By Janell Duey
For Northwest Asian Weekly
The current whaling debate is one that is perpetually heated, and one that will be around for quite some time. Among the many political and emotional maelstroms that pass between both sides of the argument, the accusation of racism is the ugliest — and by far, nothing but a mere speculation with respect to whaling.
Although the pro-whaling proponents do have some valid arguments regarding the minke whale (the current animals that are being hunted) population numbers, racism is detrimental to the dispute, and does not acknowledge any of the evidence. Both sides of the debate need to empirical justification, instead of illogical fallacies.
Although the Asian community may feel as if they are being singled out against whaling due to Captain Watson’s show “Whale Wars” and documentaries such as “The Cove,” the reality is that anti-whaling activists travel around the world to prevent whale hunts where they still take place.
Currently, Sea Shepherd has not sunk any ships of the Japanese whaling fleet, while it has sunk three Norwegian, two Icelandic, and several Spanish whaling vessels (Spain no longer actively hunts).
Furthermore, Sea Shepherd focuses on all questionable commercial hunts, including the harp seal hunt in Canada, as well as fishing regulations in the European Union. To say that Sea Shepherd is bullying only Japan and the Asian community is dangerous and could spark unnecessary controversy.
Perhaps Japan brings a lot of negative attention to itself. It currently hunts not in its own waters, but in internationally recognized Australian territory in Antarctic waters, which serve as an Australian whale sanctuary. Additionally, it has fought and continued to try to increase not its quota, but its whale catch diversity. The Japanese government has been eying humpback whale catch quotas, despite international outcry.
Perhaps the most offensive issue to anti-whaling and cetacean lovers alike is that the whaling argument has become not an issue of the whales, but rather an issue of pride. In regard to the truthfulness of the anti-whaling argument pioneers, the Japanese government has also been known to manipulate the truth for its own constituents.
Asians, including the Japanese, have a strong sense of food culture and are very proud of their national dishes.
In Japanese culture, before a meal takes place, people say “itadakimasu,” which translates to, “I receive this gift.”
However, it is impossible to say that whale meat in Japan is received as a gift. In fact, most of it ends up in warehouses, federal food programs, and even animal feed. Although whale meat was a staple during shortages after WWII, only a small percentage of the population eats whale meat now — and it is not the younger generation. How can a culture say, “I receive this gift,” when an animal is slaughtered and either put in deep freeze or allowed to rot on shelves at the grocery store?
It seems as if the whales have been misplaced and caught in a pride war between the East and the West. Japanese officials, including Masayuki Komatsu (former Japanese fishery agency officer), argue that if Japan were to cave in on its whaling practices, then their fishing rights would be slowly chipped away. Similar concerns have been brought up in regard to the blue fin tuna hunt as well. Japan has resisted international attempts to lower the catch quota despite the imminent crash of the fishery due to over-fishing.
Some people believe that the West is attempting to transpose its values onto Asia, since whales are highly revered in Western culture.
However, is whaling a part of Japanese culture? Traditionally speaking, coastal whaling is a part of Japanese culture in certain areas of Japan. In Taiji, for example, folks have been conducting their annual dolphin hunts for generations. Japan was not introduced to commercial whaling until Commodore Perry forced the country to open up its ports to foreigners.
On those Japanese whaling ships that voyaged out to sea, only the companies were Japanese, whereas the ship building depended on foreign technologies and the ships themselves were run by an international crew. To argue that all whaling is a form of Japanese culture is similar to stating that hula, a traditional dance of Hawaii, is a form of American culture.
Insinuating that racism is one of the factors motivating anti-whaling is outlandish.
Yes, there are a few “loose cannons” who are misguided and not fully educated on the whaling issue. They often try to contribute to the argument with low-blow, often irrelevant remarks. But [those] remarks have no educational standing and are easily ignored by the people who are in the intense whaling debate.
People who get caught up in the moot racist remarks are equally guilty of racism between the East and the West, as they are fanning the flames for further ignorant insults from both sides. As with any debate, it is best to meet a challenger with well thought out and empirical data. If the onslaught of emotional opinion continues from the other side, walk away because facts beat opinions on every level.
The whaling debate has no foreseeable end. However, as countrymen and animal lovers fight hard for what they believe in, audacious remarks that are of no matter to the actual argument are unnecessary and unwarranted. Currently, this “tit for tat” war has gotten nowhere in terms of whale conservation or the return of commercial whaling, only inciting pathos that is damaging to the core argument.
If either side wants to gain any traction with politicians, then they need to become professional and use factual data. ♦
Janell Duey earned her degree in Japan and wrote her graduating thesis on the economics of whaling. She currently resides in Bellevue and enjoys working toward a more protected ocean.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.