POINT OF VIEW - Geoffrey Palmer: Japan missed the boat on coastal whaling


Geoffrey Palmer: Each year, just before Christmas in New Zealand, our television screens are full of images of Japan's whaling activities in the Southern Ocean. As 90 percent of the people in New Zealand oppose whaling, these images cause great distress.

Captain Paul Watson: Geoffrey Palmer begins by saying that 90 percent of New Zealanders oppose whaling and ignores this to promote his idea that Japan should have their whaling legalized.

Geoffrey Palmer: At the International Whaling Commission, for many years negotiations were at an impasse. We tried to break the deadlock with a small ‘support group’ of pro- and anti-whaling nations that I chaired, and the process led to this year's annual meeting.

Within this process Japan showed willingness to compromise, and indicated it would reduce the number of whales caught in the Southern Ocean, if it was permitted some coastal whaling in the North Pacific in return. This proposition was attractive to us in New Zealand, and was one we were ready to support.

Captain Paul Watson: It was not attractive to the people of New Zealand. It was attractive to the New Zealand government because they were looking for a way to appease Japan to not upset trade relations. New Zealanders were not supportive of legalizing whaling in the North Pacific in return for a reduction in kills in the Southern Ocean. Sea Shepherd has already delivered this reduction in kills. Nothing would be achieved by lowering kill quotas to what they were taking anyway due to our interference.

Geoffrey Palmer: Unfortunately, agreement was not achieved at this year's meeting, and the reason for this was a lack of political will on both sides. The opportunity was there, but it was not grasped.

Captain Paul Watson: Oh, the will was there alright. Japan wanted everything and unlike New Zealand and the USA was not about to compromise over anything. Thankfully the Latin American nations, Europe, and Australia stood steadfast in opposing any legalization of whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Geoffrey Palmer: The simple idea on which the compromise proposal was based was that fewer whales would be killed. The question was how many fewer, and we sought a realistic outcome. Japan made it clear it would scale back its whaling activities in the Southern Ocean only if it was allowed a certain level of coastal whaling instead.

Captain Paul Watson: Fewer whales have been killed every year since Sea Shepherd interventions began. Palmer has long been very hostile to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and thus simply refuses to recognize the reductions in kills we have been able to achieve through our interventions.

Geoffrey Palmer: However, whales are a highly emotional issue in many countries, and this emotion can get in the way of hard-headed analysis. There is resistance to the idea that sustainable whaling is acceptable, and many people believe that what is acceptable is not to have whaling at all.

Captain Paul Watson: This is not about emotion. It is about international conservation law. What Japan is doing is illegal. Palmer thinks it is praise worthy to compromise with poachers. Of course there is resistance. Criminal activities should be resisted. And yes, there should be no whaling at all, by anyone, anywhere, for any reason. As Palmer said at the beginning of his article, 90% of New Zealanders oppose whaling, so why is he compromising for the 10% that apparently support whaling. Compromise is unacceptable to appease the interests of a mere 10%. There is no such thing as sustainable whaling. Perhaps Palmer has not noticed but there is not much in the way of sustainable fishing left either. Our oceans are dying and we can’t save biodiversity in the seas by killing whales and fish. We have reduced the numbers of all marine species beyond acceptable levels.

Geoffrey Palmer: Also, the idea of compromise is always unattractive. Giving up something, when it is regarded as deep principle, is seen as dangerous if not enough is received in return. In many countries, whales have iconic status and people think that no whales should be killed for any reason. Many of these countries are, of course, themselves former whaling nations.

Captain Paul Watson: Palmer and I agree on this. Compromise is not attractive. If former whaling nations like the USA, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and Australia can abolish whaling, so can wealthy modern nations like Japan, Norway, and Iceland.

Geoffrey Palmer: For countries that do not practice whaling, their governments often lack knowledge on the topic and are easily persuaded by the appeals of environmental NGOs. Also, as they are democratic governments, they cannot ignore public opinion.

Captain Paul Watson: It is very insulting of Geoffrey Palmer to state that non-whaling nations are lacking in knowledge about whales and whaling. The Japanese may be experts at killing whales, but the scientific expertise about whales, their numbers, biology, and behaviour is certainly not deficient in the nations that vote against the resumption of whaling. Palmer is quite ready to ignore the concerns of 90% of his fellow countrymen in his efforts to collaborate with and appease the Japanese whalers.

Geoffrey Palmer: Nevertheless, Japan could still have offered more in the negotiations.

I analyze Japan to be a small island with a big population that leads their government to place a strong emphasis on food security. Although people in Japan eat less whale meat than they used to, the government does not wish the resources of the seas to be closed to them.

However, Japan could have gained much from curtailing its whaling in the Southern Ocean. It is regrettable that the Japanese delegation did not move further, earlier in the negotiations. In my judgment, if Japan had made its final offer at an earlier stage, then the outcome could have been different.

Captain Paul Watson: Japan is not interested in compromise. They believe that economic bullying will achieve the goals they desire, and it appears to be working with New Zealand. A Japanese ship deliberately rammed and destroyed a New Zealand registered vessel, and New Zealand did not even question the Japanese captain responsible for the crime. In fact, the New Zealand government sided with the Japanese whalers in refusing to condemn the assault by the Japanese ship.

Geoffrey Palmer: The moratorium on commercial whaling is one of the great victories of global governance, and it is undermined by Japan's whaling program. Japan utilizes a loophole to pursue this whaling, and its reputation suffers because many people in other countries think that the scientific basis for this is a sham.

Captain Paul Watson: No, we don’t think it’s a sham. It has been proven to be a sham. So-called scientific whaling is a fraud, and they have not fooled anyone except those who find it convenient to be fooled for the benefit of their own agendas. What sort of great victory has this moratorium been when some 20,000 whales have been slaughtered since it was implemented. If it was a victory, then we would have no need to intervene against illegal whaling activities that operate in defiance of this moratorium.

Geoffrey Palmer: Concessions on its whaling program in the Southern Ocean would allow Japan to pursue coastal whaling--but also give it peace from the annual confrontations that do nothing for its international reputation or its foreign policy objectives.

Captain Paul Watson: Palmer has no credibility in making such a statement. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will not accept anything less than a total shutdown of all whaling operations in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Did Palmer think that we would simply go away if such a compromise was brokered? He did get assurances from Greenpeace that they would refrain from further interventions, but Greenpeace has not ‘intervened’ against whaling in the Southern Ocean since 2007.  Our return to Antarctic waters in December 2010 will be called Operation No Compromise in response to this failed attempt to appease the Japanese whalers.

Geoffrey Palmer: The treaty on which the IWC is based is fundamentally defective. It contains the purposes both of whaling stock management, and of whale conservation. It is unclear whether both these purposes can be achieved.

Negotiations at the IWC will now pause, but are not over. There needs to be reconsideration on both sides if we are going to make an agreement. In a speech earlier this year, I said that for compromise to be achieved, both sides would have to suffer pain, and feel as though they had swallowed a dead rat. On this occasion, the appetite for dead rats was very limited.

Captain Paul Watson: There is no agreement required. What is needed is the enforcement of existing laws. Japan is illegally targeting endangered Fin and Humpback whales and protected Minke whales in an internationally established whale sanctuary in violation of a global moratorium on whaling, in violation of the Antarctic Treaty, and in contempt of the Australian Federal Court. The whales continue to suffer pain Mr. Palmer, agonizing cruel horrific pain, and it is that pain we wish to put an end to, and thus we have no intention of swallowing your rats of compromise. Whaling must be ended in the Southern Ocean without conditions, exceptions, or compromises.   

Geoffrey Palmer is a former prime minister of New Zealand and a representative to the International Whaling Commission. This article was compiled from an interview with The Asahi Shimbun.