New Internationalist

The West’s hypocrisy on whaling

Japanese whalers exploit a loophole in international law by claiming that they hunt whales for scientific research. It is well established that they are lying.

Western governments and their public are outraged by this flouting of international law, and by the barbaric suffering caused by this practice. Whaling is not something that can be done humanely: the explosive harpoons almost never kill a whale outright. Successfully piercing the right spot on a fleeing whale in the tumultuous conditions of the Antarctic waters is extremely difficult. Furthermore, as whalers want to preserve as much of the body as possible, they use smaller amounts of explosive, decreasing the chance of a quick kill. This often results in an agonising and slow death – first the creature is pierced by explosive harpoons, then she is painfully dragged through the water, slowly dying of her wounds.

And yet this suffering is not why the West condemns whaling. Instead, our media and governments impose our beliefs on Japan in the name of ‘conservation’. The worst aspect of this mealy-mouthed justification is that its central tenet is factually false. It is a common misconception that minke whales are an endangered species. They are not. Most other species of whale are endangered, but the minke whales that the Japanese hunt are not ESA-listed.

Even if minke whales were endangered, why would that be a justification for imposing a law on another nation? To impose a law on others requires a moral justification, and what exactly is the moral element to a conservationist law? How, exactly, does the size of a species’ population affect the moral value of an individual being? If, for example, there were an extra 10 billion humans on the planet, would you lose your right not to be tortured because your species was overpopulated? Or what if the population of humans on earth was only a few million – would you be entitled to some extra human rights? To put it another way, if an island were suddenly discovered on which millions of dogs lived, thus massively increasing the known population size, would it be morally acceptable for me to shoot your dog? And if there were only one Greater Potato Beetle left in the whole world, would its life be worth more than an orang-utan’s? When you get right down to it, the number of other beings who are similar to you has no bearing on your moral worth.

The position of Western governments and media effectively boils down to this: exotic animals are nice to look at; it would be a shame if we couldn’t do that anymore. In other words, whales are exotic to us and we like to look at them, so we tell the Japanese that they’re not allowed to hunt them.

Our hypocrisy is laid bare by the fact that a loophole in the law exists in the first place. Do you think a whale is comforted by the thought that her agonising death is in the name of research rather than cuisine?

How on earth does the West think it has the moral high ground when its factory farming methods quite literally result in the needless torture of billions of animals each year? How can the West, which provides EU subsidies for bullfighting, in which the beasts are partially blinded and stunned beforehand in order to allow the ‘brave’ matador to win, find the audacity to impose laws on Japan? The hypocrisy of a culture that will blind, poison and torture dogs, cats and rabbits in order to design shampoo in a slightly cheaper manner is staggering in its thoughtless lack of self-awareness.

All of this excruciating suffering is entirely needless and unnecessary. It exists so that transnational corporations can make slightly more profit. It is not remotely justifiable by any sane moral standard, and yet we turn a blind eye to it, choosing only to notice barbarism in other cultures.

There is an irrefutable argument to ban whaling: it causes unnecessary death and suffering. That’s all that needs to be said. All this vacuous hand-wringing about beautiful creatures and population size is merely a way to hide our own unethical hypocrisy.

Photo by Martin Cathrae under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 AnimuX 14 Mar 13

    Nice work Grezo. You just overlooked damn near a century of regulatory violations and the near extinction of almost every large whale species in the ocean.

    The fact is the world's whaling industries systematically decimated whales and time after time violated and subverted international attempts to regulate whaling from the beginning.

    When the Save the Whales movement started in the 1970s it was because people were finally being informed that whales were in danger of extinction. The fact that whaling is inherently cruel makes the trade even more deplorable.

    There are about 400 endangered North Atlantic Right Whales left.

    There are maybe 150 critically endangered Northwest Pacific Gray Whales alive today.

    The Blue Whale -- largest animal on the planet ever -- endangered.

    Antarctic Blue Whale -- critically endangered.

    The Fin Whale -- second largest animal on the planet -- endangered.

    Humpback Whale -- once all considered endangered but thanks to conservation efforts they're slowly recovering (in general).

    Arabian Sea Humpback Whale -- endangered.

    Oceania Humpback Whale -- endangered.

    Sei Whale -- endangered.

    Bryde's Whale -- Data Deficient according to the IUCN but protected by whaling regulations since at least 1976.

    Chile-Peru Right Whale -- critically endangered.

    Northeast Pacific Right Whale -- critically endangered.

    Svaalbard-Barents Sea Bowhead Whale -- critically endangered.

    Okhotsk Sea Bowhead Whale -- endangered.

    Sperm Whale -- vulnerable -- scientists (not the Japanese type who shoot them for fun and profit) have found heavy contamination in these animals from toxic chromium, mercury, PCBs and more, which doesn't bode well for the future of the species.

    Japan annually kills both endangered and non-endangered (but protected) species.

    Even before there was a ban on commercial whaling or a Save the Whales movement, Japan was breaking the rules.

    Japan's whaling industry has historically ignored size limits and species protections, hunted out of season, hunted in off-limits areas, exceeded quotas, and even hired foreign poachers (pirate whaling) to smuggle whale meat to Japan off the books.

    Japan annually kills endangered Fin Whales, endangered Sei Whales, vulnerable Sperm Whales, rare Bryde's Whales, Common Minke Whales (many from the threatened J-stock), and Antarctic Minke Whales (this species is also in decline according to the IUCN). Not to mention up to 20,000 small cetaceans like Dolphins including rare Beaked Whales and a Dall's Porpoise hunt called 'clearly unsustainable' by the IWC scientific committee.

    The International Whaling Commission has prohibited all commercial whaling since 1986 -- Japan kills more whales anyway.

    The IWC declared the Southern Ocean a Whale Sanctuary in 1994 -- Japan kills whales there anyway.

    The IWC has repeatedly passed resolutions calling on Japan to stop killing whales.

    So do the reader a favor. The next time you decide to write up another uninformed rant about how you think every opponent of whaling is somehow a hypocrite, read a history book first.

  2. #2 SSCSONTME 14 Mar 13

    Re: AnimuX; I'm not going to cater to the column above as it has no true educated reflection to what ICR and Japan actually do. But, I will give AnimuX kudos as I fully side with all of their response.

  3. #3 Whitefish 15 Mar 13

    If you scratch the surface, Grezo's argument has merit. When you dig a little deeper as AnimuX has done, you see that Japan is a current and historical abuser of international conservation agreements (ivory, shark fin, bluefin tuna, dolphin, whale). Chris, so do yourself and your readers a favor and dig a little deeper. You might be surprised what you find.

  4. #4 Elle Cook 15 Mar 13

    I understand the author's argument that the inherent cruelty aspects alone should be sufficient for the Japanese (but also Norway and Iceland) to stop whaling, but I take issue with his criticisms of conservation arguments. There are several justifications for ending whaling, each being more than sufficient to stand on their own. In contrast, there isn't one that logically or otherwise supports its continuation. Namely, traditionalism, which is inherently a fallacious argument because it assumes a stasis that isn't real, and the fact that scientific understanding of whales and ocean ecosystems no longer requires the killing of whales in our 21st century technological society.

    Re Conservation: The definition of endangered status is that where a species is in imminent danger of extinction. But meaningful conservation is not about waiting till that happens. To reach that point is failure. Nor is true conservation about individual species, but about preserving living, functioning ecosystems. That we are so deficient politically and otherwise that we have reduced ourselves to the notion that members of large, interwoven communities can be slaughtered so long as the last of one of their species isn't on the verge of disappearing entirely, is a major shortcoming on our part. That we have digressed so far that we actually excuse the dwindling of entire ecosystem layers because it's last remaining ’relatively abundant’ species isn't teetering on extinction is ludicrous on its face.

    And let's get some perspective on Minke Whales for heaven's sake. Please realize we're talking about the global sum total of numerous separate subpopulations that together equal no more than the human size of just one small city, less than the population size of many listed species of birds. Seriously, if it was learned today that there were only 250,000 robins left in the US, they would probably be listed as endangered in a month.

    The fact is, is that whales face so many threats today, outside of hunting, that the world will be fortunate to have any left at all in a hundred years. It's probably safe to say that the existence of whales is very much in danger. If conservation biology has taught us anything, it's that k selected species - creatures that mature and reproduce very slowly with respect to ourselves, will not survive a world of 7 billion people without global constraints placing them off limits. By treating them as nothing more than a food item, the Japanese government is the primary force blocking the level of understanding and acceptance necessary for preserving whales into the future, and is therefore, the primary entity undermining the future existence of all whales.

    Whaling is very definitely an issue of humanity and decency, one that I believe stands on its own. But it is also most certainly a conservation issue, one that also stands on its own in fully justifying the cessation of whaling by the government of Japan, but also of Iceland and Norway.

  5. #5 Dr Burger 15 Mar 13

    I think that the commenters before me have missed the point.

    Grezo isn't saying that we should allow whales to be hunted. He clearly states that whaling is wrong. He simply also points out that we should also be getting very angry about what we do at home, on a much larger scale, day in, day out, as part of our every day life.

    So before you get worked up about it, try and dig a little deeper into the article!

  6. #6 Sam Wich 16 Mar 13

    Any animal killed for food experiences unnecessary death and suffering and there's no such thing as ’humane’ meat. And the majority of people in the West eat meat. If, as you suggest, the West uses unnecessary death and suffering as its only argument against whaling, how are they not going to be considered hypocritical by the Japanese whalers? That's not going to work unless the entire West became vegan and that's not going to happen any time soon. At this point in time when human exploitation of animals is at an all time high, I'd say use any and all arguments to save any species of animals. I think it has come down to that.

  7. #7 Kujira 17 Mar 13

    As a Japanese, I read this article and the comments here very interestingly. I think I do understand what the author wanted to say. This type of argument often breaks out, especially when Japanese people, like me, talk with anti-whaling people. Instead of some of my opinions, I would mention one simple fact; unfortunately, there has been no international regulation of killing animals for ’humanity’ or ’ethical reason’ so far.

    The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling says,
    ’RECOGNIZING that the whale stocks are susceptible of natural increases if whaling is properly regulated, and that increases in the size of whale stocks will permit increases in the numbers of whales which may be captured without endangering these natural resources
    If you are against any kind of sustainable whaling, please ask your government to get out of the IWC.

    Japan is just doing what it can within the rules of the IWC. When the moratorium on commercial whaling was carried out, Japan was forced a choice by the USA; give up commercial whaling, or all Japanese fishermen would be kicked out from American EEZ. After all, Japan have withdrawn the objection to the temporary ban, but the USA didn't keep the promise. Soon after, Japan was driven away from American EEZ. Moreover, the moratorium was to lift by 1992 at first, but somehow it has been extended until now.

    Anyway, Japan has already lost its right to make an objection to the moratorium, the only way to conduct whaling is to prove that it is possible to hunt whales in a sustainable system, so that the moratorium is unnecessary by now. Many people in anti-whaling countries are ignoring, or I don't know if they aren't informed well, what the research whaling is actually for. The goal is to make up sustainable whaling system. So it is ridiculous to claim that we don't have to kill the whales to know them.

    Whaling is cruel? Well, I think so. And so is any killing. Is it OK to kill animals if you use electric stunners? Or, giving a gunshot to the head is more humane than stabbing a man to death?

    Anti-whaling people tend to start with the conclusion that whaling is totally bad, then try to find any reason haphazardly. That is the very hypocrisy, I say.

    Finally, I'm sorry for my poor English skill. I don't mean to offend anyone, at least I never call you idiot, unlike the impolite one above. Thank you.

  8. #8 Sam Wich 18 Mar 13

    Kujira, if you truly think whaling is cruel, then why are you defending it? Human beings aren't perfect and are hypocrites by nature, and obviously you're no exception.

  9. #9 Kujira 19 Mar 13

    Thanks for your comment, Sam Wich.

    It is really hard for me to explain in English exactly why I ’defend’ whaling. Of course I'm imperfect and hypocritical just like all the others are, but first of all I must say I will go against whaling if whalers ignore its sustainability. My stance is that I just can't support any of the anti-whaling claims based on sentimentalism. I believe this is what most Japanese would say as well.

    My answer to your question may be found in the questions below.

    As you posted before me, not only whaling but killing any animal for food is kind of cruel. I agree with you. If the West opposes to whaling, they should become vegan. But thinking more deeply, even if they really became so, would it qualify themselves to prohibit other countries from eating meat? If my neighbor family was vegan, could they force it to my family? On what authority?

    My another question is, can the ’cruelty’ of killing animals deny all of the other values that come out of the act of eating meat? I believe that eating other creatures' life paradoxically tells us the importance of life. We must be thankful to the animals and the plants (sorry, not to God) that provide us the food we eat. This is the mindset Japanese people naturally have. We are not merely cruel but also thankful at the same time. I understand it may sound hypocritical to you, but Japan has been doing well for centuries under the philosophy like this. It may be because Japan have been a country of Buddhism and Shinto for more than 1000 years, which we call tradition.

    I feel that focusing on nothing but animal cruelty in whaling will make us lose some more important point. Say, if I insist on how many animals have been killed to supply the food to the vegan, in the field and the forests, will they stop eating grains and vegetables? No. They still think it has a point to do so, and I wouldn't say anything about it.
    I defend veganism as well as whaling.

  10. #10 Sam Wich 24 Mar 13

    Kujira, thanks for your lengthy response. I'm glad we're in agreement that killing animals for food is cruel but I'm afraid I disagree with just about everything else you wrote.

    Of course nobody can force you to be vegan, but our future generations may have no choice but to eat like one. The 2010 UN report, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production says ’Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.’ ’Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.’

    Re ’We must be thankful to the animals and the plants...’ The first precept in Buddhism is ’don't kill’ and for that reason, for over a thousand years meat eating was considered taboo in Japan and most of its people ate very little meat and perhaps many ate no meat or fish at all. Unfortunately today like other western countries, Japan has factory farms, imports large amounts of factory farm meat from other countries, has the second largest number of McDonalds' restaurants in the world, and there are very few vegans or vegetarians. You said eating other creatures paradoxically tells us the importance of life and maybe that's true for some people who need to eat meat to survive, but for the vast majority of meat eaters in developed countries, satisfying their taste buds is far more important to them than the life of the animal. The fact that they eat meat when they don't have to, shows how little they care about the animal's life. It's simple as that.

    On your last point about animals being killed from crop harvesting, sadly that can't be helped but the numbers killed to support a vegan diet pale in comparison to that of a meat eating diet. To produce a given amount of food energy, crops for livestock requires several more times the land than crops for direct human consumption. To produce 1 million calories (the number of calories a human consumes in a year), it's estimated that 27.4 animals die in crop harvesting for beef, 13.5 for chicken, 11 for pork, 9 for eggs, 4.74 for milk, 2.55 for vegetables, 1.73 for fruits, and 1.65 for grains.

    “Isn't man an amazing animal? He kills wildlife - birds, kangaroos, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice, foxes and dingoes - by the million in order to protect his domestic animals and their feed. Then he kills domestic animals by the billion and eats them. This in turn kills man by the millions, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - health conditions like heart disease, kidney disease, and cancer. So then man tortures and kills millions more animals to look for cures for these diseases. Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals. Meanwhile, some people are dying of sad laughter at the absurdity of man, who kills so easily and so violently, and once a year, sends out cards praying for Peace on Earth.” -David Coats

  11. #11 Kujira 26 Mar 13

    Sam Wich, it is no use telling me how you think about veganism. I already know more or less what you wrote, but it has little to do with the ban on whaling. I take off my hat to you for your knowledge, but one correction. Although Japan has been a kind of a Buddhist country, its people were not such strict vegetarians. The fact is they just avoided eating 4-legged animals more than 2-legged birds, and they ate many fish.

    As you may know, there are a certain number of people who refuse to plow a field, which is not to kill even a bug under the ground. They are called Jain. To follow your logic ultimately, you can live in the same way they do. You (or our future generations?) don't have to eat root vegetables, right? Why do you give it up excusing ’sadly that can't be helped’?

    By the way, I'm a little interested in what you would say, if I insist that eating whale meat should be more ecological than eating beef or pork, since we don't have to feed any whales and also killing only one animal will bring us tons of meat. I believe that you won't quote some unrealistic story that whaling may worsen the global warming, though.

    Personally, I think the most ’ecological’ thing we can is decreasing the human population. Ironically enough, that is what Japan is walking up to now. But that's another story. The world is cruel, isn't it? Please keep up your health and joy.

  12. #12 Sam Wich 27 Mar 13

    A whale is a mammal and whaling is cruel and unnecessary, so I would think veganism has a lot to do with banning whaling. And for the sake of argument I'm using this definition for veganism: ’a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude – as far as is possible and practical – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives.’ Note the ’as far as is possible and practical’ which I offer as an answer to the bugs issue, and veganism isn't exactly Jainism and vegans don't consider eating plants to be cruel.

    Yes, I should have mentioned many pre westernized Japanese ate fish, but they ate very little of it and nowhere near the amount eaten today. The same goes for meat and as I said some ate vegan diets. The Japanese were doing fine like this for centuries so one could argue that the additional meat and fish in their diet today is unnecessary and it goes without saying that whale meat is unnecessary.

    Re the idea that eating whale is ecological, since whales live in the wild and can't be bred, I would think any form of whaling would be made unsustainable long before mankind is faced with sustainability problems with livestock.

  13. #13 Joseph Lieberman 30 Mar 13

    A Well written article,,,, im very impressed,, your points are well made, and consistent,,,,

    ( i read so much crap in the newspaper, articles that are incomplete and are reflective of the low profesional standard of many mainstream journalists/publisher

    in otherwords ,, you did a good job ,,,
    thank you......

  14. #14 clark 07 Apr 13

    Its interesting how people are so caught up in people, overfishing, and unconsciously just letting the world ecosystem revolve like an old theory of the earth being flat like a plate. When the food is all gone, then what? Cannibalism? Its as simple as a business; without the employees, it doesn't function; On a greater level, without the whales, the oceans undergo severe changes...

  15. #15 Martin 11 Apr 13

    Good points Chris. Animal abuse always reflects a more general psychopathology of lack of empathy for any living creature e.g. the UN was mandated on preventing the horror of war yet it supports or tolerates the West's war on OPEC nations.

  16. #16 Will Stevens 08 Oct 13

    They need to stop friggin whaling. As does Iceland. Whales were here before us and they have emotions! Less than 10% of the japanese actually eat Whale meat more than 3 times a week!
    Im sick of this going on. Read Whale Warriors too!

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About the author

Chris Grezo a New Internationalist contributor

Chris Grezo is an opinionated screenplay writer and columnist who believes progressive politics and global justice are inherently linked. He believes there are ethical reasons to adopt a vegan or vegetarian diet, along with environmental and economic reasons. In his spare time Chris is active in the animal rights movement, and supports Iranian exiles in their fight for a democratic and liberal Iran.

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