Monday, August 27, 2007

Whaling watch

During the last annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) I heard representatives from pro-whaling governments argue that there was no conflict between whaling and the so-called non-consumptive use of whales (also known as whale watching).

Against this view, the Australian Environment Minister argued that whale watching operators from his country could suffer economic loss from Japan's plan to harpoon fifty humpback whales in the Antarctic as part of their scientific whaling programme in a few months. These whales, Australia argues, are tourist attractions when they migrate close to their shore.

A Japanese newspaper, Mainichi Shimbun, reports a different kind of conflict between whaling and whale watching, which happened last Friday within Japan.

A Baird's beaked whale was harpooned off Hokkaido by a whaling boat in the presence of a nearby group of tourists on a whale watching tour who had paid to see living whales, not dead whales.

A year ago, a similar incident between a whale watching operator and a whaling boat was also reported in Norway.

Who owns the whales? -- To whom do they belong? For many years, environmentalists have argued that these animals weren't the exclusive property of the whaling industry. But the divide between pro-whaling and anti-whaling countries, loaded with all sorts of value judgements on both sides, did not help resolve the question.

With incidents such as last Friday's in Hokkaido, if the debate moves within Japan maybe we'll be closer to a solution?

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