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A mother and calf sperm whale have come together at the surface in the waters of the Bismarck Sea. These very same animals are now under threat by the Japanese whalers who resumed the hunt for sperms whales in the year 2000.
Photo: Chris Johnson

July 24, 2001
Papua New Guinea Takes a Stand Against Whaling
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea.

It is the first day of the 53rd annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Global tension is mounting as member nations gather in London, England to discuss the future of the whales of the world. It is highly likely that the resolutions of this years meeting will spell disaster for the great whales. The IWC was originally formed in 1949 in an attempt to manage commercial whaling in the face of diminishing whale stocks and declining profits. In 1986, a global moratorium came into effect and a sanctuary was established in Antarctica. The great whales were in desperate need of protection, years of overexploitation had driven most species to critically low levels.

Since the implementation of the global moratorium, Japan and Norway have continued to hunt the Minke whale. Norway setting catch quotas within its own territorial waters, while Japan has continued the hunt under the guise of 'scientific whaling'. This is a serious loophole that allows the kill to continue under IWC regulations, the carcasses however, are allowed to be processed for their meat and oil in the usual way. Japan has caused further outrage by continuing to hunt whales in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary and by adding two more species to their target list in 2000, the brydes and sperm whales.

To argue that their whaling is for scientific purpose is outrageous and completely misleading, more can be learned from studying the live animal than we can ever hope to learn from the study of a carcase, and Japan have had the opportunity to study millions, yet they claim they need more. Dr. Roger Payne, President of Ocean Alliance responds to the Japanese Whalers; "In exactly the same time that it took the Japanese to collect samples from four sperm whales, animals that had to be killed for their data, the Ocean Alliance obtained samples from 296 Sperm whales, none of which suffered any measurable harm from having contributed to a far more comprehensive data set." - Roger Payne, September 2000.

The issue of whaling is a bitter and passionate one, with the majority of member nations, in fact the majority of all nations strongly apposing commercial whaling. It would appear that over the last 15 years since the declaration of a moratorium, Japan has been doing the rounds of poorer Pacific Island nations, offering financial aid in an attempt to 'buy' votes at the Whaling Commission meetings. The vote of a small island nation carries the same weight as any other member country, meaning that a small number of countries with comparably small populations can sway the vote against the will of the majority. Unfortunately this underhanded tactic is a ploy that has come dangerously close to working. Japan only need gain enough support to defeat a three quarters majority. Last year, six Caribbean nations who had no interest in commercial whaling, voted with Japan on every motion. An action that resulted in an effective block of an extension of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary from the Antarctic to the equator. The fear is that Japan will have bought enough votes to block the proposal again this year, as well as blocking a proposal aimed at creating a South Atlantic Sanctuary. Their ultimate aim is to buy enough votes to overturn the current moratorium leading to a resumption in full-scale commercial whaling.

Some of the Odyssey crew have just returned to Madang from Port Moresby where the issue of Japan and her underhanded tactics have received much media attention. Papua New Guinea is home to a rich diversity of marine life, a natural resource Japan has been trying desperately to gain access too, ever since they were banned from fishing here in 1988 for violating the regulations outlined in the licence agreement.

Most of the larger cetacean species are protected under IWC regulations, as these were the species traditionally targeted by whalers. Unfortunately almost none of the smaller whale species, such as dolphins and porpoises are protected. As a result, many are targeted by fisheries worldwide.
Photo: Courtesy of Greenpeace

While Ocean Alliance was hosting a marine mammal workshop in Port Moresby last week to discuss the protection of whales in Papua New Guinea, Japanese fisheries officials were also here discussing fishing access and whaling issues. An Australian current affairs program, Foreign Correspondent, aired an interview that coincided with the talks, where the head of Japan's fisheries agency admitted his country bought votes with the promise of Overseas Development Aid (ODA). Mr. Masayuki Komatsu stated, "I believe that the Minke whale is a cockroach in the oceans, there are too many." He went on to say, "Japan does not have military powers, Japan's means are simply diplomatic communication and ODA's. In order to get appreciation of Japan's position, of course, that is natural we must resort to those two major tools."

Last Friday, Papua New Guinea's Fisheries and Marine Resources Minister, Ron Ganarafo said Papua New Guinea would not allow Japan to tamper with its marine resources. Mr. Ganarafo went on to say, "Just this week we ended a two-day conference with our Japanese counterparts, negotiating for their access to PNG waters. There is no way they will twist us around and we will not be fooled into such activities because we have our stand on whaling in PNG and we will stick by it, also because we have the duty to safeguard and protect them by all means." Mr. Ganarafo said both parties would meet again in October to discuss access to tuna fishing grounds.

History has taught us that man is incapable of hunting whales sustainably, a resumption in commercial whaling would surely spell doom for the ocean's remaining whales. It is heartening to see countries such as Papua New Guinea making a stand against the coercive tactics of the Japanese rather than accepting bribes for short-term gain. Papua New Guinea currently sends observers to IWC meetings but has not been able to afford the fee required to become a voting member. Papua New Guinea should be seen as an example for any poorer nation who is considering accepting aid from Japan in return for a favourable vote. There are proven economic alternatives to whaling, most notably whale watching which has become a billion dollar industry, where in some countries such as Iceland, it has become more lucrative than commercial hunting.

If a minority of countries are successful in holding the rest of the world to ransom and whaling does resume, this uneven match of greed and high tech machinery means that the whales will not stand a chance.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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