U.S. Pressures Japan to Stop Minke Whale Hunt

WASHINGTON, DC, November 13, 2001 (ENS) - The United States is keeping up pressure on Japan to halt its annual Antarctic minke whale hunt, with uncertainty still surrounding the species' population level.

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Japanese whaler takes a minke whale in the Southern Ocean. (Two photos courtesy Greenpeace)
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the U.S. strongly backs the international community's call on Japan to stop the program. The Japanese whalers are the world's only remaining factory whaling fleet.

Boucher's statement on November 9 was the only significant official international criticism of the 2001 - 2002 Japanese hunt, which was also condemned by environment groups.

On November 5, the day the Japanese whaling fleet departed Shimonoseki on its way out to Antarctic waters to hunt minke whales, Greenpeace demonstrators donned eyeball heads and held up banners that reminded the Japanese that the world is watching their actions. The giant eyeballs appeared at Japanese embassies around the globe.

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Greenpeace eyeballs protest as Japanese whalers leave Shimonoseki.
At its 2001 meeting, the International Whaling Commission adopted a resolution that expressed concern the minke population may have suffered a precipitous decline over the past decade.

Preliminary data put to the IWC indicated that there may be as few as 268,000 Antarctic minkes, less than half the previously accepted estimate of 760,000 reached in 1990. Japan annually kills 440 minkes under its self-issued "scientific permit" whaling.

The IWC has urged Japan to halt its lethal take, at least until the commission's scientific committee has reported on the impacts of its program.

Japan argues that preliminary estimates from surveys of minke whale abundance cannot be used to imply any change in abundance. It argued that "confounding factors" in the current survey made it incompatible with previous surveys, and when these factors were accounted for, estimates would be much higher.

Japan's alternate Commissioner to the IWC, Masayuki Komatsu, said after the 2001 meeting, "Attempts by the Commissioners from New Zealand and the United States to portray the Scientific Committee's report as indicating a decline in the abundance are a misinterpretation of the science."

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The Japanese whaling ship Kyo Maru No. 1 leaves Shimonoseki, Japan in July 2000. (Photo courtesy International Fund for Animal Welfare)
"Japan contributes the vessels and crew, as well as some of the scientists for this work, and we believe the research may also show a higher figure than that previous agreed by the Scientific Committee," Komatsu said.

"The uncertainty concerning the current minke whale abundance estimates has confirmed the need for Japan's research in the Antarctic."

But Greenpeace says Japan is close to overturning the IWC global moratorium on commercial whaling with support of Caribbean island nations to which Japan provides foreign aid. The support of Antigua and Barbuda for whaling is partly linked to Japanese aid, the Caribbean News Agency reported in July.

"Japan wants a return to high seas whaling with factory ships, and its willing to use bribery to get it," said John Bowler, Greenpeace campaign coordinator.

Japanese government officials are believed to be intensifying their efforts to build a majority before the next meeting of the IWC. This will be held in the Japanese fleet's home port of Shimonoseki in May 2002.

{Published in cooperation with The Antarctican}