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Revisiting the Roots of the Whaling Issue: The Relationship Between Humans and Nature

In practice the IWC has already abandoned the management of whale resources and whaling, and the Western worldview caused this situation.

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Whale hunters in Barrow Alaska are waiting for bowhead whale migration. (Courtesy of Joji Morishita)

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Part 1: Revisiting the Roots of the Whaling Issue: Sustainable Use, Environmental Protection

There are various reasons and arguments against whaling, and one could raise keywords such as animal rights, charismatic animals, vegetarianism, preservation of pristine nature, and a vague concept of environmental protection or eco-friendly way of life. They may be paraphrased as an idea that animals, including whales, should not be regarded as food, and that interference with nature should be minimized or even prohibited.

The arguments for the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) to curb or prohibit human activities, including fishing, follow a similar approach in many respects. However, through the perspective of the whaling issue, we would like to examine whether such claims and ideas really lead to environmental protection, and whether they are appropriate or desirable for nature and human beings.

Whaling in the Tsukenmaten district of Okinawa in 1959. (© Institute of Cetacean Research)

When vegetarianism and non-interference with nature spread, the consumption of livestock such as cattle, pigs, and sheep, and wildlife including fish will decrease. And humans will have reduced their relationship with nature outside of tourism. This would mean a decrease in the relationship between humans and nature itself, and a further separation of humans from nature. 

In the debate over the whaling issue, it has been pointed out that the anti-whaling arguments, mainly from Western countries, are based on the idea that humans and nature are separate, and that through a viewpoint looking at nature from the outside, we must restrict or ban whaling because humans outside threaten the existence of nature through hunting and development. 

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This is based on the idea that humans are outside of nature and must be restricted or prohibited because they threaten the existence of another being: nature. 

Reversing the Historical Western View of Exploiting Nature

While this may seem to be a reflection or a reversal of the historical background in which Western countries viewed nature as something to be exploited, conquered, and modified ー which resulted in environmental destruction ー the fact remains that nature is viewed in the context of something confronting humankind.  

Both environmental protection and destruction are based on the perspective of nature as separate from humans. Both protection and destruction are transitive ideas. 

On the other hand, the view of nature on the part of countries that support sustainable use, mainly Asian and developing countries, is based on their history and views of nature and religion (e.g. animism and reincarnation). 

(You can read the rest of the article at this link Check out Whaling Today for deeper and unique insights into Japanese whaling culture, whale conservation efforts and sustainable whaling.)

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This article is published in cooperation with the Institute of Cetacean Research in Japan. Let us hear your thoughts in our comments section.

This article is based on the report by Joji Morishita, PhD, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, in Japanese:”Reconsidering the Background of Whaling Issues -Sustainable Use and Environmental Protection, World Views on Humans and Nature” (p9-14, Institute of Whale Research Newsletter No. 493, March 2022, ISSN 1340-9409)

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References used by the author for this article include: Eugene LaPointe, Embracing the Earth's Biological Resources: Perspectives on Wildlife Conservation (Shinpusha, 2005, in Japanese); Joji Morishita, Withdrawal from IWC and International Negotiations (Seizando Shoten, 2019, in Japanese); Martin D. Robards, Randall R. Reeves, “The global extent and character of marine mammal consumption by humans:1970-2009” and “Biological Conservation,” 144 (2011) 2770-2786; Frederic Ducarme, Gloria M. Luque, Franck Courchamp., “What are “charismatic species” for conservation biologists?” 2012)



Author: Joji Morishita, PhD 
Professor, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology

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