The Anti-Whaling Campaigns and Japanese Responses

(from "Japanese Position on Whaling and Anti-Whaling Campaign", The Institute of Cetacean Research, 1998)

Arne Kalland,
Centre for Development and the Environment,
University of Oslo, P.O.Box 1116 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway

This paper outlines the international campaigns against Japanese whaling and how the Japanese are coping with these campaigns. Like in other whaling nations, such as the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Norway, the Japanese responses take several forms. At one level whaling nations have tried to meet the criticism by actively taking part in international management fora and by providing scientific evidence that natural resources are not depleted and can sustain controlled harvests. In this rhetoric of sustainable use - partly appropriated from the environmental discourse - it is the whalers who are stewards of green values. At the same time they have tried to address the issues raised by their adversaries through the introduction of new legislation and technologies in an attempt to make the hunts more "humane" and controllable. At the other level they have contested the views harboured by their adversaries by actively defending their rights to self-determination and to harvest their traditional resources in a sustainable way. They have done so both by working through old international bodies and by creating new ones. Moreover, they have sought to strengthen their own sense of identity without giving up their claims of being full members of the global community. At the local level this takes place in Japan within the village revitalization movement (muraokoshi undo) with festivals and other traditions being re-invented and communities being sold to tourists as whale or dolphin towns. At the national level the focus is on the allegedly unique man-whale relationship in Japanese culture which, the argument goes, entitles Japanese whaling to be classified as aboriginal subsistence whaling.

The International Campaigns

During the last three decades we have witnessed the emergence of a strong international movement against whaling, pushing the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to vote for a total moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. This put an end to most of Japan's whaling activities; only scientific whaling (allowed under the ICRW) and some coastal whaling for pilot and Baird's beaked whales (not under the jurisdiction of the IWC) have continued on a small scale. Nevertheless, Japan has continued to be targeted in anti-whaling campaigns staged by western environmental and animal rights organizations.

From Ecology to Whale Rights
The arguments against whaling take many different forms, but they can be placed within two main discourses whether they are based on ecological or ethical/moral arguments. The ecological discourse is concerned with the natural environment as a system and seeks to secure species habitats and biodiversity. Its proponents are conservationists, i.e. they accept that species can be utilized as long as this is done sustainably. The other includes both the animal welfare and animal rights discourses. Whereas the animal welfare people are concerned with our treatment of animals, including killing methods, the animal rights advocates are against killing animals per se because animals have an intrinsic value on their own. Special advocacy have even been made for whale rights (D'Amato and Chopra 1991). For reasons of simplicity the animal welfare and animal rights discourses will here be lumped together because their proponents are, when it comes to whaling, preservationists or protectionists; i.e. they are against whaling for moral and ethical reasons. Although animal welfare/rights advocates and environmental organizations collaborate closely on many issues - including the whaling issue - the distinction is important if we are to understand the Japanese response to their international critiques.

When IWC in 1982 imposed a moratorium - or zero catch limits as the official term is - the majority argued that the moratorium, which was to be reconsidered in 1990, was necessary until better population estimates and a new management model (the Revised Management Procedure, RMP) were available. IWC's own Scientific Committee, however, did not share the opinion of the Commission and found a blanket moratorium on all species unnecessary. Of the species targeted by the Japanese fleets, only the sperm whale was defined as endangered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. The other species - the minke, pilot, Bryde's and Baird's beaked whales - were among the 57 species of cetacean that towards the end of the 1980s were at or near their original level of abundance (Aron 1988:104). The Antarctic stocks of minke whales, at present the focus of Japanese research whaling, are particularly abundant (Gulland 1988:44). Even the sperm whale, with a population of approximately two million - down from an estimated original population of 2.4 million - can hardly be perceived as an endangered species.

Since the moratorium went into effect in 1987, the Scientific Committee has concluded that several whale stocks can be exploited sustainably. The Pacific gray whale has fully recovered and has been removed from the endangered list, and the Antarctic stocks of minke whale has been estimated at 760,000 animals, assumed to be well above the original level of abundance (De Alessi 1995). This assumption is, as we later will see, of paramount importance to the Japanese perspective. At the same time the scientists developed the RMP, probably the most sophisticated and robust management regime ever developed for any marine resource. The RMP was adopted by the Scientific Committee in 1992.

Environmental groups have reacted to these developments in various ways. Some have left the bandwagon to devote their time to other tasks. But the majority stays on. Realizing that the "terms of the [whaling] convention have required that this debate be conducted in a scientific guise" (Butterworth 1992:532) some whale protectionists stick to the ecological discourse denying the validity of new scientific evidence. Some claim that scientists from whaling nations cannot fully be trusted (ignoring that the majority of the Scientific Committee come from anti-whaling countries and that some are affiliated with anti-whaling organizations). Another argument is that whales must be managed stock by stock and that we do not know how to separate and identify stocks yet, that our data on fertility and mortality rates is insufficient, that we do not know the impact on cetaceans of the depletion of the ozone layer, etc. Greenpeace and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) are among these, and both have appealed for money in order to save the "last" whale. But both have also switched to the animal welfare discourse. In 1992, WWF which has prouded itself of being committed to the principle of sustainable utilization of natural resources, in its Position Statement on Whaling and the IWC took the opposite view: "Even if the IWC ... could guarantee that whaling was only carried out on a truly sustainable basis, WWF would remain opposed to the resumption of whaling" (WWF 1992: 1). Greenpeace has taken a similar position (Ottaway 1992:3). They - and many others - argue that whales cannot be hunted humanely, that whales are uniquely special creatures, and that they have intrinsic value.

This change in rhetoric is reflected at governmental level as well. At a preparatory meeting held in Geneva in 1991 for the UNCED conference, for example, New Zealand proposed the total protection of whales because they include the largest animals ever seen on this planet, with brains larger than and almost as complex as our own, making them in a sense the equivalent in the marine environment of human beings in the land environment. The Australian commissioner to the IWC, P. Bridgewater who later became chairman of the Commission, stated in an interview that there is no need to hunt extremely large, beautiful animals when meat can be obtained in simpler and cheaper ways and they should therefore not be used as a natural resource. The former British Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer, changed his argument from one of ecology to that of humane killing, and John Knauss, U.S. Commissioner to IWC at the time, stated that he hereafter had to oppose whaling on ethical grounds since scientific evidence now indicates that some stocks can be hunted under proper protective measures (Marine Mammal News, May 1991). After the 1993 IWC meeting, his successor Michael Tillman was awarded the "Schweitzer medal" by the anti-whaling organization Animal Welfare Institute for his preventing the adoption of the Revised Management Procedure. New Zealand sums up the reason for this shift in argumentation: "We will work to maintain the moratorium on commercial whaling because it reflects the current reality of world opinion" (IWC/46/OS New Zealand). This statement strikes at a crucial point if we are to understand the Japanese position: How is "world opinion" defined and how is it formed? Moreover, even if a majority of the people on earth is opposed to whaling - no survey indicates that this is the case, however - it does not follow that this majority has the right to enforce its perceptions on the minority. To most Japanese this "world opinion" is the opinion of some western activists who for dubious reasons are supported by certain governments. To impose this opinion on the rest of mankind is, according to the Japanese view, cultural imperialism.

The NGOs and their Campaigns
The national and international non-government organizations (NGOs) campaigning against whaling probably number in the hundreds. Close to 100 of them attend the annual IWC meetings as observers. They differ in ideological outlook as well as in campaign design. The anti-whaling campaigns therefore take many different forms and cover the whole range from violent actions like sinking of ships and harassing people to writing letters of protest and lobbying in the corridors in Washington D.C., Brussels, and elsewhere. The strategies employed can be said to fall within five main categories: direct actions to prevent catches of cetaceans; activities aimed at destroying the market for whale products; launching of boycott campaigns against products coming from whaling countries; slandering; and work for a total and indefinite moratorium at the IWC. Japan has been targeted by NGOs using all these strategies.

Among the early activities that attracted international attention were attempts to stop dolphin drives which for centuries have been carried out by some Japanese communities. In 1980 an American activist cut the nets which held a school of dolphins captive at Katsumoto, Iki. More recently, Greenpeace have made attempts to interrupt the scientific whaling Japan has undertaken in the Antarctic since the 1987/88 season, without preventing the Japanese to catch the quotas they had set for themselves. These activities have been accompanied by camera crews - the banners of protest were exposed to the Greenpeace cameras rather than to the whalers - and transmitted throughout the world (Kojima 1993).

Another strategy has been to destroy the market for whale products. At the rhetoric level eating whale meat has been turned into an immoral act close to cannibalism: "Sickest dinner ever served: JAPS FEAST ON WHALE", announced the British Daily Star over the front page on 11 May 1991, and over two inside pages, accompanied by gory pictures (of which one was from the Faroe Islands!), readers were told that "Greedy Japs gorge on a mountain of whale meat at sick feast" in a "banquet of blood". More immediately damaging were the IWC resolution of 1979 prohibiting members to buy whale products from non-member countries and the CITES listing of all cetaceans (whether endangered or not). Hence Japan is not allowed to buy blubber which is consequently left to rot in Norway. With legal international trade virtually impossible, it should come as no surprise that criminal elements have tried to go into the business of smuggling meat across borders. The Japanese police has made several arrests, but some of the NGOs have taken it upon themselves to make "investigations" in Japan and elsewhere, timing the release of their reports to the IWC meetings.

Japan has been threatened with boycotts on several occasions. In 1985, for example, 22 organizations initiated a campaign against Japan Air Lines (Brown and May 1991:108). Although such campaigns are unlikely to have much affect,(1) Japanese car dealers have allegedly been blackmailed into donating money to NGOs (Misaki 1994:34). More serious is the American threat to use the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act, which authorizes the President to prohibit imports from a nation certified as diminishing the effectiveness of international wildlife conservation programmes. The President has so far refrained from imposing such sanctions on any whaling nation, an act which most likely will be in violation of the WTO (GATT) regulations (McDorman 1991). Furthermore, a tourist boycott campaign was launched against several small Caribbean states for their support of Japan's position in the IWC, a campaign that became so malicious that the IWC commissioners during the 1994 meeting was forced to protest against the attacks on member countries.

Some of the anti-whaling rhetoric is couched in derogative language. Not only have whale-eating Japanese been portrayed as barbarians, but whalers are in general accused of being brutal murderers who are ready to kill the world's last whale in the most hideous manner in their greedy pursuit of profit (Kalland 1992, 1993). These accusations are leveled against all commercial whalers regardless of national background, but many Japanese feel there is an extra underpinning to the rhetoric against the Japanese whalers. And, unfortunately, the distance from rancorous verbal attacks to physical abuse is not always that great. Japanese delegates to the IWC have more than once been spread by red paint or been spat at, and a delegate, mistaken for a Japanese, was once attacked by the mob in the lobby of the conference hotel in Glasgow. "While these insults are certainly irritating", Misaki Shigeko, who herself has been targeted, points out, "they are no more than the tip of an enormous iceberg" (Misaki 1994:24). Nevertheless, these are important points of reference when Japanese perceptions of the IWC and the anti-whaling campaigns are to be understood. The failure of the IWC to protect the delegates is symptomatic: the anti-Japanese sentiments are not confined to the NGO observers but are shared among several of the delegates.

The Annual IWC Meetings
The developments within the IWC have more than anything else coloured the Japanese position. It is beyond the scope of this paper to offer a detailed analysis of the IWC, but it is necessary to point to some key issues in order to understand the Japanese attitude towards what they perceive as a political "take-over" of the IWC. These issues are the adoptions of the moratorium in 1982 and the southern sanctuary in 1994; the adoption of a number of resolutions against Japanese scientific whaling; and the repeated failure of IWC to grant a quota of 50 minke whales to meet urgent needs in four whaling communities in Japan.

By the time the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, the organization had changed from what was perceived as a "whalers' club" to a "save-the-whale club". Upon closing down their own whaling activities for economic reasons, Australia, the Netherlands, the United States and the United Kingdom became, together with New Zealand, the leaders of a growing group of "like-minded" countries opposed to whaling. New member countries - many of them tiny island states - were brought into the IWC with the sole purpose of obtaining the three-quarter majority required by the Convention to make the schedule amendments necessary to impose a moratorium. Membership soared from 14 countries in 1972 to 39 in 1982 (Hoel 1986:70). Moreover, since 1979 NGOs has been admitted to attend the annual meetings, which soon turned these meetings into the main arena for the whale protectionists. Anti-whaling organizations hold press-conferences and time the release of their anti-whaling "reports" to the meetings and thus secure for them maximum media coverage. Further, because the media does not have access to the conference room, the NGOs are in a unique position to interpret the proceedings and present their interpretation to the media and to the world. To a large extent they have - at least until recently - been able to monopolize information from the meetings.

It was in this atmosphere that the moratorium was adopted despite the failure of IWC's own Scientific Committee to recommend such a radical step. Nor has the moratorium later been reconsidered as the 1982 decision called for. On the contrary, new demands have steadily been made which caused the editorials of The Times (30 June 1992) and Wall Street Journal (7 July 1992) to accuse the IWC for changing the rules of the game halfway. Then, after the IWC meeting in 1993, Dr. Philip Hammond of the Sea Mammal Research Unit in Cambridge handed in his resignation as the chairman of the Scientific Committee with the words: "What is the point of having a Scientific Committee if its unanimous recommendations on matter of primary importance are treated with such contempt?", and the Commission's lack of scientific credibility in management matters was utterly exposed. When, in 1994, the majority within the IWC moved on to impose a circumpolar whale sanctuary in the southern hemisphere, again without the recommendation of its Scientific Committee, the political take-over of the organization was complete.

Closely linked to the moratorium and sanctuary issues is the issue of scientific research. Natural sciences have been assigned key roles by all international governmental organizations established to manage natural marine resources, and the IWC is no exception. Hence, Article V.2 of the Whaling Convention states that amendments to its Schedule "shall be based on scientific findings", and a scientific committee was established within the IWC for this purpose. In line with this, the 1982 moratorium decision called for an early review "based upon the best scientific advice". Therefore, Japan and other whaling nations launched comprehensive research projects in order to provide the required scientific input for the implementation of the RMP and resumption of whaling. Although the quality of the research has been widely acknowledged within the IWC, Japan has during the last decade been routinely rebuked for her scientific whaling, which has been termed "commercial whaling in disguise". Japan finds this criticism unfair, pointing to Article VIII.1 of the Convention which gives to any contracting government the right to grant its nationals "a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research" and to Article VIII.2 which says that whales taken under scientific whaling permits "shall so far as practicable be processed". As research is regarded as essential to the management of whale resources, IWC's opposition to Japan's scientific whaling is seen as a proof that IWC is insincere and disregards its own convention.

Another source of Japanese frustrations is the IWC's failure to give an interim quota of 50 minke whales to the four communities involved in coastal minke whaling in order to relieve cultural, social, and economic difficulties. Japan has argued that this small-type coastal whaling (STCW) shares many characteristics with "aboriginal subsistence whaling" (ASW), not covered by the moratorium. An international group of social scientists has concluded that there is no substantial difference between the minke whaling regimes in Greenland, Iceland, Japan and Norway which could justify the first being classified as ASW and the three others as "commercial whaling" (ISGSTW 1992). Consequently Japan has requested a third category for small-type whaling (in addition to ASW and commercial whaling) and asked for an interim quota until a management regime is in place.

Japan thought, after the IWC meeting in Kyoto in 1993, that their pleas were finally being heard when a resolution was adopted by consensus expressing the need "to work expeditiously to alleviate the distress to [four small coastal whaling] communities" (IWC/45/51 ). However, it soon became clear that this resolution was only an attempt to be nice to the host. When the Japanese at the 1994 meeting presented an action plan - requested by IWC members - on how whales taken under an interim quota could be distributed solely within the communities concerned, the IWC majority demanded the elimination of all commercial aspects of the hunt. After thus having refused to give an interim quota to Japan, the Commission without debate gave a quota of 140 gray whales to Russia - with more than half the meat and blubber destined for the state fox farms - under the ASW clause. And again, at a workshop held in March 1997 in order to resolve the remaining problems of the action plan, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand admitted that Japan under no circumstances would be given an interim quota. But, added the Dutch commissioner, the action plan could be a useful management tool if the moratorium against commercial whaling is lifted. It dawned upon the Japanese that the whole process had been another folly.

A number of other issues are souring working relations within the IWC. Important issues are discussed and predetermined within a closed group of anti-whaling nations, the so-called like-minded group, before the proceedings at the Commission commence (Misaki 1994:30). The agenda of the IWC meetings has also gradually changed. Although humane killing methods occasionally had been on the agenda since the late 1950s, it was only from 1975 that the issue was discussed on an annual basis (Mitchell et al. 1986). Finally, a separate "Working Group on Humane Killing" was set up in 1983. Another working group was set up for whale-watching in 1994. The humane killing working group together with the "Infractions sub-Committee" have turned out to be highly politicized and thus annoying to the Japanese. The former discusses death criteria and killing methods, including how the chase can be conducted without causing unnecessary stress to the animal. The Japanese are particularly criticized for using electric lances to kill minke whales not instantly killed by the harpoons, although Japanese scientists regard the lance to be the most humane secondary killing method in many cases. (In 1996, Japan agreed to use a rifle as the secondary killing method.) Moreover, it does not go unnoticed by the Japanese that this working group spends much time discussing to what extent the commercial hunt with an average killing time of between two and three minutes, can be regarded as "humane" without asking the same question when it may, due to lack of proper technology, take several hours for aboriginal whalers in Alaska to kill a bowhead whale. Nor does the majority want to consider how whaling compares with other forms of hunting and activities in slaughterhouses. The "Infractions sub-Committee" discusses illegal and accidental catches of whales as well as illegal trade in whale products. In this working group no opportunity is lost to cast doubt on the honesty and integrity of the whalers and the whaling countries, and again Japan is singled out for the worst beating. During the 1994 meeting, for example, the UK representative was particular spiteful, with his openly expressed distrust in the Japanese police - despite their effort to bring these elements to justice. Such attitudes were gravely insulting to the Japanese delegation.

To the Japanese - and many other observers - the IWC has deviated from its original objectives (Sumi 1989). Dr. Fukuzo Nagasaki, the former Director-General of the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) in Tokyo, likens the situation to "the hijacking of a plane: an international organization has been hijacked by followers of a special ideology. ... A hijacked plane ... takes the course designated by the hijackers. The IWC is obviously moving in a direction which takes it away from the course prescribed by the Convention" (Nagasaki 1993:16). It has become all the clearer that the "like-minded group" is not directed by ecological considerations but has embraced the animal welfare or rights platform.

Japanese Responses

Like North-Atlantic whaling countries (cf. Kalland and Sejersen, forthcoming), Japan has responded to the international criticism in two major ways. On the one hand, the whalers and their governments have addressed the often heard claims that whaling is unsustainable and inhumane. In so doing they have tried to accommodate themselves to global eco- and animal welfare discourses and have even presented themselves as champions of sustainable development and animal welfare. On the other hand, they have partly contested these same discourses by appropriating another global discourse, that on the value of cultural diversity.

A Sustainable and Humane Activity
Without challenging the basic premises that exploitation of natural resources shall only be allowed when sustainable and that animals shall be killed with as little pain and stress as possible, much of the efforts of the whaling nations has been to document that some stocks are abundant and that modern whaling is humane. In fact, whaling nations have strongly defended the principle of sustainable utilization of natural resources. Assuming that an international body like the IWC should (1) stick to its stated objective, which in IWC's case is to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry" (preamble to the Convention), and (2) abide by its own rules - i.e. that Schedule amendments "shall be based scientific findings" and "take into consideration the interest of the consumers of whale products and the whaling industry" (Article V.2 of the Convention), whaling nations have spent large amounts of money on whale research. They have launched extensive shipboard sightings programmes, and the Japanese have moreover carried out scientific whaling in the Antarctic since 1987/88 and in the North Pacific since 1995. The main objective of the latter is "to estimate the age-specific natural mortality rate of the Southern minke whale, ... the recruitment rate and changes in reproductivity, ... (and) the role of whales in the Antarctic marine ecosystem" (ICR 1991:1).

Japanese scientists are particularly concerned about the possible interplay between the various species of cetaceans in the Antarctic ecosystem arguing that one reason for the slow recovery of the blue whale stocks since the 1960s might be the rapid growth of the minke whale population. The minke whale has, the argument goes, taken over the blue whale's niche. The imposition in 1994 of the southern hemisphere whale sanctuary is an obstacle to this research, and Japanese scientists believe therefore that the sanctuary may pose a serious threat to the recovery of the blue whale stocks.

Japan has, like Iceland and Norway, strongly argued for the principle of sustainable utilization of natural resources and for the need to base natural resource management on science and not take an "emotional approach" (Sumi 1989:319). Japan has tried to convince foreigners that there are enough minke whales for a modest and controlled exploitation, and has argued that such an exploitation is desirable in order to help the blue whales to recover. Moreover, whaling is seen as a most energy-efficient way to produce food for an increasing global population (Freeman 1991; Nagasaki 1993; Misaki 1996).

The other major issue addressed by the whaling nations is the humaneness of the hunt itself. The animal welfare and rights advocates have painted a bloody picture of whaling, reflecting a change in many people's perception of "humaneness" and a growing concern for animal suffering. At times, whales do go through long periods of agony before they are killed. This is particularly the case in ASW where old technologies have been employed until recently, and the Alaskan bowhead whaling probably inflicts far more pain on the whales than modern, commercial whaling. None the less, it was the latter that was the main target when the animal welfare issue was firmly placed on IWC's agenda in the late 1970s. Whaling nations have reacted to this criticism by improving killing techniques. When a ban against the use of non-explosive "cold" harpoons in commercial hunting of large whales was extended to include minke whales from 1983, research programmes testing a number of killing methods such as electrocution, drugs and gasses were initiated. Explosive penthrite grenades were found to be most efficient, and these were made mandatory in Japanese as well as in Norwegian minke whaling from the mid-80s. The new grenade harpoon has reduced the average time-to-death death to less than three minutes, with the majority of the whales being killed instantly. This compares favourably with other forms of hunting. Comparing sufferings inflicted on whales with the life-long suffering of domesticated animals, made the chairman of the Danish Council for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Dansk Dyreetisk Rad) to conclude that he would rather be a harpooned whale than a caged chicken or a pig. Nevertheless, there might still be scope for improvements, both through developing more reliable grenades and the whalers' skills, and efforts are continuously made in that direction.

In view of the effort they have made to respond in constructive ways to issues raised by individuals and organizations, it can be said that the whaling countries have had only limited success in creating a more positive international attitude toward hunting of marine mammals. The prohibitions against imports of marine mammal products into the EU and the United States are upheld regardless of the abundance of the species or the hardship imposed on the hunters. IWC's whaling moratorium is likewise maintained, although the Scientific Committee has concluded that certain types of commercial whaling can be resumed. Today member states work to have the Whaling Convention rewritten in order to make the whaling moratorium permanent. The opinion held by countries like Australia and New Zealand is that whales should not be hunted under any circumstances, regardless of their numbers or how humane the hunt can be conducted. To them it is morally wrong to kill such animals. It is obvious to most observers that the enforcement of the moratorium is no longer motivated by science or the opposition to animal suffering, if it ever was. The opposition to whaling goes deeper: whales have been turned into symbols for larger environmental and animal rights issues. The whales have been turned into something very "special". But what makes an animal attractive and special is a value-laden judgement which has to be seen in a cultural context. The anti-whaling campaigns are therefore not merely directed against an economic activity - i.e. the hunts - but against a way of life, against cultures.

Whaling and National Sentiments
What progress whalers have achieved can largely be ascribed to the other strategy employed, where they have openly contested the cultural and political premises of the campaigns against whaling. The Inuit were the first to do this for reasons too complex to detail here; it suffices to say that the reasons are partly to be found within the general political mobilization and revitalization among indigenous peoples worldwide, and partly to be found in processes within the IWC. When the organization in 1981 defined the new category of "aboriginal subsistence whaling" (ASW) in terms of peoples' cultural needs,(2) the existence of alternative world-views to that held by the majority in the IWC was legitimized. Since then also non-indigenous peoples have tried to argue for whaling in terms of cultural needs, but with less success. Between 1986 and 1994, Japan presented 33 papers (written by 23 social scientists from eight countries) on cultural aspects of its coastal minke whaling operations in an attempt to obtain a small interim quota (GoJ 1997), and Norway presented a comprehensive document on the cultural aspects of minke whaling in 1992 (ISG 1992). Their emphasis on preserving cultural diversity is a strategy to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and local groups to control their own development. Or phrased simply, it entails that people have a right to be different. Whaling has come to symbolize that right.

Marine mammals, and hunting of these mammals, have become strong symbols not only to the environmental and animal rights movements, but have taken on new meanings to the whalers and their societies as well. It does so in several ways. To the hunters whaling has always been a way to express, sustain and act out historical continuities, but has recently also come to symbolize their homeland, their right to self-determination and their identity. To their governments it may symbolize national sovereignty and the principle of sustainable utilization of natural resources. In all the affected countries whaling has become intimately linked to national sentiments (Brydon 1990; ISG 1992; Kalland and Moeran 1992; Nauerby 1996). In Japan the anti-whaling discourse has been appropriated to create a feeling of identity both at the local and national levels.

Each of the Japanese whaling communities has unique experiences with the anti-whaling campaigns and the moratorium has affected them in different ways. The loss of income has certainly been severe to the families involved, but their loss of social standing and the increasing feeling of isolation are probably more devastating. At the community level young people are moving into the cities leaving the old behind. Community festivals suffer partly due to this loss of young men to organize things and partly because some of the festivals are rendered meaningless without whaling activities (Kalland and Moeran 1992). And local cuisines are changing. But some communities have managed to take up the challenge and have appropriated part of the anti-whaling rhetoric to their advantage and have given whales and whaling new symbolic meanings, which have become integrated into community histories and ritual life. Thus, they are becoming important ingredients for the formation and maintenance of local identity. Japanese communities often look to the past in their attempt to create a sense of furusato ("my home town") and revitalize their communities. Communities like Ayukawa and Taiji are promoting themselves as "whaling towns" (kujira-no-machi) and have invested heavily in whale museums, "whale-lands" and other whale-related attractions to draw tourists to their towns. Whales and dolphins adorn bridges, gateways, post-offices, fire stations and manholes; festivals, music and dances have been re-invented to attract tourists (Takahashi 1987; Kalland and Moeran 1992). Even Katsumoto on Iki Island - having been the target for direct actions when, in 1980, westerners cut fishing nets and released captured dolphins, Katsumoto is one of the Japanese communities with a first-hand experience of Western radical environmentalism - has capitalized on this trend. Promoting itself as the "dolphin town" (iruka-no-machi) Katsumoto has closed off an inlet to construct a "dolphin park" (iruka paaku) where tourists are invited to observe untrained dolphins behaving "naturally". No doubt, the international anti-whaling campaigns have created a market not only for whale-watching but for whaling-related tourism as well. In order to survive in this competitive market, however, the towns have to live up to their image. This means that if they are to continue to be seen as whaling towns, they must at least enable the visitors to eat whale meat at their hotels and inns, rather than simply to gaze at invented festivals and whale-images on manholes. In the absence of whaling, this has created a new demand for small cetaceans like dolphins and pilot whales.

At the national level the whaling controversy has made the Japanese to ask themselves a number of questions which directly bear on their relations with the rest of the world. Among the questions frequently asked by both officials and whalers alike is why the hunting of non-endangered minke whales in Japanese waters was prohibited when the Alaskan Eskimos were allowed to harvest bowhead whales at the time this species was considered to be extremely endangered. Or why the Japanese STCW with all its cultural qualities is denied the status as ASW and an interim quota of 50 minke whales - to be consumed within the communities - when the Russians under the ASW category are allowed to take a larger quantity of gray whales to feed foxes in state-owned fur farms. And why should the Japanese not be allowed to carry out scientific whaling when it is provided for in the Convention?

Many Japanese today are convinced that the squabbles over whaling are neither ecological nor ethical questions at all. Rather, some see the whaling issue in a broader perspective in which trade friction and defense questions also play important parts. There is a widespread feeling that Japan is facing a Western conspiracy, at least partly based on racial prejudice against the Japanese, particularly in the United States. In the words of writer Yamamoto Shichihei, "the whaling issue had become an outlet through which Americans felt free to express their amorphous but deep-seated anti-Japanese sentiments" (Yamamoto 1985: 12).

The international critique against the Japanese consumption of whale meat is seen as further evidence that the anti-whaling campaign is directed against Japanese culture in general, as food is seen as an important cultural symbol in most societies. It is hard to understand why it is more morally wrong to kill a whale for food than to kill a cow or a pig for the same purpose. Indeed, many Japanese think it is worse to kill a domesticated animal than a wild one. Moreover, Japan has put great efforts into stressing the nutritious qualities of whale meat. It has repeatedly been pointed out that whale meat is, beside being a part of traditional Japanese food culture, rich in protein and iron, and has a high percentage of unsaturated fatty acids which lowers the cholesterol level and reduces the risk for blood vessel diseases. Yet, eating whale meat is in Western media seen as barbaric, an act close to cannibalism. The Japanese react with dismay to such reports which they regard as an insult to their national culture. One writer commented that the "demand that we stop eating whale meat and, instead, consume American beef ... is an insensitive and selfish demand" (Yomiuri Shimbun, 10 Nov. 1982). Another commented that "this is like telling your nextdoor neighbor not to eat his dinner because you don't like his food. That is awfully rude, isn't it?" (quoted in Takahashi 1988:96). Or, more forcefully yet: "Here we have the opinion of one race forcing its ideas on the traditional eating habits of another" (Nihon Keizai Shimbun, 2 Sept. 1984). Some Japanese view this, and most anthropologists would probably agree, that this is cultural imperialism (Misaki 1996:21).

The western cultural critique may hurt the pride of some Japanese. Yet, it also gives added fuel to an internal Japanese discourse, nihonjin-ron, e.g. that the Japanese are uniquely special. We are, for example, repeatedly told that the Japanese are unique in having a whale cuisine and it is even argued that whale meat "suits the constitution of Japanese people".(3) That the Japanese are not unique in eating whale products - the Inuit in particular, but also people in the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Norway, Indonesia and elsewhere eat whale meat as did the British after World War II - is simply ignored in this context. Nor can whale meat be said to constitute a traditional food for all Japanese or be said to have had a special place in the Japanese national culture. Traditional whale cuisine was largely confined to certain regions well-known for whaling where there developed strong, local preferences as to the species of whale to consume and to methods of preparing the meat (Akimichi et al. 1988; Kalland and Moeran 1992; Manderson and Akatsu 1993; GoJ 1997). Four developments stimulated whale consumption at the national level: the spread of the whaling industry towards the northeast in the early 20th century; the use of canned whale meat by the military in the prewar period; the food shortage during the first postwar years; and the use of whale meat in school lunches. During the first postwar years whale meat accounted for 47 per cent of the animal protein intake by Japanese, many of whom are convinced that whales saved them from a major famine. Indeed, some of the attachment to whales and whale meat possibly stems from this belief. The use of whale meat in school lunches has also made a lasting impression among many people. But what has turned whale meat into an important ingredient of the national cuisine is the symbolic value of the meat. The anti-whaling campaigns have turned whale meat into a symbol for Japanese culture and eating whale meat has acquired a new meaning: it has become a ritual act through which the partakers express their belonging to the Japanese tribe, not only to a local community as before. Eating whale meat is seen as setting the Japanese apart from others. They thus appear unique, and the whaling issue serves to strengthen the much cherished Japanese myths about their identity, which itself helps fuel one form of Japanese nationalism.


During the last couple of decades a well-orchestrated attempt has been made to redefine whales as a global resource, a common heritage of mankind. During the 1970s, when the international environmental and animal-welfare movements gained momentum, whaling was one of the first targets for their activists, and the IWC figured prominently in their attempts to end whaling. Whale protectionists have tried to achieve this through two, partly overlapping, strategies. The first was to secure for the IWC a de facto monopoly over the management of whales by bringing whaling conducted by non-members to an end either through acts of direct violence and intimidation or to through trade restrictions. The second strategy was to recruit new, anti-whaling nations to the IWC in order to obtain the three-quarter majority required to impose the whaling moratorium and to establish the southern hemisphere sanctuary.

To claim that whales are the heritage of mankind constitutes the final stage in the appropriation of whales by non-whalers. With this idea of whales as a common, global resource (res communis) and not as an open, free resource (res nullius), landlocked countries like Austria as well as the environmental and animal rights movements have claimed the same rights to participate in managing cetaceans as peoples to whom whaling is their way of life. As a matter of fact, Austria and other nations that have never caught a single whale, have more influence in the IWC than indigenous peoples who are not even recognized as contracting partners to the Whaling Convention and must therefore be represented by their "colonial" governments (e.g. the United States and Denmark).

It is today a widely held notion that natural resources are best regulated if local communities which depend on these resources for their nutritional, economic, social and cultural needs, are brought into active participation, a principle incorporated into the report Caring for the Earth: A Strategy for Sustainable Living (IUCN et al. 1991) as well as in Agenda 21. Experience has told most of us that to do otherwise - i.e. to be insensitive to the needs of local peoples and to cultural differences - generates local resistance. For example, Icelandic fishermen have tuned against seals which increasingly are seen as a pest (Einarsson 1990), and eating whale meat has become a ritual act through which the partakers express their belonging to the national "tribe" and opposition to its adversaries, leading to growing national sentiments. Hopefully, the majority within the IWC will also soon see the dangers such an insensitive management policy implies both to international relations and to the ecosystem it was meant to protect.

(1) Despite Greenpeace's claim that Norway lost trade at a value of 500 million kroner (about 80 mill. US$) in l993 due to boycotts against Norwegian fish products and tourism to the country, both fish exports and foreign tourist earnings reached all-time records in that year. According to a study done by researchers at the Norwegian School of Business and Administration, lost trade opportunities most likely amounted to between 6.1 and 9.8 million kroner (Bjorndal and Toft 1994).

(2) IWC defines ASW as "whaling for purposes of local aboriginal consumption carried out by or on behalf of aboriginal, indigenous or native peoples who share strong community, familial, social and cultural ties related to the continuing traditional dependence on whaling and the use of whales"(IWC 1981).

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