Thursday 22 June 2006


Stop weeping over whaling

The attack on Japan for continuing to hunt whales is cultural imperialism dressed up in PC lingo.

On 18 June, on the Caribbean island of St Kitts, a slim majority of nations on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) backed a resolution supporting the repeal of a 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling.

Although it was a non-binding vote, as a 75 per cent majority is needed to overturn the worldwide ban, the anti-whaling bloc – with Australia, New Zealand and Britain at the helm – warned that the vote should act as a ‘wake-up call to the world’. Japan has been most harshly criticised, accused of ‘buying off’ smaller nations with promises of aid packages in return for their support in overturning the moratorium.

Having been brought up in Norway – a nation of people not known to be particularly sentimental about the hunting and killing of animals – I find all the fuss about whaling rather bemusing. Why should whales be singled out for special status? In fact, Norway has for years openly defied the 1986 IWC moratorium on whaling, carrying on regardless. Japan, on the other hand, has found a more subtle way of getting around the moratorium – claiming that it continues whaling only in the ‘name of science’, although it makes use of the whale meat for consumption, regularly selling it in shops and restaurants.

So what is all the fuss about? The objections to whaling on the basis of its ‘non-sustainability’ don’t hold much water. Although in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries some whales were hunted almost to extinction (including the blue whale), scientists recognise that many whales – such as the minke that is hunted by Norwegians – are relatively plentiful. In fact, the IWC is maintaining its ban on whaling despite the advice of its scientific committee.

As the non-sustainability argument has lost its force, the anti-whaling lobby has come up with new lines of attack. It talks about animal welfare. Whaling is, after all, a rather bloody and gory business and it isn’t for the fainthearted. As one Norwegian whaler said, in typical Norwegian matter-of-fact fashion, ‘Of course there’s a lot of blood. Whales are big animals.’ When it comes to hunting – and all sorts of animals are hunted by humans around the world – animal welfare is a pretty strange concern. As Joanne Massiah, minister of food production and marine resources in Antigua and Barbuda, points out, the term ‘humane killing’ is a bit of an oxymoron.

Or the anti-whaling lobby talks up the impact of whale meat on human health – despite the fact that people have been eating it for centuries with little evidence of adverse effects.

The anti-whaling campaigns spearheaded by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and others have little to do with any hard evidence that whale meat is bad for people; nor are they driven by anti-hunting sentiments in general (after all, these countries all kill animals for meat). Rather, this is about moral grandstanding, a way of appearing pure and righteous by trying to tap into the widespread concern for the wellbeing of whales.

Rune Frøvik of the High North Alliance, a Norwegian umbrella organisation representing whalers, told spiked: ‘The cultural imperialists would have whales exempted from the sustainable-use principle – an exemption that would, quite simply, place whales above and apart from the animal kingdom to which they obviously belong.’ Although whales are often attributed with a human-like intelligence, there is no scientific evidence to support such claims.

Yet still these beasts of the ocean stir up a great deal of passion. There is continual bickering and backbiting at IWC gatherings. Chris Carter, New Zealand’s minister for conservation, said he was deeply disappointed that several Pacific island nations – including The Solomons, New Zealand’s biggest bilateral aid recipient – have allowed themselves to become pawns in Japan’s ‘long, expensive campaign to achieve a whaling majority’. Anti-whaling nations and pressure groups have responded to the Caribbean and Pacific island states’ vote by calling for tourists to boycott the islands.

Adopting the slogan ‘Save the whale’ is an easy way for the anti-whaling nations to establish their green credentials and take the moral high ground. It is also a rather handy and PC way for these nations to distinguish themselves from the apparently ‘uncivilised’ whale-eating nations of the world, to draw a line between their ‘humaneness’ in contrast to the bloody antics of the Japanese and others.

Yet why should these non-whaling nations have the right to tell whaling nations what they can and cannot do? As the science journalist Stuart Blackman said a while back on spiked: ‘[Whales] are to the green movement what cows are to Hindus – except that Hindus aren’t trying to force the rest of the world to give up beef.’

First published by spiked