A Japanese whaling fleet has set off for its biggest hunt since commercial whaling was officially banned, aiming to add to its haul Australians' favourite whales, the humpbacks. Yesterday's departure from Shimonoseki, in southern Japan, of the factory ship Nisshin Maru and three chaser ships brings the environmental dispute over whaling to a new level.
The Japanese whaling fleet had delayed its departure to the Southern Ocean for its annual whale hunt to avoid political embarrassment when Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda meets with US President George W. Bush.
Not since 1963 have humpbacks been legally hunted in the Antarctic, and not since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986 have so many whales been intended for the harpoon.
Tokyo's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) argues that the lethal research is needed to understand the whales' biology. ICR claims there is evidence of a "shift in dominance" of baleen whales in the Antarctic, which might mean humpbacks and fins are out-competing other baleen whales.
Greanpeace's ship the Esperanza is currently positioned just outside Japanese territorial waters and will be following the Japanese whaling fleet after it leaves the port of Shimonseki for its passage towards the Antarctic. Greenpeace will display the location of the whaling fleet as it is tracked south by the Esperanza on the same map on which it is tracking humpback migration routes from their breeding grounds in New Caledonia and the Cook Islands.
Karli Thomas, expedition leader aboard the Esperanza, states,
The Japanese government's "scientific" whaling program is a sham and a source of diplomatic tension between Japan and countries that support whale conservation, like the United States. Whaling has no place in Antarctica - it's a place of peace and science, and this is not science.Junichi Sato, Greenpeace Japan Whales Project leader.
Japan's whalers are deceiving the Japanese public by painting the word "research" on their ships. Real scientists don't need to kill whales to study them. This is commercial whaling poorly dressed up as science."Japanese gunners have no direct experience in killing humpbacks, according to Philippa Brakes, a senior biologist with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Brakes says,
The Japanese Government should already know that information about whales can be gained without killing them. The Antarctic whale hunt is an expensive waste of Japanese taxpayers' money and goes against public opinion in Japan and overseas. The time has come for the Japanese government to end this hunt.
This season is set to become a gruesome experiment in how long these large and magnificent animals may take to die.An opinion poll carried out in Japan by the Nippon Research Centre, in June 2006, showed that 95 per cent of Japanese people never or rarely eat whale meat. More than two-thirds of Japanese do not support whaling on the high seas.
Another study recently conducted by Julia Bowett, a PhD student from the University of Tasmania, found that among Japanese students approximately 65 percent agreed with the view that scientific research on whales should only use non-lethal methods.
To prove that you don't need to kill whales for research, Greenpeace is collaborating with a team of scientists on the "Great Whale Trail" project.
Data from satellite tagging of whales, harmless skin biopsies and fluke identification has already yielded valuable information about the migration patterns of threatened humpback populations, without a single harpoon being fired.