OPINION: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Westerners look at a whale and see a wonder of nature. To Western eyes few things are more thrilling than the sight of a humpback whale hurling its mighty frame out of the sea and then crashing back into the water in a welter of foam. Japanese whalers see the same sight and see yen.
Westerners viewing video footage of three minke whales stretched out like sardines in a can on the blood-streaked deck of a Japanese whaler this week saw ugliness. Japanese politicians and bureaucrats viewed the same scene and saw themselves cast in the heroic roles of defenders of Japanese values and culture. Japan is not about to give in to "greenies" just because the mechanics of whaling offend Western sensitivities.
What should be a debate about humanity's relationship with the planet has instead become an arm wrestle between Japan and the conservationists who have made it their mission to defend the planet's largest mammals.
The tactics employed by Sea Shepherd, the radical environmental group again hounding Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean, would try the patience of any seafarer. Not only do Sea Shepherd's vessels follow, publicise and attempt to disrupt the activities of Japan's whalers, they also misrepresent them.
According to the organisation the fleet was this week whaling in New Zealand sovereign waters. As Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully quickly pointed out that was not accurate. New Zealand is responsible for coordinating search and rescue operations in a large area in the Southern Ocean. However, the waters concerned are international, not New Zealand's.
As Mr McCully also pointed out, however, whaling is "pointless and offensive to a great many New Zealanders". To that could be added a great many others elsewhere, including some in Japan. Not everything has to be reduced to dollars and cents or blubber and oil.
In the immediate aftermath of World War II, a case could be made for whaling. Japan was a poor country that needed to supply its people with protein. However, Japan is no longer poor and the large stockpiles of unsold whale meat in Japan show there is little appetite for the product.
Furthermore, Japan's programme serves no scientific purpose. It is not necessary to harpoon whales to count them. Japan's assertions to the contrary are simply a figleaf to disguise a commercial whaling programme as a scientific one.
Hopefully, the International Court of Justice will find accordingly when it rules on the case taken against Japanese whaling by the Australian government with New Zealand support.
However, there is no need for Japan to wait for the ruling before ending whaling.
Japan's whaling is sullying the reputation of a country that depends for its prosperity on the good name of its vehicle, camera and household appliance manufacturers.
It should halt a barbaric practice that serves no useful purpose.
- The Dominion Post
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