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Whaling - a sudden sentimentality

I am probably just as strongly opposed to whaling as most other people. But it seems to me that the attack on the Japanese whaling industry by the Australian anti-whaling lobby is stained with hypocrisy, inconsistency and a misinformed sense of priorities.

A humpback whale breaching
A humpback whale breaching
Most people who oppose whaling do so for one (or both) of two reasons: either they believe the whales (mostly minkes and some fin whales) are endangered species, or they regard them as particularly intelligent animals and the harvesting methods as inhumane. At the time of writing, these whales are in fact protected under international law, although the minke is not classified as endangered. And they are certainly intelligent, magnificent creatures and the harvesting techniques appear to be indiscriminate and extremely cruel. I will confine my remarks to the minke whale, which accounts for 95% of the proposed Japanese harvest (as it now stands, the hump back whale having been dropped from the quota).

1. If the main reason for opposing whaling is that certain whales are endangered species, why single out this particular species when there are hundreds of other animal species in greater danger of extinction yet which receive little or no attention from "greenies"? In fact there are about 7,700 species of animals that are considered to be under threat of extinction. In Australia alone there are 46 species of birds and 37 species of mammals which are classified as endangered or critically endangered (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act). The hump back whale, which is so important to our tourism industry and which the Japanese government, under pressure from Australia, withdrew from their cull, is not in either of these catagories but appears in a lower category ("vulnerable" species), while the minke is in a category below that ("lower risk").

Over the last century the rate of extinction of mammals in Australia has been far greater than anywhere else in he world. Excluding primates and Asiatic black bears, the comparative attention paid to "saving" other species is small. The organisation for Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered Species (EDGE) states that recent research shows 70% of the world’s most threatened and evolutionarily distinct mammal species are currently receiving little or no conservation attention. But the annual slaughter of 935 minkes is unlikely to threaten the survival of this species. Presumably it is in the interests of the Japanese to ensure the sustainability of their whale industry.

2. If the intelligence or "sensitivity" of the animal is the main reason for opposing whaling, the question is again: why pick on the minke whale? Why not, for example, the pig, an animal with a similar level of intelligence? In Australia we slaughter more than 5 million pigs annually. Admittedly, the method of slaughter is not as cruel, but the conditions in which most pigs spend their lives are grotesque compared to the whales' natural marine environment. If there are any anti-whaling lobbyists out there who also eat pork or, indeed, beef, lamb or chicken, I'd suggest they re-assess their values.

(Jan 2014 - Do all those people who so vehemently oppose shark culling in Western Australia eat fish? If so, maybe they should at least ask themselves, with a clear mind, how shark culling differs from commercial fishing - or, for that matter, hobby fishing.)

3. From the point of view of marine ecology and the environment in general, whales are not very significant. According to the experts, there are many ecologically more important marine species, chiefly toward the lower end of the food chain, whose survival is seriously threatened. Indeed if certain of these species disappeared, so would the whales. Global warming, pollution and over-fishing are among the causes of their declining numbers. From the perspective of the environment as a whole, farm animals pose a greater threat than most other species, not because they are in decline but because there are far too many of them. Their massive contribution to global warming and environmental pollution is mainly due to land clearance, water usage and gas emissions.

4. In the Japanese culture eating whale meat is no different to eating beef or any other kind of meat, or any other kind of sea creature such as tuna or crab. They have as much right to defend whale meat consumption as we have to defend the consumption of meat from farm animals (i.e in my opinion not much right at all!) or of fish and seafood. I am not averse to applying pressure to abolish morally dubious customs, particularly if they are invading our own territory, but the lobbyists are wrong if they think that Japanese culinary habits are inferior to our own. But what a pity the Japanese government has chosen to defend its whaling industry with the ludicrous pretext of scientific research (presumably for legal reasons - there's an international moratorium on whaling which excludes capturing whales for research purposes). They should stand up for their culture and say "We like our minke meat. When you stop eating pork, we'll stop eating whale". (Incidentally the nutritional characteristics of whale meat are far superior to those of pork.)

5. It should be remembered that up until 30 years ago, Australia supported a whaling industry that makes Japan's present operation look like a weekend fishing excursion, considering the relative population sizes of the two countries. Thousands upon thousands of hump backs and southern rights were harpooned up until 1963, and between then and 1978 about 16,000 sperm whales were taken. Tourists flocked to the whaling stations to see the whales being "processed". Now they flock to the coast to see them leaping among the waves. Have we really changed our feelings so drastically in so short a time? And, if so, can we expect this change to occur consistently across species within the next 30 years? Well, if the tourists were invited to see how our farm animals are raised and killed, and if they were given the low-down on the wastefulness and harm caused by animal farming, perhaps the long-hoped-for transformation would be speeded up.

6. Do you think the Japanese have an advertising campaign that proclaims "Whale meat - we were meant to eat it"? On the contrary, they have started a whale watching industry that will doubtless grow to outstrip our own. (Then our tourist industry will be rooing the day they supported the anti-whaling lobby!) So, even without the outcry from Australians, the attitude of the Japanese people towards whales will quickly change - just wait and see. I cannot imagine the attitude of Australians towards animal slaughter in general changing with anything like the same speed. They love their Sunday arvo barbecues as much as their dangerous dogs and environmentally unfriendly cats.

7. And how many people in this country know about the Taiji dolphin drives in Japan, with their even more heartless methods of hunting and slaughter? Given that dolphins are probably the most intelligent and sensitive marine animal, and would doubtless leave many a human being for dead in an appropriately devised intelligence test, protecting them from the abominations of unhuman humans should receive higher priority than whaling from the greenies. The Japanese prime minister recently made the unfounded claim that it is a tradition which other nations have no right to interfere with. Well, if an annual slaughter of Japanese was (say) a Chinese tradition, would he still think along those lines? I don't think the victims would be treated anywhere near as macabrely.

8. Finally, why does the Australian public seem to know nothing about the slaughter of hundreds of Koalas annually by the logging industry in their own country? When the trees are felled most of these animals just tumble to the ground, receive serious injuries and are left to die, often along with their joeys. Oh, come on! Let's tidy up our own back yard before becoming hypercritical of other countries. Ignorance and emotion make an unhealthy alliance.

To reassert what I said to start with: I'm certainly not defending whaling. Just offering another point of view. I'm just as much worried about the pointless carnage of sharks (for which the Chinese love affair with sharkfin soup is mainly to blame). But what bothers me most of all, if we're talking about dragging stuff out of the sea, is the commercial fishing of tuna using purse-seine nets, and the whole ungoverned industry bent on fishing the world's oceans to death. Add to this the almost inevitable demise of coral reefs and the future of our oceans looks bleak indeed.

On 31 March 2014 Australia won an international lawsuit against Japan's whaling program in the Southern Ocean

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