Leading article: The whale still needs saving

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The dramatic increase in Japan's influence over the International Whaling Commission yesterday is a deeply worrying development. Despite strenuous denials from the Japanese government, the accusation made by environmental groups that it has effectively bribed its way around the world to increase support for whaling is compelling. How else can one explain the fact that many of the small nations (with no tradition of whaling) that have joined the IWC have suddenly become supporters of the practice? Japanese financial inducements, however indirect, are the only plausible explanation.

A return of commercial whaling may not yet be imminent. That would require a pro-whaling majority of 75 per cent on the IWC. But we should be in no doubt that Japan yesterday took a significant step closer to that goal. And it will soon have the power to disrupt a number of important IWC conservation programmes.

The pro-whaling arguments remain as feeble as ever. The Japanese campaign to reverse the 1986 ban on commercial whaling is not about protecting Japanese culture. There is no great demand for whale meat from the Japanese population. Consumption is, in fact, in decline. And a majority of Japanese people support the ban, according to a recent poll by the Nippon Research Centre. The truth is that the whaling issue has become a matter of petty national pride.

The argument that commercial whaling can be done sustainably is also flawed. Most whale numbers remain considerably depleted compared with pre-exploitation levels. And it will be many years before their numbers are restored

It is an ominous coincidence that yesterday's shift in the balance of power on the IWC came on the same day that a United Nations report revealed the terrible extent of the damage inflicted by man's plundering of the oceans. A number of global fish stocks are in advanced decline and many marine ecosystems are under serious threat.

As the advance of climate change is making abundantly clear, we depend on the world's ecosystems for our survival. The ban on whaling is not simply about protecting these beautiful marine mammals. It is about conserving the natural balance of the seas. The anti-whaling nations of the world must do everything in their power to weather this fresh onslaught.