Did Outsider Pressure Speed The End Of Japan’s Antarctic Whaling—Or Prolong It?

February 28th, 2011 | 10 Comments

Japanese Whaling Ship

Japan’s Antarctic whalers have given up the season early, having killed few whales.

But I wonder: If Westerners had ignored Japan’s whaling, would its whaling have died sooner, of its own internal economic problems?

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, whose boats have for several years harassed Japan’s whaling vessels in the Antarctic, claim victory http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/news-110217-1.html.

Sea Shepherd contended as recently as Feb. 19, 2011, that, “The Japanese government is posturing and talking big in an effort to save face. The reality is that the Japanese whaling industry is an antiquated, dying industry.”

That’s my point: 1) whaling is a dying industry, 2) whaling has been forced to “save face.” Forcing Japan to save face distracts Japan’s fisheries officials and public from focusing on the fact that whaling loses money.

I am not saying Western protest has not been felt. I’m saying it has. My question is whether that has caused push-back that has delayed modernization in Japanese policy.
Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace Japan, wrote on Feb 22 http://bit.ly/eYcXic, that for the past decade he and his colleagues have attacked whaling at its economic core, “showing the Japanese public the corruption that is rife inside the whaling industry. It’s Japanese taxpayer’s money that is continuing to bankroll ocean destruction, through the subsidies required to put the fleet to sea every year. As Japanese people become more aware of the corruption that has been propping their government’s bogus ‘scientific’ whaling, they are also becoming increasingly more vocal about ending it.”
If I were a member of Japan’s public, I might be more outraged by foreigners telling Japan what to do, but more convinced that whaling should end if I learned of wasted money and corrupt officials.

Japan’s officials have never apologized to foreign critics for whaling (or for excessive tuna fishing), but Greenpeace Japan reports that because it exposed internal scandals, “several Fisheries Agency officials publicly apologized for taking whale meat as gifts.” The second in command of the agency subsequently left his job. “We are seeing many signs that Japan no longer wants to go whaling,” says Junichi Sato, “Its current economic climate is just the tip of the iceberg.” The other problem: whale meat isn’t selling, and even before this hunting season, Japan was faced with what Greenpeace Japan called a, “ridiculously excessive stockpile of frozen whale meat.”

Sato, however, believes pressure must be maintained both from inside and outside Japan.

Back in May, the New York Times ran an article by Martin Fackler (http://nyti.ms/aS3keR) which explained that, “While few Japanese these days actually eat whale, criticism of the whale hunts has long been resented here as a form of Western cultural imperialism. Whaling was… a rare issue where Tokyo could appeal to conservatives by waving the flag and saying no to Washington.” In Fackler’s article, a lawmaker from the northern island of Hokkaido named Tadamasa Kodaira says—in reference to Sea Shepherd’s boats harassing Japan’s whalers—“We can’t change now because it would look like giving in.”
I realize it’s not that simple. Inside Japan, some say the real reason the ministry wants to keep the whaling program going is to secure cushy retirement jobs for ministry officials. “It is really just protecting bureaucratic self-interest,” said Atsushi Ishii, a professor of environmental politics at Tohoku University in Sendai.
So back to the question: Does outside protest speed or slow the demise of whaling? Let’s ask Isao Kondo, 83, retired after a career as a manager at the now-defunct Japan Whaling Company. Fackler quotes him as saying, “Japan doesn’t like being told what to do. But like it or not, whaling is dying.”

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10 Responses to “Did Outsider Pressure Speed The End Of Japan’s Antarctic Whaling—Or Prolong It?”

  1. Kathryn says:

    That is a fascinating question and one which we should carefully consider as environmental advocates. I hope you’ll ask it at PIELC this weekend; very much looking forward to hearing your address.

  2. I love this entry because it provides a simple reminder to keep our own ethnocentrity in check and to always examine the motives and reasoning driving our activism. I still believe that outreach and education are the reasons humans are ever able to generate positive changes or to cease negative ones. Still, we can sometimes get in our own way, and I think that we need to discuss and coordinate our approach collectively in order to be effective. I also understand that stopping to have such discussions and to “make plans” is difficult when we feel such urgency. But we have to take time to be observant and to notice the subtle changes that indicate when urgency *may* be diminishing. However, industrial fishing, as well as, whaling has continued far too long and regardless of what is at the root of the decline, I wish we’d seen changes sooner. I realize that posting things like this on Facebook is likely futile, but it seems to be an addiction I’m not ready to relinquish. So, I posted your entry this A.M. One respondent said, “Consider that some say that slavery would have ended soon, and peacefully, with no Civil War, if the North had not pressured the South. In a sense, you never know about these things. But for years, it has looked like the Japanese government has really wanted its whaling.”
    I’ll think more about how I would like to respond after I’m past the ugency of six grants that are due today. But thank you very much, Mr. Safina for asking us to stop and think at all.

  3. Mike Lorden says:

    Carl, I wonder the same thing. Before going to Taiji to witness the drive fishery, I read a book on their culture from a businessman’s perspective. There was a lot of talk about saving face. Two small incidences while I was in Taiji reinforced this. Once, a policeman asked me to step away from a fisherman and I asked the officer to have the man back down first. It was clear that I needed to make the first move. Several minutes after I backed away from the area, the officer was yelling at the fisherman. The officer wouldn’t act on my request at the time to let the fisherman save face. Another time, we stood in front of a fisherman’s truck. The driver had a clear path to backup but that would mean backing down to foreigners. The driver had tears in his eyes. There was no way for him to save face. I believe, we need to let the Japanese people have an exit strategy that allows them to save face whether it’s in the cove or whaling in the southern oceans.

  4. Dave Allison says:

    The question poses a false choice. If the question were “what is the cause of the apparent imminent demise of Japanese Antarctic whaling?” The answer would most accurately be: “a combination of opposition by soverign states, by environmental NGOs working both within and outside Japan using both public relations and direct action, economics and changing cuisine preferences of the Japanese people.” Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace, Defenders of Wildlife, Australia, New Zealand and academics within and outside Japan and, yes, authors and journalists, have all played important parts in this victory for the oceans.

    The first call for an end to Antarctic whaling came from what was then a radical community and radicals must, as Saul Alinsky pointed out in “Rules for Radicals”: “..be resilient, adaptable to shifting political circumstances, and sensitive enough to the process of action and reaction to avoid being trapped by their own tactics and forced to travel a road not of their choosing.” No one tactic prevails in a successful search for change and the anti-whaling community has adapted, shifted and pressed to overturn what they saw as an unacceptable status quo and what was first seen as impossible, then possible, then likely is now widely recognized as inevitable.

  5. Liz Smith says:

    Thank you, Carl, for standing up and asking this tough question out loud and on record. It is one I’ve been asking for years and no one could give me a reasonable answer. While I support an end to dolphin and whale killing, it’s as if the defenders of whales and dolphins can intrinsically do no wrong.
    It’s an issue that’s prevalent in a lot of activism (and not just environmental causes) – sometimes continuing to pressure an issue on an ideological platform only causes “the other side’ to dig their heels in harder. I believe that asking real questions about these issues is the next step to crossing the line that currently divides our own country and starting to realize that we essentially all want the same things.

  6. […] Did Outsider Pressure Speed The End Of Japan’s Antarctic Whaling—Or Prolong It? | Carl Safina. Conservation & Environment, Fishing, Industry & Government   Japan, whaling […]

  7. […] Japan’s Antarctic whalers have given up the season early, having killed few whales. But I wonder: … […]

  8. Bob Berwyn says:

    Many people would not even know about the whaling if it weren’t for the Sea Shepherds. This sounds a little environmental insiderism and elitism. It’s also not just about the Japanese whaling but about overall environmental consciousness.

  9. Lowell says:

    Carl, This question is surreal…..and was raised in 2005 by Peter Heller. Who cares what the collective Japanese ego “needs”? Not I. The era of excusing crimes by saying “it’s OK because WE are ” fill in the blank” has passed. Sea Shepherd has done more to bring attention to this absurd and murderous tradition than any other organization, ever…..which far outweighs any damage (IF any) they’ve done. Pretty amusing (and sad) that these hard-core anti-whaling soldiers are even being considered as culpable. Greenpeaces’ sissy-fied approach basically does nothing, but Watson’s crews both cause and prevent the problem….Please.

    • carls_crew says:

      “Surreal… Who cares… Pretty amusing (and sad)… sissified…” That’s not an incisive analysis. Yes we all like to root for Sea Shepherd. The question is whether they do more harm than good. It’s a serious question. Your responses are entirely emotional, but do you actually want to save whales, or just root for the people you like? If you want to save whales, you have to ask what works and why, and what isn’t working and why not. Whether you like it or not.

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