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Leave Humpback Whales Alone Message To Japan

Leave Humpback Whales Alone Message To Japan

Maori and Pacific community leaders and entertainers feature in a “diplomatic” protest to Japan over plans to hunt 50 humpback whales next summer.

By Bharat Jamnadas

The message was clear at an anti-whaling rally in New Zealand on Saturday - leave the humpback whales alone.

And this is the thrust of what a delegation of Pacific community leaders presented in a diplomatic letter of protest to the Japanese Ambassador in Wellington (May 15 2007).

The letter states that “the Pacific people of New Zealand condemn the Japanese government’s intention to kill Pacific humpback whales next summer in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary under its JARPA 11 plan.”

The protest rally - Safe Journey, Let the Humpback Live - was staged by Auckland’s Pacific community to protest against Japanese plans to hunt up to 50 humpback whales next summer.

Part of an international day of protest, the rally at Auckland’s Manukau Square, featured Maori and Pacific community leaders and entertainers.

Rally co-organiser Melino Maka, chairman of the Tongan Advisory Council, said whales hold a significant place in the tradition and culture of many Pacific countries.

“We have a spiritual connection with our whales in our waters. Please leave them alone,” he said.

Maka said it also played an important part in the economies of struggling South Pacific countries. In his homeland Tonga and across the South Pacific, whale watching as a business was booming.

Fast-growing business
In New Zealand, it is worth $120 million a year and is one of our fastest growing businesses. In the past decade, the industry earned South Pacific countries about $28.6 million a year. In Tonga each humpback contributed about $1.4 million to the countries economy during its lifetime.

There were whale-watching industries developing in Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Niue and French Polynesia.

He said hunting humpback populations would put these Pacific Island countries, which are already struggling economically into serious jeopardy. The humpback populations were already small and if the Japanese “research whaling” fleets wipe them out, the economic lifelines for Pacific nations will die with them.

Although commercial whaling was banned in 1986, the Japanese whaling fleet travels to the protected waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary each year to hunt whales for their “scientific research” programme.

This is the first time they will target endangered humpback whales, along with their annual killing of up to 935 minke and 50 endangered fin whales.

Maka said the protest letter is calling on the Japanese Government to respect the right of Pacific nations to protect their natural resources and economies and to halt its planned “scientific” or “research” whaling of humpback whales.

According to him, humpback whales were taken to the brink of extinction in the South Pacific in the 1950s and 1960s, when the former Soviet Union was illegally whaling humpbacks on their Antarctic feeding ground. Most of the 45,000 humpbacks taken were from South Pacific breeding grounds.

Whale-watching town
The rally, supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and compeered by Maori entertainer Rawiri Paratene, was one of three held around the country. A similar rally was held in Tauranga and another in Kaikoura, a prominent whale-watching town in the South Island.

Another rally was held in Tonga and in 20 centres around Australia.

IFAW’s Pacific campaigns manager Olive Andrews said protest groups planned to expand similar rallies all over the Pacific next May 12. She said time was running out.

In November, Japan intended to begin its largest hunt since the global moratorium in 1986.

Andrews, who is based in Sydney, said both New Zealand and Australia have constantly been vocal in their opposition to whaling in international political arenas like the International Whaling Commission (IWC). She said diplomacy was not working and more talk will not stop Japan killing whales.

IFAW had recently commissioned an independent panel of Australia’s leading international law experts, who recommended that legal action can be taken to stop Japan killing any more whales in the Southern Ocean. “They will begin targeting our iconic humpbacks. The killing must be stopped,” she said.

Mike Donahue, marine scientist with the Department of Conservation, said Japan’s programme of “scientific whaling” - known as JARPA, had expanded its programme since 1987, when it began its 16-year term.

6000 killed
During this term more than 6000 whales have been killed, some of them whales that had wintered over in the South Pacific.

Japan is about to begin the second year of its new programme, JARPA 11. Donahue said apart from doubling the annual take of Antarctic minke whales to 850 per annum and taking 10 fin whales per annum for the first two years, this is the first time it will be taking 50 humpback whales in successive years of the programme.

Donahue said the research area for JARPA 11 would be in Antarctic waters to the South of Australia and New Zealand, the feeding grounds of the great whales which overwinter in tropical latitudes of the South Pacific.

The research area would, however, be extended to also include the western part of Area VI, a large area to the south of Fiji, Tonga, Niue and the Cook Islands.

Donahue said humpback whales from very small and threatened populations would be exposed to lethal sampling on their Antarctic feeding grounds.

“There are probably around 2,000 humpbacks in the entire South Pacific, and in some parts of the region, such as Fiji and Samoa, the local population remains critically endangered,” he said.

“The annual intake of 50 humpbacks for scientific research could set back by decades the recovery of endangered and genetically isolated populations of humpback whales in the South Pacific.”

‘Eco-thriller’
C. George Muller, marine biologist and author of the anti-whaling novel Echoes in the Blue, commended the Pacific communities for making a stand against the whaling of humpbacks.

He said it was clear that the rally was not anti-Japanese but about saving the few economic lifelines Pacific nations have in tourism.

His book,described as an “eco-thriller”, was attacked by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) as “vicious fiction” and “disturbing propaganda” and that it was anti-Japanese.

The author and the main characters in the story have repeatedly stressed that the book is against whaling, not Japan or the Japanese people - a fact Muller says is particularly relevant given that recent surveys have shown most Japanese do not support their country’s continued whaling programme in defiance of the whaling moratorium.

Fewer than 4 per cent of Japanese regularly eat whale meat.

Maka also said the protest rally was not anti-Japanese. He said the protest was against the government of Japan and not its people.

Kiyomi Bingley, a New Zealander of Japanese origin, said she did not think protests against whaling were to do with racism or being anti-Japanese.

Bingley, of Kaipara, north of Auckland, who is an active member of the Japanese Society of New Zealand, said that when she was growing up in Japan in the 1950s she was made to eat whale meat.

Protein substitute
“During post World War Two, the Japanese diet lacked protein and the government was encouraged by the Americans to hunt for whales as a substitute to protein,” she said.

Bingley said times had changed and there was a need for everyone to be better educated about whaling. There was also need for people to know about the importance of the humpback whales to the peoples of the Pacific.

“It isn’t about what we used to do but what the situation is now”, she said.

Bingley said many Japanese she knew were conservation-minded and also made up the numbers among the whale watchers in New Zealand and other countries in the region.

But her daughter, Aya Bingley, an Auckland student, said she did feel there was a “negative vibe” against the Japanese people at times.

She said she had never eaten whale meat and did not want to.

“I love the creatures. They’re so beautiful,” she said.

“I hope that they are left to alone.”

* Bharat Jamnadas is a postgraduate student on AUT University’s Asia-Pacific Journalism paper. He is also a senior reporter on the Asia Down Under TV programme.

Links:
Earthtrust on humpback whales

ENDS

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