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Whaling: an inconvenient truth – the hunters are not only killing whales, they are killing us too.

As we hope for an end to the coronavirus crisis, we should reflect on another existential threat – the climate change - a threat which is advancing even as we isolate ourselves at home to protect one another.

One has to hope that the selfish approach of some governments to the pandemic will come to be regarded as a tragedy of almost criminal proportions, and that we’ll recognise that international cooperation is the only way we can hope to meet such global threats. However, even before coronavirus trapped us in our homes, some leaders were shamelessly casting aspersions on international efforts to protect humanity and the planet from the worst excesses of the climate emergency.

That’s why Japan and Norway’s arrogance in licencing whaling in the time of corona should be seen for what it is, a form of climate-criminality; not just in the slaughter of sentient beings, but in the two fingers they are putting up to the world in terms of the climate damage they are continuing to inflict.

whale in antarctica Photo by Rod Long on Unsplash

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Japan’s media is as guilty as its government in spinning stories about the ‘resumption of commercial whaling’  from Ayukawa in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. What appears to be a story of ‘poor’ whalers resuming hunts after ‘decades of whaling austerity’ hides the truth that these are the same whalers that have benefited from huge government subsidies to hunt whales commercially under the pretence of ‘scientific whaling’. These aren’t starving whalers finally making good, but the very people who have been milking taxpayers’ support for decades whilst turning their noses up at the international community. But even with this support and the marketing spin the whalers have tried to create, the Japan Times reports that Eiji Mori, president of Kyodo Senpaku Co. (the company licenced to carry out offshore whaling in Japan), states that they need to increase kill-quotas and the number of species hunted in order to keep going. Contrary to his welcoming of the hunts, he went on to acknowledge that the market for whale meat is declining saying that ‘if the new generation doesn’t eat whale meat, it becomes a question of who will?’

whalingship web

It’s doubly arrogant of Norway’s government because it funds its whaling operation with subsidies built on the back of its oil and gas industry. Having got rich through sales of ‘black gold’, the Norwegian government is now working against global efforts to overcome the damage its oil has caused by killing creatures who are actually part of the climate crisis solution.

The irony is that Norwegian whaling could have ended in 1982 with the adoption of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling.  Sadly, the then US Vice-President, and now climate campaigner, Al Gore, sold out the whales, giving support for the resumption of commercial whaling to placate his long-time friend Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland,  as well as allegedly securing an arms deal with the Norwegian Airforce. Brundtland, who oversaw the production of the 1987 landmark report, ‘Our Common Future’ had said ‘Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ The tragedy is that it’s now clear that Brundtland’s and Gore’s support for commercial whaling was, and is still, damaging our shared future.

We now know that whales are an essential part of the nature-based solutions we desperately need to mitigate the climate emergency. For example, when a whale dies, the carcass sinks to the ocean floor in what’s called a ‘whale fall’. Each year, many tonnes of carbon are locked away in ‘whale falls’ on the seabed and stored there for thousands of years. Whales are also crucial in moving nutrients around the ocean leading to the growth of the oxygen-producing phytoplankton that are essential to the massive carbon capture potential of the ocean.

Minke whale

I did a quick calculation on how much Japan’s and Norway’s governments owe us in terms of the climate mitigation they have robbed us of. Say we start by taking the number of whales they killed between the whaling moratorium and 2018 (some 36,615 whales that we know of) and then estimate that these same whales could have lived on average another ten years; we can then assess the average amount of carbon those whales could have locked away, as well as the extra carbon-capturing phytoplankton they could have helped produce. At a price of $25 per ton for the carbon, we’d be looking at over $415 million owed by Japan and $260 million by Norway.

Maybe we should send them the bill?

There are many reasons to protect whales from the whalers’ harpoons and guns, including the whales’ intrinsic right to life and the ethical necessity of preventing unnecessary pain and suffering. Now we also know that we need to protect whales for the benefit of all life on Earth.

Environment ministers from 30 countries, known as the ‘Petersburg Climate Dialogue’ are meeting on the 27th and 28th April in an online conference in a bid to make progress on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. This is an opportunity for climate change mitigation to be woven into the Covid-19 economic crisis recovery plans, based on a ‘green’ economic recovery plan utilising nature-based solutions.

WDC is calling on all countries concerned about the climate crisis to call out the arrogance of the whalers.  They are killing some of the most remarkable creatures on our shared planet, and, in doing so, robbing us and future generations of a global public good.  All this for the sake of a perverted sense of nationalist and individual pride.

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5 Comments

  1. Avatar Julianne on 28th April 2020 at 9:49 pm

    That was so interesting. You are right that they and Denmark are very arrogant countries and will not stop whaling while we all demonstrate and mock them. Some how we need to make them stop but to do this they need to think it was their idea. Iceland has stopped due to the economics but that was just a couple of ships. The world needs to know about these countries and I think if Greta Thunberg could get involved there would be the worlds young generation behind her and therefore the worlds press . Good luck and thank you.

  2. Avatar Julianne Cronin on 28th April 2020 at 9:50 pm

    That was so interesting. You are right that they and Denmark are very arrogant countries and will not stop whaling while we all demonstrate and mock them. Some how we need to make them stop but to do this they need to think it was their idea. Iceland has stopped due to the economics but that was just a couple of ships. The world needs to know about these countries and I think if Greta Thunberg could get involved there would be the worlds young generation behind her and therefore the worlds press . Good luck and thank you.

    • Avatar Chris Butler-Stroud on 4th May 2020 at 1:52 pm

      Thanks for the best wishes, Julianne.

      I think in Iceland it’s more than just economics, though this has been important. I remember meeting the then Icelandic Prime Minister twenty-five years ago and was told that the vast majority of his cabinet had undertaken fisheries degrees and indeed, had made money as students, working at the whaling flensing station. That generation is no longer in power and a new generation of Icelanders, many who have travelled extensively, and view the world very differently, are now influencing politics and I believe, want to see Iceland give up on an archaic and cruel industry.

      The same new generation is coming through in Norway and Japan, but the intransigence of their governments is a little more pronounced. In Japan as long as we have senior government ministers, including the Prime Minister, representing constituencies that have whaling and dolphin hunt activities, we need to support those who are willing to speak out and say that whaling does not define them. But whaling will end.

      Iceland proves that people can change and in doing so, more beautiful sentient creatures will live and enhance the ocean for us and them. And I am sure when we are out of these uncertain times, many people will want to visit the beautiful country of Iceland – especially as it has made such a remarkable step towards ending commercial whaling once and for all.

  3. Avatar Diane Turner on 23rd May 2020 at 4:13 pm

    Brilliant news about Iceland but words fail me re Japan and, in particular, Norway.
    My husband and I visited Bergan last year and although we obviously knew about Norwegian whaling it was still very shocking to see minke whale steaks advertised for sale in a restaurant in the form of a hand written note attached to the door. The Restaurant was recommended by Trip Adviser. I have actually got a photo of the Restaurant if you would like it.
    Rainbow Warrior was in the harbour.

    • Avatar Chris Butler-Stroud on 26th May 2020 at 6:17 pm

      Hi Diane,

      Yes, we would be interested in the photo if you can send it through to info@whales.org, that would be great. It’s a shame if Trip Advisor is still recommending such restaurants, especially as they have taken such a progressive position on not promoting cetacean captivity displays. Maybe together we can get these endorsements removed and persuade the Norwegian public to realize that serving whale meat is no longer acceptable.

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