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May 20, 2010

Proposed Whaling Compromise No Deal for Whales

It’s been a challenging spring for HSUS and Humane Society International staff members working on the issue of commercial whaling, largely because of the Obama Administration’s machinations on the issue. The quarter-century-old moratorium on commercial whaling has been a highly successful international conservation measure, preventing the slaughter of tens of thousands of whales since it took effect in 1986. But this year we’ve had to face a stealth proposal from a working group of member nations of the International Whaling Commission, including the United States, to appease the whaling nations of Japan, Norway, and Iceland. The plan is to suspend the moratorium as part of a gambit seeking to ensure their compliance with internationally agreed measures to control the number of whales they kill. The whaling nations claim that if their whaling programs are given legitimacy, they will reduce their killing.

Minke whale
iStockphoto

We’re not alone in our skepticism. Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review, wrote a compelling column about the issue last week. And from the other side of the political fence, the Los Angeles Times said this so-called compromise was unacceptable.

The United States has no business retreating on this issue, and if our government is doing so, it smells to me like the whales are a potential victim of some larger political horse trading between the nations. But with opposition to whaling even mounting in Japan, according to The New York Times, it is no time to show weakness on the issue in the United States. We should never reward Japan, Norway, and Iceland for their flagrant violations of international law, and we should instead use every diplomatic means available to push them toward a 21st century policy of protecting whales.

The New York Times story revealed the reason behind Japan’s stubborn defense of whaling: "Whaling experts say the real reason the [Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries] ministry wants to keep the program alive is to secure cushy retirement jobs of ministry officials, a common practice that is widely criticized." The paper cited one whaling institute in the country that reserves high-paid jobs "for at least five former ministry officials."

A few nights ago, a friend called to alert me to a PBS program, “Into the Deep: Whaling, America, and the World,” which delved into the enormous role of whaling in 18th century and 19th century America. I found the program engrossing for its focus on whaling’s significance to American economic, social, and political development. The program also dealt extensively with the deep significance of Herman Melville’s "Moby Dick" as a cultural force. But with the passage of time, and innovations in energy production, whaling faded away in the United States, and fortunately so.

Today, a nation once at the forefront of the global whaling industry has a flourishing whale watching industry that has tapped the commercial potential of people’s desire to value whales in a different way. Japan, Norway, and Iceland must move in this direction, too. They’ll only get there if they know the global community will not accept government-sanctioned slaughter of these innocents.

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