“Beyond the podiums made of recycled mobile phones, we find a nation flying in the face of world opinion in its grim persistence to maintain cruel and outdated commercial whaling.”
Tokyo is being urged to stop commercial whaling as it gears up to host the Tokyo Summer Olympics this week.
The Japanese government has said that this year’s Olympics will be the ‘greenest games ever’ after it earlier announced that environmental sustainability will be a key factor in both planning and actual Games operations.
Japan and commercial whaling
Animal protection groups have written to Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to say ‘that Japan can’t win gold for the environment until it stops the cruel and unsustainable practice of commercial whaling’.
The push comes after Japan, which agreed to the 1982 International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling, killed more than 15,000 whales since 1987 under the ‘special permit’ guise of scientific research. It used this permit as a loophole to kill whales for profit.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice rejected Japan’s use of the ‘scientific whaling clause’. However, Japan formally left the IWC in 2019 and has since continued to kill whales openly as commercial whaling.
A letter – initiated by Claire Bass, executive director of Humane Society International/UK– and signed by Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ORCA, Environmental Investigation Agency, Four Paws, Animal Welfare Institute and Cetacean Society International, has been sent to Suga.
While it commends Japan for its environmental achievements for the Games such as plastic waste podiums and recycled metal medals, it says that hunting whales not only causes undeniable animal suffering, it also ‘kills some of our planet’s most important environmental guardians’.
The letter also highlights how whales not only circulate nutrients that facilitate the growth of carbon dioxide-absorbing phytoplankton, but their immense bodies also act as reservoirs locking away tons of the greenhouse gas for centuries when they die and their carcasses sink to the sea bed.
‘Olympics – a vital platform to promote environmental protection’
“We are at a pivotal moment in our global efforts to avert catastrophic climate breakdown, and high-profile, international events like the Olympics provide a vital platform to promote environmental protection,” the letter notes.
“However, as Olympic hosts, Japan’s commitments on planetary protection need to extend beyond the National Stadium, beyond plastic waste podiums, recycled metal medals and sustainable athletic apparel… Whales play a key role in capturing and storing harmful carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is the main contributor to climate change.”
The letter then concludes: “Scientists estimate that in the years before industrial whaling began, baleen whale populations sank up to 1.9 million tonnes of carbon per year to the ocean bed. It has been suggested that this is equivalent to removing up to 410,000 cars from our roads each year.
“By contrast, killing and processing whales releases carbon back into the atmosphere… We urge the Japanese government to take this opportunity to consign whale killing to the history books and demonstrate a commitment to cetacean and planetary protection.”
Japan’s green credentials – lacking
Bass, in a statement, added: “This week the Japanese government will be proudly launching the Summer Games in Tokyo and celebrating its green credentials.
“But looking beyond the podiums made of recycled mobile phones, we find a nation flying in the face of world opinion in its grim persistence to maintain cruel and outdated commercial whaling.
“These ocean leviathans play a vital role in maintaining healthy oceans and climate, and instead of blasting them with exploding harpoons Japan should join the nations united in efforts to safeguard their populations and habitats.”
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