A dog ate my whaling research

Last updated 05:00 03/04/2014

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OPINION: The International Court of Justice has made a calculation that even New Zealand schoolchildren would have little trouble understanding. If the purpose of Japan's whale hunting in the Southern Ocean really was scientific, then Japan just hasn't been doing its homework.

Japan has long argued that it was just in it for the science and that since this regrettably involved killing the sample subjects it was only a secondary matter - waste not, want not - that the carcasses were processed for consumption by the folk back home.

But the court is unimpressed and little wonder. Since 2005 the upshot of all that scientific scrutiny was two peer-reviewed papers based on a study of nine dead whales.

As for what might have been learned from the remainder - picture 3600 minke whales killed during that time - it didn't stop the the court's presiding judge, Peter Tomka, from drily recording that the "scientific output to date appears limited"

A disappointed Japan says it will abide by the decision. So, for the time-being at least, modern science will just have to struggle on as best it can, bereft of further contributions from the whalers.

Japan may yet seek consent to return to the Southern Ocean on the basis of an actual scientific programme rather than a sham, but since that would have to keep the kill in proportion with the work done it's likely to be seriously scaled down to the extent that there's a fair chance the whole thing may be abandoned as just not worth it any more.

Here's where New Zealand needs to acknowledge that it was Australia that really led the charge to end this charade. Not Sea Shepherd, so much, nor us.

However, Labour leader David Cunliffe went too far when he portrayed this as a case of the New Zealand Government being asleep at the wheel. In truth, New Zealand was pretty much in Anzac mode, testifying in support of the Australian case and, reportedly, being mentioned more than 50 times in the judgment.

As for the activist provocations of the Sea Shepherd protest vessels nagging the whaling fleet, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully contends that if anything this was the sort of irritant to Japan that offended its national pride and led to greater determination to press on. (Bear in mind that the market for whalemeat in Japan is with a shrinking older population. The kids prefer their blubbery treats to be Western-style junk food).

The fact remains that although the actions of both protesters and whalers at times had maritime safety observers shuddering, the globally publicised conflicts did keep the issue a hot one in the eyes of the world. It's plausible that the public reaction stiffened the spines of the politicians to act on behalf of the whales.

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The Southland Times once wrote that the Japanese study whales the way teenagers study KFC. Now, that will stop or there will, at least, be a genuine proportionality between scientific need and the scale of the slaughter. Not a bad result.

- The Southland Times

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