Back in February 2010 John Key said that he had a potential solution to solving the whaling crisis which he would discuss with Hillary Clinton and that he would take his plan to the upcoming International Whaling Commission meeting. Regrettably nothing ever came of it. As Eddie commented at the time it appeared that Key was talking out of his arse. It subsequently transpired that Key had formed the view that to save the whales you had to kill the whales.
This year we are again witnessing Japanese intransigence and the slaughter of whales in what is meant to be a Whale sanctuary.
Whales are generally protected under International Law. They cannot generally be hunted. But for some strange reason an exception was put into the relevant international treaty which allowed for the “scientific” killing of whales.
It is really hard to understand why this exception was allowed. After all what scientific information can you acquire from the slaughter of a whale in the context of a treaty that is meant to be trying to preserve them? Perhaps the evidence could be helpful if whales are facing some species extinction threatening event and the scientific data collected may help us avoid this outcome. But killing them with the result that their carcasses are delivered to Japanese Restaurants? How scientific is this?
The details are contained in the International Convention for the regulation of whaling. Under article 8:
[A]ny Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention.
The purpose of the convention includes:
Recognizing the interest of the nations of the world in safeguarding for future generations the great natural resources represented by the whale stocks;
Considering that the history of whaling has seen over-fishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further over-fishing;
It also recognised that “whale stocks are susceptible of natural increases if whaling is properly regulated, and that increases in the size of whale stocks will permit increases in the number of whales which may be captured without endangering these natural resources” but regrettably we are not in that position as yet.
Clause 7(b) of the schedule to the convention designates the Southern Ocean Sanctuary as an area protected from commercial whaling. The Japanese are using the scientific research loophole as justification for hunting in this area but you have to wonder about the validity of the justification given the use the whale meat is put to and you have to shake your head at the belligerence of the Japanese in killing whales in an area specially designated as a sanctuary.
The Japanese argument is frankly bogus. Allowing whaling “for the purposes of scientific research” should require at least a passing relationship between the whaling and the gathering of useful information. Sending factory ships out to kill and harvest multiple whales makes a mockery of the language of the treaty.
The validity of Japan’s use of the scientific whaling exception is due to be ruled on by the International Court of Justice in the near future. The case has been argued and a decision is pending. Australia, which commenced the case, is arguing that the scientific whaling exception is a pretext and a front for commercial whaling. Japan is saying that it is seeking “scientific information on the basis of which Japan might be able to ask for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] to be lifted” and it is claiming that the use of an exception based on a scientific justification cannot be reviewed judicially. This extreme argument is necessary because if the ICJ is to rule in any way on the merits of the science involved it will most likely say that this is a pretext and not permitted under the treaty. My personal view is that the exception is bogus as a clipboard and pencil rather than a harpoon should be sufficient in determining whether existing numbers of whales are now such that commercial hunting can resume.
The Government’s line is now more staunch. In a released statement Murray McCully is quoted as saying:
The practice of whaling in the oceans south of New Zealand is pointless and offensive to a great many New Zealanders.
The New Zealand Government has repeatedly called on Japan to end its whaling programme. We reiterate this message today.”
Good stuff although the Government could send a clear message and send a naval ship to the area to keep the peace between the Japanese and the Sea Shepherd’s boats. It appears that the Government has learned that its previous foray into the whale protection diplomacy area was a retrograde step.
John Key hopefully now understands that a merchant banker negotiation approach to international treaties designed to protect endangered species is the wrong approach to use.