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GRAY AREA from the Phuket Gazette

VILE VOTE endangers whales  - Phuket Gazette July 2006

Researched to death: A whale is harpooned by the Japanese "research ship" Yushin Maru in January this year.
- Photo EPA/Jeremy Sutton-

We started kayaking from Hana, Maui, in calm waters, but an hour out the swells rose to five meters - good fun in a kayak when far offshore.

Then my paddling partner and Waimea Bay surfer, Dr Gene Kawaguchi, started freaking. "There's a humpback off our starboard stern," he shouted. "It's headed straight for us!"

Sure enough, 100 meters off our stern quarter a huge form was on a collision course with our tiny kayak. In under a minute, the "monster" was beside us - and Gene wasn't happy.

"Gene, don't worry," I said. "The whale already knows your height, weight, eye color, birthday, and occupation. The whale is at greater risk from humans than we are from it."

Soon the Doc was staring through a half-meter-diameter eye straight into the whale's brain, from a meter away. Gene is a brilliant mind, smart enough to know he was rivaled or even surpassed by this creature's intelligence.

We were awestruck.

Then I looked down. In that meter of ocean separating whale and kayak was a calf. Mama was showing off her six-meter baby as a human mother strolls her infant through the mall!

"Gene, get out of that eye and look down. I don't think we're in danger."

That five minute experience was the treat of a lifetime. Mama dropped back to offer a look down her glottal-shaped blowhole. A whale's only crime is bad breath.

She pulled forward, offering those enormous arm-like pectoral fins, and that huge yet well controlled tail. She knew her flukes better than we knew our paddles.

She was all peaceful, silent power, gliding effortlessly in perfect harmony with her domain. Can humans claim the same? Her next generation will continue that balance - if allowed to survive.

Harpooning this gentle, intelligent, peaceful mother and allowing her baby to drift until it starves in the open seas is a cruel and heartless act no different from armed robbery, wartime atrocities or a terrorist bombing.

For some inexplicable reason, the only species that threatens widespread planetary destruction is so deranged that it hunts these gentle giants.

They do nothing to harm us, have a vocabulary that is almost double ours, and that was created eons ago, and maintain an environmental balance.

Yet we humans continue to disgrace ourselves with the mindless slaughter of nature that is every bit as bloody as the Rape of Nanking.

Despite worldwide respect for the intelligence and sheer majesty of all cetaceans - whales, dolphin, and porpoises - Japan, Norway and Iceland persist in whaling.

Anytime you see a Japanese "research vessel", watch out.

It's a Death Ship hiding behind science to plunder the seas. I remember watching a "Japanese Fisheries Research" ship unloading tons of frozen tuna along with an occasional sunfish.

Two people stood dockside with calculators tallying up their profits, but I saw no marine biologists dissecting tuna before it was packed into trucks.

What were they "researching" in Thai waters - drift netting?

Remember the Japanese "training" ship that was sunk five years ago by a surfacing US submarine outside Pearl Harbor? It played the news for almost a week. I cry at movies, but I shed no tears for that ship. Was it training drift netting or long-lining? And why was it allowed to port in Honolulu anyway? "Training" and "research" are very convenient terms to cloak what is really the rape of the seas.

Despite the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, Japan's whaling fleet still takes almost 1,000 whales a year "for research purposes", stocking their carcasses in freezers because they can't sell them - 77% of all Japanese oppose whaling and, of the remainder, few actually eat whale meat.

The market is so dried up that five whaling companies recently gave their shares to the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research.

Yet last month's IWC meeting at St Kitts & Nevis in the Caribbean produced a shocking vote - a simple majority of the countries at the meeting voted to allow a resumption of whaling.

Using the absurd argument that whales threaten fisheries - along with, one suspects, "economic incentives" - Japan, Norway and Iceland managed to get on their side such major world powers as Antigua/Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cote d'Ivoire, Denmark, Dominica, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Kiribati, Mali, Marshalls, Mongolia, Nauru, St. Kitts & Nevis, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Senegal, the Solomons, Suriname, Togo and Tuvalu.

All the EU members apart from Denmark voted against, along with Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and the US - it's difficult to buy their votes. China abstained.

One St Kitts citizen wondered afterward, "Why would [our government] vote to resume whaling? Whale watching is one of our primary industries."

The biggest problem with the "whales eat fish" argument is that whales don't deplete world fisheries - people do. And the leader in destructive fishing practices is. Japan!

Outlawed almost everywhere, including in Japanese waters, drift nets are up to 60 kilometers long, made from monofilament line and held near the surface with floats.

Designed to take "high" predators such as tuna and swordfish, 50-60,000 non-biodegradable drift nets are set each year, catching one marine mammal - whale, porpoise or dolphin - for every 10 tuna.

Hot spots for drift net fishing include the North Atlantic, the Pacific Basin and the Indian Ocean. Drift nets take all surface swimmers, including cetaceans and sea turtles. Half of these unwanted animals are already dead when they are thrown back into the sea.

It gets worse. In the North Pacific alone, over 1,000 kilometers of nets are lost every year.

These "ghost nets" go on working until they finally sink from the weight of their own victims.

Put all the "ghost nets" end to end and they would reach halfway round the world. Many of them are to be found in the Indian Ocean.

And remember, Japan's 500 drift net ships are barred from working Japanese waters.

Long-lines are so efficient they cleaned out North Atlantic and Mediterranean fisheries in a decade. They endanger the albatross and kill thousands of sea turtles and millions of sharks each year.

Again, half the haul is "by-catch", unsellable but dead when thrown back into the sea.

So much for Japan's argument that whales must be hunted in order to protect fisheries.

It's up to progressive Japanese to control their government and national image. The 77% who are opposed to whaling form a significant majority.


It's obvious that small, outdated vested interests shame Japan by controlling the obscure Fisheries Agency of Japan, defender of whaling, drift-netting and long-lining - as long as it's not in Japanese waters.

Japanese must protest whaling and destructive fishing practices. I'm American, but I'm not afraid to say at every introduction ". but I hate George Bush for disgracing my country!" Japanese can do the same.

In 1953-54 I lived in a traditional Japanese house in a village near Sendai. Only eight years after the atomic bomb was dropped, I watched Japan grow, and foresaw its eventual achievements.

Japan's post-war economic recovery and cultural migration is a heartwarming success story - it's a shame to taint all of that hard work just to hunt whales that nobody eats anyway.

If three out of four Japanese agree it's time to move into the 21st century with honor, why are Japanese whalers being allowed to start all over again?

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