Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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So, why is the US delegation working so hard to make a deal with Japan that will allow continued so-called “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean and allow new commercial whaling in Japan’s coastal waters on the depleted J Stock of minke whales on top of the 20,000+ small cetaceans Japan now kills each and every year?
The key to this puzzle rests not in the whaling countries, nor in US public opinion, nor in the US Congress, nor in the US courts. It all lies north at the frozen edge of the continent in Alaska.
Alaska’s Inuit have been killing bowhead whales for centuries to provide food for their people. Unlike Japan’s so-called “cultural” whaling or “scientific” whaling, none of the Alaskan bowhead meat is sold in stores for a profit – the meat and blubber is all shared by the tribes on Alaska’s north slope.
The Alaskan subsistence hunt for bowhead whales has been extensively debated at the IWC and is now well accepted as a sustainable hunt for subsistence purposes.
But that has not stopped Japan and its client countries from using the bowhead whale hunt and the lives of the Inuit as a bargaining chip for their own whaling industry.
So, two years ago at the Alaskan meeting of the IWC, US IWC Commissioner and Commission Chairman William Hogarth approached the Japanese to reach a deal. The secret deal, as noted in ECO No. 1, was based on allowing Japan to start killing whales in their coastal waters for commercial purposes while also allowing (supposedly at a lower level) continued “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean. The deal fell apart when Japan refused to reduce the number of whales they expected to kill in both their coastal waters and the Southern Ocean, a “compromise” several countries in the negotiations could not stomach.
But there was someone else standing in the shadows. That “someone” was Senator Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican in Congress who represents Alaska and supports the bowhead hunt. In his capacity as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Stevens held the budget of the Dept. of Commerce and William Hogarth’s National Marine Fisheries Service in the palm of his hand. And he was well known for exacting political revenge from those who displeased him.
The rumor is that Senator Stevens himself approached the Japanese government, assuring them that the US would support their whaling activities in exchange for them agreeing not to block the bowhead quota renewal for Alaska in the 2010 IWC meeting.
(Senator Stevens’ support for the Inuit’s subsistence whaling is strange, as he also is a major advocate for the oil industry and supporter of offshore oil drilling off Alaska’s North Slope. He famously publicly threatened retaliation to fellow Senators who failed to vote in favor of opening up the coastal area of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Senator Stevens’ sad policy on oil drilling now threatens both the habitat of the bowhead whales with pollution and drilling noise and the villages of Inuit with inundation from rising sea levels due to global warming, spurred by burning of oil.)
But Senator Stevens held power during the Presidency of George Bush. A scandal involving the payment of thousands of dollars for renovation of Stevens’ private home in Anchorage by a local oil company owner led to Stevens leaving the Senate in 2008, while President Bush has been replaced by President Obama.
Unfortunately, President Obama’s Administration is nowhere to be found in Madeira. The Bush appointees are still in charge of the US IWC delegation.
Where is President Obama, and why isn’t he reining in the US delegation’s sellout to Japan?