Commentary: In the whaling debate, consider empirical justification over illogical fallacies

Janell Duey

By Janell Duey
For Northwest Asian Weekly

The current whaling debate is one that is perpetually heated, and one that will be around for quite some time. Among the many political and emotional maelstroms that pass between both sides of the argument, the accusation of racism is the ugliest — and by far, nothing but a mere speculation with respect to whaling.

Although the pro-whaling proponents do have some valid arguments regarding the minke whale (the current animals that are being hunted) population numbers, racism is detrimental to the dispute, and does not acknowledge any of the evidence. Both sides of the debate need to empirical justification, instead of illogical fallacies.

Although the Asian community may feel as if they are being singled out against whaling due to Captain Watson’s show “Whale Wars” and documentaries such as “The Cove,” the reality is that anti-whaling activists travel around the world to prevent whale hunts where they still take place.

Currently, Sea Shepherd has not sunk any ships of the Japanese whaling fleet, while it has sunk three Norwegian, two Icelandic, and several Spanish whaling vessels (Spain no longer actively hunts).

Furthermore, Sea Shepherd focuses on all questionable commercial hunts, including the harp seal hunt in Canada, as well as fishing regulations in the European Union. To say that Sea Shepherd is bullying only Japan and the Asian community is dangerous and could spark unnecessary controversy.

Perhaps Japan brings a lot of negative attention to itself. It currently hunts not in its own waters, but in internationally recognized Australian territory in Antarctic waters, which serve as an Australian whale sanctuary. Additionally, it has fought and continued to try to increase not its quota, but its whale catch diversity. The Japanese government has been eying humpback whale catch quotas, despite international outcry.

Perhaps the most offensive issue to anti-whaling and cetacean lovers alike is that the whaling argument has become not an issue of the whales, but rather an issue of pride. In regard to the truthfulness of the anti-whaling argument pioneers, the Japanese government has also been known to manipulate the truth for its own constituents.

Asians, including the Japanese, have a strong sense of food culture and are very proud of their national dishes.

In Japanese culture, before a meal takes place, people say “itadakimasu,” which translates to, “I receive this gift.”

However, it is impossible to say that whale meat in Japan is received as a gift. In fact, most of it ends up in warehouses, federal food programs, and even animal feed. Although whale meat was a staple during shortages after WWII, only a small percentage of the population eats whale meat now — and it is not the younger generation. How can a culture say, “I receive this gift,” when an animal is slaughtered and either put in deep freeze or allowed to rot on shelves at the grocery store?

It seems as if the whales have been misplaced and caught in a pride war between the East and the West. Japanese officials, including Masayuki Komatsu (former Japanese fishery agency officer), argue that if Japan were to cave in on its whaling practices, then their fishing rights would be slowly chipped away. Similar concerns have been brought up in regard to the blue fin tuna hunt as well. Japan has resisted international attempts to lower the catch quota despite the imminent crash of the fishery due to over-fishing.

Some people believe that the West is attempting to transpose its values onto Asia, since whales are highly revered in Western culture.

However, is whaling a part of Japanese culture? Traditionally speaking, coastal whaling is a part of Japanese culture in certain areas of Japan. In Taiji, for example, folks have been conducting their annual dolphin hunts for generations. Japan was not introduced to commercial whaling until Commodore Perry forced the country to open up its ports to foreigners.

On those Japanese whaling ships that voyaged out to sea, only the companies were Japanese, whereas the ship building depended on foreign technologies and the ships themselves were run by an international crew. To argue that all whaling is a form of Japanese culture is similar to stating that hula, a traditional dance of Hawaii, is a form of American culture.

Insinuating that racism is one of the factors motivating anti-whaling is outlandish.

Yes, there are a few “loose cannons” who are misguided and not fully educated on the whaling issue. They often try to contribute to the argument with low-blow, often irrelevant remarks. But [those] remarks have no educational standing and are easily ignored by the people who are in the intense whaling debate.

People who get caught up in the moot racist remarks are equally guilty of racism between the East and the West, as they are fanning the flames for further ignorant insults from both sides. As with any debate, it is best to meet a challenger with well thought out and empirical data. If the onslaught of emotional opinion continues from the other side, walk away because facts beat opinions on every level.

The whaling debate has no foreseeable end. However, as countrymen and animal lovers fight hard for what they believe in, audacious remarks that are of no matter to the actual argument are unnecessary and unwarranted. Currently, this “tit for tat” war has gotten nowhere in terms of whale conservation or the return of commercial whaling, only inciting pathos that is damaging to the core argument.

If either side wants to gain any traction with politicians, then they need to become professional and use factual data. ♦

Janell Duey earned her degree in Japan and wrote her graduating thesis on the economics of whaling. She currently resides in Bellevue and enjoys working toward a more protected ocean.

She can be reached at

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10 Responses to “Commentary: In the whaling debate, consider empirical justification over illogical fallacies”

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  3. Thank you for your well-written story. It lays out the issues and spares no banter. It is easy to fall into the racism crevasse; easier for PR men who seek to set up smoke screens to the relevant truths.

    You may know this but 200 years ago, Japanese considered whales to be the God of good fishing. Interesting how that viewpoint has changed! And yet the Japanese are know to twist the western language; look at the loophole they have used with the word “research” when in truth the Japanese openly promote that the meat is sold into the Japanese culture.

    Arguments for traditional food, although sounding sane, are insane. The real statistics tell all: less than 1% of the Japanese population eat whale (a population of 125 million)! It is really the “old boys” up in high places who fight for hunting whales.

    Other facts abound. Like killing off their own oceans. The recent nuclear disaster has brought the spotlight on Japan; they have two incinerator factories pumping toxins in to the air 24/7 and only recently have begun to compensate their people for the deaths and poisioning. Harbors have had to be closed down and fishing stopped in specific areas because of high level of mercury.

    So Japan is no stranger to committing atrocities and then ignoring it or hiding it. Look at the initial response to the Japanese whistleblowers about the whale meat bribes accepted by Japanese government officials – the two men were thrown into jail on counts of “treason”! They have been released subsequently, but those actions tell you what you are dealing with.

    We can for a moment, ignore the whaling issue and talk about tuna. Japanese trawlers can catch up to 7,000 tuna per day. Japanese consumption is something like 2,000 tuna a day. Do the math and you’ll see how fast the marine life is being pillaged.

    There are alternatives.

    In the case for Japanese fishermen, I don’t think they really look at their catches except for profit and because it has been handed down family to family. The sea has always been there and is the source of food. But fish and whales are harvested and not replaced. Sustainability is a word used to justify catches and ignore the real scene.

    So when a group like Sea Shepherd comes in, it is no wonder that Japanese point the finger and yell “foul”. But guess what – I was taught something by my great grandmother many years ago about pointing fingers. If you notice when you point a finger at someone, three fingers are point back at you!

  4. Mick says:

    “Yes, there are a few “loose cannons” who are misguided and not fully educated on the whaling issue.”

    “in the moot racist remarks”

    Interesting logic. You acknowledge that racism plays a part among some people who are “anti-whaling” yet you dismiss it and argue that their racist attitudes should be ignored. The point isn’t that some anti-whaling supporters are motivated by racism. That’s a given. The point is that watson uses those racist attitudes to further his own goals. As Mr. Lee pointed out in his article.

    “use factual data.”

    Great idea!

    Fact: Scientific whaling is legal and allowed by the IWC.
    Fact: The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was established by the IWC.
    Fact: Scientific whaling is allowed in the SOWS under IWC regulations.
    Fact: Australia’s claims to the Antarctic are only recognized by four countries. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, France and Norway. Most countries, including Japan and America, do not recognize their claim.
    Fact: There has been no international court ruling declaring that the ICR’s whaling program in the SOWS is illegal.
    Fact: SS has no legal authority to interfere with the ICR ships.
    Fact: ONLY Japan has been singled out for increasingly violent attacks every year for the past seven years.

    “allowed to rot on shelves at the grocery store?”

    I live in Japan and in my personal experience I can say that whale meat does not “rot on shelves”. When the local grocery store gets whale meat in it sells out quickly, usually the same day. You can find canned whale meat at the local grocery store, too. And they have no problem selling it.

    • Mick,

      If we want facts:

      1. What about the jailing of Japanese whistleblowers.
      2. What about the bribing of Russians to hide catches that supercede agreed upon quotas?
      3. What about the way that Japanese DO twist the English language to suit their needs – “sustainability”, “research”
      4. What about 6,600 tons of frozen whalemeat.
      5. What about pushing whalemeat into parochial schools?
      6. What about hiding the atrocitites committed on Dolphins?
      7. What about ten years of people dying in japan due to fish poisoning and the government only recently starting to deal with it.

      In terms of insanity, what about Japanese families caught keeping dead relatives in their homes for more than ten years to collect pensions? Over 200 families were caught in just one city?

      I don’t live in Japan, but I have family who have for the last 40 years. With the recent nuclear response, the comments passed to administrators to the staff is “well, you are going to die sometime, anyhow…”

      So I get that you may like whale meat. But facts are facts. They have been discovered to have social hierachies, names for each other, use neutrino wavelengths to communicate over long distances, teach their young to hold their breath underwater. The list goes on.

      So there has to come a time when someone steps up and says “enough”. These creatures are SENTIENT. I say this because I have recently and personally traveled to Baja, Mexico where I and many others have had direct contact with these creatures. They come up to the boats and WANT human interaction. I have seen the females lift up the calves to the boats to be touched! What other animal do you know that would do that with a perfect stranger?

      These are facts, too!

      And I will not ascribe them to “anthropomorphic”, simply because having had direct eye contact with a whale was more profound than I could have ever imagined. I KNEW I was being considered and that that “being” on the other side was considering me.

      Study the photos and stories by those who have had those encounters, such as renown photographer Austin Bryant.

      We can no longer consider ourselves the ONLY sentient race on the planet. If we were really sentient, we would care more about the environment and our place within it.

      • HellfireJack says:

        1. The Amori thieves were jailed for theft not whistleblowing. When you steal you get arrested. They admitted to doing it. End of story.

        2. Proof? Lacking any this is speculation.

        3. Japan twists these words as much as anti-whaling twist the word conservation. Research is however being done. Check the ICR website to see the hundreds of papers written over the past 20 years.

        4. All countries have stockpiles. Japan also has a 80,000 tonne beef stockpile and a 150000 tonne pork stockpile. Makes the 6000 tonnes of whale look pretty small.

        5. What about pushing chicken and beef and pork in school lunch? Oh no…. they served fish and whale too. Be serious.

        6. Dolphins and pilot whales are slaughtered for food. It’s no more an atrocity than the slaughter of beef or seafood, well unless of course you have an emotional attachment to dolphins.

        7. Whales and dolphin aren’t fish.

        As to all the rest of your “facts”. They either have nothing to do with whaling and are just a poor attempt to demonize Japan or just outright personal opinions.

        Lots of animals are sentient, including cows. My bacon this morning was once sentient too at one point. Sentience isn’t an argument to not eat something. Did the whale tell you he was considering you? If not then you ARE anthropomorphizing.

        Did you know dolphins rape and kill their own kind and they kill other species of marine mammals in the hundreds every year for no reason. Male dolphin will kill the babies of other males to maintain dominance in their territory.

        Is that the animal you really want to protect? The raping mass-murdering baby killing dolphins?

        Killing whales and dolphin doesn’t mean people aren’t paying attention to the environment. The Japanese live with the ocean and have for thousands of years. Trying to say they don’t care about the environment because you disagree with their diet is hogwash.

  5. Ted says:

    While I understand that Sea Shepherd has attacked other countries’ vessels in the past, the last attempted scuttling appears to have occurred in the ’90s. The problem I have is that the media vultures they carry around on their boats now only seem to focus on the Japanese hunt. There are plenty of whales being killed by Iceland, who simply gave the IWC the middle finger and told the world they were going to whale again, regardless of what the world thought. If the media monkeys would highlight the interventions of these ships, the racism angle would disappear. Unfortunately, we never hear of high seas rough stuff going on with Iceland’s ships, so most people go with the thought “if it isn’t reported, it didn’t happen.” SSCS needs to document their intervention with non-asian whalers if they want to lose the racist label.


  1. […] Northwest Asian Weekly | Commentary: In the whaling debate …Description : The real statistics tell all: less than 1% of the Japanese population eat whale (a population of 125 million)! It is really the “old boys” up in high places who fight for hunting whales. Other facts abound. Like killing off their own … .. […]

  2. […] Northwest Asian Weekly | Commentary: In the whaling debate …Description : The real statistics tell all: less than 1% of the Japanese population eat whale (a population of 125 million)! It is really the “old boys” up in high places who fight for hunting whales. Other facts abound. Like killing off their own … .. […]

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