Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Porpoises; The Quiet Killing

The Guardian reported (4TH April, 2014) that Japan's biggest online retailer, Rakuten, will stop their whale meat and dolphin meat sales by the end of April after the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to immediately halt its annual whale hunts in the southern ocean.

 Offshore whaling in the Southern Ocean

Rakuten said it had asked sellers to cancel sales of whale meat products on its website “in accordance” with the ICJ ruling. Monday’s verdict in the Hague. It should be pointed out that it did not cover whale meat sales within Japan, which are legal, or the country’s slaughter of whales in the north-west Pacific and in its own coastal waters.

The decision by Rakuten comes soon after the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) exposed the company as the world’s biggest online retailer of whale products and elephant ivory.

Until recently Rakuten's website carried more than 1,200 advertisements  for whale products, according to the EIA and the Humane Society International.

Sadly, the lack of whale meat from the Southern Ocean is only likely to raise demand for the locally caught porpoises and dolphins. We have all heard about the killing at Taiji and the documentary, The Cove, but it is dwarfed by the slaughter at Iwate, Japan.

Dall's Porpoises in the slaughter shed.

Iwate is about 600 km north of Taiji and is the source of the meat from Dall's Porpoise. The killing here has been more than seven times the number of Taiji animals but it went largely unnoticed by the public. In fact it is the largest hunt for marine mammals on the planet.

Recently, the numbers of Dall's Porpoises killed was declining but the new International Court of Justice ruling is about to change all that. before the restriction on taking whales outside of Japan, it was estimated that from November, 2012 to April, 2013 about 1,200 porpoises were taken ( Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA)).But this was well below the horrific 9,129 Dall's Porpoises reported slaughtered in 2009-2010.

When porpoise meat was used as a substitute for the more expensive whale meat, the Iwate catch nearly exceeded the annual quota of 16,000 porpoises. In 1988, two years after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) stopped the killing of large whales, more than 40,000 Dall’s Porpoises were killed.

So what is a Dall's Porpoise?

Named after the American naturalist,  they are the largest of six species of porpoise. Porpoises are not the same as dolphins and are more closely related to the Belugas. Adult males reach as much as 200 kg and like other porpoises are incredible swimmers. They aren't as trainable as dolphins and aren't suited to oceanarium life; their destiny is food for the table.

Hunting coastal whales is an old business in Japan but it was expanded after WW II because of a shortage of protein. Japanese sent whaling ships into the Southern Ocean. Since that time whale meat has taken a premium place in the Japanese diet.

The new restrictions will now cause a shift to the older coastal fishing areas to fill the lucrative gap. Fishermen will go to sea in small boats armed with razor-sharp harpoons and spear the hapless Dall's Porpoises in their thousands.

Unlike Taiji, the killing goes on at sea and the porpoises are landed in the early light. the butchering is carried out ashore and away from prying eyes.

I can see how the hunt began in decades past. I can see how whaling developed after the War when people were short of food. I can not understand why it continues in a nation that describes itself as civilized and advanced and which no longer has a need other than money. And I can not understand the lack of interest by groups and governments that advocate for these wonderful animals.

Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated." We will soon see what happens during the killing season in Iwate, Japan.