on 29 Mar 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    One of many issues in the oceans. Coral Reefs, Tuna and other fish stocks diminishing, shell fish diseased, etc. A comprehensive view should be taken and the energy used to fight these individual battles is wasted and could be better used in a coordinated effort to reach a policy that addressed the larger issues of which each of these makes up a portion. Each industry and nation is foscued on the parts that effect them and ignores that the systems are interconnected. As the Japanese bureaucrats transition from regulator to operator, no differently than in other countries and other industries, the system is maintained. Because this is such a small part of the Japanese fishing enterprises that it receives little attention in Japan. As we have read on this page, it is difficult to point at the practice of one nation when in all oceans and seas the harvesting of many populations continue even when the numbers indicated the species cannot be sustained. Synthetic foods may be the future. In most nations there are species that have been hunted to extinction. There are no indications that human beings have become any smarter.

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 3:55pm on 29 Mar 2010, freddawlanen wrote:

    Racist, anti-Japanese???
    As each day passes I'm becoming more and more anti-human.
    Our planet should be the one thing that can truly unite us all, instead due to greed (and that is the ONLY reason), we're destroying it and countless species at an alarming rate.
    You'd think that saving the great whales from wanton slaughter would be one of the easiest tasks, but our lack of any lawful regulation seems to prove my point, some call it history or politics, but as with most things it boils down to power and therefore, greed.

    The only way to stop whaling and the extermination of other species is by force and before you lefties cry too much, is the life of someone who deliberately goes out with the purpose of killing an endangered species purely for profit worth anything at all in the great scheme of things?
    If you think the answer is yes, then you need a reality check, there are too many people on this planet anyway, a majority of whom think that it is their 'right' to exist even if it comes at the cost of any other species.

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 5:59pm on 29 Mar 2010, Asterionella wrote:

    Thanks, sounds like interesting reading, I will try to find them, both!

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 8:20pm on 29 Mar 2010, TVGgirl wrote:

    Really interesting! Thanks for that.

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 11:01pm on 29 Mar 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Aside from all the other points, I think this one nails it on the head - not just in Japan, but the world over:

    "The industry is perpetuated by the practice of amakudari, where retiring bureaucrats go on to take jobs in businesses that their successors are supposedly regulating"

    The history lesson is interesting but really irrelevant. The history of man is plagued with 'wrong-doing' - and the past cannot be changed, but the future is ours to make.

    Unfortunately, as I said in an earlier post on a similar thread, the current organizations and enforcement mechanisms do not work - I don't believe they can be fixed. We need to treat Pariahs as Pariahs - if Norway wants to hunt whales - that is fine - they can live in isolation - same with Japan, which will find it very hard to live without raw materials, as they have none. Give them a choice - raw materials and markets or whale meat...I think they will make the right choice.



    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 00:59am on 30 Mar 2010, Martin wrote:

    There is no doubt that this is a complicated issue.

    I have lived in Japan for 6 years. My wife is Japanese. She is as anti-whaling as I am, considering the whole sordid business to be morally bankrupt, economically unnecessary, and akin to Japan's international reputation committing harakiri.


    Every year, during the whaling season, my wife literally spits venom at the TV whenever Sea Shepherd arrive on the scene. She HATES Sea Shepherd, with a degree of loathing I have never witnessed any other person or group stir in her.

    My work here in Japan brings me into contact with many everyday Japanese people and almost without exception the consensus is that Sea Shepherd are FAR WORSE than Al-Qaeda.


    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 10:18am on 30 Mar 2010, Borisnorris wrote:

    Frankly I have just about given up; mankind is hell bent on destruction of its environment and it won't stop until the present 'civilisation' collapses, along with the unsupportable level of the human population.

    As James Lovelock said on the radio this morning, the Earth WAS such a beautiful place'.

    Complain about this comment

  • 8. At 11:56am on 30 Mar 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    Whizzing through the academic discourse in about 120 seconds, ('cause it was a bit stodgy and overloaded with references), one can get a sense of what is really going on. The power of words is indeed a topic for debate. We use words like weapons, and within the discourse of whale conservation and other conservation, there is a war going on. Oh well, so long as the war stays strictly within the realm of clever words and not spilling over into actual violence, keep going.

    However, I would urge a note of caution. Just as the word can be suppressed in order to manipulate social behaviour, the word can also be too freely impregnated with new meanings to incite negative social behaviour.

    Complain about this comment

  • 9. At 1:00pm on 30 Mar 2010, BahamasSpurs wrote:

    This won't be a popular idea but the only way to make sure that the seas are completely devoid of life in the very near future is to try and farm as many sea dwelling species as possible so the oceans and their ecosystems actually have a chance to survive and breed properly again.
    Otherwise I just can't see a way that wild species will ever recover from over fishing

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 2:37pm on 30 Mar 2010, eddhind wrote:

    I think the whaling debate is a good example as a microcosm of issues surrounding food supplies world wide. As Borrisnorris says we are now at a point where we must consider whether we are overpopulated. In my mind this is likely, but we simply do not know. The only way we know whether 6 billion+ people can eat sustainably is if we all try it and see.

    Many of us may think we do eat sustainably but it is truly not the case for must of us (including myself). Next time you are eating a packaged food have a look at the ingredients and see if it contains palm oil. Many products do. Some palm oil is sustainably produced, but much is produced at the expense of primary rainforests (and its inhabitants) in Borneo. Being vegetarian isn't necessarily good for animals when you consider all the forest or heathland that needs to be cleared for those vegetables to be grown. We probably can't all eat organic. There simply isn't the space. I would be very careful before ruling out GM foodtsuffs which can increase productivity/sq hectare (although obviously we should analyse impacts each step of the way). Whaling is high profile because it is horrible to watch the slow death of a charasmatic species, I totally agree. But how would people feel about whale farms (that the Japanese are currently testing). Meat from these would be sustainable potentially. Then it is a matter of ethics, which vary from person to person and country to country.

    Banning unsustainable whaling would be one small step amongst a plethora that we need to take. We all need to make better choices about what we eat and we all need to ask retailers about their policies. We must do both of these things. Its especially hartd to take the moral high ground when we aren't behaving ethically ourselves. We have destroyed cod and herring populations in many UK waters so it is hard to preach to the Japanese about whales.

    Complain about this comment

  • 11. At 2:50pm on 30 Mar 2010, lburt wrote:

    It is unfortunate that people need these sorts of iconic notions to act...partly because it means there is a huge amount of inertia to overcome and partly because it means they are left with a uselessly oversimplified concept. Even the people that say they care about the ocean life in general...seem to hold it more as a concept of "nature verses man" (again, uselessly oversimplified).

    This doesn't change the fact that we need to be MUCH more careful with ocean life right now...whales, bluefin tuna, etc. I just hate that it gets or requires that it be reduced to such primitive concepts that it loses much of its original meaning.

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 3:43pm on 30 Mar 2010, manysummits wrote:

    Hello Ghost!

    I believe you have outlined the situation extremely well, and I urge all here to consider:

    "A comprehensive view should be taken and the energy used to fight these individual battles is wasted and could be better used in a coordinated effort to reach a policy that addressed the larger issues of which each of these makes up a portion." (Ghostofsichuan #1; my emphasis)

    I believe that "coordinated effort" could well be to give the environment rights, as envisaged in Christopher Stones original "Should Trees Have Standing" and in the new third edition, just released, which includes up to date information and opinion, for example, there is an article on 'Should the Climate Have Standing?'

    And there is more!

    My new mountaineering partner just recently sent me some information which links John Holdren, President Obama's science advisor, with Christopher Stone's ideas:

    "( – Since the 1970s, some radical environmentalists have argued that trees have legal rights and should be allowed to go to court to protect those rights.

    The idea has been endorsed by John P. Holdren, the man who now advises President Barack Obama on science and technology issues."!75F6190209FA8416!557.entry

    From this same link:

    "Stone’s article -- “Should Trees Have Standing?” -- which Holdren called a “tightly reasoned essay,” was published in the Southern California Law Review in 1972.

    In that article, Stone plainly states: “I am quite seriously proposing that we give legal rights to forests, oceans, rivers and other so-called ‘natural objects’ in the environment--indeed, to the natural environment as a whole.”

    Stone admits in the article that it may seem improbable to give legal rights to nonhuman objects, but likened it to finally giving rights to black Americans.

    “The fact is, that each time there is a movement to confer rights onto some new ‘entity,’ the proposal is bound to sound odd or frightening or laughable,” Stone wrote.

    “This is partly because until the rightless (sic) thing receives its rights, we cannot see it as anything but a thing for the use of ‘us’--those who are holding rights at the time . . . Such is the way the slave South looked upon the black.”

    I think the time is now to enact legislation, perhaps at the level of the United Nations Environment Program, and to create an International Court for the Environment (ICE), as I have suggested before.

    The UN could do this now, because even with an International Court for the Environment, it would have no teeth - and so be acceptable to the community of nation-states, which needs an excuse to let this happen.

    But the mere existence of rights for the ecosphere, and of an International Court would be enough for now, and a true platform from which to move the world.

    Ghost's #1 also mentions corals, which is in the news just now, and which CITIES also rejected protecting. Clearly these orgaizations are moribund, and need to be augmented at the least by enacting into international law the seminal idea of Christopher Stone.

    For those who might be interested in the coral situation, I will provide two links, one to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's coral website, and on to a recent Associated Press article on the worsening state of the world's coral reefs:

    "What if all coral reefs die? Experts are scared"

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    Let's get on with this. I think this is the crack in the door - the way to the future.

    - Manysummits -

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 3:59pm on 30 Mar 2010, manysummits wrote:

    For the sake of emphasis, and because 'Borisnorris' #7 mentioned James Lovelock:

    From "The Vanishing Face of Gaia," (2009), by James Lovelock:

    Rising food prices, like the first gusts of a great storm, herald the famine soon due."

    - 'Food and Living Space' p.86; Chapter 4.

    From the Associated Press' Brian Skoloff, March 25, 2010:

    ""Fish will become a luxury good," said Cassandra deYoung of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. "You already have a billion people who are facing hunger, and this is just going to aggravate the situation," she added. "We will not be able to maintain food security around the world."

    - Manysummits -

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 4:59pm on 30 Mar 2010, Scott0962 wrote:

    re# 5. At 11:01pm on 29 Mar 2010, LarryKealey wrote:

    "We need to treat Pariahs as Pariahs - if Norway wants to hunt whales - that is fine - they can live in isolation - same with Japan, which will find it very hard to live without raw materials, as they have none. Give them a choice - raw materials and markets or whale meat...I think they will make the right choice."

    That policy was tried before to influence Japan to abandon it's invasion of China. The U.S. and other western nations placed an embargo on oil, metals and other strategic materials that Japan needed to survive as a modern nation. The result was that Japan saw itself as being backed into a corner with no choice but to take the natural resources it needed by force.

    Just because you think you know what the right choice is doesn't mean the other guy will make the same choice. If the Japanese thought as we do they would agree to a temporary moratorium on tuna fishing in order to rebuild stocks and then support fishing at a sustainable level to ensure tasty sushi for future generations; instead they oppose a moratorium or any restrictions which reduce the supply of tuna for their domestic market. They're as addicted to eating fish as Americans are to driving their cars.

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 5:17pm on 30 Mar 2010, Tenney Naumer wrote:

    Really good work, again. You have set yourself a high standard and continue to follow it. Nice to see constant moral courage in a science writer. Thanks!

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 7:18pm on 30 Mar 2010, buu88 wrote:

    As a Japanese-American, whaling was a topic largely off my radar screen until recently. Living in Japan for the past 10 years and getting up to speed on the controversy in the news, I think this article gets to the heart of the issue in that both sides have been disingenuous.

    On the side of Japan (obviously not the only whaling country), "scientific whaling" has been a thinly veiled cover for commercial whaling. Moreover, as indicated, whaling has only been a traditional practice limited to certain coastal regions of Japan throughout history; it was never an historically integral, national culture, as some have tried to portray it. It wasn't till very recently, after the devastation and food shortages of WWII that whale meat arrived on the national scene to provide a cheap source of protein and to be served to hungry children in school lunches --all expressly approved by Gen. Douglas MacArthur of the American occupation. I also agree with Prof. Morikawa that taxpayer money flowing in to support the Institute of Cetacean Research needs to be scrutinized for wasteful spending.

    On the anti-whaling side, the IWC was founded in 1946 expressly to regulate whaling. The tide began to turn in the 1970s when whales became a poster child of the conservation movement, an "icon" as indicated by Dr. Epstein, and the IWC was increasingly hijacked by anti-whaling countries bent on a blanket ban on all whaling and recruited allied countries, even those that have no connection to fishing/whaling. The upshot was the moratorium of 1986. This situation has caused a polarization and paralysis of the IWC and efforts to regulate whaling.

    Another topic is the moral ramifications. While I believe that all endangered animals should be fully protected, I have not quite understood the special status accorded to whales, non-endangered and endangered alike. Sure, they are beautiful and awe-inspiring creatures, but wouldn't a Hindu say the same thing about cows? Sure, they are intelligent, but so are pigs, which can be smart as dogs. (I draw the line at dolphins --their super-intelligence making some say they should be classified as non-human persons) Sure, whaling can be quite bloody, but so is a slaughterhouse for cows and pigs.

    So how to remedy this situation and focus time, energy, and money on other pressing issues such as climate change (which happens to also affect aforementioned coral reefs, fish stocks...)? I had been thinking that the IWC should condone sustainable commercial whaling (of non-endangered species, of course) by the few remaining counties, namely Iceland, Norway, and Japan, and in turn, these countries should scale back the current number of catches. I was therefore pleasantly surprised that a similar compromise plan was tabled and is being studied at the IWC currently. Browbeating Japan has not worked, and the antics of Sea Shepherd are having an opposite effect. Mainly, this is due to the defensiveness and siege mentality common in Asia.

    At least in the case of Japan, I believe that whaling is a tradition that is on the way out anyway. The generation that grew up on whale meat is heading into their twilight years, and current young people hardly eat whale meat, if at all (also eating less fish). Thus, it will be even harder to rationalize taxpayer money to support the whaling program in Japan. Hopefully, more people like Prof. Morikawa will speak out to elucidate the general population and some type of compromise plan on whaling can calm the waters while still protecting whales in the long run.

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 7:31pm on 30 Mar 2010, ghostofsichuan wrote:


    It is disappointing to have reached a point where exact applications and protections much be in place to prevent the distruction of the environments. One will read in many instances that laws are already in place but not enforced so the question of the effectiveness of the laws should be considered. I see people spend a great deal of organizing effort and money to have some protective law or regulation passed and they think that something has been accomplsihed when in a relatively short time there are documented incidences of the law or regulation being violated while the responsible government stalls or does nothing toward enforcement. This may be a major problem with coal from mine safety to emissions. I keep thinking of the old Confucian model where the community sets the expectations for acceptable behaviors and those who violate these are outcasts in that society. Today we complain to some level of government that requires forms and documentation and many efforts that will or will not be addressed at some later date as the damage continues. The "market" is only a correcting factor when the people simply seek cheaper or better alternatives. What people have is purchasing power and that power can redirect industries. Choice provides for changes and the bringing of newer technologies to market will provide for change. The lobbyist working at governments want protection and advantage, i.e., restricted competition and unenforced or ineffective regulation. Threaten the job of a bureaucrat and things change, they know their political bosses will scapegoat them to preserve themselves. It is just the state of affairs.

    A Dream of Mountaineering
    Bai Juyi 772-846

    At night, in my dream, I stoutly climbed a mountain
    Going out alone with my staff of holly-wood.
    A thousand crags, a hundred hundred valleys--
    In my dream-journey none were unexplored
    And all the while my feet never grew tired
    And my step was as strong as in my young days.
    Can it be that when the mind travels backward
    The body also returns to its old state?
    And can it be, as between body and soul,
    That the body may languish, while the soul is still strong?
    Soul and body--both are vanities;
    Dreaming and waking--both alike unreal.
    In the day my feet are palsied and tottering;
    In the night my steps go striding over the hills.
    As day and night are divided in equal parts--
    Between the two, I get as much as I lose.

    Complain about this comment

  • 18. At 8:28pm on 30 Mar 2010, sensiblegrannie wrote:

    hello manysummits

    James Lovelock appears to be more realistic than most. I agree with his concept that we humans cannot save the planet. Enjoy the time we have left. Try always, to do the right thing.

    Fish is already a luxury food. Every time we eat a piece of fish, we should savour it and not waste a morsel. Dead fish should never be thrown back into the sea because of being the wrong size or the wrong sort. Fish is fish is fish.

    Complain about this comment

  • 19. At 10:24pm on 30 Mar 2010, T wrote:

    Fish and whale are resources. You cannot deny nation of this resource. The only option is sustainable hunting.

    As the IWC is now, it does no good to either whale nor man. Instead of the ban, quotas should be issued to hunter nations.

    It is illogical for "environmentalist" to oppose this.

    Complain about this comment

  • 20. At 10:57pm on 30 Mar 2010, brethrenpriestess wrote:

    buu88 has some great points. Agreed!

    Thanks also to the author of the original article. This is a great, timely analysis of a complex issue, and the two books seem to be important voices in the debate. Since I probably won't read them both, I'm glad for the summary! Next, I'd like to see mention of the Cove (movie) and how that plays into these conversations....

    Complain about this comment

  • 21. At 11:09pm on 30 Mar 2010, Bryan wrote:

    Thank you Richard, that's a very broad perspective on the issue and informative, rather than selective; always good for journalism.

    On a much deeper point, I've always taken a view that taking non-human life to feed on is the default stance. Making such remarks, in the past I've been asked whether I'm a pro-whaler, and my answer would be a defiant 'no'. Or at least, I'm no more pro-whaling than I'm pro-cowing or pro-pigging. I enjoy my sunday roast, but I don't call myself a pro-cowing. I consider such food culture to be the default, making the 'anti' stance to be the odd one out.

    In the grand scheme of things, the biggest question our society must answer (and so far failed as a unit) is whether it's right to take an innocent life to fulfill our desires. I'm sure everybody will have their take on it - honestly or dishonestly - but we can't escape from the fact that all nations engage in their own versions of this slaughter of the innocent. This, from the point of view of the virtues of life, is a reality we must face, favourably or otherwise.

    The problem with anti-whaling, as I see it, is that it is particularly selective in mounting an offensive. There are varying views even within the anti camp, so much so that the anti side does not have a united front at all. For me, this just goes to show that nothing is as black&white as our typical campaigner makes it out to be. And rightly so; if we truly confronted this issue at home, the chances are that the industrial level slaughter of cows and pigs would've long gone, on the point of morality alone.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not making a point on what's right and wrong. Rather, I'm pointing at the fact that even we can't provide a united front on the matter of breeding millions of innocent mammals just to slaughter them.

    We can't even get our own people (and nation) to confront it and even stop it. How can we expect us to convince foreigners to stop theirs? I think sometimes this whole debate is lost somewhere in the technicality of the method of killing or sustainable numbers etc. Push comes to shove, all of that is a distraction to the more fundamental question of the human behaviour - that's OUR behaviour, never mind the Japanese.

    Until we get our heads around that, I wouldn't be surprised if we're viewed as anti-whatever-nation with regards to the food culture. Ultimately, this is about what one sees as food. Extinction and harpoon killing this that and the other, are nothing more than just a tail-end of this debate which has been conveniently positioned to make sense of our anti-whaling sentiments. The more I think about it, the more blinding obvious that becomes.

    When the battle is won at home, we can start thinking about winning it abroad. Until then, I suspect that the irony seen through the eyes of the outsiders would be too obvious for us to make any impact. We just don't see it ourselves because... well, because it's us ourselves.

    Complain about this comment

  • 22. At 11:48pm on 30 Mar 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Your history needs a little work, but regardless...

    It was not trade embargo that Japan sought - it was empire - they did not want to pay for raw materials, they wanted to take them, subjugate peoples, enslave them...the list of atrocities committed by Japan during WWII and before goes on and on. It was ruthless and brutal. Bushito.

    If the Japanese want to become an 'empire' again as they did some 60 years ago, we'll take them right back out - and this time, we won't pay to rebuild them, we will leave them wallowing in the mud and radioactive debris...



    Complain about this comment

  • 23. At 11:51pm on 30 Mar 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Lets not forget Norway, with their 'high and mighty, righteous attitude...

    As for America, I do have an SUV, I need one, but only drive it rarely - when I need it. I also have a small car which I use for most things...

    Lets not confuse these real environmental issues with CO2...



    Complain about this comment

  • 24. At 00:50am on 31 Mar 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    Sea Shepherd - if they didn't exist the whale meat marketing campaign would have to invent them.

    Complain about this comment

  • 25. At 02:56am on 31 Mar 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To Ghost #17:

    Thank you for that poem: "A Dream of Mountaineering"!

    Underacanoe and I just read it this minute while here at our local library with Cloudrunner. So true - and over the centuries, we connect.

    Yes, it is a shame we seem to need these laws, and even having them, that they are so often disregarded. I am simply groping in the dark for something we haven't tried. Possibly it will make no difference, but there is this - we will have tried.

    I remember so many instances in my life when a bold front was all that was left - but it was enough.

    We will give the environment rights at the highest level at which a civil society can act - at the United Nations, and, like the fairly new International Criminal Court at The Hague, we will have set the standard.

    If this standard is then broken, it will be at least clear that the lawbreakers are just that.

    Perhaps Confucious would approve - for without teeth the International Criminal Court cannot bring the political head of the Sudan to trial, and I imagine that the possible International Court for the Environment will be unable to bring malefactors to justice - but they would have to operate in the full knowledge that Society disapproves - and perhaps that will one day be enough.

    Perhaps with these Institutions in place - people will slowly stop denigrating themselves - will not feel as powerless.

    The head of the Sudan has been centered for shame. Perhaps this is enough? I am not a believer in punishment, or in retribution. Both are pointless and counterproductive, making of the one harmed - a perpetrator.

    Let us give life to this new idea of Christopher Stone's, and then let us take the next step, and in Conrad Kain fashion, one just a little higher than the last.

    In my seven years as a four season mountain and desert explorer, I truly found that each footfall was a small work of art - and that is what made all the difference - not just the summit - but each footstep. That is what one is truly a specialist in after all those climbs - putting one foot in front of the other.

    "Contemplatio in actione" (The Contemplative in action)

    - Manysummits -

    Complain about this comment

  • 26. At 03:04am on 31 Mar 2010, xtragrumpymike2 wrote:

    23. At 11:51pm on 30 Mar 2010, LarryKealey wrote:

    "Lets not forget Norway, with their 'high and mighty, righteous attitude..."

    Doesn't every country/nation at some time or other adopt a "high and mighty, moral high ground attitude" about something or other that happened in the past?

    Here in New Zealand when the "pioneers" arrived, they found a country with magnificent forests of (Kauri) trees. High commercial value at the time and when they cut most of them down, now high commercial land for our No. 1 Export, Dairy (and other) Farming without which our economy would be in serious trouble and yet we complain about de-forestation in other parts of the world!
    Just one example. I'm sure you can think of many others.
    We even had Whaling stations here, too.

    Complain about this comment

  • 27. At 03:07am on 31 Mar 2010, manysummits wrote:

    To sensiblegrannie #18:

    James Lovelock is very realistic in an intellectual way, but he is not a leader of men - this much I can say.

    We will come very close to the edge as a species. Many individuals will die, are dying, or have already died needlessly.

    But it is the edge which will focus us - the peering into the abyss. And this is the only thing which will focus us.

    It has this advantage - it is almost sure to work, for it is amongst our deepest instincts.

    How to put it? There are no clumsy mountaineers - something like that.

    Caving in before the blow is an intellectual extravagance.

    Most of us are not so far gone that we cannot rally quickly when the time is right.

    The waiting is hard.

    - Manysummits -

    Complain about this comment

  • 28. At 03:58am on 31 Mar 2010, xtragrumpymike2 wrote:

    27. At 03:07am on 31 Mar 2010, manysummits wrote:
    "Caving in before the blow is an intellectual extravagance."

    This has been put other ways.
    "Worry is interest paid on debts not yet due"

    I prefer yours, very important to me at this moment.

    Complain about this comment

  • 29. At 04:18am on 31 Mar 2010, xtragrumpymike2 wrote:

    24. At 00:50am on 31 Mar 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "Sea Shepherd - if they didn't exist the whale meat marketing campaign would have to invent them."
    Interesting thought!
    Whenever there is a "rule" written, someone has to monitor it.
    A friend of mine used to say:-
    "Rules are made for "wise men" and the strict observance of fools."
    The quote doesn't mention "greedy" men!.
    As you say, invent an "enemy" diverts attention away from the "doer" of the deed. Pity we seem to be very short on "wise" men!

    Complain about this comment

  • 30. At 11:08am on 31 Mar 2010, eddhind wrote:

    Very good blog again Richard.

    There is a lot of debate other whether whaling is a keynote issue or not. By focusing on this are we ignoring wider environmental issues?

    Maybe... but maybe not...

    If this is an issue people feel passionately about then they should get involved. That is all we can really ask. Although faking your own assassination attempt is a little bit far Mr Paul Watson!!!

    All we can continue to do is our bit. And if our bit includes educating others and spreading the environmental world (intelligently and sensitively through bottom-up methods) then all the better!

    Keep up the good work people. I will try to do the same!

    Complain about this comment

  • 31. At 11:48am on 31 Mar 2010, rossglory wrote:


    to really get a feel for how well organised these campaigns of misinformation and manipulation can be check out john mashey's work. most recent is 'crescendo climategate cacophony' but the processes apply to many areas - e.g. tobacco, bse, pesticides and of course whaling - where there is a vested interest in the common prole (like me!) not understanding the truth.

    Complain about this comment

  • 32. At 12:26pm on 31 Mar 2010, simon-swede wrote:

    xxtragrumpymike2 at #26

    A propos New Zealand and the 'pioneer spirit', have you seen the kiwi hedgehog article in the Green Room?

    So much for 'acclimatisation'!

    Complain about this comment

  • 33. At 1:41pm on 31 Mar 2010, rossglory wrote:

    Apart from anything else, the toxicity of whale meat should be enough to get it banned in any country.

    Complain about this comment

  • 34. At 2:54pm on 31 Mar 2010, rossglory wrote:

    on marine matters, there was an interesting piece in the guardian about the chagos nature reserve. unsurprisingly the chagossians don't appear to be happy with the govt proposal which does not allow them to return.

    Complain about this comment

  • 35. At 00:18am on 01 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @rossglory #31

    Misinformation isn't the problem here.

    Misinformation hurts Sea Shepherd's credibility, and could potentially make Peter Bethune's life very awkward.

    But the Japanese general public would be just as angry with the real story of stink bombs so stinky that people can literally not do the job that the Japanese general public want done, the first stages of preparing food for what has become an important national dish.

    Complain about this comment

  • 36. At 03:47am on 01 Apr 2010, Michael wrote:

    I don't get it. The Japanese do not hunt nor consume that much Whale Meat. Why is it that one country or two or three can tell other people what to do, what to eat, or what to watch.

    These activist have nothing better to do then act like a bunch of idiots. The Japanese culture has been around a lot longer then these idiot activist, such as green peace and etc.

    Why not tell the French to stop eating baby cows? Why only target the Japanese.

    The Japanese have also funded a lot of money to sea preservation as well. And this is not stated. There are lots of people in this world that eat or consume things that harm our world. Not that is a great thing, but who are these activist to tell anyone what to do or eat? They don't tell you what to do or eat do they?

    Complain about this comment

  • 37. At 11:57am on 01 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @Michael #36

    Sea Shepherd's methods are idiotic and counterproductive. But their stated primary aim, of protecting "endangered marine species and ecosystems", is not. The preventable loss of any species is wrong, and hurts everyone.

    I turn your question around. The conservation movement as a whole campaigns to protect many species and ecosystems. Why should commercially valuable species be exempt? Especially when conservationists have sometimes contributed to continued use of commercially valuable species to everyone's satisfaction?

    The real difference between Sea Shepherd and the whalers is that the whalers believe that their harvest is sustainable. Unfortunately sincere differences in the interpretation of the science mean that this issue is not easily resolved.

    I hope you see how this is different from the situation with cattle farming.

    Complain about this comment

  • 38. At 7:00pm on 01 Apr 2010, rossglory wrote:

    #35 janebasingstoke

    i must admit i've never come across sea shepherd before so will have to read up some. my comment was really related to your idea that if they didn;t exist they would probably be invented!

    when i read john mashey's stuff sometimes it has the appearance of conspiracy paranoia.....but when you stand back it's clear that a lot of work and money (according to an internal email, the api allocated 5m USD to be spent over two years on a disinformation campaign) go into corporate messages that are totally unrelated to the truth. and of course, given the nature of corporations that is exactly what you should expect. bit off topic i know.

    Complain about this comment

  • 39. At 6:47pm on 03 Apr 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #37 JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    "The preventable loss of any species is wrong, and hurts everyone."

    Is it wrong and it hurts everyone, or wrong because it hurts everyone?

    If the former, what makes the loss of a species wrong?
    If the latter, would it be OK if the loss of a species did a lot of good?

    There are many intelligent people on this blog. I'd love it if they'd address an issue I keep trying to raise: species aren't sentient, and it really doesn't matter if we harm non-sentient things. You seem to recognize that already by using the word 'hurts' -- only sentient things can be hurt, so you mention everyone who can be hurt rather than the species itself, which can't.

    Whales seem to be intelligent, socially-attached, highly sensitive animals, so it's cruel to kill them. It's much more important to prevent sentient individual whales from being killed than to concern ourselves with this or that whale species.

    I mention it because ecological movements discredit themselves with their own mysticism and wooly-brained confusion between feeling animals and abstract classes of organisms. It's really hard to take them seriously. (Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins had deep disagreements over evolutionary theory, but they agreed "Gaia" was silly baloney.) When ecological movements resort to "Sea Shepherd methods", sensible people have to take them seriously -- but they seriously want to lock 'em up rather than pay attention to their goals. I often wonder if they've given their own goals any real thought.

    Complain about this comment

  • 40. At 7:51pm on 03 Apr 2010, bowmanthebard wrote:

    #36 Michael wrote:

    "Why not tell the French to stop eating baby cows? Why only target the Japanese."

    And let's remind the Austrians of Julie Andrews' "Favorite Things" -- which includes eating baby cows.

    Complain about this comment

  • 41. At 12:16pm on 06 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:


    OK, let's look at a common example of an exception to my "The preventable loss of any species is wrong, and hurts everyone" (#37).

    Take smallpox. Nasty virus, don't want it running around in the wild.

    But in the lab it is potentially useful, even if you aren't anticipating having to deal with bioterrorism or biological warfare. Smallpox is a de facto expert on the human immune system. Its expertise has the potential to be studied and then used to save lives.

    So I would be very wary of writing off any species. And I haven't even touched on the unpredictability of mucking about with ecosystems.

    Complain about this comment

  • 42. At 12:47pm on 06 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:


    "and schnitzel with noodles"

    Set in Salzburg with Maria von Trapp presented as a down-to-earth Salzburg girl. So why are you assuming the song refers to posh Viennese schnitzel based on veal rather than the more modest Salzburg schnitzel based on bacon?

    Complain about this comment

  • 43. At 7:35pm on 06 Apr 2010, knownought wrote:

    At last, my moment in the sun!

    Re-Viennese Schnitzel. Actually known as 'Weiner Scnitzel' which means 'Pork Escalope' and nothing to do with veal, still meat from an animal though. The 'Weiner' element of course is Austrian for Vienna and not for veal as it is popularly, but incorrectly, attributed.

    Trust me on this one, I have an Austrian husband and and even more Austrian (if that's possible) mother-in-law!!!!


    Complain about this comment

  • 44. At 10:13pm on 06 Apr 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Many older, more traditional Japanese cultures consider the whale to be sacred. Were you aware of that? I also much prefer Greenpeace protecting the whales rather than lobbying for carbon taxes and cap and trade - which have no hope of solving any problems whatsoever.

    There are also cannibals in Kalimantan today - its it wrong to tell them they can't hunt, kill and eat any human they can find?

    Where to draw the line? Good question - but with regards to whales, clearly only a small percentage of the 'traditional' numbers exist today - lets give them a break - no least until the population rebounds...say 50 years or so...

    We need also do the same with a number of other species - although I don't believe baby cows are endangered - or even under threat.



    Complain about this comment

  • 45. At 10:27pm on 06 Apr 2010, LarryKealey wrote:


    Aren't you going a bit far with smallpox??? If we could eradicate it, we certainly would not need it in the lab - nor would it be good to have it in a lab, as eventually it would get out - and by then, we may not have any immunity to it...

    Eventually, one day, something really really bad is going to get out of one of those labs - and we are all going to pay the price for it.

    Query - is a virus life? How do we define life? everything else we describe with species - but not, what is a virus, and why should we protect smallpox?

    I can see not mucking with bacteria...but viruses?

    Please enlighten me.



    Complain about this comment

  • 46. At 4:24pm on 07 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #45

    Smallpox has been granted a stay of execution more than once.

    I don't know the full details but I believe this is partly because rogue states, potential bioterrorists or illegal arms dealers may already have some. Having their own virus samples will give doctors a head start in tackling any such use.

    But I also understand that investigating smallpox has the potential to be used to fight other pathogens using similar tricks against our immune systems and perhaps even help with tackling cancer. And yes, we are talking saving many many lives here.

    As for our resistance - well I understand cowpox based vaccines are the origin of the word "vaccine".

    Complain about this comment

  • 47. At 11:22am on 08 Apr 2010, JaneBasingstoke wrote:

    @LarryKealey #45

    To expand a bit on my #46.

    As to viruses and their status with respect to life, well as I have commented on previous threads, the situation is weird. And they raise another awkward question, what exactly constitutes an organism.

    Think of a hermit crab. Always comes with something else's discarded shell.

    Think of coral. Most corals can't survive for long without its symbiotic algae, but can swap their algae over.

    Think of lichen. More symbiosis, this time between fungi and algae.

    Think of plants. The symbiosis has been around for so long that the chloroplast doesn't count as a separate organism.

    Now take a second look at viruses. They only truly live when they have hijacked a host cell. You could describe the in between stage, when the virus is just a protein envelope containing some nucleic acid, as a spore, and the infected host cell as the true virus.

    Viruses have their place. They are important in horizontal transfer of genes. A significant proportion of the human genome originated from viruses (particularly retroviruses) (mutation is not the only source of genetic variation in our evolutionary history).

    Just as a point of interest, there are also a group of viruses that are sometimes very useful. Phages "eat" bacteria, and the right phage can sometimes be used to treat a bacterial infection.

    Complain about this comment

  • 48. At 05:26am on 12 Apr 2010, HumanityRules wrote:

    Let me get this right, the Japanese really want to support a ban on whaling it's just that they don't know they do?

    This represents a real move away from an anti-Japanese position?

    The Japanese are no longer to be considered evil, they're just ignorant!

    In what way does this challenge the supposed moral superiority of the western anti-whaling brigade?

    Well done Richard.

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS


Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.