Tuesday, March 8. 2011
For the love of whales and dolphins? An alternative perspective on Japan
Recent news reports from Japan verify that the government ended their southern ocean whaling mission early, citing harassment by anti-whaling activists. The Japanese whaling fleet managed to kill 172 whales in the waters off Antarctica over the last three months, only around a fifth of the quota Japan had set for itself the season. The Japanese whaling ships may, or may not, return to the whales’ Antarctic feeding grounds next year. Reports from Taiji also indicate that the drive hunt season has ended a bit earlier than usual, as the season usually extends through March (and into April for pilot whales).
We know that a decision to end cetacean killing altogether will be based on more than reaction to public protest, whether it is on the high seas, or in Taiji. Unsustainable government subsidies, waning interest and appetite in whale meat, increasing public awareness, and politics are other reasons Japan may be realigning its fleets and its whale-hunting strategies.
But it is an even more recent report from Japan that also has us encouraged: it was reported on Friday night that approximately 50 melon-headed whales stranded on the shore in Kashima, Ibaraki Prefecture in eastern Japan. The stranding is not the encouraging news: it is the response of the locals that is. Apparently 22 whales were rescued and returned to the sea on Saturday through the efforts of some 200 people including city government officials and local residents and surfers near the Oritsu coast.
This is not the first time Japanese citizens have risked personal safety or worked at great lengths to assist stranded whales and dolphins. Stories of divers and surfers, even fishermen, in Japan pushing stranded whales back to sea have surfaced in the press over the years. And whale and dolphin watching is popular in Japan, as it is all over the world. These stories just underline the complexities of the whaling issue; it is not possible to simply assume from Japan’s whaling and dolphin hunting policies that the public are not inspired and amazed, like us, by whales and dolphins, or would not run to their aid.
Despite the public’s notion that all of Japan is against these magnificent animals, with the ill-fated confrontations of Sea Shepherd and the Japanese whaling ships clashing each spring in the southern ocean taking center stage, and where even WDCS policy teams battle it out annually at the IWC side-by-side with diplomats and activists alike, trying to stave off another ‘research’ hunt by Japan-- we know better. We have met, and work with, so many dedicated individuals in Japan that want to see an end to whaling, and dolphin hunting, and that stand side-by-side in our understanding of the need and desire to protect these sentient animals.
At WDCS, we are seeking ways to spread these seeds of change that will nurture the hearts and minds in Japan. And the real stories of individuals in Japan rescuing these animals, instead of slaughtering them or consuming them, are potentially the seeds of true change. It is clear, whatever the motivation, that there is a love of whales and dolphins already existing in Japan, and we must find a way to encourage it, and nurture the compassion that continues to reveal itself. We must continue to condemn inhumane practices, such as the coastal drive hunts or the offshore harpoon hunts, in all of their forms, while acknowledging that not all people in Japan eat whale and dolphin meat, or participate in these hunts. And the lives of those whales saved in this most recent stranding, and the individuals responsible, are the difference.