Ecosystems in crisis

Our oceans and seas are in deep trouble, and if the Japanese government is to be believed, part of the blame rests with the whales.

This is nonsense, of course. The degradation and resource depletion that threaten marine ecosystems worldwide are solely due to human activity.

Still, Japan has struggled for decades to end an International Whaling Commission moratorium on whaling that went into force in 1986, and it is difficult not to sympathize with their frustration, if not with their cause.

It’s not that Japan can’t kill whales. For years they have been harpooning hundreds of minke whales each year as part of a “scientific research” program carried out in the South Pacific and Southern Ocean, and the number killed is increasing steadily.

In its own coastal waters, too, Japanese kill thousands of porpoises and dolphins annually.

But Japan does not need more whales because people are clamouring for steaks and chunks of fried blubber.

These days there is not even enough demand to finish off the small mountain of whale meat that is processed each year. Japan has an embarrassing surplus when it comes to whale carcasses.

So why is the Japanese government still so eager to slaughter?

For years the argument was cultural, that whales are a unique part of Japan’s fishing and dietary traditions.

That seemed reasonable to many observers, but Japanese mariners still preferred catching more profitable fish, and consumers continued to prefer anything but whale.

Government spokespeople then began touting whale meat as a solution to feeding the world’s starving masses.

That argument, too, seemed reasonable — but rather disingenuous. After all, Japan had spent years criticizing the cultural imperialism of anti-whaling nations that did not accept the unique role whales play in Japanese culture.

Now, the same government was suggesting that non-whale eaters change their own diets.

Most recently, Japanese delegates to the IWC have been preaching that whales eat far too many fish and threaten the food security of coastal nations. In short, whales are eating our fish!

The solution? Kill the whales and there will be more fish for human consumption.

Fortunately no amount of hubris can change the fact that such simple manipulation of the planet’s ecosystems is impossible.

Source: Stephen Hesse, Japan Times.

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