Standing united for the whales
The below photo was the view from my living room for many years, where I was completely blessed to watch the sunrise, the waves crash, Bondi summers pump and the whales migrate past. Twice a year they would literally come in as close as this photo, sometimes mothers and calves, sometimes whole pods. They would breach, blow water, hang out or just cruise straight by. It was truly magical.
It is no surprise that I, along with millions of other Australians, and people around the world, want to protect these majestic creatures.
This week saw a landmark decision when the UN's International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled to end the Japanese annual Antarctic Whale Hunt. What a moment to celebrate!
Japan officials have promised to respect the decision, which will allow for the Southern oceans to become truly protected waters for the whales. The decision is ineligible for an appeal.
Japan has been hunting whales for a long time. Despite the 1982 ban on commercial whaling, which followed a collective acknowledgement that several whale species had been hunted to the brink of extinction, Japan continued to hunt whales, exploiting a legal loop hole that allowed the killing of whales for "scientific research" - a total of over 10,000 since 1988. Disguising the hunt as science was extremely obvious to the world. There was negligible output of scientific studies, the programs were open-ended AND the meat from the whales was being sold as food. While whale meat historically was considered a delicacy and sold for a premium price, demand has decreased and prices have fallen significantly over the last few years. To keep the industry "profitable" it has been heavily subsidised .WWF commissioned a study in 2009 of the economics of the Japanese whaling industry and found that Japanese subsidies for whaling amounted to US$164 million since 1988, much coming from taxpayers money.
It has been a long journey for the protection of the whales, starting when the International Whaling Commission was set up in 1946 to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry". In 1982, due to threatening drops of populations from overfishing, the IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling. Of the 88 countries in the IWC, only 3 of them have continued to hunt whales - Japan through its "scientific research " permits and Norway and Iceland as open objectors to the moratorium.
Footage of these terrifying hunts got out to the world and the world was not happy. Millions of individuals started signing petitions, forming rallies and writing letters to their governments. Australian's feel a particular kinship to the whales, as we are a country surrounded by water and often get to witness them personally. With the voice of the people being made heard by the media, the Australian Government took notice.
In 2008 the Australian Federal Court ruled the Japanese whaling illegal under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and outlawed Japanese whalers in Australian waters. However Japan did not recognise Australia's jurisdiction over these waters. The next step was the campaign to take Japan to the International Court. The former Environmental Minister Peter Garret supported the campaign and once the Kevin Rudd Labor Party was in power, with the overwhelming support of the people of Australia, the government followed through and filed a law suit against Japan in the International Court. There was always push from the Greens for Labour to stand by their word and thankfully the new Liberal Party stuck with the case! It was a big step for both political parties to spend millions of dollars taking one of Australia's most important trading partners to the court, with the risk if they lost the case, it would have provided an unappealable legal basis for the hunt to continue. It was a risk worth taking and it paid off.
There was also many not for profit groups tirelessly campaigning for years for the whales. A group that stands out, one that we support, is Sea Shepherd. Sea Shepherd has long played a huge part in protecting the worlds oceans from these cruel and exhausting hunts. They send out their ships to the middle of the hostile oceans year after year, to physically stand between the harpoons and the whales. Through their persistent intervention they have often been successful in forcing the Japanese whaling operations to shut down early, last year after filling only 10 percent of their quota. With crew members from all over the world and now four vessels, they will be back in the waters next year to keep a look out. I believe we owe Sea Shepherd so much thanks for being out there hands on. Animal Planet has produced several seasons documenting their war against the whalers - check out one of their quick trailers below, focusing on Japans false scientific claims.
The whales are not safe yet, as Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland still run commercial whaling programs. Japan has also been hunting whales in the North Pacific, annually setting quotas of 150 Minke Whales and 100 Sei whales. If Japan shift its focus to this region to continue its ruthless whale slaughter, the world will be watching and has now made clear its stance on the issue.
I believe the ruling this week is a pivotal decision, recognising the shift that is occurring world-wide to live in harmony with the other beings on this earth and to put an end to barbaric, outdated behaviours.
May we all continue to stand up to protect the whales lives and hope for another case to halt to slaughter in the Pacific!
"We have won a battle. We have not yet won the war"
Paul Watson on the International Courts Ruling.