As the international press has been obsessed with the story of Australian-based protesters being held on a Japanese whaling ship, an odd story appeared: A whaling video game--yes, you get to hunt whales and package and sell their meat--popular in, of all places, Australia, where environmental activists and government officials have fallen all over themselves about Japan's whale hunting. In the game (Harpooned if you're interested), players even have to avoid protest ships. The game's defenders say it's a protest game and that the response to it has been overwhelmingly positive and appropriate. People get it. Whaling is just wrong. Japan’s recent whale hunt near Australia is particularly and insidiously wrong, because of the defiant way they are conducting it.
The first reason to be concerned about the Japanese whale hunt is that whales are sentient, intelligent beings. "Scientists recently found that whales have specialized brain cells previously found only in humans and the great apes. Called spindle neurons, these brain cells are involved in processing emotions and social interactions." Their sentience is an emerging scientific consensus, but has been a phenomenological and spiritual consensus for centuries.
If you need other reasons to oppose the harvesting of giant, beautiful, articulate, intelligent beings, such reasons are plentiful. The International Whaling Commission instituted a ban on commercial whaling two decades ago. Norway, Japan and Iceland "exploit loopholes in the ban to continue slaughtering whales using harpoons and explosives." If these seem like brutal methods it's because little has changed in the brutality of whaling in the last 20 years. In other words, the hunt is a clumsy attempt to sidestep international law, and the international community isn’t buying it. Japan argues that there is a loophole, essentially: the international ban on whaling allows hunts for scientific research, and was passed at a time when whales had to be killed for research, before non-lethal techniques were developed for subduing and studying whales. As long as Japan does some kind of research on the mammals, they can harvest the bodies. And they have—killing almost ten thousand whales in the last twenty years.
Last week, an Australian Federal Court ruled on an injunction requested by the Humane Society, enforcing Australia’s “whale sanctuary.” The ruling, unfortunately, cannot be enforced unless Japan is caught in those waters, but its symbolic value should be obvious: It is a legal ruling against what Japan is doing, as well as a fundamental rejection of their only defense for it.
In the meantime, ties between Tokyo and Canberra are becoming increasingly strained as Japanese whalers ignore and argue about the ban and Australia is compelled to try to enforce it. Japan has said previously it would ignore an injunction in the case if it were granted. In general, Japan has been arrogant and heavy-handed in its response to protests. While the ship, Yushin Maru, was sailing off the coast of Cape Town, two Greenpeace activists boarded it, an event Japan surely should have anticipated. Whether or not the allegations that Japanese sailors assaulted or tied up the protesters are true, the incident displays the same kind of arrogance on Japan’s part as their authoritative pronouncements in the media that they are not violating international law.
And even if Japan's connection to its ancient whale consumption is not more show than truth, the government of Japan is openly flauting the moratorium by feeding whale meat to its schoolchildren. Which, by the way, brings us to our final point against whaling, in general: Whale meat is just bad for you. In addition to being really fatty, "...whales are particularly vulnerable to environmental contaminants, including organochlorines—such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and dioxin—and heavy metals, such as methylmercury." Yum.
One wonders if Japan really believes they are fooling anyone. Their interpretation of international law only proves that the law is hopelessly out of date; their behavior has sparked what appears to be an international incident, and they are marketing cans of meat from a sentient being to their children. It’s almost as if Japan is being more morbidly ironic than the whaling video game that’s all the rage in Australia these days.