It is normally the case that endeavors involve the harvesting of ocean resources, such as fish, clams, and a variety of crustaceans, to be done in order to fulfill a specific need. This justifies the consumption of various types of ocean resources since without them, a lot of societies all around the world dependent on daily supplies of this particular method of sustenance will starve as a result (Fox, 2002).
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If there were no inherent need to supply populations with such resources, then the activity of harvesting various live animals from the sea could be meant as needless slaughter (Fears, 2009). It is based on this that Japanese continued whaling activities under the guise of “scientific research” can be categorized as a form of unnecessary killing since based on the research of Christian et al.
(2008), Japanese population neither requires the large quantities of whale meat (500 whales per year) that are caught and sold nor does whale meat constitute a major part of the average Japanese citizen’s diet. The primary defense of the Japanese government, regarding the sale of whale meat within local markets, is that whale meat consumption is an integral part of Japanese culture.
Such a defense is rather ambiguous given the aforementioned fact that most people in Japan have rarely, if ever, tasted or even seen whale meat. The main point of contention between Japan and other countries that condemn the act of hunting down whales is the method of justification utilized by the Japanese government which entails “scientific research” as the basis behind its activities of whale hunting.
While such an excuse may be valid, if a few specimens are caught through internationally sanctioned actions each year in order to examine the current status of the species, the fact remains the same that Japanese whaling ships often catch 500 or more whales annually. Such a number is far beyond what can normally be construed as “catching for the sake of scientific research” since 500 species taken at any one time in order to examine population rates and the general health of the species are inherently unjustifiable given the numbers involved.
Based on this, it must be questioned whether the act of whaling, scientific or not, should be outright banned or justified based on traditional heritage and the concept of collecting scientific data. The act of whaling by the Japanese should be prevented since they do not own exclusive rights to whales and are subject to the concept of international joint ownership of marine species.
Legal Principles Involved
First and foremost, it must be noted that whaling itself is illegal as per the ratification of international treaties that specifically ban the harvesting of species that are vulnerable or endangered (Stoett, 1997). Whaling for the purpose of scientific research, on the other hand, is allowed and utilized by Japanese whalers in conjunction with section 2 of Article VIII of the convention on whaling set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) which specifically states that whales caught under special permits for scientific research should be processed and disposed of in a practical fashion that is in accordance with the directions given by the issuer of the permit.
What this means is that whalers who catch whales for “scientific research” are under the legal obligation to dispose the excess parts of the whale in a practical fashion. In this particular case, it involves selling whale meat. Thus, from a legal perspective, the act of selling whale meat gained through “scientific research” is perfectly legal. While it is considered “legal” under such an approach, it must be questioned whether the “spirit of the law” (i.e. the main intent of the convention on international whaling) is followed or outright violated.
From an ethical perspective, it can be seen that that spirit of the law is not followed by the Japanese government, and from a certain perspective, can be construed as an insult to other nations since the sanctity of following ratified treaties is the very basis of international law. When examining the basis of the treaty established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in relation to the protection of the whale species it can be seen that the entirety of the document was meant to prevent all forms of commercial exploitation of a species whose populations have been deemed as vulnerable.
The reason behind this is quite simple, even limited hunting of a particular subspecies of whale whose populations have increased (as seen in the case of the Minkie whale) still prevents whale populations as a whole from returning to their original numbers.
Cultural Traditions and Scientific Research Vs International Joint Ownership
In relation to the concept of violations of international law, the failure of the Japanese government to acknowledge joint ownership of ocean based resources by all nations within international waters comes. While Japan justifies the hunting of whales under the concepts of cultural traditions and scientific research, the country does not take into consideration the concept of international joint ownership of marine species (Stevenson, Gordon, & Begun, 2000).
A large percentage of the whales are hunted within international waters, as such the actions of the whalers are subject to review by other countries since their rights to the species are also violated by what is perceived as a unilateral action for hunting versus a multilateral consensus against it. Since Japan does not have exclusive ownership over marine species within international waters, the government of the country has no choice but to acknowledge international consensus, regarding proper harvesting practices (Yannacopolou, 2011).
While Japan may justify the hunting of whales under aspects related to cultural traditions and scientific research, the fact remains that since Japan is part of an international community, it has to follow the various rules and regulations that enable peaceful relations between countries, regardless of their potential impact on cultural values and scientific knowledge. This is the basis on which all states interact with one another with constant violations of such unspoken rules, often resulting in condemnation and isolation as seen in the case of North Korea.
It must also be noted that the hunting of various whale species by Japan is not the first instance where Japan has entirely discounted the concept of the joint ownership of species, for example, the population of Blue Fin Tuna which is considered a cultural delicacy in Japan has been declining as of late due to excessive over consumption of which 90% is attributed to Japan.
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The problem is that the Japanese have once again used the excuse of culture and tradition as the basis for their continued hunting of the species despite evidence showing that the populations are nearing a critical level wherein they will no longer be able to become a sustainable food source.
Interestingly enough, despite the sheer amount of data shown by a variety of marine biologists from different countries showing the obvious decline of the species, data from Japan’s own scientific institutions shows that the populations are stable and continue to be a viable food source.
Such an argument is almost similar to the one used by Japan regarding the current populations of whales. Taking this into consideration, it can be assumed that some form of falsification of data is currently being utilized in order to justify actions which are clearly in violation of the shared rights of all nations.
Emotion versus Scientific Data
The final argument of Japan in justifying its practice states that the whale species that whalers “scientifically capture” in fact have sustainable populations (such as the Minkie whale which has a population consisting of 300,000) and that the basis for the ban on whaling is an emotional rather than a scientific response based on clear population estimates (Whaling, 2009).
The inherent problem with such a statement is that while it may be true that 300,000 species seem like a sustainable number, the fact is that whale population numbers 300,000 species still places Minkie whales on the vulnerable species list. From a certain perspective it can be stated that Japan does have a point in that the basis behind the current ideas behind the protection of whales has its roots in emotions derived from popular culture sentiments and the way in which whales have been portrayed by the media.
Yet, what must be understood is that such sentiments exist for a variety of species in the world such as the Bald Headed Eagle in the U.S., Giant Pandas in China, the Monkey Eating Eagle in the Philippines and an assortment of other creatures that are either vulnerable or endangered. This sentiment is born out of a distinct appreciation of the beauty of nature and the fragility of life and even Japan has a similar form of sentiment regarding the rare Hokkaido deer.
Even if such species are neither used as food sources nor are they valuable in terms of any medicinal qualities, their rarity and fragility creates a distinctive emotional feeling of attachment and guilt over the impact of humanity’s activities on nature and the necessity of protecting such creatures. The same feeling is attributed to whales by a vast majority of nations wherein they are viewed as a majestic wonder of nature that creates awe and fascination as well as the desire to protect a species that has been impacted by humanity’s activities.
As such, even if scientific data says that the population of whales is in fact increasing it is likely that most of the world would still choose to protect the species. It is this particular aspect of the argument to protect whales that Japan fails to recognize since in its opinion it is protecting its own cultural tradition when in reality the country is slowly but surely vilifying itself in the eyes of the international population due to its continued hunting of a species that many view as beautiful and majestic.
Understanding the Basis of Why Japanese Society Condones the Hunting of Whales
The reason why Japanese society condones the act of whaling even to the point that it clearly violates international norms and angers other nations is due to the fact that the ethos of whaling hunting as a part of Japanese culture has been firmly promoted by numerous groups. An examination of the historical nature of ethos has shown that in one way or another despite the apparent ethical appearance of a certain type of ethos there is always an underlying reason behind its creation which does in fact create a beneficial effect for the individuals that created it.
This can be seen in the case of the Japanese whaling industry who promotes the sale of whale meat as being part of the cultural tradition of the country. Furthermore, it must be noted that ethos is not something that is inherent but rather something that has been created and manufactured with a surface image in order to fulfill a particular purpose. It is often utilized as a method of convincing people or justifying a particular set of actions and as such it is crafted in such a way so as to be convincing, believable and thus adaptable.
For example when ordering someone to go into battle you do not tell them that the possibility of them dying is high rather you tell them to fight for national pride, democracy, freedom etc., even though the fact of the matter is that person will most likely die. In a sense ethos is a device utilized in order to manipulate public perception regarding truth in such a way that it promotes a particular idea on the basis of the common good but in fact it was created in order to carry out a particular action.
When examining such facets of ethos and comparing it to the attitude of Japanese society in relation to whale hunting it becomes obvious that there is a group behind the proliferation of the ethos of whale hunting as an important aspect of Japan’s cultural heritage when in fact it clearly is not.
What must be understood is that Ethos can also refer to the way in which a person portrays themselves in an argument, in a sense that it is a method in which persuaders present an “image” to people that they are attempting to persuade. This particular “image” refers to a persuaders “character” in the sense that a person is attempting to persuade another person of the righteousness of their statements based on their inherent character.
In the case of ethos it is a form of “artifice”, meaning that is created, manufactured, made, constructed etc. It can be considered a type of surface image which may in fact have an entirely fictitious relationship to what is actually true. Thus, the “image” in this particular case is one which upholds cultural tradition when in reality it is merely more profit.
Based on the various arguments and facts presented, it can be seen that Japan has a flimsy excuse for justifying its actions and, as such, the act of whaling by the Japanese should be prevented since they do not own exclusive rights to whales and are subject to the concept of international joint ownership of marine species.
While it may be true that whales are edible, the fact remains that their current numbers are nowhere near adequate and call for proper protection and prevention from harvesting until such their populations grow to be stable.
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