A Ruling to Protect Whales

The Editorial Board. (2014). A Ruling to Protect Whales. The New York Times, The Opinion Pages, April 1, 2014. Last Assessed October 26, 2014 at http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/opinion/a-ruling-to-protect-whales.html

In this article, Japan was slapped with orders by the International Whaling Commission to stop its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Japan faced international condemnation for its killing of endangered whale species, and its scientific whaling programs were dismissed as fronts for commercial whaling, in light of a lack of visible results coming from such research. This article is evidently written in favor of the IWC, with the writer justifying the IWC “rightly [ordering] Japan to stop its whaling activities” and the writer advising Japan to stop its whaling activities so as to avoid further public condemnation.

This article is interesting because it presents a case of Japan being portrayed in a very negative light with regards to its relation with nature – i.e. its interaction with whales and its practice of whaling is condemned and seen as being un-environmental, a picture very unlike that we have seen in other aspects of the environmental discourse, where the Japanese tend to be lauded as an example to follow – in waste disposal, efficient energy usage and the like. Here, Japan does not come across as a national in harmony with nature, but rather existing in opposition to nature, whereby its relation with nature is characterized by unsustainable extraction and exploitation of nature.

At the same time, we see quite a bit of discrepancy and inconsistencies in the IWC’s logic behind conservation and anti-whaling. The ruling of the IWC was justified on the grounds of protecting endangered species, and Japan was issued a court order to revoke all whaling licenses. Yet, the four species of whales targeted for Japanese research – Minke, Sei, Bryde’s and Sperm – are not considered endangered despite their subjection to heavy whaling[1]. It is then questionable as to why these whale species should be protected from whaling activities, and questions the rationale behind IWC’s rulings. A representative of New Zealand was quoted saying that “The size of the whale populations is irrelevant. My government’s policy is that not a single whale should be killed; I ask the IWC to adopt measures in harmony with this policy.[2]“Such discrepancies in data and discourse cast more ambiguity on the issue of whaling and the rationale behind it.

While attitudes towards nature are critical in ensuring that human-nature interactions are carried out in a sustainable manner, the issue of whaling also reveals how interactions with nature are greatly determined by the society’s view on nature and the tendency to assign value to certain aspects of nature over others[3]. It also sheds light on how nature resources can be understood very differently by different people(s) based on history/ culture etc., thereby throwing into question the applicability of using international yardsticks to judge how green or how in sync with nature a country is.

[1] Status of Whales, International Whaling Commission website. Last Assessed October 26, 2014 at http://iwc.int/index.php?cID=status

[2] Nagasaki, Fukuzo. 1994. Pro- and Anti- Whaling Attitudes as Revealed in Public Opinion Pall, Public Perception of Whaling, ICR, 1994. Last Assessed October 26, 2014 at  http://luna.pos.to/whale/icr_pub_pall.html

[3] Kirby, Peter Wynn. (2011). Troubled Natures: Waste, Environment, Japan. University of Hawai’i Press, p. 71.