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Will Japan Stop Whaling and Killing Dolphins in Time for the Tokyo Olympics?

The Olympics are all about cooperation and celebration, the slaughter of marine mammals are anything but.

Since the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, Japan has repeatedly flaunted the will of the IWC by issuing hundreds of scientific permits to Japan whalers for "research whaling." The scam has been repeatedly denounced by the IWC, by other nations, and was deemed illegal by the World Court in The Hague. Much of the killing, in addition to violating the moratorium, was conducted in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, designated by the IWC as a protected zone for whales.

Japanese Wavesphoto by Taymaz Valley/FlickrJapan has repeatedly flaunted the will of the International Whaling Commission by issuing hundreds of scientific permits to Japanese whalers for "research whaling."

In 2009, Japan's bloody hunting of dolphins was exposed by the release of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. The film caused a global sensation. Hundreds of intelligent dolphins – males, females and calves – die each year in the worst way imaginable.

Last winter (the Antarctic summer), Japan killed 333 minke whales for "scientific research" whaling. During the last 6-month dolphin-hunting season in Taiji, Japan, the hunters killed 652 dolphins (while catching another 117 live dolphins to be brokered to aquariums around the world).

Japan remains unmoved. Powerful rural legislators have joined with the Japan Fisheries Agency, the fishing industry and fishermen's unions in opposing any end to whaling and dolphin hunting. 80% of Japan's protein comes from the sea, and Japan is the largest importer of fish in the world. Extreme nationalists have adopted the issues as if Japan's very soul is bound up in the history of whaling and dolphin killing.

In fact, it is all nonsense. Few Japanese eat whale or dolphin meat anymore, despite clumsy Fisheries Agency attempts from time to time to mount pro-eating whale meat advertising and publicity stunts. Frozen whale meat stacks up in warehouses unsold; the meat is turned into jerky and pet food to get rid of it. The claim that whaling and dolphin hunting are "traditions" is very weak, as industrial whaling did not begin in Japan until the beginning of the 20th century (often with opposition from local Japanese fishermen who resented the blood and offal shore whaling stations dumped in fishing ports), with Antarctic trips not starting until the 1930's. Dolphin hunting is even more tenuous: Taiji's "traditional" dolphin drive hunts, depicted in The Cove, did not begin until 1969.

Japan has bigger fish to fry, if you will excuse the pun. The conservative government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly endorsed whaling and issues permits for dolphin hunters like clockwork. They should reconsider.

In 2020, Tokyo will be hosting the summer Olympics. The world will focus on Japan, and Japan will have an extraordinary opportunity on the world stage to restore prestige lost through years of its stagnate economy and reduced global leadership.

On that world stage, the slaughter of innocent whales and dolphins, anathema to most of the world's people and governments, would send a jarring note of Japan's unwillingness to cooperate with world bodies like the World Court and the IWC. This need not be the case.

The Olympics are all about cooperation and celebration. The slaughter of whales and dolphins practiced by Japan are anything but. Killing whales and dolphins is not an Olympic event. Does Japan really need such black marks on their national reputation?

We are told in antiquity that Greek warriors laid down their arms and ceased wars in order to join in the Olympic competitions, upon which our modern Olympics are based. Perhaps it is time for Japan to lay down their harpoons and spikes with which they kill whales and dolphins, and join the rest of the world in ending the exploitation of these intelligent and remarkable beings? Country after country, some having longer "traditions" of whale and dolphin hunting than Japan, have ceased such activities.

The Sept. 1st beginning of another season of dolphin hunting is upon us. In December, the Japanese whaling fleet will set sail again for Antarctic waters. Will the Japan government remain intransigent?

A gesture of international cooperation and goodwill by Japan towards whales and dolphins would have immense global value.

On August 29th, Earth Island's International Marine Mammal Project sent a letter to Prime Minister Abe recommending he end the killing of whales and dolphins by Japan, and offering our help in such a transition for the dolphin hunters of Taiji. We stress in our letter that we do not believe in a boycott of Japan or a boycott of the Olympics in Tokyo.

With four years to go, now is the time for Japan to start phasing out dolphin hunting and whaling.

Please sign our petition to Prime Minister Abe.

Mark J. Palmer
Mark J. Palmer is Associate Director of the International Marine Mammal Project.

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