Why whaling nations refuse to budge

The logic behind New Zealand's consistent opposition to whaling has been relatively straight forward.

Japanese whaling in the southern oceans under the guise of "scientific research'' was phoney and without validity. And when whale populations are threatened, any justification for killing these great levathians of the deep is simply wrong.

But what about when a whale species is plentiful and they can be harvested sustainably? This is the line Japan, Norway and Iceland take. Whaling is also defended on cultural grounds.

Most New Zealanders, and most of the Western world at least, find killing of whales abhorrent. These mammals are "special animals'' and have a connection with humans. Their slaughter symbolises disregard for conservation and empathy with nature.

While we should not resile from resistance to hunting whales, it is useful to understand where those whaling nations, and a substantial proportion of their people, are coming from.

We can recognise some of our distaste is cultural. Eating whale meat, like, say, horse meat, just seems wrong.

But what if our conditioning was different? What if whale meat had been a staple as it was in Japan during post-World War 2 food shortages? This was encouraged and developed by the United States occupation forces. What if we had the history and beliefs of Iceland and Norway and their relationship with whales?

Is is intriguing to note that eating rabbits, a pest here, will be a treat for many southern New Zealanders. Many Americans, though, with images of the Easter Bunny or Bugs Bunny to the fore, cannot stomach the thought.

The Japanese, meanwhile, maintain that if others can eat cattle, sheep, fish and poultry, they should have the right to eat whale.

Whether they do so or not, the people of Japan, Iceland and Norway easily feel bullied from the outside. It is further argued the international opposition is a form of cultural imperialism. It does not matter that the vast majority do not eat the meat; it is an option and part of their way of life.

The whaling nations also see the changes in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) - created in 1946 to ``provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry'' - as hypocritical and unfair. The organisation appears, to them, to have joined the anti-whaling band-wagon and departed from its purpose.

Japan left the IWC recently and has just began commercial whaling after abiding by the IWC's moratorium for 33 years, apart from its pseudo-scientific hunting. It had a proposal for ``sustainable'' whaling rejected by the IWC last year. Iceland and Norway, meanwhile, remain members of the IWC but reserve the right to commercially harvest whales and do so, though have annual quotas.

The IWC's moratorium is credited with helping several whale species recover but its edicts are side-stepped by the three main whaling countries. The world is going to need other means to curtail the hunting of these great mammals of the ocean.

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