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Doing the hard yards to end whaling

By Sue Arnold - posted Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Killing whales in the 21st century is an act destined to inflame the hearts and minds of millions of people. When governments go to war over non-existent weapons of mass destruction but refuse to protect the most visible icons of the natural world, people get angry.

After all, whales have inhabited the Earth for over ten million years. Protecting whales and their habitats is vitally important to sustaining healthy marine ecosystems. Saving whales is as much about preserving humanity as it is about whales.

In order to understand the complexities of the whaling debate, let’s put aside moral and ethical issues and instead examine highly relevant facts which are not seeing the light of day in the mainstream media. Politicians accuse activists of being emotional. In fact this accusation provides a smokescreen for governments, allowing the real issues to be left in the closet. Emotion provides a smokescreen for some environmental groups who are more focused on raising funds than making the hard yards required to bring closure to Japanese whaling.


The major cause of government inaction and the driver behind Japanese whaling is trade. Japanese harpoons are the weapons of globalisation: inaction by anti-whaling governments the legacy of the World trade Organisation (WTO).

Historically, the US enforced the decisions of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) by threatening to impose trade sanctions. The last time the US Government formally certified Japan, a precursor to imposing trade sanctions, was after Japan’s decision to add protected Byrdes whales to its “scientific whaling program”. At the time, Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta noted:

The US is deeply concerned that the real aim of this large hunt is to pave the way for an outright resumption of whaling. By killing whales in defiance of the scientific advice of the IWC, which is an expression of the majority of IWC members, Japan is undermining the ability of the body to achieve its missions.

In one of his last acts of office, President Clinton directed that Japan be denied access to allotments for fishing rights in US waters. However, since no foreign fishing allotments existed at that time in waters under US jurisdiction, the threat of sanctions had no weight.

The Bush Administration is driving the globalisation agenda. Any suggestion of using trade sanctions to enforce the IWC is right off the radar. WTO interests take precedence, ensuring the enforcement of international environmental treaties relying on trade sanctions will soon be redundant. Such a major change in US policy has had a profound effect on whale survival and Japanese scientific whaling. Without the outspoken support and threat of trade sanctions by the world’s only super power, whales are behind the eight ball. At the last IWC meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, in June, the US delegation was almost silent.

Other anti-whaling nations, such as Australia, UK and New Zealand, stepped into line behind the US. Evidence of the superiority of economic interests over conservation is highly visible in terms of the Australian Government’s reaction to Japan’s current whaling which is taking place in Australia’s Antarctic EEZ claim.


The proposed Japan-Australia free trade agreement has precedence over the Howard Government’s anti-whaling policies ensuring the response from Canberra is big on words and non-existent on action. Delegates from anti-whaling nations at the IWC will talk privately about the influence of globalisation and Japan’s investment on their governments.

The bottom line is that trade takes precedence over substantive action against Japan. Tony Blair’s government, with strong anti-whaling policies, is also toeing the line, maintaining there is no legal action that can be taken to stop Japanese whaling.

All WTO ratifying governments, including the US and Australia, have adopted tariff schedules which permit the import and export of whale and dolphin meat and products. This inclusion is in direct violation of national conservation laws to protect cetaceans.

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About the Author

Sue Arnold is the co-ordinator for Australians for Animals International, an International Whaling Commission NGO, working internationally on marine issues, particularly whales and dolphins. She is a former Fairfax investigative journalist who regularly lobbies the US government in Washington DC, as well as the European Parliament and Commission on whale issues. She can be contacted at

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